Tom's Blog

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Iowa's Tallgrass Prairie Center

As part of last week's North American Prairie Conference, I had a chance to visit the facilities of the Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa. This Center is an outstanding example of what can be done to promote and create prairies in a university evironment. The Director, Daryl Smith, has a long background in prairie restoration and reconstruction. He currently teaches courses in Restoration Ecology, Fire Ecology, and Prairie Ecology (the latter in the summer at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory).

The Tallgrass Center was established at UNI in 1999 as the Native Roadside Vegetation Center and acquired its present name in 2006. It is located on the West Campus of the University, where it has extensive physical facilities. It also has 65 acres of campus and leased land for research and native seed production plots. The Center also carries out prescribed burns and other management work on native prairie remnants in the Northern Iowa area. It has four full-time staff: Daryl Smith, Dave Williams, Greg Houseal, and Kirk Henderson. The Tallgrass Prairie Center also offers graduate training in prairies and prairie restoration, and currently has seven students working on Master's degrees. Most of its funding is from Federal and State grants.

Recently, a flurry of videos and publications on prairies have appeared from the Tallgrass Center, providing physical evidence of the great work of this program.

Books include:

Native Seed Production Manual, by Greg Houseal, Program Manager of the Iowa Ecotype Project, published by the Tallgrass Center

The Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Seed and Seedling Identification in the Upper Midwest, by Dave Williams, published by the University of Iowa Press, Iowa City

The Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Prairie Restoration in the Upper Midwest, by Daryl Smith, Dave Williams, Greg Houseal, and Kirk Henderson, published by the University of Iowa Press, Iowa City

Videos include:
America's Lost Landscape, the Tallgrass Prairie
Prescribed Fire video

In addition, the Tallgrass Center manages the Iowa Ecotype Project, whose mission is to produce regionally adapted Iowa Source Identified Foundation seed for commercial producers. The Foundation seed has been derived from Iowa native prairie remnants.

The above photo shows one corner of the Tallgrass Prairie Center utility building. A large amount of equipment is available here for harvesting, drying, and cleaning prairie seeds. The Center uses quite a few seed-cleaning machines manufactured by Westrup A/S of Slagelse, Odense, Denmark. One of these, a gravity table which separates different species of seed by weight, is shown in the photo below:

During the open house, all of these precision machines were being used, and it was possible to talk with the operators. (Most of the operators were undergraduate students at UNI.)

The Tallgrass Center has a nicely equipped greenhouse where it raises seedlings for transplant into its production beds. Through their research, they have developed practical and highly efficient ways for raising seedlings (plugs). As shown in the photo below, most of the seeds are raised in "cone-tainers" that were originally developed for raising trees, but also work well for deeply rooted prairie plants.

In addition to its large utility building and greenhouse, the Tallgrass Center has a substantial office building with a laboratory and small conference facility.

In all, a very impressive set-up. Prairie restoration is in good hands in Iowa!


Anonymous Anonymous said...


August 9, 2010 at 2:17 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home