Horticulture Research Station to Host Prairie Field Day July 16

Experts will discuss the progress with restoring prairies on the Iowa landscape

July 2, 2024, 11:59 am | Madelyn Ostendorf

AMES, Iowa – Have you ever wanted to see a piece of the prairies that used to span the Midwest? The Iowa State University Horticulture Research Station, located north of Ames, is hosting an event to give you that opportunity.  

Scheduled for July 16, Prairie Field Day 2024 will feature several guest speakers and onsite tours of the three prairie projects currently at the station – the remnant prairie, the reconstructed prairie and the Department of Natural Resources prairie seed production project.

Nick Howell, superintendent of the Horticulture Research Station, said he is excited to welcome new faces and introduce them to the impact of prairies on the environment.  

Rachel Sents standing in a remnant prairie.“There's nothing more useful in the environment than prairie for things like carbon sequestration,” Howell said. “Prairies can have a huge part in fixing environmental issues. It’s why Iowa has such beautiful soils. It was all prairie at one point.”

Attendees can ask questions of experts with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and they will see a piece of newly discovered prairie remnant at the Horticulture Research Station. Prairie remnant refers to an area of original prairie that has remained relatively undisturbed, rather than a reconstructed prairie created to emulate an original prairie.

This area of remnant prairie thrives near the 15-acre lake that spans the middle of the Horticulture Research Station. When the lake was built in the 1950s, the workers managed to avoid destroying the natural prairie.  

The remnant prairie was found in 2020 near the Horticulture Research Station's lake. 

In January 2020, Howell was working on improving the lake’s habitat for fish when he, along with Adam Janke and Michael Weber, professor of natural resource ecology and management, noticed some interesting seed pods on the ground. Janke, extension wildlife specialist, thought they might be the seeds of some prairie indicator plants.  

“When I got here in 2006, there was so much brush grown up around this area that I couldn’t even access it,” Howell said. “We’ve been working on cutting back the woody growths, doing some burns to clean up the area, and we’ve discovered that we really have something here.”

Rachel Sents, a recent Iowa State horticulture graduate, has spent the past eight months working on funds acquisition and management of the remnant and reconstruction prairies at the Horticulture Research Station. She currently works as a wildlife management specialist with the Iowa DNR Brushy Creek Wildlife Unit.

“I grew up in Iowa and spent most of my time outdoors,” Sents said. “A lot of the wild spaces we have here are wooded, and I want more people to see the beauty and biodiversity of Iowa’s prairies. You don’t have to go to places like Colorado to see something incredible.”

Sents organized the field day as a result of some grants she secured and said she is excited to be planning an event to showcase the prairies.

“We have some great speakers lined up,” she said. “It’s one of those things that I have had to learn as I went, and I’m really proud of how it has come together.”

The event will feature several guest speakers, including:

  • Laura Miner, Iowa Prairie Network secretary and Iowa DNR technician 2 at the Prairie Resource Center
  • Brian Wisley, Iowa State University, professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology
  • Tom Rosburg, Drake University, professor of biology and Iowa prairie expert
  • Bill Johnson, Iowa DNR, wildlife biologist
  • Lisa Schulte-Moore, Iowa State University professor of natural resource ecology and management and cofounder of Science-based Trials of Row crops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) project
  • Adam Janke, associate professor of natural resource ecology and management and extension wildlife specialist at Iowa State

Registration for Prairie Field Day 2024 closes July 9. Attendees should expect to walk through tall grass and uneven terrain, and long pants and boots are recommended.

Shareable photo: Rachel Sents, a 2024 horticulture graduate at Iowa State University, spent the past eight months securing funding to aid in the management of the remnant and reconstruction prairies.

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