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Illinois’ landscape was once dominated by the grasses and colorful wildflowers of the prairie. Today, less than 2,300 acres of high-quality prairie remain.

There are four distinct prairie types left in Illinois. Walk down this pathway to catch a glimpse of the animals, grasses and plants of woodland: mesic prairie, dry prairie and moist prairie. It’s a journey of change-in color, size, density, species and season.


Early spring flowers such as spring beauty, trout lily, rue-anemone, mertensia and bloodroot take advantage of the sunlight cascading through sparsely vegetated woodland trees in March. April showers bring may apple, blue phlox, Jack-in-the-pulpit, red trillium, and dutchman’s breeches. Beginning in June, culver’s root and nightshade begin to bloom under the forest cover.


The moderate moisture soils support the growth of Indian grass as well as big and little bluestem. Some of the first wildflowers to bloom are woolly blue violet, common milkweed and black medic. Starting in June the pale purple coneflower, smooth sumac, St. Johnswort, and purple and white prairie clover dot the landscape. In late summer the partridge pea, ironwood, showy goldenrod, and black-eyed susan bloom in splendor. Turkey vultures scavenge for food and the prairie kingsnake feeds on small reptiles, birds and insects. The viceroy butterfly is seen May through September and the monarch butterfly is abundant in late summer and fall. The indigo bunting feeds on the grains and berries of the mesic prairie ad builds its nest out of dried grass, leaves and bark strips.


Typical dry prairie grasses are sideoats grama, six weeks-fescue, Indian grass and little bluestem. In May and June, prairie coreopsis, New Jersey tea, prairie violet, lead plant, butterfly weed, green milkweed and wild bergamot bloom throughout the prairie. Later, rosinweed, prairie sunflower, compass plant, wild quinine, purple coneflower and royal catchfly paint the dry prairie. The eastern meadowlark makes its nest in the prairie vegetation while the black swallowtail and cloudless sulfur butterflies visit the prairie flowers. The legendary harbinger of spring, the woodchuck, digs burrows with large visible openings in the dry prairie habitat, and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel hides his burrow deep in the prairie.


In moist soils, the first spring prairie flowers include cream wild indigo, wild blue iris, golden alexanders, fringed loosestrife and mountain mint. Pale Indian plantain, compass plant, prairie dock and glodenglow add brilliant colors in mid-summer. Late blooming flowers such as smooth aster, New England aster and Jerusalem artichoke are seen beginning in August. The big and little bluestem prairie grasses are common in these area. The eastern box turtle and common garter snake inhabit moist prairies, as well as the least skipper and buckeye butterflies and the red-winged blackbird.

An Illinois Department of Transportation program-Corridors for Tomorrow-has planted 5,500 acres of flowers and grasses to simulate the historic prairie landscape. Today’s roadside prairie is a mix of native and nonnative species chosen for visual interest and the ability to thrive under roadside conditions.




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