Native plants and the insects they support are subjects I’m passionate about, so when the opportunity arose for me to submit a design for the America the Beautiful quarter featuring Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas, I was thrilled. There are many facets to this National Park Service gem, but the main one is that it preserves some of the last remaining tallgrass prairie ecosystems in North America. Tallgrass prairies are one of the world’s rarest ecosystems and are home to a unique assemblage of plants and animals, so I immediately saw the potential to highlight native plants and insects in my design.
Grasses make up about 80% of a tallgrass prairie’s foliage and are the most visually dominant species, so it made sense to include some grasses in my design. I chose two of the most common and iconic prairie grass species: Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans). From the vantagepoint of being down among the grasses and looking up, my design shows several mature stems of these species blowing in the breeze.
One of the most charismatic insects of the tallgrass prairie is the Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia), a lovely orange and black butterfly that depends on vegetation found in prairies. Seen from below, an adult is flying among the grasses in my design. This butterfly nectars on a variety of prairie wildflowers like milkweeds, thistles, goldenrods, and coneflowers, while the larvae of this species need violets.
Many other plant and animal species merit representation on a coin commemorating the tallgrass prairies of the Flint Hills in Kansas; it was difficult to narrow it down to the two grasses and the butterfly. Of all the America the Beautiful quarters that include animals, this one is unique in that it features an invertebrate animal. I’m excited to see this butterfly in circulation! Its release date is today.