I recently returned from a trip to photograph some of the remnant prairies near Charlotte, North Carolina. My sister lives in Charlotte so I got to spend some time with her as well. She has these canisters on a shelf between her kitchen and living room with things like sugar, flour, salt, you know, the staples. I have been telling her for years it would be hilarious if one of the canisters had actual staples in it. Then she could watch the faces of her guests as they tried to figure out why office supplies were mixed in with the food. Well, she finally did it and was waiting for me to arrive so she could see how long it would take me to notice. I did not notice at first. I walked in the door, hugged her neck, and then, about 20 seconds later, I noticed it and burst out laughing! See, I was right, it is hilarious!
Anyway, back to the prairies. It seems strange to think about prairies in North Carolina. Today they are all but gone yet early explorers reported extensive prairies in the North Carolina Piedmont. Most of the evidence suggests these prairies were created and maintained by Native Americans. Many of the plants and animals that depended on the open conditions of the prairies now struggle to survive or are gone. I chose this time to visit because one of these plants, the federally endangered Schweinitz’s Sunflower, was at its peak flowering.
One of the sites I visited was Mineral Springs Barren, a Plant Conservation Preserve whose purpose is to improve the habitat for the Schweinitz’s Sunflower. The few remnant prairies like this one are faint reminders of what once was, but from certain angles and perspectives, and with some imagination, I could see the open fields and bison that once characterized this area.