A Natural Area Anniversary

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

for it is the yellow form that dominates the Indian Trail glades, not the more common, vivid red-orange version.

Periodic prescribed burns maintain not only the paintbrush, but also a diversity of grasses and other wildflowers by keeping the glades open and free of woody invasion. In some areas, the glades run all the way down the slope to the scenic, paintbrush-lined creek. In addition to the glades and woodlands, the 700-acre natural area also supports a prairie fen, a wetland fed by underground water flow. The natural area is part of a larger natural community focus area that is being restored, with the long-term goal for the 2,500-acre focus area to attain natural area quality.

If one views the Bootheel on a land cover map showing existing forest, prairie and other grasslands, wetlands, farmland, and urban areas, it is obvious that few opportunities exist to represent and restore the large Mississippi River flood plain forests that formerly dominated the landscape of southeast Missouri. Donaldson Point, a 2,000-acre candidate natural area in New Madrid County, located within Donaldson Point Conservation Area, is the best known example.

Trees in some areas are small or double-trunked, and stumps from past cutting are numerous. The drainage ditches and other human impacts are here to stay until rearranged by the next large earthquake, flood or other unforeseen catalyst. Nevertheless, the components of the wet-mesic, bottomland and riverfront forests, and swamp natural community types, are still present in varying numbers or can be restored to some extent.

Native vegetation in these areas includes cottonwood, sugarberry, green ash, silver maple, sweet gum, pecan, overcup, bur and pin oak, sycamore, cypress, paw paw, cane, grapes, lizards tails (a plant) and crossvine. Native wildlife includes swamp rabbits, Mississippi kites, and Swainson's warblers.

Restoration will be difficult here. Fast growing vines, such as greenbriar, raccoon grape, trumpet creeper and others that compete for growing space with the trees, must be curbed. Overabundant numbers of hackberries need to be reduced. Canebrakes and cottonwoods require some openings for regeneration, and the species composition needs to be continually studied.

The vision of restoring the bottomland forest landscape at Donaldson Point mirrors the intent of natural area restoration statewide. We start with known components of the relatively intact, best remaining examples of natural communities and work to rebuild the missing, connecting elements of the surrounding natural landscape. Restoring natural communities and their landscapes will be important work during the next quarter century of the Missouri Natural Areas System.

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