Autumn Morning: Prairie Remnant Exploration


This past Sunday morning, I took a walk to a prairie remnant near my home.  Somehow, it escaped the plow and other development to still be with us today – very unusual in this part of Chicagoland.  At one time this ten acre parcel was part of a golf course, subdivided into tiny lots – but never “improved” with roads, etc.  At one point, the land went into tax default and subsequently up for auction.  The adjacent town of Crete purchased the property and wanted to annex the unincorporated land in to their town.  Crete’s neighbor, the town of Steger said that it was already part of their town, so bugger off Crete.  The Great Recession of 2008 caused a detente over rights to this taxable plot of land, which is one reason it still is open land, full of bird life and a rare example of prairie plant and fauna biodiversity. 

On one of my walks, I saw a rare green Grass Snake – not much bigger than a pencil.  Pretty cool, and so is the prairie remnant.  Maybe Crete and Steger will realize, one day, that its best use would be as preserved green space, not houses, not a strip mall, and not green space as in ball fields either – a park can be more than ball fields and play equipment – in this case it could be a place for adventure, learning, and relaxing.

So while we still can, let’s enjoy the rare beauty of the Midwestern landscape:

























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The Native Plant Garden: Pruning Prairie Dock Prevents Problems


2010: This is so awesome, hey is that a storm on the horizon?

As its name proclaims, Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) is native to the tallgrass prairie of North America, and is a must have for the sunny native plant garden.  The spade shaped leaves are big and bold – a nice contrast to the grasses and other prairie plants – the look is almost tropical.  And the flower stalks on Prairie Dock can get wicked tall, 6 to 8 feet tall. 

For the first couple of years, I looked forward to this amazing feat, as the flower stalks grew taller and taller on the Prairie Dock planted along my driveway.  It would be the end of August, and just as the flowers began to open, a windy summer storm would move through and take down the stalks, leaving them sadly leaning at a 45 degree angle.  And, always, they fell towards my neighbor’s driveway. No good.  It was bad enough, true to their name, that all of the flowers faced south, towards the sun and my neighbor, and away from my view.

I could have staked the stems.  Too much work.  I decided to just cut off the flower stalks when they began to emerge in early July – the flowers where nice, I thought, but just did not work in a garden setting – the stems got too tall for their own good.  To my surprise, a new set of flower stems soon began to re-grow from the plant. 


Early July, just before the flower stalks were pruned off.

These, however, never got as tall (only 4 feet or so) and therefore did not get so top heavy as to flop over in a wind storm.  Incredibly, they flowered at the same time as the Prairie Docks in my backyard meadow that were not cut back – and they looked great – more flowers than on the taller stalks – bonus!


2013, Early September.  Other than the Baptisia ‘Twilight Prairie Blues” crowding out the Prairie Dock, all is well in the prairie garden.

The stems were cut back to the base of the plant.  As mentioned, the flower stalks could also be tied to stakes driven into the ground to help support them, but I actually like the shorter flowers stems in the garden setting that result from the early July pruning.


A little tough love for the Prairie Dock – it’s for the best, really.

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