of big bluestem.
Close-up of big bluestem. © Richard Hamilton Smith

Places We Protect

Malmberg Prairie Scientific and Natural Area

Minnesota

Malmberg Prairie Preserve is a reminder that the Red River Valley was once a continuous grassland.

Surrounded by fields of sunflowers, soybeans, sugar beets and grains, Malmberg Prairie Preserve is a vivid reminder to visitors that the entire Red River Valley was, at one time, a continuous grassland, except for a few rivers and streams. This prairie never has been cultivated. The same sod that absorbed the hoof prints of the buffalo remains intact today with its native grasses. It stands alone as a lone sentinel of the region's past.

Mounds of dirt, first created by colonies of the prairie pocket gopher, sporadically break up this grassland. Today, reptiles and amphibians use these same mounds for shelter.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site

The Nature Conservancy had a rare opportunity with Malmberg Prairie to preserve and protect this rare gem—an original prairie—for future generations.

The Conservancy believes that working in partnership with others accomplishes more than working alone. How the Conservancy learned about this prairie demonstrates the power of that philosophy. If it wasn't for the quick action of a Polk County extension agent who thought about the Conservancy when he saw this prairie, it might have been lost.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

College students use this preserve, which also is a scientific area, for research. Because it is an original prairie that never has been plowed, there is much we can learn from it.

What to See: Plants

Malmberg Prairie is home to several rare plants the State of Minnesota is concerned about, including the small white lady's slipper, the closed gentian and Hall's sedge.

The closed gentian is one of many native plants that offer seasonal color. This 2-foot-tall plant produces dozens of blue flowers in the fall. The wild prairie rose sports five bright prink petals clustered around yellow stamens in its center, and towering above it are Maximilian sunflower's bright yellow flowers. There are also the showy white flowers of northern bedstraw and Heath's aster.

Of the prairie's many grasses, big and little bluestem are the most common. Mat muhly and cordgrass also can be found.

What to See: Animals

The distinctive "voo-hoo-hoo" of the male short-eared owl's territorial song can be heard in the late evening. This yellow-eyed owl with a dark bill is one of three species of concern living on this 80-acre prairie. A small grassland bird, sharp-tailed sparrow, and the mice-like prairie vole are the other two.

In all, Malmberg Prairie is home to 22 bird species, seven mammal species and four amphibian species.