Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Barely entering North Dakota from the southeast, prairie phlox ranges east to New York and south to Florida and Texas. However, botanists have found 9 well-defined subspecies within this region, and the plant described here has not been found east of Minnesota and Iowa. Prairie phlox seems to have largely disappeared from North Dakota since European man destroyed the prairie sod of the Red River Valley.
Prairie phlox is perennial from a heavy rootstalk. Plants can have 1 to several stems and, unlike our other native phloxes, reach heights of a foot or more. Stems have fine hairs. The spear-shaped leaves are about 2 inches long and opposite each other along the stem. Five-petaled, pink or purplish flowers are about 3/4 inch wide and grouped in a flat cluster atop the main stem. Fruit is a 3-valved capsule enclosed by the base of the flower.
A lucky botanist or photographer may find prairie phlox in late June in remnant patches of native prairie or old railroad grades in the southern Red River Valley. The plant likely is of little forage value, but is quite showy and would make a good ornamental for sunny sites. Amerindians used a southern phlox in medicines, but I found no references to economic uses for prairie phlox.
This plant is a member of the phlox family (Polemoniaceae) which contains about 275 species mostly of western North America. Polemon was an early Athenian philosopher. The generic name Phlox is Greek for "flame," as most phloxes have bright red-to-purple flowers. There are about 50 species in this genus. The specific epithet pilosa means "soft pubescent" in botanical Latin. Prairie phlox was first described for science by the Swedish father of plant taxonomy, Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) in his monumental Species Plantarum of 1753.
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