Nature's Rolltop Desk (1981)

Uploaded by moconservation on 24.04.2012

Nature's Rolltop Desk (1981)
Wylie: Blue grama, one of the reputed ancestors of corn
and one of our native grasses found on our prairies.
Keefe: Hi, I'm Jim Keefe.
I'm editor of the Conservationist Magazine and I'm talking a walk on a prairie this spring morning
with John Wylie who is Natural History Officer for the Department of Conservation.
John's unit is in charge of the natural area system for the department.
This system started about 1970.
And in 1977 became a statewide system with the incorporation
of the Department of Natural Resources and other agencies into this system.
Our natural areas are some 75 different types of biological communities
that are uniquely preserving some small bit of what natural Missouri was like before the white man came on the scene.
This is one such area.
This is called Friendly Prairie.
Wylie: Right Jim, prairies are really just examples of the whole natural area system
because each one represents a scenic part of our past.
They’re interesting places to visit, to study and enjoy nature.
Many prairies have been purchased in their own by the Nature Conservancy, the Prairie Foundation.
Our other natural areas are, some are owned by the LAD Foundation,
some by private individuals, by cities.
They represent a broad spectrum, but in each case we're trying to pick the best representative example
of that little bit of our living history of the past.
Biologically, they’re also very special. Each one is a bank,
a biological bank, a genetic bank.
And they feature everything from that blue gamma grass,
to the tall Indian grass, to butterflies,
to otter in the swamps, for instance.
Each area is a unique habitat,
and each one is sort of like a museum piece
of our biological past, and I might say present.
Keefe: We're going to go look at some of these various types of natural areas.
But right now we're on the prairie so, John,
let's take a walk around this prairie and see what makes it tick.
Wylie: There's one of the mysteries of the prairie over there, Jim, a mima mound.
Keefe: A mima mound? I don't think I've ever heard of a mima mound before, John, what is it?
Wylie: Well nobody's quite sure what makes them,
but their little mounds on an unplowed prairie, they are typical of an unplowed prairie.
And each one of them offers a little micro site for certain plants and certain animals call home.
Keefe: It is a little different right here I can see that, plants,
some of ‘em are flourishing a little more here on the mound, but they’re a mystery.
Wylie: Jim, the thing that really makes a prairie interesting
is all the little miniature landscapes, little miniature dramas that you have to see at your feet, you have to get out and walk.
The purple coneflowers and the butterflies of the prairie,
the dickcissel on the fence post or on the weeds,
the meadowlarks, the prairie chicken booming on a misty dawn.
All these things add drama to the prairie.
And some of these flowers are very specialized,
they’re found only on the prairie, some are found in the woods.
The indigo, which is white in this case, but another member of the family is blue,
and whence the name indigo.
The wild indigo is a wonderful legume of the prairie.
There are many members of plant families represented here,
and all of them are related to the animals too.
And among the animals are some of the little things that most people miss:
the crayfish and the crayfish frog.
Keefe: That are unique prairie denizens?
Wylie: Well some of them are; some are not.
Above all, maybe, we're back to the prairie as a sea of grass,
really a sea of plants and a great dome, a great arch in the sky.
And up in that sky are other prairie critters.
The hawks, the winter scene of the prairie is typical -- is typified by hawks, the red-tails.
Keefe: When I think of hawks I think of marsh hawk in the prairie,
you see them whipping back and forth over the thing in the wintertime.
Wylie: Marsh hawk is one of the endangered species.
It -- of all the hawks it's the only one that nests on the ground out here in the prairie grass.
They're mousers, they're superb flyers.
And this sky, this dome of the sky is their home.
They just come to the earth to feed.
Let's walk over the hill and see what else we might see on these tours.
Keefe: You know, John, of the six or eight blue springs in Missouri, this is THE blue spring.
Wylie: It sure is. It is incredibly blue.
And I like the Indian name, the spring of the summer sky, it's so much more poetic.
To an old red-tailed hawk flying around up there, Jim, looking down it must look like the earth's eye.
And the depth is what gives it its great blueness.
We've had divers map this spring for us.
They've gone down a total of 300 feet and 645 total feet of total distance.
Three hundred feet?
Three hundred feet, it’s the deepest water in the state of Missouri.
The thing though that really makes this a natural area by our standards
is the geology itself of the deep aquifers, the deep springs, so characteristic of the Ozarks.
There are phoebes nesting over there in the bluff.
Keefe: Yeah.
Wylie: We've got rare plants and animals.
Down the spring branch you can see quite a few of these things.
There's one little duck weed that exists only here.
Maybe we can see some it if we walk down that way. You want to take a look?
Keefe: Before we leave here, let me ask you something.
What affect does this structure have on the natural area's value?
Wylie: Well it is a beautiful scenic place.
It's something that people want to see, ought to see.
It's one of Missouri's crown jewels in our natural world.
And a lot of people visit.
It’s our most visited natural area.
You can see some of the problems we've had with people climbing up on the bluff and destroying the vegetation.
So our idea here, in an unobtrusive manner as possible,
is to build a structure here which will permit visitation and use where people can gaze into the depth of their own souls
looking into that blue water and still maintain the natural integrity of the site.
This is the only way we know to do it.
Keefe: This isn't an ugly structure. I don't feel it detracts anything from it.
And if you say the spring itself is the real natural area.
Wylie: Right, biologically we've not created an intrusion here.
It's only an intrusion in the mind's eye, but it does enable many people to see and enjoy this place.
Let's go down here and see if we can find some of these other creatures.
Keefe: Okay.
Wylie: Jim, this is another part of the aquatic natural area.
Did you see that Louisiana waterthrush over there?
Keefe: Yeah, I heard him singing just a minute ago.
Wylie: Well that's one of several critters that use this habitat.
I've seen mink here. I've seen muskrats here. In the water we have several different kinds of fish and several snails.
And down the stream here a little bit in that sycamore there's some mistletoe.
That's the good old kissing mistletoe.
Keefe: It's kind of far north for mistletoe; isn’t it?
Wylie: The northern extremity of the range along with cane or bamboo.
We’ve got a cane break down here.
This is one of the niches in our natural area system.
It reminds me of an old rolltop desk you know with all the little cubbyholes for everything in its place.
Well this is one of the cubbyholes in the old rolltop desk of the natural areas.
We'll see some more. We have over 80 at least cubbyholes filled now,
and we still have a few more to fill.
Keefe: This is sure a beauty here.
Wylie: It’s one of our real crown jewels.
Wylie: Well, Jim, Mill Mountain, Granite Glade.
Keefe: You call this a glade, I call it a mountain. It's high up here.
Wylie: Well it's both. It always reminds me a vantage like this on a day like this the old saying
“I lift up mine eyes into the hills from whence cometh my strength.”
But a glade is an opening in the forest, an old English word that phenomena.
And openings in the forest in Missouri are usually caused by very shallow,
rocky soils that are terribly parched and dry; they are almost desert-like in their character.
Keefe: Mighty little soil here.
Wylie: Yeah, it's hard to make a living up here. This is a granite glade.
We've got limestone glades, and we have sandstone glades,
we have some chert glades down in southwest Missouri.
Each one of these is one of these niches or pigeonholes in that rolltop desk of nature that is unique.
You have different plants, different animals. Up here --
Keefe: You hear that tanager singing?
Wylie: Yeah, that's a beautiful, beautiful bird. We're right in the middle of his territory.
And a little while ago there was a parula warbler sitting in that little cedar down there.
By the way that cedar there might be two or three hundred years old.
There's one cedar over there on that slope that may be six hundred years.
Six hundred years.
Keefe: Hard to imagine.
Wylie: A long time. Even that little blackjack is a fully mature tree.
And the farkleberry, the tree huckleberry that’s characteristic of these dry, granitic soils.
We sometimes have mountain boomers or collard lizards on our limestone glades.
It’s a good glade for lizards or any plant or animal that loves the sun
because there's an abundance of sun and a shortage of water.
We're here at the top of the Ozarks so to speak.
The dome, the strata, if not the elevations, all slope away from this rock.
How long ago did you say this was exposed geologically?
Keefe: Oh, it must have been hundreds of millions of years ago
because I've heard somewhere that the Ozarks is some of the oldest land above water in the United States.
Wylie: Right. Keefe: It and the Alleghenies old, old mountains.
Wylie: Old, old mountains.
And this rock is precambrianic rock and if I remember that's six hundred to an billion years, someplace in that,
almost a fourth of the world's total time is represented in these rocks.
There's an abundance of sun on these glades and these plants are adapted to it.
They’re the soil makers.
Over eons of time they produce acids, which dissolve the rock itself and eventually make the soil.
Some of these rosettes of lichen here—
that rosette of lichen may be 40 to 50 years old
as it grows outward by little bits, little increments every year.
And here through this break in this granite dike, this old volcanic plug,
Rocky Creek has cut a gap, and here at the base we have this little shutins.
This side of the mountain here is owned by the Department of Conservation,
this side is owned bit National Park Service.
Keefe: Well this is sure a unique one and I imagine a very inhospitable one.
Wylie: I bet you someplace over on that slope over there is an old bobcat.
It’s good country for them. Birds singing everywhere.
It makes you thankful to be alive, doesn't it?
Keefe: It sure does.
Wylie: Jim, this is quite a contrast from Mill Mountain, isn't it?
Keefe: I'll say, this is about as wet as Mill Mountain was dry. What have I got here?
Wylie: I think it is a plant called water primrose,
Wylie: I think it is a plant called water primrose,
Wylie: I think it is a plant called water primrose,
Wylie: I think it is a plant called water primrose,
Wylie: I think it is a plant called water primrose,
and the interesting thing are these flotation devices that keep the plant up on the surface where it can flower and fruit.
These are anchor roots or holdfast roots, and these are the feeder roots.
All of these plants in the wetlands are uniquely adapted,
as were the plants on the Mill Mountain, to live in that environment.
Keefe: This place has changed a lot since we were here early last spring.
It's got a lot more water in it, John.
Wylie: Oh, boy it was dry two months ago, or even six weeks ago.
Here we've got three stages of bottomland ecology.
Jim, we've got Cottonwood Slough, which has a degree of permanency in the water.
We've got Little Bean Marsh, which is an area covered with reeds and cattails and grasses.
And then we've got the swamps, which is the wetlands again seasonably flooded, but covered with trees.
Keefe: There’s different critters here I noticed now compared to what it was last spring,
or at least we're not seeing and hearing the same kinds of animals and birds.
Wylie: Right this place changes almost monthly.
Now you've got permanent inhabitants here, but you also have transient users of this habitat.
In the winter we have a lot of eagles.
And then, of course, in the spring and fall a lot of water fowl, shore birds of various kinds.
Earlier in the spring you remember we saw the yellowthroats and the king birds
Earlier in the spring you remember we saw the yellowthroats and the king birds
or bee martins and the red-winged black birds.
Some of them are still here, but they've done their thing.
Another month from now we'll have great blue herons and little blue herons and green herons.
Keefe: I saw that red-headed woodpecker. Did you see him?
Wylie: Yeah. And prothonotary warblers, tree swallows, all sorts of things like that.
And then of course up here on the bank we've got deer, we've got pheasants, we've got rabbits.
It's a tremendously productive area.
Compared to Mill Mountain, there's probably a hundred maybe even a thousand times the productivity represented here.
I'm talking about productivity in terms of vegetable material and I'm talking about animal material.
Keefe: Like these little duckweeds for example?
Wylie: Yeah, those are the smallest of the true flowering plants, those and wolffia.
And this grass here, which is a saw grass if you're out here in shorts,
this will tear your skin to pieces.
The edges are very finally serrated.
Over in the marsh, you remember we saw the hollow reeds,
we saw the sedges, we saw some of the giant grasses over there that inhabit the marsh.
It's a whole new world, a different world. And those little gar out there, they’re primordial.
They go back almost to the year one among fishes.
Keefe: Speaking of going back, I think we better head for shore, John.
I just heard a rain crow and it looks like it looks like it's going to rain.
We've got a lot more of this marsh to see.
Wylie: They are a good predictor, good weather forecaster.
Wylie: They are a good predictor, good weather forecaster.
Keefe: This is somewhat of a different wildlife area, John.
Wylie: Yes, Jim here we're at the Dupont Hardwoods Natural Area,
which is representative of the Mississippi River hills,
the steep breaks that front on the on the farther waters out there.
Probably the last time this area was cut, Jim, it was for fuel wood,
possibly to fuel Mark Twain's steamboat.
If not his, certainly somebody else's plowing the river because fuel,
wood fuel was the principle fuel which fueled all the steamboats.
And later in the earliest years, railroads.
Keefe: Now steamboats, that would have put it back sometime around the Civil War.
Wylie: Yes, yes that's -- Keefe: Possibly a little after.
Wylie: That's about right.
Wylie: That's about right.
Further south, down at Trail of Tears State Park in Cape Girardeau County,
we have the southern counterpart of that.
Down there you have trees like beech and tulip popular and sweetgum and oaks.
Up here we have northern red oak, we have basswood,
there used to be elm before they were killed by the Dutch elm disease.
We have a lot of sugar maple here, representative of the forest more to the north.
On this particular site, we have three of these little niches filled.
We have this limestone ridge that we're on right now with chinquapin oak and blue ash.
Back over here along the bluff, we have the talus slope and the bluff species.
And down over here in this little valley, we call it a cove, we have the cove forest.
It's a rich little site.
We have a lot of spring wildfires in early spring.
By this time of year the forest canopy though is very dense and it tends to shade out those lower things,
particularly those spring flowers.
We have birds like the scarlet tanager that we saw here just a moment ago,
the flycatcher, which was calling in the trees.
Even the big hoot owls are down there. And along the bluffs we have the buzzards, the hawks.
And in the fall, this is a corridor of migration for waterfowl and hawks.
Keefe: Well John, this is one more example of the pigeonhole in nature's rolltop desk of natural areas.
Wylie: Yes, as you mentioned earlier we have 75 or 80 of these areas
pigeonholed within our natural area system.
We've looked at only a handful on our trip this time,
but each of them is unique.
Each represents a living museum, a biological benchmark,
a place of measurement, a place of enjoyment.
They are representative of what the land once was and still is.
They’re for you and I and for those people, those Missourians yet to come.
Keefe: Well, I'm just glad at that time Missouri Natural Area System is preserving some of yesterday for the people tomorrow, john.
Wylie: I think it's great. I'm very enthused about it.