What’s blooming in the urban prairie patch?

Almost every day, I get a tiny dose of prairieĀ  in the middle of the city. The Sixth Avenue Greenway, just a few blocks from the Mississippi River, looks a little unruly and neglected this time of year, but it’s also bursting with prairie flowers.

I photographed some of them this week in their gritty urban contexts:

Purple coneflower and utility pole

A sunny sunflower blooms across the street from the neighborhood carbon steel tubing supplier, Metal-Matic:

Sunflower and semi -- two bursts of color

Milkweed and smokestacks? Both have vertical presence, but otherwise not much in common:

Two pairs of stacks -- milkweed and smoke

I used to grow butterfly weed in a backyard prairie garden in St. Paul. It’s one of my favorites. Here it seems especially plucky, sprouting out of an old parking lot:

Butterfly weed on crumbling asphalt

As I blithely pass by, hoary vervain is busy attracting insects like bees and butterflies. An Illinois wildflower website lists the insects that go for hoary vervain in their state — long-tongued bees such as little carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, miner bees, and large leaf-cutting bees, plus green metallic bees, thread-waisted wasps, bee flies, thick-headed flies, butterflies, and skippers. Wow. I wonder if I have ever seen a cuckoo bee.

Candelabras of hoary vervain brighten up the sidewalk

Black-eyed susans, everyone loves. And behind them stands one of the trademark Marcy-Holmes neighborhood miniature bronze sculptures:

Pioneers probably dug up black-eyed susans to build this house

Purple prairie clover has escaped the greenway and established itself on the ‘wrong’ side of the sidewalk. The flowers will most likely vanish if the proposed apartment complex goes up on the corner of Main Street and Sixth Avenue SE. Maybe the developer could consider establishing another prairie patch nearby.

Purple prairie clover pointing little purple fingers at the developer's truck behind them

If prairie grasses can be adorable, side-oats grama is. Its flower clusters line up on one side like flags on a pole.

Side-oats grama grass reaching over the sidewalk

I don’t know if this patch of big bluestem grass at the Soap Factory art gallery (around the corner from the Sixth Avenue Greenway) was planted or if it arrived accidentally. But it’s great, and if I squint, I can pretend I’m on a windswept tallgrass prairie in western Minnesota. Back in the 1800s, energetic farmers plowed under most of the tall grasses in order to plant crops, but now we’re planting prairie grasses again in prairie restorations. My favorites are at Afton State Park and the park reserves in the Three Rivers Park District.

Big bluestem, a Little House on the Prairie grass



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2 Responses to What’s blooming in the urban prairie patch?

  1. Joyce Sidman says:

    Gorgeous photos, Lisa. Now I want to see a cuckoo bee! We have a restored prairie in the neighborhood–a former cornfield. They burn it every other year, which is rather alarming (it’s done at night), but the flowers are burgeoning. You have inspired me to get out there with my camera.

  2. Vicky Weise says:

    WOW, Lisa! Beautiful photos and great information! Now if I can only remember all those name as I walk by. . .