Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Great prairies.............but stick to the smoothies

All pictures are of Shoe Factory Road prairie, near Elgin, IL. A dry to mesic site.

When Europeans go to the USA 99.99% of them do the same three things: go to NYC and go "ohmygodohmygod, look at those buildings" or the Grand Canyon and go "ohmygodohmygod, isn't it big, you could fit the whole of London/Paris/canton of Zurich in there" or they drive from San Francisco to NYC and all you ever hear is "ohmygodohmygod it is so boring driving across Nebraska". But we all complain about the coffee.

The other 0.01% tend to have a nerdy interest in something American like those people who know every single Indian tribe or every single Civil War battle. But there is a growing number who get obsessive about prairie. Personally I love it. This is the most fantastic habitat. It sums up what I love about being in the Midwest. It and the wooded surrounding landscapes are familiar enough to make you feel at home, but foreign and exotic enough to be give you a real thrill of excitement and novelty.
Silphium terebinthinaceum leaves

A dry habitat form of Phystostegia virginiana

Prairies are like Euro-wildflower-meadows but more diverse, with richer flora and an incredible level of difference between them. They are very beautiful but over a surprisingly long time, with flushes of different wildflowers from May to September. There are wet prairies, big and lush, right across to dry prairies, often on sand or gravel moraines - where the vegetation is short and sparse. Exploring any of them is an extraordinarily rich aesthetic/ecological experience, as it seems like every single bit is actually different to every other single bit, with different species or combinations of species.

Spotting mighty bright yellow silphiums with their sandpaper-textured leaves or deep purple/violet Dalea purpurea is like meeting old friends, and they always look so much better in nature than in the confines of a border. Bit like having a proper cup of coffee instead of the stuff that comes out of the tub the size of an oil barrel which says 'makes 240 cups'.

I only had a  day and a bit to look around this time but you can pack a lot in. Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennials in southern Wisconsin took me round to look at some of the local wildflower sites. Hot and humid, so a bit like walking around in mosquito soup, but who cares. At Kettle Moraine you can see how the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources is trying to buy up parcels of land to create a 30mile long prairie corridor. Its places like these that make give you a feeling about what this country looked like before fields of soybeans, highways, malls and as-far-as-the-eye-can-see suburbia took over. And on the way to the airport we scrambled through a fence to look at a fantastic site at Shoe Factory Road.

Its just a shame about  the coffee. But then if it got better I might be tempted to emigrate.

Check out Shoe Factory Road Prairie, at:


scottweberpdx said...

Hey, I'm from Nebraska! Ok, yes it is boring, and that's why I moved to Oregon :-) The prairie is one of the things it has going for it though. Growing up there, it's easy to take it for granted, and when I was younger, I didn't pay any real attention to the bits and pieces of prairie left in our area. As I grew older, however, I really started to appreciate the amazing diversity of plant and animal life to be found there, as well as the raw material for plants that have since become popular with hybridizers (echinacea, rudbeckia, panicum, Andropogon, etc) in their native forms. I think growing up among tall-grass prairies has informed my love of gardening with grasses, even if some of them aren't native.

Annelie said...

I was just on a Swedish website where, interestingly enough, it was blogged about prairie plantings in different parts of his town. So, maybe you're right, the prairie is being discovered.