Reclaiming native prairie habitat
Converting our mowed lawns to prairie habitat increases plant diversity and provides food resources for animals, which increases animal diversity. Many native birds and pollinators (like butterflies) benefit from such plantings.
These plantings require less maintenance than mowed areas, saving resources like fossil fuels and staff time. The prairie plants beautify these areas while managing rain and runoff better than turf grass. Unused parcels within the Zoo, as well as parcels of our partners, have been or are in the process being restored to native prairie habitat totaling 26.5 acres. Partners including the City of Toledo, the Village of Ottawa Hills, Toledo Public Schools and Rudolph-Libbey have allowed the Toledo Zoo to expand the prairie restoration project out into the community
Toledo’s natural prairie
The Toledo area has a rich natural heritage – western Lucas County’s globally rare oak savanna habitat is just one example.
Urban areas tend to decrease in biodiversity, though, as land is developed. Through our Wild Toledo initiative, we’re creating native prairie habitat on Zoo grounds by planting the wildflowers and prairie grasses that thrived here before European settlement. Read more in a related article from the Zoo’s Safari Magazine
But native prairie habitat does more than restore a lost landscape; it supports a balanced natural community, from birds and butterflies to reptiles and amphibians.
Native prairie habitat also blends cost-effective use of Zoo resources with our commitment to decrease our carbon footprint.
Check out the beauty of the various blooms by downloading our PDF, Wild Toledo Featured in Bloom, August 2014
During the next three years, Toledo Zoo staff will monitor the prairies for use by butterflies, bees, reptiles, amphibians, birds and small mammals. These locations are also being used by the Zoo’s Education programming teams as living labs.
In the spring of 2013 and fall/winter of 2014, we installed prairies using both seed drills and broadcast applications. Within a few short months of the 2013 install, this mix already had four species in bloom. Although several weed species are still present, the prairie species will outcompete them over the next few years.
There are as many as 32 different species of wild flowers that were planted in the prairie but will take 5 or more years for all species to be represented. Wildflowers all have different life cycles so it takes certain species longer than others to become established and bloom.
An aerial view of the Toledo Zoo shows green zones which indicate where native vegetation has been planted and maintained. The green highlighted areas on the map are prairies established in 2013 and the red zones are areas in the city that were recently restored into native prairie in 2014 and are managed by the Toledo Zoo.
Anthony Wayne Trail median
We partnered with the city of Toledo, who allowed us to plant 2.4 acres of the Anthony Wayne Trail median. This median planting is a critical step in experimenting with this form of land conversion in Lucas County. When successful, we hope this could be used elsewhere in the county. The advantages to having a natural median is it saves the city money by not having to be managed and mowed as frequently and also helps boost local pollinator populations which are vital to our agriculture. Please help the median by properly disposing garbage and cigarettes and by not crossing the median. This can damage the wildflowers and the native ecosystem that has taken hold here.
Toledo Prairies and Polar Bears
These prairie areas are important to Polar Bears because native wild flowers and grasses store large amounts of carbon in their extremely long roots that extend downwards into the ground. Wild flowers and grasses, like all plants, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lock it into their roots. This is called carbon sequestering and acts to “filter” the air. By planting large expanses of natural prairie areas, we can mitigate the effects we have on the environment and “reduce” the effects of climate change, saving more ice for the bears long term.