By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
MINDENMINES, Mo. —
Visitors may call ahead to inquire as to whether a naturalist at Prairie State Park is available to provide an interpretive tour, or simply take along this photo guide.
1. Bison track
Just south of the Visitors Center is an example of a natural depression in the flat prairie land that often holds rainwater and runoff, making it attractive to bison as a watering hole and a place to wallow. Another is midway along the trail. Plenty of bison tracks can be found around the wallow.
Very similar in appearance to Queen Anne’s lace, this prairie icon has soft, fern-like leaves that Native Americans and pioneers applied directly to wounds to aid in clotting. Its showy white bloom of numerous five-petal flowers is ideal for pollinators of all sizes.
3. Sensitive briar
This sprawling, low-growing, prickly-stemmed plant could be dangerous to those who are barefoot. It has a bright, pinkish purple flower that resembles a pompom. Gently touch its leaflets, which are sensitive to the touch, and they will fold together.
4. Winged sumac
Sumac is native, but it also can be invasive. It is known for its brilliant red color in the fall. The park staff controls it by burning it back, then brush-hogging it. The winged variety has “wings” of leaf-like tissue on the stems between each leaf.
Easy to spot because of its rich gold color, this member of the family Asteraceae also is commonly called tickseed — although it has nothing to do with ticks.
Just north of an intermittent creek that crosses the trail, phlox began making an appearance this week. They have larger, more showy blooms than Venus’ looking glass but are about the same purple color.
A gooseberry bush is tucked in among other vegetation, and the park staff doesn’t mind if visitors sample the fruit. They are great in pies, but sour without the sugar.
8. Cord grass
This shoulder-high grass grows in abundance in a low spot. It has razor-sharp edges, and bison eat it only as a last resort, because it’s rough, fibrous and doesn’t taste good. Pioneers and Native Americans used it for cordage, which is how it earned its name.
9. Deer tracks
White-tailed deer often leave signs of their presence in the park. Their tracks from two toes (hoofs) make an upside-down heart-shaped track.
10. Bison chip
It may look like a big dollop of mud, but it’s actually a bison dropping. Usually dry by the time visitors see them, they have no odor. They commonly were used as fire starters by pioneers, who lacked wood.
Wild blackberries are just beginning to ripen on the prairie and are abundant this year. The park allows visitors to sample the berries.
12. Prairie rose
Prairie rose can range from a bright pink to a pale white, and can be seen in abundance along gravel roadsides leading into the park as well as in the prairie. It is in the same family as garden roses, strawberries and blackberries, and its growth pattern on the prairie is much the same: sprawling.
Compiled by Globe staff writer Andra Stefanoni. Photos by T. Rob Brown, staff photographer.