Temperate grasslands consist of either prairies with tall grasses or steppes with short grasses. Each type contains a wealth of flowers and other flora. Prairies also have groves of trees that grow alongside streams and creeks. The plants in grasslands offer a wide variety of resources for the birds, animals and insects that rely on them for shelter, food and nesting habitats.
Found throughout the Great Plains, buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides) grows in both prairie and steppe grasslands, where it reaches up to 10 inches high. The grass spreads by runners, from seeds dispersed in the wind or by animals and birds. The grass grows best in heavy clay soils in areas that receive low rainfall and lots of sun. The grass does not hold up well to heavy traffic and requires little mowing or maintenance in cultivated settings.
A plant of the steppe grasslands, common sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) grows in the dry areas of the western United States. The perennial shrub grows to 12 feet in height, featuring silvery-gray foliage with small white or yellow flowers. The deciduous plant produces a strong smell and a bitter taste. Sagebrush grows in dry soil, using its shallow roots to absorb rainfall and its deep tap root to seek moisture when rain is scarce. The plant grows best in well-drained soils in sheltered areas. Native Americans burned small amounts of sagebrush for the fragrance and crushed the leaves into a fine powder to soothe rashes.
Savanna Blazing Star
Savanna blazing star (Liatris scariosa) offers unusual and beautiful blooms in its native prairie grasslands. Resembling a thistle, the plant grows to 5 feet in height with purple 2-inch flowers that bloom in late summer or early fall. Each plant produces between 10 to 40 flowers. Blazing star grows in a variety of soils, including loam, sand or gravel. It thrives in full to partially sunny areas, usually appearing alongside pine trees or groves of oak trees.
Wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), a member of the pea family, grows in the southern grasslands of the United States. The perennial plant flowers from July through November with seed pods appearing after that. The plant grows to 6 feet in height with dark red flowers. The dark bluish-black seed pods contain three to seven seeds. Wild indigo thrives in rocky open slopes or in soils along streams and wet areas as long as the soil drains well. The plants grow best in full sun. Native Americans used the roots of wild indigo to make a treatment for pneumonia, flu and tuberculosis.
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