When it’s 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the drought-stricken Mojave desert, you’ll forgive our botanists for doing a rain dance on behalf of the plants.
Plant Science & Conservation
If you have heard about milkweed, you no doubt know about the plant’s unique relationship with the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Milkweeds are the only plants on which monarchs lay their eggs, and its caterpillars, also called larvae, eat milkweed leaves to grow. But these plants have other interesting characteristics, including blooms that are amazingly complex.
When my mother first moved from England to Chicago in the late 1950s, she’d never heard of a prairie. In England, a grassland is called a meadow. But every kid in the neighborhood near Chicago’s Midway Airport called the empty, overgrown lots between buildings, and the grassy areas in the giant railroad yard, “the prairie.”
Pondering the Prairie Series Rosa setigera, or Illinois rose, grows in moist prairies and thickets, and is a typical wild rose in many ways: five pink petals, with lots of yellow stamens in the center supported by prickly stems. There are distinct differences, however. Illinois rose is larger than most wild roses of the prairies—often growing up to 8 feet tall, while others rarely grow more than 4 feet tall and usually less.
Pondering the Prairie Series Life in the prairie in the middle of winter is fairly uneventful; at least for humans who focus primarily on life above ground. Perhaps now is a good time to reflect on the diversity of life in a prairie below ground.
Pondering the Prairie Series Did I mention Gentian? If I didn’t, I should have. These are the stars of the autumn prairie. If you're lucky, you may stumble upon a prairie gentian (Gentiana puberulenta). You’ll find them among the myriad of pale blues, whites, and violets of the dominant fall asters, many of them blooming throughout October. Look for bottle and cream gentians in the Garden’s Dixon Prairie or elsewhere.
Pondering the Prairie Series Black-eyed Susans are among the most recognizable and beloved wildflowers, but there are a few things you may not know about them. For one thing, there are several wild species of Rudbeckia growing in the region and several cultivars with bigger and/or fancier flowers that have been developed for people’s gardens.