Rooted in their place

Tallgrass prairie to stay in current location in front of Benthack

Steele Giles, Staff Writer

For such a frequently overlooked part of the campus, the prairie grass garden outside of Benthack proved to be a large source of contention last week when plans were announced that could lead to its removal.

Responses across the campus ranged from approving to vitriolic to even leading to the temporary resurrection of an old Internet meme.

In light of this, along with objections from the WSC Beautification Committee, a meeting with the committee was held at 8 a.m. on Friday. Reporters were not allowed in the meeting, but members were open for comment afterwards.

Dr. Marysz Rames, with the com­mittee’s recommendation and further knowledge of the campus’ Landscape Master Plan, which encourages the use of native grasses and plants, has decided to accept their recommendation and keep the garden where it is.

She said that “the committee felt that the garden is an important part of college history.”

There are now plans in place to con­struct and place educational placards in the area to explain what is so important about the grasses. Dr. Rames said we “need to identify it and celebrate it.”

Those in favor of removing the garden cited allergy concerns, the multitudes of insects the grasses attracted and the some­what foul aroma they emit towards the end of the summer months.

“They smell awful. I understand wanting to preserve our past but it’s placed in the middle of a high traffic area. It’s in the way and smelly,” second-year English major Taylor Penn said.

She suggested putting the garden into the roundabout on the east end of campus, near Neihardt Hall and Hahn Administration.

Part of the objection to the destruc­tion of the garden was rooted in how it is representative of an older time, when the tallgrass prairie was not counted among the most devastated ecosystems on the planet. The landscape changed quickly, less than a century passed between when the tallgrasses were dominant in the area and their decline in favor of more easily controlled (and less unpleasant-smelling) plants took over.

“I like it, don’t see any reason why it should go,” sixth-year art major Gabriel Flanagan said. “I can also understand why people say it smells.”

He went on to jokingly suggest, “if the smell and insects are the reason for getting rid of the grass, you may as well replace all of the lawns with gravel.”

These grasses cannot pollinate via wind action (making them relatively hypoallergenic, at least as far as airborne pollen is concerned) and instead rely on insects. In order to attract these pollinators, they need to produce a distinctive scent, similar to the much more conspicuous corpse flower, which produces a smell that imitates rotting meat in order to draw in flies.

Efforts to restore the tallgrass prairie, thus far, have focused on the floral half of the ecosystem, replacing the plants that have been lost over time, but there’s more to it than that.

According to a study done by Minnesota professors, recreating the old rolling prairie may be impossible due to the introduction of new competitor species into the region, the loss of the native insect life that pollinated these plants and the removal of the buffalo and natural brush fires that kept the grasslands in a constant state of renewal.

Regardless of the larger ecological implications, students and faculty have expressed both joy and exasperation at the retention of the tallgrass prairie garden.