Little Tarkio Prairie
Points of Interest:
• One of the last deep soil tallgrass prairie remnants in Missouri.
• One of only a few prairies left in Missouri to support the rare western prairie fringed orchid.
• View the rare regal fritillary butterfly nectaring on wildflowers in summer.
Natural History: This is one of the few remaining deep soil dry-mesic prairies left in northwest Missouri. Most of northwest Missouri was blanketed with prairie such as this in 1800. Little Tarkio Prairie has fertile silt loam soils that extend down for five feet or more. This soil is mainly composed of loess deposits (fine silts) that were blown across the land as glaciers receded and left vast mudflats in the upper midwest from 70,000 to 18,000 years ago. Because of the great fertility of these soils most of the prairie vegetation of the rolling loess hills of northwest Missouri has been converted to row crops.
This prairie is one of only three in Missouri to protect a population of the western prairie fringed orchid, listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Despite its small size the prairie supports over 100 native plant species including pale purple coneflower, azure aster, New Jersey tea, leadplant, downy gentian, June grass, prairie phlox, and porcupine grass. Porcupine grass is named after the appearance of this species’ seed, which resembles a porcupine quill. This interesting but uncommon prairie grass has seeds with four inch long awns (a slender bristle-like structure) that are coiled. After a seed makes it to the ground its awn coils and uncoils as moisture conditions change and the seed is slowly “drilled” into the ground.
This prairie is also home to regal fritillary butterflies. This butterfly species feeds only on violets found in our prairies (prairie, arrow-leaved, and bird’s foot violets) as a caterpillar. These butterflies are nearly restricted to native prairies. The bullsnake also has been found on this prairie. Bullsnakes are a prairie species and the largest snake species native to Missouri ranging from three to six feet long. They are non-venemous and feed mainly on crop-eating rodents thus providing a direct human benefit.
From Mound City take Highway 59 north about 5.5 miles to the first county gravel road (Graystone Road) on the right 3/4 mile past Route C. The area is 1.5 miles north on the gravel road. Park at the parking lot and head west to the prairie. Hunting is permitted.