Great Egret

Great Egret

Saturday, 4 June 2016

National Prairie Day

The first Saturday in June has been declared National Prairie Day. At least that is the case in the USA, but Canada has not yet designated it as such. But since tallgrass prairie is extremely rare in Ontario, and is in fact one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America, I am promoting National Prairie Day on this side of the border as well.

Tallgrass Prairie (TGP) harbours a huge number of rare, threatened and endangered species, as well as a multitude of species that have not even been evaluated yet, but are equally as rare. In fact you can hardly venture onto a TGP without stepping on them!

TGP was widely scattered across parts of southern Ontario, but has been greatly reduced. It is believed that less than 1% of the TGP present at the time of settlement still remains. Some of the best remnants are at places like Walpole Island First Nation......

 ....and Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve in Windsor......
 ...and as far east as the Alderville First Nation in the Rice Lake area.

There is a host of colourful, and rare plants, including Colicroot (Aletris farinosa)
 Colicroot can be quite abundant in places. Sadly this prairie site below with dozens of Colicroot was destroyed in the process of building the new Herb Gray Parkway in Windsor. Some of the individual plants were transplanted to a more secure location. While it saves individual plants, the overall TGP habitat is nonetheless destroyed. But that is the topic for one or two other blog posts.
 Milkweeds are a significant part of a TGP habitat, including Prairie Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii)
Prairie Milkweed
 ....and Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), both of which are rare.
Purple Milkweed
 Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is not as rare, and a delight to come across in any setting.
Butterfly Weed

Some of the rarest plants include species like Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea)
 and Pink Milkwort (Polygala incarnata)

 and Slender Bush Clover (Lespedeza virginica)
 and Small White Lady's-slipper (Cypripedium candidum)

The previous four species are all legally Endangered. This next species, Yellow Fringed Orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) is extirpated, since it has not been seen in Ontario in many decades. I had to go to Ohio to photograph this one.

There are various groups of fauna typical of TGP that are also on the rare, threatened or endangered list, including Eastern Fox Snake.
 and Henslow's Sparrow. This image below is one of the first times I attempted to digiscope a bird.
The heart of the TGP region is in the midwestern USA. Some of the best remaining prairie landscapes are in Missouri. Some are national natural landmarks, such as Golden Prairie.

Golden Prairie

Some are state parks, such as Prairie State Park where the bison do indeed still roam.

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are fairly common.

 Loggerhead Shrikes are periodically seen.
Loggerhead Shrike
 Dickcissels are abundant.
 Many have interesting and appropriate names, such as Sky Prairie, Paintbrush Prairie or Gayfeather Prairie.
Sky Prairie
 Others have retained a name that represents a native connection, such as Wa-Kon-Tah Prairie or Kickapoo Prairie.
Wa-Kon-Tah Prairie

Tallgrass Prairies are amazing landscapes and warrant a high priority for protection. Get out and explore a prairie soon!


  1. This is interesting stuff. I guess we can be thankful that we have some wonderful remaining prairie just west of Wallaceburg!

    1. Thanks, Blake.....we are indeed fortunate that the best remaining tallgrass prairie in Ontario is only a short drive away somewhere in the tri-county area.