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The Tallgrass Prairie Center develops research, techniques, education and source identified seed for restoration and

preservation of prairie vegetation in rights-of-way and other lands.

Tallgrass Prairie

240 million acres grass - wind - sky

Less than 1-2 % of tallgrass prairie remains

Scenes of the Prairie

Isolated Prairie Remnants

Prairie Remnants

Prairie Remnants

Sandy Soils

Rocky Outcrops

Losses from prairie conversion
• Species richness & diversity

• Capacity to adsorb and infiltrate water • Capability to hold soil • Ability to form soil • Wildlife habitat • Indigenous cultures

Conversion of prairie to agriculture was rapid and extensive

Clements’ Climax Community
A plant community composed of species best adapted to the climatic conditions of a region that developed through succession over time as the vegetation reached equilibrium with the environment If a community is disturbed it will reequilibrate and return to the climax state through secondary succession

Continued deterioration

Requires human intervention

Less than 0.1% Iowa prairie remains as isolated islands awash in a sea of agricultural )
Remnant surrounded by cropland

Prairie is a part of our cultural and biological heritage
Interpreting prairie

People pasture

Prairie Restoration
No prairie species present – cropland Degraded remnant with relict prairie species


Remnant Restoration

Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Prairie Restoration in the Upper Midwest

Daryl Smith Greg Houseal Dave Williams Kirk Henderson

Prairie Reconstruction History
Curtis Prairie Greene Prairie Green Oaks Prairie Schulenberg Prairie Fermilab Prairie Neal Smith NWR Midewin Project 1936 1945 1955 1962 1974 1991 1996

North American Prairie Conferences (Midwest Prairie Conferences)
Midwest Prairie Conferences 1968-1976

North American Prairie Conferences 1978-2010

Advances in prairie reconstruction 1970-2010
• Reduced seeding quantities from 30-40 lbs/acre of grasses to 6-8 lb/acre of grasses and forbs • Specially designed seed mixes of grasses, forbs & sedges at 40-50 seeds/square foot • Frequent establishment mowing at 3-6 in. has replaced one time mowing at 12-14 in.

Advances in prairie reconstruction 1970-2010 (continued)
• Glyphosate application has replaced extensive tilling for site preparation • Much more attention to depth of seed drilling • More fall seeding, but still much spring seeding

• Source identified seed available at reasonable cost

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Challenges in Prairie Restoration

Concerns Related to Restoration
• Little information available on pre-settlement plants and animals • Remnants not representative of the pre-settlement prairie • Restoration may not be possible if prairies can’t recover with human-assisted succession • Perpetuates “wilderness myth” that Native Americans had no impact on their environment • Difficult to mimic landscape scale processes of fire and herbivory

Fire is an essential restoration and management tool



Texas-Louisiana Coastal Prairie

Demise of coastal prairie
• Conversion to cropland • Overgrazing • Fire suppression • Urban sprawl & development for other uses • Invasion of exotics including Chinese tallow tree

Biggest roadblock to coastal prairie reconstruction is the lack of available native plant materials

Concerned About Cost and Availability of Native Seed for Roadside Plantings
Available seed
• Native cultivars of western origin and limited genetic variability • Limited amounts of expensive hand-collected local Iowa seed
Compass plant


Iowa Ecotype Project
Established in 1990 • To increase availability of Iowa origin seed • Provide regional Iowa-origin seed at economically competitive prices Added in 1996 • Source-Identified Seed Certification Standards

Seedbank accessions from remnant prairies

Start seedlings in greenhouse

Transplant seedlings into seed production plots plot

Seed Production Plots

Pale purple coneflower

Prairie blazing star

Harvesting bluejoint grass seed

A small modified plot combine is used to harvest native grasses and flowers

New use for old technology

Westrup seed cleaning equipment

Bagging foundation seed for release to commercial producer



Number of Species Released/Developing
35 Developing Released 30






0 WG Species CG Species Shrub Species Leg Species Forb Species

collect seed

Original Seed Sample




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First Regeneration of Original Seed Sample

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Continue Increase or Market

Regeneration of Second Regeneration

Regeneration 2

Factors Affecting Remnant Restoration
• Type and extent of disturbance • How to halt degradation • Avoiding harm to native conservative species • Control of invasive and aggressive species • Whether to replace extirpated species

Factors Affecting Reconstruction
• Soil structure and temperature • Existing vegetation • Site preparation • Weed control • Seeding mix • Seeding rate and time • Seed viability and germinability • Pre- & post-planting weather

Practitioners and

Restoration ecologists need to work together

Tallgrass Prairie A Vanishing Ecosystem

Prairie is important for many reasons, it takes all kinds

(Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management)

Benefits of prairie
• Native out compete weeds • Less mowing & herbicide use •!Improved wildlife habitat • Reduction in stormwater runoff and soil erosion • Reduced snow drifting and increased snow storage • Visually interesting wildflowers and grasses

Prairie Roots
Comprise 65-90% of total prairie plant Extensive root hairs on all rootlets

Reduce Soil Erosion
stream bank cutting

rill erosion

gully formation

Habitat for Wildlife
Small mammals

Grassland birds


Larger mammals

Tilman et al. showed increased biomass

Steps to Prepare Prairie Biomass for Burning


Transport Store

Shred prior to cubing


Prairie Power Project Treatments
Monoculture Switchgrass Native grasses Switchgrass + Big bluestem Little bluestem Indian grass Sideoats grama

Biomass mix Native grasses + 11 species of forbs, grasses and sedges

Prairie mix Biomass mix + 16 species of forbs, grasses and sedges



Prairie Prairie

Prairie Prairie

July 4th floral display breath taking

Something of value is being lost

6e ta)grass prairie ecosys+m and 7% 6e while 7at we can never achieve 8 ,omple+ replica+ of 7e his#ric landscape, and knowing 7at ou9 organisms 7at inhabit it, knowing a)

(econs1uct prairies because we valu%

5e res#re prairie remnants an/

(esponsibili- is perpetual.

Prairie remnant restoration and reconstruction are worth the effort

Arnold Webster
Cedar Hills Sand Prairie

Cedar Hills Sand Prairie

The Tallgrass Prairie Center develops research, techniques, education and source identified seed for restoration and preservation of prairie vegetation in rights-of-way and other lands.