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Tallgrass

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

Prairie south of Sedalia. Since, the Foundation has bought a number of other prairie tracts.

Missouri native prairie got a real boost from the Nature Conservancy, a national organization that buys endangered ecosystems and turns them over to an appropriate agency for management. In 30 years, the Conservancy has bought more than 9,000 acres of mostly prairie and turned management of about 6,000 acres of it over to either the Conservation Department or the Department of Natural Resources.

But despite the relatively few public prairie acres, the battle to preserve dwindling private acres is a slow and losing one. It helps to have an appreciation of what prairie is and one way to develop that appreciation is by using prairie grass in landscaping.

Native grasses are perfect for wildflower beds. Most are "bunch" grasses, meaning they grow in a compact clump, ideal for plugging a niche in a landscaping scheme. Native grasses have incredible root systems. Switchgrass can reach a dozen feet below the ground, and big bluestem and Indiangrass go almost as far.

Further, most are warm season grasses - they green and grow during summer and ripen in autumn, so they parallel most flower plantings.

Native grass takes a while to establish, but there are shortcuts (see the tip about stratifying seed). You can gather seed yourself, but native grass seed is notoriously low in "pure live seed" - meaning it takes many collected to get one that will germinate. PLS is more expensive to buy than run-of-the-crop, but it is worth the extra cost.

Prairie grass makes a beautiful and unusual change from the familiar round of nursery plantings.

Try it - prairie enthusiasts hope you'll like it.

Sources of Prairie Plants

  • Hamilton Seeds and Wildflowers, HC Rt. 9, Box 138, Elk Prairie 65464
  • Missouri Wildflowers Nursery, 9814 Pleasant Hill Rd., Jefferson City 65109
  • Rock Post Wildflowers Nursery, 5798 Windy Meadows Lane, Fulton 65251
  • Shaw Arboretum, Box 38, Gray Summit, 63039; Bluestem Prairie Nursery, Rt. 2, Box 106-A, Hillsboro, IL 62049 (has an outstanding variety of Canada wild rye)

For Further Information

Any Missouri prairie enthusiast can join the Missouri Prairie Foundation, Box 200, Columbia 65201 ($20-$1,000/year, depending on scope of membership).

The Conservation Department's Prairie Day is in mid-May. It's a chance to pick the brains of prairie experts and see an authentic tallgrass prairie in action. Call the Conservation Department's Education/Interpretation Division ((573) 751-4115) for date and directions.

A Prairie Grass Portfolio

Scott Woodbury of the Shaw Arboretum near St. Louis

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