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Restoration of Tallgrass Prairies, Glades, and Savannas

Many factors have deteriorated native ecosystems. However, it is possible to re-create tallgrass prairies, glades, and savannas and bring back their benefits for wildlife and soil health.

Restoring the system

When the settlers arrived on the shores of America, they brought the plants that they knew and used in the old country. This invasion of new plant species, along with plowing the grasslands to grow crops, overgrazing, and other factors have dramatically changed the appearance of the landscape. However, it is possible to bring back or recreate these ecosystems and the benefits that they have for wildlife, pollinators, herbivores, and soil health.
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Native grasslands then and now

Many of the early explorers left written record of the land’s appearance when they settled or traveled through. They encountered many different grassland types. Today, the temperate grasslands of the world, which are so valuable for raising crops and livestock, are the most endangered and least protected habitats on earth. Counted among these grasslands are our own native grasslands:

Tallgrass prairies

A tallgrass prairie is a treeless or nearly treeless grassland that is filled with native grasses and wildflowers. The mixed-grass and shortgrass prairies were the tallgrass prairie’s counterpart in drier climates. The prairies formed the rich, deep soils that are now considered America’s breadbasket because such an abundance of food is produced upon them. Today, the tallgrass prairie ecosystem remains at less than one half of 1% of its original extent.

Savannas and woodlands

Both savannas and woodlands are grasslands with the incorporation of trees. (Technically, a woodland has more trees than a savanna.) These ecosystems were the meeting ground of the tallgrass prairie and the forest. In these savannas and woodlands, trees and herbaceous plants (grasses and wildflowers) coexisted.

Fire and herbivores were the mediator in this uneasy relationship between very different plant types. Today, most of the land that would have historically been savanna and woodland bears no resemblance to Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s description of “a tall, thick and rank growth of wild grass…in which the oaks are standing interspersed like fruit trees in some well cultivated orchard, and giving the scenery the most novel, pleasing and picturesque appearance.

Now, for the most part, we see forest or there is open land. The two do not intermingle, due in large part to the removal of fire from the ecosystems.


Glades are grasslands without much soil. Due to bedrock being close to the soil’s surface and the fact that they usually have a south- or west-facing aspect, these ecosystems are the home of dry-loving plants and animals. Today, many glades have been overrun by cedar trees or other brush and trees.

Restoration protects the plants

Because many of our native ecosystems are endangered, so are the plants that are associated with them. Each ecosystem has a unique array of plants associated with it. Some plants may inhabit more than one grassland ecosystem, but others may be obligates of specific ecosystems. Pale Purple Coneflower, for example, can be found growing on glades, savannas, and prairies while its close relative, Yellow Coneflower, is found only on the glades. By re-creating or restoring these ecosystems, the plant species allied with them are also protected.

Restoration protects the wildlife and pollinators

Native ecosystems once lent shelter to abundant populations of wildlife ranging from the large mammals to the smaller mammals, amphibians, and insects. Today, some of these animals still roam across the countryside, but many, such as the bison and elk, are a memory of yesteryear.

Some species of wildlife depend on certain ecosystems. For example, glades are the much-preferred habitat of the Eastern Collared Lizard, Lichen Grasshopper, and Greater Roadrunner. Restoring our imperiled native plant communities creates habitat for species of wildlife that are adapted to the ecosystems.

Many native pollinator species cannot exist without native plants. In some cases, this dependency is so strong that dependent pollinators and plants cannot exist independently. In fact, about one-third of Missouri’s native bee species need a certain plant species or narrow group of plants to carry out their life. Another third of these bees require a certain ecosystem. Planting a diverse pallet of natives provides necessary habitat requirements for pollinators.

Restoration protects livestock forage

Native herbivores, including bison and elk, once roamed free through the tallgrass prairie, savannas and woodlands, and glades. Today, these ecosystems can be re-established to provide high-quality forage for domestic livestock.

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