For those of you who have never walked the prairies of Illinois in the summer when the silphiums (prairie sunflowers) are reaching for the tallest spot, the milkweeds are teeming with butterflies and the coneflowers are buzzing with bees, you are missing a piece of our Illinois history. For the ultimate opportunity toknow the beauty of our Illinois landscape, plan your prairie visit at sunrise or sunset. The Central Illinois prairies are boasting numerous flowering plants and grasses, with some areas 4 to 5 feet tall -- and silphiums may reach 6 feet tall.
The four bright yellow prairie sunflower silphiums (compass plant, rosinweed, prairie dock and cup plant) are at the peak of their display. These plants have ties to our prairie ancestors.
Compass plant has large, deeply cut leaves that orient themselves north and south to avoid the rays of the midday sun and was used to guide the way. Rosinweed was used by children as a chewing gum. Prairie dock has the largest leaves and was fed upon by bison. Cup plants have leaves clasped to the stem, forming a cup to collect summer rain for wildlife and thirsty ancestors. The silphiums are in the aster family and are good indicators of a healthy diverse prairie.
Pink, orange and white milkweed host so many insects that a recent field guide has been written called "Monarchs, Milkweeds and More" to describe most of the inhabitants of this very important plant species.Pink coneflowers with spiky bright orange centers, pink fuzzy liatris, yellow coneflowers, white mountain mint, light purple wild bergamont, purple lead plant, dark purple iron weed, spiky silver rattlesnake masters, red cardinal flower and soft grass plumes are just a few of the other amazing prairie wildflowers you will see if you hike the prairie this summer. More than 200 species of wildflowers have been observed and documented in Illinois prairies. Prairies once dominated the landscape, but now are rare. If you are looking to plant more native species in your garden, grow prairie wildflowers and grasses