Summer up through early autumn is the season for prairie flowers. Coneflowers and sunflowers are the most prominent types of prairie blooms, but there are others you may not see much of outside of actual prairie areas, while other prominent plants have spread into fields and along roadsides as well. This is a good time of year to take a look at these handsome flowers.
By the way, I discussed the life, death and rebirth of Ohio prairies in an old post which is worth looking at if you haven’t read it.
Early Summer Prairie Plants
Early in the summer, prairie plants are getting a slow start- not many blooms are around yet.
This is probably the most well-known and common prairie-type plant due to commercial varieties being sold as garden plants. They are hardy and can be seen along freeways. Look for the hairy stems on a fairly short plant.
Wild White Indigo
This unique plant is difficult to see unless you go to a prairie area. They typically bloom ahead of most other plants in their area, and you’ll often see their seed pods when other plants are in full bloom.
High Summer Prairie Plants
By late July, the prairie is a riot of colors, and there’s lots of variety to be seen.
This is the generic Latin name for the sunflower family- it can be difficult to tell the specific species apart from each other due to natural variation and hybridization. I used to go crazy trying to tell them apart- ‘wait, it has opposite toothed leaves, but alternate leaves higher up…’ So I thought Helianthus covered it all and am now less stressed out 🙂 Woodland Sunflower and Ox Eye are two prominent species of this family.
These luminous yellow blooms can cover fields in high summer, and they look wonderful. They get their name from the flower head being a gray color on mature plants. Like Black-Eyed Susans, these wildflowers spread much farther than specific prairie areas.
This plant was named by pioneers who would drink rainwater collected in the cup-like area between pairs of joined leaves along the stems.
Another coneflower that spreads far away from prairies, this plant superficially resembles Black-Eyed Susans, but has smooth stems and lobed leaves.
These bright yellow modest sunflowers have hairy stems with stiff upswept off-green leaves. They commonly grow in colonies.
A real stand-out in prairie areas- it may look familiar because once again there are commercial garden varieties available. They truly are easy on the eyes.
The other purple prairie flower- and of course there are garden varieties of these too. They look quite unique.
There aren’t many naturally red wildflowers (because it’s not a color that bees see well) so it’s nice to see this color on the prairie. This tube-shaped flower specializes in attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.
Another of the very few red wildflowers- I love its deep rich color. Look for these in garden centers, too- who can resist that red!
One of the taller prairie wildflowers, it has uniquely segmented leaves and dark-centered flowers. Other tall sunflowers typically have yellow centers. It sways easily in the breeze.
This tall prairie wildflower has red stems and uniquely ringed (whorled) clusters of leaves. It doesn’t spread out of prairie areas, so if seen it’s a good indicator that you are in a natural or restored prairie.
This is an archetypal prairie wildflower, very distinctive, which can grow up to 10 feet tall. It has huge basal leaves and knob-like undeveloped flower heads.
Late Summer Prairie Plants
By September, Jerusalem Artichoke and Goldenrod have overrun the prairie, making for a very yellow spectacle.
This 9-foot tall prairie plant has bright yellow flowers, dark green 3-veined leaves, and can also be seen here and there outside of prairie areas in late summer. This Helianthus flower is quite distinctive, particularly because of its height. As can be seen in the pictures above, it sometimes lies prone on the ground due to its own top-heavy nature.
This coneflower will sometimes be seen in shaded areas and in open woods. Look for the green heads and unique forked leaves.
The last of the sunflowers to bloom, this plant flowers in September. It has a bright light yellow color that catches the eye.
Prairie areas are very much worth taking a stroll through. You’ll notice many wild plants that gardeners have tamed and placed in their gardens. July through September is the peak season to see these wildflowers at their most colorful.