Flora of the Eastern Prairie Islands

Field Identification and Ecology

Led by John Howard, Naturalist and Prairie Expert 

    Friday Eve – Mid-day Sunday; August 9 – 11, 2019

Held at the Ohio Star Retreat Center, West Union, Ohio, with field trips to select Adams County prairie sites

$325/person includes 6 meals, lodging at the Ohio Star Retreat Center, and all curriculum.

August BLOOMS in Adams County, Ohio, one of the East’s prairie capitals. This is a weekend field course studying the relic prairies of Adams County, Ohio. These unique prairie openings hold the forest at bay, and will be awash with color during this course, blooming with everything from sunflowers to blazing stars, milkweeds to rattlesnake master, partridge peas to warm season grasses. This diverse landscape gives refuge to many species of rare plants, which in turn supports  uncommon insects and life forms not found elsewhere in the East. We will be in the field the entire weekend – learning and immersed in this rare and intriguing natural community.

America’s Eastern Prairie Islands.  When you hear a landscape referred to as “prairie,” what image occupies your mind’s eye? For most of us it is likely some variation of flat, or gently rolling, an endless expanse of tall grass, trod by buffalo, punctuated with beautiful flowers…America’s Great Plains. Early American explorers referred to any area that was without trees as “prairie,” derived from the French word for meadow. Even though expansive forests dominate the Eastern landscape, the canopy is still broken by small “prairie islands,” especially in Adams County of southern Ohio where this course will take place. These ancient communities shelter an impressive array of alluring and noteworthy flowers and grasses, many of them state-listed. John Locke, physician, educator, and accomplished botanist explored Adams county’s flora and geology in 1838 and had this to say,

“When it is left [out of agriculture] in conical mound-like outliers, the marle is almost barren of trees, and produces some peculiar prairie like plants as the prairie docks, wild sunflowers, scabish [Liatris], rudebeckias, etc. These places are called ‘bald hills,’ and ‘buffalo beats.’ Several occur within a mile of West Union [Adams County], in a northerly direction, and would be quite a paradise for the botanist.”

In this course you will learn the answers to the following questions:

  • What is the differences between short grass and tall grass prairies both in species composition and the creative forces that built and maintain them?
  • What geologic history led to these distinctive plant communities? Are they extensions of western prairies, the upward thrust of the bluegrass region into Ohio, unique plant assemblages to this region alone, or a little of all three?
  • Does fire have role in prairie history, prairie-building, and prairie preservation?
  • What are the most pressing prairie conservation concerns?
  • What forces direct the slow dance and the boundary tension between forests and prairies?
  • What influential role is played by soil conditions and weather in the struggle between the grasses, sedges, flowering plants, and the woody plants that press in from the edges of prairie openings.
  • How does one identify the distinctive grasses of the prairie and the common, signature, and rare botanical prairie forbes?
  • What are the signature woody trees and shrubs found in and near prairie openings and how can they be identified?

The prairie-adapted botanical groupings to which we will be giving special attention to in regard to identification and ecology are:

  • Liatris/Blazing Stars: spicata, scaley squamosa, cylindrica.
  • Milkweeds: climbing, swamp, butterfly, whorled, green, purple, spider.
  • Silphiums:  cup plant, prairie dock, whorled rosinweed.
  • Sunflowers  of the prairies.
  • Unusual showy plants of prairies: rattlesnake master, false agave, pink milkwort, bluehearts.
  • Pea family: scurf pea, sensitive plants, senna, partridge pea.
  • Orchid family – Ladies tresses.
  • Grasses and sedges.
Photo by Martin McAllister
Chaparral Prairie Nature Preserve
Butterfly Milkweed
Rattlesnake Master. Photo by Tom Croce.
Chaparral Prairie Nature Preserve
Purple Coneflower.