Prairies and Grasslands

While I know the standard claim is that Yosemite, Niagara falls, the upper Yellowstone and the like, afford the greatest natural shows, I am not so sure but the Prairies and Plains, while less stunning at first sight, last longer, fill the esthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest, and make North America’s characteristic landscape. -Walt Whitman

A Vanishing Ecosystem
When Pipestone National Monument was established in 1937, it inherited a tallgrass prairie ecosystem that had changed little from prehistoric times. While some areas have been restored, a significant portion of the tallgrass prairie within Pipestone National Monument is native prairie - prairie that has never been plowed.

Because the climate in which tallgrass prairie occurs naturally is also favorable to agriculture, much of the tallgrass prairie today has been converted to farm fields of one kind or another. Only a tiny sliver of the tallgrass prairie remains, less than 1 or 2% of the former range. Some of that prairie is within Pipestone National Monument.

Prairie Wildflowers
Tallgrass prairie wildflowers

NPS Photo by Nathan King

Diversity and Management
The tallgrass prairie ecosystem contains over 70 types of grasses and hundreds of plants in total. As the seasons change, so do the wildflowers. At any time during the growing season, visitors to Pipestone can enjoy the rich variety of plant life in the park, and all the insects, birds, and mammals the vegetation supports. Learn more about Plants and Animals.

Historically, in addition to massive herds of grazing bison, fire played a necessary role in the health of the prairie. Vital nutrients that might take years to decay were released into an ash that prairie plants could quickly start using and leaf litter was removed to allow sunlight to reach new shoots. Invasive species and trees that blocked out light and competed for nutrients were burned away so that prairie grasses, some with roots 12' deep or more, could grow more freely and unencumbered.

Today, presribed burns throughout the NPS are carefully planned and monitored to serve the same function.

To learn more about the tallgrass prairies and how they're managed today, check out the articles below:

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    Last updated: March 31, 2020

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