Bottomland Forests

Bottomland forest

True bottomland forests occur on rich, deep soils in low places that are seasonally wet. Canopy trees are usually sycamore, pin oak, bur oak, silver maple, cottonwood, and black walnut.

Like all habitat systems, bottomland forests result from a variety of factors such as soil type, hydrology (water flow patterns), and climate. Many plants and animals prefer or require bottomland forest habitats to survive.

Identifying Bottomland Forests

You can use the term “bottomland forest” loosely to refer to a variety of wooded habitats, but true bottomland forests have these characteristics:

  • They are seasonally wet areas (for example, from annual spring flooding).
  • They are commonly found along intermittent or perennial streams and rivers that flood seasonally or are saturated in fall, winter, or spring when the water table rises.
  • Flooding is normally shallow, but it can last more than a month.
  • Soils are relatively fertile, deep, well-drained, and alluvial (with soil, sand, and/or rocks deposited by a nearby river or stream); soil pH tends to be moderately acidic to neutral.
  • In summer, as with all true forest types, little direct sunlight reaches the forest floor.
  • Principal canopy trees include bur oak, pin oak, swamp white oak, sycamore, silver maple, cottonwood, and black walnut.
  • Canopy trees can grow quite large, reaching 100 feet or more and often 2 feet or more in diameter.
  • The understory is relatively open, with a variety of woody vines and shrubs such as spicebush, pawpaw, buckeye, wahoo, musclewood, and blue beech.
  • Ground cover is sparse; common plants include bluebells, jewelweed, violets, ferns, orchids, asters, and sedges.
  • An abundance of tree cavities, snags, and downed logs makes these forests very important wildlife habitat.

Bottomland forests are often divided into categories based on the amount of moisture held by the soil: dry-mesic, mesic, wet-mesic, and wet. These subtypes each typically occur in different regions of the state.

Riverfront Bottomland Forest

A special kind of bottomland forest is riverfront bottomland forest (also called riparian forest, or just riverfront forest). It occurs in floodplains along major rivers and streams, notably along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. These forests are subject to occasional scouring action of fast-moving floodwaters. Characteristics include:

  • The canopy, overall, is poorly structured, with variable heights and age classes. This variation corresponds with the gradual movement and development of meanders in the stream. As the stream changes course over time, sediments and organic materials are deposited in (or excavated from) different areas, and tree development follows the deposition (or erosion) of these soils.
  • Canopy trees are typically silver maple, bur oak, cottonwood, shellbark hickory, green ash, black willow, sycamore, American elm, river birch, box elder, hackberry, and sugarberry.
  • The understory is generally sparse and open, due to flooding. Understory species typically include dogwoods, sandbar willow, peach-leaved willow, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, raccoon grape and other grapes, and trumpet creeper.
  • Ground flora can be lush in places, but it is unevenly developed and patchy, due to the scouring effect of high velocity overflow of the nearby river.
  • The ground layer typically includes grasses, sedges, and nettles.
  • Deposits of leaves and other organic debris and logjams can occur in riverfront forests.

Important to People and Nature

  • Many bottomland forests are located between flood-control levees and major rivers. They are crucial buffers for absorbing the scouring impact of high-energy floods. Thus they protect levees, which protect cropland and other areas of interest to people.
  • Where they absorb low-energy floods, rich, deep sediments accumulate, creating highly prized, fertile cropland.
  • Lowland forests protect water quality by preventing soil from being washed into streams and absorbing nutrients, fertilizers, and pollutants.
  • Bottomland forests provide hunting and fishing opportunities. They provide pleasant, shady put-in and camping sites for boaters, rafters, and canoeists.
  • Bottomland forests are especially important habitat for migratory birds traveling between North America and the tropics. For example, millions of birds each year follow a north-south route along the Mississippi River.
  • Bottomland forests are prime bird-watching locations year-round.
  • Fishless pools, depressions that collect rainwater, sloughs, and other ponds that occur seasonally in bottomland forests are crucial for many frogs, toads, and salamanders. In spring, they lay eggs in these ephemeral ponds, and their gilled young grow up in them before the ponds dry up in summer.
  • Their plentiful food and shelter — an abundance of insects and plants — and proximity to water make bottomland forests attractive for many species of wildlife.

Bottomland forests can occur anywhere in the state, but they occur in low areas, along rivers and streams and in low valleys connected to them.

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Orange sunlight and clouds reflect off the surface of a pond.
Bollinger
Stoddard
Wayne

Duck Creek Conservation Area is located nine miles north of Puxico on Highway 51 in Stoddard

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Oak Ridge
Stoddard
Oak Ridge Conservation Area is in Stoddard County, immediately west of the city limits of Dudle
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Illustration of black walnut compound leaf and nuts.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Juglans nigra
Description
Easily Missouri’s most valuable tree, the black walnut provides the finest wood in the world, as well as delicious nuts. Both are in high demand and thus form an important part of Missouri’s economy.
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Illustration of bur oak leaf.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Quercus macrocarpa
Description
Bur oaks can live for hundreds of years and become giants; many have legendary or historic status. As with most oak species, it can be identified by leaf shape.
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Illustration of cottonwood leaves and fruits.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Populus deltoides
Description
Named for the cottony fluffs of hairs attached to its tiny seeds, cottonwood thrives in moist lowlands near streams and rivers. It is Missouri’s fastest-growing native tree but pays for that distinction by being relatively short-lived.
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Illustration of sycamore leaves and fruit
Species Types
Scientific Name
Platanus occidentalis
Description
The white, smooth-looking limbs of sycamore rise over countless streams and river banks, as well as over sidewalks and city streets. The leaves, which somewhat resemble those of maples, can reach remarkably large sizes.
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Illustration of pawpaw leaves, flowers, fruits.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Asimina triloba
Description
“Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch” is an old song you might be familiar with — but today, surprisingly few Missourians know a pawpaw tree when they see one. This is a good tree to know, especially when the large, sweet fruit are ripening!
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Illustration of raccoon grape leaves, flowers, fruit
Species Types
Scientific Name
Ampelopsis cordata
Description
Raccoon grape is a woody vine climbing by tendrils to a length of 60 feet. The most aggressive native vine in the state, it can smother small- to medium-sized trees.
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Illustration of riverbank grape leaves, flowers, fruit
Species Types
Scientific Name
Vitis riparia
Description
Riverbank grape is a woody wild grape vine climbing to 75 feet by means of tendrils. It occurs nearly statewide but is absent from most of the Ozark plateau.
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Illustration of greenbrier leaves, flowers, fruits
Species Types
Scientific Name
Smilax glauca
Description
Greenbrier is a slender, spiny, woody vine climbing by coiled tendrils. Its leaves can be broadly heart-shaped, oval, or lance-shaped. The leaf undersurface is smooth and notably whitened, silvery, or blue-gray with a waxy coating.
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Photo of bluebells, or Virginia cowslip, plants with flowers
Species Types
Scientific Name
Mertensia virginica
Description
One of our most stunning early spring wildflowers, bluebells is also a popular native plant for gardening. As with all native plant gardening, make sure you get your plants from ethical sources.
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Photo of spotted touch-me-not or jewelweed flower.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Impatiens capensis
Description
Many Missouri children learn about this orange-flowered native plant by playing with the juicy green seedpods, which, when ripe, "explode" upon the slightest touch. This is jewelweed's mechanism for seed dispersal, and it's the reason for the name "touch-me-not."
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Photo of wood nettle leaves at top of plant.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Laportea canadensis
Description
Wood nettle, or stinging nettle, often forms dense stands in bottomland forests, streamsides, and other places. There, canoeists, anglers, and others try to avoid touching its stinging hairs!
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Photo of a red admiral butterfly, wings spread.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Vanessa atalanta
Description
Red admirals dart through Missouri woods, gardens, and open areas from March through November. They are easily recognized by their black, red, and white pattern.
Media
Photo of a Zebra Swallowtail
Species Types
Scientific Name
Eurytides marcellus
Description
Zebra swallowtails are unmistakable with their black and white stripes and long tails. Look for this species fluttering ;around in Missouri’s forests.
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Image of a gray treefrog
Species Types
Scientific Name
Hyla versicolor and H. chrysoscelis
Description
Sticky pads on fingers and toes enable these two gray treefrogs to climb and rest on vertical surfaces. In fact, you might occasionally see one resting quietly on the siding of your house, if you live near suitable treefrog habitat!
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Image of a green treefrog
Species Types
Scientific Name
Hyla cinerea
Description
The bright green treefrog hides perfectly among cattail leaves, where it rests ;until evening. Then it begins hunting for insects.
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Species Types
Scientific Name
Ambystoma talpoideum
Description
The large-headed, dull gray or brown mole salamander is rarely seen because it spends almost all its time below ground. In Missouri, it is restricted to the lowlands of our southeastern counties.
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Photo of a small-mouthed salamander.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Ambystoma texanum
Description
The small-mouthed salamander is a medium-sized, black or dark brown salamander with a small head and mouth. In Missouri, it’s found nearly statewide — but not in the Ozarks.
Media
Image of a western mudsnake
Species Types
Scientific Name
Farancia abacura reinwardtii
Description
The western mudsnake is a harmless swamp dweller of Missouri's Bootheel lowlands. It is burdened with misinformation and imaginative folklore. But ;it turns out that fact is more interesting than fiction.
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Photograph of a pileated woodpecker, side view
Species Types
Scientific Name
Dryocopus pileatus
Description
The large, crow-sized pileated woodpecker often attracts attention with its loud, resonant drumming high in trees. Confirm your observation by noting its black body with white markings and its red topknot.
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Image of a male American redstart
Species Types
Scientific Name
Setophaga ruticilla
Description
American redstarts flit among tree branches, drooping their wings, fanning their tails, and leaping into the air to catch insects. Males are black and orange; females are olive-gray and white.
Media
Photograph of a Brown Creeper
Species Types
Scientific Name
Certhia americana
Description
Like a wren that behaves like a woodpecker, the brown creeper is a small brown and white bird that creeps in upward spirals around the trunks of trees, using its tail as a prop.
Media
Photo of a male cerulean warbler held in a hand
Species Types
Scientific Name
Setophaga cerulea (formerly Dendroica cerulea)
Description
A summer resident in Missouri, the cerulean warbler is more common in the southeastern Ozarks but rare elsewhere in the state. Its numbers are small and declining, and for that reason our nation may soon classify it as endangered.
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Photo of a prothonotary warbler perched on a small branch.
Species Types
Scientific Name
Protonotaria citrea
Description
The swamp-dwelling prothonotary warbler has a yellow head, yellow breast and blue-gray wings. Look for it in forests and woodlands, usually near water. Most arrive in Missouri in April.
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Wood Thrush
Species Types
Scientific Name
Hylocichla mustelina
Description
This is the melodious “bell bird” of Missouri forests. Though this relative of the American robin and eastern bluebird might be hard to locate, its flutelike voice decorates the sound of woodlands the way wildflowers decorate the forest floor.
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Image of a swamp rabbit
Species Types
Scientific Name
Sylvilagus aquaticus
Description
Larger and yellower than the eastern cottontail, the swamp rabbit is confined to swamps of Missouri’s Bootheel. As a wetland dweller, it’s a good swimmer and diver, but lack of swamp habitat is making this rabbit’s numbers decline.
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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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