What's in Your Sierra Club Seed Packet


For best results, plant within one year. Scatter seeds in a sunny 4’ x 6’ area, over snow, bare ground or in a pot outdoors in late January to late March.

Indian Grass - Sorghastrum nutans

This perennial grass is 3-7' tall. It typically consists of a dense tuft of flowering culms and their deciduous leaves.  The blooming period occurs from late summer to early autumn, lasting about 1-2 weeks for a colony of plants.  The preference is full to partial sun and moist to dry-mesic conditions. Various kinds of soil are tolerated, including those that contain loam, clay-loam, sand, and gravel. Most growth and development occurs during the warm weather of summer because of the C4 metabolism of this grass. It can spread aggressively in some situations. Indian Grass can be found in every county of Illinois (see Distribution Map), where it is native. This was one of the dominant grasses of the prairies that covered much of Illinois during historical times.


Several species of grasshoppers feed on the foliage of Indian Grass (see Grasshopper Table); this grass is a preferred host plant of Eritettix simplex (Velvet-striped Grasshopper), Melanoplus confusus (Little Pasture Grasshopper), and Syrbula admirabilis (Handsome Grasshopper). These grasshoppers are an important source of food to many insectivorous songbirds and upland gamebirds. Other insects that feed on Indian Grass include the leafhopper Flexamia reflexa, the Issid planthopper Bruchomorpha extensa, and the caterpillars of Amblyscirtes hegon (Pepper-and-Salt Skipper); see Panzer et al. (2006) and Bouseman et al. (2006). The foliage is also palatable to hoofed mammalian herbivores, including bison and cattle. Because of its height and tendency to remain erect, it provides nesting habitat and protective cover for many kinds of birds, including the Ring-necked Pheasant, Greater Prairie Chicken, Northern Bobwhite, Mourning Dove, and Field Sparrow (see Walkup, 1991; Best, 1978).

Little blue stem - Schizachyrium scoparium

This perennial grass is 2-3' tall and densely tufted at the base. The preference is full sun and mesic to dry conditions. Different kinds of soil are tolerated, including those that contain clay-loam, gravel, or sand. Less fertile soil is preferred because of the reduced competition from taller vegetation. Because of its C4 metabolism, Little Bluestem develops primarily during the warm weather of summer and early fall, and it has excellent drought resistance.


The caterpillars of several skippers feed on the foliage of Little Bluestem, including Atrytonopsis hianna (Dusted Skipper), Hesperia metea (Cobweb Skipper), Hesperia ottoe (Ottoe Skipper), Hesperia sassacus (Indian Skipper), Nastra lherminier (Swarthy Skipper), and Polites origenes (Crossline Skipper); see Bouman et al. (2006). A skipper looks like a cross between a small moth and a small butterfly. Skippers are common in prairies and other open areas where Little Bluestem and other grasses occur. Many grasshoppers also feed on the foliage (see Grasshopper Table); grasshoppers are common in the same habitats as skippers, and they are an important source of food for many insectivorous birds. Other insects that feed on Little Bluestem include Diapheromera velii (Prairie Walkingstick), the leaf-mining beetle Anisostena nigrita, the thrips Illinothrips rossi, Prosapia ignipectus (Black Spittlebug), the Delphacid planthopper Delphacodes parvula, and such leafhoppers as Flexamia albida, Flexamia clayi, Flexamia delongi, Flexamia graminea, Flexamia prairiana, Athysanella incongrua, and Laevicephalus unicoloratus (Arment, 2006; Clark et al., 2004; Hamilton, 1982; Stannard, 1968; Panzer et al., 2006; Haarstad, 2002; FLOW, 2014; Hicks, 2014). The Field Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Slate-Colored Junco, and other small songbirds eat the seeds, particularly during the winter. The foliage of Little Bluestem is quite palatable to bison, cattle, and other hoofed mammalian herbivores.


Yellow-headed coneflower - Ratibida pinnata

This herbaceous perennial plant is up to 4' tall while in flower. The preference is full sun, mesic conditions, and a loam or clay-loam soil. However, this is a robust plant that will tolerate partial sun, moist to slightly dry conditions, and many kinds of soil. Foliar disease doesn't affect the leaves until after the blooming period. There is a tendency for the flowering stems to flop around if this plant is spoiled by too much water or fertile soil. This plant is easy to grow. The native Yellow Coneflower is fairly common in Illinois, except in some SE counties Yellow Coneflower is an excellent choice for a wildflower garden because of its long blooming period and attractive yellow flowers.


Many kinds of insects visit the flowers, but especially bees, including Epeoline Cuckoo bees, large Leaf-Cutting bees, Green Metallic bees, and other Halictine bees. Other insect visitors include wasps, flies, small butterflies, and beetles. These insects suck nectar from the flowers, although the bees also collect pollen and some beetles feed on pollen. The caterpillars of the butterfly Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) feed on Yellow Coneflower, as well as the caterpillars of the moths Eynchlora acida (Wavy-Lined Emerald) and Eupithecia miserulata (Common Eupithecia). Goldfinches occasionally eat the seeds, while some mammalian herbivores eat the foliage and flowering stems, particularly groundhogs and livestock

Rattlesnake master - Eryngium yuccifolium

The blooming period occurs from mid- to late summer, and the balls of flowers remain attractive for about 2 months. The root system consists of a central taproot. After blooming, a plant will gradually die down, but one or more offsets will develop at its base. Thus, a small clump of plants will eventually form. The preference is full sun and moist to slightly dry conditions. This plant becomes spindly in shadier conditions, and may topple over while in bloom. The soil can contain significant amounts of loam, sand, clay, or gravel, but the site should not be subject to standing water. This plant is easy to grow, and isn't bothered by foliar disease nor many insect pests.


The flowering heads attract many kinds of insects, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, skippers, moths, beetles, and plant bugs. These insects usually seek nectar, although some of the bees may collect pollen for their brood nests. The caterpillars of the rare Papaipema eryngii (Rattlesnake Master Borer Moth) bore into the stems and feed on the pith. The coarse foliage and prickly balls of flowers are not popular as a source of food with mammalian herbivores, although they may nibble off the ends of the leaves.



Common Milkweed - Asclepias syriaca

This herbaceous perennial plant is 2-6' tall and unbranched, except sometimes toward the apex, where the flowers occur. The preference is full sun, rich loamy soil, and mesic conditions, but this robust plant can tolerate a variety of situations, including partial sun and a high clay or sand content in the soil. Under ideal conditions, Common Milkweed can become 6' tall and spread aggressively, but it is more typically about 3-4' tall. This plant is very easy to grow once it becomes established.


The flowers are very popular with many kinds of insects, especially long-tongued bees, wasps, flies, skippers, and butterflies, which seek nectar. Other insect visitors include short-tongued bees, various milkweed plant bugs, and moths, including Sphinx moths. Among these, the larger butterflies, predatory wasps, and long-tongued bees are more likely to remove the pollinia from the flowers. Some of the smaller insects can have their legs entrapped by the flowers and die. Common Milkweed doesn't produce fertile seeds without cross-pollination. The caterpillars of Danaus plexippes (Monarch Butterfly) feed on the foliage, as do the caterpillars of a few moths, including Enchaetes egle (Milkweed Tiger Moth), Cycnia inopinatus (Unexpected Cycnia), and Cycnia tenera (Delicate Cycnia). Less common insects feeding on this plant include Neacoryphus bicrucis (Seed Bug sp.) and Gymnetron tetrum (Weevil sp.); see Insect Table for other insect feeders). Many of these insects are brightly colored – a warning to potential predators of the toxicity that they acquired from feeding on milkweed. Mammalian herbivores don't eat this plant because of the bitterness of the leaves and their toxic properties.


Black-eyed Susan - Rudbeckia hirta

This is a biennial or short-lived perennial plant that is about 1-2½' tall. The preference is full sun, and slightly moist to moderately dry soil conditions. Any reasonably fertile soil will be satisfactory. This plant is fast to mature and easy to grow, although short-lived. This is a common native plant throughout Illinois, and it occurs in all counties. Black-Eyed Susan is an excellent choice for prairie restorations, or the first-year planting of a wildflower garden, as it may bloom during the first year from seed.


The composite flowers appeal to a wide range of insects, particularly bees and flies, as well as some wasps, butterflies, and beetles. The bees collect pollen or suck nectar, and include Little Carpenter bees, Leaf-Cutting bees, Green Metallic and other Halictine bees, Andrenid bees, and others. Some Andrenid bees, such as Andrena rudbeckiae and Heterosarus rudbeckiae, prefer visiting the flowers of Black-Eyed Susan and closely related plants. Among the flies that visit the flowers, Syrphid flies, Bee flies, and Tachinid flies are well represented. The caterpillars of Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) feed on the leaves. Many mammalian herbivores are not particularly fond of the coarse leaves – they have low food value, and there have been occasional reports of this plant poisoning cattle and pigs. The seeds are eaten occasionally by goldfinches.


Prairie Doc - Silphium terebinthinaceum

This plant has a vase-like rosette of large basal leaves that are spade-shaped (cordate). The basal leaves have a thick sandpapery texture, particularly on the underside, and they are up to 18" long and 12" wide. One or more naked flowering stalks develop from the base of the plant, ranging in height from 3' to 10' in height. The preference is full sun, a deep loamy soil, and moist to slightly dry conditions. Rocky or gravelly soil is tolerated. Drought tolerance is very good. Prairie Dock is rather slow to develop, but it is very reliable and nearly indestructible at maturity.


The composite flowers attract long-tongued bees primarily, including honeybees, bumblebees, and Miner bees. Other flower visitors include Halictine bees, bee flies, and the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Both the larvae and adults of the Silphium Beetle (Rynchites sp.) feed on the flowerheads and stems of this and other Silphium spp. The larvae of Antistrophus rufus and Antistrophus minor (Gall Wasp spp.) feed on the flowering stem of Prairie Dock, forming invisible galls. The larvae of these species attract the hyperparasitic wasp Eurytoma lutea, whose larvae feed on these gall-formers. The larvae of Mordellistena aethiops (Tumbling Flower Beetle sp.) also feed within the stem, while the adults may feed on the flowerheads. The oligolectic Iowana frisoni (Aphid sp.) sucks juices from the flowering stem. Goldfinches eat the seeds, and may help to disperse them. Large mammalian herbivores, such as cattle, readily eat the foliage and stems of Prairie Dock. However, the coarse sandpapery leaves of mature plants are not attractive to the Cottontail Rabbit, which prefers vegetation that is shorter and more tender.

Grass leaved Goldenrod - Euthamia graminifolia

This herbaceous perennial plant is 2-3½' tall. Sometimes it is slender and little branched, while at other times it branches frequently, creating a bushy appearance. The preference is full sun and moist conditions. However, this plant tolerates drier conditions, and can be surprisingly drought tolerant. The soil should contain high amounts of organic matter; some varieties of this plant also grow in moist sandy soil.


The small flowers attract many kinds of insects, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Various wasps and a few beetle species, such as Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus (Goldenrod Soldier Beetle) and Epicauta pensylvanica (Black Blister Beetle), seem to be especially attracted to the flowers. Other insects feed destructively on the foliage and other parts of Grass-leaved Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia). These insects include leaf beetles, the larvae of gall flies, aphids, the larvae of moths, and Melanoplus femurrubrum (Red-legged Grasshopper); see the Insect Table for a listing of insects that feed on Euthamia spp. The seeds are eaten by the Eastern Goldfinch and Swamp Sparrow to a limited extent, while the foliage is occasionally consumed in limited amounts by the Greater Prairie Chicken, Cottontail Rabbit, and White-Tailed Deer.


Wild Bergamot - Monarda fistulosa

This herbaceous perennial plant is 2½–4' tall, branching frequently in the upper half. The preference is full or partial sun, and moist to slightly dry conditions. The native Wild Bergamot occurs throughout Illinois, except for a few southern counties within the state. For a member of the mint family, the flowers are large and beautiful.


The nectar of the flowers attracts long-tongued bees, bee flies, butterflies, skippers, and hummingbird moths. Among the long-tongued bees, are such visitors as bumblebees, Miner bees, Epeoline Cuckoo bees, and large Leaf-Cutting bees. A small black bee (Dufourea monardae) specializes in the pollination of Monarda flowers. Sometimes Halictid bees collect pollen, while some wasps steal nectar by perforating the nectar tube. The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird also visits the flowers. The caterpillars of the moths Sphinx eremitus (Hermit Sphinx) and Agriopodes teratophora (Gray Marvel) feed on the foliage. A seed bug (Ortholomus scolopax) is sometimes found in the flowerheads. Mammalian herbivores usually avoid this plant as a food source, probably because of the oregano-mint flavor of the leaves and their capacity to cause indigestion; they may contain chemicals that disrupt populations of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.


Cream Gentian - Gentiana alba

This perennial plant is 1-2' tall, with a stout smooth stem that is unbranched. The preference is full to partial sun, and moist to average soil conditions. The native Cream Gentian is a rare plant that occurs in scattered counties in Illinois


Bumblebees are the primary pollinators of the flowers, where they seek nectar. Some beetles, such as Epicauta pensylvanica (Black Blister Beetle), have been known to knaw on the flowers. White-tailed Deer occasionally chomp off the tops of Cream Gentian plants, but it is not preferred as a food source because of the bitter leaves (personal observation). The relationship of Cream Gentian to other mammalian herbivores is not known at the present time.



 All photos and text courtesy of Dr. John Hilty at illinoiswildflowers.info



Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission

8 N. Elmhurst Road

Prospect Heights, IL. 60070

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