A natural prairie preserve within the city of Winnipeg
Prior to European settlement, tall grass prairie covered one million square kilometres in central North America, stretching from Texas to southern Manitoba. Today, very little tall grass prairie remains. The Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, a 2,200 hectare preserve in south-eastern Manitoba, is the largest remaining remnant of this ecosystem.
A smaller 12 hectare preserve is located within the city of Winnipeg. The Living Prairie Museum is home to over 160 species of native plants. Admission is free. A walk through the self-guided path takes 30 to 45 minutes. The museum is open May through August, with different plants in bloom each month. My most recent visit was in early August.
A number of native prairie plants are silver in colour with small white hairs covering their stems and leaves. The silver colour is an adaptation to the hot and dry prairie. Silver reflects the sun’s light helping the plant stay cool and retain moisture. The area of Winnipeg in which the museum is located is called Silver Heights because of its higher elevation and the silvery colour of the plants.
In later summer, wild licorice plants are covered in burs, the seeds of the plants. The burs have tiny hooks that allow the seeds to “hitch-hike” on animals or clothing. Apparently, this was the inspiration for Velcro.
Fire and mowing are used at Living Prairie Museum to manage the prairie community. Years ago, fires caused by lightning occurred naturally in hot, dry conditions. Burning reduces leaf litter build-up and restores nutrients. Prairie plants adapted to fire and developed deep roots. Burning discourages non-native plant species. Mowing provides similar results to that of having bison trample the small trees and spread seeds.
The narrow self-guided path has been created by a trampling down of the vegetation. If you are uncomfortable with plant leaves brushing bare legs as you pass, wear long pants. A prairie dog crossed the path just before I started my walk. On the walk, I was joined by butterflies and dragonflies, all too quick for my camera.
Information about the prairie ecosystem can be found in the Interpretative Centre. The museum holds special educational programs for children and families throughout the summer. Wildflower books and seeds are available for purchase.