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Article and photos by Cydney Ross

Have you ever walked across the prairie after a late spring storm? The contrast of pigmented flowers against moody skies is electrifying. Despite looking desolate as you drive by, prairies are full of life and species diversity. You need to slow down a take a closer look. Paintbrush (Catilleja coccinea) stands proud at a few inches tall, soaking in the sunlight before taller species shade them out. Downy leaves of Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) contrast with their deep purple flower. An expanse of Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) blankets the landscape. Their presence offers nectar for pollinators, and later, seed for songbirds.

This is also the time of year you will also see the rare Regal fritillary butterfly (Speyeria idalia). The butterfly is named “regal” for a reason. This large butterfly has dramatic red-orange, white and black markings. Gravid female butterflies need a lot of high-quality native flowers from May through fall to start the next generation. You may see them clustered on Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) feverishly seeking nectar. With their caterpillars hosting on native prairie violets, it has confined this species to the few remaining tallgrass prairie remnants.

Would you believe that the areas I’m describing are within reach of where we live? I invite you to join me for two more hikes on May 25th and June 15th before the summer swelter sets in. If you’ve ever walked with a naturalist, you notice these aren’t extreme endurance hikes. We take things at our own pace and soak in the beauty of the great outdoors! During our Guided Naturalist Walks you’ll enjoy camaraderie and gain information for supporting nature at home. Registration is limited and at the links below.

Learn more details and register for our May 25th hike here.

Sign Up!

During our Lunch and Learn episode on June 6th you can learn how Johnson County Parks and Recreation District stitched together old growth, new prairies, and prairie restorations over two miles and two hundred acres of habitat. Save the date for our upcoming hike on Saturday, June 15th. Registration opens soon!

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