Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Spring Visit to Schulenberg Prairie

With the help of a Woodlands Spring Flowers class at Morton Arboretum (recommended!), some  books, and the Internet, I have embarked on the next step in my Illinois ecology self-study.

First, I went to Schulenberg Prairie at Morton, one of my favorite places ever, to see what I can recognize. They must've had a burn; everything looks completely different. The prairie is a flat, very green carpet of fresh, low leafy plants--nothing like it was in past visits, when I wandered among grasses and forbs taller than me, whooshing and shushing in the wind.

Pick a spot and look down, and you see it is not a carpet, but a series of tufts and clumps and spots of various colors green.

All those tufts look like prairie dropseed to me, but I know very little. Maybe they are another type of grass or sedge. (Now that I know just how very little I know, I want to be able to name everything.) These tufts were everywhere, with endless constellations of young-bright leafy plants filling in the gaps between.

This plant creates these lovely fairy-circle patterns. At  the time I thought this was the same as those tufty prairie-dropseed clumps, but looking at the photos now it seems clear they are different.  Can anyone help me identify them? Comment or email me!

In the spring, seeing all the textures and rhythms of the prairie requires zooming in--just looking at a couple square feet. Look at this lovely grass, wood betony, and compass plant composition.

The rain brought out the luminous, delicate qualities of the spring blooms, such as this shooting star.

I also saw trout lily, golden alexander, toadshade trillium, and more. This caught my eye, but I don't know what it is. Can someone help me identify it?

After an hour communing with the prairie, it was time for the Woodlands class, taught by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic president of the Illinois Native Plant Society, Chris Benda.

And then, last week, I was delighted to be able to put to use the identification skills learned and practiced in class on my lunch hour at work! More on that coming up.

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