The diversity of plant life in the Badlands is quite amazing. After all the land is supposed to be “bad”. The ground in summer is like a huge baked cake of clay. The temperatures are brutal and the rain is minimal. And yet if you look for them, you will find these plants growing and flourishing in numbers of species greater than you can count.
We began taking pictures of the flowers we came across just as way to record their unique beauty. I thought we were well on our way to a definitive collection of the flowers of the Badlands until I saw the collection of flower plates in the visitor center. They have quite an extensive collection of wildflowers and grasses with actual samples dried and pressed between glass along with color photos and information.
Here are a few of the wildflowers we have encountered hiking in the Badlands.
Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)
A desert cactus in bloom.
Common Sunflower in bloom near the Notch Trail parking lot.
Another wildflower growing in a seemingly unlikely spot.
Badlands National Park is over 50% mixed grass prairie. Over 60 types of grass thrive there, as well as dozens of flowering plants. Although sparse, a few trees and shrubs successfully eke out an existence with less than 16 inches of precipitation each year. As you drive the Loop Road, there are some specific plants that may draw your eye, depending on the time of year.
It is well known that westward expansion greatly changed life for the American Indians already calling this land home. It is less familiar to hear that the coming of Euro-Americans drastically changed the plant communities native to the Great Plains. By bringing ornamental plants for beauty or accidentally carrying seeds in the cuffs of pants or through the manure of their horses and cattle, the settlers brought dozens of new plants to the prairie that rapidly threatened to force out the native plants. At Badlands National Park, they are actively trying to restore this mixed grass prairie to close to its original state. Take the chance to learn more about the introduced and native species of the Badlands. Here is a link to a National Park Service list of plants in the park that was compiled in the early 1990’s.
Superbly adapted to more arid environments, the narrow, waxy-coated leaves of grasses conserve moisture and are arranged more or less vertically along the stem for maximum photosynthetic efficiency. Extensive fibrous root systems, often reaching depths twice the height of the above-ground plant, establish contact with deep sources of moisture. Roots also represent stored energy to produce new plant tissue. Since the growing center of a grass is at the base of the leaf where it joins the stem, growth can continue if the leaf is cut. If the top of a shoot is bitten off or burned, protected young shoots hidden inside a series of wraparound tubes may emerge. During the growing season about half of the plant is found below ground. Energy transfer to root storage in the winter increases to over 80%.