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NE Illinois tallgrass prairie plants

Last updated about 5 years ago

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    Sorghastrum nutans

    Yellow Indian-grass

    Sorghastrum nutans ( L). Nash, indiangrass, is a native, perennial, warm-season grass, and a major component of the tall grass vegetation which once dominated the prairies of the central and eastern United States. Indiangrass grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Even as a young plant, it can be distinguished from other native grass species by the “rifle-sight” ligule at the point where the leaf attaches to the stem. The leaf blade also narrows at the point of attachment. The seed head is a single, narrow, plume-like panicle of a golden brown color. The seed is light and fluffy with small awns attached. This native perennial grass is 3-7' tall and unbranched. It typically consists of tight bunches of flowering culms and their leaves. The culms are terete, glabrous, and light green to pale yellow. The blades of the alternate leaves are up to 2' long and ½" across; they are dull green to dark green, flat, and hairless. The blade of each leaf ascends upward from the culm and spreads outward towards its tip. The leaf sheaths are dull green, hairless, and open. The nodes of the culms are slightly swollen, dark-colored, and covered with fine silky hairs (at least when they are young). Most of the leaves are located along the lower halves of the culms. Each culm terminates in a narrow panicle of floral spikelets. This panicle is up to 14" long and it has several ascending branchlets that are individually up to 4" long. The branchlets are some shade of golden brown or tan, mostly glabrous, and slender. However, the tips of the branchlets underneath the spikelets usually have fine silky hairs. Each branchlet terminates in a one-flowered spikelet about 1/4" (6 mm.) to 1/3" (8 mm.) long. This spikelet consists of a pair of appressed glumes and a pair of membranous lemmas within. The glumes are about the same length as the spikelet; they are golden brown to tan, lanceolate, gently curved, and somewhat shiny. One glume is covered with silky white hairs, while the other glume is mostly hairless. The fertile lemma has a long awn at its tip that is often bent, curly, or twisted; this awn is about ½" in length. At the base of each spikelet, there is an obsolescent pedicel up to ¼" long; this pedicel is covered with silky hairs and it lacks a spikelet at its apex. The floret of each spikelet has 3 stamens with yellow to brown anthers and 2 stigmas that are white and plumose. The blooming period occurs during late summer to early fall. At this time, the branchlets of the panicle spread outward slightly; afterwards, they become more appressed and ascending. The root system is fibrous and has short rhizomes.

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    Dalea purpurea

    Purple Prairieclover

    Purple Prairie Clover is one of the most widespread of the perennial clover species. Iti s moderately drought, shade, and fire resistant. It does not do well in disturbed areas, and is adversly affected by overgrazing.The seeds travel a short distance from the mother plant when the cylindrical spikes are shaken by the wind. Purple Prairie Clover is palatable and high in protein, therefore mammalian herbivores of all kinds eat this plant readily. It can be difficult to establish in some areas if there is an abundance of these animals.

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    Silphium integrifolium

    Wholeleaf Rosinweed

    While this plant can form sizable clumps, it doesn't spread as aggressively by means of underground rhizomes like other sunflower species. Rosinweed is rarely bothered by disease and is easy to grow. It matures more quickly than many other members of the same genus. Its tolerance for disturbance is relatively high.

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    Silphium laciniatum


    Silphium laciniatum is a perennial herbaceous plant similar in appearance to a sunflower, growing to 1-4 m tall, with bristly-hairy stems. It is native to east-central North America. This plant often co-occurs with Andropogon gerardii (Big Bluestem). Habitats include sand prairies, savannas, glades, and areas along railroads. Compass Plant is fairly common throughout most of Illinois, except in the SE and scattered western counties. This plant easily recovers from occasional fires and does well in mildly disturbed areas. It does take several years for a seedling to develop into a fully mature adult plant.

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    Aster lanceolatus

    White Panicle Aster

    Aster simplex prefers moist or damp prairies, meadows, low areas, and roadsides. It is a perennial with a height of 2-6 feet. Th flowering period is from August through October. Aster simplex thrives in disturbed areas and often forms dense colonies. This species has many common names including panicled aster.

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    Bidens aristosa

    Tickseed Sunflower

    Bidens aristosa is tolerant of disturbance. It is not palatable to animals, produces a high number of seeds, has high seedling vigor, and has a rapid growth rate. This species has several common names, including swamp marigold.

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    Fragaria virginiana

    Virginia Strawberry

    Fragaria virginiana is the only species of strawberry that is octoploid. It is a hybridized species whose natural range is confined to North America.

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    Rudbeckia hirta

    Blackeyed Susan

    Rudbeckia hirta is a biennial forb that grows to a height of approximately 1m. Black-eyed Susan readily establishes itself in disturbed areas, and it recovers moderately from fires.

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    Symphyotrichum ericoides var. ericoides

    White Heath Aster

    Aster ericoides is a native perennial plant growing to heights of up to 2' with a rhizomatous root system. The Heath aster has been observed forming hybrids with other asters, such as Aster pilosus, making identification sometimes difficult. It can be found in high quality and disturbed areas.

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    Symphyotrichum drummondii var. drummondii

    Drummond's Aster

    Native species that does well in full sun and shade. It prefers well drained soils.

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    Festuca pratensis

    English Bluegrass

    Was introduced from Europe and used as hay for animals. Is still used as hay, and its aggressive growth is used by highway dept. to help controll erosion. Is seen as a weed and can be a big problem in prairies.

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    Rubus allegheniensis

    Allegheny Blackberry

    A native woody shrub. Grows in moist to dry prairie edges. Favors disturbed, burned-over edges. Is one of the shrubby prairie invaders

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    Pycnanthemum virginianum

    Virginia Mountainmint

    Common mountain mint may thrive when other prairie species are eliminated by grazing.

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    Potentilla arguta

    Tall Cinquefoil

    Prairie cinquefoil is typically found in high quality habitats, rather than disturbed areas.

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    Helianthus grosseserratus

    Sawtooth Sunflower

    This plant can establish itself in both disturbed and high quality areas, sometimes forming large colonies that can exclude other species.

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    Toxicodendron radicans subsp. radicans

    Eastern Poison-ivy

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    Heuchera richardsonii

    Richardson's Alumroot

    Prairie alum root is a native perennial plant with a rosette of 3-5 inch, palmatley lobed, hairy, orbicular or slightly cordate shaped basal leaves. The 2-4 foot stems are without leaves with straight white hairs. Each stem terminates in a narrow panicle of green flowers. It has a central root stock that is stout and short dividing into coarse roots. It blooms for approximately one month during the early summer. The wind disperses the tiny unwinged seeds that develop in small capsules. The flowers are pollinated by small bees. There is no certain relationship of this plant to mammals and the seeds are too small for the birds to be interested. Prairie alum root prefers light shade to full sun, mesic to dry conditions, and rocky soil. Once the plant becomes established it is easy to grow. There are significant variations in characteristics of this plant with a vide variety across different localities. Prairie alum root occurs occasionally in 2/3 of northern Illinois and is rare or absent in the southern part of the state. It inhabits upland areas of black soil prairies, hill prairies, gravel prairies, sand prairies, limestone glades, and rocky upland woodlands. Prairie alum root generally favors poor rocky soil areas where competition from taller plants is reduced.

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    Gray-headed Coneflower

    Image of Ratibida pinnata

    Gray-headed cone flower is a native perennial with a long, slender, slightly rigid stem. It has irregularly shaped basal leaves that occur at the bottom of the stems. The rhizomatous root system forms tight clumps of plants. It blooms for approximately 1-2 months during the early to late summer. Gray-headed cone flower is easy to grow and prefers full sun, mesic conditions, and loam or clay-loam soil. It is a robust plant that will tolerate partial sun, many soils, and moist to slightly dry conditions. In Illinois it is fairly common with the exception of some counties in the southeast part of the state and tends to colonize the more disturbed areas within its habitats. It is found inhabiting thickets, woodland borders, limestone glades, areas along railways, and several prairies including moist to slightly dry black soil, clay and particularly remnant prairies. Its flowers attract bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and small butterflies which suck the nectar out. Bees collect the pollen while caterpillars of butterflies and moths feed on the flower. The seeds are eaten occasionally by goldfinches. The foliage and flowering stems are consumed by groundhogs and livestock.

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    Silphium terebinthinaceum

    Prairie Rosinweed

    Prairie dock is a typical mesic balck soil prairie plant with an impressive and unusual appearance. It has a vase-like rosette of large spade-shaped basal leaves that have a sandpapery texture. It has a naked stalk 3-10 feet in height that divides into a panicle of yellow composite flowers. Prairie dock blooms for a month in the late summer to early fall. It has a stout taproot that can penetrate the soil up to 12 feet. Its flattened achenes can be carried several feet away by the wind and forms offsets a short distance from the mother plant. It prefers full sun, deep loamy soil, and moist to slightly dry conditions. It tolerates gravely or rocky soil and has a very good tolerance to drought. Its range is throughout most of Illinois with exceptions in northwest Illinois and a few counties of southern Illinois. Prairie dock inhabits savannas, seeps, limestone glades, alongside roads and railways and in a variety of prairies including dry black soil, gravel, shrub, hill, and remnant prairies. It is a common, long lived, slow developing plant that when mature is reliable and nearly indestructible. The height of the flowering stock keeps the flowers above the tall grasses. It is also very good at recovering from occasional wildfires. Its flowers attract long-tonged bees, Halictine bess, bee flies, and hummingbirds. Grubs feed on the taproot. Beetles feed on the flower heads and stems. Wasp larvae feed on the flowering stem and form invisible galls. Cattle and American bison feed on the foliage and stems of prairie dock.

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    Gentianella quinquefolia


    Stiff gentian is an annual or biennial wildflower approximately ½ to 2 feet tall. Small plants are unbranched or sparingly branched while large plants have frequent lateral stems. It has a taproot root system. It has long tubular shaped flowers that may be cross-pollinated by long-tongue bees. It reproduces by reseeding itself but does not spread vegetativley. It blooms from late summer to mid-fall and lasts approximately 1-2 months. The flowers are blue-violet in the fall and Stiff Gentian is one of the last species to remain in bloom. All flowers are replaced by a seed capsule that divides into 2 pieces that release a large quantity of tiny seeds. The seeds are distributed by wind and water. It prefers full sun to light shade, somewhat barren soil, and moist to dry conditions. Moisture and nutrient availability causes considerable variation in individual plant size and flower abundance. It is found occasionally in the northern half of the state but is rare or absent in southern Illinois. Natural habitats include hill prairies, upland savannas, thinly wooded slopes, rocky meadows, stream banks in wooded areas, calcareous seeps and cliff edges. It is usually found in high quality areas void of disturbance, often where limestone is close to the ground surface. It is believed that populations of Stiff Gentian are declining.

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    Lespedeza capitata

    Round-headed Bush Clover

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    Echinacea pallida

    Purple Coneflower

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    Solidago canadensis var. scabra (Muhl. ex Willd.) Torr. & A. ...

    Canada Goldenrod

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    Solidago rigida

    Stiff Goldenrod

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    Sporobolus heterolepis (Gray) A.Gray

    Prairie Dropseed