The Red Buffalo
Indians called prairie fires the “red buffalo.” Fire has always been a component of the prairie ecosystem, from dry lightning and from the deliberate burning by Native Americans. Fires started in late winter-early spring warmed up the earth by removing the thick mulch of dead grasses, allowing sun and rain to penetrate the ground; in addition, the blackened ashes absorb the sun’s warming rays and add essential nutrients to the soil. The early emerging, tender, green grass shoots attracted the buffalo to feed, allowing the Indians to replenish their supply of meat. Ranchers today still follow the same practice, setting fire to their pastures in order to create earlier and more abundant grassland for foraging.
Burning destroys woody invaders and shallow-rooted alien annuals, biennials, and perennials, induces more seeds to germinate, and makes for sturdier plants. An early spring burn favors the growth of warm season grasses and legumes, while an autumnal burn favors forbs, according to Shirley Shirley in Restoring the Tall Grass Prairie.
Burn, Baby, Burn
My Front Yard March 28, 2016
Controlled Burn: March 29, 2016