The tallgrass prairie is a highly overlooked and important ecosystem that quickly fell prey to the plow despite its significant role in our continent's ecology. The prairie once spread from Canada to Texas, and though the plant and animal species composition changes across such a huge north-south range, there are many species that occur commonly. From Texas to Wisconsin, you can find little bluestem, big bluestem, Indian grass, switchgrass, beebalm, black-eyed susans, butterfly weed and much more. The prairie is (or was) home to a beautiful array of plant and animal species.
Sadly, you can't find very many true prairies in the wild. What once covered more than 140 million acres of the United States is now less than 4% of its original area. Most commonly, you can stumble across small remnants along roadsides, in cemeteries and on land that wasn't good for agriculture.
It's that last reason that we can thank for the existence of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, which is a 10,000-plus acre piece of prairie in the Flint Hills of Kansas outside of Strong City.
During a recent visit, the prairie was very much in its mid-summer dormant phase, transitioning from shorter spring bloomers to taller fall plants, like the tall grasses and asters. It was 100 degrees.
Still, we found a few things blooming - or just finished blooming - and the skies were wide open.
Hoary vervain (Verbena stricta)
Purple prairie clover (Dalea pupurea var. purpurea) (Just finishing blooming)
Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) (Just finished blooming)
Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa)
Butterflyweed (Asclepius tuberosa)
I would love to come back to this prairie in the spring or fall to watch the real show, and to have more time to hike further into the backcountry to see the bison. The prairie is a real treat - it takes time for the eyes and mind to refocus and truly appreciate its beauty.