Prairie! What does this word remind you of? Perhaps a television program, an old movie, or the series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The word "prairie" is from the French word for a meadow grazed by cattle. It was applied by the early French explorers to the vast inland area of North America that is mostly devoid of trees and instead covered with waving grasses and a vast variety of colorful wildflowers in various shades of yellow, white, pink, and blue. It is an unforgettable experience to be out on a prairie on a beautiful day when dozens of different kinds of plants are in bloom, insects are busily pollinating the flowers, birds are singing, and a brisk wind is blowing.
"The Prairie State" is a frequently used nickname for Illinois, yet few people know what a prairie is or have ever visited one. At the same time, there is a growing awareness of prairies. Prairies are an important part of this state's heritage, and in the past few years there have been numerous conferences, radio programs, popular articles, books and scientific papers on prairies. Unfortunately, most of this information is not readily available. This article provides an introduction to the fascinating world of prairies.
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