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The Daylight Fireworks of the Mill Creek Prairie - Prairie Walk July 1

Campton Hills, IL: On Saturday July 1 at 9 am Garfield Farm Museum will conduct a prairie walk that foreshadows the summer glory of the once vast Illinois prairie. Museum biologist, Jerome Johnson will lead the walk discussing the flora and fauna as well as the historic land use impact upon the ecosystem.

       It is the intense color of flowers around the fourth of July that heralds a 3 month season of spectacular blooms that once dominated the Illinois landscape. In particular, the gaudy rose purple of the marsh phlox against the vibrant green vegetation that hints at the day time display of prairie “fireworks”. The real star of this burst of color is the Turk’s Cap Lily. The intense orange blossoms that can occur on five to six feet tall stems is so named as its petals curl resembling a turban. As many as two dozen blossoms can occur on a single plant provided no one browsing deer has developed a taste for the unfurled blooms.  

       With the first of July, the prairie averages around waist high as flowering plants seek as much sunlight as possible before the prairie grasses reach their full 4-7 foot height shading out shorter species. All this rush to bloom to set seed is dependent upon insect pollinators. The native milkweed that Monarch butterflies depend upon has started to bloom and the farm has numerous patches of milkweed. Although only a few Monarchs have been seen so far this summer, the next several weeks should reveal if their larvae are present. The Monarch larvae and the red with black spots milkweed beetle will travel to a leaf vein, cut through it, which stops the flow of the sticky white sap to the edge of the leaf. These insects can then safely consume the leaf without “gumming up” their lips and mandibles.

       The walk requires appropriate shoes, long pants, hats, water,  and a favorite bug repellant is recommended. Although there will be ample stopping to discuss the plants at hand, portions of the hike are strenuous as over 1.5 miles will be covered going through vegetation. Each hike creates its own trailblazing path as the full sensation and discovery of hiking a July prairie includes the experience of wading through waist high growth.

       Reservations are requested as no more than 2 dozen hikers go out at once and it costs $6 per person. To reserve call  630 -584-8485 or e-mail Garfield Farm Museum is located at Illinois Route 38 and Garfield Road in Campton Hill, IL. The Mill Creek Prairie and Fen was never plowed but was grazed and cut for “wild” hay as the settlers referred to the native grasses. Garfield Farm Museum is a historically intact 1840s site that volunteers and donors are restoring as a living history farm.