railroad prairie, vascular flora, presettlement vegetation
"Railroad prairies" are remnant native grasslands that grow along railroad right-of-ways. The Swaledale railroad prairie, which is in north central Iowa, occurs along the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company right-of-way in Cerro Gordo County.
The railroad right-of-way and an abandoned sand pit, which lies adjacent to the railroad embankment, harbor a collection of tallgrass prairie remnants. The sand pit supplied earthen fill which was used to elevate the original railroad embankment, circa 1887. It is noteworthy that the method of excavation for fill material helped to preserve earthen knolls that are covered with original tallgrass prairie.
Plant collections were acquired from the Swaledale railroad prairie from 1976 to 1986. A total of 247 vascular plants, mainly prairie species, were identified from 64 families. Voucher specimens are housed at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Herbariurn (OSH). Some duplicate vouchers were donated to the University of Northern Iowa Herbariurn (ISTC).
Based on collections and observations it was discovered that two Iowa threatened species, Valeriana edulis Nutt. and Equisetum fluviatile L., and one endangered species, Salix pedicellaris Pursh, grow on the Swaledale railroad prairie.
To illustrate the impact that late 19th century railroad technology had on settlement and the eventual destruction of the prairie ecosystem, a history of the railroad prairie is presented. Sources used to trace a history of the vegetation from presettlement times, circa 1850, to the present include the original land survey records, old newspaper articles, library references and personal interviews.
Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science
© Copyright 1988 by the Iowa Academy of Science, Inc.
Eddy, Thomas L.
"A Vascular Flora Of The Swaledale Railroad Prairie In North Central Iowa,"
Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science: JIAS, 95(2), 47-54.
Available at: https://scholarworks.uni.edu/jias/vol95/iss2/6