The Fiery Hues of the Prairie Grasses in Autumn

The Fiery Hues of the Prairie Grasses in Autumn

By Michelle Biodrowski, Naturalist
I don’t think enough people give our native grasses the fame they deserve.

1

Grasses began gracing the North America landscape with their gorgeous presence 57 million years ago, they look pretty good for their age! Around 8,000 years ago, on the land we now call the Great Plains, an intense life with fire and a warm dry climate helped to expand the area that grasslands occupied. For thousands of years our prairie grasses have supported a great diversity of species, especially in the state of Iowa. Iowa used to boast over 30 million acres of tallgrass prairie, that’s over 80% of the state. It took less than 100 years to lose almost all of it, once humans realized the agricultural potential of the soils beneath those grasses. Today, less than 0.1% of our remnant prairies remain.
Every autumn our prairie grasses, the descendants of these ancient ancestors, stand as a blaze of copper, red, gold, and wine colors & are an important part of prairie communities that support a thriving ecosystem boasting thousands of organisms. They wave their glossy seeds in the cold north winds, they sprout bright green against the blackened earth where fire burned, and they die adding to the organic matter which makes our Midwestern soils so productive. In our Pottawattamie County Parks we work to save their remnant populations from disappearing altogether. This work is important for many reasons, and I think it is ok that one of those reasons is their feisty beauty.

bluestem

5

IMG_20171025_115555640

Wheeler Grove Nov 2018 1

4

2