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by High Country Gardens

Konza praire and creek.
Konza Prairie and Creek Bottoms
Creek bottom running through the prairie.
A Creek Running through the Prairie

I finished up my keynote talk before the Kansas State Advanced Master Gardener Training this morning in Manhattan, KS. As always, Master Gardeners are a great group of very interested, committed gardeners. And here I am in the middle of the Great Plains, with some time on my hands. As it so happens, I love prairies, am passionate about their conservation and visit them whenever I get a chance. Here in the Flint Hills of east central Kansas, is a fabulous 8,600 acre tract of undisturbed prairie, The Kanzo, owned and managed by a partnership of the Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University.

So I headed out in the late afternoon to enjoy the area at dusk. The Kanzo is a beautiful mix of hills and creek bottoms. The tall grasses like Big Bluestem (Andropogon), Little Blue Stem (Schizachyrium), Switchgrass (Panicum)and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum) are the dominate cover in the open fields while the numerous small creeks are lined with Oaks (Quercus), Hackberry (Celtis), Honeylocust (Gleditsia) and Black Walnut (Juglans). Scattered colonies of redbud (Cercis) and Viburnam occupy the edges between grass and trees.

Panicum virgatum with solidago.
Panicum virgatum with Solidago
Sylphium in setting sun.
Sylphium in setting sun

Normally receiving a little more than 30" of precipitation annual, it’s been a dry summer in this part of Kansas. The tall grasses are short and wildflowers like Compass Plant (Sylphium) have beautiful fall color in their foliage but are without their towering late summer flower spikes. However the Gayfeather (Liatris) are in full bloom and covered with clouds of painted lady butterflies and buzzing honeybees and bumblebees.

Liatris with stiff sunflower
Liatris with Stiff Sunflower

The narrowleaf purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) are in seed and the prairie sage (Salvia azurea) manages to be in bloom along with small pink ornamental onions (Allium). I climb the trail to the top of a large hill to a gorgeous view of the surrounding hills and creek bottoms.

Juniperus virginiana with solidago.
Juniperus virginiana with Solidago at sunset

It is getting late, so I turn around and head back down the trail to the parking lot, descending through a big meadow ablaze with tall Goldenrod (Solidago) as a light breeze waves their brilliant yellow flowers. I stop to smell the sweet, pure scents of the creek, the flowers and the trees. Flocks of birds fly overhead looking to roost for the night. I give silent thanks that such a magnificent piece of the earth has been put aside for preservation and research.

Dropping down to the creek at Konza.
Dropping down to the creek at Kanzo Prairie

I’m so privileged to be standing in such a rare gem, a tiny piece of what was once an endless sea of virgin grass that covered this country.

Coming to the end of the trail as the sun is setting, I look out over a field of glowing Big Bluestem and meet the stare of a curious deer who is just tall enough to see me over the grass; a wonderful “good bye” as I head back to civilization.