Called by many names around the world, temperate grasslands occupy vast tracts of rolling flatlands dominated by a wide variety of native grass species. Although comprised mainly of grasses, temperate grasslands include numerous other types of plants, including trees, shrubs and flowering species. Diverse in form and appearance, the plants of the temperate grasslands reflect the sometimes harsh climatic and soil conditions characteristic of the ecosystem.
The American prairie is the largest expanse of temperate grassland in North America, stretching from Canada to Texas. Like most temperate grasslands, the prairie is dominated by grass species, although small stands of trees also exist. Species such as black walnut (Juglans nigra) and basswood (Tilia americana) thrive in protected areas, particularly between hills or along waterways, where they share their habitat with shrubs such as western sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) and squawbush sumac (Rhus trilobata). By far the most common type of plant in the prairie is grasses, which are represented by common species such as turkey grass (Andropogon gerardii), purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis), porcupine grass (Hesperostis spartea) and common switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).
Stretching across much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe, the Eurasian steppe is a vast temperate grassland home to a variety of plant species. Grasses of the genus Stipa dominate the landscape, among them needle grass (S. grandis), Gobi bunchgrass (S. gobica) and perennial bunchgrass (S. capillata). In addition to grasses, numerous small flowering plants grow scattered across the steppe, including burning love (Lychnis chalcedonica), Mongolian thyme (Thymus mongolicus) and yellow bedstraw (Galium verum). Few trees can survive the cold, dry conditions of the steppe, although in outlying areas near the Gobi Desert, small stands of tamarisk trees (Tamarix) thrive along seasonal waterways.
South American Pampas
Stretching across Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, the South American pampas is a variable type of temperate grassland hosting several smaller ecosystems. Grasses of the genus Stipa are most conspicuous, especially Stipa trichotoma and Stipa neesiana. Forming vast pasturelands, the grasses of the pampas are virtually unbroken by other forms of vegetation apart from stands of pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), a large and highly ornamental species known for its feathery seed heads. Small shrubs such as mata negre (Junellia tridens) and calafate (Berberis darwinii) occur along rocky slopes in high altitude areas of the pampas, where moisture is more abundant. Few trees exist in the center of the pampas, although in humid areas, trees such as the calden (Prosopis caldenia) and ombu (Phytolacca dioica) do occur in broken woodlands, particularly within the Argentine pampas.
The African veldt encompasses much of Southern Africa, particularly within the North-central region of South Africa. Although the region exhibits a higher degree of biodiversity than most other temperate grasslands, the veldt still hosts a diverse array of grass species, including slender veldt grass (Pennisetum spathiolatum), panic veldt grass (Ehrharta erecta) and common thatching grass (Hyparrhenia hirta). Much of the region is covered by open woodland, hosting tree species such as camel thorn acacia (Acacia erioloba), barwood (Pterocarpus erinaceus) and marula (Sclerocarya birrea). Amid the woodland and open expanses, wildflowers occur in great abundance. Species such as blue mountain sage (Salvia stenophylla), drooping agapanthus (Agapanthus inapertus) and fire heath (Erica cerinthoides) dominate drier areas, whereas seldom-seen species such as marsh Afrikaner (Gladiolus tristis) thrive in marshy areas.
- "Biomes Atlases: Temperate Grasslands"; Ben Hoare; 2003
- "Common Trees of the Highveld"; R.B. Drummond; 1997
- "Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of the Highveld: Also Useful in Adjacent Grassland and Bushveld"; Braam Van Wyk; 1998
- "Prairie Wild Flowers and Grasses"; Mary Louise Johnson; 1998
- "Grassland Biomes"; Susan L. Woodward; 2008
- Photo Credit Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images