Weeding at Nachusa

Echinacea pallida

As if I didn’t have enough weeding to do, last week I volunteered at Nachusa Grasslands near Franklin Grove, IL, owned by The Nature Conservancy. They emailed a request to volunteers that read in part:

“This week yellow sweet clover is blooming. We have lots of plantings that could use a person to sweep them for weeds BIRDS SINGING, FLOWERS BLOOMING. The joys of summer are yours. I can assign you a planting. Let me know. ”

Now . . . how can you refuse an offer like THAT?

I am quite enamored of this area, not only because of my interest in native plant communities but also because of the equestrian trails at nearby Franklin Creek.


My riding buddies enjoy many hours here each summer. With 198 acres and 12 miles of trails (is that ALL?), we still manage to get lost.

Nachusa sign

Nachusa Grasslands, just north of the equestrian area, consists of 3,100 acres of prairie remnants, restorations, and reconstructions and is home to over 700 native prairie plant species.


I believe this is Common St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

I doubt if I have as much as 70 species in my own prairie garden.
And I thought I had a lot!


The “enemy” – Yellow Sweet Clover.

The steward for this area had mowed the top of the knob to control seeding from this pest.


Bill Kleiman provided me an amazing tool that I had seen touted – and sold – by Wild Ones. It is a adapted spade, very light in weight with the handle conveniently rotated – perfect for slicing tap rooted plants like Wild Parsnip, Burdock, Thistle or Queen Anne’s Lace.


This is how it works: The sharp end slices through the soil at the base of the plant like butter. By slicing, not prying, below the plants crown, the “Parsnip Predator” effectively severs crown buds, resulting in root death and no soil disturbance.


When the “carrot” is severed, the plant dies.

Wild Parsnip is a plant that has invaded my pastures and is common along the roadsides where I live, so I was much interested in how to best combat it.


It’s a nasty thing. The juice of Wild Parsnip in contact with skin in the presence of sunlight can cause a rash and blistering that makes poison ivy look like a walk in the park. My friend Janet admits she still has visible scares from encounters from many years ago.

I swiped this photo from A Prairie Haven, a marvelous blog with wonderful butterfly and moth photos. “I wish they would eat it all”, they write. Check out their “parsnip pulling outfit” – LOL!


Since I was not equipped with gloves, long sleeves, and a bag over my head, I concentrated on the Yellow Sweet Clover. Nachusa’s strategy was to go after 2-year plants that can reach 8 ft in height. I found smaller plants that had been bent but not cut in the mowed debris. Tedious to be sure!


In my wanderings I came across deer beds, Leadplant, and graceful Panic Grass.



and a few I managed to ID when I returned home:


Dianthus armeria or Deptford Pink.

I much prefer the botanical name for this one.


Growing on noon, I gathered the weed piles and returned to headquarters throwing my weed harvest on a burn pile along with all the others – a tiny contribution.

I now have been “promoted,” having the password to the tool shed I can come and go as I please. WOW! I thought of my many friends who love the birds and wild places just as I do.

Paw Paw Edith? Glen Ellyn Mary? Chicago Bob? Roberta? Karen? Misha?

Even though I continue my own battle of weeds at home, there is something about a morning at Nachusa that nourishes the soul.



2 thoughts on “Weeding at Nachusa

  1. I believe some of the acreage extends to the edge of Dixon. The headquarters is on Lowden Road just north of Naylor, outside of Franklin Grove. They have a very active volunteer network. Saturday mornings are a lot of fun as they a congenial, and often knowledgeable, group.

    They are hosting a program August 16th at 1 pm that sounds awesome. Let me know if you would like more info.

    Thanks for your comments BTW. Makes me feel like I have an audience!


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