Tallgrass Country

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 22, 2010

Tallgrass prairies, with grasses deep enough to hide a horse and its rider, once covered 15 million acres of Missouri. The prairie around present-day Cole Camp extended, nearly unbroken, all the way to the Great Plains. Today less than 1/10th of 1 percent of tallgrass prairie remains.

Tallgrass prairies, with grasses deep enough to hide a horse and its rider, once covered 15 million acres of Missouri. The prairie around present-day Cole Camp extended, nearly unbroken, all the way to the Great Plains. Today less than 1/10th of 1 percent of tallgrass prairie remains.

Glaciers never deposited till on the Osage Plains, so the soils in this region are shallower and less fertile than those of north Missouri. Sandstone, limestone and chert are often found near the soil surface.

Although most of the Osage Plains are now converted to pastures of non-native grasses or cropland, the presettlement vegetation of the Osage Plains was almost completely grasslands. As much as 80 percent was covered with tallgrass prairie.

As they did throughout the Great Plains, millions of bison and billions of prairie dogs maintained the plains. The huge herds of bison trampled the topsoil, which was then mixed and aerated by the digging of prairie dogs. Raging wildfires burned dead grass and encouraged new growth, keeping the plains in a constant state of renewal.

We no longer have the tools or ingredients necessary to sustain vast prairies, but there are significant opportunities to restore functioning grasslands that will conserve prairie plants and animals. triangle

Grasslands Coalition

The Grasslands Coalition is a partnership of nearly 15 conservation organizations, state and federal agencies and businesses dedicated to the preservation and management of native grassland wildlife.

The Missouri Prairie Foundation, a small but dedicated group of prairie enthusiasts, organized the Grassland Coalition and has secured funding for prairie management on public and private lands through a number of national conservation-oriented foundations. Central to their mission is the recovery of greater prairie chickens, which receive additional attention in nine focus areas across the state.

“These prairies we have are probably more rare and endangered than the rainforest, and, for us in this part of the world, more valuable.” - Wayne Morton, president of Missouri Prairie Foundation

Conservation Opportunity

The Cole Camp/Hi Lonesome Conservation Opportunity Area (COA) is a rural Missouri landscape that provides an excellent opportunity to conserve prairie and grassland wildlife. Within the area, The Nature Conservancy, Missouri Prairie Foundation and Missouri Department of Conservation own and conserve more than 1,500 acres of remnant prairie. Additional remnant prairies are managed on nearby private land, mostly as hay meadows.

The Cole Camp/Hi Lonesome COA is one of the few remaining Missouri landscapes that support greater prairie chickens, in addition to 19 other species of conservation concern.

“The prairie is part of my youth. We kind of expected that it would always be there.

Sericea lespedeza

Paintbrush Prairie Natural Area

Invasive Sericea

Sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata), a legume native to eastern Asia, was planted in the United States as early as 1896. Promoted for years for its use in erosion control and mine reclamation, and as wildlife food and cover, it is widespread in Missouri today. Sericea’s long-lived seeds are stimulated by burning, making the plant difficult to eradicate from prairies. It outcompetes native grasses, native legumes and wildflowers in prairies, resulting in less plant biodiversity. Also, because it is unpalatable to cattle during most of the growing season and replaces more palatable pasture grasses, it degrades range lands.

Paintbrush Prairie Natural Area

Named for the bright red-orange flower that appears on prairies each spring, Paintbrush Prairie is classified as a dry-mesic chert prairie. Dry-mesic means the conditions are between dry and moist.

Chert is one reason Paintbrush Prairie is still a native remnant of the Osage Plains. Too rocky for growing crops, this area was used for prairie pastures and hay meadows. Currently, it provides habitat for 11 species of conservation concern, including Mead’s milkweed and the prairie mole cricket.

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