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Praise for the Postage Stamp Prairie
Midwest Region, August 14, 2014
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Even a postage stamp prairie can have a lot of diversity, approximately two dozen native species so far, including purple coneflower, anise hyssop, black and brown-eyed Susan, yarrow, and common milkweed, and smartweed.
Even a postage stamp prairie can have a lot of diversity, approximately two dozen native species so far, including purple coneflower, anise hyssop, black and brown-eyed Susan, yarrow, and common milkweed, and smartweed. - Photo Credit: Mark Pfost/USFWS
Although only 1,000 square feet (20 X 50) this postage stamp prairie within a residential area is a buzz with pollinators, including hummingbirds. Eastern bluebirds and house wrens compete for the bird house each spring. Pollinators benefit the vegetable garden in the background.
Although only 1,000 square feet (20 X 50) this postage stamp prairie within a residential area is a buzz with pollinators, including hummingbirds. Eastern bluebirds and house wrens compete for the bird house each spring. Pollinators benefit the vegetable garden in the background. - Photo Credit: Mark Pfost/USFWS
North America has over 4,000 species of native bees, which are the primary pollinators of fruits and vegetables. Bees abound on flowering forbs such as this anise hyssop. They seem to be so busy concentrating on their task at hand that the risk of receiving a bee sting is low - just move slowly. Watching bees is a great way to teach children about the importance of pollinators.
North America has over 4,000 species of native bees, which are the primary pollinators of fruits and vegetables. Bees abound on flowering forbs such as this anise hyssop. They seem to be so busy concentrating on their task at hand that the risk of receiving a bee sting is low - just move slowly. Watching bees is a great way to teach children about the importance of pollinators. - Photo Credit: Mark Pfost/USFWS

When we conjure of up images of prairies we might think of far-off horizons, unfragmented vistas, and herds of bison. When we picture local prairie restorations we might envision small sites, maybe of seven to 10 acres, or perhaps larger sites of 20 or 30. But, what does this mean for the person with a piece of land that is too tiny to fit programs such as Partners for Fish and Wildlife, or one NRCS’s conservation programs? Must this person be content looking across their fence at their neighbor’s big bluestem, black-eyed susan, and compass plant?

No!

Even a small piece of ground can be planted to “prairie,” assuming your geography is appropriate. It can provide a number of benefits - some of which might not come readily to mind. I developed my list of benefits while observing my 1,000 square foot prairie each day.

You can create a mix of prairie grasses and forbs, with structural heterogeneity for little to no money. Native prairie seeds can be collected while doing other activities. Hiking a country road or a friend’s property? Keep an eye out for good collection sites and return later when the seed is ready to harvest. Take advantage of end-of-year sales from native plant nurseries to augment your prairie with species you didn’t find on your walks.

One of the main reasons that I planted my tiny prairie was to avoid mowing. This particular site has steep slopes that made it difficult to mow with either a riding or push lawn mower. The solution was to stop mowing. The two dozen or so species (so far) provide enjoyment and aesthetic beauty.

A small prairie, just steps away from your door provides easy opportunities to improve observational and identification skills. Being close gives one the chance to make daily “excursions” to see what has changed since yesterday. Maybe another species is starting to bud. Perhaps you planted something new two years ago and suddenly you see it growing for the first time. As butterflies and bees move from flowering plant to flowering plant, they offer occasion to discuss the importance of invertebrates with your children or grandchildren.

And of course, many pollinators are declining, due to threats such as habitat loss, insecticides, or other environmental contaminants. Most people have at least a general idea of why pollinators are important - without them most of our flowering plants would not produce fruits or seeds. Our gardens would suffer. Our diets would be poorer. Even a tiny prairie provides pollinator habitat.

Your prairie may attract the attention of others. Here’s your opportunity to explain why your prairie isn’t a weed patch. It’s an opening to talk about the relationship between monarch butterflies and milkweed, which in turn could lead to conversations about invertebrate conservation or monarch migrations. Your efforts may provide your neighbor with the seeds - both metaphorically and literally - to start their own small prairie. That’s not a bad return for a small patch of dirt.

Learn more about both the small steps, and the larger ones, that you can do on your own property to bring a little beauty, utility and conservation to your backyard. Visit the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.


Contact Info: Mark Pfost, (608) 565-4418, mark_pfost@fws.gov
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