When the last glacier departed, it left broad blue lakes on what later became the Illinois country. When the lakes grew less and the vegetation pushed in from every side until there was only a pond of open water in the middle, until that, too, was gone, there came into existence broad marshes to take the place of the lakes. And then the marshes grew drier and became the wet prairie of Illinois.
Camassia scillioides (Raf.) Cory.
April - May. Grassy woods, prairies.
The soil was deep and black and matted with undecayed roots of prairie grasses and marsh plants. And for acres, in the old prairie, flowers bloomed from the bed of what used to be an ancient lake. Blue as the lake water itself, the wild hyacinths stretched for miles and glinted like pale water in the sun. The delicate, waving spikes of six-petaled, pale blue and lavender flowers, tufted with white stamens, stood tall above the grass-like leaves. It was May, and the wild hyacinths were all in bloom.
It was to these broad beds of hyacinths that the Indians came later in the summer to dig the succulent bulbs of what they called quamash, an important food plant.
Although the great beds of wild hyacinths vanished with the plowing of the prairie, stretches of the original prairie soil still remain along railroad right-of-ways, and here many hyacinths still are to be found. In patches like pale blue water, the slender, fluffy spikes of lavender-blue and white flowers nod in the prairie winds; the flowers may be fewer, but those which remain are unchanged from those which decorated the old prairie after the lakes departed, and were food for Indians who gathered them.