As this dry summer draws to a close, the prairie seems a monochromatic brown. But look closer and its secrets are revealed …
One of the primary grasses in the prairie, it blooms in the second half of the summer, and turns reddish in the fall. It grows four to five feet tall, and when bison roamed the land, it was a primary part of their diet.
This bushy white flowering plant grows two to three feet tall. When it goes to seed it puts out distinctive hairy structure called a plumule. Great Plains Indians once used it to reduce swelling – hence it's common name.
Asters are fall bloomers. This white aster is tiny a delicate, and like all late blooming wildflowers provide badly needed food for bees, butterflies and other insects late in the season. The word aster comes from the Greek word for star.
There are eight different species of golden rod that grow on the Schaefer Prairie, and they are part of the aster family. Because their roots are very deep they can handle drought and grow back after they’ve been cut.
One of the many exuberant giant yellow flowers that grace the prairie late in the season. It can grow to be nine feet tall, and is also part of the aster family.
Sage, like the kind that grow in herb gardens. It grows well in dry areas, and in some places it’s called cemetery grass. Indians used it for medicine and ceremonial purposes – and, when burned, as an insect repellent.
This plant indicates a mature prairie. It’s a legume, part of the bean family. Like soybeans, it pulls nitrogen out of the air and fixes it in the soil. Indians and early settlers used the leaves for tea.
They are the fruit that form on wild roses. There are several species on the prairies, including early wild, pasture rose and prairie wild. Rose hips were used for tea and are rich in vitamin C.
Inside this knob is the larvae of a moth. The moth lays its egg on the stem of the goldenrod, and when the worm hatches, it eats its way into the stem. The plant forms the gall to isolate it. Anglers use it for bait.
Another of the 200 species of aster found on the Great Plains. The Ojibwe used the leaves of the big leaf asters as greens for salads. Smoke from burning aster plants was thought to help revive people who fainted, and in treating headaches.
It often grows in disturbed areas, and can get to six feet tall. The spikes of blue flowers rise up over the prairie throughout much off the summer.
This tiny yellow bird is more often heard than seen. But it likes to hang out in wet areas. Only the males have masks.
One of the hallmark wildflowers of the prairie. The hot pink flower ring moves up the cone as it blooms. It, too, is a plant that fixes nitrogen in the soil. A soldier beetle tops this one. (Photo courtesy David Astin Photography)
They often spend nights bedded down in the deeper grass of a prairie, and love to eat the tender green shoots that grow up after an area has been burned. (Photo courtesy David Astin Photography)
Twelve spot skimmer dragonfly is found throught the United States and southern Canada. About two inches long, its named for the white spots found the wings of the males. This one is a female. (Photo courtesy David Astin Photography)
This herald of spring on the prairie grows along the edges of wetlands and other wet areas. Also common in urban gardens, Indians used it to treat earaches, sore eyes and other ailments. (Photo courtesy David Astin Photography)
Also known as Closed gentian this is a fall blooming flower. Like others in its family, its blooms survive hard frosts, making it one of the last splashes of color on the prairie before winter closes in. (Photo courtesy David Astin Photography)
This beloved butterfly is often found on Blazing Star flowers. The females, like this one, have thick black diagonal bars on its wings, but not the black dots carried by males. (Photo courtesy David Astin Photography)
"Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie, The Upper Midwest" by Sylvan T. Runkel and Dean M. Roosa.
"Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers; A Falcon Field Guide" Text, by Doug Ladd. Photos by Frank Oberle, a Nature Conservancy Book.
"Insects; a Peterson Field Guide" by Donald J. Borror/ Richard E. White. David Astin, retired science teacher and Nature Conservancy volunteer.