Spring of 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the birth of the Frontier prairie located at our headquarters in Norway, Iowa. The prairie, previously corn and bean fields, was planted in the spring of 1992. We planted 21 acres of tallgrass prairie with an eight-acre border of native hedgerow plants on three sides to provide food and shelter for wildlife. While many of the shrubs planted in the prairie buffer zone did not survive the drought that occurred in 1992, there are areas where the trees and shrubs thrived and are now lush and full. To celebrate our prairie's 20th year, we are planting shrubs along the prairie's eastern border, adding signage, and restoring a six-acre section that was part of the original planting but didn't survive as prairie.
The receding glaciers of the Ice Age left an abundance of glacial till that favored the growth of grasses. A warming climate and reduced precipitation caused the coniferous forests that thrived over much of North America during the Ice Age to retreat northward. Around 5,000 years ago, this warm, dry period reached its peak, and a cooler trend began to favor the tree growth. By the time European settlers reached the Midwest, trees were already starting to advance. And since those first settlers, agriculture and community growth have crowded out the once-dominant prairies, as this graphic shows:
A prairie is a complex ecosystem of grasses, forbs (flowering plants) and shrubs. The specific plants and animals found on a prairie are dependent on the soil types, microclimate, and location of the prairie — giving rise to many kinds of prairie ecosystems. Drier and warmer weather favors the growth of grasses over trees, for example, as grasses with their deep roots and waxy-coated leaves are able to survive drought.
Our tallgrass prairie has around 25 to 30 species of grasses and forbs. We love to stroll through the prairie and see how the plants have grown and bloomed. Visit our prairie photo galleries below and share our delight.
Click on an image to open our Prairie Plants photo gallery.
Fire is one of the most fascinating aspects of a healthy prairie. In the past, fires were often started by lightening storms and by Plains Native Americans. The effects could be dramatic, as fires might rage out of control for days and travel up to 40 miles per hour with favorable winds. Prairie fires stimulate new growth of grasses and some forbs and burn excess plant litter, helping to open up the ground to rain and nutrients from the ash. Fire also kills or damages trees, thus maintaining a grassland environment.
Good prairie maintenance requires a burn every few years to revitalize the prairie plants. See the photos below of our latest prairie burn.
Click on an image to open our Prairie Burn photo gallery.
Spring prairie flowers (blooming in May and June) are shorter plants that grow fast and bloom before the taller forbs and grasses can overshadow them. They may take a bit of effort to find, as they are often hidden in the midst of plant litter from the previous year.
Click on an image to open our Prairie in Spring photo gallery.
July and August in the prairie is the peak time for a diversity of flowering plants. Smatterings of yellow, purple, pink and white can be seen throughout the prairie. Butterflies are prolific as they flit from flower to flower seeking sweet nectar. The prairie is also at its most lush, with the grasses and fall-blooming plants starting to dominate.
Click on an image to open our Prairie in Summer photo gallery.
The fall prairie is characterized by the yellows and purples of sunflowers, ironweed, silphiums and asters. There is also an interesting variety of seed heads on the summer-blooming forbs. Birds are plentiful, as they gorge on the ripe seeds before migrating south.
Click on an image to open our Prairie in Fall photo gallery.
As the weather turns cold, the last blossoms turn into seeds, and the thick foliage — now in many shades of brown and tan — is full of the rustlings of mice and rabbits collecting seeds and making cozy nests for the winter. The winter snow provides a protective blanket over the tunnels and caves hidden in the grass where small animals live through the winter.
Click on an image to open our Prairie in Winter photo gallery.
Prairies are remarkably resilient, having adapted to wind, storm, drought, blizzard, disease and predation.
Life on the prairie can be harsh, with extremes of temperature, strong winds and storms, fire, and water scarcity. But the plants and animals that live there have evolved not only to cope with the conditions but to thrive.
The grasses in Iowa grew tall and lush, and the tallgrass prairie extended itself through most of the state to become the dominant ecosystem 8,000 to 9,000 years ago. By the time European settlers came to Iowa, wooded areas were prevalent along streams and rivers, but prairie still covered nearly 30 million acres or 85 percent of the states’ area. The soils encountered by these settlers were deep, dark-colored, rich in organic matter—and some of the most productive in the world.
While less than 1 percent of natural prairie remains, small and large restorations are underway in many states. A recreated prairie brings color, diversity, and enjoyment. But it can also bring practical benefits, such as erosion and sedimentation control, food and habitat for wildlife, increase of soil fertility and sequestration of carbon.
Nearly 400 plants and hundreds of insects, birds and mammals called the Iowa prairie home at one time. Because these plants evolved in harsh conditions, they make hardy, drought-tolerant landscaping plants. And the beauty and diversity of the naturally occurring prairie plants means there is something available to meet nearly every landscaping need.
Frontier’s restored tallgrass prairie helps offset the carbon emissions from our daily operations. It also shelters a variety of wildlife, such as pheasants, rabbits, mice and voles through the winter. It provides fruits and berries to birds and small mammals in the summer and fall and nectar to butterflies and insects during the warmer months. Employees and visitors can stroll the mowed paths throughout the prairie or take the walking trail that circles it. Our prairie provides a place of peace, beauty and abundance to enjoy year round.
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