Missouri’s Tallgrass Prairies: The Show-Me-State’s Big Sky Country

Lepidopterist Phil Koenig helps a young naturalist learn about butterflies at the Missouri Prairie Foundation's Second Annual Prairie BioBlitz.

Carpets of scarlet Indian paintbrush, pink shooting stars, lavender wild hyacinth and other early spring wildflowers are the “first wave” of blooms to blanket Missouri’s original prairies.

After fall and winter prairie burns, these beauties emerge from the charred earth, followed by a succession of taller wildflowers like late-spring and summer blooming coneflowers, milkweeds, blazing stars, and many native grasses. Throughout the growing season, prairie is an ever-changing palette of color and a landscape alive with wildlife.

Prairie hyacinth in bloom at the Missouri Prairie Foundation's La Petite Gemme Prairie in Polk County.

Many of us are attracted to the American West for its wide, open spaces and majestic landscapes. We Missourians are fortunate because we don’t have to leave the state to experience dramatic, natural vistas: We have tallgrass prairie, an original American landscape that is home to a stunning diversity of plant and animal life, big skies, and depthless beauty.

Tallgrass prairie—with plants such as big bluestem grass growing as tall as 8 feet or more in summer—once blanketed at least 15 million acres of Missouri, or more than one-third of the state.

Today, less than 1 percent of original prairie remains in Missouri, but organizations like the Missouri Prairie Foundation protect a number of priceless remnants in southwestern Missouri and elsewhere in the state. The organization also offers many free hikes and other outings—such as its 3rd Annual Prairie BioBlitz at Schwartz Prairie in St. Clair County on June 9-10—for adults and children to discover their prairie legacy.

Visit www.MoPrairie.org for maps to Missouri Prairie Foundation prairies open to public enjoyment, and for a calendar of prairie events, including the 3rd Annual Prairie BioBlitz.

Written by Carol Davit, executive director, Missouri Prairie Foundation