Prairies

Below is Hardin County Conservation Board's Pine Ridge Prairie in full bloom

PINE RIDGE PRAIRIE

Hardin County is home to acres of beautiful and diverse prairie lands. Some of the best can be found at Anders Wildlife Area, Arthur Hilker Wildlife Area and Pine Ridge (pictured above).

What is a Prairie?

A prairie is defined as a large open grassland with many different species such as forbs, wildflowers, shrubs, animals and microorganisms. Prairies are very diverse, for example they may be:

  • Dry, mesic (moderately moist), or wet
  • Grassy or more forb-based
  • Have elevation differences of lowland grasslands to sandy highland grasslands
  • Sunny or shaded
  • Tall or short grassed

The large-stemmed plant near the front of the picture below with the spiky round head on it, is an Iowa native and tall-grass prairie species known scientifically as Eryngium yuccifolium, or commonly as Rattlesnake Master.

Prairie Plant Diversity

A native prairie reserve can be found at Hardin County Conservation Board's Calkins Nature Area. The prairie features mowed trails for safe hiking while being able to explore its beautiful ecosystem.

Reasons to Manage:

Habitat

Prairie provides a vast variety of living areas for insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. A prairie ecosystem provides a food source, protection from predators and climate, as well as nesting areas for mammals, insects and birds, alike. An example would be pheasant habitat which a prairie provides supple insects and plants for both adult birds and their young broods. Historically, prairies hosted large herbivores such as bison and elk for grazing. More common in today's modern times would be the presence of our white tailed deer in Iowa. Click here to learn more about prairie management practices and techniques.

Below is a photo of a native Monarch Butterfly inspecting another vibrant native prairie species, Rigid Goldenrod, in search of an afternoon nectar snack!

Monarch butterfly on Showy Goldenrod at the Anders Savanna.

Pollinators

Pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, in the United States are currently having a pretty tough go of it. There are major efforts underway at many government levels to provide crucial habitat for migration stop-overs throughout the Midwest. Hardin County has been selected as one of the major target areas in North America. In 2015, the Hardin County Conservation Board seeded 28 acres of prairie in Sac and Fox Overlook with another 3 acres completed near Daisy Long Campground. With such an emphasis being put on the Monarch Butterfly and other pollinator species, there will be much more prairie reconstructions completed in the years to come.

Soil

Prairies provide a natural filtering system for watersheds. As water drains into the watershed it often passes prairies which have extensive root systems. The elaborate roots can go several feet below the surface in great abundance. The average prairie plan can have roots of 10 to 12 feet with some having roots upwards of 15 feet. The intricate system not only acts as a foundation for soil and nutrients but it extracts nutrients from water that would otherwise run into watersheds, greatly hindering water quality.

Water

The state of Iowa is almost 36 million acres. Historically, about 80% of that was naturally established prairie. Now, less than 0.1% of Iowa's natural landscape has gone unchanged. You read under "soil" how prairies and their root systems hold soil and nutrients in place, but can only do that when they are implemented or planted. Without them, we are polluting our waters with runoff of nutrients from farm fields and other operations that are not able to be filtered by prairie. Iowa contributes more than 55% of the total pollution that goes into our Mississippi River and is causing a massive loss of aquatic life and resources.