Root Systems of Prairie Plants, 1995 ©
(original dimensions 36” x 42”)
Heidi Natura created the Root Systems of Prairie Plants diagram in 1995 as a way to document and share the wonder and potential of what we cannot see in our prairie ecosystems. Her larger vision is that the diagram is an accessible work to be used by not-for-profit organizations to educate and promote native ecosystem preservation, restoration and re-creation. To request authorization to use the artwork, or purchase a physical copy of the artwork, please download the order form below and submit your request as indicated on the form.
In order to create the root diagram, Heidi began by researching what was known about the roots systems of our prairie flora. What was really required to confidently draw these unseen organic structures was physical documentation of the roots. Prairie plant research conducted in Nebraska by John E. Weaver (1884-1966) has been published widely, including Prairie Plants and Their Environment: a Fifty-Year Study in the Midwest, University of Nebraska Press, 1968. Referencing Weaver’s detailed scientific investigations, Heidi artistically interpreted Weaver’s findings in a diagrammatic assemblage of representative prairie species using ink on mylar.
Below the earth’s surface lay a storehouse for carbon in the air, water from the skies, and nutrients and microbes needed by plants and other creatures. The uniquely deep and extensive roots of prairie plants play a large role in these beneficial functions. Carbon is fixed in plants and subsequently stored as they die and decay becoming a part of the soil. Water is translocated down the channels the roots make, and is directly absorbed by root surfaces in staggering volumes. In healthy prairie ecosystems, rainfall generated by large storm events infiltrates, reducing or eliminating surface runoff. In doing so, down-stream impacts are greatly reduced and flooding is mitigated. With their own death and renewal, the roots create very rich soils, and support a vibrancy of soil biology that benefits the health of plants.
This knitted network of prairie root structures also serves to anchor fine particles of soil, securing them against the pressures of wind and water erosion. This reduction in erosion not only maintains the soil for the benefit of future generations, but serves as a protection against damage to our nation’s estuaries found at the bottom of our watersheds. Each variation of root structure serves different functions for the plants, in the ecosystem, and in modern landscape applications.
As landscape architects we look for opportunities to use native plants like those represented, and care for them properly, such that we might benefit from their beauty, environmental value, and functional performance indefinitely.