Plants of the Prairie Grasslands

Cartoon nose

Can you smell that?

That is the smell of sage! It is a rich, earthy smell that may remind you of Thanksgiving dinner. Look in your kitchen spices - you probably have some sage in there! It may smell the same as the sage on a prairie, but it's not!


Sage plants in Theodore Roosevelt National Park usually grow as a shrub or bush. They are an important part of our ecosystem. Many animals eat sage, especially in the winter when it is hard to find grass to eat. Other animals depend on it for shelter. The sage grouse is a bird that lives in areas covered with sage.

Even if it is not used to season your turkey, sage is used by humans! Native Americans use sage for ceremonies and medicine. European settlers would use sage to cover the roofs of their homes. Different types of sage had different uses. Two common types are big sagebrush and silver sage. Look at the pictures below to see the differences.

Silver sage and big sagebrush together
This photo shows two types of sage growing together. Silver sage is more common in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but in this area there was a lot more big sagebrush growing.
A close up view of silver sage and big sagebrush.
Silver sage has longer, lighter-colored leaves compared to big sagebrush. Big sagebrush leaves have three "lobes" on the end of them. Both smell really good!
Juniper tree with forested slope in background
This juniper tree stands alone on the prairie. Behind it, you can see the north-facing slopes are covered with a juniper forest.

NPS photo by Joe Bruce

Another important plant on the prairie is the juniper tree. This is an evergreen tree, which means it has needles like a pine tree. It stays green all year. Junipers grow small blue seeds that get eaten by many animals!

Like sage, juniper wood smells really good when it is burned. It also provides wood for fences. These trees do not get very tall, but they can grow for a long time. Juniper forests are good shelter for large animals like deer and elk. These forests grow on slopes which face north. The north side is cool, moist and shady. A juniper forest is an important habitat for an ecosystem without many trees!


It is not all bushes and trees in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Remember, this is a prairie grassland! There are dozens of different grasses found in the park. When a habitat has many types of plants and animals, we call that diversity.

A grassland needs diversity because some plants grow at different times of the year. The diverse grasses of the park provide food for animals all year long. Two of the most important are called blue grama and needle and thread. Check out the pictures below for a closer look!

Close up of blue grama grass
Blue grama is a cool season grass. It is common in the late spring. This grass is easy to identify because the top looks like a person's eyebrow! Those little "hairs" are actually the seeds.

NPS photo by Joe Bruce

A close up of needle and thread grass
Needle and thread is a warm season grass. Growing from a narrow stalk, it has several whispy strands at the top. These strands are the "threads," which are connected to a pointed end, or "needle." The needle can stick into clothes, fur or hair. This is a trick some plants use to spread their seeds around!

NPS photo by Joe Bruce

A large prairie rose bush
The prairie rose, state flower of North Dakota, is one of the many flowers found in the park. It blooms in late May or early June.

NPS photo by Joe Bruce

Through the spring and summer, beautiful flowers bloom in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. From pasque flowers to prickly pear cactus, there are amazing colors on display! We will learn a little more about flowers when we research insects! Right now it is time to move on and learn about the wildlife of Theodore Roosevelt National Park!

You can also return to the first Learn About the Park page.

Go to the vocabulary page to review the blue words you learned here.

Last updated: August 19, 2015

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