Sand Hill Grassland Community


There are about 720 species of vascular plants growing without cultivation in the Sand Hills.  About 670 of them are native species. Most of the plants which grow in the Sand Hills grow else where.  Hayden's or blowout penstemon is native and confined to the Sand Hills. 

The tops of dunes have a low water-holding capacity and high infiltration rate to afford ample replenishment of subsoil moisture.  Plants found on the tops therfore tend to be warm-season grasses with long tap roots which penetrate deep into the soil.  Examples are sand bluestem, prairie sandreed, switchgrass, Indian grass, stiff sunflower, purple prairie clover, small soapweed, sand-cherry, and lead plant.

The interdunal valleys have a finer textured soil which has a low infiltration rate to afford poor replenishment of subsoil moisture.  Therefore, plants found in the interdunal valleys are cool-season grasses with shallow root systems to collect water near the surface.  Examples are wheatgrass, and needle-and-thread grass.

Of course there are exceptions to the above generalizations.  Junegrass is an example with a fibrous root system which grows on the tops of dunes.  It's capacity to absorb and retain water and rapid early growth might explain how it has adapted.

The most common community is the bunchgrass community.  The most common bunchgrass is little bluestem, the state grass of Nebraska.  Other common are Junegrass, needle-and-thread, prairie sandreed, and switchgrass.    The roots from these grasses can extend from 3-5 feet with little bluestem know to extend to seven.

Sedges like umbrella sedge, flatsedge, and caricoid sedges are also found.

Small soapweed has a taproot which may be a foot thick and penetrate to 5 feet.  Its lateral roots have been found to extend to a depth of 10 feet and horizontally to 25 feet.

Other plants not grasses found in the Sand Hills include the morning-glory which has a tuberous root which can extend to 4 feet and its roots to amazing depths maybe even to the water table.  The plant breaks off in the fall and rolls away as a tumbleweed.  Other plants include sages, milkweeds, spurges, penstemons, puccoons, cacti, daisies, and asters.

Shrubs include sand cherry, Arkansas rose, New Jersey tea, and poison ivy.

The Sandhill Muhly community is similar to the bunchgrass community, but is undergoing a succession following a disturbance of fire, overgrazing, construction and blowout.  This community is characterised by the sandhill muhly.

The blowout community includes blowout grass and somtimes prairie sandreed, sand muhly, ricegrass, and sand lovegrass.  Other plants include lemon scurf-pea, sand binder, Hayden's penstemon, croton and clammy weed.

Other communities include needle-and-thread, three-awn grass, short-grass, meadow, wet meadow, and marsh or aquatic.

Reptiles of the Sand Hills


  • Snapping turtle
  • Yellow mud turtle
  • Ornate box turtle
  • Painted turtle
  • Blanding's turtle
  • Spiny softshell turtle


  • Lesser earless lizards
  • Northern prairie lizard
  • Six-lined racerunner
  • Prairie skink
  • Many-lined skink


  • Common or norther watersnake
  • Plains gartersnake
  • Common or red-sided gartersnake
  • Western hognose snake
  • Blue or green racer
  • Glossy snake
  • Bull snake
  • Milk snake
  • Prairie rattlesnake

Amphibians of the Sandhills

  • Tiger salamander
  • Great plains toad
  • Rocky mountain toad
  • Northern cricket frog
  • Western striped chorus frog
  • Bull frog
  • Northern leopard frog
  • Plains spadefoot toad

Birds of the Sandhills

  • Burrowing owl
  • Short-eared owl
  • Common poorwill
  • Horned lark
  • Dickcissel
  • Cassin's sparrow
  • Clay colored sparrow
  • Field sparrow
  • Vesper sparrow
  • Lark sparrow
  • Lark bunting
  • Savannah sparrow
  • Baird's sparrow
  • Grasshopper sparrow
  • Le Conte's sparrow
  • Sharp-tailed sparrow
  • McCown's longspur
  • Chestnut-collared longspur
  • Bobolink
  • Eastern meadowlark
  • Western meadowlark
  • Brewer' blackbird

Mammals of the Sandhills


Bleed, Ann & Flowerday, Charles. Editors.  (1990).  An Atlas of the Sand Hills.  Second Edition.  Resource Atlas No. 5a.  Conservation and Survey Division Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Brown, Lauren.  (1989).  Grasslands.  The Audubon Society Nature Guides.  New York, NY: A Chanticleer Press Edition.  Alfred A. Knopf.

Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.  (1971).  Common Weeds of the United States.  Prepared by the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.  New York, NY:  Dover Publications, Inc.

Farrand, John, Jr.  (1983).  The Audubon Society  Master Guide to Birding.  New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Grieve, Mrs. M.  (1971).  A Modern Herbs.  New York, NY:  Two volumes.  Dover Publications, Inc.

Niering, William A. & Olmstead, Nancy, C.  (1979).  The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers.  New York, NY.  Alfred A. Knopf.

Olaus, J. Murie.  (1974). A Field Guide to Animal Tracks.  Second Edition.  Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company.

Peterson, Roger Tory.  (1980).  Eastern Birds.  Fourth Edition.  Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company.

Reese, Patrick, E., & Moser, Charles, P.  (1985).  Nebraska Poisonous Range Plants.  Univeristy of Nebraska Cooperative Extension Service.  EC 85-198.

Stubbendieck, J., Nichols, James, T., & Roberts, Kelly, K.  (1986).  Nebraska Range and Pasture Grasses.  Nebraska Cooperative Extension Service.  E. C. 85-170.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©