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prairie grasses in autumn.
Cofrin Center for Biodiversity

The Keith White Prairie was created in 1973 and now covers eight and one half acres of the arboretum. It is maintained through periodic prescribed burns that mimic natural fire disturbances. This regular burning hinders the growth of woody species and favors the grasses and forbs characteristic of this community. Dominant grasses include Big bluestem, Indian grass and Switch grass. Different flowering forbs become evident throughout the growing season, a pattern often called "sequential blooming". Some of the flower species include yellow cone flower, prairie dock, lupine, black-eyed Susan, spiderwort, and false indigo. Indeed, multiple trips to the prairie will soon reward the observer with a colorful progression through the seasons. As you travel through the prairie watch for insect pollinators like butterflies and bees cruising the vegetation for nectar producing flowers. Also watch for predatory spiders hidden amongst these plants waiting to catch a meal.

Student tends to controlled prairie burn.Since the late 1970s the lands of the Keith White Prairie on the north end of campus have been subject to annual fire management to reduce woody species in favor of grasses and discourage invasion of exotic species. The site(s) chosen for burning differ each year depending on soil moisture and temperature and on vegetation moisture level. The entire prairie is never burned in any given year, but small sections are burned on 2 to 5 year cycle. Date of burning also varies yearly from mid-April to mid-May depending on weather conditions. Ideal conditions are moderately dry with little wind. The burn must take place before the perennial prairie grasses and forbes have begun to grow, but after the annual weedy grasses have sprouted to be effective. Students gain real life experience in in prairie management as they help Arboretum staff and local firefighters set and contain the blaze as it burns.