Points of Interest:
• One of the last deep soil tallgrass prairie remnants in Missouri.
• See the rare prairie lily and regal fritillary butterfly during the spring and summer.
• Outstanding prairie wildflower viewing from spring through fall.
Natural History: One of the best remaining upland prairies in the Chariton River Hills region of northeast Missouri. The rolling prairie is mainly dry-mesic dominated by big bluestem and little bluestem grasses, and a number of forbs (round-headed bush clover, Missouri goldenrod, purple prairie clover, wild quinine, prairie blazing star, and rigid goldenrod). Lower slopes support patches of mesic prairie with prairie dropseed, bunch flower, and sweet coneflower. Soils here are clay loam and have developed in glacial till deposits left from the Kansan glaciation over 400,000 years ago when north Missouri was covered in glacial ice. These glacially derived soils were mantled primarily with tallgrass prairie for thousands of years before widespread agricultural clearing began in north Missouri in the 1830s. Northern Missouri’s agricultural bounty owes its existence to this glacial and prairie history.
The prairie lily, a species of conservation concern, occurs here and just one other place in Missouri, Helton Prairie Natural Area. Before its re-discovery here at Morris Prairie the prairie lily had not been seen in Missouri since the 1840s. Four other rare plant species occur here including the dwarf chinkapin oak, a low-growing oak that forms thickets in prairies. This prairie shrub along with prairie willow and American plum provide important low-growing woody cover from hawks for the northern bobwhite. Over 200 native plant species have been documented from this prairie.
The legacy of this prairie is due to the work of Ken and Marlene Morris, the previous owners. The Morris’ worked with the Conservation Department in the management of their prairie for over 15 years, including having it dedicated as Missouri Natural Area in 2001, before they sold it to the Department in 2005 when they moved back to Iowa to be closer to family. Today all Missourians can enjoy the natural legacy of Morris Prairie.
Look for grassland birds here including bobolink, northern bobwhite, eastern meadowlark, eastern kingbird, field sparrow, dickcissel, and grasshopper sparrow. Keep your eyes out for the regal fritillary butterfly, a species of conservation concern, which can often be found gathering nectar from butterfly milkweed.
Prairies need active management to maintain their biological diversity and Morris Prairie is no exception. Hours of work involving cutting brush, treating invasive plants, and prescribed burns have been conducted here to restore this prairie. In addition this prairie serves as a valuable seed source for prairie plantings on other sites within the region.
From Unionville at the intersection of Highway 5 and Highway 136 take Highway 5 south for 3 miles. Then turn left (east) on Highway F. Go 6 miles east on Highway F and turn right (west) onto gravel road 235th Street. Go west on 235th Street for 3/4 mile to the parking lot. From the area parking lot, head south along the area access trail (an old field road) for 0.5 mile to the eastern boundary of the prairie. Hunting and fishing are permitted.