Prairie Talk: What Is a Prairie?

Bottle (closed) Gentian (2016)

Bottle (closed) Gentian (2016)

Driving into the FUMC parking lot, our prairie has become a familiar sight. It is hard to believe that we moved from less than ¾ an acre of land in downtown St. Cloud to almost 20 acres on Pinecone Road, and almost half of our property is prairie. According to the MN DNR, before European settlement Minnesota had over 18 million acres of prairie, with about 250,000 acres of native prairie remaining today. Prairie is North America’s most endangered habitat.

The goal of Prairie Talk is to acquaint you with our prairie, encourage you to explore it by walking its trails, and explain the importance of our stewardship of this prairie as God’s creation. Trail maps are available at the ConneXion Point and posted at the trail head southwest of our church building.

Future articles in Prairie Talk will explore issues and topics about prairies, such as prairie plants, pollinators, invasive species, and why prescribed prairie burns are an important part of their management.

Prairie SW of church building (2017)

Prairie SW of church building (2017)

What is a prairie? A prairie is a flat, relatively treeless grassland containing grasses and prairie wildflowers. The biggest part of a prairie you don’t see, the root system. In undisturbed prairie, roots can be 3 times longer than the plant above them, digging down up to 15 feet in the soil. This root system is important for 2 reasons—absorbing storm water runoff and removing carbon from the air. Scientists have shown that even with periodic burns, prairies absorb more carbon than prairie burns release. Prairies can store much more carbon below ground than a forest can store above ground. More about this in a future Prairie Talk article.

Above ground, prairie grasses and wildflowers are important habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Conserving habitat for at-risk pollinator species, such as native bees and butterflies, is a high priority for Land Stewardship in management of the FUMC prairie.

FUMC Prairie. Our prairie is about 10 acres, surrounding our church building and parking lot on the east, south, and west sides. Even our prairie is diverse, with wetlands, a pond, and a county ditch surrounding it. This diversity challenges our stewardship and use of the FUMC prairie. Our prairie originated as a Conservation Reserve program (CRP) prairie, created as part of a federal program to remove environmentally sensitive land from agriculture production and to plant grasses and wildflowers that improve environmental quality. One of the unique wildflowers we discovered the first year is a bottle (closed) gentian. It is a late summer/fall bloomer than is pollinated only by bumble bees (See photo). Since then, we have discovered more species of grasses and wildflowers and seeded even more to create habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

Bumblebee on Bee Balm

Bumblebee on Bee Balm

Installing a bird house (2017)

Installing a bird house (2017)

Stewardship of the FUMC prairie is not limited to the Land Stewardship committee. One way you can be its steward is to appreciate it--pick up a trail map and walk our trails, bring a chair and sit next to the edge of the prairie to watch birds and insects, or watch a sunset. Some of this is difficult with snow on the ground, but spring is around the corner! Another way to be a steward is to work at Outdoor Work Days. Not only do many hands make light work, we are building a community of stewards together. Our first workday is scheduled Saturday, May 18. We look forward to growing as land stewards together.

Prairie Map 2019.jpg