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Last year I wrote an article on silphiums. Silphiums are a grouping of wildflowers native to the tallgrass prairie of the Midwest, with stalks of yellow flowers that you see standing tall over all other plants, often in a ditch or reconstructed prairie. This time of year, late summer, is a good time to enjoy the show of the silphiums. I was inspired to write that article by a stretch of Highway 336, traveling south of the town where I live. In 2018, that stretch of road was awash with yellow flowering plants, much of them were compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum). The yellows were complemented by the lingering purple coneflower and emerging blooms of fall aster.

This year mid-August in 2019, when traveling on my normal route down Highway 336, I was met with dismay as the entire stretch of roadside wildflowers, for miles and miles, had been mowed down. This year, there will be no blooms. Most of these wildflowers will not have the chance to go to seed, giving the grasses a competitive edge, meaning fewer flowers in the coming years.

This mowing also removed large patches of milkweed. Right now, the final generation of monarch butterflies for this year are completing their lifecycle on milkweeds in Illinois. The loss of milkweed means a loss for this critical migratory generation.

Okay, so you are probably thinking, I’m being a bit dramatic about a ditch being mowed. I can step back from the situation and agree this is not the end of the world. Plus, maybe there was some purpose of mowing that I am missing. Perhaps to control an invasive plant. However, when you consider that before European settlement Illinois had 22 million acres of prairie, and now we have less than 10,000 acres, these patches of habitat for the living things that were here before us, are very precious.

When teaching classes that deal with the subject of urban or agricultural areas and wildlife habitat, I often get the response, “So what?” “Those are just weeds.” And “You can’t eat that stuff.”

Understandably, not all see or ever will agree on the value of habitat. My reasoning to advocate for habitat follows the tenant of ecology that emphasizes the value of biodiversity. Life on the prairie (and the entire planet) is resilient because we have such a diversity of living things. These are natural systems that humans need for breathable air, clean water, and healthy soil to grow our food. On the flip side, Earth’s living systems generally show less resiliency when there is low diversity.

Going from 22 million acres of prairie to less than 10,000 acres is an incredible amount. When you consider that the monarch butterfly, and so many other species, continue to persevere despite being on the brink of extinction, it shows how tough our prairie species truly are.

It is not all despair. There is certainly hope for humans and the wild things of this world to exist side-by-side. If we take the time to educate our young generations on the value of wildlife and plants. That food doesn’t come from the grocery aisle or heat from the furnace. Human life is rooted in the natural processes of this planet. We cannot escape that.

Aldo Leopold says it best, “The objective is to teach the students to see the land, to understand what they see, and to enjoy what they understand.” Our charge is to instill a land ethic in those that will shape the future.

Join the University of Illinois Extension as we share the natural wonders of this world and what can be done to help our prairies, monarchs, and all the wild things at our annual Monarch Migration Festival on September 7, 2019, at Lakeside Nature Center in Galesburg, 10 AM to 3 PM. This is a great event for families, with something for all ages.

  • You will see real live monarch butterflies and caterpillars

  • Explore the Ms. Mari Posa mobile classroom

  • Send your own symbolic butterfly to Mexico

  • Purchase native plants

  • Talk to local conservation experts

  • Dress up like a butterfly for the monarch parade at 2:30

  • Win a chance to release a butterfly

Enjoy vendors, music, food, crafts, talks, and of course butterflies!

The festival ends at 3 PM with a release of monarch butterflies. For more information on monarch butterflies contact the Knox County Extension office at 309-342-5108 or visit our website at

Good Growing Quote of the week: “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: What good is it?” -Aldo Leopold