Thursday, June 23, 2011


Visiting Illinois this past May and seeing a small piece of the Black Oak Savanna/prairie intact at Black Oaks, and then seeing certain prairie typologies recreated at the Chicago Botanical Garden generated a deep interest in these ecosystems for me. At the Botanic Garden I especially appreciated the care with which they explained ecosystems, recreation of the prairie, component parts of the systems - through thoughtful signs.  After living most of my life on the East Coast, amongst big trees and hills, seeing the sky and expanses of flat grasslands was beyond comprehension. Roaring through the landscape on the interstate did not abate my initial reaction of being overwhelmed by the wide open spaces (which, as a side note is a kind of  agoraphobia - something I only thought of a fear of places with lots of unfamiliar people in it - like an agora or marketplace...).

Only by getting out and walking in these spots was I able to focus and develop a more profound understanding and appreciation of these landscapes. There have been many studies about human affinity for the Savanna Landscape, given our evolutionary origins in Africa. Physically being in a Savanna, convinced me that those studies had some strong merits. While at Black Oaks, and along the edges of the prairie sections of the Botanic Garden, I felt a strong connection with the landscape and during the course at the Botanic Garden, I found myself thinking about walking through those prairies - because they are beautiful places and because I had never experienced the specific kind of tranquility I felt there. Perhaps it is all contextual, but I'd like to think there's something about these landscapes that I remember from my early childhood in Illinois.

Being in both places in May - when the grasslands are only beginning to come out of dormancy was beautiful. Striking golds, browns and earthy tones dominated the plant tones - with the exception of the base growth of the yarrows, shooting stars (dodecatheon meadia) and the golden alexanders (zizia aurea ( my new favorite plant name)). I had never seen shooting stars before, and I've included several photos of them below. They're stunning  fountains of blooms from elegant leaves.  Flocks of tree, cliff, and barn swallows animated the mornings and evenings that I passed through the prairies - and the trill of the red-wing black bird helped me keep time as I made my way back to the hotel each night.

Here at home, I am growing several of the characteristic species I observed at the Botanic Gardens. I started Compass Plant and Butterfly Milk Weed from seed and while they've taken a while to germinate and grow - they're doing well now that they're in the ground - and we're getting some heat. I am curious to see how they turn out. Taking the time to understand the life cycles of these component plants is part of the process I am following to restore part of the prairie at Black Oaks and to ensure that these plants and the ecosystems they support will continue to function and to benefit generations to come. 


Black Bird on Compass Plant Stalk

Shooting Star

Shooting Star

Compass Plant Seedling Here

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