Prairie Books Bibliography

This Bibliography contains many valuable and timeless resources. Our thanks to Jon Piper of Bethel College for his contributions and comments.

We are adding to them and welcome suggestions for updates!

General Overview & Philosophy

  • Changing Prairie, The edited by Anthony Joern and Kathleen H. Keeler (Oxford University Press, 1995). This is an excellent collection of rather technical essays and research papers.
  • Fragile Giants: a natural history of the Loess Hills by Cornelia F. Mutel (University of Iowa Press 1989). This is an excellent description of the interaction of the plants, animals, geology, and people in a particular prairie community. Additionally, Cornelia has edited Land of the Fragile Giants (University of Iowa Press, 1994), a book of essays and art about the Loess Hills of Iowa. Another similar book about a little different part of the country is An Atlas of the Sand Hills (University of Nebraska Press, 1988).
  • Grassland by Richard Manning (Viking-Penguin 1995). A good account of the current state of prairies in North America.
  • Landforms of Iowa by Jean C. Prior (University of Iowa Press, 1991) gives the geological background to the prairies in Iowa.
  • Prairie Fire: A Great Plains History by Julie Courtwright (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2011). Butler County Kansas native writes this first comprehensive environmental history traces the history of both natural and intentional fires from Native American practices to the current use of controlled burns as an effective land management tool, along the way sharing the personal accounts of people whose lives have been touched by fire.
  • Prairie Plants and Their Environment: a 50 year study in the Midwest by J. E Weaver (University of Nebraska Press 1968, reprinted 1991). Drive. Weaver was a pioneer in prairie study.
  • Prairyerth by William Least Heat-Moon (Houghton Mifflin, 1991). This book details the changes and the stresses occurring in Chase County, Kansas, from an optimistic pioneer past to an uncertain (somewhat dim, somewhat not) future.
  • Sand County Almanac, A by Aldo Leopold (Oxford University Press 1949). no list would be complete without it.
  • Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose (Simon and Schuster, 1996) is a truly wonderful account of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This truly astonishing journey was as amazing in what it was looking for (mammoths and lost tribes of Welshmen) as what if found ( the first reasonably scientific survey of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains) much less merely surviving the trip at all!
  • Where the Buffalo Roam by Anne Mathews (Grove Weidenfeld, 1992). This is a discussion on the controversial "Buffalo Commons" proposal of Frank and Deborah Popper.
  • Where the Sky Began by John Madson (Houghton Mifflin 1984, reprinted 1994) This book is the best place to start.


  • The Kansas School Naturalist. Terrific resource for teachers and students. High interest nature-related topics. Wonderful photos and explanations- Back issues now available online:
  • The Prairie Reader. A publication devoted only to Midwestern Prairies. The first issue, although rather thin, is well written and in an attractive format. There is an article on the problems of prairie restoration in the parks in Minneapolis, an article about the Northern Tallgrass Prairie Habitat Preservation area, a book review, an article on a backyard scale restoration, an article about the lobelia family, and a calendar of events; in other words something for almost everyone. A subscription is $18 per year (4 issues). Inquire at the Prairie Reader, P.O. Box 8227, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55108.
  • The Prairie Naturalist. First published in 1969 by the University of North Dakota, The Prairie Naturalisthas been published by South Dakota State University since 2010 and fills an important role as the avenue of communication of research on the North American grasslands and their biota. Articles include research topics such as investigating Great Plains community and landscape ecologies, species-specific population dynamics, mammalogy, ornithology, invertebrate zoology, herpetology, ichthyology, botany, animal behavior, infectious diseases, and biostatistics. SDSU, Northern Plains Biostress Building 138, Box: Box 2140B, Brookings, SD 57007

Photographic Books

  • Iowa's Natural History by Tom C. Cooper, editor (Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, 1982). This is a attractively presented study of the geology, climate, flora and fauna of Iowa.
  • Nature's Heartland: Native Plant Communities of the Great Plains by Bill Boon and Harlen Groe (Iowa State University Press, 1990). This would be an excellent guide book if it weren't so big. Anyway no one would want to soil a book this nice out where it would be useful anyway. It does make for a pleasant way to while away a cold winter evening though.
  • Prairie: Images of Ground and Sky by Terry Evans (University Press of Kansas, 1986). This book conveys the best feeling for the prairie of any encountered.
  • Tallgrass Prairie by John Madson and Frank Oberle (The Nature Conservancy, 1994). Beautiful images showing the unexpected range of color of the grasslands detailed with informative text.

Prairie Literature

Most of these paint an unpleasant view of prairie life at least as opposed to the stereotypical "family farmer". Lots of conflict of the "man vs. nature" as well as the "man vs. man" sort. Most are well known and self-explanatory.
  • Giants of the Earth by O. E Rolvaag
  • Growth in the Soil by Knut Hamson. Prairies in Norway!!! Not likely but these volumes are an excellent depiction of the pioneer experience (he won the Nobel prize for them, about 1920 perhaps).
  • My Antonia and O Pioneers by Willa Cather
  • Old Jules by Mari Sandoz

Children's Books

  • Sea of Grass by David Dvorak Jr. (Macmillan Publishing, 1994). This is an excellent book also.
  • Seasons of the Tallgrass Prairie by Carol Lerner (William Marrow and Co., 1980). This is the best children's' book about prairies. Unfortunately, it is no longer in print.

General Botany

Although not specifically prairie related, these two books are a good introduction to studying plants in a systematic manner.
  • The Practical Botanist by Rick Imes (Simon and Schuster, 1990)
  • The Plant Observer's Guide Book: A Field Botany Manual for the Amateur Naturalist by Charles E Roth (Prentis Hall, 1984)

Field Guides

General Guides

  • A Wildflower Year by Jon Farrar (NEBRASKAland Magazine, January/February, 1990.
  • Field Guide to Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains by Jon Farrar (NEBRASKAland Magazine, 1990)
  • Kansas Prairie Wildflowers by Clenton E Owensby (Iowa State University press, 1980).
  • Missouri Wildflowers by Edgar Denison (Missouri Department of Conservation, 1972).
  • Newcomb's Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb (Little, Brown and Co., 1977). A good key.
  • North American Range Plants by J. Stubbendiek, Stephan L. Hatch, and Kathie J. Hirsch (University of Nebraska Press, 1986 third edition). Superb line drawings and descriptions. It is biased toward the western plains.
  • Pasture and Range Plants (Fort Hays State University, 1989) Nice book and cheap too!
  • Roadside Plants and Flowers by Marian S Edsall (University of Wisconsin Press, 1985)
  • Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers by Doug Ladd and Frank Oberle (The Nature Conservancy, 1995). Nice Photographs!
  • The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers. Both Eastern and Western Regions
  • Weeds of Nebraska (Nebraska Department of Agriculture, 1995). The photographs of the plants, among the best in any guide, were chosen primarily for their helpfulness in identification.
  • Wildflowers of the Northern Great Plains by F.R. Vance, J.R. Jowsey, and J.S.McLean (University of Minnesota Press, 1984)
  • Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie by Sylvan T Runkel and Dean Roosa and its companion volume Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan T. Runkel and Alvin F. Bull (as well as the similar guides for Illinois and Indiana) (Iowa State University Press, 1989 and 1987 respectively). These handy sized and formatted books are especially useful for their nice narratives.
  • Wildflowers of the Western Plains by Zoe Merriman Kirkpatrick (University of Texas Press, 1992)
  • Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Plants of the Northern Plains and Black Hills by Theodore Van Bruggen (Badlands Natural History Association, 1983)

Wetland Species

  • Water Plants for Missouri Ponds by James R. Whitley, Barbara Bassett, Joe G. Dillard, and Rebecca A. Haefner (Missouri Department of Conservation, 1990). Nice photography and line drawings.
  • Wetland Plants and Plant Communities of Minnesota and Wisconsin by Steve Eggers and Donald Reed (Army Corp of Engineers, 1987). This is the only decent wetland guide for the Midwest.


  • Field Guide to the Common Grasses of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska by Iralee Barnard (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2014). Great book with terrific photos and explanations for laypersons and experts.
  • Field Guide to the Grasses, Sedges and Rushes of the United States by Edward Knobel (Dover, 1977)
  • Grasses by Lauren Brown (Houghton Mifflin, 1979)
  • Manual of the Grasses of the United States (Volumes I and II) by A.S. Hitchcock (Dover, 1971)

Dormant & Seed Pods

  • Pods: Wildflowers and Weeds in Their Final Beauty by Jane Emberton (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1979). Includes nifty things to do with your noxious weeds.
  • Weeds in Winter by Lauren Brown (W.W. Norton and Co., 1976)


  • Handbook on Seeds of Browse-Shrubs and Forbs (United States Department of Agriculture Technical Publication R8-TP8, February, 1985)
  • Illustrated Taxonomy Manual of Weed Seeds by R.J. Delorit (Wisconsin State University-River Falls, 1970). Excellent Photographs!
  • Weed Seeds of the Great Plains by Linda W Davis (University Press of Kansas, 1993). This is the only book solely of prairie seeds.

Other Important Field References

  • Common Legumes of the Great Plains by James Stubbendieck and Elverne C. Conrad (University of Nebraska Press, 1989). There should be more books like this.
  • Distribution Maps of Iowa Prairie Plants by Drive. Paul A. Christensen (Iowa Department of Transportation, 1992). Another settler of arguments.
  • Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie for if you forget your lunch and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie for if your lunch gives you a stomach ache! Both by Kelly Kindscher (University Press of Kansas).
  • Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Lee Peterson (Peterson Field Guide, 1977)
  • Flora of the Great Plains by the Great Plains Flora Association (University press of Kansas, 1986). Very complete. It settles a lot of arguments.
  • Grasslands by Lauren Brown (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985). Not only plants but also fungi, and all sort of animals.
  • Keys to Iowa Vascular Plants by Richard W Pohl (Iowa State University, 1975) Invaluable when you need to know whether you've found a Sullivant's milkweed or a four leaf milkweed.
  • Sunflower Species of the United States by Charlie E Rogers, Tommy E Thompson, and Gerald J. Seiler (National Sunflower Association, 1982). An excellent book covering a confusing set of species.
  • The Illustrated Book of Wildflowers and Shrubs by William Carey Grim (Stackpole Books, 1993). The same comments as Flora of the Great Plains apply.
  • Vascular Plants of Iowa by Lawrence J. Eilers and Dean M. Roosa (University of Iowa Press, 1994). This is less a field guide as a reference to confirm an identification.

Cultural/Production/Restoration Guides

Prairie Restoration & Landscaping

  • Landscaping with Wildflowers by Jim Wilson (Houghton Mifflin, 1992). This rather general book has much good information in it.
  • Prairie Garden, The by J.Robert Smith and Beatrice S Smith (University of Wisconsin Press, 1980) One of the first books of this type covering 70 Midwestern species.
  • Prairie Propagation Handbook by Harold Rock (Wehr Nature Center, Milwaukee County Department of Parks, 1981). This is the best book on methods of propagating prairie plants.
  • Prairies, Forests and Wetlands by Janette R. Thompson (University of Iowa Press, 1992). A thorough and to the point book about restoration of these communities in Iowa.
  • Restoring Canada's Native Prairies: a Practical Manual by John P. Morgan, Douglas R. Collicut, and Jacqueline D. Thompson (Prairie Habitats, Box 1, Argyle, Manitoba, Canada R0C 0B0). This is an easy to read and understand book covering everything from site and species selection to seeding and care of a prairie restoration. The seedling identification pictures in the back of the book are especially useful.
  • Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie by Shirley Shirley (University of Iowa Press, 1995). A complete manual for prairie restoration from seed collection through the end product. The fine plant drawings and descriptions make this book a nice field guide also.
  • Wild Lawn Handbook by Stevie Daniels (Macmillan, 1995). Another general landscaping book with some creative ideas.
  • Wildflower Gardener's Guide, The. Midwest, Great Plains, and Canadian Prairies Edition by Henry W Art (Garden Way, 1991). Excellent information on propagating various species.

Forage & Seed Production

  • Forages; The Science of Grassland Agriculture by Maurice E Heath, Robert F. Barnes, and Darrel S Metcalfe (Iowa State University Press, 1985). This is the book to reach for when someone asks the question "how do I grow XXXX?".
  • Grasses, the Yearbook of Agriculture 1948 U.S. Department of Agriculture. Despite this book’s age, grassland science has progressed very little. Worth many times the buck its costs at the used book store!
  • Native Perenial Warm Season Grasses for Forage in Southeastern United States (except South Florida) U.S. Department of Agriculture, February, 1991. Ignoring its unlikely title, this book has a wealth of information us in the Midwest on the cultivars currently available.
  • Grasslands of the United States by Howard Sprague (Iowa State University, 1974). A general information book biased toward forage production.
  • Native Vegetation of Nebraska by J.E. Weaver (University of Nebraska Press, 1965). Similar to the above book but limited to Nebraska.

Plant Propagation & Seed Preparation

  • Complete Book of Plant Propagation Graham Clark and Alan Tooled (Ward Lock Limited, 1992).
  • Growing and Propagating Wildflowers by Harry R. Phillips (University of North Carolina Press, 1985). The only complete book on the subject of wildflower propagation covering seed collection, preparation, storage, and stratification as well as the various asexual methods of plant reproduction. Very informative!
  • Secrets of Plant Propagation by Lewis Hill (Garden Way, 1985).
  • Seed Processing and Handling Mississippi State University, 1968. Dedicated to seed conditioning.
  • Seeds, the Yearbook of Agriculture, 1961 U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture & Ecology

  • Baker, Herbert G. 1978. Plants and Civilization. Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, CA.
  • Berry, Wendell. 1981. The Gift of Good Land. North Point Press, San Francisco, CA.
  • Berry, Wendell. 1996. The Unsettling of America. 3rd edition. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA.
  • Busch, Lawrence, and William B. Lacy. 1983. Science, Agriculture and the Politics of Research. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.
  • Carson, Rachel. 1962. Silent Spring. Fawcett Crest Books, New York, NY.
  • Cowan, C. Wesley, and Patty Jo Watson, editors. 1992. Origins of Agriculture. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.
  • Cronon, William. 1983. Changes in the Land. Hill and Wang, New York, NY.
  • Crosby, Alfred W 1986. Ecological Imperialism. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.
  • Dahlberg, Kenneth A., editor. 1986. New Directions for Agricultural Research. Rowman and Allanheld, Totowa, NJ.
  • Daly, Herman E 1991. Steady-State Economics. 2nd edition. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  • Douglass, Gordon K., editor. 1984. Agricultural Sustainability in a Changing World Order. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.
  • Dover, Michael, and Lee M. Talbot. 1987. To Feed the Earth. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.
  • Doyle, Jack. 1985. Altered Harvest. Viking Penguin Inc., New York, NY.
  • Fowler, Cary, and Pat Mooney. 1990. Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.
  • Francis, Charles A., editor. 1986. Multiple Cropping Systems. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, NY.
  • Harlan, Jack. 1975. Plants and Man. American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI.
  • Harris, P. R., and G. C. Hillman, editors. 1989. Foraging and Farming. Unwin Hyman, London.
  • Hurt, R. Douglas. 1981. The Dust Bowl. Nelson-Hall, Chicago, IL.
  • Jackson, Wes, Wendell Berry, and Bruce Colman, editors. 1984. Meeting the Expectations of the Land. North Point Press, San Francisco, CA.
  • Janick, Jules, and James E Simon, editors. 1990. Advances in New Crops. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
  • King, F. H. 1911. Farmers of Forty Centuries. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA.
  • Kloppenburg, Jack Ralph Jr. 1988. First the Seed. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.
  • Kogan, Marcos. 1986. Ecological Theory and Integrated Pest Management Practice. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY.
  • Leopold, Aldo. 1949. A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
  • Lowrance, Richard, Benjamin R. Stinner, and Garfield J. House, editors. 1984. Agricultural Ecosystems. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY.
  • Nabhan, Gary P. 1982. The Desert Smells Like Rain. North Point Press, San Francisco, CA.
  • Nabhan, Gary P. 1985. Gathering the Desert. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.
  • National Research Council. 1989. Alternative Agriculture. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.
  • Papendick, R. I., P. A. Sanchez, and G. B. Triplett, editors. 1976. Multiple Cropping. American Society of Agronomy Special Publication No. 27. Madison, WI.
  • Rindos, David. 1984. Origins of Agriculture. Academic Press, New York, NY.
  • Ritchie, Gary A. 1979. New Agricultural Crops. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.
  • Sears, Paul B. 1988. Deserts on the March. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  • Smith, J. Russell. 1950. Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  • Soule, Judith D., and Jon K. Piper. 1992. Farming in Nature’s Image. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  • Tivy, Joy. 1990. Agricultural Ecology. Longman Scientific and Technical, copublished with John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY.
  • Voisin, André. 1988. Grass Productivity. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  • Worster, Donald. 1979. Dust Bowl. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
  • Zohary, Daniel, and Maria Hopf. 1988. Domestication of Plants in the Old World. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Books About North American Prairie: History, Ecology, & Art

  • Bare, J. E 1979. Wildflowers and Weeds of Kansas. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS.
  • Blouet, B. W., and F. C. Luebke (editors). 1979. The Great Plains: Environment and Culture. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
  • Collins, S L., and L. L. Wallace (editors). 1990. Fire in North American Tallgrass Prairies. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.
  • Estes, J. R., R. J. Tyrl, and J. N Brunken (editors). 1982. Grasses and Grasslands: Systematics and Ecology. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.
  • Evans, T. 1986. Prairie: Images of Ground and Sky. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS.
  • French, N (editor). 1979. Perspectives in Grassland Ecology. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY.
  • Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS.
  • Heat-Moon, W L. 1991. PrairyErth (A Deep Map). Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.
  • Hurt, R. Douglas. 1981. The Dust Bowl. Nelson-Hall, Chicago, IL.
  • Joern, A., and K. H. Keeler (editors). 1995. The Changing Prairie: North American Grasslands. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
  • Kindscher, K. 1987. Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS.
  • Kindscher, K. 1992. Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS.
  • Opie, J. 1993. Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
  • Packard, S., and C. F. Mutel (editors). 1996. The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook: For Prairies, Savannas, and Woodlands. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  • Reichman, O. J. 1987. Konza Prairie: A Tallgrass Natural History. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS.
  • Risser, P. G., E C. Birney, H. D. Blocker, S W May, W J. Parton, and J. A. Wiens. 1981. The True Prairie Ecosystem. US/IBP Synthesis Series 16. Hutchinson Ross Publishing Company, Stroudsburg, PA.
  • Samson, F. B., and F. L. Knopf (editors). 1996. Prairie Conservation: Preserving North America's Most Endangered Ecosystem. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  • Sauer, C. O. 1971. Sixteenth Century North America. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Weaver, J. E 1954. North American Prairie. Johnsen Publishing Company, Lincoln, NE.
  • Weaver, J. E., and F. W Albertson. 1956. Grasslands of the Great Plains. Johnsen Publishing Company, Lincoln, NE.
  • Weaver, J. E 1968. Prairie Plants and their Environment. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
  • Worster, Donald. 1979. Dust Bowl. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.


  • The Roadside Almanac by the Office for Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management, University of Northern Iowa. Learn about an innovative right-of-way management system using native vegetation in use in Iowa as well as a lot of useful tips for your own prairie restoration. Call them at 319-273-2813 and ask for one.
  • Farming in Nature's Image by Judith D. Soul and Jon K. Piper (Island Press, 1992). Research into a polycultural system of farming using perennial native plants.
  • Proceedings from the North American Prairie Conference I -XIV Available (maybe) from wherever they were held. State of the art information on Prairies.
  • Photographing Wildflowers by Craig and Nadine Blacklock (Voyageur Press, 1987). Everyone who likes wildflowers carries a camera!