By Sydney Chandler
The Arboretum’s wild side shines in the Bennett-Johnson Prairie. It has a less manicured appearance but is far from neglected. The native plant biodiversity in the prairie gives and air of ease; however, a quick read of posted signs tells a different story. The prairie has had extensive restoration, including controlled burns, to house its current mix of flora.
The Bennett-Johnson Prairie
Exploration in the prairie happens at multiple levels. Each is valuable and lends itself to different ways of understanding and learning. Exploration has no pre-determined curriculum, and curiosity is an excellent guide. Visitors might see the big picture first: understand that the prairie is a singular unit, see where the prairie is interrupted by the three-mile drive, and observe surrounding features.
Flowers in the sunshine
Next, there are individuals within the prairie. Favorite quotes from exploring at this level include “Don’t we have this growing in the yard?” and “Look at the yellow flowers!” Unlike other gardens at the Arboretum, the prairie’s flora is not labeled by species, so it’s a great place for spontaneous plant identification practice!
A third level of exploration ponders mysteries off the loop trail. Bees buzz, scurrying sounds are muffled beneath the dense grasses, and bugs hop and crawl in all directions. Sounds of the prairie inspire questions: Who is that? What are they doing? With silence, it feels as if mythical creatures and favorite story-book characters might emerge from the thick grasses. Combining the prairie’s wild ease with curiosity and imagination weave a unique and enjoyable adventure.
Sydney Chandler is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.