Get to Know Native Prairie Plants

Follow the clues to identify native prairie plants that thrive there — and in other places, too.

About the Activity

One thing we can do to help pollinators is to increase habitat for them to find food and nesting areas. Native prairie ecosystems offer great habitat for insect pollinators including many flowering plants with a good source of nectar (nectar is food for pollinators).

In this activity, you will learn about some different native prairie plants, how to identify them, and consider some ways to add native flowering plants to your own landscape at school, at home, and throughout your community.

This activity is part of our 4-H at Home Native Bees Series. See the rest of the activities here.

Grade Level: 2—8
Topic: Environmental Education, Horticulture
Estimated Time: 30-60 minutes

Brought to you by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Pheasants Forever, Inc., and Quail Forever, Anna Swerczek; Habitat Education Program Manager

A butterfly pollinating a flower

Activity Steps

  1. Work through each “Plant ID” Sheet. Read the description of the plant and look at the photo to see what it looks like. Use the description and hint to figure out the name of the plant. Be sure to try all 14, and write your answers on the answer sheet.Did you know? Many prairie plants are great sources of nutrition for pollinators. Milkweed plants provide not only nectar for pollinators but are the only food source for caterpillars of the monarch butterfly.
A plant of purple flowers



 
The native prairie plant called the cup plant actually holds water that birds drink from.
 

 
Additionally, the Maximillian sunflower is good for pollinators and as food for wildlife including quail, deer, and livestock.

  1. Check your work against the answer key. How did you do?Did you know? In addition to providing habitat for pollinators, prairies provide food and nesting ground for animals like birds, rodents, and other small mammals. For example, the tube-like flowers of foxglove beardtongue are attractive to hummingbirds!
     
  2. Try visiting a local prairie or other native habitat and see if you can find any of these plants. While you’re there, you might also try using a field guide to see if you can identify others.Did you know? In a prairie, because there is high diversity of plants, flowers are blooming all season long. Ohio spiderwort blooms in early spring. Western ironweed blooms in late summer until the first frost. These plants provide an important food source for pollinators all through the growing season.

Reflection Questions
Bonus questions to inspire wonder:

  1. What type of ecosystem is native to where you live? Visit a park or preserve with native habitat to see if you can find some prairie plants.
  2. Why is it important for pollinators like bees and butterflies to have plants blooming all year?
  3. What are some ways you could add native plants to the landscape around you?
  4. Why is a mowed lawn not as good for wildlife as a native prairie?
  5. Why are prairie plants good for the soil?
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Investigate and Explore
Take what you've learned to the next level to learn more and explore the possibilities.

Now that you can recognize some of the common plants around the prairie, you’ll appreciate seeing how pollinators and other animals interact with them. Pay attention to native bees, too, as they thrive in this habitat. There are many benefits to improving how we manage the land around us. You can learn more about how our habitats also add value to humans through Ecosystem Services: https://ecology.fnal.gov/ecosystem-services/

Two sets of hands picking up a flower plant

Career Connections

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STEM Careers

If you liked identifying native species of prairie plants, you might enjoy a career in STEM. STEM careers are exciting and rewarding, and you can pursue a STEM-related career wherever you live, whether you’re in a city, a rural community, or anywhere in between.

Watch this video and learn what it takes to be a field sales representative from Wyatt Jones of Bayer Crop Science.

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