The prairie is a symbol of Macalester's commitment to environmental sustainability and our strong connections to the Midwest.
When the Olin Hall of Science was built in 1965, the area to its south
was originally intended to be seeded with grass and planted with
occasional trees. As Macalester College grew, and its needs changed
with the renovation of the football field in the early 1990s, the area
became a detention area for water from the athletic field. To better
serve the leisure needs of students, the site received a makeover,
making it into the college's recreational volleyball court. The soil
from its center was dug out and placed along the side, forming the brim
visible today, followed by sand being placed over the ground in the
middle of the site to a depth of six to twelve inches.
By the late 1990s, the site was still being used as a component of the
college's storm water management system, but was no longer being used
for volleyball. The sand prevented plant growth in the middle of the
site, and the brim complicated mowing and maintenance of the sides.
In fall of 2004, a guest lecture by Tom Ibsen, of GrassRoots
Restoration to Mark Davis’s ecology class sparked an interest in
developing a spot on campus into a prairie installation. Several
students suggested the sandy area between Olin-Rice and the athletic
field as an ideal spot. The sand in the middle of the site presented
some difficulties, since rain and runoff water filtered through it
quite quickly, leaving the upper soil layer very dry, while the lower
soil, which lacked sand, was rather wet. When the area was seeded with
native prairie plants later that fall, the sides were seeded with
plants that prefer dry conditions, while the middle was seeded with
those prairie plants that prefer wetter environments.
In the summer of 2005, the plants that were seeded along the sides
began to appear, and the plants that had been hand-planted along the
edges (Alum Root, Prairie Smoke, Prairie Dropseed, and Nodding Onion)
had matured appreciably, forming a visible border. Since it was the
first growing season for the new prairie, no weeding, cutting, or
similar maintenance activities could occur, as they would disrupt the
fragile root system of the seedlings. The root system of a prairie is
its main defense against drought and invasive plant species. The health
of the prairie's root system determines the health of the prairie
By the 2006 summer, the root structure was established enough for
maintenance activities to occur, and many plants had matured enough for
identification and biodiversity counts.
About Purpose Map Intern
Last updated: 8/21/06