Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Bottom heavy prairies

<ir="ltr">Come summer, the arb will have turned into a veritable corn maze of native prairie grasses. Several of the native prairie grasses found in the arb can grow to be over 6 feet in height. In other words, these grasses, such as Big Bluestem and Indian Grass, can be as tall as 1.10 of your average arb runners. Yet there is far more to our beautiful prairies than can be seen with the eye.

The actual majority of most prairie plants lie underneath the surface, often far underneath. In terms of biomass (weight of all that living stuff) the roots of each individual Big Bluestem plant can contain 4 times as much biomass compared to everything aboveground. If you weighed 200 pounds and were a prairie grass, your legs (the roots) would weigh 160lbs and your torso/head (stems/leaves) would weigh 40lbs. Not only are the roots of these amazing grasses hefty, they can grow to be as long, if not longer than, the “grass” part as well. The question is: why are these grasses hiding the bulk of their plant life away from us?

Historically, prairies are exceptionally drought-prone ecosystems. Rains and life-giving water can come in variable spurts. Even in times of drought, water can still be found out in the prairie, though each plant has to work hard for it. By allocating a lot of resources into root growth and biomass, prairie plants can survive harsh drought conditions by tapping into deep underground water reserves. In addition, prairies in Minnesota are highly limited by nitrogen availability. By growing roots that reach deeply and broadly underground, grasses can access greater amounts of nitrogen, which in turn can lead to more biomass overall. To sum up: prairie grasses are the icebergs of the of the Midwest (albeit a little less floaty, cold, and Titanic-sinking), because the vast majority of their “stuff” is hidden away from sight.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *