Division of Natural Heritage, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Springfield, IL
Natural Heritage Technical Publication #2
PART II: PRAIRIE PLANTS IN LANDSCAPE DESIGN
The use of native Illinois prairie plants in landscape design has grown in popularity as more people have become interested in prairie reconstruction and restoration. The growing interest in prairies can be attributed to many things, including the cultural link to pioneer Illinois, the great variety of prairies and prairie plants, and the opportunity for hands on research and work outdoors. Individuals involved in this type of work believe that they are helping to protect and perpetuate a nearly vanished landscape type. Prairies have been in Illinois for thousands of years where they have survived droughts and storms, but not the onslaught of John Deere's steel plow.
Prairies are a vanishing part of the natural heritage of Illinois. These valuable biological resources tell us what the landscape of Illinois was like during pioneer times. Many reconstructed prairie landscapes of today are intended to recapture parts of the past and preserve it for the future. It seems only logical to do these things in the prairie state of Illinois where the prairie's legacy, the rich dark soils, made Illinois one of the most productive agricultural sites in the world.
However, prairie plants remain virtually unknown to most people because the only prairie that remains is confined to railroad rights-of-ways, fencerows, and pioneer cemeteries. In this modern age, many people are unaccustomed to any type of a landscape planting that differs from the traditional bluegrass lawn or the flower beds with their neat, orderly rows of begonias, geraniums, petunias, or dahlias. Visit prairies during all seasons to see how these plants appear in nature. Learning about prairie plants is the first step in incorporating them into landscape designs.