Friday, June 17, 2011

Prairie Garden - Mid June

June is when the prairie garden goes through the green weedy stage. Of course I don’t consider it weedy. I call it that because now is when I’m frequently asked why I don’t mow that patch of weeds in the middle of the yard. The most noticeable feature at the moment is the Prairie False Indigo, Baptisia lactea. This tall perennial legume dominates everything, at least as far as height is concerned.

Prairie False Indigo begins growth in the late spring and suddenly shoots up tall spikes that produce creamy white flowers. A healthy plant can reach 6 feet or a little better. The pea-like flowers are attached singly to the central stalk. Leaves develop more slowly, but become an impressive display themselves later in the season. Leaf height is typically half that of the full plant.

It won’t be long before the prairie garden becomes more colorful. Butterflyweed isn’t a common plant in the more established prairies of Blue Jay Barrens, but I scattered a few seeds here to make this project a little more palatable to the uninformed public.

There may not be a lot of color, but the prairie garden is full of interesting plant features. The False Gromwell flower stalks are beginning to unfurl. The curled stalk straightens a little bit with each flower that matures. The entire stalk will be held up straight by the time the seeds are ripe.

Dwarf Plantain, Plantago virginica, is one of those plants that needs open soil in which to grow. Being an annual means that this plantain must produce a good crop of seed in order to guarantee a population next year. It’s odd that the species is so rare here, since there are so many areas of bare ground. Populations don’t seem to last for more than a few years in any one spot before dieing out. The frequency of the plant seems to stay relatively constant, but the locations keep changing.

Except for the absence of dead plant material from last year, you wouldn’t know that this area had been burned in the spring. When left unburned, the old plant residue disappears through the course of the summer as it’s consumed by soil organisms. I wonder how much the soil biota suffers when we deprive them of this organic feast.

The prairie grasses are putting on some rapid growth this spring. Excessive rainfall and above average temperatures seem to really encourage the growth of this Sideoats Gramma.

The Spider Milkweed has managed to produce one seed pod. The Milkweed Bugs are already probing for a taste of the developing seeds.

Another of the uncommon milkweeds, Green Milkweed, Asclepias viridiflora, is preparing to bloom. This is a rather inconspicuous species that only shares its charms with those who are willing to get their eyes up close.


  1. nice! were right about the learning while growing...I had to laugh when you said "weedy", my wife uses that word often when describing my native plant garden! It often amuses me this "Weedy" connotation..just today I listed a common st.Johns wort,Hypericum perforatum I had come across in a field, described as weedy and distained by many and yet
    mention its nearly identical ,albeit "rarer' cousin northern st.Johns wort Hypericum boreale ,and you get the opposite response.:o...I guess the part that puzzles me is , we strive to increase the numbers of species and when we or they succeed, they go on the weed list.??? The Goldielocks and the three bears effect i guess?

  2. Hi, Michael. I’ve noticed that many who snub the common species are those people who only make a passing acquaintance with plants. They really don’t know the rare plants any better than they know the common. I’ve lived with my plants for many years and know that each species has characteristics that makes it special.