"As to scenery, while I know the standard claim is that Yosemite, Niagara Falls, the Upper Yellowstone, and the like afford the greatest natural shows, I am not so sure but the prairies and plains, while less stunning at first sight, last longer, fill the esthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest, and make North America's characteristic landscape. Even the prairie's simplest statistics are sublime."
- Walt Whitman
At first sight, the tallgrass prairie appears to be a monotonous sea of grass, and indeed it is dominated by a handful of tall perennial grasses such as big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass. However, closer inspection reveals its wealth of biological diversity. The grassland, woodland, and stream habitats of Konza contain over 600 species of plants, approximately 300 species of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes) and several hundred species of insects, small soil organisms, and aquatic organisms. This diversity is maintained by complex interactions of grazers, fire, topography, soils, and a variable mid-continental climate.
The tallgrass prairie once stretched over most of what is now Iowa, Illinois, southern Minnesota, northern Missouri, and the eastern portions of the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Most of this region was converted to farmland during the westward expansion in the 1800's. As a result, only a small fraction of the original prairie remains. The exception is the Kansas Flint Hills where steep slopes and rocky soils defied the plow. Within the Flint Hills region, approximately 5 million acres remain as the largest contiguous area of tall grass prairie in North America. Today, the key ecological processes of periodic fire and grazing are important management practices in Flint Hills prairie.