World Record Prairie
The Penn-Sylvania Prairie, located in Dade County, is what biologists call a remnant prairie. "Which means it's never been plowed," exclaims Jerod Huebner, Director of Prairie Management at the Missouri Prairie Foundation, which oversees the development of this prairie. "The soils have never been turned over. It's still intact compared to some other places that have been degraded or plowed up and then replanted, which we call reconstructions."
At one point, nearly half of Missouri looked like this prairie. "Historically in Missouri there used to be around 15 million acres of prairie. And now there is approximately 60,000 scattered acres across this state, and of that 60,000 acres, very little is of this quality."
Jerod points out that it is important to preserve these high quality prairies because of the wildlife that lives in them. "Native prairies like this hosts the most diverse soil microorganisms of anywhere in the world. They host over 250 native bee species, and over 200 other species of pollinators."
The Missouri Prairie Foundation has been working on restoring the Penn-Sylvania Prairie since 1971, and their efforts have paid off. With nearly 300 native plant species on a 160-acre plot, local biological diversity is tremendous. "Two years ago they found 46 native species in quarter meter squared space. So that's approximately 20 inches by 20 inches squared." Jerod says that it was enough to be declared a world record. "The previous world record holder was somewhere in the Czech Republic, in a native grassland that had 44 native species."
Protecting native plant species and biological diversity can go beyond protecting the few remaining remnant prairies. Native plants can be planted almost anywhere, even in your own back yard. And there's many benefits to planting native species. "These native plants have really deep roots," Jerod says. "They help hold the soil which reduces erosion, reduces runoff witch can decrease flooding. Planting these native plants, they thrive very well without fertilizer. They require very little attention. It just takes a couple of years to get them established and you can have what you can see behind me here."