Prairies are a key habitats in Illinois – providing a home to a diverse population of plant and animal species that are specialized to life on a Prairie. Sedges and grasses are common prairie plants – and prairie flowers typically have an extensive root system adapted to conditions on the prairie. Once a common landscape, covering 60 percent of the state – now the Prairie State boasts a mere .01 percent prairie coverage.
Prairies are ecosystems made up of mostly grasses, sedges, and other flowering plants called forbs. Prairies are the result of an area's temperature, rainfall, how quickly water drains from the soil, the plants and animals that live there, and even fire. Each has an important role in how a prairie is formed.
A prairie is made of living parts--plants and animals-- and non-living parts--sunlight, water, soil and nutrients, and fire.
The Watershed Nature Center is home to a tallgrass prairie. At first glance, the prairie may look like a sea of only grass. However, prairie habitats are bustling with life and are home to thousands of species of plants and animals.
Fire is an extremely important part of life on the prairie. Prairie fires prevent trees from taking over the landscape, letting native grasses and flowers grow without having to compete with trees for sunlight. Fire puts important nutrients back into the prairie soil, making it richer for healthy plant growth. Some types of prairie plants even have seeds with extra-tough shells that need fire to help them germinate! Prairie plants survive fire because of their long and sturdy roots. Because many prairie plants grow deep underground, they can survive drought, fire, frost, and trampling and grazing from animals.
Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words, but nothing can replace visiting the prairie and experiencing it firsthand. Visit the Watershed's native prairie habitat and explore for yourself!
Click on the photos below to learn more about each prairie species!