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Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis

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Special Plants Prosper on Our ASO Prairie

Prairies are large open grasslands that once stretched across hundreds of millions of acres of Central North America. According to annual rainfall amounts and their distance from the Rocky Mountains, prairies fall into three categories — tallgrass, mixed, and shortgrass. Tallgrass prairies were most impacted by colonization and lack of fire and are now among the world’s most endangered ecosystems. Today, less than 4% of tallgrass prairies survive, and about 2% of those are in Nebraska.

Audubon Society of Omaha’s prairie (formerly called Jensen Prairie) is a 20-acre public remnant tallgrass prairie at 6720 Bennington Road, near 72nd and McKinley Streets. Virgin prairie makes up the front 10 acres, while the back 10 constitute a prairie restoration. Among the flora are a diverse range of iconic Eastern Nebraska tallgrass prairie grasses and forbs (herbaceous flowering plants other than grasses), such as Big Bluestem, Butterfly Milkweed, Golden Alexander, Stiff Sunflower, Prairie Phlox, Flowering Spurge, and Round-headed Bush Clover. Nebraska Game and Parks’ Nebraska Natural Legacy Project documents three plant species — Dwarf Larkspur, Bluntleaf Milkweed, and Prairie Coreopsis — as “special concerns.”

Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) is a blue-flowered buttercup native to Southeastern Nebraska counties, mostly along the Missouri River. Normally growing in deep woods or alongwoodland edges, Dwarf Larkspur can sometimes (rarely) be observed in moist prairies. The more common Prairie Larkspur (Delphinium virescens) also grows at the Audubon Society of Omaha prairie, but it produces white flowers.

Bluntleaf Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) is a rare tallgrass prairie specialist species found in some Eastern Nebraska counties. Flowers displayed in an open cluster on long stalks far above clasping leaves distinguish this notable plant from the 16 other milkweed species present in Nebraska.

Prairie Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata) is a yellow wildflower that can be common on prairies in extreme Eastern Nebraska counties. Unlike Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria), Prairie Coreopsis lacks a red ring around the center of the flower and is not widely available in wildflower seed mixes available at retail. Deeply divided into three narrow lobes, characterized by a longer central lobe, Prairie Coreopsis leaves are unlike the leaves of any other plant in Nebraska.

All three of these plants are defined as Tier 2 species in Nebraska, and they all have the potential to be listed as “threatened” or “endangered.” Tallgrass prairies live a delicate existence and require active maintenance through prescribed fire and invasive species removal. If you hike in one of these incredibly rare habitats, please leave everything as you find it: the few remaining tallgrass prairies are an irreplaceable part of Nebraska’s ecological heritage.


Left: Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorn); Middle: Bluntleaf Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis); Right: Prairie Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata). Photos by Drew Granville, taken at the Audubon Society of Omaha Prairie

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