When Minnesota became a state in 1858, nearly 1/3 of its land was  diverse grassland. Today, less than 1 percent of Minnesota's original prairie remains. The Macalester Prairie helps us reconnect with the past. The recreated prairie contains over 80 species of grasses and flowers that would have been familiar to everyone in that era.


Tom Ibsen ’93, working with staff, faculty and students, is recreating a ½ acre prairie landscape between Olin-Rice Hall and the athletic fields. 

Macalester College is helping to protect the genetic plant diversity of these plants by converting an area where turf grass had difficulty growing into a dynamic prairie landscape. With funding from Facilities Management, Ibsen and Grounds prepared the site and planted native grass and prairie flower seeds in November 2004.

Prairie dropseed, prairie smoke and alumroot were grown from seed in the Macalester Greenhouse that winter. These plants are low and attractive and will maintain a finished edge along the sidewalks. Several hundred of these seedlings were planted in the summer of 2005.

The construction of the Leonard Center required a larger culvert pipe be added through the prairie in late 2007. This disturbed a large amount of the prairie. Ibsen and interns helped plant several hundred plants to revegetate this area in the spring and summer of 2008.

Many species of prairie plants focus much of their early growth on developing a strong, drought-resistant root system and it may take 2-3 years for the prairie to mature. The establishment of a prairie landscape this size takes time. With patience and a little care, the prairie will continue to mature and be an attractive destination for the Macalester College community and its neighbors.

Tom Ibsen '93, owner of Grassroots Restoration LLC, continues to nurture and maintain the young prairie. To get involved or learn more about prairie restoration and native plants, contact .


Enjoy the year-round beauty of this unique landscape where short flowers of spring are overtopped by a succession of taller and taller grasses and flowers through autumn. Follow the sidewalk around the prairie to learn more about some of the over 80 species of flowers and grasses found in this restoration.

59 flowers and 31 species of grasses, sedges and rushes

Different species can be found throughout the prairie based on the amount of moisture present.

Upland area closest to sidewalk - Grasses that dominate this area include little bluestem, sideoats grama and prairie dropseed.  Flowers here include butterfly flower, phlox, prairie clovers, goldenrods and asters.

Low area in center - This section is dominated by big bluestem grass and many varieties of sedges.  Blazing star, New England aster, cardinal flower and great blue lobelia are just some of the brilliant flowers you will find here.

Complete Plant List By Region of Prairie


Reduced Costs

  • Native plants are adapted to poorer soil types and do not require fertilizers.
  • Plants need watering only until established.
  • Mowing is done annually or replaced entirely by hand clipping and raking.  This reduces gasoline consumption and associated exhaust pollution.
  • Pesticides are not required as plants are naturally immune to major disease and insect damage

Protects Site

  • Reduces erosion as expansive roots bind soil.
  • Improves soil quality through the natural decay of plant roots.
  • Helps add air to soil which promotes drainage.
  • Reduces run-off from rain or snow-melt events into storm sewer and our lakes, rivers and streams.
  • Lessens the spread of non-native invasive plants and animals imported through traditional landscape products arriving from around the globe by using plants supplies that are naturally found in your local area.
  • Maintains a natural balance as plants are adapted to their habitat.

Increased Beauty

  • Provides a diversity of landscape textures and colors throughout the year.
  • Native flowers and grasses are equal to cultivated plants in beauty.
  • Attracts butterflies and birds for viewing enjoyment.

Creates Habitat

  • Significantly increases biodiversity over a typical lawn and garden monoculture.
  • Acts as a repository for genetic plant materials to assist with mitigation of effects of global climate change.
  • Helps bridge the distance between natural areas allowing birds and butterflies to migrate more easily.
  • Provides excellent habitat for butterflies, birds and other animals.

Improved Health

  • Reduces airborne dusts and pollens stirred up by lawn mowing equipment as well as gasoline exhaust itself.
  • Decreases sound pollution from lawn mowers and leaf blowers.
  • Eliminates lawn grasses which can cause problems with allergy sufferers.

Other Benefits

  • Maintain a connection to natural heritage.
  • Nurtures psychological ‘need’ for humans to be surrounded by nature.
  • Diverse plants of a prairie provide many medicinal, culinary and dye-making qualities.


Prairies are fire dependent plant communities that require periodic fires to remove invasive and woody vegetation, return biomass to the soil and stimulate plant growth. Historically, fires started by lightning and Native Americans occurred on the prairie every 2-10 years.

The grasses and flowers of the prairie are adapted to fire having their growth points below the surface of the ground. After a fire, the plants send up new tender shoots that grow faster and with more vigor.

With the advent of fire suppression, the prairie began to degrade and lose its vigor. The grasslands became susceptible to invasive plants and encroachment by trees and shrubs. Those prairies that weren't converted to agricultural fields quickly turned into scrubland and then forest.

Today, we have learned that prescribed or controlled burns can help us maintain the remaining prairie. Trained professionals, with permission from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and local municipalities, will periodically burn a portion of the Macalester Prairie. These burns typically take place in the spring but may also occur in the fall.

Watch the blackened soil after a spring burn quickly become a lush, green sward immediately after the first rain!


It took more than 150 years of development, fire suppression and introduction of non-native plant species to diminish the prairie. It will take many years and many hands to recreate this prairie site.  There are ample opportunities for you to get involved as a volunteer or intern.

Internships - GrassRoots Restoration LLC sponsors a Macalester College internship each summer to get involved with the maintenance and nurturing of the Macalester Prairie, the rain garden and the green roofs. The intern gains valuable natural resource experience while learning about the plants of the prairie. Interns also assist with installation of other native landscapes in the metro area.

Volunteering - In late spring and early fall, volunteers are needed to assist with prescribed burns (link to page 6) and burn preparation of the prairie. This includes cutting last year's vegetation to ensure that prescribed burns are safe and effective.

To help the prairie become established, volunteers may remove weeds by hand or clippers. Each summer, additional species of grass and flowers are planted on the Macalester Prairie.