Upland Forests and Woodlands

Woodland

Missouri’s upland forests and woodlands are habitats distinct from our bottomland forests. Learning about them helps you understand more about the plants and animals that live in them.

Browse Forests and Woodlands under Related Habitats below for a general introduction to Missouri's many kinds of wooded habitats.

Upland forests and woodlands in the Show-Me State fall into three main categories: dry, dry-mesic, and mesic.

Dry Woodlands

In Missouri, dry woodlands typically occur on south- and west-facing slopes with shallow, rocky soils, and in upland areas generally: hilltops, glades, and bluff tops, often on rocky, sandy, or thin soils. Although we have some dry-mesic forests, Missouri has no true forests that are classified as dry.

In our dry woodlands, the dominant trees, having little moisture, are typically fairly short, 30 to 60 feet, and the understory is relatively open, with scattered shrubs. The groundcover layer is dominated by sedges, grasses, and wildflowers.

Typical Plants in Dry Woodlands

The main canopy trees in dry woodlands include post oak, blackjack oak, chinquapin oak, black oak, white oak, bur oak, black hickory, white ash, shortleaf pine, sugar maple, and winged elm. In the Bootheel’s rare dry sand woodlands, southern red oak is a dominant canopy tree.

Understory plants, shrubs, and vines in dry woodlands include New Jersey tea, fragrant sumac, Carolina buckthorn, catbriar, dwarf hackberry, serviceberry, and lowbush blueberry. In the Bootheel, deciduous holly and American hazelnut are notable understory species.

Groundcover plants in dry woodlands include little bluestem, Indian grass, sedges, tick clovers, yellow pimpernel, woodland brome, rock muhly, sideoats grama, bristly sunflower, poverty grass, dittany, asters and goldenrods, pussytoes, Indian physic, and yellow crownbeard. In the Bootheel’s dry sand woodlands, there are rough buttonweed, rushfoil, sweet goldenrod, variegated milkweed, wood rush, eastern prickly pear, tick trefoils, and prairie bush clover.

 Dry-Mesic Forests and Woodlands

Dry-mesic sites have more moderate amounts of soil moisture, so the canopy trees grow taller — 60 to 90 feet — and straighter than in drier sites.

Dry-mesic forests and woodlands occur mainly on ridges and east-and west-facing slopes. Soils average 3 feet in depth and are mainly silt loams.

Dry-mesic forests have a moderately developed, shade-tolerant understory. Because the canopy and understory shade the floor of these forests, the ground flora’s best season is in the spring; by midsummer it is patchy.

Dry-mesic woodlands typically share many of the same species as the nearby dry-mesic forests, but being woodlands, they have a more open canopy and a patchy to absent understory, permitting a well-developed, prominent groundcover.

Before European settlement, much of today’s Ozark forested landscapes were dry-mesic woodlands or savanna. Managed burns seek to restore these historic habitats.

Also, before widespread lumbering, shortleaf pine dominated vast tracts of the Ozarks. Most of these pine forests and woodlands grew back as oak-hickory forest. Land managers have been working to restore our pine and oak-pine forests and woodlands.

Typical Plants in Dry-Mesic Forests and Woodlands

Dominant or canopy trees include white, black, and several other oaks; shagbark, mockernut, and pignut hickories; and shortleaf pine. Other characteristic trees include maples and ashes.

Understory trees, shrubs, and woody vines include flowering dogwood, American hazelnut, fragrant sumac, eastern hop hornbeam, lowbush blueberry, serviceberry, Virginia creeper, summer grape, and Carolina buckthorn.

Ground-flora plants abound, though in true forests, most are dormant except in spring before the trees leaf out. In woodlands, grasses, sedges, and wildflowers are prominent all season long. Typical ground plants include sedges and grasses, tick trefoil, trillium, Christmas fern, black cohosh, spring beauty, toothwort, and false Solomon’s seal.

Mesic Forests and Woodlands

Our mesic forests and woodlands lie in areas between wetter lowlands and drier heights. Their soils are deep and loamy, and they typically occur on steep north- and east-facing slopes and ravines. The canopy is tall (often more than 90 feet).

As with dry-mesic forests, mesic forests typically have a well-developed understory of small trees and shrubs that restricts the ground layer to a profusion of spring wildflowers, before the forest floor is shaded.

Also like their dry-mesic counterparts, mesic woodlands have a more open canopy and a sparse understory, allowing a lush ground flora throughout the growing season.

Typical Plants in Mesic Forests and Woodlands

Canopy trees include northern red oak, white oak, sugar maple, basswood, black walnut, white ash, bitternut hickory, and, in southeastern Missouri, beech.

Understory plants include spicebush, maples, pawpaw, and grape vines.

The ground layer is lush in spring with many wildflowers, including bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, wild ginger, bellwort, hepatica, and trillium. There is also a variety of ferns, including broad beech fern, maidenhair fern, fragile fern, and narrow-leaved spleenwort.

Upland forests and woodlands can occur anywhere in the state and make up about 90 percent of our current wooded cover. They occur on hilly and rolling terrain statewide, but primarily in the Ozarks, in the southern half of the state. A typical satellite view of Missouri shows all our forests and woodlands in dark green.

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Creek surrounded by tress on Angeline Conservation Area
Shannon
The Angeline Conservation Area lies north of the Jacks Fork and west of the Current River.
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log cabin
Carter
Reynolds
Shannon
Current River Conservation Area encompasses approximately 29,000 acres of forested ozark land.<
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Woods at the Dark Hollow NA
Sullivan
This 315-acre area was purchased mostly in 1993 and designated a Natural Area in recognition of
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Field of purple coneflowers at Huzzah CA
Crawford
Huzzah Conservation Area is located in Crawford County. The area consists of 6,225 acres.
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A closeup of an acorn
Species Types
Scientific Name
Quercus spp.
Description
Oaks are the most important group of trees in Missouri, in both human and ecosystem value. They dominate most of the forests, woodlands, and savannas in the state. Learn more about our 22 species.
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Shagbark Hickory
Species Types
Scientific Name
Carya spp.
Description
Hickories are an important part of Missouri’s oak-hickory woodlands and forests. They have tremendous economic value, too. Learn about the nine species of hickory found in Missouri.
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Illustration of shortleaf pine needles, twig, cones.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Pinus echinata
Description
Existing in thousands of acres of nearly pure stands, shortleaf pine was once the dominant tree in much of the Missouri Ozarks. Today, Missouri’s only native pine tree is recovering from the extensive logging that had exhausted its old-growth stands by the 1920s.
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Photo of bloodroot plant with flower
Species Types
Scientific Name
Sanguinaria canadensis
Description
Bloodroot’s pure white petals are even more remarkable given the plant’s bright red sap. This feature, plus the unique leaf shape, make this early spring wildflower easy to identify.
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Photo of mayapple colony looking like numerous green umbrellas on forest floor
Species Types
Scientific Name
Podophyllum peltatum
Description
Mayapple is a common spring wildflower that makes its biggest impression with its leaves, which resemble umbrellas arising from a single stalk. It often grows in colonies.
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Photo of spring beauty plants and flowers
Species Types
Scientific Name
Claytonia virginica
Description
Our most widely distributed early spring flower, spring beauty has 5 white or pink petals that have distinct pink veining, and 5 pink anthers. The narrow, bladelike leaves are fleshy. These flowers often grow in abundance, covering a patch of ground with the beauty of spring.
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Image of smooth chanterelle
Species Types
Scientific Name
Cantharellaceae (various members of family)
Description
Chanterelles are funnel- or trumpet-shaped and have wavy cap edges. Most are bright orange or yellow, although one, the black trumpet, is brownish black.
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Photo of false turkey tail bracket fungus closeup, one showing smooth underside
Species Types
Scientific Name
Stereum ostrea
Description
False turkey tail grows in large, layered groups of leathery, parchmentlike brackets with multicolored zones and a smooth underside. Look for it on stumps and logs of deciduous trees, especially oaks.
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image of Walker's Cicada clinging to a perch
Species Types
Scientific Name
Neotibicen spp. (in Missouri) (formerly Tibicen)
Description
Annual cicadas look like larger and greener versions of the famous periodical cicadas. Annual cicadas go through a life cycle of only about 2–5 years, and some are present every year — thus they are called annual.
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Eastern carpenter bee standing on a wooden surface
Species Types
Scientific Name
Xylocopa virginica
Description
The eastern carpenter bee ;somewhat resembles a bumble bee ;but has ;a noticeably black, shiny abdomen. Carpenter bees ;are rather solitary and excavate their nests in wood.
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Tan stink bug on dead leaves
Species Types
Scientific Name
In North America, more than 200 species in 64 genera
Description
Stink bugs are shield-shaped insects that can smell really bad. This is a large family of true bugs known for producing a foul odor when harassed.
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Photo of a tan jumping spider
Species Types
Scientific Name
Platycriptus undatus
Description
The tan jumping spider usually lives on tree trunks. Its gray, tan, and brown coloration camouflages it against tree bark. There is usually an undulating pattern on the abdomen.
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American snout butterfly resting with wings folded
Species Types
Scientific Name
Libytheana carinent
Description
Most of us identify butterflies by their color patterns, but you can ID the American snout by its long “nose.”
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Photo of a Hackberry Emperor
Species Types
Scientific Name
Asterocampa celtis
Description
The hackberry emperor eats hackberry leaves as a caterpillar. The adults fly erratically. They often alight on people to absorb sodium from sweat.
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Photo of a Luna Moth
Species Types
Scientific Name
Actias luna
Description
The luna moth’s distinctive lime-green color and long tails distinguish it from all other North American moths.
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Image of a spotted salamander
Species Types
Scientific Name
Ambystoma maculatum
Description
A dancing salamander? Hundreds of them all at once? In the water? That’s how spotted salamanders create their next generation, in only a few springtime evenings each year.
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Photo of a western ratsnake curled up in grasses under a fence.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Pantherophis obsoletus
Description
The western ratsnake, a glossy black snake, ;is one of Missouri’s largest and most familiar snakes. Its size and dark color make ;it seem imposing, but it is as harmless to humans as it is bad news for rodents!
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Image of a wood frog
Species Types
Scientific Name
Lithobates sylvaticus (formerly Rana sylvatica)
Description
The wood frog is tan, pinkish-tan, or brown, with a dark brown mask through the eye and ear. It is perfectly camouflaged among dead oak and maple leaves. A rare frog, it lives in cool, wooded hillsides in portions of eastern Missouri and some southwestern counties.
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Image of barred owl
Species Types
Scientific Name
Strix varia
Description
The barred owl is easily identified both visually and by sound. Learn to recognize its call, and on moonlit nights in their habitat, you may hear it quite often!
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Black-capped chickadee image showing characters for identification.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Poecile atricapillus and P. carolinensis
Description
Chickadees are common in backyards. These black-capped, perky insectivores are present year-round. There are two species in Missouri that look quite similar.
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Photograph of a male red-bellied woodpecker
Species Types
Scientific Name
Melanerpes carolinus
Description
A striking woodpecker with grayish white face and underparts, black-and-white banded upperparts, and a red band on the head or nape. The red belly is often not noticeable.
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Photograph of a Tufted Titmouse
Species Types
Scientific Name
Baeolophus bicolor
Description
A small gray bird with a crest on its head, the tufted titmouse is drab only in terms of color. Its ringing “peter-peter-peter” song should be familiar to all Missourians.
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Photo of male wild turkey walking in mowed grass
Species Types
Scientific Name
Meleagris gallopavo
Description
The large size, iridescent bronze plumage (which can look merely dark at a distance), and naked blue and red head distinguish this ground-dwelling bird from others in our state.
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Image of an eastern chipmunk
Species Types
Scientific Name
Tamias striatus
Description
Chipmunks are sleek, attractive, active ground-dwelling squirrels. They live in tunnels but are generally out during the day, making them one of the few mammals that people can enjoy watching.
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Image of a gray squirrel
Species Types
Scientific Name
Sciurus carolinensis and Sciurus niger
Description
The eastern gray squirrel and eastern fox squirrel are both very common in Missouri. Their names describe their general coat color: the first is grayish, the other a foxy red.
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Image of southern flying squirrel
Species Types
Scientific Name
Glaucomys volans
Description
Flying squirrels don’t actually fly, but they are expert hang gliders. Instead of running around on the ground, they climb to the top of a tall tree, launch into the air, glide downward to the bottom of another tree and repeat the process to get where they’re going.
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Photo of white tailed buck
Species Types
Scientific Name
Odocoileus virginianus
Description
In summer, white-tailed deer are reddish-brown to tan above; in winter, they are grayish. The throat and belly are white. This common Missouri deer is named for the bright white of its flaglike tail.
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Photo of two bears
Species Types
Scientific Name
Ursus americanus
Description
One of the largest wild mammals in Missouri, the American black bear is unmistakable with its black fur and powerful bearing.
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