I spent one afternoon last week with my son visiting Jennings Prairie, a restored prairie in Pennsylvania. Although prairies were never exceedingly common here in this state, most of those that did exist are long gone, victims of development and farming. It was a pleasure to walk through the prairie site and see what parts of our state once looked like.
Jennings Prairie is part of a state-park facility known as the Jennings Environmental Education Center. The prairie ecosystem at Jennings is 20 acres and is the only public and protected prairie in Pennsylvania. The prairie was established to protect the prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya) and is home to many rare and endangered Pennsylvania plant species as well as to the endangered massasauga rattlesnake. As a gardener, I always find pleasure discovering “new” places, and Jennings Prairie is a real nature-lover’s delight.
Here are some pictures of our discoveries:
The white flower pictured is cowbane (aka water hemlock), an extremely poisonous plant in the carrot family. Wild-foods foragers might mistake this plant for the edible caraway, but they can tell a distinction by bruising the plant in question. If it gives off a strong unpleasant odor, it’s cowbane and should not be consumed. The blue downy skullcap pictured growing with the cowbane is a member of the mint family and grows taller than most other skullcap varieties. Its beautiful, fragrant flowers are worthy of cultivation in a backyard garden.
Meadowsweet has fern-like foliage, and its flowers have a strong, sweet aroma. This well-known prairie flower is used by herbalists to treat a variety of conditions, including coughs, colds, bronchitis, upset stomach and bladder infections. It’s usually the leaves that are used in medicine, while the flowers, which can also be used as a natural sweetener, provide flavor.
The yellow Rudbeckia at the bottom of the photo, commonly called black-eyed Susans, grow among Phlox (in purple) and Virginia mountain mint (in white) at Jennings Prairie. Although they are wildflowers, these native species can also be grown in your home garden. (I love Phlox and grow it in my own garden.)
Perhaps you can learn a little bit about prairies from this placard found at the entrance of Jennings Prairie. According to the JEEC website, the Senecas were the first people to inhabit this particular area, and their agricultural technique of using fire to open planting areas may have helped sustain the prairie lands.
Learn more about wildflowers grown in prairies and elsewhere with Hobby Farms’ wildflower identification cards.
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