KANSAS CITY Mo -- A healthy Missouri prairie in June is lush green and sprinkled with pink, yellow, red and white. Walk into the prairie for a closer look and you’ll see the color comes from wildflowers such as purple prairie coneflowers waving in the wind.
Prairies change weekly in summer as plants grow and bloom. And with grasses growing taller, such as big bluestem grass already in flower, some of the wildflowers are tucked down into the green growth. A hike on the prairie is the best way to see them.
Red Indian paintbrush blooms were still found in mid-June at the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) Paint Brush Prairie south of Sedalia. They are low growing and more common earlier. But plants such as rattlesnake master, a tall plant similar to yucca, were beginning to send white flower stalks skyward.
What flowers and grasses you find on a prairie depends on the area’s location, history, seasonal weather variations and management.
For instance, a small portion of Paint Brush Prairie was given a treatment in January that included a prescribed fire and removing woody brush. Prairies evolved with fire and wildlife managers use prescribed burns to maintain grasslands in a natural condition. Grasslands can be especially showy with colorful blooms and grasses after a burn because nutrients are dropped onto the soil and old growth does not block the sun from emerging plants.
The northwest corner of Paint Brush Prairie that was burned last winter is now thick with grasses and wildflowers. That treated portion is also designated as a Missouri Natural Area because of rich plant diversity. Many are blooming now. Each step can bring a new surprise. Botanists have documented more than 200 natural tallgrass prairie plants on the area.
This site is also easy to reach for visitors. It borders U.S. 65 about 10 miles south of Sedalia and is on the east side of the highway at Manila Road. The area’s first parking lot is just a few yards east of the highway. Further east and south are other sections of the Paint Brush Prairie Conservation Area and two more parking lots.
There are no trails. To best see a prairie and flowers tucked beneath and behind grasses, you simply pick a direction and walk. Take your camera. But also take some insect repellent. Ticks not only like the woods, they like the prairies, too.
Some bugs on the prairie can be fun. Blooms often hold colorful insects looking for nectar. Or sometimes the bugs hope to look like blooms, such as the rare pink katydids sometimes found on the prairie.
Prairies abound in birds, too. Go early and late and listen to them call.
MDC manages numerous prairies throughout western Missouri. To find one near you for a hike, go to www.MissouriConservation.org and click on your desired region from the “Regions” box. After you’ve clicked on a region, scroll down and on the right watch for the “Regs and Areas” box, then click on “Conservation Areas.” That will give you a search function where you can type in a county or an area name, and a list of areas will appear on the screen. Many have prairie in the name.
Grasslands provide homes and foods for wildlife, filter storm water runoff, store carbon and also can be an efficient component of a livestock grazing system.
But in early summer, they’re also simply gorgeous to walk upon.