Friary Prairie Grasses

by Carl Strang

A prairie is in its early stages of developing on the site of the former friary at Mayslake Forest Preserve. On my most recent check, I was pleased to find scattered prairie grasses in seed, both Indian grass and big bluestem. There is some risk when introducing Indian grass so early in a restoration project, as it can spread quickly and dominate an area. The plants appear to be few and widely scattered, however, so there may not be a problem in this case.

Seeing them reminded me that I need to resume my project of photographing the preserve’s plants in winter. This week’s example will be that big bluestem. Here in its still intact winter mode is a fruiting top.

Note how tightly the seeds are pressed against the branches of the inflorescence, which gave this plant its alternate (and November-appropriate) name of turkey foot.

Here is an inflorescence in bloom, back in the summer:

The flowers are more relaxed out from the stem, and the anthers are releasing their pollen to be wind-carried to other plants.

This is one of the characteristic species of the tallgrass prairie.

Big bluestem can tower above many other of the prairie plants.

So, this made for an easy start. Not all plants are so recognizable in their winter form, as we’ll see.

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