Moist Prairie Winter Plants

by Carl Strang

Today we return to winter botany, staying in a moist-soil prairie at Mayslake Forest Preserve and turning to representatives from a mix of families. I will start with a species I call the plant from Mars: rattlesnake master, a member of the carrot family.

To use a language analogy, rattlesnake master is a cognate. The fruiting clusters are very reminiscent of the flower clusters.

To use a language analogy, rattlesnake master is a cognate. The fruiting clusters are very reminiscent of the flower clusters.

One of the heads in bloom.

One of the heads in bloom.

The yucca-like leaves likewise remain recognizable.

The yucca-like leaves likewise remain recognizable.

Blue vervain, though not what I would call a cognate, is very distinctive and beautiful in its winter form.

The arrangement is very candelabra-like.

The arrangement is very candelabra-like.

Here is a top early in its flowering period.

Here is a top early in its flowering period.

Now we turn to species that are progressively more different from their flowering forms. Yellowish gentian is one of my favorite flowers.

Here is yellowish gentian in bloom.

Here is yellowish gentian in bloom.

In winter the plant seems to shrink and collapse, but if you squint you can see the connection.

The flowers retain much of their shape, but become the same color as the leaves and so are less distinctive.

The flowers retain much of their shape, but become the same color as the leaves and so are less distinctive.

Finally we turn to cardinal flower. In bloom, it’s a knockout:

With flowers like this, it’s understandable that we might not pay much attention to the rest of the plant in bloom, let alone in winter.

With flowers like this, it’s understandable that we might not pay much attention to the rest of the plant in bloom, let alone in winter.

Here I acknowledge help from restoration guru Conrad Fialkowski, who helped me find some winter plants.

The cardinal flower plant seems to shrink, collapse and turn yellow, not supporting itself very well and losing many of its leaves.

The cardinal flower plant seems to shrink, collapse and turn yellow, not supporting itself very well and losing many of its leaves.

The flowers produce round capsules which erode from the sides, releasing their tiny brown seeds.

The flowers produce round capsules which erode from the sides, releasing their tiny brown seeds.

Assorted points and projections from the capsule tips vaguely recall the lobular flower structure. Many more species remain to be photographed and highlighted before this winter is done.

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