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Definition: prairie from The Penguin English Dictionary

an extensive area of level or undulating and practically treeless grassland, esp in N America [French prairie from Latin pratum meadow, prairie].


Summary Article: prairie from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Central North American plain, formerly grass-covered, extending over most of the region between the Rocky Mountains to the west, and the Great Lakes and Ohio River to the east.

The term was first applied by French explorers to vast, largely level grasslands in central North America, centred on the Mississippi River valley, which extend from the Gulf of Mexico to central Alberta, Canada, and from west of the Appalachian system into the Great Plains. When first seen by explorers, the prairies were characterized by unbroken, waist-high, coarse grasses. Trees were common only along rivers and streams, or in occasional depressions in the land. This prairie is now almost gone, altered by farming to become what is known as the ‘Corn Belt’, much of the ‘Wheat Belt’, and other ploughed lands. Its humus-rich black loess soils, adequate rainfall, and warm summers foster heavily productive agriculture. In the west – west Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas – is the short-grass prairie, occupying large parts of the Great Plains. Higher, drier land here has been used primarily for wheat production (aided by deep-well irrigation) and stock raising.

The prairies were formerly the primary habitat of the American bison; other prominent species include prairie dogs, deer and antelope, grasshoppers, and a variety of prairie birds.

The term prairie is also used generically, to describe similar level areas in other parts of the continent.

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