Grinnell's Prairie

A year at the Conard Environmental Research Area


Drive west on Interstate 80 to exit 173, head north for half a mile, and take the first gravel road on your right. After 1.8 miles of row-cropland, you’ll come across a sign with the College’s familiar red laurel leaf: Welcome to the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA).

Though CERA is just 9 miles from the town of Grinnell, the College’s sprawling field station feels worlds away from the bustle of campus. Just beyond the low-slung, LEED-certified Environmental Education Center, 365 acres of prairie, savanna, wetlands, and oak forest beckon. 

Grinnell College acquired CERA in 1968 and named it for the late Henry S. Conard, internationally recognized botanist and beloved Grinnell professor. In the 49 years since, students, faculty, and staff have worked to preserve, restore, and learn from its complex ecosystems. CERA is planning events and activities to celebrate its 50th anniversary during the 2018-2019 academic year. Please contact CERA Manager Elizabeth Hill if you are interested in taking part in the festivities.

 Birdwatchers, artists, historians, and ecologists alike value CERA for its beauty, vibrancy, and immersive learning opportunities. Through these photographs, we invite you to experience CERA over the calendar  year.

CERA plantlife in the summer

Left: Biennial Guara (Guara biennis)
Right: Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)

Grasshopper on yellow flower

Red-legged grasshopper sitting on a cup plant

Lightt snow on the ground in January

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) flowering stalks overlooking Wilson Prairie

Winter plantlife

Drying seedpods of Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis) expose the seeds

Snowy trail at CERA

White-tailed deer hoofprints through Big Basin prairie.

CERA in the fall

Left: Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris) flowering stalks in the sunset
Right: Wind turbine and the night sky

White flowers blooming in the spring

Spring ephemeral wildflowers bloom in late April in the oak-hickory woodlands

Yellow flowers in the prairie

Fall-blooming Sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus) is found in the wet prairie draws

Trees with turning leaves

Fall colors of forests and prairies along Willow Creek

CERA in the fall

Left: Canada geese fly over Perry Pond
Right: Sunrise over Perry Pond


Sunrise lights up the dew on Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

Prairie burn

Smoke settles after prairie prescribed fire is complete

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