AskDefine | Define prairies

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  1. Plural of prairie



  1. Plural of prairie

Extensive Definition

Prairie, from the french prairie ("meadow", "grassland", "pasture", "prairie"), refers to an area of land of low topographic relief that historically supported grasses and herbs, with few or no trees, and having generally a mesic climate.

In North America

Lands typically referred to as "prairie" tend to be in North America. The term encompasses much of the area referred to as the Great Plains of the United States and Canada. In the U.S., the area is constituted by most or all of the following states; North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and sizable parts of the states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Minnesota. The Central Valley of California is also prairie. The Canadian Prairies occupy vast areas of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.


In spite of long recurrent droughts and occasional torrential rains, the grasslands of the Great Plains are not subject to great soil erosion. The deep, interconnected root systems of prairie grasses firmly hold the soil in place and prevent run-off. These deep roots also help prairie plants to reach water in even the driest conditions. The prairie evolved to survive in extreme conditions and suffers less damage from dry conditions than the farm crops which have replaced many former prairies.


Fire is an important part of prairie ecology; natural and human-induced fires were common in historic prairie areas, rejuvenating the herbaceous species, and top killing trees and brush. Grazing by animals such as the American Bison and Prairie dogs also helped maintain the original prairie ecology. Small areas of prairies also exist in eastern North America, and it is possible that these were created by Native Americans by periodic burning. One such area was along the southeastern shore of Lake Erie in what is now Pennsylvania and New York; another was between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake in present New York.

Virgin prairies

Virgin prairie refers to prairie land that has never been plowed. Small virgin prairies exist in the American Midwestern states and in Canada. Restored prairie refers to a prairie that has been reseeded after plowing or other disturbance.

In the world

Prairies are considered part of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome by ecologists, based on similar temperate climates, moderate rainfall, and grasses, herbs, and shrubs, rather than trees, as the dominant vegetation type. Other temperate grasslands regions include the Pampas of Argentina, and the steppes of Russia and Ukraine and Western Germany.
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