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Forests on the Fringe

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2001

prairie fires that helped shape this region's landscape. Although eastern redcedar is found here, it is not as invasive in old fields and abused woodlots as honey locust, elm and Osage-orange.

Those who look for the blooming of flowering dogwood as the harbinger of spring will be disappointed. It doesn't grow in northwest Missouri. Neither does sassafras. Taking their place in the forest understory are pawpaw and eastern hophornbeam, also called ironwood. In some places they can grow so thick they shade out oak and hickory seedlings.

A few tree species are unique to north Missouri. Quaking aspen, northern pin oak, rock elm and bigtooth aspen can all be found here, but are more common in forests farther to the north. Perhaps after the glaciers retreated, these species found some Missouri sites to their liking, or they may be slowly migrating back north.

Heading southeast from the glaciated plains, the next natural feature a traveler would encounter is what is commonly called the river hills. The River Hills are the bluffs and steep hills along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. An unusual characteristic of the River Hills is the loess soils. These windblown soils formed after the last ice age and have the remarkable ability to erode into nearly vertical slopes. Loess hills are best developed along the Missouri River from the Iowa line to Kansas City, but loess soils are found along most of the length of the Missouri and Mississippi.

These soils are rich, but because they're too steep to be farmed, they grow a wide variety of trees. Many species of oaks and hickories are found here, as well as ash, sugar maple, walnut, cherry and elm. This variety of trees, along with the beauty of the river bluffs, makes the river hills a favorite place to view fall color.

After crossing the Missouri River, you are in the Ozarks. This region makes up about half the state and is roughly bounded by a line from St. Louis to Boonville to Springfield and Joplin. It is the most complex region of the state, geologically, topographically and botanically. Ancient volcanoes, caves, springs, sinkholes, steep hills and swift rivers all contribute to this complexity.

Oaks and hickories are abundant here. Missouri is home to 21 different species of oak and eight species of hickory, nearly all of which are native to the Ozarks. White, black and northern red oak, as well as shagbark and mockernut

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