In my post retirement as a high school educator I have been very fortunate to be selected as a Docent at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory working at the Lederman Science Center.  The docents help provide the very best educational experience for our student and adult visitors.  The experiences fall across a wide array of topics from High Energy Particle Physics to the restoration of the natural Illinois prairie occurring on site.  The experiences can take the form of a tour and/or a school sponsored Field Trip. Docents are there to help, guide, and explain the mission and vision of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and highlight the contributions Fermilab has and is making  to the pure and applied science sciences for the United States and the world. As a Newbie Docent I am taking it all in.  We are having an all docent meeting this week and were given a homework assignment to research two native prairie plants to share during our morning outdoor work.  I thought I would post mine as a blog.


Stiff Goldenrod



Stiff Goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum) is an Illinois native perennial that is part of the Aster family (Asteraceae) that grows to be between 2’ and 5’ tall.  Characteristically the plant has an un-branched form.  The exception to this is when the plant nears inflorescence.   A corymb is at the apex if each stem where the inflorescence occurs.  Upper side stems will develop corymbs to create a cluster of inflorescence proving a colorful display during the blooming season.   The inflorescence spans approximately 2”- 3” across while each flower measures within the range ¼” to ½” in diameter.  Moving down from the flower the leaves start out small and increase in size where the reach a maximum of 10” long and a breadth of about 5” with a variety of shapes (i.e. lanceolate, oblanceolate, oblong or oval) with blunt tips.  Leaf coloration is light green and pubescent (felty appearance) and early in the season are soft and floppy while late in the season the texture is much more rigid.  Basal leaves may remain green over winter. Blooming occurs for approximately one month from late summer through fall.  After blooming the resulting achenes are wind born due to the white or light brown tufts of hair. The plant tends to create off sets form its deep fibrous root system.


Thanks to Illinois Wildflowers Information at


Full sunlight and moist to slightly dry condition is the preference of Stiff Goldenrod.  Soil type does not seem to make a difference which can be loam, clay-loam, or have a course gravel type texture.  This plant actually responds to too much water and too fertile of soil by drooping during blooming.  This is an indicator that this plant is very draught resistant and is very east to cultivate.  Mildew (powdery) sometimes will be observed on the leaves.

Monarch butterfly forages on stiff goldenrod

Range and Habitat:

Most counties in Illinois have Stiff Goldenrod with the exception of some of the southern counties where it is rare to see them. (Map).  Stiff Goldenrod is found in a variety of habitats statewide.  These habitats include moist to slightly dry black soil prairies, clay prairies, savannas, thickets, limestone glades, abandoned fields, roadsides, and open areas along railroads, particularly where prairie remnants occur.

Dance of the Monarchs and Honeybees



Thanks to Wild Flower Farm


Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) is perennial with numerous rhizomes  is grows from 4 to 6 feet in height and as a species is very common in tall grass prairies.  The leaves are larger than most of the tall grass prairie plants.  Blooming takes place from June to September.  The flower heads are composed of very small (inconspicuous) flowers that have a delicate look to them composed of purple stigmas at flowering time followed by a large, open, finely textured, reddish-purple seed head. The culms are light to medium green, terete, glabrous, and fairly thick.  Each culm several alternate leaves spanning it length under the inflorescence.  Leaf blades are up to 2/3across and 2” long.  Each ligule has a band of white hairs, while the nodes are swollen and often dark-colored.

The culm ends in an inflorescence about 8-20″ long and 4-10” across. This inflorescence is an airy panicle of spikelets; is broader toward the bottom than the top (pyramidal or conical). The slender branches of the panicle are ascending to spreading and fairly straight. Each branch terminates in a small spikelet about 4-5 mm. long that is ellipsoid or narrowly ovoid in shape. The spikelets are initially light reddish purple, but they later become light tan. Each spikelet has a pair of glumes, a single fertile lemma, and a floret. The blooming period occurs during mid-summer. Pollination of the florets is by wind. The floret of each spikelet is replaced by a grain that is 2-3 mm. long; this grain is ovoid-oblong in shape and somewhat flattened on one side. The root system is fibrous and rhizomatous; the fibrous roots can penetrate more than 10 ft. in the ground.

Fields of Study: Switchgrass Breeding


Reproduction is by seed and vegetatively through rhizomes.  As a result of the development of rhizomes switch grass tends to grow as a “sod” rather than in clumps.  Switch Grass grows best in sand to clays soils that are medium to dry with regards to water content in partial to full Sun. This grass is very robust and aggressive in its growth.

Switchgrass Research

Range and Habitat:

Native Panicum virgatum Switch Grass grass is one of the dominant species of the tall grass prairie and occurs in habitats including black soil prairies, clay prairies, sand prairies, typical savannas and sandy savannas, open woodlands, rocky bluffs, sand dunes, marshes and sandy pannes, rocky banks of rivers, prairie restorations, areas along railroads and roadsides, and abandoned fields. Because of its above-average tolerance of salt, this species can become the dominant grass along little-mowed roadsides where salt is applied during the winter. Like other prairie species, this native grass recovers readily from occasional wildfires.


Voigt, John W., and Robert H. Mohlenbrock. Prairie Plant of Illinois. Springfield: State of Illinois, Print.

Hilty, John . Prairie Wildflowers of Illinois. 2013. Photograph. n.p. Web. 21 Aug 2013. <;.

Switchgrass – Panicum virgatum. 2013. Photograph. General Image, Coldwater. Web. 20 Aug 2013.

Klips, Robert. Monarch butterfly forages on stiff goldenrod. 2012. video. YouTubeWeb. 20 Aug 2013. <;.

Buslaff, Joy. Dance of the Monarchs and Honeybees.m4v. 2010. video. YouTubeWeb. 19 Aug 2013. <;.

wiscplantbreeding, . Fields of Study: Switchgrass Breeding. 2009. video. YouTubeWeb. 19 Aug 2013. <;.

UNLresearch, . Switchgrass Research. 2012. video. YouTubeWeb. 20 Aug 2013. <;.


achenes – a small, dry, one-seeded fruit that does not open to release the seed.

clay-loam – soil tyoe consisting of equal parts clay, silt, and sand

corymb – a flower cluster whose lower stalks are proportionally longer so that the flowers form a flat or slightly convex head.

culms – the hollow stem of a grass or cereal plant, esp. that bearing the flower.

floret – one of the small flowers making up a composite flower head.

glabrous – (chiefly of the skin or a leaf) free from hair or down; smooth.

glumes – each of two membranous bracts surrounding the spikelet of a grass (forming the husk of a cereal grain) or one surrounding the florets of a sedge.

inflorescence – the complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers.

lanceolate – shaped like the head of a lance; of a narrow oval shape tapering to a point at each end.

lemma – In a grass floret, the lower of two bracts enclosing a flower

ligule – a narrow strap-shaped part of a plant, esp., in most grasses and sedges, a membranous scale on the inner side of the leaf sheath at its junction with the blade.

loam – a fertile soil of clay and sand containing humus.

oblanceolate – lanceolate, with the more pointed end at the base.

panicle – a loose, branching cluster of flowers, as in oats.

pannes – Salt pannes and pools are water retaining depressions located within salt and brackish marshes

rhizomes – a continuously growing horizontal underground stem that puts out lateral shoots and adventitious roots at interval

spikelets – the basic unit of a grass flower, consisting of two glumes or outer bracts at the base and one or more florets above

terete – cylindrical or slightly tapering, and without substantial furrows or ridges