Growing a Prairie at ECO

Something is happening on the sloping areas on the eastern and western edges of the property. With the help of native plant expert Joe Woolbright of Ozark Ecological Restorations, we are working to establish native prairie plants in these areas.  This process takes several years, but will result in a beautiful tapestry of color and texture, similar to Baker Prairie near Harrison, pictured above (photo by Bill Holiman).
Joe was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about native prairie plants.

ECO: Why are native grasslands important?
Native grasses provide the natural food sources for native insects, animals, and birds; provide a higher rate of carbon sequestration, and are generally higher in trace minerals and protein than non-natives. They are the evolutionary food source. Many non-native plant species are actually harmful to native flora and fauna.

ECO: What is the plan for prairie at ECO?  What should we expect to see over the next few seasons?
Prairie flowers and grasses take 4-5 years to fully manifest themselves.  2014 will be year #3. Stewardship by either burning or mechanical harvesting of dead vegetation like we did in November should be done yearly.

ECO: What are some of the species planted at ECO?  Do you have any favorites?
My favorites include Pale coneflower—the daisy-like flower with pale mauve petals in the photo above, Coreopsis, and Gayfeather (Liatris)

ECO: The prairie restoration areas at ECO are in the middle of town—can small, urban prairies make a difference?
Absolutely. A great example is the Searles Prairie in Rogers (10 ac.),Waste Management in Tontitown (7 ac.), Woolsey Wet Prairie (50 ac.), Unity Church (1.5 ac.), and Callie’s Prairie (25 ac.) in Fayetteville, Three were planted on old prairie sites and two were restorations of former high quality sites. Over 350 species of natives have been documented at Woolsey and Searles: many are listed rare in Arkansas. These sites provide an outdoor classroom to multiple college classes in Ecology, Entomology, Mammalogy, and Ornithology, as well as outdoor recreation for birders and nature lovers.

If you’d like to know more, Joe offers field trips several times a year through Audubon Arkansas—view the Audubon field trip calendar.