Posted in Central Ohio, Flowers, Hiking, Park review

Milford Center Prairie State Natural Area

Between eight and four thousand years ago what later became Ohio experienced a prolonged drought. This allowed the drought-tolerant plants of the Great Plains to displace Ohio’s more typical, water-loving plants. This eastward thrust of the prairie into Ohio has been referred to as a “prairie peninsula.” The prairie peninsula encompassed nearly 400 square miles of the Darby Plains in western, central Ohio. Today only 1% of this prairie survives. There are a number of MetroParks in the Columbus and Toledo areas that are preserving hundreds of acres of prairie, plus there are several dozens of acres of prairie in Adams County. However there are also tiny patches of prairie that range between 7 acres to a mere half-acre in size. Most of these tiny prairie openings have become part of Ohio’s state nature preserve system. One such prairie remnant can be viewed at the Milford Prairie Center State Nature Preserve.

Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)




If nature was left to its own course over the thousands of years since the prolonged drought ended, the prairie plants should have been displaced by the region’s moisture-loving plants. However, Native Americans artificially extended the prairie peninsula’s life through their land management practice of setting it on fire at regular intervals. Once settlers of European-stock displaced the Native Americans, this land management practice ceased. Without regular fires, the prairies would have gradually disappeared from Ohio. By all rights, no prairies should exist east of the Mississippi because it rains too much, and with sufficient rain, our moisture-loving plants can out-compete prairie plants. However instead of a centuries-long reversion to Ohio’s typical flora, the prairies all but disappeared in the blink-of-an-eye after John Deere’s invention of the chisel plow enabled Ohio’s settlers to farm the prairies.

So how did the prairie remnant at Milford Prairie Center escape the plow? It turns out that the Milford Prairie Center had once been part of the right-of-way of a railroad that passed through the Darby Plains. Once the railroad ceased operating, the property was further protected from cultivation by a utility company that acquired the property and installed power lines over the old railway bed. Given the manner in which this prairie remnant was preserved, this nature preserve is only as wide as the utility right-of-way. Just seven acres in size, the trail at the preserve is a level, straight path under the power lines that stretches a mere 1.5 miles, making for a round-trip hike of 3 miles. The narrowness of the preserve allows hikers to view of the cornfields that surround the preserve.

The Trail

The preserve is located on Connor Road just west of the intersection of this road and OH-4. The preserve is on a narrow strip of land under the powerlines between corn fields. Guests park in the grass near the entrance.

The entrance to the preserve is sandwiched between corn fields… but when I stop to think about it, so is the whole preserve. 🙂
Guests just park in this grassy area near preserve’s sign.

Shortly after heading down the trail, there is a footbridge that takes hikers across Treacle Creek.

The bridge over Treacle Creek

A glance down the creek makes it clear that you are in an agricultural region.

Treacle Creek viewed from bridge

Although there are some trees in the preserve, they don’t provide any shade since they are some distance from the trail. The best time to go is in summer, so you can enjoy the flowers. Because there is no shelter from the sun, a hat and/or sunscreen is strongly recommended.

The yellow flowers lifting high above the greenery are prairie dock.
Colorful flowers intermixed with greenery
Deb walking along the trail. To her left are fields. Note that the sign to the right says that dogs are not permitted. This is pretty much standard practice for nature preserves.

The trail intersects with OH-4. Beyond OH-4 the trail goes on for such a short distance that we didn’t bother crossing the road. The trail itself terminated at a sort of make-shift barricade. To the right of trail on OH-4 we noted that there is pull-off. The signs near the pull-off just state the names of the road and make no reference to the preserve.

As we approached the end of the trail, it looked like there might be parking at the pull-off to the right.
Across the road a barricade marks the end of the trail. The blue flowers growing next to the trail are chickory.
Flowers

The flowers were really beautiful this time of year and included both prairie plants and plants that are more widely found in Ohio’s fields and meadows. I’ll begin with the flower known as the royal catchfly. Although the flowers resemble the more common fire pink, you can distinguish the two because fire pink has a notch on the tip of each petal, while there is no such notch on royal catchfly. Royal catchfly is only found growing in areas that were once prairie.

Royal catchfly (Silene regia)

Another favorite prairie plant is the prairie dock. The plant can grow up to 10 feet tall.

Bee approaching prairie dock
Pinnate prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), also known as Gray-headed Coneflower.
Hairy Ruellia (Ruellia caroliniensis) — Jim McCormac wishes that this plant’s common name was “Prairie petunia.”

The flower below, wingstem, is fairly common in Ohio’s fields and meadows. It gets its name because there is a green membrane edging the stem: its wings.

Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia)

The flowering onion below is a prairie plant, but it is also found more widely in Ohio.

Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)

Tick Trefoil can be found fairly widely in Ohio.

Tick Trefoil (Desmodium panciulatum) — It’s named “tick” for the way that its seeds stick onto clothes, fur, etc.

The plant below is also a beautiful, prairie plant.

Biennial Gaura (Gaura biennis)
Biennial Gaura (Gaura biennis)

Centaurium is not a prairie plant. This tiny, little thing was growing in the grass of the trail.

Centaurium

Although Queen Anne’s lace is not a native, North American plant, it is naturalized which means that it is well adapted to life here, and it can be found everywhere in Ohio now.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota)

Common mullein is a weedy plant that thrives when in open, well lit areas. It is also found in areas with disturbed soil, growing up to six feet tall.

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Wild bergamot is another prairie plant, and it is quite popular with hummingbird moths.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), also known as Beebalm

White sweet clover and soapwort are not strictly prairie plants and can be found all over the state.

A bee harvests pollen from white sweet clover
Bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis), also known as Soapwort
This is some sort of mustard plant that caught my eye because it was so tall. However, I have been unable to further identify it.

Deptford pink is a small flower that can be found widely in Ohio.

Deptford pink (Dianthus)

The following two plants are not strictly prairie plants, but they are interesting. Hedge Bindweed is a member of the morning glory family; it is a poisonous plant. The one below it, wild potato vine, looks similar but it was an important source of food for Native Americans. Note that unlike Hedge Bindweed, Wild potato vine has a purple center.

Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)
Wild potato vine (Ipomoea pandurata). It can be distinguished by its purple center. According to “Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians” the root of this plant was an important food source for Native Americans. The root can weigh up to 30 lbs and grow up to 4 ft. in length. It is related to the cultivated sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), but it is more bitter.

Spiderwort is also found widely in Ohio.

Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

Indian hemp is not strictly a prairie plant; however, Native Americans made use of the fiber in its bark to make clothing, twine, nets, etc. It was especially good for fishing line because the fiber doesn’t stretch or weaken when wet.

Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum)

St. Johnswort and Common hedge nettle are also found widely in Ohio.

Common St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)
Common Hedge Nettle (Stachys tenuifolia)

Since the number of monarch butterflies have been plummeting, it’s always nice to see one.

Monarch butterfly on milkweed

Flowering spurge is another prairie plant, though quite small.

Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corallata)
This is some sort of aster, but I was unable to further identify it.
Red Admiral butterfly sipping nectar from a downy wood mint (Blephilia ciliata)

We visited the preserve on July 25th, a time when prairie flowers included red, purple, yellow, and white blossoms. The red and purple flowers gradually disappear as August wears on leaving mostly yellow flowers as August comes to a close. Although Ohio’s prairie’s also contain unique grasses, I refer you to Andrew Gibson’s excellent post on The Last Vestiges of the Darby Plains for more information on grasses; his article also includes information on some prairie flowers that I didn’t spot during our visit

Additional information




Location
  • Address: Google Maps suggests an approximate address of 22390 Connor Rd., Milford Center, Ohio 43045
  • Directions: The preserve is on Connor Road just west of the intersection of Connor Road & OH-4. It is approximately 2.5 miles south of Milford Center on OH-4.
  • GPS Coordinates: 40.157818, -83.457245
  • Google Maps: View on map or get directions
GPS Trace of Hike

The red line shows our hike on the trail. We started and ended at the point indicated by the markers at the upper, right end of the red line. If you’d like to directly view the GPS trace on Google Maps, click here.

More on Ohio's Prairies

© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and TrekOhio.com 2012 to 2017


8 thoughts on “Milford Center Prairie State Natural Area

  1. Fascinating read, so much info to take in. Sensational photos as always, especially enjoyed the yellow flowers against the blue sky – a winning combination. 😀

  2. I love your TrekOhio! Many a weekend has found the Denes family checking out the latest location. Our favorite places are those little niches all over the state that are not the popular destination. So much to see!
    Thank you

    1. Emily, it really pleases us that you’ve been enjoying our posts. We always hoped that our site might introduce people to new, interesting places in Ohio. Thanks so much for writing!

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.

Complete the following sentence by typing either real or spam:
My comment is ...