Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Virgin Prairie
Nature Bulletin No. 120   June 14, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

Illinois, the Prairie State, should establish a state park preserving a remnant typical of her virgin prairies. The following account of such a prairie is condensed from an article published several years ago by Albert W. Herre, of Stanford University. In the seventies he lived near Delavan in Tazewell County, in a one-room log cabin on the fringe of a small grove of timber on a low ridge at the edge of a great tract of virgin prairie too wet for the plow.

At that time a few farmers lived on the low sand ridges which were the only lands cultivated. Here and there the prairies were sprinkled with permanent water holes, roughly circular and locally called buffalo wallows. Around them grew dense rings of sedges, cat-tails and tall saw grass. The prairie vegetation grew to moderate height as a rule but here and there became very rank. At on low place, not far from the cabin, a man on horseback could not be seen 30 yards away.

Two kinds of lady's slipper, a little yellow one and a white one, grew abundantly within a few yards of the cabin. Bluebells grew everywhere and Dutchman's breeches called "flies" by the pioneers, were profuse. At the edge of the woods grew wild lilies -- the western meadow lily -- their lovely flowers as high as a boy' s head.

He remembers the prairie in spring as the most marvelous sight of his life --- a waving rippling sea of lavender when the wild Sweet William, a species of phlox two or three feet in height, was in full flower. As the sea of phlox faded, it was succeeded by another marvelous flower bed, and then another, until midsummer.

Then the great coarse perennials with composite flowers dominated, and instead of a single mass of color there was a vast garden of purple cornflowers, black-eyed Susans, rosin-weeds, blazing stars, asters, golden rods, and others.

Every spring the prairie wag covered with water and the whole country was a great lake. Only the sand ridges emerged here and there. All day long, swarms of water birds filled the air and the night was full of their cries. "What a pity that some of it could not have been preserved so that those born later might enjoy its beauty also. Now it is merely flat unending corn fields, and moderns may read these words as being only the iridescent childish romance of an old man."

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