Native Grass Prairie on the Eastside Trail

Native Grasses and Wildflowers Create Healthy and Sustainable Environments

In the spring and summer of 2013, Trees Atlanta planted a native grass and wildflower prairie on the Eastside Trail as part of the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum. This major undertaking resulted in more than 109,000 grass plugs and wildflowers planted with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

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In spring & summer 2013, Trees Atlanta planted nearly 8 ½ acres of native grass and wildflower prairie along the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail. Planted over the course of four months, the prairie now comprises more than 250,000 individual plants, in 43 different species of grasses and wildflowers!

This project is a restoration project, similar to the forest restoration projects Trees Atlanta does when planting trees. The area along the Eastside Trail was a damaged urban ecosystem, with lots of manmade disturbance, invasive plants, and poor topsoils; planting a native prairie contributes to ecological recovery.

Since the Eastside Trail is part of the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum, this area will continue to be planted with grasses, flowers, and trees to create a much-needed source of habitat, food, and protection for birds, butterflies, bees, as well as bring a beautiful aesthetic to the area and create a unique sense of place.  

In addition to creating natural habitat, the maintenance of prairies requires less fuel, water, and pesticides than traditional grass-covered areas. In years to come, similar prairies will appear along the entire Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum, creating one connected corridor.

Our Forest Restoration coordinator Brian Williams led the effort to plant the prairie, assisted by Christina Gibson, as well as Trees Atlanta’s Urban Forestry Crew and Youth Tree Team, scores of volunteers, Adopt-the-BeltLine groups, corporate groups, community groups, and individuals all over Atlanta. Trees Atlanta even partnered with The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on a research component to this prairie.

A prairie fully establishes over the course of three years, and Trees Atlanta has developed signs to help visitors to the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum understand how the prairie will grow:

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The prairie is in stage one (about to enter stage 2), and we know that many people have questions about the project and how it looks. Brian Williams wants to help everyone understand the project, from the site to the weeds:

1This project is a restoration project, similar to the forest restoration projects Trees Atlanta does when planting trees. The area along the Eastside Trail was a damaged urban ecosystem, with lots of manmade disturbance, constant pressure from invasive plants inside and outside the corridor, and poor or nonexistent topsoils. This means that ecological recovery will be a gradual process, and each growing season will look better than the last. So in terms of how the prairie is developing, patience is key.

2The native grasses and wildflowers are in place and, most importantly, they are growing root systems. These root systems will build the soil, prevent erosion, absorb stormwater, and bolster the natives during times of drought; and while these ecosystem functions may not be flashy and visible right now, the ornamental aspect of the plantings will improve and become more visible as time goes on.

3The native grasses and wildflowers are producing seed this year, which will result in seedlings next year, which will go a long way in tipping the balance of “weeds vs natives” more toward natives. Our weed control efforts this year have been weighted toward reduction in weed seed vectors for next growing season—mowing high to reduce flowering, controlling weeds outside the construction perimeter to reduce external pressure, and specifically targeting the most pernicious weeds like johnsongrass, kudzu, and ragweed.

It helps to remember that this prairie project is an organic process, not a manmade construct like a building or a road; the process is a living thing. We want the public to understand and become engaged in the progression toward a healthy grassland along the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum. It’s going to look beautiful and be a great habitat for wildlife.

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First  photo: credit is Justberg Photography