ILLINOIS – Floristic quality monitors teamed up from as far away as London, England this summer to help survey the diversity of prairie restoration areas at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Their involvement is essential to progress in the native Illinois prairie habitat restoration that began here nearly 25 years ago on land previously belonging to the former Joliet Army Arsenal.
Of the 18,500-acre Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, there are over 3,000 acres at various ages and levels of restoration. A measure of quality control is to survey, analyze and compare, each year, restoration sites on the Midewin with other known high-quality natural areas.
Native Illinois prairie plants are monitored within random quadrants along 100-meter transects each year. Data that is collected helps determine diversity and success of restorations over time.
Emily Blackmore participated in the surveys on July 16 while on a travel scholarship through a certificate program with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London, England (“Kew Gardens”). Blackmore visited 10 sites within two weeks in northeastern Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The intent of her U.S. visit was to experience remnant prairies in their natural habitats, managed restoration prairies, prairie planting in cultivation and the urban environment in the Midwest.
“I wanted to study prairie plants within the remnant habitats and observe the ecosystem they support,” Blackmore said. “I wanted to learn more about restoration of prairies and the research required for implementation and management. I wanted to visit prairie planting used in cultivation and the urban environment and explore the considerations for the selection, design and maintenance of planting and its environmental benefits.”
Blackmore said she had worked with many Illinois prairie plants before, such as solidago, asters, echinacea, panicum and baptisia but her visit to the U.S. exposed her for the first time to plants such as silphium, milkweed, big bluestem and more.
Floristic surveys on the Midewin this year began on July 1 and continued through the third week of July. Fourteen Midewin volunteers and Midewin restoration staff were led by Midewin Botanist Michelle Pearion. The teams counted the numbers of native Illinois prairie plants growing in 16 transects on the west side. The teams used quadrats to study the transects with 25 quadrats on each transect.
On July 1, a team surveying at Blodgett Road off of West Patrol Road spotted white wild indigo. Monitors also spotted abundant black-eyed susans, cup plant, ironweed and more native Illinois prairie plants.