The goal of the Prairie Roots Project is to help the public more clearly understand the important functions of native perennial roots in today’s rural and urban landscapes. To achieve this goal, prairie roots are produced and preserved for display in educational facilities across Iowa.
Hidden from view, the massive root systems of prairie plants often extend deeper into the soil than the stems that rise above it. En masse, these densely tangled roots provide a variety of ecosystem services. Strategic use of prairie plants in the landscape slows runoff, reduces soil loss, lessens the severity of flooding and rebuilds the structure of damaged soil. But like the roots themselves, these benefits often go unnoticed.
To help land managers, public policymakers and the general public visualize and understand the beneficial services of prairie roots, the Tallgrass Prairie Center uses a specialized facility with 10-foot-deep pots to grow, harvest and preserve prairie root specimens. These roots are then made available for distribution to nature centers, museums and other educational facilities through a competitive application process.
To date, 30 roots have been distributed to sites across the state. The Tallgrass Prairie Center provides assistance with displays, promotion and interpretation at each recipient site.
The Prairie Roots Project became a reality thanks to major funding from Iowa’s Living Roadway Trust Fund, beginning in 2009.