Bootheel Wetlands

By | October 2, 2005
From Missouri Conservationist: Oct 2005

Vast bottomland forests and swamps once covered 2.5 million acres of the Bootheel of Missouri. The deep soils here resulted from sediment left by the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. This broad river floodplain, called the Mississippi River Alluvial Basin, is the northern-most portion of a natural system that extends all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Frequent flooding played a significant role in the creation and maintenance of the complex wetlands of this ecological region. The alluvial in its name describes soils deposited by flowing water. A basin describes a low area.

First-time visitors to the Bootheel are usually surprised at how flat the land appears. In marked contrast to the rugged Ozarks, the region contains little topographical relief. There are sandy terraces or natural levees that rise above the flat plain, and there is Crowley’s Ridge, a ridge of loess-covered alluvial soil left isolated by historic channel changes of the Mississippi River.

Unlike the rest of the Bootheel, the forests of Crowley’s Ridge include several eastern forest species like American holly, American beech, beech drops and tulip tree. There are also unusual acid-seep communities with rare orchids and sedges.

The first settlers to come to the Bootheel encountered a wilderness of wet bottomland forests, swamps, marshes and oxbow lakes. Though these features are now rare in this region, there are still remnants where we have a good opportunity to sustain the wildlife that characterizes southeastern Missouri. triangle

Conservation Opportunity

Mingo Basin Conservation Opportunity Area contains the largest tract of bottomland forest in Missouri. Just off the southern edge of the Ozarks, Mingo Basin formed 18,000 years ago when the Mississippi River shifted east. It left a dense swamp in the abandoned river channel between the Ozark Highlands and Crowley’s Ridge.

Today, this low wetland includes backwater sloughs, marshes, open water, bottomland forests, cypress-tupelo swamps, shrub swamps, upland woodlands and agricultural land, as well as a tremendous diversity of wildlife.

Mingo National Wildlife Refuge is the core of this conservation opportunity area. The refuge and Duck Creek Conservation Area together contain more than 17,000 acres of bottomland forest.

All Wildlife management in the Mingo Basin Conservation Opportunity Area will be accomplished through existing conservation partnerships with Ducks Unlimited, Mingo Swamp Friends, University of Missouri’s Gaylord Memorial Laboratory and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Invasive Kudzu

Western mud snake


Allred Lake Natural Area

Invasive Kudzu

One of the most conspicuous invasive exotic plants in the Mississippi River Alluvial Basin is kudzu (Pueraria montana). Brought here from Japan in 1876, it was promoted for uses such as livestock forage and erosion control. This sprawling vine can cover large areas by growing along the ground or by climbing brush or trees. Its dense foliage shades any plants beneath it, eventually smothering them. Kudzu was designated as a state noxious weed by the Missouri legislature in 2001, requiring its control by state agencies and landowners.

Wetland Wildlife

More than 35 species of fish, turtles, snakes and other vertebrates are found nowhere else in Missouri except in the lowland swamps and muddy waters of the Mississippi Alluvial Basin.

Many of these species occur all the way to the Gulf Coastal Plain but reach their northern limits here in the Missouri Bootheel.

Lowland backwaters and sloughs harbor cypress minnows, swamp darters, slough darters, cypress darters, Cajun dwarf crayfish and red swamp crayfish.

Other specialized animals adapted for life in abundant, fluctuating waters include the huge alligator gar, the equally imposing alligator snapping turtle, the Mississippi mud turtle, the western mud snake, the mole salamander and the three-toed amphiuma, the longest salamander in North America.

Allred Lake Natural Area

A unique remnant of presettlement Missouri, Allred Lake Natural Area contains trees more than 400 years old and 6 to 8 feet in diameter. Elevation on the area varies only about 10 feet from the surface of the lake to the highest ground, but that is enough to sustain two other forest communities.

The cypress-tupelo swamp surrounding Allred Lake is one of the best examples of this natural community type remaining in the state. Two endangered fish—the swamp darter and the taillight shiner— live in the murky waters of the lake and connected slough.

The wet bottomland forest contains a mix of willow oak, water oak, water locust, sweet gum, cypress and tupelo. On higher sites, the forest contains oaks—including overcup oak—sweet gum, pecan, red mulberry, slippery elm, paw paw and the largest native Missouri grass, giant cane.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - TomCwynar
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Editor - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler