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Blackland Prairie

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About the Blackland Prairie

The Blackland Prairie of the Southeastern Plains is a crescent-shaped region stretching from a tiny portion in southern Tennessee, south through eastern Mississippi and east into Alabama. It is distinct from the more well-known Texas blackland prairies much farther west, although both have in common that they are named for the dark color of their soils. This region's shape is irregular and interrupted at its southeastern end.

This is a lowland region consisting of undulating, irregular plains, ranging from nearly level in places to strongly sloping in others. This region is underlain by chalk, marl (a calcium-rich mudstone), and calcareous clays; these deposits all tend to be fine-textured and calcium-rich, and tend to swell when wet and shrink and crack when dry. Streams here tend to have highly variable flow.

The climate is humid and subtropical, with moderately seasonal precipitation, wet winters peaking in December through February and staying quite wet through April, followed by a drier season peaking in August. In the summer, rain mostly arrives in brief thunderstorms. Although this region has enough humidity and rainfall to support forests, plant growth here is limited by the heavy texture and unstable physical structure of this region's soils.

This region was originally covered in a mix of open forests, savanna, and prairies. The richest sites supported blackbelt oak-cedar forest, with chinquapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica), post oak (Quercus stellata), eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), and hackberry. There were patches of bluestem prairie, with big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), prairie rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum), and upright prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera).

This region is currently heavily utilized for agriculture, with a mixture of pastureland and cropland. It produces hay, soybeans, corn, and cotton, and there is also some catfish farming in ponds. There are small patches of wild forest and a few prairie remnants. Wild land here tends to be fragmented and irregularly distributed.

Over most of this region's length, it is bordered to the southwest by the Flatwoods/Blackland Prairie Margins, a transitional region to the coastal plain farther southwest. This region also surrounds it to the northeast in some places, but in others it is bordered to the east and south directly by the higher-elevation, more rugged Fall Line Hills, which can be seen as a transition to the beginning of the Appalachians. This region is interrupted in a few places by the Southeastern Floodplains and Low Terraces, a bottomland region along the larger rivers. In the far east of the region, this region directly borders the Southern Hilly Gulf Coastal Plain to the south, and in the northern end of this region, it borders the Northern Hilly Gulf Coastal Plain to the west and north.

References

1. Griffith, G.E.; Omernik, J.M.; and Azevedo, S.H. "Ecoregions of Tennessee (Poster)", U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA (1998) Web.

2. Griffith, G.E., Omernik, J.M., Comstock, J.A., Lawrence, S., Martin, G., Goddard, A., Hulcher, V.J., and Foster, T. "Ecoregions of Alabama and Georgia (color poster with map, descriptive text, summary tables, and photographs)", U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA (2001) Web.