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Studying prairie creation

By Staff | Mar 16, 2015

Heartland Museum board member Melanie Maasdam looks at different plants that grow in prairies on Sunday.

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CLARION – The Heartland Museum board learned the steps it needs to take to reconstruct a prairie on its property Sunday.

“It’s a project that’s been in discussion for most of a year now,” said Mary Tesdahl, board president. “We have the land we already own and we have the step-by-step. It looks like we can make it happen.”

Tesdahl invited Eric Rector, Wright County Park Ranger, to let the board members and community know what needs to be done to get the project underway.

“He was excellent,” Tesdahl said. “He gave us so many directions we can go with this.”

Wright County Park Ranger Eric Rector holds up a variety of grass that grows in prairies. Rector presented to the Heartland Museum board in Clarion on Sunday, giving them advice on how to create a prairie at the museum.

One of Rector’s main points was that making a prairie doesn’t happen overnight.

“People need to understand it’s not just something you sprinkle out there and it grows,” he said. “It’s a longer term commitment to get this to take off and flourish.”

But once it does flourish, there will be a diverse variety of plants, insects and animals.

“We will have bees, birds, snakes, butterflies, wasps,” he said. “You’ll have gophers, you’ll have that all move back into the prairie.”

The first step to be made is to prepare the land and gather seeds.

“This summer our goal will be to kill it,” Tesdahl said of the plants already on the property. “By fall, we’ll have seed collectors and in spring we’ll plant it.”

There’s a few ways the museum could get its seeds.

“You can purchase your seeds and plants, or you can hand harvest them,” he said. “Make sure the seed stock is from you local eco-type plants, harvested out of Wright County. Make sure they are from Iowa.”

Though the seeds and plants can be purchased online, Rector recommends harvesting the plants by hand. Some of the best sources for seeds include old cemeteries, road ditches and railroad right-of-ways, Rector said.

“I prefer the hand-harvest method because I know what I’m getting,” he said. “I might not know the germination of it, but I know it came from Wright County.”

When ordering online, he said, the seeds may come from different states and not be able to grown in Iowa.

The seeds may have also been harvested illegally, he said.

Once the seeds are planted and begin growing, it will take a few years to see results.

“You’re going to need lots and lots of patience,” he told the group Sunday. “It will be three to five years before you see any return on this project.”

The first few years will require mowing every couple weeks, he said. This will help prevent weeds from taking over.

Once the root systems fully develop in the new prairie, the weeds won’t be able to grow.

The root systems will be so dense, he said, that there may be patches where nothing grows, just because there is no room underground there.

“But once you get it established, there isn’t really much you need to do other than burn it every 3 to 5 years,” he said.

Burning the prairie revitalize it and allows different plants to grow. Some flourish directly after a burn, he said.

Rector said he is hopeful the museum will continue moving forward with the project.

Tesdahl believes it will.

“I just think it’s an exciting direction,” Tesdahl said. She hopes that it will encourage different people to visit the museum.

“We have to keep looking for a niche market,” she said.

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