Missouri's High Country

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 22, 2010

When seen from an airplane, much of the present-day Ozark landscape looks forested. Yet multitudes of trees do not necessarily add up to forests. The Ozark landscape is a complicated association of forests, woodlands, savannas, glades, cliffs, caves, springs, rivers, streams, sinkhole ponds and fens.

Though the Ozark Highlands region appears mountainous, it is really a broad plateau that has been cut, or dissected, by erosion.

The highest and least rugged parts of the Ozarks tend to be flat to gently rolling plains that formerly were covered with prairies, savannas and open woodlands. Near drainages, the plains give way to rolling hills and then to rugged, highly eroded hills that formerly supported oak-pine woodlands and forests.

Most Ozark streams are spring-fed and occupy narrow, twisting valleys. Erosion has cut through the layers of bedrock to create underground passages and caves. Many stream channels “lose” water to subterranean passageways, which resurfaces as springs or fens, or at the mouths of caves.

The plants and animals of the Ozarks are as diverse as the landscape. The slow process of erosion allows plenty of time for plants and animals to adapt and change. More than 200 endemic species are present in the Ozark Highlands.

Endemic species are those found only within a restricted geographic range. Some familiar species endemic to the Ozarks include the Niangua darter, Missouri bladderpod, the Neosho mucket, the Ozark cavefish, purple penstemon and the Missouri woodland swallowtail. triangle

Conservation Opportunity

Roaring River Conservation Opportunity Area is a land of rugged hills, deep hollows, a river that roars and hilltops with some of the largest glades in Missouri.

Glades are dry, rocky areas in the uplands of the Ozarks. They are home to animals and plants not typical to Missouri’s climate. Essentially deserts, glades provide habitat for roadrunners, scorpions, tarantulas and giant centipedes. The glades and woodlands also are home to characteristic Ozark species, such as collared lizards, painted buntings, blue-gray gnatcatchers, summer tanagers and fence lizards.

Many of these species are declining in number. Cedar trees now cover 95 percent of the former glade habitat and though hundreds of acres of glades and woodlands still exist, the fires that promoted essential plants and kept red cedars under control have been prevented in the past 100 years. The open, grassy glades and associated woodlands can be restored, but it will require removing many acres of cedar trees, as well as the use of prescribed fires.

Conservation Partnerships

Roaring River State Park, managed

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