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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Wet prairies: The missing piece of the Arb puzzle?

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6ebcfca1-ab16-1f46-bfa3-ac6024c7a131">One of the grasslands native to southern Minnesota that we don’t yet see in the Arboretum is the wet prairie. Wet prairies are grasslands characterized by seasonal inundation (flooding for part of each year), which causes inches to feet of water to accumulate on the field. This ecologic setting allows for different species than what we normally see in the high and dry prairies of the Arboretum, like the grasses blue-joint and cordgrass. Historically, it is thought that many wet prairies might have come about from beavers engineering the landscape.

Some of you might already know that the restored habitat area of the Arboretum is still expanding. One of the fields currently in agriculture just north of Highway 19 will eventually be restored once the field is retired from agriculture. Last fall, Mary Savina (of the geology department) and her geomorphology class began exploration of this field and it’s surroundings in the context of a wet prairie restoration. Just this past Friday, some representatives of the class presented their findings to Kim Chapman, an ecologist with an expertise in restoration. Neither the class nor Dr. Chapman found anything directly precluding the possibility of a wet prairie restoration.

There are, however, plenty of reasons to be hesitant about this restoration project, one of them being buying the seeds for the project would be expensive. This isn’t a problem when the Arboretum is restoring the high, dry prairies as seeds can be harvested from McKnight prairie, and other areas under Arboretum care. Because novel species need to be introduced to create the wet prairie, a tremendous amount of seeds must be bought. If this project were to be undertaken, we would have to do our best beaver impersonation and pile up dirt towards the exit of our catchment basin. Fear not, however, as this small hillock (called a berm) would soon fade into the landscape and look like a natural part of the Arb.

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