Wilmette couple restoring Illinois prairie

August 21, 2012 3:37:42 PM PDT
For almost 8,000 years, the prairies of Illinois thrived. But then along came the pioneers and the steel plow and they were basically gone. Now a Wilmette couple is bringing back the ancient Illinois prairie.

For three years at Centennial Park in Wilmette, Charlotte Adelman and her husband, Bernie Schwartz, have worked to create a modern day version of the ancient Illinois prairie.

"This is a prairie and a prairie garden. All of the plants that you see are native to the Illinois prairie which once covered twenty two million acres in Illinois."

Working in conjunction with the Wilmette Park District and with help from the Boy Scouts, Adelman and Schwartz started planting millions of seeds for native flowers and plants three years ago. They're beginning to mature- and now there are lots of milkweed for the monarch butterflies.

"Milkweed is the only plant that the Monarch butterfly can lay her eggs on. So in order to have a future for Monarch butterflies you have to supply them with lots of milkweed flowers for them to lay their eggs on," Adelman said.

Only about 2,000 virgin acres of milkweed are left Illinois, down from the 22 million acres. Make that 2,000 virgin acres- and 1 and a half acres of recreated prairie land.

"A prairie is a carbon sink. It takes carbon dioxide out of the air and puts the carbon in the ground. Which will help in global warming," Schwartz said.

These prairies are drought resistant. Even during the long, hot summer, the land was not watered -- and it thrived. For the American Indians, these prairies were the difference between life and death.

"The native Americans used the rose hips as emergency food because the native roses roots go up to twenty five feet deep so even in the worst drought there were rose hips and the native Americans knew they could count on rose hips as part of their diet," Adelman said.

The birds and the bees and bugs have already arrived -- and next year there will be a profusion of colors as more and more wild flowers begin to bloom.


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