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The Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Prairie Restoration in the Upper Midwest

Daryl Smith, Dave Williams, Greg Houseal, Kirk Henderson

Publication Year: 2010

Although less than 3 percent of the original vast landscape survives, the tallgrass prairie remains a national treasure, glowing with a vast array of colorful wildflowers in spring and summer, enriched by the warm reds and browns of grasses in fall and winter. This comprehensive manual, crafted by the staff of the Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa, will be an essential companion for everyone dedicated to planning, developing, and maintaining all types of prairie restorations and reconstructions in the tallgrass prairie region of Iowa, northern Illinois, northwestern Indiana, southwestern Wisconsin, southwestern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, eastern Nebraska, northwestern Missouri, and northeastern Kansas.

Focusing on conservation plantings, prairie recovery, native landscaping in yards and at schools, roadside plantings, and pasture renovations, the authors—who collectively have more than a hundred years of experience with prairie restoration—have created a manual that will be particularly useful to landowners, conservation agency personnel, ecosystem managers, native-seeding contractors, prairie enthusiasts, teachers, and roadside managers. A wealth of color and black-and-white photographs taken in the field as well as checklists and tables support the detailed text, which also includes useful online and print sources and references, a glossary, and lists of common and scientific names of all plant species discussed.

The text is divided into five parts. Part I, Reconstruction Planning, provides an overall summary of the entire process, information about securing good-quality seed, and the design of seed mixes. In Part II, Implementing Reconstruction, the authors consider ways to prepare and seed the site, manage the site in its first growing season, identify seedlings, and evaluate success. Part III, Prairie Restoration and Management, deals with identifying and assessing prairie remnants, working toward a predetermined restoration goal, and managing restored prairie remnants and completed reconstructions, including prescribed burning. Chapters in Part IV, Special Cases, discuss the uses of prairie in public spaces, roadside vegetation management, and landscaping on a smaller scale in yards and outdoor classrooms. Part V, Native Seed Production, describes the processes of harvesting, drying, cleaning, and storing native seed as well as propagating and transplanting native seedlings.

Although we cannot recreate the original blacksoil prairie, tallgrass prairie restoration offers the opportunity to reverse environmental damage and provide for the recovery of vital aspects of this lost ecosystem. Anyone in the Upper Midwest who wishes to improve water quality, reduce flood damage, support species diversity, preserve animal habitats, and enjoy the changing panorama of grasses and wildflowers will benefit from the clear, careful text and copious illustrations in this authoritative guide.


Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

... We gratefully acknowledge the support and assistance of our spouses, Sue Smith, Maureen Williams, Ana Houseal, and Terri Henderson; our student assistants, Molly Schlumbohm and Taylor Gerling Shore; the Tallgrass Prairie Center office manager, Mary Weld; our manuscript review ...

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Why This Manual?

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pp. xi-xv

Tallgrass prairie is the most decimated ecosystem in continental North America; less than 2 to 3 percent of the original landscape remains. The blacksoil portion suffered the greatest loss as extensive conversion to cropland between 1830 and 1900 obliterated the prairie, destroying the complex, interwoven fabric of this natural system. Gone from the landscape is the capability for expeditious ...

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Introduction: Returning Prairie to the Upper Midwest

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pp. xvii-xxi

An immense landscape of grass, wind, and sky once occupied midcontinental North America. This distinctive landscape dominated the horizon from the forest margins of Indiana and Wisconsin to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to the boreal forest of central Canada. Early French explorers traversing the eastern edge of this wilderness used “prairie,” ...

Part 1. Reconstruction Planning

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1. Preparing and Planning for a Reconstruction

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pp. 3-11

Prairie reconstructions should be modeled after remnant prairies. Before beginning a reconstruction project, become familiar with local prairie remnants and available information on prairie reconstruction. A well-designed and well-executed plan is crucial to a successful reconstruction. Components of the plan should include goals and objectives, timeline, budget, site description, designated reference site, description of tasks ...

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2. Seed Source and Quality

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pp. 12-22

In prairie restoration, seed source and quality are of critical importance. Many seek to use the most appropriate genetic source for restoration. Seed source should not be confused with where the seed is produced or sold; rather, source refers to the original remnant source of the seed. Seed quality is a measure of purity and viability, as tested by a certified seed-testing lab. The following ...

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3. Designing Seed Mixes / Dave Williams

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pp. 23-36

A well-planned seed mix is essential to reconstructing a diverse and stable plant community. Selecting species for any native planting involves knowing the physical characteristics of the site (soil type, hydrology, slope, aspect, and sunlight exposure), then choosing the most appropriate native plants for that site. All native plantings should include grasses, sedges, and forbs (both legume and nonlegume species). The seed mix should also include annual, biennial, and ...

Part 2. Implementing Reconstruction

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4. Site Preparation

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pp. 39-55

Site preparation involves altering the existing vegetation and soil structure in advance of seeding. The goal is to increase emergence, growth, and survival of the seeded natives by removing thatch, improving seed-to-soil contact, and reducing weeds. From construction sites to cornfields, site conditions can be drastically different and require specific site-preparation techniques. There are ...

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5. Seeding

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pp. 56-72

Deciding when to plant a prairie is a challenge. Some species establish better when planted in the spring, other species establish better when planted in the fall, and some species are hard to establish whenever they are planted. Seeding rates of some species may need to be increased depending on when and how they are planted. ...

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6. First-Season Management

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pp. 73-81

The establishment of a prairie plant community takes 3 to 5 years. Without early management of the vegetation during this critical time, weeds and woody plants will displace the emerging and newly established native plants, resulting in a weedy plant community that will persist for many years. The goal aft er seeding is to reduce unwanted plants — most commonly weeds — and stimulate ...

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7. Evaluating Stand Establishment and Seedling Identification

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pp. 82-101

This chapter is intended to assist the practitioner-landowner in sampling and evaluating prairie plant establishment in a new seeding. Deciding where to sample, how many samples to take, what to measure, and how to analyze the data for an assessment of prairie plant establishment are discussed. This chapter outlines techniques for developing seedling identification skills to insure an ...

Part 3. Prairie Restoration and Management

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8. Identifying and Assessing Remnants

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pp. 105-118

Growing public awareness of tallgrass prairie will, we hope, lead to the identification, preservation, and management of more prairie remnants. Efficient use of limited resources requires strategies for locating, preserving, and managing these remnants. This chapter will highlight the value of prairie remnants, discuss where they might be found on the midwestern landscape, and consider attributes ...

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9. The Restoration of Degraded Prairie Remnants

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pp. 119-133

Heavily grazed or brushy sites with relict prairie plants oft en appear to be so badly degraded or damaged that there is little hope of restoring the prairie. However, it is possible to restore these sites by eliminating the causes of degradation, repairing the damages, and adapting techniques used in prairie management. Depending on the condition of the degraded remnant, restoration measures ...

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10. Prairie Management [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 134-153

Presettlement prairies were shaped and maintained by wildfire, herbivores, and climatic extremes. Today’s prairies are mostly small, isolated patches that require active management to maintain their diversity. This chapter focuses on the management techniques needed to maintain the integrity and diversity of prairie remnants, restored remnants, and established reconstructions. ...

Part 4. Special Cases

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11. Prairie in Public Places

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pp. 157-169

Prairie reconstruction in public spaces challenges our perception of urban landscaping. These plantings are quite different from traditional “neat and tidy” landscapes. Prairie reconstruction projects can be very visible and controversial in any community and can elicit strong public responses, both pro and con. This chapter deals with how to positively influence public perceptions. ...

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12. Roadsides and Other Erodible Sites

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pp. 170-192

Conditions found in roadside rights-of-way create significant challenges for prairie reconstruction. Slopes are oft en too steep for tractor and drill. Compacted soil requires more aggressive site preparation. Steep slopes and concentrated water fl ow increase the need for soil stabilization. And proximity to motor vehicle traffic makes it harder to manage the plantings once they are ...

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13. Small Prairie Plantings

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pp. 193-206

Small prairie plantings are used as backyard habitats, outdoor classrooms, community entryways, and low-input landscaping (reduced mowing, watering, fertilizing, and pesticide use) around homes and businesses. These plantings can range in appearance from natural-looking attempts to reconstruct a piece of prairie to more formally designed prairie gardens. Placed in high-visibility locations and viewed up close on a daily ...

Part 5. Native Seed Production

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14. Seed Harvesting

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pp. 209-224

Seed of many native species is now commercially available for prairie reconstructions, large or small. Yet many people have an interest in growing and collecting native species for butterfly gardens, backyard and schoolyard wildlife habitats, and prairie restorations. Native seed may be harvested as single or mixed species from remnant or reconstructed prairies or from seed nursery ...

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15. Drying, Cleaning, and Storing Prairie Seed

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pp. 225-238

Postharvest processes include drying, precleaning, cleaning, and storing seed properly. If the seed is collected in bulk and immediately spread on a restoration site, little processing is necessary. If the seed is to be stored for any length of time, the next step is to properly care for the harvest. Drying, cleaning, and storage requirements for prairie seed aft er collecting will depend on how and which species are collected, the length of time stored, and the intended seeding ...

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16. Propagating and Transplanting Seedlings

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pp. 239-260

Propagating and transplanting seedlings of native species present unique challenges. Most prairie species have seed dormancy mechanisms that must be overcome for good seed germination to occur in a greenhouse environment. Potting containers ideally should accommodate the deep root systems that develop in seedlings. Included in this chapter are tips on greenhouse propagation, ...

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Epilogue: The Future of Tallgrass Restoration

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pp. 261-263

Writing this guide was a marvelous experience, both invigorating and reflective. As the four of us wrote various sections and critiqued one another’s writings, we engaged in some very stimulating discussions. In addition, it caused me to pause and reflect on my nearly 40 years of experience with prairie restoration and reconstruction. ...


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pp. 265-272

Common and Scientific Names of Plants Mentioned in This Guide

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pp. 273-283


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pp. 285-293


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pp. 295-301

E-ISBN-13: 9781587299520
E-ISBN-10: 1587299526
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587299162
Print-ISBN-10: 158729916X

Page Count: 326
Publication Year: 2010