Most of the vegetation that is currently growing in the roadsides of Hardin County, and Iowa for that matter, consists primarily of a few introduced grass species not native to North America. These grasses typically do not grow well in poor soils or drought-related conditions and have relatively shallow root systems resulting in less than optimum weed and erosion control.
Pale purple coneflower in bloom.
Native prairie plant communities, in contrast, consist of various grasses and wildflowers (forbs) that are adapted to a wide variety of soil types and climatic conditions. They also have deep, fibrous root systems that help prevent soil erosion and allow for greater infiltration of rainfall. The dense, rigid nature of prairie vegetation also helps to slow down run-off, in turn catching sediment which otherwise would pollute our streams and rivers. Suspended sediment is the number one pollutant of Iowa’s rivers and lakes.
Native prairie is also an excellent way to control weeds. The vast majority of prairie species are perennial and regrow from root tissue yearly. Once established, their vast root systems provide little or no room for weeds to invade resulting in reduced herbicide use.
Diverse native prairie is also more aesthetically pleasing and provides better cover and food for wildlife than non-native species.
Native prairie is a valuable tool for long-term vegetation management. That is why Hardin County IRVM plants native prairie in disturbed roadsides whenever possible and is currently restoring native roadside prairie remnants throughout the county.
Michigan Lily in bloom. (photo credit: Kirk Henderson)