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FutureStarrDry Prairie Plantser
Dry-mesic prairie is a native grassland community dominated by big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans). The community occurs on sandy loam or loamy sand on level to gently sloping sites of glacial outwash, coarse-textured end moraines, and glacial till plain. The community represents the stands of open grassland that occurred in association with historic oak openings throughout much of southern Lower Michigan. In previous versions of the natural community classification this community was called woodland prairie.
While occasional lightning strikes resulted in landscape-scale fires, Native Americans were the main source of ignition prior to European settlement. Native Americans intentionally set fires to clear brush, make land more passable, increase productivity of berry crops and agricultural fields, and improve hunting. The frequency and intensity of historical fires varied depending on the type and volume of fuel, topography, presence of natural firebreaks, and density of Native Americans. Carried by wind, landscape-scale fires moved across outwash plains and up slopes of end moraines and ground moraines, converting oak forests into dry-mesic prairies and oak openings.Dry-mesic prairie occurs primarily on level to gently sloping sites of glacial outwash or coarse-textured end moraines. Historically, the majority of dry-mesic prairies occurred within oak openings in the Kalamazoo Interlobate Subsection and may have graded into mesic prairie and bur oak plains on level outwash plains such as the Battlecreek Outwash Plain. Today, the community is almost entirely restricted to railroad right-of-ways, which typically border agricultural fields.
Unfortunately, no detailed ecological study of dry-mesic prairie was completed in Michigan before the nearly total demise of the community. What information is available comes from written descriptions of the community by early European settlers and from studies of small prairie remnants in Michigan and Wisconsin. Dry-mesic prairie supports a dense to moderately dense growth of low- to medium-height herbaceous vegetation with very little bare ground. The community is dominated by big bluestem, little bluestem, and Indian grass, which may vary in relative dominance. Species that reach their greatest abundance in dry-mesic prairie in Michigan include leadplant (Amorpha canescens, state special concern), thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve), and daisy fleabane (Erigeron strigosus). Grubs of white oak (Quercus alba), black oak (Q. velutina), and bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), which were maintained in a shrub-like condition as a result of annual fires, were abundant in dry-mesic prairie, as were widely scattered, open grown adults of these same species, especially white oak. In addition to the species mentioned above, other common plants of Michigan dry-mesic prairie include Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), bastard toadflax (Comandra umbellata), round-headed bush clover (Lespedeza capitata), wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), northern dewberry (Rubus flagellaris), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), old field goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), and pasture rose (Rosa carolina). (Source: mnfi.anr.msu.edu)