Black Swamp Wildflowers dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the natural heritage of Northwest Ohio

Tall-grass and Wetland Prairie Restoration


Biological Sciences
Bowling Green State University

Summit Environmental Group LLC
Tall-grass Prairie restoration in its third year. Ragweed, foxtails, and thistle are gone and prairie plants dominate, including Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), Nodding wild rye (Elymus canadensis), and Grey-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata).

Historically, the Great Black Swamp featured dense forests of giant oak, sycamore, hickory, maple and beech. In areas where limestone ridges projected above the level drift of the topography, shallow bedrock failed to support the growth of trees. Some of the eastern-most prairie remnants were found at these locations. Such a ridge is located at the site of Eastwood Schools (see red and orange areas on the elevation map), extending with shallow bedrock (see Geology) into the north-western corner of the Black Swamp Conservation Area. 25 acres of tall-grass prairie are now being restored at a site where it would have likely existed in previous times. Prairie plants have also emerged at the edge of the savannah, indicating the presence of an older seed bank at the site.

Dramatic changes happen during the life of such a restoration project. In the first years after germination, prairie plants primarily expend their energy on building extensive root systems. It appears initially that the restoration was a spectacular failure as annual plants that thrive at disturbed sites (i.e., weeds) seem to gain the upper hand. A few small prairie plants are visible but few will flower or set seeds. In year 2 Prairie grasses and forbes suddenly spring to life and the first glimpses of future beauty become apparent.

360o Panorama (Quicktime VR) of Prairie restoration in year 1 (July) following seeding 360o Panorama (Quicktime VR) of Prairie restoration in year 2 (July) after seeding

The site is enrolled long-term in the Ohio Lake Erie Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Individual sections comprise this area, with separate spatial elements dedicated to windbreak, wetland, and nesting habitats. This soil conservation strategy enhances all neighboring fields by reducing soil erosion, increasing pollination, providing a refuge for biological pest control organisms, and reducing fertilizer and pesticide runoff into local waterways.

Grassland birds are now a common sight. In the summer Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) and Dickcissel (Spiza americana) make their nests among the clumps of grasses. Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) swoop out from the savanna to feast on insects that thrive around the wetlands. Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) perch on poles nearby or soar over the fields trying to snag a few unsuspecting morsels.

ox-eye sunflower and butterfly
A Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) enjoys nectar from an Ox Eye Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)

ice-covered seed heads
For the native fauna ice storms are brutal events. A layer of rain freezes as it touches every surface, every blade of grass, every seed head. The world looks as if it had been dipped in glass.
Prairie vegetation also offers essential winter cover to many animals. A dense tangle of plants forms a protective cover and last summer's seeds offer a plentiful source of food. The stiff, upright stems of native grasses will not mat down even under a heavy cover of snow or ice. This creates refuge underneath and allows many animals to remain sheltered and active throughout the winter. Even during the coldest times the ground cover shelters hibernating amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Northern harriers (Circus cyaneus) glide seemingly unsteady in low paths over the prairie and around the wetlands in search of small mammals. The seeds from dense stands of Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) feed northern bobwhite quail, pheasants, and mallards.

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Pages created and maintained by Robert Huber and Moira van Staaden. Contact us at if you are interested to utilize the site for educational, research, or public outreach projects. Comments, suggestions and critiques welcome or (419) 833-1241