The technical definition of a prairie is land where there is less that one mature overstory tree per acre.
Webster says: “a large area of level or rolling land…that in its natural uncultivated state usually has deep fertile soil, a cover of tall coarse grasses and few trees.” Prairie dominated the central North American landscape prior to European settlement. Minnesota’s once 18 million acres have been reduced to less than 100,000 acres today.
There are many different types or subcategories of prairie---wet, mesic, dry, bluff and black soil prairies to name a few. The three primary ecological classifications of prairie in North America are: tall grass in the east; mixed grass in the central Great Plains and short grass in the western Great Plains—all essentially a result of the available rainfall.
A good native prairie includes as many as 250 species of plants per acre - making it amazingly challenging to duplicate in a restoration project.
Species composition usually includes 10-20 percent grasses and 80-90 percent forbs, while biomass production is essentially the opposite-that is strongly dominated by grasses. Some species are rare, while others are common. A true remnant prairie is remarkably diverse, tolerant of weather extremes and, many would say, remarkably beautiful.