Plum Run Prairie Preserve, Arc of Appalachia Preserve System, Peebles, Ohio

Some folks push the Christmas season. We all know them – playing Christmas songs even before Thanksgiving. I on the other hand, push the prairie season – rushing out to the meadows on the first 90 degree day. While this summer I was more disciplined than last summer, I was still about 3 weeks early for our first prairie jaunt.

Arc of Appalachia is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to protect unique habitats, with their focus being in the Appalachian region of Ohio. In total they have acquired over 10,000 acres in 24 preserves.

What attracted me to Plum Run was the fact that it had two prairie habitats in close proximity – a tall grass prairie featuring Big Bluestem and Indian Grass, and an eastern short grass prairie on a cedar barren. Interestingly, the tall grass prairies are on the deep fertile soils that made Ohio such an agricultural icon, while the soils of the cedar barrens and short grass prairie are thin soils that overlay near surface bedrock. Yet at Plum Run these two habitats lie on neighboring hills – very unique. The tall grass prairie hosts the Allegheny Mound Trail and the short grass prairie the Plum Run Loop Trail.

From the parking area we noted this sign and hit the trail.

We were channeled through a thicket of tall St. John’s Wort, Redcedar, and small Virginia Pines, with a wide variety of herbaceous plants at their feet. It was very stimulating as we saw many insects and heard many birds. But then we reached the portal that opened onto the prairie. I was in the lead, but held back when I saw it – I wanted to hear my daughters’ initial reactions as they got their first glimpse of the prairie. They expressed the same awe and excitement that I had felt.

Although we were pushing the prairie season, which really does not start until August, we could see some of the early performers. This photo is taken just another ten feet further on the trail.

We stood here watching Purple Martins dance in the sky and just took it all in.

As we ventured another twenty yards this was our view – rolling prairie landscape with the Appalachian foothills off in the distance.

The most common plant was Big Bluestem, still early in its growth cycle. But the main color was provided by Grey-headed Coneflower; named that because the flower’s central cone starts grey, but turns brown as it ages. You differentiate it from Black Eyed Susan by the way the yellow petals arch back from the cone, shaped like a badminton birdie.

The trail is a mowed path through the meadow. The grasses were currently 2 to 3 feet tall but will be well above your shoulders in October.

Interplanted amongst the grasses were the meadow wildflowers. In the past we have featured close ups of these flowers, but today decided to show them from a distance as well as close up. That should better represent how they present themselves in the field.

Meadow Pinks – one of my favorite flowers.

Butterfly Weed – a member of the milkweed family and a favorite nectar plant of pollinators.

Pale Spiked Lobelia (Lobelia spicata) – the flowers can vary from white to light blue. It is the understated relative of Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).

Deptford Pink – the individual flowers are about one half inch in size, but strikingly beautiful.

Grey-headed Coneflower – which we have seen in earlier photos. Some field guides call it Prairie Coneflower. Its stems emit a anise (think black licorice) scent when injured.

After cresting and then descending the hill we exited the tall grass prairie.

Interestingly, we then crossed a railroad track, which can be seen on the map image above.

In the semi-shade on the other side of the tracks we saw a nice grouping of Tall Bellflower.

This is where the Plum Run Loop begins, in the short grass prairie and cedar barren.

There we saw our first Allegenheny Mound Ant hill, another unique feature of this preserve. This mound measured approximately 2 foot across and 18 inches high. We saw many larger ones later in the hike.

If you look closely you can see some of red and black ants on the surface of the mound in this photo.

They have a fascinating symbiotic relationship with the endangered Edward’s Hairstreak butterfly. The butterfly eggs are laid at the base of sapling trees and overwinter there. The completely dependent caterpillars of this species, which hatch the following spring, are guided by the ants up young oak trees during the day, and then guided home to a safe haven in the ground at night. What do the ants get for their effort? Apparently the caterpillars secrete a honeydew that the ants feed on. The Edward’s Hairstreaks have similar relationships with other species of ants elsewhere in North America. Fascinating. Unfortunately we did not see any of the Edward’s Hairstreaks.

Here is a video that displays the activity on the surface of this mound. Please ignore my voice as I did not know that video was being recorded. I was just reading from the field guide the narrative of the Hairstreak’s and ant’s relationship.

As we headed up the second hill we saw this majestic Virginia Pine at the crest in the short grass prairie. It was by far the largest pine we saw on this outing.

After crossing the ridge top, the trail surprisingly headed toward the woods, which caught me off guard on this “prairie hike”.

The cool shade was welcomed on this hot July morning. And then things got exciting. We found ourselves in a wood without invasive species, that showed remnants of an outstanding population of spring ephemeral wildflowers.

We saw the vegetative structures of Rue Anemone, Twinleaf, Bloodroot, and Jacob’s Ladder. But the star of the show was Hepatica – one of the rarer spring ephemerals in the Ohio River Valley. And there were a lot of them. They will flower in a range of intense periwinkles in the spring.

Other less common plants that we saw in the wood:

Blue Cohosh – its roots were used by Native Americans, especially for a myriad of gynecologic conditions.

Goldenseal – this is a threatened species throughout its range. It was used for many folk remedies in the 19th century and was over harvested, causing a decline in its population. This was the second time that we saw the bright red seed head on Footpaths outings.

The woodland trail doubled back, perched above a couple of nice creek beds.

From the deeply shaded wood the trail transitions into a Virgina Pine and Redcedar thicket.

It was in this habitat that we saw Purple Coneflower, which is not as prevalent as the common Glade Coneflower. It is notable for its larger flower head that can measure 3 to 4 inches. We saw a single plant with two flowers, in a splash of sunshine in a small opening in the cedar glade. It is surprises like that, which make the glade ecosystems so intriguing.

One of the more common wildflowers of the cedar barrens was Blackberry Lily.

But this is the photo that we found most interesting, with the corkscrewing of the spent flowers. We have them in our garden but have never noted this feature. Photography allows for patient observation. Sure enough, this afternoon I noted the same formation in our garden.

As we were completing the Plum Run Loop we got one of our best views of the hike – prairie with a background of the Appalachian foothills – special indeed.

We descended down a mild slope and found ourselves in a wet prairie where we saw this Squared-stemmed Monkey Flower. It did indeed have a perfectly square stem. They thrive in wet meadows.

As we departed the Plum Run Loop Trail and returned to the Allegheny Loop Trail, the ant hills were larger and more numerous. I am in the photo for size reference.

The last half mile of hike was notable for its pollinator population. Here we see a Spicebush Swallowtail on our native Beebalm, which is also known as Wild Bergamot.

It is always a good day on the prairie when you see a Monarch butterfly.

A Silver Spotted Skipper on a Teasel flower. Teasels are a non-native thistle like plant. It was used in the textile industry to raise the nap on woolen cloth – to “tease it”. The upward arching bract near the flower head help you differentiate it from thistles. If you look closely there are an amazing number of insects on this flower head.

But perhaps it was this – our first sighting of the year of a Clearwing Moth – that was the most exciting. It is also called the Hummingbird Moth due to the character of its flight pattern – like that of a hummingbird. Here it is feeding from a native Beebalm.

Here you can see the clear wings that gives it its name.

When one thinks of prairies one envisions the grasses and flowers, but prairies are really so much more than that. Our stand-in photographers – our eldest daughter Caroline and our middle daughter Ellen – are really good at seeing the little things along the trail.

The first the girls sighted was this small Walking Stick, which was hard to see amongst the plants. Do you see it?

This should help.

We saw a variety of grasshoppers.

And a collection of beetles.

What was interesting was when Ellen captured the second and third beetles above later getting into a battle.

The ladies also found a number of preying mantis.

Prairies are great areas to see dragonflies.

But without a doubt our favorite bug photo of the day was this one. It is a Dogbane Leaf Beetle. Despite the lighting challenges one can see where Disney gets their ideas for their animation. Notice the anchor like hooks at the end of its appendages. Fascinating.

Lastly we will spend a little time celebrating some of the other outstanding plants that we saw in the prairies.

Milkweed – there are many species of Milkweed and together they flower from June until the first frost, providing a consistent source of nectar for the pollinators. They are also the host plant for Monarch Butterfly larvae.

Here you can see some seed capsules of Milkweeds that were pollinated earlier this summer.

Thimbleweed – named for the seed head that is below the flower in the photo.

Slender Mountain Mint – it is a pollinator favorite and occurs throughout the eastern U.S. The”slender” refers to the narrowness of its leaves.

Black-eyed Susan -to my surprise my guide books list it as both an annual and biennial. Perhaps that is why it moves around my garden like a vagabond, not sitting in one place like a perennial.

Early Goldenrod – with its distinctive layered flower head. It is the earliest flowering Goldenrod, frequently blooming in June.

In summary, Plum Run Prairie Nature Preserve is 140 acres of a naturalist’s amusement park. From plants, to birds, to insects, there is so much to observe. To have two unique prairie ecosystems within the same preserve is amazing. And to have the continuing evidence of an outstanding spring ephemeral wildflower display in the woodland is just too inviting. I do not see myself battling winter winds on these windswept knolls, but I certainly see myself here the other 8 months of the year, enjoying the spring ephemerals, the early season prairie plants in mid-summer as we did on this outing, and then the iconic prairie plants in late summer and fall. If you can not make it to Plum Run, ask Google to help find you a prairie preserve near you. You will be glad that you did. posts are released every Sunday morning and some bonus content is added periodically. Please click on a social media icon above to follow for future posts and to make sure that you catch all our reflections on, and adventures with, the great outdoors.

Photo credits to Ellen Burns and Caroline Burns Grizzle. Videos by Caroline Burns Grizzle.


Location – 70 miles from downtown Cincinnati in Peebles, Ohio.

Parking – gravel lot for 10 cars.

Trail Conditions – mowed grassed path through the prairies. Bare dirt through the woodland. I would recommend long pants. There is a lot of sun exposure so pack water. There is an unseen informational trailhead kiosk for this hike to the right of the parking lot so I would suggest you begin your hike there and travel counterclockwise.

Print Map Link –

Benches – none noted.

Picnic Tables – none.

Kids – it can be a long hot hike. I would lean toward 6 and over. You will need to keep their distance from on any ant hills, as stepping on them will trigger an ant attack.

Dogs – prohibited.

Suggested Paired Hikes – None.



  1. What a wonderful way to spend a few hours on a summer day. Spotting that walking stick insect would have taken a keen eye. That is an hike I wish I had taken in my younger days. The photos were great!

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