Lake St. Clair Coastal Habitat
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Lakeplain Prairie

Ojibway Prairie, Windsor, Ontario

Photo: Paul Pratt

Lakeplain wet prairies and lakeplain wet mesic prairies are both classed as emergent wetlands. With their tall grasses and wildfowers, they resemble upland grassland more than a typical wetland, such as a marsh. Like the related lakeplain mesic sand prairies, which were discussed in the grassland portion of the Upland section, they are globally imperiled natural communities. Lakeplain prairies are among the most diverse plant communities in Michigan, with up to 200 species occurring at a single site. They are maintained by a combination of fire and flooding, which both prevent the establishment of woody vegetation. Lakeplain wet prairie occupies the wettest end of the spectrum, occurring on sand lakeplain and on deposits of dune sand within the clay lakeplain. It is generally found close to the shore, between Great Lakes marsh, and lakeplain wet-mesic prairie.

Although most wet and wet mesic lakeplain prairie was drained and farmed in the 1800s, sizable high-quality remnants still exist within the St. Clair Delta, both on the U.S. portion and on Walpole Island First Nation. Additional large remnants survive within the project area in Algonac State Park and in the Ojibway Prairie Complex in Windsor.

Lakeplain wet prairie and lakeplain wet-mesic prairie have many features in common with each other and with lakeplain mesic sand prairie, but are distinguished by the presence of wet prairie grasses such as blue-joint grass and prairie cordgrass, and rush, twig-rush, and sedges. In the more mesic forms, big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass are common. Rare plant species include three-awned grass, short-fruited rush, Leiberg's panic grass, chestnut sedge, pink milkwort, purple milkweed, eastern prairie fringed orchid, white lady's-slipper orchid, Gattinger's gerardia, Skinner's gerardia and Sullivant's milkweed.

A number of rare animals are found in wetland lakeplain prairie, including eastern fox snake, spotted turtle and Blanding's turtle. Rare birds that nest in lakeplain prairie include least bittern and king rail. Rare insects such as red-legged spittlebug, Persius duskywing, Culver's root borer, blazing star borer and silphium borer are intimately tied to host plants that are found only in high quality prairie. Historically, the eastern massasauga was also known to occur in these wet grasslands, particularly on Walpole Island and Belle Isle.

 

For more information, see: Coastal Habitat Assessment, Section IV (PDF)