Grady Tract

Bottle gentian

Bottle gentian

It was an excellent day to go for a hike this past Sunday afternoon. It was sunny, in the upper 70s, and for much of the walk we had a cool breeze to enjoy. Surprisingly, however, the mosquitoes were still aggravating. We even lost some of our group part way through our hike. I kept thinking (and announcing) on our way through the woods to Green Prairie, “Once we are out of the woods the mosquitoes won’t be so bad!” Well, I was mistaken.

Even in the heat of the day, in the middle of the prairie, with no shade in sight we hurried along the single-file trail, trying to distinguish one goldenrod from another using our field guides, unable to draw confident conclusions as we swatted. But mosquito complaints aside, it was a lovely walk! We were richly rewarded by the many species of beautiful blooming flowers.

The gentians were in full swing and we paused constantly along the path to admire them. We identified 3 different gentian species: bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), downy gentian (Gentiana puberulenta), and fringed gentian (Gentianopsis crinita). Each of the species are beautiful and unique, different shades of purple. A question came up on the tour while studying the very interesting flowers of bottle gentian (which I read is also called “closed gentian”), about how the pollinator gets into the flower as the flowers appear closed. Well it turns out that bumblebees are the answer to that question. The bumblebee is strong enough to push open the petals to get into the flower and retrieve that sweet nectar prize. I found a YouTube video that shows just that.

For our viewing pleasure, the Great Plains lady’s-tresses orchids (Spiranthes magnicamporum) were in bloom. Those unfamiliar with this little orchid are always surprised to learn that it is indeed an orchid. Though seemingly simple and less fancy than, say, a lady’s-slipper, a closer look reveals a beauty of a plant, each flower delicately spiraling (each plant having 20–40 flowers). Though the flowers appear to be spiraling around the stem, it is actually the stem that is spiraling.

Other blooming highlights on our walk included prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), turtlehead (Chelone glabra), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Riddell’s goldenrod (Solidago riddellii), stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida), smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve), rough blazing-star (Liatris aspera), and the state-threatened wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) just to name a few.

Concerning wildlife on this tour, overall it was a pretty quiet afternoon. We observed cranes flying overhead, toads along the path, what we identified as raccoon scat, goldfinches, and turkey vultures. We looked for the Grady Tract resident wild turkeys, but the heat and the time of day must have had them in the shade of the woods.

This is a wonderful time to get into a prairie and have a look around. See the great variety of grasses, asters, and so many other plants flowering, creating a beautiful landscape to relax in and enjoy.

As always, a big thank you to the Friends of the Arboretum for making these Sunday public walks possible!

—Lisa Andrewski