The Beauty of Prairies

By bernheim

Bernheim has more than 200 acres of open prairie habitat within our 16,137 acres. Whether you call them prairies, grasslands, fields, or meadows, these natural communities are vital for pollinating insects, ground-nesting birds, and other creatures that cannot exist in Bernheim’s shady interior forests. Blooms from early spring through late fall are essential for
insects and other wildlife, and they are exceptionally beautiful. Milkweeds, rattlesnake master, royal catchfly, coneflowers, and goldenrods make this habitat beautiful and functional.

Threats to prairies are complicated and continually evolving, including both the lack of disturbance and excessive disturbance. Many prairies are being lost to development, overrun by aggressive invasive species, and encroached upon by forest. Several prairie restoration projects are now underway at Bernheim, including the Big Prairie in the Bernheim Arboretum, and a pollinator prairie complex along the Cedar Grove Wildlife Corridor.

The Big Prairie is the centerpiece of the Arboretum, best viewed along the Forest Giants trail en route to Mama Loumari. This 35 acre habitat was created in the 1980s, first by reducing mowing and later by seeding native grasses and wildflowers. Over the decades, we saw a beautiful and functional habitat emerge, but recent increases in invasive species, trees, shrubs, and thickening of grasses began to negatively impact the Big Prairie. Efforts over the past four years to reduce woody growth and promote wildflower diversity is paying off. This summer, we saw incredible displays of wildflowers and a profusion of the pollinating insect species that depend on them.

Over the summer, we continued restoration efforts on our newest protected area. We seeded native grasses and wildflowers on 15 acres of former hayfields located on the Cedar Grove Wildlife Corridor. The Cedar Grove area is known for its prairie remnants, but many are threatened by development. Located on the northern edge of Bernheim, this new pollinator habitat will improve Bernheim’s north-south habitat corridor. Migrating birds and monarch butterflies use these stopover habitats as they make the long journey across the fragmented eastern United States.

We have learned a lot in the past few decades of prairie management. Finding the right level of disturbance is critical for establishing good habitat. Too much disturbance reduces cover and food sources and too little allows succession into forest conditions. Finding the right balance is essential, and the challenge will be the long-term dedication to preserving the open conditions.

Our stewardship team will continue to manage and grow our prairie acreage with several large projects planned in Wilson Valley over the coming years. We succeed if we can provide for pollinators, groundnesting birds, and other species that depend on open landscapes while simultaneously creating beautiful and inspiring displays for Bernheim’s visitors.

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