Re-acquainting with the Buffalo Grove Prairie

Have you found Buffalo Grove’s ‘Lost’ Prairie? In the early 1970s, teenage Steve Apfelbaum did just that, and began a quest to conserve the Buffalo Grove Prairie, a ten-acre area located between Deerfield and Lake Cook Roads. Remarkably, thirty years later, this prairie is still thriving, maintained and protected by a group of tenacious guardians. This small patch of land that Apfelbaum discovered, is unique for a myriad of reasons, but what has stuck us most is the passion that volunteers have for caring for this small strip of land and the creatures and plants that inhabit the area.

No one has more passion for conservation than ecologist, Steve Apfelbaum. Below is an excerpt from his essay,Reacquainting With an Old Friend,” whom we were pleased to host for a presentation tonight. He had an opportunity to revisit the Buffalo Grove Prairie where his career began many years ago, and shared with us some of his ruminations:

The sun rose over the elevated railroad grade that served as the backdrop for the prairie then and now…. On one my last visits, during spring of 1979, I witnessed a sunrise over this same landscape from where I now stood. The memories of that morning marked my life and still to this day have left an indelible impression by its beauty, colors, and ebullient life. Even after 40 years of seeking out the wildest places on earth, even passing thoughts of that morning, take me to a place of solace and peace, and awe.


Thousands of lavender shooting star plants were blooming as were dew covered hoary puccoons, glowing like little pieces of the sun fallen to the ground.  The gloaming lit up the prairie with its brilliant golden color from west to east. As the sun bathed the land, a cacophony of frogs and toads started jittering and trilling. With every step, yellow star grass, bird’s foot violets and blue eyed grass focused me to look down at the ground.  After walking on that cloud for several hundred feet, I entered a seep full of tussock sedges and Canada blue joint grass, and as I looked ahead to ensure I wasn’t entering deeper water, growing before me were hundreds of small white lady slipper orchids in full bloom. This alone was the largest population I have seen in my life.

But, the real surprise that morning would reveal itself a few steps beyond the sedge meadow. As my excitement overpowered the icy cold water seeping into my boots, I moved further into the wet domain, and the deafening calls of spring peeper, western chorus frogs and American toad s grew silent. As the silence spread wider and wider around my path, I started again looking up, over the larger landscape.


Looking over the sedge tussocks, to the fresh lime green leafs emerging from last year’s buckskin sheaves, a few scattered white lady slipper orchids grew amongst meandering patterns of golden marsh marigold plants that traced the pattern of a rivulet from the seep. Beyond this was a slight rise, covered with scarlet Red Indian Paint brush plants. Before me were hundreds of red and also yellow Indian paint brush plants, dew covered like the puccoons. An early morning breeze began to gently move over the prairie, and the paint brush droplets sparkled in the rising sun. This was to be my place to sit that morning. Squinting, it wasn’t difficult to envision the rest of Northern Illinois clothed with such diversity. With such profound beauty…


As the sun continued to rise, the rest of the landscape warmed and the breeze burned off the dew. The prairie became alive with hundreds of bumble bees, Painted lady, and Spring azures and Pearly crescent butterfly’s. An occasional tiger swallow tail butterfly leisurely floated within view, dipping every here and there to the ground, landing on a flower and foraging. The sound of bee’s flying between Shooting stars, paint brush, marsh marigold, and the violets and puccoons, vigorously probing each flower, drowned out sounds of overhead airplanes and the hum of the Commonwealth Edison power lines hundreds of feet back to the east…

Want to read more? Read the entire essay, Reacquainting With an Old Friend, here.

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