Shelledy Elementary

Plants and Trees

Colorado Life Zones: Seasons, Plants, & Animals

Step 1: Choose One of the Life Zones or Choices Below

Life Zones Menu Bar
Colorado Life Zones General Information Interactive Elevation & Life Zone Diagram Colorado Maps: Life Zones and More Semidesert Shrublands (West CO) Shortgrass Plains Life Zone (East CO) Foothills Woodlands & Shrublands Montane Forests Life Zone Subalpine Life Zone Alpine Life Zone Riparian Life Zones

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone: Seasons, Plants, & Animals

Step 2: Choose a Topic from the Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone & Scroll Down

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone General Information
General Information

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Through the Seasons
Through the Seasons

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Playa Lakes and Underground Aquifer
Playa Lakes & Underground Aquifer

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Awesome Adaptations
Awesome Adaptations

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Plants and Trees
Plants and Trees

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Mammals

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Birds

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Reptiles and Amphibians
Reptiles & Amphibians

Plants & Trees of the Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone

Due to the lack of precipitation, being so windy, and the extreme temperatures from summer to winter, few plants live here besides grass. Most of the rolling hills of the plains are covered with short grasses, like blue grama grass and buffalo grass. You will also find soapweed yucca and plains prickly pear cactus. In years when it snows more in the winter and rains more in the spring, lots of spring flowers may grow. Only by riparian areas (lakes, ponds, or rivers) will you find cottonwood trees, willows, and other trees and shrubs. Click here or on the riparian life zone to learn more about them.

Soapweed Yucca

Soapweed Yucca

Plains Prickly Pear Cactus



Prickly Pear

Common Plants

Blue Grama Grass

Buffalo Grass


Blue Grama Grass

Plains Flowers
Blazing Stars
Purple Clover
Pasque Flower Wild Indigos
& more flowers

Pasque Flowers

Awesome Adaptations: Native Grasses

The native grasses like blue grama grass and buffalo grass play an important role in the shortgrass prairies. They survive in a land of extremes. In the summer, the shortgrass prairie can get very hot and dry. The grass can survive droughts where little to no rain falls over several years. In the winter, the prairies can get extremely cold. All year, the prairies can be very windy. The grass survives these extremes by growing deep roots and spreading lots of seeds. The deep roots keep the important top soil from blowing away.

The farmers in the 1920's and 1930's discovered the hard way how important the native grasses were at stopping the erosion of the fertile prairie top soil. First, it is important to understand that the amount of rain and snow that falls on the plains goes in natural cycles. There are can be years of lots of rain and snow (el nino) and then many years of drought with little to no rain (la nina). The cycles of el nino and la nina are caused by something literally oceans away. The ocean temperatures go through a natural cycle of getting warmer then cooler. The ocean temperatures change how much water evaporates into air forming important clouds and which direction the storms go across North and South America. However, in the 1920's and 1930's the farmers did not know about these cycles.

In the 1920's, it was a decade of el nino with large storms bringing more rain and snow than normal. Farmers could grow large fields of wheat, corn, and other crops and make lots of money. They used the money to buy new large tractors and plowed up gigantic areas of the native grass sod. Before the tractors, farmers would have to use large horses or oxen and large metal plows to break up the thick prairie grass in order to plant their crops. It was extremely difficult, slow, and tiring work plowing a field this way. However, the newly invented tractors made plowing much easier and farmers could plow large areas with much less time and effort. It was a time of good fortune for many farmers and towns on the shortgrass prairie.

The good fortune of the farmers changed in the 1930's with cooling of the ocean temperatures. The storms stopped coming and the large open plowed fields became dry. At first, most farmers thought it was going to be a short term dry spell. Then days of little to no storms, turned to months, and then to years of little to no rain. All the fertile top soil that was not protected by the native grasses start blowing in the ever present wind. Large wind storms would pick up the dry dirt from the large areas of newly plowed land and blow it across the plains.The air became so dry that the blowing dust would create friction and electric storms. Some dust storms were so big that they would turn a bright sunny day as dark as night. The 1930's would be called the dust bowl. It was tough time for every living creature on the plains including humans. Many farmers went bankrupt, were starving, and moved to other places like California.

The rains eventually returned and farmers would be able to grow crops again. But an important lessons were learned about conserving soil and about the importance of the native short prairie grass. The grass protects the fertile top soil and life on the prairies. The cycle of years of more rain and and years of little to no rain continues today and makes it challenging to farm on the shortgrass prairie. Which only goes to show how amazing the native grasses are at surviving in this extreme life zone for such a long time.

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone General Information

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Through the Seasons