15 September 2013

Sights of Summer on Schulenberg Prairie

Recently, I visited Schulenberg Prairie on the grounds of The Morton Arboretum in preparation for a workshop I will be leading there on 21 September 2013 focusing on asters and goldenrods.  This 100-acre created prairie consists of a rich mix of obligate and conservative prairie species and represents the fourth oldest prairie restoration/planting in the country.  The restoration of Schulenberg Prairie began in 1962 with the installation of plants grown from locally collected seed from existing Chicago region prairies.  Prior to that time, the 100 acres was dominated by a single species, as it was used as an agricultural field.  Since 1962, Schulenberg Prairie has been regularly maintained by volunteers and staff from The Morton Arboretum through herbicide, hand-pulling invasive plants, and fire, resulting in the most diverse and natural-looking prairie conversion that I have ever seen.
Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) and Stiff Goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum) are common in Schulenberg Prairie

Stiff Goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum)

Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera) adds a touch of pinkish-purple to the prairie backdrop

Cream gentian (Gentiana alba) is surprisingly abundant along the trails through Schulenberg Prairie

A bumblebee (Bombus sp.) forces its way into a Cream Gentian (Gentiana alba) flower in search of a sweet snack

Downy Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta), a real show-stopper

Downy Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta)

Schulenberg prairie was originally planted with a 1:1 ratio of grasses and forbs, and excellent structural diversity still exists 50+ years later thanks to the tireless efforts of staff and volunteers

The expanse of Schulenberg Prairie

Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) adds vertical aspect within an otherwise short-grass portion of the prairie

Schulenberg Prairie was named in honor of Ray Schulenberg, former curator at The Morton Arboretum, and one of the true pioneers in prairie restoration at a time when the few remaining prairies of Illinois were being rapidly transformed into agricultural lands and subdivisions.  It was Ray who, in 1962, was given the task of rehabilitating the land that agricultural activities had degraded for decades through the removal of native vegetation and topsoil.  Ray passed away in 2003, but his memory lives on in this spectacular prairie planting that literally bears both his name and the fruits of his labor.