Everyone here is gearing up for the big opening of Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo on June 24, and the plants are getting ready too! Prairie grasses will be a prominent feature of the landscape, a process that will take some time as they develop their extensive root systems.
In some prairie plants, as much as 90 percent of the weight is underground. This extensive root structure protects the bulk of the plants beneath the soil, enabling them to survive in an ecosystem with frequent disturbances, such as fire and drought. The grasses grow from the base, close to ground level, so even if they’re grazed or burnt, they can grow back.
The extensive root systems also mean that a lot of plant development occurs beneath the surface. We’re going to have to be patient to allow these grasses time to grow and reach their full potential. It will certainly be worth the wait!
This tiny prairie clover seedling (with a nickel for scale) will grow to be beautiful flowering plant that’s several feet tall.
Similarly, biologists predict that it will take time for some wildlife populations to become established at Nature Boardwalk. For example, we’ve seen many dragonflies visit the pond lately, but did you know that some species of native dragonflies spend two–four years in the underwater nymph stage before undergoing metamorphosis and becoming the iridescent insects we admire hovering over the water?
Can you spot the dragonfly? Hint: it is resting on the edge of the fence.
A closer view of a dragonfly resting atop a fence at Nature Boardwalk.
Stay tuned for more updates about the plants and wildlife of Nature Boardwalk in coming weeks!