WISE Archives, Special Collections Dept., ISU Library

Iowa Women in Science: Ada Hayden

The Prairie Project, n.d.
By Ada Hayden

In the past twenty-five years, during which period the greater number of Iowa's State Parks and Preserves have been acquired, recurrent efforts have been made to obtain prairie. But the prairie acreage in Iowa has steadily diminished and such tracts as are now existent consist of parts of estates whose owners entertain a lingering sentiment for the fragmentary acreages which persist as symbols of their prosperity. From the turned furrows have rise villages, cities, and farms; and replacing the sea-like expanse of native grasses are their Eur-Asian relatives-oats, wheat, barley, and rye, as well as the great grass, corn, whose legendary origin has stimulated many exploratory expeditions amid the dwelling places of native American Indians of the Central Americas.

But will this myriad-strained cultivate corn, rotated with its oriental leguminous neighbors, maintain health and productivity in an artificial environment in a manner comparable with the native grassland plants which are natural products of their climatic and edaphic environment? Already the disorders of corn are legion. Various strains of the corn and other gramineous crop plants have been evolved which are adapted to the diverse climatic aspects of Iowa. Hybrid strains have increased productivity. But even this technique has its limitations, notwithstanding all the modern devices for maintaining the fertility and productivity of soil and the crops grown thereon.

It seems desirable that some type specimens of the native grassland which has maintained itself for countless centuries should be preserved for scientific study. These type areas are to be regarded as field laboratories; where biotic, edaphic, and topographic aspects of the prairie with the virgin soil which it produced may be investigated.

The prairie itself has intrinsic merits aside from its bearing with reference to crop insurance. It presents a colorful display of flowering plants throughout the growing season; it is the potential source of economic plants whose uses have not yet been explored. It affords opportunity for the study of the life histories of animals, the knowledge of which has a practical bearing upon their integration with the agricultural environment. It serves as a standard of reference for landscaping, it constitutes type specimens of the native vegetation and soil associations, and provides living examples of the fauna and flora which are indispensable in educational work.

The work relating to the conservation of prairie in the past year has been summarized in a survey which includes: 1) an inventory of reported prairie tracts listed according to the counties in which they occur; 2) illustrations and descriptions of such prairie areas as have been inspected with reference to the soil associations, floras, faunas, and topographic aspects; 3) preliminary recommendations for the preservation of prairie which were requested by the State Conservation Commission as a guide to selection of prairie tracts most representative of the various prairie soil associations, topographies, floras, faunas, and vegetations. The recent study of the remaining Iowa prairie was begun by the Iowa Prairie Sub-Committee of the Preservation Committee of the Ecological Society*; and the four original copies of the prairie reports are in the possession of the members of this committee for convenience in circulation of the data among interested persons.

*The committee consisted of J.M. Aikman, W.A. Anderson, Mrs. Addison Parker, and A. Hayden, Chair.

A grant of one-hundred dollars was made by the Executive Board of the Academy upon request for assistance in defraying expenses such as clerical work, photographs, and materials required to formulate a report; and for travel necessary to inspect the areas. However, the Conservation Commission advanced one hundred dollars toward the expense of inspecting and describing prairie, with the suggestion of one of its members that the founding of a Prairie Fund by the Academy would stimulate the undertaking of prairie preservation. With the idea in mind of establishing a Prairie Purchase Fund, the grant of the Academy was held in reserve and the equivalent fund given by the Conservation Commission was used. It seems probably that additional contributions to such a fund by interested persons or societies might afford a means of purchasing small areas of a few acrea which would preserve a soil type meriting a roadside marker of the Soil Science Society, a wild flower site, a geological landmark, or some special, local feature of the prairie landscape.

It was recently discovered that the Minnesota Academy of Science has a Committee for Preservation of Natural Conditions and that a considerable sum of money had been raised by local subscription for the preservation of natural areas. It seems probable that the Iowa Academy and the Conservation Commission working copperatively could develop different essential aspects of the Prairie Project. The Commission finds that the larger areas are more readily administered by them than small ones. The Academy, with the cooperation of other societies or persons, might acquire small tracts. The kinds of preserves needed are specified in the description of the Prairie Project in the Iowa Academy of Science 51: 1945.

In adjacent states, several areas have been acquired as gifts. The Corniea Prairie, a tract of 80 acres, was given to Minnesota for preservation. In the state of Nebraska, a section of prairie known as the Dalbey-Lewis Memorial was recently given to the University under the supervision of the Agronomy Dept. as an experimental preserve. Last year, the University of Wisconsin accepted title to the Faville Prairie, a 60 acre tract of choice grassland, concerning which several scientific articles have appeared. It is needless to say that gifts will not suffice to secure an adequate number of type speciments of prairie. State appropriations will be required.

At present, approximately one-hundred prairie areas have been reported in Iowa by county, legal description, and name of the owner. Inspection has shown some of these to be grazed pastures. The distinction between virgin soil and virgin grassland is not always observed. Thirty of the areas have been described with reference to the vegetation and one-half of these photographed. It is the primary objective to preserve one area in each prairie soil association of the state, which are now quite well-defined after 30 years of study. The prairies bordering rivers such as the Little-Sioux are characterized by rough topography and are generally not underlain by arable land. However, the distinctive fauna and flora of this region should make these suitable for wildlife preserves. Several areas of sixty acres to a quarter section in size have been located in different major prairie soil associations. These tracts represent the best agricultural land in the state and will doubtless command high prices. Howeverm virgin cover of grad A soils, significant with reference to comparison of virgin soils with cultivate soils and their acquisition will probably require ingenuity in countering the age-old illusions that land should not be removed from cultivation nor should it be exempt from taxation.

Each year some of the few remaining prairies succumb to the plow as estates are sold or blind pressure for production gains momentum. On the other hand, the soil conservationists state that the resources of both the Missouri and the Mississippi Valley are endangered by soil erosion and that many cultivated areas should be returned to grass cover. If this be true, there appears to be good reasons for retaining the virgin cover on some of the virgin soils. "Once destroyed," says Weaver, "it can never be reproduced by man." What is done to perpetuate field laboratories for research must be accomplished without delay.


Hawkins, A.S. "A Wildlife History of Faville Grove, Wisconsin," Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters 32:29-65 (1940).

Hayden, Ada. "The Iowa Prairie Project," Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science (1945).

Leopold, Aldo. "The Favelle Prairie Wildflower," Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters (1941).

Ricker, P.L. "Faville Prairie Preserve," Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters 21:46-47 (1944).

Tolstead, W.L. Personal letter, 1946.

Weaver, J.E. "North American Prairie," The American Scholar 13:329-339 (1944).

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