Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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Natural Communities
Keyword: Prairie


Click on community name for photo gallery.

Dry prairie
This grassland community occurs on dry, often loess-derived soils, usually on steep south or west facing slopes or at the summits of river bluffs with sandstone or dolomite near the surface. Short to medium-sized prairie grasses: little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), hairy grama (B. hirsuta), and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), are the dominants in this community. Common shrubs and forbs include lead plant (Amorpha canescens), silky aster (Aster sericeus), flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), purple prairie-clover (Petalostemum purpureum), cylindrical blazing-star (Liatris cylindracea), and gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis). Stands on gravelly knolls in the Kettle Moraine region of southeastern Wisconsin and along the St. Croix River on the Minnesota – Wisconsin border may warrant recognition, at least at the subtype level.

Dry-mesic prairie
This grassland community occurs on slightly less droughty sites than Dry Prairie and has many of the same grasses, but taller species such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Indian-grass (Sorghastrum nutans) dominate. Needle grass (Stipa spartea) may also be present. The herb component is more diverse than in Dry Prairies, including many species that occur in both Dry and Mesic Prairies

Mesic prairie
This grassland community occurs on rich, moist, well-drained sites. The dominant plant is the tall grass, big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). The grasses little bluestem (Andropogon scoparius), indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), porcupine grass (Stipa spartea), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), and tall switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) are also frequent. The forb layer is diverse in the number, size, and physiognomy of the species. Common taxa include the prairie docks (Silphium spp.), lead plant (Amorpha canescens), heath and smooth asters (Aster ericoides and A. laevis), sand coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata), prairie sunflower (Helianthus laetiflorus), rattlesnake-master (Eryngium yuccifolium), flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), beebalm (Monarda fistulosa), prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), and spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis).

Sand prairie
This dry grassland community is composed of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), panic grass (Panicum spp.), and crab grass (Digitaria cognata). Common herbaceous species are western ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya), the sedges (Carex muhlenbergii and C. pensylvanica), poverty-oat grass (Danthonia spicata), flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), frostweed (Helianthemum canadense), common bush-clover (Lespedeza capitata), false-heather (Hudsonia tomentosa), long-bearded hawkweed (Hieracium longipilum), stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida), horsebalm (Monarda punctata), and spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis). At least some stands are Barrens remnants now lacking appreciable woody cover, though extensive stands may have occurred historically on broad level terraces along the Mississippi, Wisconsin, Black, and Chippewa Rivers.

Wet prairie
This is a rather heterogeneous tall grassland community that shares characteristics of prairies, Southern Sedge Meadow, Calcareous Fen and even Emergent Aquatic communities. The Wet Prairie’s more wetland- like character can mean that sometimes very few true prairie species are present. Many of the stands assigned to this type by Curtis are currently classified as Wet-Mesic Prairies. The dominant graminoids are Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), and prairie muhly (Muhlenbergia glomerata), plus several sedge (Carex) species including lake sedge (C. lacustris), water sedge (C. aquatilis), and woolly sedge (C. lanuginosa). Many of the herb species are shared with Wet-Mesic Prairies, but the following species are often prevalent: New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum), northern bedstraw (Galium boreale), yellow stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta), cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior), tall meadow-rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum), golden alexander (Zizea aurea), and mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

Wet-mesic prairie
This herbaceous grassland community is dominated by tall grasses including big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), and Canada wild-rye (Elymus canadensis). The forb component is diverse and includes azure aster (Aster oolentangiensis), shooting-star (Dodecatheon meadia), sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseseratus), prairie blazing-star (Liatris pycnostachya), prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa), prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), prairie docks (Silphium integrifolium and S. terebinthinaceum), late and stiff goldenrods (Solidago gigantea and S. rigida), and culver's-root (Veronicastrum virginicum).


Offsite resources:
Virginia Kline's collection of the Vegetation of Wisconsin
Michigan Natural Features Inventory Community descriptions

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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