I have just started the Illinois Master Naturalist class, which has been a dream of mine for several years now, and this morning, as I drank my coffee, I was reading the chapters on botany and prairies in preparation for the next lesson. Due to a lazy morning, it was a bit late for a birding trip, but one of the nice things about plants is that they tend to stay put all day, so I headed out to look for some wildflowers and prairie plants.
I actually began with a quick stroll through part of the backpack loop, which has been a horrible spot this year due to flooding and mosquitoes. Luckily, it has dried out significantly, and the mosquitoes are just a bit annoying now, rather than a blood-sucking death-swarm, as previously.
I saw some white snakeroot:
Back in the woods, I also found common boneset:
In another month, this trail will be riotous with tall yellow flowers (I think, goldenglow and Jerusalem artichoke), but not much was going on, either flower or bird-wise, today. I did find some American bellflower:
I soon left the woods for the prairie, and it was here that the wildflowers shined. Actually, I was a bit embarrassed at how I've neglected the marvelous restored prairie at the Union Schoolhouse trail. I've been a bit focused on birds all the time since moving to Dewitt County, despite being an amateur prairie enthusiast; actually, when I saw the quality and variety of prairie plants on offer, I was amazed that Weldon Springs is never cited as an example of a good place to view Illinois prairies.
To be honest, the first view is not something that's going to make your average person swoon with the beauty before them. There's a lot of big bluestem (or the name I prefer--turkeyfoot), which is a lovely prairie grass, but OK...it's a grass, so not that dramatic.
But a quick stroll revealed three of the four silphiums, which are large yellow prairie flowers in the aster family. These are some of the common forbs found in Illinois prairies; forbs are the flowers, as opposed to the grasses (like big bluestem).
These silphiums are big, showy yellow plants with scratchy leaves. Prairie dock has the biggest leaves (as in, huge); compass plant has more spindly leaves that are supposed to orient north to south (though I don't advise you to count on that if you're ever lost on the prairie); rosinweed I haven't had a chance to see yet; and cup plant has leaves large enough to cup water in, for the delectation of birds and insects.
There was a lot of cup plant at Weldon Springs:
Here's another good prairie plant, wild quinine (also called American feverfew):
I talked with the on-site naturalist for a while and complimented her on their nice prairie. She said they've been working on it for the past thirty years (seriously, why isn't this place better known?), and agreed to let me interview her...so expect more about Weldon Springs to come!
In the meantime, she said there was some nice blazing star blooming a bit further down, so I went in search of it. This is another common Illinois prairie plant.
|prairie blazing star|
This part of the trail is scrubbier, but I found some other interesting plants, such as tall boneset:
And I think this is a kind of tick trefoil:
I'd already found another possible tick trefoil in the woods; there are about 17 different species of them in Illinois. If anyone can tell me for certain what these plants are, please do!!
Finally, I passed a small pond, and found some arrowhead:
I've seen this flower before, at Humiston Woods in Livingston County. Unfortunately, my Illinois Wildflowers left me high and dry on this one, and I had to resort to my other ID book, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers (Eastern). Muskrats and ducks like to eat the starchy tubers, causing an alternate name of "duck potatoes." In any case, look at that huge, arrow-shaped leaf.
This same pond also produced some pickerelweed, another aquatic plant missing from IL Wildflowers. It is related to the wild hyacinth.
Finally, along the sides of the pond, I found some horse nettle.
This plant, found throughout Illinois in "open woods, waste ground, cultivated fields and roadsides" is a member of the nightshade family. Although the Native Americans used it as a gargle for sore throats and a poultice for poison ivy rash, the berries are quite toxic, so don't imbibe. IW
By now, I've spent about as much time blogging about the plants as I actually spent looking at them...and it's time to get dinner on the table. So enough for now!
Hopefully this will inspire someone to go out and find some plants in their own county. Are any of these common where you live?