our continual advances, humans seem to have a fondness for old things
and olden days. Fortunately for our state’s environment, some Illinois
residents have developed an interest in a particular feature of
days gone by: prairie. Whether they are planting a garden of native
prairie flowers or establishing a patchwork of tall prairie plants
on the back forty, Illinoisans are rediscovering the grasslands
that inspired our nickname of the Prairie State.
Prairie plantings are extremely valuable to wildlife.
Of course other Grasslands if managed properly, provide suitable
habitat too. Grasslands provide habitat for a variety of wildlife;
outlines the needs of a selected range of animal species and how
grasslands meet those needs. In this chapter you'll learn the various
types of grassy habitats and how to create and manage them.
What Defines Grassland Habitat
The defining factor for grassland habitat is, as you
would guess, the prevalence of grasses. However, our use of the
term grassy cover includes an herbaceous broadleaf component. In
native prairie these broadleafs are called forbs, and in non-native
or introduced grasslands they are usually referred to as weeds or
legumes. Fields of grassy cover with scattered trees or shrubs (less
than 10% canopy cover by these woody species) are also considered
grasslands. Grasslands with 10% or more scattered trees and shrubs
are termed savannas.
Scientists classify grasslands in many ways. In the
native prairie category, for example, there are many types, such
as hill prairie, wet prairie, and sand prairie, each name referring
to a specific defining physical feature of that community. See Table
3.2 for a summary of each type of native prairie and their special
management considerations. Fields of non-native or introduced grasses
are often described by the predominant grass type, such as a bluegrass
pasture or a brome hay field.
In this book we've classified grasslands into three broad
categories, based on growing characteristics and the composition
of their herbaceous vegetation. Warm-season grasslands are dominated
by grasses that do most of their growing in June, July, and August.
This includes most of the native grasses and many of the forbs of
the original Illinois prairies. Typical grass species include big
bluestem, little bluestem, and Indian grass. Forbs are numerous;
common examples include rattlesnake master, compass plant, blazing
star, and spiderwort. There are also native cool-season grasses
and forbs in the prairie, but because of our climate they do not
form a dominant community type on the Illinois landscape.
Cool-season grasslands are dominated by grasses and forbs
that grow mostly in the cooler months of spring and fall. Generally
the plants in these grasslands are non-native, having been introduced
from Europe or other cool climates. They include species common
in pastures, hay fields, and lawns such as bluegrass, tall fescue,
redtop, smooth brome, and orchardgrass as well as broadleaf plants
like alfalfa and red, white, and sweet clovers.
Old-field grasslands may contain either cool- or warm-season
grasses, but they are usually characterized by a predominance of
"weedy" broadleaf plants and develop after abandonment
of a formerly disturbed area, such as a crop field or pasture. Typical
plants include foxtail, goldenrod, broom sedge, and ragweed. Old
fields also often contain scattered woody vegetation, such as dogwood
or plum shrubs and blackberry briars.