Prairies are open grasslands that usually occur in relatively dry climates. In natural conditions, they have very high levels of diversity with as many as 250 different species of grasses and wildflowers within a square mile. Originally half of Minnesota was covered by prairie. Currently, prairie makes up only 1% of the Minnesota landscape. The diversity of native wildflowers and grasses are constantly changing with the seasons to dispel the myth that prairies are monotonous.
St. Olaf Prairies
Currently St. Olaf College has restored over 150 acres of native prairie on College owned land that has been farmed in corn for decades. The restored prairies have 10 species of native grasses and 25-40 species of native forbs (wildflowers). We purchase our prairie seed from Prairie Restoration, Inc. (see link below) who is able to supply us with seed of local origin.
Weed control is necessary, especially in the early years of establishment of prairies and woodlands. This problem is addressed through the time consuming process of pulling, cutting and spot spraying weeds. Exotic plants such as reed canary grass and thistle are most problematic in the prairie areas.
We manage our prairies through regular prairie burns approximately every 4-6 years. This helps to control noxious weeds and also stimulates the “fire adapted” native prairie plants. Fire breaks are established by mowing. Basic equipment needed inludes drip torches to start fires with backpack water sprayers and swampers (heavy rubber mat on a long handle) used to control and put out fires.