Prairie Plants & Their Root Systems
Compare the above ground and below ground biomass of prairie plants. The biomass is the "weight" or amount of living matter that makes up the total plant (the leaves, the flowers, the stem, the root system, the fruit and the seeds).
To understand how prairies are able to survive and produce rich soil, it is important to notice the amount that grows above and below ground. The above ground part of the plant provides food for other living organisms, oxygen for the atmosphere, habitats for other living creatures and fuel for the prairie fires in the fall. Some seeds will never sprout without prairie fires.
Virtual Prairie Tool This activity requires the Shockwave Plug-in.
Many people don't understand the importance of the enormous root systems of some of prairie plants. They are much larger than the root systems of most plants you know. These help them to survive fire. They go deep into the soil so they can find water even in the driest summers. They enrich the soil and for some plants provide the network for forming new plants.
Even these drawings do not show the full extent of the root systems of grasses and plants in the silphium family which go down well beyond their height (20'-25' in some cases). The biomass is primarily beneath the ground in many prairie plants.
Save your virtual prairies for your research report.