By Kathryn Moore
The excitement builds in August and September as I go exploring for prairie flowers! There seems to be a magic surrounding these flowers, as so many schools, parks, and nature centers recreate prairies.
All across northern Indiana, there are pockets where prairie flowers have survived. There are attempts to save some of the endangered areas. The Hoosier Prairie near Gary, Indiana, is one of these areas. There are even prairie conferences, complete with lectures and tours of prairies. There are also prairie seed nurseries where one can obtain seeds from cultivated prairie plants.
Larry Yoder, naturalist at Merry Lea Environment Center, recreated a very nice prairie on the Isaaca Walton League land off Griffen Road. With permission, you could visit this site. Another area is SR 205, south of County Road 68 in DeKalb County, along an old railroad track. Many times, old railroad track right of ways are a good place to look.
Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area in LaGrange County has stands of Big and Little Blue Stem grass and Prairie-dock that blooms in late July. Prairie-dock is a magnificent plant with huge sandpaper leaves and tall six-foot spikes full of yellow sunflowers gracing the tops.
In July, the first signs of prairie in my area is drooping Coneflower. Its bright yellow petals that hang down from a black cone light up country roads. And of course, one can find prairie remnants by driving along country roads looking for tall grasses and wildflowers. Don't forget Fox Island County Park and the Acres Land Trust preserves.
Now, the exciting thing is that Metea Park - North on Hursh Road, also has prairie plants. There is a trail leading to Cedar Creek where one might visit on one of your pursuits.
When you walk to Cedar Creek, look around you. There will be stands of Big Blue Stem grass on the steep bank. On the forest floor, there are dry patches of moss in an open area. Blazing-star, Flowering Spurge, Goldenrod, Nodding Wild Onion, Partridge-pea, and Gerardia grow here. Stiff Gentian grows near the edge of Cedar Creek.
It was years later that I learned that more prairie exists under the power lines bordering the park. Bottle Gentian or Closed Gentian (named because the flower looks like a big blue bud) bloom very late in the year, along with big stands of Big Blue Stem and Indiana grass. Butterflyweed always attracts butterflies and is a true prairie plant. The bright patches of light blue Nuttall's Lobelia is another one of my favorites.
While you are exploring, be sure to identify the plants and flowers. One should always be aware of alien, non-native plants. When visiting reconstructed prairies, learn about the western flowers, often added to these projects. Learn to appreciate what is native to our area around Cedar Creek and Allen County. Take a friend along to share your knowledge with. And never dig up plants for your garden. Just love those prairie plants!