Heartland Prairie

Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides) and Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia) in flower

Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides) and Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)

Located northeast of Alton, Illinois, Heartland Prairie is a 27-acre reconstructed tallgrass prairie on the north side of Gordon F. Moore Park (Google map). The prairie was planted in 1977 by Sierra Club members, and is managed by The Nature Institute  and the City of Alton.

Boasting more than 150 native prairie plant species and harboring a large variety of grassland-dependent birds, Heartland gives visitors a glimpse into the past. As with other tracts of prairie, The Nature Institute uses prescribed fire and other land management techniques to keep invasive plants under control and to promote a healthy tallgrass prairie ecosystem.

Culvers Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) in bloom

Culver’s Root in bloom

James Trager, Biologist/Naturalist at Shaw Nature Reserve, wrote:

Heartland Prairie may end up being the best representation of the original prairie in this region, because most of the remnants, in particular those in railroad rights-of-way, are undergoing rapid degradation. Trash dumping, woody plant encroachment, exotic plant (and in the case of Pong, exotic insect – Asian pavement ant) invasion, and track-way vegetation control with herbicides and attendant herbicide drift, are causing rapid and drastic reductions of the quality of these natural remnants!

Heartland Prairie compares favorably in plant diversity with local remnants and is considered the best reconstruction in west-central Illinois.

This also points to the value of high quality reconstructions like Heartland and the need for more, ideally expanding to a prairie-woodland-wetland greenbelt! Heartland in the big picture has more benefits to a broader range of plants and particularly animals if it is part of a larger habitat matrix. Heartland can serve as a core site and an example for a broader effort toward habitat restoration in the local area.

Thanks to Neil and Nan Adams, recent visitors to Wild Ones meetings, for calling Heartland Prairie to our attention.