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For information on Wisconsin's natural communities, contact:
Ryan O'Connor
Natural Heritage Inventory Ecologist

Sand Prairie

State Rank: S2     Global Rank: GNR   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Sand Prairie in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

Sand prairie is a dry native grassland community dominated by grasses such as little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), June grass (Koeleria macrantha), panic grasses (Dichanthelium spp.), and poverty-oat grass (Danthonia spicata). Common herbaceous associates include sand cress (Arabidopsis lyrata), wormwood (Artemisia campestris), western ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya), several sedges (e.g., Carex muhlenbergii, Cyperus filiculmis, and Cyperus schweinitzii), flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), frostweed (Crocanthemum spp.), round-headed bush-clover (Lespedeza capitata), western sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis), false-heather (Hudsonia tomentosa), long-beard hawkweed (Hieracium longipilum), stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida), and spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis). Drought-adapted fungi, lichens, and mosses are significant components of sand prairie communities.

At least some stands classified as sand prairie are oak or pine barrens remnants that now lack appreciable woody cover. Extensive stands may have occurred historically on broad sand terraces bordering the Mississippi, Wisconsin, Black, and Chippewa Rivers. Sand prairies may be more prevalent now in some areas than in historical times. Failed attempts to farm many of these prairies created blowouts and may have even reactivated small dunes when the prairie sod was removed.

Rare animals

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

The following Species of Greatest Conservation Need are listed according to their level of association with the Sand Prairie natural community type, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

Scores: 3 = high association, 2 = moderate association, and 1 = low association. See the key to association scores for complete definitions.

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
A Cuckoo BeeEpeolus ainsliei2
An Anthophorid BeeNeolarra vigilans2
American Bumble BeeBombus pensylvanicus1
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Rusty-patched Bumble BeeBombus affinis1
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Smooth CoilHelicodiscus singleyanus3
Trumpet ValloniaVallonia parvula1
Wing SnaggletoothGastrocopta procera1

A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis luridus3
A Pear-shaped WeevilFallapion impeditum3
A Pear-shaped WeevilSayapion segnipes3
Ghost Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera lepida3
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis peccans2
A Leaf BeetleGlyptina leptosoma2
A Pear-shaped WeevilTrichapion perforicolle2
Virginia Big-headed Tiger BeetleTetracha virginica2
A Case-bearing Leaf BeetleTriachus vacuus1
A Leaf BeetleBassareus mammifer1

Common NighthawkChordeiles minor3
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum3
Lark SparrowChondestes grammacus3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
Bell's VireoVireo bellii2
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna2
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus2
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus2
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda2
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta2
Brewer's BlackbirdEuphagus cyanocephalus1
Greater Prairie-ChickenTympanuchus cupido1
Long-eared OwlAsio otus1
Northern BobwhiteColinus virginianus1
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Leadplant Flower MothSchinia lucens3
Abbreviated Underwing MothCatocala abbreviatella2
Dusted SkipperAtrytonopsis hianna2
Karner BlueLycaeides melissa samuelis2
Phlox MothSchinia indiana2
Phyllira Tiger MothGrammia phyllira2
Whitney's Underwing MothCatocala whitneyi2
A Noctuid MothDichagyris reliqua1
Bina Flower MothSchinia bina1
Byssus SkipperProblema byssus1
Cobweb SkipperHesperia metea1
Cross Line SkipperPolites origenes1
Gorgone Checker SpotChlosyne gorgone1
Mottled Dusky WingErynnis martialis1
Ottoe SkipperHesperia ottoe1
Silphium Borer MothPapaipema silphii1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
A Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus foedus3
Ash-brown GrasshopperTrachyrhachys kiowa3
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus3
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus3
Gladston's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus gladstoni3
Clear-winged GrasshopperCamnula pellucida2
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus2
Plains Yellow-winged GrasshopperArphia simplex2
Showy GrasshopperHesperotettix speciosus2
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa2
Green-streak GrasshopperHesperotettix viridis1
Handsome GrasshopperSyrbula admirabilis1
Mermiria GrasshopperMermiria bivittata1
Obscure GrasshopperOpeia obscura1
Scudder's Short-winged GrasshopperMelanoplus scudderi1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna1
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A LeafhopperCuerna sayi3
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius altus3
A LeafhopperPrairiana angustens3
A LeafhopperPrairiana cinerea3
Prairie LeafhopperPolyamia dilata3
A LeafhopperMemnonia panzeri2
A LeafhopperLaevicephalus vannus2
A LeafhopperAttenuipyga vanduzeei2
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius nebulosus2
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius maculosus2
A PlanthopperMyndus ovatus2
A Seed BugSlaterobius quadristriata2
An Issid PlanthopperFitchiella robertsonii2
An Issid PlanthopperBruchomorpha extensa2
Yellow Loosestrife LeafhopperErythroneura carbonata2
A LeafhopperDriotura robusta1
A LeafhopperPrairiana kansana1
Piglet BugAphelonema simplex1
Red-tailed Prairie LeafhopperAflexia rubranura1

Franklin's Ground SquirrelPoliocitellus franklinii3
Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii3
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster3

Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii3
Eastern MassasaugaSistrurus catenatus3
GophersnakePituophis catenifer3
North American RacerColuber constrictor3
Ornate Box TurtleTerrapene ornata3
Prairie SkinkPlestiodon septentrionalis3
Six-lined RacerunnerAspidoscelis sexlineata3
Slender Glass LizardOphisaurus attenuatus3
Timber RattlesnakeCrotalus horridus3
Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta3
Gray RatsnakePantherophis spiloides2
Prairie Ring-necked SnakeDiadophis punctatus arnyi2
Butler's GartersnakeThamnophis butleri1
Plains GartersnakeThamnophis radix1

Please see Section 2. Approach and Methods of the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Rare plants

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

Scores: 3 = "significantly associated," 2 = "moderately associated," and 1 = "minimally associated."
Scientific Name Common Name Score
Anemone caroliniana Carolina Anemone 3
Artemisia frigida Prairie Sagebrush 3
Asclepias lanuginosa Woolly Milkweed 2
Callirhoe triangulata Clustered Poppy-mallow 3
Cirsium hillii Hill's Thistle 2
Commelina erecta var. deamiana Narrow-leaved Dayflower 3
Cuscuta pentagona Field Dodder 3
Dalea villosa var. villosa Silky Prairie-clover 3
Desmodium canescens Hoary Tick-trefoil 1
Diodia teres Rough Buttonweed 3
Juncus marginatus Grassleaf Rush 2
Nothocalais cuspidata Prairie False-dandelion 2
Oenothera serrulata Yellow Evening Primrose 3
Opuntia fragilis Brittle Prickly-pear 3
Orobanche fasciculata Clustered Broomrape 2
Orobanche ludoviciana Louisiana Broomrape 3
Packera plattensis Prairie Ragwort 2
Penstemon pallidus Pale Beardtongue 3
Prenanthes aspera Rough Rattlesnake-root 1
Senna marilandica Maryland Senna 2
Sisyrinchium albidum White Blue-eyed-grass 2
Strophostyles leiosperma Small-flowered Woolly Bean 2


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Sand Prairie, based on the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Major (3 on map)
A major opportunity for sustaining the natural community in the Ecological Landscape exists, either because many significant occurrences of the natural community have been recorded in the landscape or major restoration activities are likely to be successful maintaining the community's composition, structure, and ecological function over a longer period of time.

Important (2 on map)
Although the natural community does not occur extensively or commonly in the Ecological Landscape, one to several occurrences do occur and are important in sustaining the community in the state. In some cases, important opportunities may exist because the natural community may be restricted to just one or a few Ecological Landscapes within the state and there may be a lack of opportunities elsewhere.

Present (1 on map)
The natural community occurs in the Ecological Landscape, but better management opportunities appear to exist in other parts of the state.


Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

What are conservation actions?

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for natural communities


The following are additional considerations for Sand Prairie in Ecological Landscapes with opportunities for protection, restoration, and/or management. For more information, see the Wildlife Action Plan.

Central Sand Hills

The few sites documented are small and isolated. Grazing has been, and is, a problem, as is the planting of conifers. Additional survey work is desirable in this Ecological Landscape to identify high quality sand prairie remnants.

Central Sand Plains

Limited restoration is occurring on public lands such as Dike 17 State Wildlife Area within the Black River State Forest (Jackson County), Sandhill State Wildlife Area (Wood County), and Mirror Lake State Park (Sauk County). At these sites, the restoration of sand prairie is occurring in conjunction with efforts to restore oak and pine barrens communities.

Western Coulee and Ridges

Opportunities to manage or restore this type exist on the broad sand terraces of the Mississippi, Wisconsin, Chippewa, and Black Rivers. Conversion to pine plantations has occurred at many locations. Farming was attempted at some locations and generally failed. Residential development is rapidly encroaching on sand prairie habitat near urban population centers. Restoration is occurring at the following sites: Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area (Buffalo, Dunn, and Pepin Counties), Dunnville Wildlife Area (Dunn County), Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge (Trempealeau County), Fort McCoy Military reservation (Monroe County), Blue River Sand Barrens and Dunes State Natural Area (Iowa County), Schluckebier Sand Prairie (Sauk County), Lone Rock Sand Prairie, and Spring Green Preserve.

Western Prairie

Opportunities are limited and appear to be confined to terraces or steep bluffs associated with the St. Croix River and its major tributaries. Additional survey work is needed to document the sites with the highest conservation value.


Sand Prairie Photos

Sand Prairie Photo

Sand Prairie on a sandy island within the floodplain of the Lower Chippewa River, Dunn County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Sand Prairie Photo

This partially restored sand prairie / oak barrens complex is situated on a broad terrace along the Mississippi River. Trempealeau County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Sand Prairie Photo

Sand Prairie and Oak Barrens restoration. Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, Trempeleau County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Sand Prairie Photo

Herb-rich Sand Prairie near Millston. Black River State Forest, Jackson County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Note: photos are provided to illustrate various examples of natural community types. A single photograph cannot represent the range of variability inherent in a given community type. Some of these photos explicitly illustrate unusual and distinctive community variants. The community photo galleries are a work in progress that we will expand and improve in the future.

Last revised: Wednesday, June 16, 2021