New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) is a part of the prairie terrain in Chicago’s Lincoln Park outside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. The blooms with prolific, pollen-laden anthers caught my attention. If a plant could scream, “Here I am, come visit me” this is what it was silently yelling to passing insects.
Popular with more than insects, during the American Revolution, the leaves became the alternative tea source replacing British varieties. New Jersey Tea has been a long time medicinal choice of Native Indians and a current favorite of herbalists. What will remain unmentioned is that is part of the Buckthorn family whose members include the Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), an aggressive European invader.
Awesome, open, stable, prolific, clean, diverse, and untamed. These are all words that help explain a prairie. Some have mistaken a prairie for a weed patch. This particular prairie is a restoration project, roughly five years towards maturity. The diversity of summer prairie blooms is event on this low hill, a good place to test plant identification skills. With any luck this prairie will survive for hundreds of years; dormant seeds can lie wait decades when poor conditions occur; roots grow many feet deep insuring survival during drought and fire. In addition to the plant species that make a prairie a prairie are wide open blue skies with a few wispy clouds, masking the reality of strong blowing winds animating the plants beneath.
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) (which like most flowers does attract bees) was plentiful this late July evening, partly because it tends to colonize. Considered native by some naturalists and “introduced” by other, its origins are the Eastern United States and has since spread to the Midwest, providing more fuel to restoration dialogues. What time period does one choose as a restoration point when restoring “native” lands?
Full of peace, secluded, ever-changing, mature, subtle diversity, and safe. As I review these images I think reflect on my garden, perennial beds home to some native species; twenty-seven years in the making. My garden is loosely organized. Living across the street from a forest preserve I purposely chose to keep my garden casual in design. No squared off lawn edging, no crisply trimmed shrubs, no formal brick division between lawn and perennial beds. The perennials have chosen to re-seed outside of designated planned spaces, reinforcing the casual design plan.