Turnbull Prairie

Turnbull Prairie

The Turnbull Prairie (honoring John Turnbull, longtime NRD Manager of the Upper Big Blue NRD) is just under two acres of native tall grass prairie located at the Upper Big Blue NRD headquarters in York. Turnbull appreciated native plant species for their beauty and heartiness, as well as their fitness for Nebraska’s climate. The Turnbull Prairie serves as an educational space for homeowners looking to seed native plants on their properties.

The development of prairies is fascinating to watch. Each year, different species appear depending on climate and seed production from prior years. The Turnbull Prairie was established in 2016 when the NRD office building was completed. It is comprised of switchgrass, Indiangrass, big bluestem, and buffalograss. Below is some information about the native species at Turnbull Prairie. Homeowners are encouraged to walk through the prairie to view the different species and observe their growth habits. If you have questions about establishing native plant species in on your property, contact the NRD office.

Native grasslands are one of the most important ecosystems in Nebraska. They provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, help to filter water, and store carbon. However, native grasslands are disappearing at an alarming rate. In fact, only about 1% of Nebraska's native grasslands remain today. Native grasslands are an important part of Nebraska's heritage as well as ecosystem. Adding native grasses and plants to your home's landscaping, lawn, and garden is a great way to boost these species and support the many ecosystem services that they provide.


Buffalograss is a low maintenance turfgrass and the only short grass in the prairie. Its mature height is 5 inches. It spreads above ground by stolons. Since Buffalograss is a warm season grass, it will likely be out competed by other cool season natives, but in early prairie establishment is a low maintenance species to cover the soil surface.  


Big Blue Stem

Big Bluestem is a colorful warm season tall grass that fits well into landscapes and gardens. The colors change from green in the spring, to blue-green in summer, and red-bronze in fall. The seed head is said to resemble a turkey foot. Big Bluestem is drought tolerant and easy to maintain. By the end of summer, this grass can reach five to eight feet in height. 

big blue stem


With its golden plume like seed head, Indiangrass is a bunch type warm season grass that can reach 8 feet tall. Its yellow blooms and rust colored awns provide beautiful late summer and fall color. It is highly drought tolerant and attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.



With its fanning seed head and pink fall color, Switchgrass can grow from 3-6 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. It is a warm season perennial and thrives best when temperatures are between 60-95 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures drop below 60 degrees, the plant will go into dormancy. Above 95 degrees, growth slows. Switchgrass is resistant to many pests and plant diseases and is drought tolerant. The plant spreads by rhizomes and is clump forming habit.