Once stretching uninterrupted across 150 million acres between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River, the tallgrass
prairie is a complex ecosystem dominated by unique native grasses that can grow to heights of 8 or 9 feet each fall. After thriving for over 8,000 years aided by the restorative effects of drought, bison grazing, lightning fires and deliberate burns set by Native Americans, this diverse natural community was reduced to 2% of its original size by the early 1900s. It took the
steel moldboard plow just half a century to bring the tallgrass prairie to the brink of destruction. Today, an array of public and private efforts is underway to provide a last stand against extinction for this highly endangered ecosystem.
This Discovery Guide briefly reviews the history of the tallgrass prairie, explains its unique biological traits, and takes a look at current research, education and conservation techniques aimed at preserving the landscape about which Willa Cather wrote: “Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky” (245).
Go To History of the Land