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Article posted: 7/2/2013 2:34 PM

Learn how prairies developed and why it's important


"Why Prairies Developed in North America" is the topic of the next meeting of the Lake-to-Prairie chapter of Wild Ones from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, July 9, in the outdoor classroom (Room E-114 if it rains) at Deerfield High School, 1959 N. Waukegan Road, Deerfield.

The speaker is Jeff Hoyer, advanced placement environmental science and biology teacher at Deerfield High School.

Families are welcome to this free event; registration is not required.

The prairie is a uniquely American biome found nowhere else on earth outside of North America. There are many reasons that stretch out over hundreds of millions of years of geologic time and human history why this specific type of grassland developed here.

Discover what ancient forces formed the land we live on and the impact man has had on the landscape over the past several thousand years. Adaptations prairie plants have evolved to live here and how we can share in the benefits they provide for our environment will also be discussed.

Illinois and the rest of North America was not always where it sits today on a globe. Hundreds of millions of years ago, what is now known as Illinois was actually the bottom of a shallow tropical sea. This history is important because that sea formed the bedrock of the Midwest, which is the foundation of our soils.

The mostly flat landscape left by the glaciers created a plain where fires could sweep across the landscape for hundreds of miles untethered by mountains or valleys. Fire is the main force that kept trees from becoming established in the eastern portion of the prairie biome.

Thus, native prairie plants had to adapt to living with frequent fires. Thousands of years of prairie plants growing, composting, and burning created the richest, thickest soils in the world. This rich soil was discovered in the late 1800s to be some of the best farm land in the world, leading to a "soil rush" that ultimately doomed much of the very ecosystem that created it.

Small remnants of the great prairie ecosystem that once stretched from the Illinois to the Rockies and from Canada to Mexico still survive in tiny postage stamp size nature preserves.

Native prairie plants not only form the soil that grows our food but also are naturally drought and pest resistant, allowing them to survive under harsh conditions and hold onto the soil much better than the plants used to replace them.

For information, contact Rick Sanders at (224) 377-8201 or Lake2Prairie.WildOnes@gmail.com, or visit www.wildones.org/chapters/lake2prairie/#NextMeeting.

Lake-to-Prairie is a chapter of Wild Ones, a national not-for-profit organization that promotes the use of native plants in landscapes.

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