Thursday, July 25, 2013

Konza Prairie Wildflowers

I have wanted to visit the Konza Prairie in the Kansas Flint Hills for years. Although I especially love Colorado, my home of 25 years, I appreciate the beauty of both the "purple mountain majesties" and the "fruited plain" just as Katharine Lee Bates did. I finally went on a short hike on the morning of my 50th birthday. The Konza Prairie Biological Station is an ecological research station jointly owned by The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University with about twelve miles of trails open to the public.

On the morning of my b-day, I wasn't prepared for a long hike as I typically am when I venture out on the trails of Colorado. I wasn't carrying water, I was wearing walking shorts with a blouse instead of a breathable top, and I was wearing my Keen sandals instead of trail shoes. Even if I had been dressed right for a long hike or trail run, I probably would not have gone far on a hot, humid day. Kansas weather is miserable in July! Weather notwithstanding, I enjoyed the views of the plains and wildflowers.

Along the trail, I saw several numbered signs but I did not have a brochure to know what I was supposed to be looking at. Brochures are available in .pdf format online. At the beginning of the Nature Trail, a little wooden bridge crosses Kings Creek. According to the trail brochure, the stream is fed by springs and the water is naturally filtered by prairie sod and limestone.

The Nature Trail brochure says that the dominant forms of tallgrasses in the prairie are big bluestem, Indian grass, little bluestem and switchgrass.  The grasses are the tallest in September and October; big bluestem can reach 10 feet tall with enough moisture.

There's flint in them thar hills! And limestone. And lots of plant life.  The brochure for the Nature Trail says that there are about 600 species of plants on Konza. A couple of years ago when I shared some photos of Colorado wildflowers on Facebook, my brother said, "We have flowers here in Kansas too, you know." Yes, you do, David. Thanks to Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses for their website, which allowed me so search for the names of the flowers and read some interesting facts about them. Their site features many wildflower photos taken in the Konza Prairie.

According to the Kansas Wildflowers, the Compass Plant has a resinous sap that was used by Indians as chewing gum. The Native Americans also thought that lightening was more likely to strike where the compass plant grew so they would not camp in those locations.

Bee enjoying a Compass Plant bloom

Compass Plant
The KS Wildflowers website has several photos of Moth Mullein taken at Konza. The flower is most abundant in dry, gravelly soil.

Moth Mullein
The orange flower below is Butterfly Milkweed, which is also commonly known as Pleurisy Root.  The roots were used by Native Americans to treat respiratory ailments.

Butterfly Milkweed, aka Pleurisy Root

The purple flower growing next to the trail in the photo below is Woolly Verbena. It reminds me of the Prairie Clover Flower that I see in Colorado but is prettier, I think. Kansas Wildflowers says that woolly verbena is very resistant to drought with roots up to 12 feet deep. Native Americans made tea from the leaves and used it for stomachaches. The Fringe-Leaf Ruellia flower opens at night and usually lasts only one day so I'm lucky to be so observant!

Woolly Verbena next to trail

Woolly Verbena

Fringe-Leaf Ruellia
According to Kansas Wildflowers, the Round-Headed Prairie-Clover flower grows in dry, rocky prairies. The clover flower is most abundant in limestone soils, which makes Konza Prairie the perfect habitat. Livestock find the prairie clover palatable, unlike the bitter tasting Western Ironweed plant. Interestingly, cattle won't eat ironweed but sheep and goats will. 

Round-Headed Prairie Clover
Western Ironweed
As I hiked back to my car, a young mother told her daughter to move over to the side of the trail next to "the mountain" so I could pass. I have not forgotten how big some of the hills of northeast Kansas seemed to be when I was a kid!

After I left Konza Prairie, I saw a couple of other wildflowers along McDowell Creek Road, Prairie Coneflowers and Thickspike Gayfeather. Plains Indians made tea with coneflowers and used the plant to treat head and stomachaches as well as rattlesnake bites and poison ivy. Thickspike Gayfeather, also known as Kansas Gayfeather or prairie blazing star, was also used to treat snakebites.

Prairie Coneflowers

Thickspike Gayfeather

Konza Prairie, I will be back to see you in another season!

2015 Visit

When I visited Kansas in June this year, I stopped at Konza Prairie on my way back to I-70. I went in the morning to avoid the heat. I really loved seeing the Echinacea, Catclaw and Milkweed.

Black Sampson Echinacea

Blue Verbena

Butterfly Milkweed

Catclaw Sensitive Briar

Lead plant

Narrow leaf Bluets

Praire Coneflower

Smooth Sumac

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