Illinois is known as the Prairie State. The word “prairie” refers to a vegetation type that covered much of North America for thousands of years. Very little of that prairie remains today. The majority of the prairie in Illinois was referred to as tallgrass prairie.
The word “prairie” dates back to Latin (pratum), which meant “meadow”, presumably a treeless, grassy tract where livestock graze. The French explorers, in the late 1600’s, used the term, “prairie” when describing the terrain. Having encountered only forests in Eastern North America, the explorers were not prepared for the vast grasslands and plains that extended to the Rocky Mountains. The prairie was often referred to as a “sea of grass” because the tall grasses resembled waves on the ocean.