Tallgrass prairies are dominated by grasses growing eight feet tall or more, such as big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass. Historically, the community was shaped by climate, grazing, and fire. These factors limited the encroachment of trees and shrubs. Fire also increased the productivity of the prairie by returning nutrients to the soil. Some trees and shrubs grow in savannas, which are transition zones between the prairie and surrounding forests. Seasonal wetlands may form in low areas. Blooming plants called forbs add brilliant colors to the landscape. To survive the extreme conditions on the surface, much of the prairie community is underground. Plants have complex root systems reaching as deep as 15 feet.
The tallgrass prairies in Arkansas have almost entirely disappeared. Only 1% of the original grasslands remain today, making the tallgrass prairie one of the most rare and threatened ecosystems in the state. With the loss of habitat came the loss of prairie species such as the greater prairie chicken and the snowy orchid, which are no longer found here. Agriculture, overgrazing and development have reduced the once extensive prairies to small, isolated fragments. One key to prairie restoration includes strategically locating new efforts next to the these remnant areas to allow birds, insects, pollen, and seeds to move between restored sections and remnant lands so they can develop into a functional prairie landscape.
Learn more about tallgrass prairies with these downloads:
Illustration with Key