Tucked away in a neighborhood an hour north of Toronto lies a slice of one of Ontario’s rarest ecosystems.
Holland Landing Prairie Provincial Park is part of the last 3% of tallgrass prairies left in our province.
The Holland Landing Prairie has changed a lot over time and we are excited to share with you the changes the provincial park will experience in the future.
But first, what’s so special about a meadow?
Holland Landing Prairie is an example of a tallgrass prairie, which is an ecosystem featuring primarily wildflowers and grasses that thrive in sandy soils and are tolerant of drought and wildfire.
Tallgrass prairies are open spaces with sparsely growing trees and shrubs. Because of these growing conditions, specialized plant species form the grassland community.
Some indicator species of a tallgrass prairie are:
- Small blue stem (Schizachyriumscoparium)
- Big blue stem (Andropogon gerardii)
- butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- New Jersey Tea (American Ceanothus)
- Showy tick clover (Canadian Desmodium)
These plants grow in the grassland sections of the park.
The unique combination of flowers and grasses provides food, habitat and shelter for the birds, insects and other animals that inhabit the prairie.
Tallgrass prairies support a variety of species, including at-risk species such as monarch butterflies, as well as grassland bird species such as savanna sparrows, eastern larks, and indigo buntings.
A misunderstood meadow
At one time, there were many prairies throughout Ontario. Today, however, they have practically disappeared.
For the Holland Landing prairie, the activities of settlers over the past hundred years were the driving force that caused the prairies to disappear.
Settler communities cleared the prairie for agriculture, but the soil was very sandy and loose and eroded.
While grasses like Big Bluestem prevent erosion with their long root systems (up to 2m long!), settlers were unaware of this and considered the plants worthless.
Instead, pine trees were planted as windbreaks to stop erosion. The trees shaded the wildflowers and native grasses that remained as the pine plantations took hold.
Continued road and neighborhood development left only a small portion of the ecosystem historically found at Holland Landing, but there is hope for this resilient prairie.
The restoration process
Restoring Holland Landing Prairie will take a lot of work and won’t always be pretty.
Regular park visitors may notice some changes in the park this fall that may initially be a bit jarring.
Letting in the sun is key to the survival of this habitat, which we plan to address in two ways.
First: Unaware of the importance of this ecosystem, pine plantations were planted and the remaining stretches of prairie were divided.
Sections of the plantings will be cut to connect the prairie areas, creating a continuous ecosystem and preventing native flowers and grasses from being shaded.
Second: Grasslands are made up of grasses and wildflowers that, due to their deep root systems, thrive in the face of wildfires.
Deep root systems survive during fires, and only dead plant matter above the surface is burned. Prescribed low-intensity fire burns return nutrients to the soil and allow sunlight to penetrate new shoots.
Through these practices, we will be able to restore crucial habitat for the unique plants and animals that make up the tallgrass prairie community.
Wondering how you can be a good butler?
With your support, we hope Holland Landing Prairie can thrive for generations to come.
When you visit, remember that you are entering sensitive habitat.
Be an advocate for restoration by staying on trails, keeping dogs on leash, refraining from use of motorized vehicles, and leaving the prairie cleaner than you found it.
The restoration process begins this fall and the project will extend over a longer period. While this work is being carried out, obey all posted signs and closures.
We hope you visit this unique ecosystem and enjoy your time at Holland Landing Prairie!