The plants found in the coulees, on buttes and along creeks are indicative of the amount of moisture and type of soil present. The natural grasslands of south-western Saskatchewan are called mixed-grass prairie. In the park area the dominant plant forms are grasses. Common grass species are spear grass, wheat grass, and blue gramma grass. Grasses are only one element that makes up the natural cover of grasslands. Trees and shrubs such as aspen, green ash, wolf willow and buffalo berry take hold on the valley floors and in the coulees where there is more moisture. In drier locations, sage, rabbit brush, greasewood, mosses, lichens and cacti make up a significant part of the plant community. There is a succession of colours and aromas in the grasslands as the wildflowers bloom. Crocus, prairie onion, cinquefoil, rose, vetch, locoweed, violets, asters, fleabanes, goosefoot, and buttercups are just a few of the many wildflowers that are found in the area.
Grasslands National Park is situated at the northern tip of North America’s mixed-grass prairie. It is unique in Canada bringing with it many uncommon plants and animals. Find a yellow-bellied blue racer coiled under the lavender blue blossoms of slender beardtongue. Watch a threatened ferruginous hawk swoop down to catch a rare black-tailed prairie dog.
Once the grassland is broken by the plough, it takes many years and a nearby seed source for the native plants to return. If the protective grass, moss and lichen ground cover is removed, the fertile soil is soon blown away by the strong prairie wind. With care and a gentle hand, it will survive and thrive.
Less than one quarter of Canada’s original mixedgrass prairie remains in its natural state. Grasslands National Park and area is one of the largest and least disturbed of these remaining pockets of native prairie in North America. Grasslands continues to evolve by reintroducing prairie species and restoring native prairie vegetation.
Smell the flowers
Spring and early summer can decorate the prairies with plants only found in native habitats. Spring’s prairie crocus and golden bean, early summer’s blue-eyed grass and purple milk-vetch, and late summer’s coneflower and dotted blazing star never fail to delight!