Mesic and Wet-Mesic Prairies
Vegetation in this group consists of tall grasslands occurring on moderately well drained to somewhat poorly drained floodplain terraces in mountain valleys of the Ridge and Valley region and the southern Blue Ridge. These communities, which are comparable to "tall-grass prairies" of midwestern states, are known from only a few sites in western Virginia. Their original, pre-colonial extent and the ecological dynamics which maintained them (e.g ., fire, grazing) are now conjectural. Some of the present-day occurrences may be artifacts of post-settlement clearing and grazing. Although these communities are included in the Palustrine system, some examples may not be wetlands in the strict sense. The hydrology of our few examples appears to vary from rather well-drained to seasonally saturated or even briefly flooded. Surficial soils vary from sandy-gravelly to mottled loamy-clayey, and from slightly acidic to moderately alkaline. The vegetation is dominated by the tall, warm-season grasses big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans). Associated species with prairie affinities include willow aster (Symphyotrichum praealtum var. angustior), = Aster praealtus var. angustior), rigid sedge (Carex tetanica), eastern indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), northern rattlesnake-master (Eryngium yuccifolium var. yuccifolium), dense blazing star (Liatris spicata var. spicata), Virginia mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), and Culver's-root (Veronicastrum virginicum). Conversion to agricultural fields, cattle grazing, invasive introduced weeds, woody succession, and perhaps fire exclusion represent serious threats to these small, remnant prairies.
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A big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) - indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) grassland on the floodplain of Abrams Creek near Winchester, Frederick County. Eighteen state-rare plant species occur in this area of relict prairies and marshes. Photo: Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.