Missouri’s glades are receiving some exceptional treatment by private landowners and the Missouri Department of Conservation. These small, rocky, thin-soiled openings, once thought to be worthless, are being recognized as valuable island ecosystems that contribute to Missouri’s biodiversity.
Glades support many unique and interesting insects, reptiles, mammals, wildflowers and grasses. They are home to eastern collared lizards, tarantulas and scorpions, and they provide habitat for prickly pear cactus, little bluestem, the smoke tree and Missouri primrose. The federally endangered bladderpod only grows on a small number of limestone glades in southwest Missouri.
Glades also are prized by birders, who visit them in hopes of seeing and hearing roadrunners, indigo buntings, painted buntings and prairie warblers.
In Missouri, glades are found in the southern half of the state and in a few locations north of the Missouri River. Our glades range from as small as a quarter acre to as large as 500 acres.
There are five types of glades in Missouri. Each is categorized by the type of bedrock—limestone, dolomite, sandstone, chert or igneous—beneath it. The bedrock below a glade greatly influences the native vegetation that grows there. Igneous and dolomite glades are the most common glade types in Missouri.
Although their geological foundations may differ, most glades have some features in common. The majority of these specialized habitats are rocky clearings that occur naturally in timbered areas. Most occur on steep, south- and west-facing slopes of hills, where natural forces have created a landscape of protruding or exposed rock formations and thin soil.
The combination of shallow, rocky soils and a southern exposure makes for near desert-like conditions on glades through much of the year. As a result, only plants that can thrive in sunny, droughty conditions survive. Drought-tolerant native grasses, sedges and wildflowers are usually plentiful on healthy glades. The wildflowers usually bloom either in spring or fall, when moisture levels are higher. Trees are generally absent or are stunted on normally functioning glades. This is due to the harsh growing conditions and the extremely dry soils, which set the stage for frequent fires.
Unfortunately, most glades in Missouri don’t function as glades naturally would. Years of fire suppression, overgrazing by livestock and quarrying have led to the destruction or degradation of many glades. What often happens is a dense canopy of trees (eastern red cedar, chinquapin, black and post oak) forms that crowds out and suppresses the sun-loving native grasses and wildflowers of a glade.
The Missouri Department of Conservation, other government agencies and some private landowners are working to restore degraded glades in Missouri. With a little hard work and persistence, a cedar-choked glade can be transformed back into an open area with an abundance of native plants, insects and animals.
Restoring a glade is challenging but rewarding. The first time you catch a glimpse of a male painted bunting in its bright courtship hues of blue, red and yellow, or when a Missouri primrose begins to show its colorful bloom, you’ll know why glades can be so appealing.
The best way to restore a glade is to open it up by using a chain saw to remove its overstory of eastern red cedar and other trees. If you plan to cut the trees yourself, make sure your chain saw is in good working order and you have all the necessary safety equipment (chain saw chaps, hearing protection, leather gloves, steel-toed boots, safety glasses and a hard hat). Be prepared for some hard work.
You can also hire a qualified contractor if you are not quite up to the task. Using heavy equipment, such as bulldozers and tractors, to restore a glade is not recommended because the heavy weight could damage the glade’s fragile rock formations and thin soils. The best approach to clearing a glade is on foot, with a chain saw in hand.
You could simply cut the trees and leave them where they fall, but you may benefit from harvesting the cedar. It can go to cedar mills and eventually be turned into a variety of cedar novelty items, as well as cedar mulch.
You can hire a logger to cut and sell the cedar trees on your glade, or you can cut and sell the trees yourself. Before you do either, it would be a good idea to contact a Missouri Department of Conservation forester. A forester can help you better understand the requirements of the cedar mills before you start cutting.
Restoring glades in Missouri is hard work and requires patience. Once the cutting begins, the area goes through what might be called an unsightly phase. This is a necessary step in transforming a degraded area into a functioning glade that hosts beautiful and interesting species of plants and animals.
Once you have let the cedar remnants dry by allowing them to sit on the ground for at least one year, you are ready to conduct a prescribed burn. Burning a glade can be very challenging due to the downed trees, but it is critical to the restoration process. It rejuvenates the native plant community and reduces the amount of invading trees and other plants.
If the mere thought of conducting a prescribed burn causes your blood pressure to rise, you’ll be happy to know that the Conservation Department conducts prescribed-burning workshops that can teach you the methods, safety measures and knowledge you will need to conduct a prescribed burn on your glade. Contact your regional office for more information about prescribed burn workshops (see page 1 for a list of regional office phone numbers).
Not everyone has a glade on their property, but the Conservation
Department has several glades that people can visit for wildlife viewing or
nature study. Some of the glades listed are in the process of being restored.
Grant and Tracy Woods and their daughters, Raleigh and Rea, restored 220 acres of limestone glade nestled in the beautiful hills of southwestern Missouri.
The Woods family enjoys exploring and spending time on their property, whether it be glade, streams or in the woodlands. They brought back glade habitat by removing eastern red cedars and using prescribed burning. The Missouri Department of Conservation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service provided them with technical assistance and information before and during the project.
Grant said glade restoration was hard work, but it was worth it. He said he’s already seen different colors of wildflowers all year round on a recently restored glade.
“We have taken our least productive wildlife habitat, and turned it into our most productive wildlife habitat and cover areas,” he said.
The Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area, on the west side of Branson and just a few miles from the Woods’ farm, has about 350 acres of glades among its 1,534 acres. Most of the glade habitat is within the White River Balds Natural Area.
The Conservation Department began work to restore these glades in the early 1990s. Conservation Department Resource Forester Greg Cassell said the dolomite and limestone glades in the natural area now represent some of the highest quality glades in the Midwest.
He said the Department continues to manage the glades to maintain and improve the wildlife habitat they provide.
“Although it is a challenge to manage glades in an increasingly urban area,” Cassell said, “the Henning Conservation Area glades represent an important and unique habitat that should be protected and maintained for all to enjoy—now and in the future.”
The conservation area has walking trails and three observation decks for people to enjoy the beauty the glades have to offer. A brochure on Ruth and Paul Henning CA is available from the Southwest Regional Office at (417) 895-6880, or visit online.
Images from top left:
Chipmunk, Eastern towhee, Indian
paintbrush, Tarantula, Missouri
primrose, Coneflower, Six-lined
racerunner, Indigo bunting
Western pygmy rattlesnake
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