Introduction:
Origin and Persistence of Prairie

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Indian grass
Indian grass
The Prairie Peninsula is a wedge of grassland projecting eastward from the Great Plains into the Midwest. It stretches from western Iowa to Indiana, with outlying extensions as far east as Ohio. Deciduous forest occurs both north and south of the Prairie Peninsula. Tall Grass Prairie, which takes its name from tall grasses such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Indian grass (Sorhgastrum nutans), dominated the Prairie Peninsula. The reasons for the existence of this prairie, surrounded on three sides by forest, have long intrigued observers, from early explorers to modern-day ecologists.

Edgar Nelson Transeau (1935) first applied the name “Prairie Peninsula” to the region, but the debate over the origin of the prairie began long before Transeau's time. Shimik (1911) summarized much of the earlier literature and hypotheses for the origin and persistence of the prairie, including various climatic factors, topography, drainage, geological history, soils, seed dispersal, bison, and prairie fires. A weakness of many of the early explanations was the argument for a single factor, and the confusion that existed between the origin of the prairies and the persistence of the prairies.


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