Friday, January 13, 2012

Good Prairie Fires

Linda Ellis- News-Leader
An article in today's News-Leader* describes a prescribed fire conducted by the Ozarks Regional Land Trust on Chesapeake Prairie.  The charred ground exposes remnants of prairie plants that would otherwise be smothered by brush and invasive species within a few years.   The article pictures our own Master Naturalist Linda Ellis checking out the winter remnants on an adjacent unburned prairie patch.  She found seed pods of rattlesnake master, spurge and other prairie species.

Rattlesnake Master - Wikimedia

Prairies dominated much of the Southwestern Missouri landscape prior to the arrival of European settlers.  Native Americans set fire to the prairies to stimulate new grass growth and suppress the growth of shrubs and trees which complicated hunting.  Now we use prescribed fire to maintain those precious patches of prairie that remain.  Francis Skalicky describes the use of prescribed fire at greater lengths in an accompanying News-Leader article.

The arrival of the plow, followed by cattle raising and the monoculture of fescue replaced most of these native prairies and their unique species.  A few unplowed remnants of prairies remain and organizations such as the Missouri Prairie Foundation and the Ozark Regional Land Trust are dedicated to preserving them.  Both sites have information on how you can help.

Pink round headed katydid
I think of these precious patches as a combination park and zoo, preserved for future generations to appreciate.  With January snow on the ground, it is a good time to make a resolution to take a summer prairie stroll.**  Prairie maps and locations are at this Missouri Prairie foundation site.  You may be rewarded by species that you aren't likely to see elsewhere like rattlesnake master and even pink katydids.

More on rattlesnake master at Wikipedia.
*   Picture and story by Mike Penprase, Springfield News-Leader.
** Tours of Woods Prairie are available- contact ORLT at 314-401-6218.