The yellow flowers of goldenrods along with the blue, violet, and white flowers of asters indicate the arrival of fall in the tall grass prairie located on Main Campus of College of DuPage. Many of these plants will bloom up until the first hard frost. Late summer is a good time to identify the grasses of our prairie. The tall grass, Big Blue Stem, is distinguished by its terminal spikes that bear seeds. These branching spikes resemble a turkey’s foot giving its alternative name, Turkey Foot. Another commonly found tall grass is Indian Grass. This grass yields a thicket of plump golden seeds along golden spikes. Other grasses of the prairie are similarly distinguished by their seed display. Flocks of transient birds, to include gold finches, feed upon the grass seeds that provide essential nutrition as the birds migrate south.
As the weather turns colder, the above-ground tissues of the prairie plants senesce, leaving the roots to initiate new aerial growth with the arrival of the next growing season. Within the ground, ant colonies overwinter, to include the yellow ant, Lasius claviger. This ant rarely sees the light of day as it stays underground regardless of the season in mounds that are over a foot in diameter and a half-foot in height. The ant consumes soil arthropods and excretions from aphids feeding on plant roots.
Although another warm season has passed, life still continues, albeit more so underground. Fall is a good time to take a stroll through the prairie areas to observe the thick growth of vegetation that began growth only since the previous spring and do some bird watching. See if you can spot ant mounds along trails and ponder the continued activity of life below ground despite the arrival of winter.
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