Friday, June 5, 2009

The Beauty of Prairies

Image: Native Illinois Coneflowers Echinacea purpurea. Abundant at Munson Cemetery during mid summer to fall. The flowers are visited by long-tongued bees, bee flies, Halictine bees, butterflies, and skippers.

My neighbors, Clarence and Marie Medley, had encouraged me to visit Munson Cemetery during the annual “Wildflower Walk.” The Medleys are members of NAGS (Natural Area Guardians), which is a subcommittee of the Henry County Soil and Water Conservation District (a state agency).

I had procrastinated because seeing several acres of grass growing (granted it is prairie grass) just didn’t sound all that exciting. I was wrong – BIG WRONG!

The Cemetery is owned by Munson Township, Henry County, Illinois. In 1983, the cemetery was designated an Illinois Nature Preserve, a program administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. NAGS maintain this cemetery and I applaud their excellent work.
The IDNR program sets aside land that retains characteristics that would have been there before European contact.

Throughout the upper two-thirds of Illinois, there are at least twenty-four pioneer cemeteries like Munson where microcosms of the original prairie are preserved – only sixteen are part of the preservation program. Do you realize how small a number that is and how fortunate we are to have this in our area?

Prior to European pioneers, the Grand Prairie covered roughly 25 million acres. Today only 2,500 acres remain in Illinois. The set-aside cemetery prairies account for only about 50 acres. Munson Cemetery is but five of those acres.

These plots of land have never been cultivated or grazed. If you visit this cemetery, you will be gazing at a micro-scene of what your ancestors experienced.

What you will see is not just prairie grass; you will see plants that are extremely rare, even in many other prairie plots. The White Prairie Clover, Lead Plant, Cream Wild Indigo, Wood Lily and the Federally protected White Prairie Fringed Orchid.

Join us June 28 (Sunday) at 1:30 p.m. for their annual Wildflower Walk. There will be refreshments and a knowledgeable tour speaker. Bring walking shoes, a sun hat, and your camera. You are welcome to use your own wildflower book as reference. If you plan to use insect repellent, apply before entering the cemetery to avoid over spray on sensitive plants.

Lest we forget, this is an actual cemetery and there is a silent and strangely sobering feeling that drifts between the stones and native plants. It is a glimpse at the history of tough people who dared to move to the great prairies of the western frontier. It is the beauty that haunts the tiny flower face that has stood the tests of time for centuries.

At the tour, take a moment to thank the folks who have made this history lesson possible. Stay on the paths cut especially to allow viewing. Never pick, trample, or disturb the wild plants. And, be prepared to be overwhelmed by the experience. You are being given a gift.

Munson Cemetery is located two miles North of Cambridge at the corner of 1300N and 1300E. From Galva, we typically take the first road off Rt. 81 going towards the Henry County Fairgrounds.

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