Grady Tract and Greene Prairie

Rough blazing-star

Rough blazing-star

What a gorgeous afternoon to tour our 50-acre, 74-year-old restored Greene Prairie. It was 74 degrees and hazy with a gentle south breeze. There were few mosquitoes thanks to the swarms of hungry common green darner dragonflies (Anax junius). And, there were no ticks!

Five visitors joined me at the Grady parking lot. The fire lane leading to the West Grady Knoll is lined with numerous invasive plants, giving me an opportunity to talk about restoration and management of the dry pine woods, the oak woods, and savanna. Dave, a dedicated work party team leader, explained volunteer opportunities and encouraged all to attend work days, which occur each Saturday morning.

We walked on the fire lane to the West Grady Knoll, a remnant 18-acre sand prairie. Prior to the acquisition of the 200-acre Grady Tract in 1941, the knoll had been grazed by farm cows. Light grazing kept the prairie open since the 1850s. When cows no longer grazed, oak trees sprouted up. In the 1970s, Arboretum ecologists attempted to control oak growth with a biological oak wilt fungus experiment that was successful but very labor intensive. More recently, brush cutting was used to maintain and reduce aspen, sumac, and other woody plants. Research indicates that fire is the best way to maintain a prairie.

The narrow trail through the knoll allowed us to observe the sandy soil and identify many plants that has bloomed and gone to seed. We discussed how plants cope with sun, wind, and drought. The following are a few plant adaptations: reduced leaf surfaces, finely divided leaves, slender vertical leaves, fuzzy hairs, silvery-gray leaves, sticky sap, and deep roots.

Finally we arrived at Greene Prairie. I encourage you to visit it for a beautiful restorative experience. More than 53 different kinds of native flowers are in bloom. Among the myriad shades of green vegetation, yellow flowers dominate the show, followed by blooms of blue and purple, then white. The leaders in the parade of autumn wildflowers include gentians, orchids, and composites.

When we entered the boardwalk we were thrilled to find deep blue bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii), purple to pale violet stiff gentians (Gentianella quinquefolia), and a good number of blue-violet fringed gentians (Gentianopsis crinita)—all so lovely and plentiful. Beyond the gentians, a large patch of rose-purple spotted Joe-Pye-weed (Eutrochium maculatum) was very showy. In the same area we saw white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) and boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum).

We were excited to see the delicate white lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum). Some of us got down low to small the sweet vanilla-like fragrance it emits. A few individuals were scattered along our route.

At the eastern end we were delighted to find a few lovely blue-purple downy gentians (Gentiana puberulenta). Pinkish-lavender rough blazing-star (Liatris aspera) dotted the prairie with their brightness. And, all over the landscape, large patches of bright yellow sawtooth sunflowers (Helianthus grosseserratus) seemed to glow. What a grand explosion of these symbols of the sun!

Goldenrods and asters were beginning to bloom. They will be very showy in the coming weeks. We found a few goldenrods already in bloom: showy (Solidago speciosa), stiff (S. rigida), Riddell’s (S. riddellii), old-field or Dyer’s-weed (S. nemoralis), common (S. canadensis) and grass-leaved (Euthamia graminifolia). Asters in bloom included smooth (Symphotrichum laeve), panicled (S. lanceolatum), New England (S. novae-angliae), sky-blue (S. oolentangiense) and frost (S. pilosum).

Please enjoy and observe flowers from the trail. Walking off trail to photograph can damage plants and leave a path that lasts a long time. May you have a memorable walk of your own on the Grady Tract.

—Sylvia Marek

See the following list for species we found in bloom during the tour, in no particular order.



  • Bottle
  • Downy
  • Fringed
  • Stiff


  • Common
  • Dyer’s-weed
  • Grass-leaved
  • Riddell’s
  • Showy
  • Stiff


  • Frost
  • New England
  • Panicled
  • Sky-blue
  • Smooth


  • Naked-stemmed
  • Saw-tooth
  • Showy
  • Woodland

Black-eyed Susan
Brown-eyed Susan
Sweet coneflower
Spotted Joe-Pye-weed
Purple Joe-Pye-weed
Prairie phlox
False foxglove
Prairie dock
Slender evening primrose
Canadian tick-trefoil
Illinois tick-trefoil
Flowering spurge
Mountain mint
White prairie-clover
Purple prairie-clover
White snakeroot
Gay-feather (one)
Wild quinine
American burn-weed (Erechitites hieracifolius)
Violet wood-sorrel
Field thistle
Jump seed