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 Grasslands Including Prairies

 
 
 
 
Grasslands Including Prairies
Issues in Illinois
Help Grassland Wildlife
Management Considerations
Creating New Grassy Cover
Protecting and Managing
Additional Management Tips
Suggested Reading
Woodlands & Woody Cover
Issues in Illinois
Help Woodland Wildlife
Management Considerations
Creating New Woody Habitat
Protecting and Managing
Additional Management Tips
Suggested Reading
Wetlands & Other Aquatic Habitat
Issues in Illinois
Help Wetland Wildlife
Management Considerations
Creating New Wetland Habitat
Protecting and Managing
Additional Management Tips
Suggested Reading
Croplands & Other Agricultural Areas
Issues in Illinois
Help Cropland Wildlife
Management Considerations
Suggested Reading
Backyards & Other Small Tracts
Issues for Wildlife
How You Can Help
Management Considerations
Creating and Protecting
Suggested Reading
 

Despite 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; Table 3.1 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.

Photo Copyright © Michael R. Jeffords