prairie grasses

Celebrate Iowa’s Prairie Heritage

September 13-19, 2020 is Iowa Prairie Heritage Week!

Iowa’s landscape was once covered by vast rolling hills of prairie.  An estimated 85% of the land was prairie grass and flowers when European settlers first arrived. Since that time the Iowa landscape has changed drastically and today only 1/10 of 1% of our native prairie remains.

The largest remaining prairie remnants in Iowa can be found in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa. Other prairie remnants can be found in old graveyards, railroad right-of-ways, road ditches, and scattered in small patches on state, county or private lands.

Prairies are a diverse pool of plants species, are habitat for many wildlife species, and are a protective buffer for ground and surface water supplies.

Even though native prairie in Iowa is scarce, over the past two decades prairie acreage has actually increased in Iowa.  Concerned Iowans have worked hard to restore and reconstruct prairie areas across the state.

Teaching about Prairies

  • Have students, individually or in group, investigate prairie plants and/or animals. Ask students to find one or more benefits to people provided by each plant or animal in their investigations – a present, known benefit or a possible future benefit.
  • Webs of life become obvious when you study prairies. Eliminating even one element in a prairie system can have a “ripple effect.” Have students list at least one other plant or animal on which their research subject depends for survival and hypothesize what would happen if that plant or animal disappeared.
  • Analyze photographs of historical Iowa prairies and compare them to present day Iowa prairies.
  • Many native prairie remnants still exist in Iowa in pioneer cemeteries. Take a field trip to one of these pieces of Iowa’s past. Contact local natural resources staff to locate possible prairie sites in your area.
  • From Bison to Bread: The American Prairie (This high school activity is from the 2013 edition of Project WILD and here is the Iowa supplement to From Bison to Bread.) Students will research plants and animals found in prairie ecosystems and debate the reasons for development or preservation of prairies.
  • Prairie Memoirs (This middle school / upper elementary activity is from the 2013 edition of Project WILD and here is the Iowa supplement to Prairie Memoirs.) Students analyze three literary selections about bison and interpret different cultural viewpoints, describe how wildlife and habitat affect cultures and societies, and more.

Helpful Websites

Cross-reference to these units:

Project WILDIowa’s Wildlife Resource Base, Iowa’s Wildlife Habitats, Wildlife Management, People and Wildlife