landscape was once dominated by the grasses and colorful wildflowers of the
prairie. Today, less than 2,300 acres of high-quality prairie remain.
four distinct prairie types left in Illinois. Walk down this pathway to catch
a glimpse of the animals, grasses and plants of woodland: mesic prairie, dry
prairie and moist prairie. It’s a journey of change-in color, size, density,
species and season.
flowers such as spring beauty, trout lily, rue-anemone, mertensia and bloodroot
take advantage of the sunlight cascading through sparsely vegetated woodland
trees in March. April showers bring may apple, blue phlox, Jack-in-the-pulpit,
red trillium, and dutchman’s breeches. Beginning in June, culver’s root and
nightshade begin to bloom under the forest cover.
moisture soils support the growth of Indian grass as well as big and little
bluestem. Some of the first wildflowers to bloom are woolly blue violet, common
milkweed and black medic. Starting in June the pale purple coneflower, smooth
sumac, St. Johnswort, and purple and white prairie clover dot the landscape.
In late summer the partridge pea, ironwood, showy goldenrod, and black-eyed
susan bloom in splendor. Turkey vultures scavenge for food and the prairie
kingsnake feeds on small reptiles, birds and insects. The viceroy butterfly
is seen May through September and the monarch butterfly is abundant in late
summer and fall. The indigo bunting feeds on the grains and berries of the
mesic prairie ad builds its nest out of dried grass, leaves and bark strips.
prairie grasses are sideoats grama, six weeks-fescue, Indian grass and little
bluestem. In May and June, prairie coreopsis, New Jersey tea, prairie violet,
lead plant, butterfly weed, green milkweed and wild bergamot bloom throughout
the prairie. Later, rosinweed, prairie sunflower, compass plant, wild quinine,
purple coneflower and royal catchfly paint the dry prairie. The eastern meadowlark
makes its nest in the prairie vegetation while the black swallowtail and cloudless
sulfur butterflies visit the prairie flowers. The legendary harbinger of spring,
the woodchuck, digs burrows with large visible openings in the dry prairie
habitat, and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel hides his burrow deep in the
soils, the first spring prairie flowers include cream wild indigo, wild blue
iris, golden alexanders, fringed loosestrife and mountain mint. Pale Indian
plantain, compass plant, prairie dock and glodenglow add brilliant colors
in mid-summer. Late blooming flowers such as smooth aster, New England aster
and Jerusalem artichoke are seen beginning in August. The big and little bluestem
prairie grasses are common in these area. The eastern box turtle and common
garter snake inhabit moist prairies, as well as the least skipper and buckeye
butterflies and the red-winged blackbird.
An Illinois Department
of Transportation program-Corridors for Tomorrow-has planted 5,500 acres
of flowers and grasses to simulate the historic prairie landscape. Today’s roadside
prairie is a mix of native and nonnative species chosen for visual interest
and the ability to thrive under roadside conditions.