Contributing Editor: Alyssa A. Nyberg
Nursery Manager/Outreach Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy Efroymson Restoration at Kankakee Sands

Knowing bloom times will help you plan your prairie visit.

Timing is everything. A second too soon or a second too late, and often the game is lost, the joke isn't funny, or the date not accepted. Sigh.

So it is with plants. Each plant has its bloom time, and the insects and birds depend upon it. If the skunk cabbage emerges before the flies do, it won't be pollinated. Hummingbirds are in tune to the opening of the wild columbine. In our garden, within a day of the first columbine bloom, we see our first hummingbird of the season. It happens this way each year. I don't understand it, but I certainly respect it and always look forward to it.

So precise are the bloom times of native plants, that some people (myself included) track the first time they see the bloom of a particular flower each season. For example, Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), June 14, 2014.

Should there be a particular plant that you would like to see in bloom on the prairie, that's possible by researching its bloom time and making your way to the prairie within that time frame. If it's Indian paintbrush you desire, come mid-April to early September. Should you want to see porcupine grass in flower, aim for June and come early; porcupine grass only flowers for a short time. You might be surprised to realize how predictable native plants are in their blooming. This predictability can make even the newest of environments, like the prairie or the savanna, feel more comfortable and inviting.

Amongst the prairies and savannas of our Northwest Indiana, we know to expect skunk cabbage first, then toothworts, Dutchman's breeches, violets, and lupines. So it goes, all through the year, over 500 species blooming in a myriad of shades, and ending with the goldenrods, asters, and gentians. The symphony of color is similar each year, but can vary depending on moisture and temperature. Maybe a little more yellow of coreopsis last year, but a perhaps a bit more purple of New England aster this year.

This winter as you are wishing you could change the weather (which sadly can't be done), think instead about something which you can change in your environment: the beauty of your yard. You can time the floral display of your yard to look exactly as you wish, just by learning the bloom times of our local native plants and incorporating them into your own landscaping. Want a sprinkling of violet in the spring, a burst of yellow in the summer and a gentle white in the fall? That's all possible. Many native plant nurseries have listings of the bloom times of the native plants that they sell in their plant catalogues and online.

On the Kankakee Sands website, we have a short listing of some of the common prairie plants and their bloom times (click on "What's Blooming at Kankakee Sands?") Additionally, our local Friends of the Sands group will have native plants available this spring during our birding event. Stay tuned for more information in the months to come.