by Dr. Paul Kannowski
ND Outdoors - March 1988
The original grasslands of the Red River Valley, almost entirely destroyed by sodbusting, persisted in a few sites as school sections set aside as hayland for the benefit of the public schools of the state. One of these virgin prairie sites constitutes the main portion of an 800 acre field station of the University of North Dakota. The station is named Oakville Prairie because it is located in Oakville Township of Grand Forks County.
Located on the relatively flat landscape of the Red River Valley, this prairie has developed on a thick and productive black soil representing nearly 10,000 years of decomposed vegetation since the departure of glacial Lake Agassiz. These soils support a colorful variety of prairie grasses and forbs. Big bluestem dominates the upland prairie that also includes green needlegrass, prairie cordgrass, sideoats grama and seasonally important forbs such as Canada anemone, prairie lilies, black-eyed susans, white and purple prairie Lovers, prairie coneflowers, Maximilian sunflowers, goldenrods, closed gentians and smooth blue asters.
Lowland prairie has developed on the silty clay loam found at the lower elevations. These soils are poorly drained and have a relatively high water table. The highly saline water in the Dakota sandstone bedrock below reaches the root zone of the plants in the lowland prairie, limiting the variety of vegetation. Inland saltgrass and mat muhly are the dominant grasses; white aster and curly-top gumweed are characteristic forbs. Low spots that collect water in the spring may dry out in late summer leaving a white encrustation of salts on the surface; halophytic plants such as saltwort, sea blite, and in-land saltgrass occur around these depressions. The higher water table in the lowland area is responsible for a dense concentration of ant mounds, which extend 12-18 inches above the surface.
Two hundred thirty-six species of vascular plants have been recorded from this site. Among the animals found here are 21 species of mammals, including red fox, badger, raccoon and white-tailed deer; more than 40 species of breeding birds, including three species of hawks, sharp-tailed grouse, marbled godwits, magpies, Sprague's pipit, and various sparrows; three species of amphibians; one species of reptile (plains garter snake) and 23 species of ants.
Background Information: One-page map and access information is available. It is used in biology field trips and research projects.
Ownership and Contact: Owned and maintained by the Department of Biology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND 58202-8238. Contact Biology Department office in 101 Starcher Hall for map and access information
Dr. Paul Kannowski is a Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of North Dakota.
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