There are several different names for grasslands, including the prairie and the plains. Regardless of the name, it is an area of the world dominated by plants low in stature. There are few trees dotting the wide open plains, but you can find plenty of other species of plant life.
Grasses make up about half the plant species in the grasslands. Most are tall and slender with little area exposed to the sun and minimal water loss through their leaves. Grasses typically have complex root systems that go deep into the ground, giving them access to water even when the surface is dry. Many of the different species sprout seeds in tufts at the top of the stalk, and these seeds are carried by the prairie winds. Types of grasses commonly found growing in fields across the grasslands are switchgrass, oatgrass and wild rye. Many of these grasses have made it into the backyard landscape as ornamental grasses.
Many of the windflowers that grow in grasslands have long stems and small flowers at the top; their grass-like construction gives them some of the same benefits as grasses. Leaves are usually long and slender, with flowers brightly colored to attract pollinating bees and butterflies. Flowers that originated in the grasslands have also been domesticated and can be grown in the backyard garden. Black-eyed Susans, asters and coneflowers are hardy plants that can thrive in the garden with little attention.
There are also a number of endangered wildflowers. The fountain thistle only grows in a small region of a single California county, sharing its environment with a rare wild mint flower named for the only place it is found--the San Mateo thorn mint.
Weeds can be found in the grasslands just like any other garden. These invasive species overrun other species, and can take over an area while killing grasses and wildflowers. Fields of goldenrod are a common sight in the grasslands, and these weeds were once thought to be wildflowers. These plants, which are pollinated by bees, have been known to begin growing in open areas then establish a foothold before overrunning other plants in the area.
Milkweed and Thistles
Milkweed and thistles are two types of grasslands plants that fulfill a crucial role in the ecosystem. Milkweed contains a substance toxic to almost every other creature but the Monarch butterfly. As the butterflies move through grassland area, they lay their eggs on the milkweeds since there is no competition from any other species for this food. The larvae and caterpillars then eat the milkweed, and also use these plants as a backbone for their cocoons. Thistles are another food source for finicky eaters. Some birds feed on thistles, along with insects like the hummingbird and clearwing moth.
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