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Plants of the Badlands

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So named because of their desolate environment, the Badlands in the southwestern portion of South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska neverthless host an array of native plant species. Visit Badlands National Park to see these plants in their natural setting. There's more to the Badlands plant species than the "Lonesome Pines" of movie lore.


The Badlands prairies contain many native grasses including taller species such as cordgrass and big bluestern along with shorter types like buffalograss and blue gama. Grasses living in this tough environment need to withstand long drought periods, high winds and harsh winters. Within the prairie, grasses support biological diversity, providing foods for mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. Because of intense agricultural development, many native praririe grasses have disappeared and are now protected in areas such as Badlands National Park.


The Badlands features unrelenting heat in summer with cement-dry ground. While many people may think it's the exactly the region for an abundance of wildflowers, they'd be mistaken. Wildflowers still take hold and flourish, adding beauty to a barren landscape. Among the wildflowers found in spring are tufted evening primrose, also known as Oenothera caespitosa, its relative the pale evening primrose, prairie turnip, scarlet globemallow, prairie rose, sego lily and hood phlox. Autumn bloomers include sunflowers, curlycup gumweed and rubber rabbitthrush. Even in mid-summer's baking sun, yucca, wooly verbena, wavy leaf thistle and purple coneflowers bring color to the Badlands.

Shrubs and Trees

With so little annual precipitation, trees and shrubs have a hard time growing in the Badlands. One exception is the aromatic Rocky Mountain juniper. Sagebrush, which thrives in harsh climes, can also be found. Trees and shrubs usually grow by water sources or near dry creek beds.


The arid climate suits cactus and among the types found in the Badlands are the desert rose, prickly pear and the purple ball cactus. The latter variety blooms just one day a year. Beware the prickly pear cactus -- its spines, or glochids, are hard to remove if they lodge on the skin of a person or animal. The yellow-flowering variety of the prickly pear is most commonly found in the Badlands.

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