Lowland Treasures

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2007

Last revision: Dec. 1, 2010

water oak, pumpkin ash and swamp privet also grow in these forests. When they are dry, wet bottomland forests are open and easy to hike through.

Wet-mesic To Mesic Bottomland Hardwood Forests

This is where the true giants grow. On terraces of streams and river floodplains throughout Missouri, bur, pin and swamp white oaks, pecans and shellbark hickory can grow 140 feet tall. The Nuttall oak, which grows in these forests in the southeastern lowlands, is state-imperiled due to diminishing habitat. At the base of slopes and bluffs, where flooding is rare, the understory and ground layers are developed. These forests are usually carpeted with spring wildflowers like bluebells, blue-eyed Mary and larkspur, and morel patches are often abundant. Pawpaw, spicebush, leatherwood, musclewood and Ohio buckeye are in the understory. Along the Current and Eleven Point rivers, stands of native bamboo, called canebrakes, can also be seen. They provide important habitat for the state-imperiled Swainson’s warbler. White oak, sugar maple, bitternut hickory and black walnut are some of the trees in the canopy, and in the Bootheel, sweet gum and swamp chestnut oak can be found. Mesic bottomland hardwood forests are found throughout the state, with the Ozarks having the largest remaining patches.

Riverfront Forests

Closest to the water, these forests are typically made up of silver maple, sycamore, box elder and other softwood tree species. Grape vines and other plants that can handle lots of disturbance thrive here. These forests can bear—and depend on—the brunt of flooding. Floodwaters help disperse the floatable seedheads of cottonwoods and silver maples. Flooding stimulates willow and ash trees to produce new, air-filled roots. Riverfront forests often have an “untidy” appearance, with deposits of silt, sand, gravel and driftwood on the forest floor. With the construction of levees, often far inland from riverbanks, many riverfront forests have expanded, growing where bottomland hardwood forests once did.


Missouri’s swamps have always been almost completely confined to the southeastern lowlands, an area once covered by about 2.4 million acres of interconnected cypress-tupelo swamps, bottomland hardwood forests, backwater sloughs and ox-bows. The acreage of these natural communities has been greatly reduced, but what remains adds greatly to Missouri’s natural diversity and harbors many species of conservation concern. Bald cypress trees—some up to 400 years old—provide habitat for nesting bald eagles and the bald cypress katydid, which lives among its branches. The harmless and seldom-seen western mud snake hides out under logs in shallow

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