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Late August for a native plants gardener in sandy northwestern Wisconsin is show time. This is when I smile and say: OK, what we have here is the native plants equivalent of a fireworks display. The big bluestem and Indian grass are six feet high and the little bluestem and sideoats grama grasses are four feet high. There’s an in-your-face aspect to tall grass prairies, even the little patches in the middle of a pine-oak forest.
When I began my native plants project, I didn’t necessarily anticipate this tall-grass look. I did plant lots of little bluestem partly because it seemed like a shorter, more polite garden species; the wilder and crazier big bluestem wandered in on its own. I did scatter Indian grass seed that I’d collected on my walks in the area, but I didn't think it would actually grow.
It did grow.
My tall grass prairie still needs to fill in before it achieves true prairie stardom, but I fully expect it to do that in a few years, even in our droughty, nutrient-free soil.
Today I have close-up photos of a few plants from the sunny, tall-grass side of our yard. Not only are these plants fun from a porch-gazing distance, they’re pretty cool – maybe even a little weird -- a few inches away.
The first is big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). I was struck by how un-blue some parts of the grass were:
And here's the black eye from a black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta):
One of my favorites, blazing stars (Liatris aspera). The petals of the blossoms look almost capable of reaching out and gobbling up that ant:
And last, Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans). The first part of the Latin name means 'poor imitation of sorghum' and the second part means 'nodding.' For the first forty years I walked the logging roads in these woods, I never noticed this species of grass. But now it pops for me. Indian grass is a tall beauty, but for this photo, I focused on the way the seed heads nod, or flop sideways, a contrast with the vertical pines in the background:
Happy and safe Labor Day to all!