Long before we began gardening, our native prairie grasses and flowers thrived in a vast Midwestern grassland. There were no gardeners pampering them with water during droughts or protecting them from the bitter cold winters. Wisconsin natives are tough, durable plants. Their primary strategy to survive was to develop extensive, deep root systems. In fact, over 70% of the biomass of most prairie grasses and flowers is underground. With the ability to draw moisture and nutrients from deep within the earth these plants survived drought and required very little, if any, supplemental nutrients. Once these plants become established in your garden they are truly low maintenance plants.
Prairies are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, surpassed only by the tropical rainforests. When Europeans settled in the Midwest they plowed the prairie and turned the land over to agricultural production. Today our native tallgrass prairie has been reduced to about 1% of its original area, making it one of the rarest and most endangered ecosystems in the world. The home gardener can play a critical role in maintaining populations of native birds and beneficial insects by growing some of these native prairie plants in our home gardens.