Plants at the Preserve

big bluestem grass
Big bluestem growing on the prairie

photo courtesy of Mike Haddock

Grasses and Forbs

The name Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is fitting, but it can be deceiving. Though many species of grass do grow taller than most people standing upright, there are also short grasses and several other different categories of plants found on the preserve.

Most native prairie flowers are classified as forbs. Forbs are defined as "any herbaceous plant growing in its native habitat except grasses and grass-like forms". Herbaceous plants are non-woody vegetation with succulent leaves and stems.

Collectively, there are 500 different species of plants found on the preserve. The greater mass of these plants exist in the form of long tentacled roots that reach deep under ground resembling an upside-down subterranean forest.

Scientists and researchers from around the world come to study this amazing and important prairie ecology. They recognize these grasses and forbs as the cornerstone of an important environmental "sink". It is here that the powerhouse of prairie plant life is stored allowing this hearty ecosystem to regenerate despite fire, grazing, flood, and drought.

This "sink" removes tons of carbon from the atmosphere. This balance of life both below and above ground has given the tallgrass prairie ecosystem a resilience that has survived nearly 10,000 years of climatic change.

The National Park Service's Heartland Network Inventory and Monitoring Program and others have gathered baseline data on plant and animal communities on the preserve. Click on the icon to the right to learn more about this program and its importance to the health of the prairie community.



Through efforts of members of the Kansas Native Plant Society and three speeches presented by Chase County Elementary School children to the Kansas State Legislature, Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) was named "State Grass of Kansas" by the Kansas State Legislature on July 1, 2010. Go to the Native Plant Society website below to learn more about the project and much more.



Read More About Plants and Fire Ecology in the Prairie

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    Last updated: October 6, 2020

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