The best books to open your eyes to the beauty of tallgrass prairie

Fred Delcomyn and James L. Ellis Author Of A Backyard Prairie: The Hidden Beauty of Tallgrass and Wildflowers
By Fred Delcomyn and James L. Ellis

The Books I Picked & Why

The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction

By Cindy Crosby

The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction

Why this book?

Don’t know anything about prairie but want to learn? This slim volume is the perfect introduction.  And Cindy Crosby is the perfect person to do the introducing. She is a steward supervisor for the Schulenberg Prairie at the Morton Arboretum, near Chicago, Illinois. In the course of her job, she has become a writer and teacher on the prairie. In this engaging volume, Crosby describes what the tallgrass prairie is, how it originated, how people have interacted with it over the millennia, and what you can find in a prairie.


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The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa

By Cornelia F. Mutel

The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa

Why this book?

A more detailed and scholarly book than Crosby’s, this book is a description of the origin, character, and fate of the tallgrass prairie in Iowa. It is essential reading for those who wish to understand what the Iowa prairie (and by extension the prairie of neighboring states as well) was like before being settled by Euro-Americans and converted to agricultural use in the 19th century, what is left of that prairie today, and conservation and restoration efforts to replace some of what was lost.


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Tallgrass Prairie

By John Madson, Frank Oberle

Tallgrass Prairie

Why this book?

A beautiful and lyrical book, this sumptuous display of wonderful photographs by Frank Oberle is supplemented by text by John Madson. Madson describes in lyrical prose the reactions of early French explorers when they encountered prairie for the first time, and then recounts the subsequent settlement and plowing of the prairie. It is not really possible to get a true sense of what an open prairie must have been like 300 years ago, but this book will give readers a bit of its flavor.


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The Prairie Peninsula

By Gary Meszaros, Guy L. Denny

The Prairie Peninsula

Why this book?

This is another sumptuous book of photographs and text that describes tallgrass prairie. Whereas the Madson and Oberle book mainly talks about the places where prairie was and where it can still be found today, the Meszaros and Denny book pays much more attention to what is found in prairies – the grasses, flowers, and animals big and small that inhabit them and the ecological interactions among them. The lively text is amply supplemented with superb photographs that hint at what has been lost to the plow.


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Prairie: A Natural History of the Heart of North America

By Candace Savage

Prairie: A Natural History of the Heart of North America

Why this book?

The most scholarly and detailed book of our five choices, this book by Candice Savage, now in a revised edition, considers in depth not just the tallgrass prairie, but the entire sweep of North American grasslands. Savage recounts details that most people will never have thought of – such as how the bison were an integral part of the prairie ecosystem by creating buffalo wallows that persisted for years and provided shallow and temporary wetlands in what, to the west, was an otherwise dry environment. Start your exploration of prairie with this book or finish with it, but do not skip it. Its overview of the entire region puts the information in the other books into context.


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