7 Geography

Temperate Grasslands

Learning Goals:

  • Prairie
  • Vegetation and wildlife
  • People and Occupation

Grassland, as the name suggests is in other words ‘a land made up of grasses. Hence, it is a place where grasses form the dominant type of plant life. Grasslands make up almost a quarter of the total land’s surface. The type of plants that grow in the grasslands depend on the type of climate and the type of soil.

On the basis of climate, the world’s grasslands are divided into two broad types:

  • Grasslands that occur in the temperate region
  • Grasslands that occur in the tropical region

The prairies

The temperate grasslands of North America are called the Prairies. The word ‘Prairie’ originated from the Latin word ‘priata’ which means meadow. They have the following features:

  • It is a region of flat, gently sloping or hilly land.
  • For the most part, prairies are treeless but, near the low lying plains, flanking river valleys, woodlands can be found.
  • Tall trees, upto two metres high, dominate the landscape.

It is actually ‘a sea of grasses’. The prairies cover parts of the United States of America and parts of Canada. They are bound by the Rocky Mountains in the West and the Great Lakes in the East. The prairies in the USA are drained by the tributaries of Mississippi and the Canadian prairies are drained by the tributaries of Saskatchewan Rivers.

Climate

Since the prairies are located in the heart of a continent, the climate is of continental type with extreme temperatures. The summers are warm, with temperatures of around 20oC and winters are very cold with temperatures of around -20C being recorded in Winnipeg, Canada. In winters, a thick blanket of snow covers this region.

It rains moderately in this region and is ideal for the growth of grass. Due to the absence of the north-south barrier, a local wind ‘Chinook’ blows here.


Flora and fauna

Flora: Prairies are practically treeless. Based on availability of water, the plants found in the area, differ.

  • Where water is available, trees such as willows, alders and poplars grow.
  • Where rainfall is above 50 cm, farming is practiced as the soil is fertile. The main crop here is maize. The other crops that are grown in this area include potatoes, soyabean, alfa-alfa and cotton.
  • Areas where rainfall is very little or unreliable, short and sparse grasses are found. These areas are suitable for cattle rearing. Large cattle farms are called ranches. These are looked after by sturdy men called cowboys.

Fauna: The main animal here is the bison or the American buffalo. It has nearly got extinct due to indiscriminate hunting. Other animals found in this region are rabbits, Prairie dogs, coyotes and gophers.


People

The people of this region are very industrious and have successfully harnessed technology to utilize its natural resources. The two most developed countries – the USA and Canada are located in this region.

Agriculture: Scientific methods of cultivation and use of tractors, harvesters and combines have made North America a surplus producer of food grains. The Prairies are also called the ‘Granaries of the world’ due to surplus wheat production.

Dairy Farming: It is another major industry in this region. The dairy belt extends from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Coast in the east.

Food Processing Industries: Dairy farming and surplus production in agriculture promote setting up of food processing industries.

Mineral Resources: This region has rich deposits of iron and coal.

Infrastructure: A very good network of roads, railways and canals in this region, have made it the most industrialized region in the world.


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