Did you know that butterfly milkweed's roots grow up to 12 feet deep, about the height of an African elephant?

Photo of butterfly milkweed root drawing

We look at prairie plants and can hardly imagine the amazing root systems that are growing beneath our feet. Those roots help to draw water down into the watershed, which cleans it before it enters our lakes. Those roots also help the plant find enough water in droughts and keep them alive when the tops burn during prairie fires. Those deep roots make our native plants the strongest and healthiest options out there.

So just how deep are some of these plants roots?

A compass plant's roots reach up to 15 feet below the surface, that's three Kourtney Kardashians standing on top of each other.

Photo of a compass plant root

Pale purple coneflower roots grow up to 5 feet in depth, the same as 8 pencils standing end to end.

Indian grass grows 9-foot roots, about the size of three single mattresses laid side to side.

Photo of Indian grass root design

Little Bluestem has a 6-foot root system, the same thickness of a stack of 18,000 sheets of paper.

See what below the surface with the Prairie Roots exhibit inside the Dickinson County Nature Center, and then try out the challenge below.

Photo of prairie roots exhibit

Measuring Roots

Measure out lines of 6 feet, 12 feet and 15 feet on the floor, representing different depths of prairie roots. Have your children lay down on the floor next to the lines to see how many of them it takes to reach the bottom of the root.

Photo of Teddy the turtle by a ruler

Teddy the turtle's shell is about 4 inches long, the same as lawn grass roots in Iowa when we plant exotic species such as Kentucky bluegrass. Plant natives and your grass will grow better roots!

 

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The augmented reality sandbox in the Dickinson County Nature Center has been a hit since it was installed. The exhibit talks about watersheds and how water moves through the landscape, but do you really understand what a watershed is? Let’s answer some questions about watersheds. What is a watershed? A watershed is an area of…

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Plants protect themselves from the winter cold

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7 reasons why the IRVM program is important to Dickinson County

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How prairie plants disperse seed

As a kid, we all picked a puffy dandelion and blew the wisps into the air. Little did we think that we were actually helping dandelions disperse their seeds. Dandelions and other plants only survive when their seeds are dispersed so that new plants grow the next season. They spread through a variety of ways…

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10 surprisingly not-so-good plants for your garden

Often, we think if a plant is pretty, has flowers and is colorful, it’s great for the garden. We often assume it’s also great for pollinators. Flowers have pollen and nectar, right? So it must be good for pollinators. However, there are some plants that are surprisingly not-so-good for pollinators. It could simply have nothing…

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Prairie plant roots help water quality

Native prairie plants make wonderful habitat for wildlife like voles, turkeys, rabbits, ground squirrels, hawks and foxes. They provide both habitat and food sources for tiny creatures such as monarch butterflies, bumblebees and milkweed beetles. They are beautiful to look at. However, they are also important in a way that we can’t see. Deep down…

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If you like calla lilies, plant Jack in the pulpit

Take a walk through a garden center, and it’s easy to get swept away by all of the exotic flowers that you can plant in your yard. However, we always encourage people to think native when planting a garden, and fall is a great time to plant native prairie seedlings in your yard as they…

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Five plants to start your pollinator garden

You’ve learned that pollinator populations are dwindling and that you can help by planting native species in your garden to provide habitat and food sources. But what do you plant? It can be overwhelming to look at all the options of native flowers that you can put in your garden. It’s even a lot for…

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