Prairies, Naturalized Areas, and Pollinator Patches

What is a prairie?

A large area of flat land consisting of tall grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and few or no trees.

Benefits of native prairie plants

➢Attracts and supports native wildlife such as bees, butterflies, and other pollinators

➢Deep roots require less water, prevent erosion, support wildlife, and filter pollutants from stormwater

➢Less prone to disease

➢Low maintenance and reduced mowing

Unfortunately, native prairies throughout the Olentangy watershed have been replaced by agricultural activities, housing, and manufacturing.

It is vital to promote native plant species and restore land to a more natural state. This requires the attention of those in the agriculture industry, other businesses, homeowners, and those with a general interest in improving the overall condition of the Olentangy River.

Where to install native vegetation:

➢In your front and back yard

➢As a buffer zone around crops

➢Along golf courses

➢Around businesses and industries

Economic benefits for landowners

➢Native species require much less management because they are suited to local soil and climates. This means less watering and no fertilizers or pesticides.

➢Native plant diversity reduces weeds.

➢Native plants control erosion and runoff.

➢Prairie plants are a cost-effective method of removing pollutants from stormwater.

Water quality

➢Prairie plants reduce fertilizer and other pollutants from stormwater because their stems slow runoff.

➢Their deep root systems allow the soil to soak in more water, stabilize banks, and prevent erosion and sedimentation.

Attracting wildlife

Native plants attract wildlife by providing food, clean water, shelter, and nesting sites because they have co-evolved with native wildlife.

Why do we need pollinators?

➢Between 1/4 and 1/3 of our food sources depend on pollinators.

➢90% of plant species need pollinators to reproduce.

➢Pollinators improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat by helping native plants reproduce.

➢Bumblebees are the sole pollinators for tomatoes.

What is happening to pollinators?

➢Pollinators are in decline, largely due to loss and fragmentation of habitat.

➢Monarch butterflies and some bats and hummingbirds migrate, and they need food sources along their flight corridors.

➢The endangered rusty patched bumblebee is one of 20 native bumblebee species in the Great Lakes Region. Their native habitats are fields and tallgrass prairies. Declines have been attributed to habitat loss, urban development, and pesticide use. Another stressor is monoculture, the agricultural practice of growing a single crop at a time.

➢The Karner Blue Butterfly is another endangered Ohio pollinator species.

The invaders

Invasive species of plants crowd out native plants. They limit wildlife diversity, harm pollinators, and reduce water quality by taking up fewer of the pollutants that degrade streams.

Common invasive species in Ohio prairies include:

➢Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

➢Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)

➢Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

➢Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

➢Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

➢Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota)

➢Day lily (Hemerocallis fulva)

➢Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum)

➢Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

➢Common reed grass (Phragmites australis)

What you can do

Many of the improvements we can make are actually easier than what we are doing now. Here are some ideas:

➢Replace invasive species with native varieties in yards and open spaces, and on the edges of woodlands, stream edges, other stormwater areas, and manicured turf grass areas.

➢Replace mowed areas with wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses native to the area.

➢Plant spring-blooming species to provide food at a time when it is scarce.

➢Limit or eliminate use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Check the labels of chemicals that you do use to make sure that they are properly applied and do not affect pollinators.

➢Leave some grasses and soils undisturbed for nesting.

➢Have a source of water such as a birdbath, fountain, or puddle.

➢Consider periodic controlled burns or mowing in the early spring.

Controlled burns

Controlled burns remove dead vegetation so that new vegetation can grow. This controls invasives, promotes biodiversity by mimicking natural disturbances, and prevents any plant species from taking over.

When? Early spring after the first year of plant growth.

How? Use a licensed controlled burn. See the ODNR Division of Forestry website for information on controlled burns. A certified Fire Manager and approval from ODNR and the Ohio EPA are all necessary. Uncertified burns are unsafe and illegal.

How often? Every 3 to 5 years.

Mowing

➢Mowing to the soil surface in early spring can be used instead of burning.

➢The mowed material should be raked.

➢Mowing and raking is 65% as effective as burning.

Patience

➢It is natural for prairie plant composition to change over time, and it takes prairies at least 3 years to fully develop.

Common Name Scientific Name Type
Butterflyweed Asclepius tuberosa Perennial/Forb
Spotted Beebalm Monarda punctata Perennial/Forb
Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa Perennial/Forb
Dense Blazing Star Liatris spicata Perennial/Forb
Prairie Blazing Star Liatris pychnostachya Perennial/Forb
Eastern Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Perennial/Forb
Compass plant Silphium lacinatium Perennial/Forb
Cup plant Silphium perfolatum Perennial/Forb
Greater Fringed Gentian Gentianopsis crinita Perennial/Forb
Lanceleaf Tickseed Coreopsis lanceolata Perennial/Forb
Tall Tickseed Coreopsis tripteris Perennial/Forb
New England Aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae Perennial/Forb
Black Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa Perennial/Forb
Dogwood Cornus alternifolia Shrub/Tree
Gray Dogwood Cornus racemosa Shrub/Tree
New Jersey Tea Ceanothus americanus Shrub/Tree
Winged Sumac Rhus copallinum Shrub/Tree
Smooth Sumac Rhus glabra Shrub/Tree
Big Bluestem Andropogon gerardii Graminoid
Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium Graminoid
Switchgrass Panicum vergatum Graminoid
Indian grass Sorghastrum nutans Graminoid
Canada Wild Rye Elymus canadensis Graminoid
Purple Lovegrass Eragrostis spectabilis Graminoid

For more information on the benefits of prairies and what species of plants to grow, please visit http://www.ohioprairie.org/.

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Plants database. (n.d.). Baton Rouge, LA: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Read, J., Fletcher, T. D., Wevill, T., & Deletic, A. (2009). Plant traits that enhance pollutant removal from stormwater in biofiltration systems. International Journal of Phytoremediation, 12(1), 34-53.

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The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. (2015). Pollinator Plants Great Lakes Region [Brochure]. Author.

United States, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Natural Areas and Preserves. (2007). Selected Ohio Native Plants for Landscape Restoration and Reuse. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources, Division of Natural Areas & Preserves.