What is the Prairie?

photo M. Noonan

A prairie is an area of flat, predominantly treeless course grassland, especially in a large plain with deep, fertile, soil. It is a region inhabited by extensive grasses and forbs and lacks the presence of large vegetation. There are tall grass, short grass, and mixed grass prairies. The specific location in which each type of prairie exists is dependent on an area's soil conditions, water, and the frequency and extent of fire, drought, and, grazing.

A short grass prairie lies in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains. The conditions that are given off by the rain shadow, low levels of rain fall, cause the land to have a very low diversity of vegetation therefore giving the short grass prairie the look of a barren desert. These short grass prairies constitute many of the shrub lands and deserts of the western United States.

A tall grass prairie contains no trees, but if trees do occur, they are widely distributed throughout the land, otherwise the prairie is dominated by grasses. Fire is a very important factor in order for the tall grass prairie to survive and is sometimes needed by the vegetation that resides there to grow and disperse their seeds, for without it the prairie would no longer exist.

A mixed grass prairie is composed of grass that is tall to medium height. These grasses are specifically adapted to constantly changing conditions, such as wet, damp and very dry conditions, for the soil is also in the same conditions. Since the grass varies in height, it allows for a wide variety of wildlife to inhabit the land, for every species of wildlife that live there need a different type/height of grass to survive.

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