Prairies are impressive, but can be somewhat forbidding landscapes. When early settlers felt the urge to 'go west' across the North American continent, once they left the shelter of the eastern forests, they felt too vulnerable and exposed, so they hesitated to venture very far out. Some of them went across as quickly as they could in order to reach the mountains in the far west. Little did they know at the time, that the tallgrass prairies of mid-western North America were some of the most productive soils on earth.
One of the reasons I feature tallgrass prairie right now is that yesterday, July 20, was the end of the most recent North American Prairie Conference. This conference has been held every other year, with the exception of 2014, beginning in 1968. Most have been held in various mid-western US states, but in 1992 it was held in Windsor, ON and in 2012 it was held in Winnipeg, MN. The 2014 conference was not held, since it takes a huge amount of volunteer time and energy to organize it. I know from personal experience, as I have been to 10 conferences beginning in 1984 in Fargo, North Dakota, and I was one of several principal organizers of the 1992 conference.
Another reason I am featuring tallgrass prairie now is because it can look at its most impressive in late July and early August, when the iconic Dense Blazing-stars (Liatris spicata) are in full bloom with a few hints of the mosaic of yellow from the various goldenrods and sunflowers.
|Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve|
Golden Prairie is a National Natural Landmark. One can stand in it and look around 360 degrees and hardly see any sign of human activity. Here, Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) dominates in June. Golden Prairie is made up of over 250 hecatres, with almost 200 additional hectares adjacent to it being managed as prairie.
|Golden Prairie, MO|
Some prairie remnants, such as Friendly Prairie, are relatively small at barely 20 hectares.
Treaty Line Prairie is almost 70 hectares.
Sky Prairie is about 80 hectares.
The Taberville Prairie complex, dedicated to the conservation of the Greater Prairie Chicken, is almost 700 hectares.
Prairie State Park, at over 1200 hectares, is large enough so that free-ranging bison have been re-introduced.
|Prairie State Park, with herd of bison in the background|
And then at the completely other end of the size scale, is the massive Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma, owned by The Nature Conservancy. It is a whopping 16200 hectares in size...the largest protected tallgrass prairie in North America....and has a large free-ranging bison herd. Check out their web site here.
Many mid-western states have impressive tallgrass prairie holdings, including places such as Black Earth Rettemund Prairie, in Wisconsin.
Blue River Barrens is also in Wisconsin. Here Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata) dominates the landscape. It is a species which occurs in Ontario, but only at a very few sandy prairie sites.
Konza Prairie, in eastern Kansas, is almost 3500 hectares and is owned and managed jointly by Kansas State University and The Nature Conservancy. It has an excellent trail system. More about it can be found here.
A visit to the Konza Prairie in March or early April is almost surely to include a view of smoke from a fire somewhere on the prairie.
Helton Prairie, in Missouri, has a colourful mix of Butterfly Milkweed, and Bunchflower (Melanthium virginicum) with one of the Blazing-stars getting ready to flower as well.
Wah-Kon-Tah Prairie, in Missouri, is almost 1200 hectares and has some fabulous displays of Pale Purple Coneflower.
Even though the vegetation dominates the prairie landscape, there are some uncommon to rare species of wildlife that make good use of it, including Henslow's Sparrow, Northern Bobwhite and Dickcissel as well as Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, shown next.
Loggerhead Shrikes seem out of place compared to the hawthorn dominated alvars they occur on in Ontario.
When the coneflowers are out, butterflies abound and it is the perfect time to see the very rare Regal Fritillary.
Once in awhile, one might stumble across an Ornate Box Turtle crawling through the dense vegetation.
So I encourage you to get out and if you can't get to some of the prairie remnants in the US states, try and explore some of the wonderful prairies that occur in Ontario. One of the most accessible ones is the Ojibway Prairie Complex in southwestern Windsor. There are several city-owned prairie sites, as well as the Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve. A fairly new nature centre is at the city's Ojibway Park, right across the street from the nature reserve.
|Culver's-root at Ojibway Prairie PNR|