llinois is known as “the Prairie State,” and prairies used to cover two-thirds of the state. Today, only 0.01% of original prairie remains in Illinois.

Bison, cougars, grassland birds, turtles, frogs, butterflies, bees, and a vast array of plants were all a part of the prairies. Along with the prairies, many of the animals that live there have disappeared or are struggling to survive.

 Sand and Hill Prairies are Two Types of Prairies in Southwestern Illinois

Illinois has a few different types of prairies based on the soil type. These include: black soil, gravel, dolomite, shrub, sand, and hill prairies.

Sand prairies in southwestern Illinois are found along the sandy floodplain of the Mississippi River, particularly in Madison County. Less than 2,400 acres of sand prairie remain in all of Illinois – an area smaller than the campus of Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville. Poag Sand Prairie in Edwardsville and Arlington Wetlands in Pontoon Beach are examples of Sand Prairies in our region.

Hill prairies are even rarer – only 600 acres remain in Illinois. Hill prairies are found on southwest facing slopes of the bluffs along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Hill prairies develop on southwest-facing steep slopes where hot summer sun, dry winds, and periodic fires keep forests from growing there. Fults Hill Prairie in Monroe County is a great example of a hill prairie.

Poag Sand Prairie is a sand prairie owned by HeartLands Conservancy in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Fults Hill Prairie is a State Nature Preserve and hill prairie owned by the State of Illinois near Fults, Illinois.

What if we lose remaining prairies?

Loss of the prairies that remain (and the open spaces that could be returned to prairies) would be devastating to many animals, including Illinois Chorus Frogs, Ornate Box Turtles, timber rattlesnakes, and grassland birds. Beyond losing these creatures, our state will be losing its heritage and people’s places of respite. Even losing one more acre of prairie will have ripple effects for generations.

There are glimmers of hope for the remaining prairies. Thanks to community support, HeartLands Conservancy and other land trusts and agencies have been working to save and restore prairies in southern Illinois. Places like Poag Sand Prairie and the Knoll Family Wildlife Sanctuary in Madison County, for example, are now protected and being revived.

Learn more about sand prairies: Poag Sand Prairie, Knoll Family Wildlife Sanctuary, Arlington Wetlands and hill prairies: White Rock Nature Preserve