Late Spring Savanna-3

Late Spring Savanna

 While the prairie is just barely waking up, savannas have been blooming since late March–early April.    A member of Northern Kane County Wild Ones invited our group last week to see her amazing savanna just west of Elgin.

From Brenda:

My property is a rolling 6 acre Oak savanna.  It primarily contains mature White Oak and Red Oak with some Shagbark Hickory, Black Walnut, various hawthorn and cherry.  I have worked actively for the last 20 years to clear a disturbed woodland thick with cherry trees and honeysuckle, with the only flower present seeming to be garlic mustard, to open the forest floor to sunlight.  It is now rich in a diverse blend of native plants – most of which volunteered when given sunshine.  The woods are host to many butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and various insects.  The birds visiting include rose breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, orioles, hummingbird, scarlet tanager and woodpeckers.

Spring ephemerals include Bloodroot and Shooting Star;  other spring bloomers are Jacob’s Ladder, Red Trillium, Wood Anemone, Robin’s Plantain, Violet Wood Sorrel, Wild Geranium, May Apple, Early Buttercup, Bellwort, and Early Meadow Rue.

Moving into summer, plants include Solomon’s Seal – True, False and Showy, Carrion Flower, Culver’s Root, Ohio Spiderwort, Jack in the Pulpit, Thimbleweed, Blue-eyed Grass, Wild Bergamot, Giant Yellow Hyssop, Cup Plant, Joe Pye Weed, Bedstraw, Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Wild Columbine, Wild Ginger, various goldenrod and aster, ferns, grasses, and sedges.

I consider myself a fortunate person who had friends that took time to mentor me on the ways of native plants and restoration.  Without them I know that I would not have the property I have today.  It has been much hard work and the work continues, as we all know, but the results are the reward.

Sweet Cicily

Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza longistylis) is common in woodlands, but always welcome. Its small white umbel flowers give a lacy look to the understory.  The compound, fern-like leaves have a pleasant licorice scent when crushed.

Shooting Star in Brenda's savanna

The property is dotted throughout with Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon media)

wild geranium Benphoto by Ben Schwarz

and Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum).

Ferns Benphoto by Ben Schwarz

Clumps of Ostrich Fern (Pteretis pensylvanica) (above) and Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) were seen here and there.  Both of these ferns form colonies, and without competition, they can get away from one in a home garden.  During the 20’s and 30’s Ostrich Fern was extremely popular as a foundation planting along the north side of a house.  My mother’s name was Fern, so we did indeed have ferns growing along our foundation.

Blue-eyed Grass Brendaphoto by Brenda

Common or White Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium albidum) was found in the sunnier area near the road.   Other species of Blue-eyed Grass do have blue flowers, but Sisyrinchium albidum has, as the specific epithet  tells us, white petals.  It does, however, have a blue eye as seen above.  It is not a grass–it gets its name from its tall, thin leaves that resemble grass.

I had never seen either of the next two plants–there’s always something new under the sun.


Violet Wood Sorrel photo by Brenda

Violet Wood Sorrel (Oxalis violacea), a relative of Common Wood Sorrel or Sour Grass, was also found in the sunnier area.  Only growing 4-6” tall, its soft violet flowers rise above its clover-like basal leaves.


Robin's Plantainphoto by Ben Schwarz

Robin’s Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) grew in the same area.

I have searched the internet in vain to find out why this Erigeron is called Robin’s Plantain.  Do the basal leaves resemble those of Plantain (Plantago)?  Somewhat, yes, but what does it have to do with robins?  I have no idea–if any of you know, please share.

The daisy-blossom flowers of Robin’s Plantain are much larger (1 1/2’” diameter), showier, and bloom earlier than those of its fleabane cousins.  Soft stems, 6-18 in. high, topped with yellow-centered, white to lavender-blue flower clusters rise from the hairy basal leaves.   It sends out stolons that form colonies, making it a superb groundcover.  In nature it is found mostly on dry, partly-shaded banks.  It doesn’t appear to be available in commerce, a pity–plants that grow in dry shade are always welcome, especially one as attractive as this.


Brenda's front yard

We’ve circled the amazing property and are now back to the house.  The front yard savanna is spangled with more Shooting Stars and Wild Geranium.

If you have trees on your property, I urge you to re-create a savanna as Brenda has done. The roots of the savanna grasses, sedges, ferns, and forbs keep the trees hydrated and enrich the soil, while the foliage and flowers keep the soil cool, attract a myriad of birds, butterflies, bees, and other insects, and are extraordinarily beautiful.

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12 Responses to Late Spring Savanna-3

  1. Mary Alice Masonick May 31, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    Gorgeous, inspiring, exquisite! I am glad to have experienced Brenda’s savanna.

  2. Suzanne Massion May 31, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    Makes me wish I had forsaken my studio and painting projects to at least go on this tour. These images are so inviting and inspiring. The woodland is calling my name right now. Every day is leafier and green things are taller by inches. Time to go outdoors and see what’s new.

  3. Pat Glen June 1, 2014 at 7:41 am #

    Lovely pictures of a beautiful setting.

    Have been working on opening and reintroducing natives under the oaks in my own front yard for years. This year seems to be especially good for wild geranium and sweet cicely which the deer don’t seem to bother.

    • Pat Hill June 1, 2014 at 10:53 am #

      I know deer eat Shooting Stars, but there were plenty there that weren’t touched.

  4. Pat Hill June 2, 2014 at 7:50 am #

    From my friend June:

    lovely blog Pat. Robin Plantain is available through Jack Caskill in McHenry County ( Red Buffalo Nursery) He sells from his house in the spring and fall and does restoration too. I bought a few plants from him 2 years ago and they are doing every well.

  5. Jean Muntz June 2, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    Lovely tribute to Brenda’s hard work. I wasn’t able to join the group (Wild Ones) but Brenda gave me a “private tour” when I took plants the day before. She said she had restoration help initially, learned a lot,and continued to apply what she had learned in the years since. The results are stunning.
    She showed me the cicely which I think I have pulled because it looked like the invasive, “roadside” chervil I see this time of the year. As usual- more for this gardener to learn.

    • Pat Hill June 2, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      If you look on page 158 of Kane County Wild Plants & Natural Areas, by Dick Young, the 2 plants are illustrated and there is a great difference–False Chervil is much taller than Sweet Cicely with larger flowers and leaves. Check it out.

  6. sue June 2, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    I’m so sorry I missed this. What a gorgeous yard! I love the Blue-eyed grass, even the kind that isn’t blue:).

  7. Jason June 2, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    Wonderful. I’ve never heard of the Robin’s plantain. I wonder if it is available commercially. I could use a good native groundcover.

    • Pat Hill June 2, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

      Read the comment above from my friend June (under my name).

  8. Cheri Lee June 4, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    So sorry we were out of town-I had no idea that Brenda had all that in addition to her other talents. Wonderful to share with Wild Ones. Maybe next time.
    Cheri Lee

  9. Beverly July 5, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Brenda, I have watched you put many hours into that beautiful sancutary you have made. Wow…Such wonderful plants. 6 acres of peace and joy. You go Lady! I still see you in the mosquito uniform.

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