What strikes me about prairies is how complete and whole their adaptations and strategies are. Their deep roots, curling leaves, wind dispersed seeds--all serve the plants so well in such dry and often barren places where prairies find a niche. So many of our state's rare and endangered insects are linked closely with prairies and relict landscapes. They depend on specific plants for food and cover and cocoon sites. If those plants disappear, so do our fragile winged beauties. What a double loss that would be. Wandering along an old railroad bed with friends, gathering seeds to build a new prairie, we imitate nature's design to create a copy of this fascinating ecosystem.
--Carol Fassig, Naturalist at Caesar Creek State Park
A tallgrass prairie in bloom is one of nature's most striking landscapes. Brilliant golds and purples are the hues of tall blooms dancing in the wind; these splashes of color mix with the cool green of the tallgrass and the brilliant blue of the sky. In a true prairie system, from the first pale blooms of March to the looming sunflowers of October, the tall grass prairie is never without flowers. The blooms seem to rise and swell on a sea of grasses with whom they must compete for sunshine and space. It has been suggested that the prairie grasslands be called "daisylands" for the coneflowers, asters, compass plants, bonesets, goldenrods, ironweeds and coreopsis decorating the landscape through summer and into the fall. Though many prairie flowers cannot stand incessant cutting by today's plow, cow or mower, they are not fragile. Prairie wildflowers are tolerant, in fact highly adapted, to the periodic grazing of the bison, long gone from here. Today's prairie flowers may be found as hidden treasures, primarily on forgotten roadsides or railways.
Visitors to Quail Hollow State Park can wade into an introduced Ohio prairie in the forested northeast. Planting of the two-acre prairie patch started in 1982, and park staff and volunteers have been nurturing it ever since.
--Barb Lesco, Naturalist at Quail Hollow State Park
Prairie wildflowers have long been valued for their medicinal qualities, as well as their beauty. Preparations made of native plants, such as purple coneflower, are staples of American folk medicine. Today, renewed interest in herbal remedies has boosted the reputations of some of these plants as healing wonders.
The lovely purple coneflower (Echinacea spp.) was a virtual self-contained pharmacy for Native Americans. Another common name for this flower is black Sampson, probably coined because of the thick black taproot extending as much as eight feet underground. The dried roots were used as an antibiotic and antiseptic. The juice of the root was used to bathe burns and soothe toothaches. Headaches were treated by inhaling the smoke of this plant. Other ailments treated with Echinacea include blood poisoning, typhoid fever and syphilis.
The striking bright orange flowers of the butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.) do indeed attract a variety of butterflies to contemporary perennial gardens. Native Americans chewed the roots of this member of the milkweed family, believing that it could cure pleurisy--hence the popular name pleurisy root. Fashion conscious pioneers sometimes used the soft downy seeds in place of fur or feathers to decorate hats or lapels, or to stuff cushions.
Would you like to create your own backyard prairie garden? The Division of Natural Areas and Preserves publishes a pamphlet entitled "Making a Prairie Garden" which offers tips for planning, preparing, planting and maintaining a prairie patch. For a copy of this free publication, send a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope to:
- Ohio State Parks Information Center
- Prairie Garden
- 2045 Morse Road, Bldg C-3
- Columbus, Ohio 43229-6605.
An excellent reference book with detailed information about site selection, seed collection and preparation, soil preparation, planting and prairie garden care may be available at your local library. Check out The Prairie Garden by J. Robert Smith and Beatrice Smith, published by the University of Wisconsin Press.