Native Plants

Why plant prairie?

Heidi M.S. Ferris, January 2022

A list could answer the question, “Why plant prairie?” but so can the heart.  In my experience, planting native prairie plants into butterfly gardens, conservation areas, urban rain gardens, shorelines, and even a little pocket prairie by a mailbox…is really about connection.

Have you ever made connects between roots, trees and family?  Like a journey in family history, prairie plants can help us understand relationships.  Standing tall the bluestem grasses wave gently in the breeze welcoming all to wonder and explore living things and the power of connection.  Blazing star, liatris, for example has roots up to 16 feet deep with unassuming stems and leaves that blossom mid-summer into a myriad of flowers on a stick-like stem that make it look like a “purple pronto pup” in the garden.  Butterflies swarm to liatris like a family potluck to sip the sweet nectar.  The petals fan out from the spiky orange middle of cone flower, echinacea, lake a saucer feeding a variety of bee species that pollinate flowers that turn to fruits and vegetables that people like our families needs to survive.  No flowers no bees.  No bees then no tomatoes or other garden goodies.  No tomatoes or peppers then no ketchup or salsa.  And without a fresh garden tomato or pepper, what does summer in Minnesota even taste like? 

These plant relatives do not just grow in the soil…they make it.  Surely those roots can even break rock.  Also, like trees, the plants sink carbon from the air by putting it into leaves, stems, branches and roots.  Carbon dioxide in the air is a heat-trapping gas, yet the plants and roots of prairie plants are taking that carbon and using it to grow roots, to build soil. Meanwhile the oxygen goes back into the atmosphere for critters, kids and living things like me to breathe.  Our very breathe is connected to plant relatives that have been cycling air and our feet stand upon soil with carbon, organic matter root systems, that have been a part of that process over time.

Families are interconnected systems of which we are all a part.  From schools to faith groups to neighborhoods and cities; we are all moving parts in complex community, working together in interconnected systems, and we are not alone.  We cannot be alone.  Just as spiritually our hearts tug, churn, even melt at the thought of family relationships; the diversity of prairie ecosystems can teach us the power of relationship in a visual and tangible way over time.  In a land called Minnesota, Mni Sota Wakoce, where the water reflects the sky; is a majestic mix of life, species, humanity, biosphere, relatives.  Interconnected. Complex.  Human conflict is but one part of the interwoven story.  Perhaps the prairie is the elder storyteller, sharing secrets from before words were written, if we are willing to listen.

Here we stand on ground, more than grains of stone called sand.  Soil is alive with life and growing. Roots down deep are cleaning, making, filtering, building, growing.  Our feet and our hearts move us to learn, acknowledge and move to just action in care of community….in care of our interwoven earthly family and its roots.

So, then, shall we start with seeds?  Why plant prairie?  With water, warmth and time; seeds will take root in history.  Seeds of all kinds will sprout into interconnected life providing community. 

Prairie plants are certainly superheroes.  They build soil, filter water, sink carbon, provide habitat, teach us complexity, model biodiversity, and beautify.  Now, that’s quite a list!