In Your Backyard: Biocore Prairie

By Bryn Scriver, Lakeshore Nature Preserve Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator

Biocore Prairie LandscapeHave you explored the Preserve’s Biocore Prairie? Located just north and east of the Eagle Height Community Gardens, the Biocore Prairie is a refuge for prairie plants and the wildlife and pollinators that need them.

Did you know that just 1% of the original North American tallgrass prairie remains? That makes it one of the rarest and most endangered ecosystems in the world! Much of the original prairie was converted to agriculture or developed.

Simply put, a prairie is a landscape that lacks trees and tall shrubs and is dominated by grasses, sedges, and flowering herbaceous plants. Historically, prairies were maintained by frequent fires, started by lightning strikes or by Native Americans who burned prairies to produce food for game or to aid in hunting and gathering activities.

Biocore Prairie is a prairie restoration. In 1997 students and staff in Biology Core Curriculum (a four-semester lab intensive honors sequence) began a long-term project to transform an abandoned agricultural field to tallgrass

Prairie-Dock-Leaf
A very large (1.5 to 2 foot or more tall) Prairie dock leaf.

prairie. Since then the prairie has become a central field site for Biocore labs, independent research projects, service learning and a teaching and research site for many other UW programs.

To start restoring the site to prairie, students studied the soils, researched appropriate plants for the site, prepared the old agricultural field for planting, sowed seeds and transplanted plants. Lakeshore Nature Preserve staff and Biocore collaborate on prairie management, including invasive plant removal and using controlled (or prescribed) burns. It has taken 20 years, but Biocore Prairie’s plant diversity has grown from 57 prairie species to at least 180 today!

July and August are great months to view prairies when many plants are in flower and pollinators are abundant. This year the prairie is exhibiting an abundance of tall (7 feet or taller!) prairie dock and compass plant.

Want help identifying the nature around you? There are many good apps. I like the Seek app.

Prairie-Dock-Flower-Stalks
Three Prairie dock flower stalks in center of photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compass-Plant
Compass plant flowers on flowering stalk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compass-Plant-Leaves
Very large (1.5 to 2 foot or more tall) Compass plant leaves.