FARGO – Phyllis Root’s latest children’s book is a homegrown call to action.
Through the colorful, airy illustrations by Betsey Bowen in “Plant a Pocket of Prairie,” readers learn about endangered native prairie in Minnesota and how to restore it.
Root started researching native prairie about five years ago when she was working on a counting book for children. The counting book incorporated the ecosystems of Minnesota, so she’d visit native prairie, restored prairie and hardwood forests.
After a while, her passion for nature grew to include native prairie, which once covered 40 percent of the United States. Today, it’s endangered.
“Even before we knew what we had, it was gone,” Root says.
The rhyming book uses relationships between insects, prairie plants and animals to explain the importance of preserving a “pocket of prairie.”
The book was evaluated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to ensure accuracy.
Although it’s a children’s book, the information in “Plant a Pocket of Prairie” can benefit adults, too.
“When I need to get going on learning about something, I look at children’s books for that. I feel like they really are for everybody,” Root says. “When you’re writing a book for children, you have to be very, very clear in your information, which makes it accessible.”
The goal of the book, she says, is to inspire readers to “learn to love” the prairie and plant native flowers and plants that will help restore it.
“It’s not just a field of flowers. It’s a complex community,” Root says.
She quotes conservationist Paul Gruchow, saying “The prairie teaches us that our strength is in our neighbors.”
“It’s the idea that there’s such interdependence there,” she says.
To do her part, Root filled her south Minneapolis yard with native plants, or plants that were found in Minnesota before Europeans settled.
A few weeks ago, she saw a monarch perched on milkweed for the first time this summer. Monarch larvae feed on milkweed, making the plant essential to Minnesota’s prairie.
“I really do believe that every little bit we do can help,” Root says. “The act of planting a few native plants, I think, can have some effect. It’s one thing we can do that might make a small difference.”
Planting grasses and flowers native to the prairie differs from traditional vegetable gardening though.
“It’s different from gardening in the sense that eventually these things almost take care of themselves,” Root says.
She lists native plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and animals in a glossary at the end of the book to help readers identify what they see in the prairie and what they can plant to help. Plants native to Minnesota include foxglove beardtongue, butterfly weed, coneflowers and sunflowers.
“I feel like it’s amazing what a little bit of space and a few plants can do,” Root says. “I think every time somebody plants one, maybe they’ll plant another and another, and who knows what will happen.”
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