A wide variety of native flowers grows in gardens, along roadsides and fence lines, and in the wild forests and prairies in the state of Illinois. Native flowers offer a variety of benefits, with many showing an ability to tolerate drought. Many wild flowers also seem less susceptible to pests and disease, making them great options for naturalizing gardens and landscapes.
Illinois contains a variety of habitats, including wetlands, prairies and woodlands where flowers abound. The prairies consist mostly of tall grass with a variety of wildflowers and other plants mixed in. Wetlands occur near bodies of water, although wooded areas also contain bogs and wetland areas where flowers thrive. Some flowers live in wooded areas, although their requirements may differ. Some require more sunlight along the outer edges of the woods, while other flowers thrive in shady areas the deep woods provide.
Rather than collecting plants or seeds from areas where wildflowers grow, consider buying from a local nursery that sells native plants and seeds. Make sure the nursery propagates the plants rather than uses seeds from the wild. This helps protect any plants on the endangered or threatened species list to survive.
Flowers growing in the wild must adapt to their environment. Most wildflowers are cold hardy, meaning they survive by dying back in the winter and reappearing in the spring. Some wildflowers also offer strong drought tolerance, especially plants on the prairies where less rainfall occurs. Many wildflowers also experience fewer pests and diseases thanks to building an immunity to these problems in order to survive. All of these benefits help reduce the cost of maintaining the plants when planted in the garden.
Flowers provide an important source of food for birds and wildlife. Hummingbirds rely on plants such as honeysuckle and phlox, while butterflies use milkweed, aster and other plants for habitat and food. Bees also use these plants to produce nectar, which gets turned into honey. Songbirds rely on a variety of flowers, including clover and sunflowers, for food, and they help to distribute seeds from the plants to new areas. Small mammals such as rabbits use the plants for temporary shelter and food resources, while deer also munch on some of the plants.
American Indians living in the region relied on a wide variety of wildflowers and plants for food, medicine and other life necessities. Plants such as sunflowers, lambs quarters and marsh elder were cultivated and used for food. The plants also provided medicine, including powdered roots from wild ginger that helped eliminate childbirth pain and sumac that helped alleviate diarrhea.