WHY A PRAIRIE?
Prairies are an important ecosystem that bring many benefits. Due to native prairie plants’ deep root systems which can absorb an abundance of rain, erosion and runoff are greatly reduced. These roots simultaneously act as a natural carbon sink, converting carbon dioxide from the air into the building blocks of their roots. Insects can often only feed on a select number of plants, and native plants within the prairie provide these important food sources for our native insects. The insects themselves then become food sources for birds and other wildlife, increasing the overall biological diversity of the area. Once established, native prairies are beautiful, with wildflowers blooming throughout the year. Further, we find our faith calls us to care for Creation, and protecting biodiversity while creating resilience in our ecosystems is one way we define faithful living.
WHAT IS IN A PRAIRIE?
This restored prairie contains Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Sideoats Grama, Yellow Prairie Grass, Switchgrass, Canada Wildrye, Virginia Wildrye, Gray-Headed Coneflower, Pale Purple Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susan (B), Wild Bergamot, Partridge Pea (A), Plains Coreopsis (A), New England Aster, Prairie Blazing Star, Prairie Ironweed, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Foxglove Beardtongue, Golden Alexanders, False Sunflower, Purple Coneflower, Wild Quinine, Rattlesnake Master, Stiff Goldenrod, Illinois Bundleflower, Purple Prairie Clover, Sweet Black-Eyed Susan, Cup Plant, Canada Milkvetch, Butterfly Milkweed, and Common Milkweed.
HOW DO YOU CONVERT TO PRAIRIE?
To restore a prairie, there is a need to first kill off existing vegetation before planting native prairie plants. For the Walter Scott Prairie Restoration, we elected to use a process known as “occultation”, where non-translucent material is weighted down on the existing vegetation for 6-8 weeks to kill it. After this, mechanical means are used to remove any stubborn vegetation that remains before broadcasting seed by hand. While intensive tilling or chemical means can be used to kill off the existing vegetation, we elected to try a process that is gentler on Creation and can achieve the same results. Sod removal and solarization are similar processes that are gentle on Creation and can achieve the same results depending on the size of a prairie restoration project and time of year.
HOW TO CARE FOR A PRAIRIE?
Prairie Restoration is not a single task, but an ongoing process of encouraging natural cycles. To restore the native prairie, several years of intentional and scheduled mowing are required for it to establish itself and look like a native prairie. After this, on a 3-5 year schedule, controlled burns of the prairie are required to keep invasive species from gaining a foothold while the native plants with their deep root systems flourish. While this was once accomplished through the grazing of large herbivores such as bison and the rare fire from lightning strikes, controlled burns now help maintain the balance.
CAN I RESTORE A PRAIRIE?
Native prairie restoration is something we can all do! Whether a small plot in your backyard, a faith community restoring an unused lawn to prairie, or even lobbying your local government for the conversion of unused green spaces to become productive once again, you can care gently for Creation by restoring native prairies.
WHO HELPED RESTORE THIS PRAIRIE?
This project was made possible by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Illinois and Wisconsin, Faith in Place, the Walter Scott Camp and Learning Center, the resources of the University of Illinois Extension Office, and many volunteers, all together trying to gently care for Creation.