The Arboretum Celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the Schulenberg Prairie

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The Morton Arboretum Celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the Schulenberg Prairie

The year 2022 marks not only The Morton Arboretum’s centennial celebration but also the 60th anniversary of the Schulenberg Prairie, located on the Arboretum’s West Side. The Schulenberg Prairie and savanna is one of the nation’s oldest tallgrass prairie restorations, dating back to 1962 when former Arboretum director Clarence Godshalk developed plans for a “native planting” on farmland that had been acquired in the late 1950s on the Arboretum’s western edge. Godshalk appointed assistant propagator Ray Schulenberg for the task, changing his title to curator of native plants.

In the fall of 1962, Schulenberg and his team collected seeds and broke ground to prepare for planting in the spring of 1963. For the first year, and annually until 1972, two planting methods were used: greenhouse propagation and broadcast sowing.

In greenhouse propagation, seeds were planted in flats in April. After the seedlings were developed, they were individually transplanted into a 2×2-inch wood veneer band. By late May, once the frost danger had passed, the seedlings were planted in the prairie-to-be.

In broadcast sowing, seeds would be mixed with sand and often vermiculite before being scattered directly onto the prepared area. The planted area would then be raked and the seed pressed into the ground with a roller.

Schulenberg worked with staff and volunteers to help manage the prairie. During his final year managing the project in 1979, Schulenberg trained Pat Armstrong, Helen Pierce, and Barbara Rutherford to look after the prairie. Armstrong recruited an active corps of volunteers, known as The Morton Arboretum Prairie Volunteers, to help maintain the prairie, plant new species, and monitor study plots.

Upon Schulenberg’s retirement in 1987, the prairie was named in his honor. Today the prairie spans about 100 acres, containing several reconstructed habitats including savannas, tallgrass prairie, and a wet prairie along Willoway Brook. Staff and volunteers manage the prairie through the removal of nonnative plants and prescribed burns. The Schulenberg Prairie is a benchmark in ecological restoration and is studied by scientists to understand how it compares to a natural prairie and to improve restoration practices.



Learn More

To learn more about Ray Schulenberg and the development of the Schulenberg Prairie, check out the resources made available by the Sterling Morton Library:

On ACORN, you can find a gallery titled Celebrating 60 Years of the Schulenberg Prairie, featuring images, articles, documents, and audiovisual materials that chronicle the development of the prairie.

The library’s circulating collection also contains resources that can assist you in learning more about prairies, such as Cindy Crosby’s The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction. Browse titles on the library’s catalog.

Titles in the library’s ebook collection can be accessed immediately when you sign in using your Sterling Morton Library card. Explore ebooks such as Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie by Sylvan T. Runkel, Dean M. Roosa, and John Madson.


Plants of the Prairie  (Three Tuesdays, July 19 through August 2, 2022)

In this three-part series, learn the identification skills to manage, restore, or simply enjoy prairie habitats. Prairies in summer are at the peak of their bloom and color, with diverse wildflowers and grasses showing their distinctive beauty. Learn to identify plants important for prairie restoration during the growing season. Explore outdoors to practice your identification skills in the field. 

Advanced Summer Prairie Plant Identification  (September 1, 2022)

Go beyond the basics and improve your ability to identify the diverse and beautiful plants of the tallgrass prairie. Prairies in summer are at the peak of their bloom and color, with hundreds of species of wildflowers and grasses showing their distinctive beauty. 

Increase the number of plants you can confidently identify, and begin to learn the specialized features and vocabulary to identify challenging groups such as the aster family, including asters and goldenrods, grasses, rushes, and sedges. This workshop consists of an intensive, hands-on approach to identifying prairie plants in the field. We’ll discuss their ecology, point out key features and distinctions, and practice identifying species using keys.

Potawatomi Prairie Perspectives (September 16, 2022)

Join Gina Roxas, ethnobotanist and citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi, for a walk around Schulenberg Prairie. Learn about Indigenous peoples’ perspectives on plants, cultural connections to the prairie, and how traditional practices continue to shape Indigenous peoples’ identities today.