Sullivant's Milkweed

Sullivant's Milkweed

About Prairie

Prairies are ecosystems where the dominant plants are grasses. But herbs and shrubs are significant plants of the prairie as well. Few to no trees are found on prairie. The term generally is applied to grasslands found in North America.

In the United States, the prairie region includes all or most of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma; as well as substantial portions of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In Canada, the prairie provinces include Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

The formation of prairies can be attributed to climate, fire, and grazing. Climatic factors include periodic drought, reduced precipitation, and temperature extremes. Prairie plants are adapted to fire and periodic fires favored them. Prairie plants are adapted to the large and small grazing animals found on the prairie.

Prairies are often divided tallgrass, midgrass, and shortgrass based on the grass height and species composition. With decreasing precipitation from east to west, the tallgrass prairie is found in the east, the shortgrass in the west, with the midgrass between them.

Prairie Facts

Pale Purple Coneflower & Black Eyed Susan on a prairie remnant

Pale Purple Coneflower & Black Eyed Susan on a prairie remnant

  • The North American prairie arose in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains, and once covered 400 million acres over the center of the U.S. from Saskatchewan to Texas. Prairies are diverse communities dominated by grasses and wildflowers. 
  • 75% of the tallgrass prairie biomass is underground. It created some of the most productive soils in the world. Prairie thrives amid drought, fire, and grazing due to root systems up to 15 feet deep. Learn more about Prairie Ecology.
  • Only 1% of the tallgrass prairie remains today due to fire suppression and intensive crop production, making it a globally endangered ecosystem. Remaining prairies now include the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma and small remnant prairies, such as The Prairie Center in Olathe, Kansas. See Public Prairies.

Prairie Topics

Get more information on the following prairie related topics.

  • Prairie Ecology explains the relationships and interactions of the plants and animals that are found in this grassland ecosystem.
  • Prairie Establishment describes methods to site preparation, planting, and maintenance of a tallgrass prairie reconstruction.
  • Prairie Maintenance describes the many tasks involved in maintaining a prairie such as controlling invasive weeds, tree/shrub control, burning and haying.
  • Threats to the Prairie details some of the threats that our grasslands face.
  • Prairie Sites to Visit lists public prairies in eastern Kansas and western Missouri.
  • Prairie Resources lists resources for more information on prairie related topics.


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