How Powell Gardens is preserving Ona's Prairie, a native tallgrass prairie

Conserving the Midwest Spirit of Place

Powell Gardens
October 5, 2023

In late 2019, Powell Gardens assumed ownership of Ona’s Prairie. This natural community, located in Southeast Pettis County, MO, is a 40-acre tallgrass prairie that supports a diversity of plant and animal species. Positioned within a Conservation Opportunity Area, Ona’s Prairie is a living representation of a pre-settlement landscape in North America.  

Ona’s Prairie was given to Powell Gardens for education and research due to a bequest from Ona Gieschen, a traveler, naturalist, and amateur historian.

About Ona Gieschen 

Ona’s spirit of adventure and discovery was apparent throughout her life. Ona carried her Missouri roots around the world during her successful 40-year career as an Air Hostess with Trans World Airlines. On weekends, one could often find Ona on her prairie, a natural community which had been settled by earlier Gieschens in the mid-1800s, managing plants or preparing for tours with other prairie enthusiasts in the region.  

Powell Gardens is grateful for Ona’s generosity and for the generations of stewards who have preserved this special ecological community. 

Powell Gardens, with the partnership of conservation organizations and adjacent landowners, is actively managing this natural community to ensure its conservation for years to come. Conservationist Julie Copley said, “The native tallgrass plants found in these prairies contribute to our community in numerous ways: protecting regional biodiversity, providing ecosystem services, and supporting pollinators.” Prairies also help with ground water recharge, soil stability, drought resistant growth, and beauty. 

The Once Expansive Tallgrass Prairie

Temperate grasslands, such as prairies, are North America’s most endangered ecosystem. Tallgrass prairies once covered 15 million flourishing acres in Missouri. Today, less than half of one percent of our prairie remains. The once-expansive prairie community is an open landscape characterized by less than 10% canopy cover and dependent on disturbances such as fire and grazing. Prairies are robust ecosystems dominated by grasses and forbs and support diversity values comparable to tropical rainforest. Over 800 plant species can be found on prairies in Missouri, along with an abundance of animals. 


The Midwest spirit of place is tied to this significant landscape in more ways than we can imagine. The Missouri Prairie Foundation writes, “American prairie evokes our national spirit: expansive, exhilarating in its abundance, full of life and promise.” We are encouraged by Ona’s spirit and honored to serve as the steward of this rare natural landscape. Ona’s Prairie allows us to fully experience a remnant prairie in pristine condition. Our staff will continue to care for this Midwest treasure, preserving the site for research and public education programs. 

Still Worth Preserving 

Observing a natural tallgrass prairie can be a profound experience. In mindful consideration of the ecological integrity of the community, all visits to Ona’s Prairie must be coordinated with Conservationist, Julie Copley. When visiting, guests must traverse by foot only and ensure footwear is clean to prevent the spread of seeds from foreign plant species. Visitors should not collect seeds without permission and are encouraged to leave no trace.  

Powell Gardens’ conservation efforts don’t stop at our beloved prairie. In 2023, staff members led and conducted prescribed fires at Powell Gardens, continued work on woody encroachment management, furthered tracking of plant populations through floristic inventories, hosted a series of Native Prairie classes, and supported Budburst (a citizen science initiative) and regal fritillary research.

Educational opportunities about conservation taught onsite at Ona’s Prairie and Powell Gardens will be available soon. Check for upcoming classes and workshops.