Prairie Surprises!

Before tackling Indiana’s State Flower, let’s side step to one of my favorite places. The Hooser State Prairie is located about fifteen miles south of Lake Michigan and not too far from the concrete and rust jungles of South Chicago, Gary and Whiting, Indiana. A century and a half ago this was all flat, undisturbed prairie but the deep topsoil was destined for agriculture and the shores of Lake Michigan were going to be the home of the world’s largest steel mills. Somehow, over a thousand acres of the once limitless prairie survived this onslaught and remains today what it was when Lincoln was a child, practiced law, and ran for Presdent a hundred miles to the South. My ancestors farmed in Logansport, not too far from South Bend where the University of Notre Dame has played football for a hundred years on Fall Saturdays.

Inthe middle of concrete, rusting factories, and commercial agriculture lies the Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve – a unique habitat that once covered the majority of the upper Midwest.

Walking through the prairie is like visiting another world. Few, if any, of the dozens of blooming plants are familiar and strange names appear on my guide book like Lead Plant, Rattlesnake Master, Shooting Star, Rough Blazing Star, Scurfpea, Heath Aster, and many more that can be found no where else. Let’s look at a few. Perhaps the most noticeable blooming plant in June and July is the Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens) which has a towering spike of purple flowers with prominent yellow stamens unlike anything in domestic gardens. The foilage is silvery and covered with fine hairs. Native Americans made a tasty tea from the leaves and elk and deer love to munch all day on blossoms and leaves.

The prairie prince is the Lead Plant.

Next on my Indiana Prairie list for wierdness is the Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium).

Rattlesnake Master is a member of the Carrot family and the smell of crushed leaves gives it away.

Although it looks like you could fight and win a “to the death” battle with the stalk as a club, the Rattlesnake Master got its name from the supposed snake anti-venom power of its roots. Flowers bloom in the sticky head and develop a bluish cast when mature.

Scattered around the prairie is a unique flower seldom encountered. The Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadii) is a short stalked wildflower with a dozen different varieties although most are western US wildflowers.

Occasionally the Shooting Star is pink and the blossum is aptly named.

Another prairie dweller that shoots spikes up to three feet high is the Blazing Star or Gayfeather (Liatrus spicata). It blooms from the top of the spike downward usually a deep purple but occasionally lavender or even white.

The Rough Blazing Star pokes its head high looking for butterflies.

The Silverleaf Scurfpea (Psoralea teniflora) climbs over the tall grass and spreads its tiny peas throughout the prairie.

The scurfpea is a mass of silver foilage and blue blossoms.
The Wite Heath Aster covers the prarie in late Summer and Fall.

There are over 500 plants native to the midwest prairies and we have seen only a few. This is a conservation project of immense importance as many of these wildflowers are indigenous to this environment and seldom found anywhere else. Thanks for joining me on my virtual tour in northern Indiana and now to the official state flower of Indiana, which has never seen a prairie and probably wouldn’t survive a season in this wild environment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close