St. Louis restored prairie in bloom but faces threats

Posted on 20 October 2018 at 9:50am
Story image: St. Louis restored prairie in bloom but faces threats

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A restored St. Louis prairie of native grasses and flowers is in bloom, but the nature reserve's conservation is threatened by inaction and invasive plants.

Biologists discovered the 25-acre (10-hectare) hidden prairie in the 1990s at Calvary Cemetery, where it was protected from agricultural development, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Volunteers and experts restored the land by planting native grasses and wildflower seeds, which are in bloom today, said Erin Shank, an urban wildlife biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation who helps manage the prairie.

"I feel as though that this growing season we have turned a corner on this project," Shank said. "We have a living prairie there for people to see. Before we had a remnant stand on its deathbed."

Pockets of sunflowers and bluestem grass have grown to more than 10 feet (3 meters) in some spots.

But restoration work isn't finished, Shank said.

The prairie has woody vegetation and weeds that need to be removed immediately. One giant thistle plant has the potential to wreak havoc on the restoration effort. Fire is needed to kill off invasive plants and support the growth of native vegetation.

The project is also threatened by diminished awareness and interest.

"There has been no unified long-term commitment that says let's keep pushing this," said Doug Ladd, former director of conservation at The Nature Conservancy in St. Louis. "Restoration is like raising a child. You need to be constantly engaged and intensively working for 20 to 25 years to get good results."