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Celebrating Prairie Autumn


As autumn officially arrives this year, I am reminded how blessed we are in western Kansas to live close to nature and her cycles.  On this vernal equinox when daylight and darkness are essentially equal,   I give thanks that I live somewhere that makes it easy for me to note such an occurrence.

Earlier this summer, I had given up on my garden and yard during those 100 + days that sucked every ounce of moisture out of living thing,. However, with the recent cool days and timely rains, it looks like the yard, pastures, and garden are joining me to celebrate fall’s arrival.

Grass that couldn’t grow earlier is making up for earlier short comings.  Buffalo and other native grasses are putting maximum effort into not only greening up but also producing seed heads so there will be new growth next year.  This week, I noticed reddish purple big blue stem clearly confirming the calendar’s announcement that autumn is officially here.

Our usually abundant and colorful spring and summer wildflowers either didn’t grow or were so stunted and pale we barely noticed them. Even our normally profuse resinous skullcap and echinacea blossoms were skimpy or non-existent. A few large, bright Indian blanket blooms thrived in a cultivated flowerbed, but the anemic wild blooms hardly caught the eye or nose of local bees.

Just in time to decorate for the vernal equinox, this fall’s blooms are stunning. Showy, bright yellow Maximilian sunflowers, a spiky, fall helianthus species, punctuate ditches and pastures like a comma lover on steroids. Native sunflowers with the nodding heads are manufacturing every bloom they can before frost puts a halt to their seed production.

Rich yellow golden rod is a bit short due to drought conditions, but the blooms are prime this year.  If we could mine the heads of this Midas gold plant, we’d be rich. Instead, the showy blooms trigger lots of sneezing on this hilltop and heavy investment in boxes of soft tissues.

Perhaps my favorite autumn bloom of all is the spiky gayfeather or liatris, and this year they are particularly lovely.   Anyone driving or walking down a country lane is sure to see bright purple blossom- covered spears shooting skyward.  It appears these plants thrive in harsh conditions.

Even the garden is getting in on this final blowout. Plants that struggled to produce blooms or fruit are loaded with both blossoms and fruit.  Roasted butter nut squash and golden squash soup are on the menu along with peppers and late season tomatoes.  Maybe jars of green tomato relish or mincemeat will join earlier jellies and jams on the shelves.

After a brutal summer, this equinox with its cool temperatures and sunny days is particularly welcome. I intend to join the wildflowers, grasses, and end of season garden plants in soaking up every last ray of brisk autumn sunlight.