251 Prairie Parkland ( Temperate) Province

Central lowlands, 218,200 mi2 (565,100 km2)

The irregular surface of the Prairie Parkland Province Land-surface form.--The Prairie Parkland (Temperate) Province covers an extensive area from Canada to Oklahoma, with alternating prairie and deciduous forest. The topography is mostly gently rolling plains, but steep bluffs border a number of valleys. Some areas are nearly flat; others have high rounded hills. Elevations range from 300 to 2,000 ft (90 to 600 m). The far northern portion of the province has been glaciated.

The irregular surface of the Prairie Parkland Province in northeastern Kansas, on the proposed site of Prairie National Park. (Photo: National Park Service.)

Climate.--Summers are usually hot, and winters are cold, especially in the northern part of the province. Average annual temperatures may reach 40F (4C) in the north and 60F (16C) in the south. Winters are short and relatively mild in southerly areas. The frost-free season ranges from 120 days along the northern fringe to 235 days in the south. Average annual precipitation ranges from 20 to 40 in (510 to 1,020 mm), falling mainly during the growing season.

Vegetation.--Vegetation in this province is forest-steppe, characterized by intermingled prairie, groves, and strips of deciduous trees. The alternation of forest and prairie in the western part of the province results chiefly from local soil conditions and slope exposure; trees are commonly found near streams and on northfacing slopes. The thin soils atop this area's limestone hills support very few trees. In the eastern part of the province, however, trees often cover the highest hills. The prairies seem to be areas that have not yet become forested, either because of frequent fires or because the last glaciation was too recent for final successional stages to have been reached.

Grasses are the dominant prairie vegetation. Most are moderately tall and usually grow in bunches. The most prevalent type of grassland is bluestem prairie, dominated by such plants as big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass, and Indian grass, along with many species of wildflowers and legumes. In many places where grazing and fire are controlled, deciduous forest is encroaching on the prairies. Due to generally favorable conditions of climate and soil, most of the area is cultivated, and little of the original vegetation remains.

The upland forest in this province is dominated by oak and hickory, forming part of the oak-hickory forest described above for the Eastern Broadleaf Forest (Continental) Province. On floodplains and moist hillsides, the deciduous forest is richer. In the western part of the province, it includes eastern cottonwood, black willow, and American elm.

Floodplain forest of cottonwood Floodplain forest of cottonwood in Nebraska.

Soils.--Mollisols dominate throughout the province. Alfisols are found in the Mississippi Valley.

Fauna.--In addition to prairie animals that do not need woody vegetation, many forest animals are found in this province. They inhabit the wooded valleys that extend westward across the region.

Few forms are peculiar to the region, but certain mammals are indicative of its riverine forests, including mink and river otter. On the prairies, thirteen-lined ground squirrels and blacktail prairie dogs are commonly seen.

Birds of the riverine forests include the belted kingfisher, bank swallow, spotted sandpiper, and green-backed heron. Upland birds include the horned lark, eastern meadowlark, and mourning dove.