- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - At Snowball Hill, a small slice remains of a prairie ecosystem thousands of years old that once covered most of Missouri.

Pale purple coneflowers, porcupine grass, prairie turnip and other native plants, along with pollinating insects and creatures in the soil, survive in places like this.

Almost everywhere else, development has driven them out.

The same fate awaited the 22 acres around Snowball Hill, a piece of land south of Harrisonville in Cass County, until it was bought last year by the Missouri Prairie Foundation. It is one of the last remaining such unplowed, undeveloped prairie habitats in the Kansas City area. Now, naturalists with the Prairie Foundation plan to manage and protect it for generations to come.

The Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/1Uey3Ad ) reports that the prairie supports about 150 varieties of native plants, some of them on state and federal endangered species lists.

More remain to be discovered, said Bruce Schuette, vice president of science and management at the Prairie Foundation. Schuette gives tours of the preserve, which he said is one of the area’s biggest and best-preserved prairies.

“It’s just really full of high-quality prairie plants,” Schuette said. “The kind you just don’t see on the side of the road. The original prairie was so complex, we don’t even know what all is in there.”

Scientists are only beginning to understand the connections between bacteria in natural prairie soil and the unique pollinating plants above. Some insects will pollinate with only a single one of the prairie’s increasingly rare plants, and disappear without them.

Managing the prairie will likely mean weeding out some invasive species that have begun to take root here. Though small and fragile, the prairie can be expanded at the edges by clearing out brush and trees that have encroached over the years.

The preserve exists within a larger, 74-acre property the Prairie Foundation bought to protect it.

Marty Clark of Overland Park took the tour Saturday and found plants that reminded him of patches of prairie from where he grew up, south of Sedalia, Mo.

“It really is a gem,” Clark said.


Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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