Trails in Indiana

Source of Information of Prairie and Plants


Prairies are areas of naturally occurring grasses and forbs. The word originates from the French, and means meadow, referring to an open, grass-covered, treeless landscape.


Tom Post (DNR Regional Ecologist) explains the importance of preserving prairie lands by trail groups as a beginning of a wider effort on protecting natural resources.

Primary Information Sources for Prairie Plants:
Secondary Sources:

Grasses (grass):

Andropogon gerardii
Big Blue Stem is one of four primary grasses that define a Midwestern Tall Grass Prairie in the United States. Up to eight feet tall, the visitor is enclosed by a sea of blue stems swaying in the wind. See where and what grows with this native plant at:

During the process of preserving remnants of prairie in Birmingham, Miami County, Dr. Musselman has built a backup prairie in his own property. Here you can listen and see the story and what he achieved.

Schizachyrium scoparium
This shorter grass of the Midwestern prairie attracts many grasshoppers which in turn attract the native songbirds. Known for its outstanding brown orange fall color, this clumping grass distinguishes itself by remaining upright through the winter.



Sorghastrum nutans
Another of the four primary grasses of the Tall Grass Prairie, this feathery grass has masses of golden seed heads and a fall color of deep orange to purple. It provides nesting habitat, nectar and food for various animals, bees and butterflies.



Spartina pectinata
This is one of the tallest grasses of the Midwestern prairie but is more easily found in wet, marshy areas that are not constantly flooded. Unlike other grasses that are clump forming, Prairie Cordgrass spreads by a rhizomatous root system enabling large masses of the plant to develop. There are two benefits to this characteristic: 1. the large, thick stands provide cover and shelter for many birds and small mammals; and 2. the massive and dense root system, up to 10 feet deep, makes this an excellent plant for erosion control on slopes and wet areas.

Forbs (herb, broad-leaf plants):

Asclepias tuberosa
One of the showiest of our native wildflowers is the butterfly or orange milkweed. Bright orange ‘umbrellas’ of flowers top these two foot tall plants from May to September attracting not only human interest in the native landscape but hungry butterflies, bees and hummingbirds for their nectar. Caterpillars of some of our native butterflies, in turn feast on the leaves of the plant. It is of special value to our native bees. Despite its name, there is no ‘milky’ sap in this species.


Echinacea purpurea
The scientific name of this prairie plant originated from the spinyness of the seed head that is associated with a hedgehog. The droopiness of the purple daisy-like flowers describes the coneflower appearance. Although this is a native plant it is swiftly disappearing from the wild due to it’s over harvesting for medicinal purposes. Its showiness though, has prompted nurseries to develop more than 30 different cultivars to satisfy its popularity in home and commercial garden projects. Bees, butterflies and birds also love this plant.



Humulus lupulus
The Common Hops plant is classified as both a native and introduced species. It is a perennial, dioecious (male and female plants) vine whose female dried seed cones are used to preserve and flavor beer. The pine–like fragrance of the flowers attracts butterflies.

Monarda fistulosa
Another showy forb of the native landscape; Wild Bergamot is beneficial to Native bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, hummingbirds and humans attracted by the plants fragrance (flower and leaf), lavender color and abundance of nectar. Humans use the plant for a variety of medicinal purposes and commercially it is a source of thymol, the principle ingredient in mouthwash. As a member of the Mint Family; the plant has square stems and is closely associated with other species of Monarda known collectively as Bee Balms. In the residential garden, Monarda are known as the firecracker plant because of the form of its flower and when it begins to bloom, near Fourth of July.

Silphium laciniatum
A tall member of the broad-leaved plants growing in the Midwestern prairie; this bright yellow perennial sunflower is beneficial to bees, butterflies, birds and people. Its common name derives from the orientation of its large leaves toward North and South. The plants acted as way finders, even in the dark for early pioneers traveling across the tree-less land.


Silphium terebinthinaceum/Silphium integrifolium
The similarities in plant characteristics between the Prairie Rosinweed and the Prairie Dock plant (see below) have led scholars to re-consider their classification in the Plant Kingdom. Regardless of the name change, this important forb of the Midwest prairie is beneficial to Native bees, wasps and caterpillars as a food source. In addition, the plant serves as an important provider of material/structure for Native bees to either nest within or harvest plant parts for nest construction. The plant exudes resin when injured; which Native children chewed as gum.


Silphium terebinthinaceum
According to the Ohio Prairie Association, the Prairie dock native wildflower is considered one of Ohio’s greatest and most interesting prairie plants. The leaves of the plant emerge in the spring to form a basal clump of broad leaves stretching to 18” in length each. In summer long, almost leafless stalks with an aromatic resin fragrance soar to ten feet above the ground where multiple stems terminate in three-inch wide yellow sunflower-like inflorescence. The flowers are a source of food for many species of bees and the Ruby-throated hummingbird. The American Bison and cattle devour the leaves which emit a turpentine–like fragrance. In the fall, the gold finch can be observed enjoying the seeds of the plants from its tall perch above the grasses and forbs of the prairie. Recent scholars are in the process of re-classifying the Prairie dock plant; changing its common name to Basal-leaved Rosinweed.



Field Guide to Indiana Wildflowers, by Kay Yatskievych
Go Native! : Gardening with Native Plants and Wildflowers in the Lower Midwest by Carolyn Harstad
Habitats and Ecological Communities of Indiana: Presettlement to Present (Indiana Natural Science) Hardcover, by Charles J. Amlaner (Author) , Marion T. Jackson (Author) , John O Whitaker (Editor) & 6 more
The Natural Heritage of Indiana (1997), edited by Marion T. Jackson

Greenacres: Landscaping with Native Plants:
Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society:
Indiana Natural Regions Map, after Homoya:
Interactive EPA Ecoregions Map for Indiana:
Plant Communities of the Midwest: Classification in An Ecological Context:
Prairie Grassland (Sun) Palette from INPAWS:
The Prairie System in Illinois:
The Tall Grass Prairie in Illinois:

Note regarding the Acquisition of Native Plants:
Q: Should the native plants be raised in nurseries? Can they come directly from natural areas?
A: As important as it is to use plant stock from your local area, it is important that the native plants and seeds themselves do not come directly from the natural areas. Poaching of plants and seeds from wild areas will eventually deplete these areas of the seed stock they need to be self-sustaining. Responsible nurseries and garden centers raise the native plants themselves, or otherwise ensure that the plants that they sell were not stolen from the wild. Often nurseries will receive seed stock from the stewards of natural areas. Plants from this wild seed are crossed with the nursery plants of the same species to ensure that the native plants sold remain strong and hardy. Many of these reinvigorated plants are returned to the natural areas where they originated. Others are sold for native landscaping.
FAQ accessed 2014:01-4:26PM

Cardno JFNew: Ecological Consulting & Ecosystem Restoration, Inc.:
Spence Restoration Nursery:


By Tina Jones