Wells Branch Fen
Points of Interest:
- An unusual community type – a prairie fen.
- Look for fen wildflowers and associated dragonflies and butterflies.
- A wetland oasis amongst the dry, rocky hills.
Natural Features Description: Fens are rare wetland natural communities where soils are saturated by the upwelling of cold, mineral-rich groundwater. This is the case here with saturated soils developed from groundwater seeping out at the surface. A prairie fen is a fen with a large component of prairie plants. Here big bluestem and Indian grass mix with sedges, rushes and bulrushes to form the matrix of the vegetation. Wildflower species restricted to fens in Missouri found here include orange coneflower, cowbane, Ridell’s goldenrod and grass of Parnassus. White turtlehead grows here and is the larval host plant for the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly. During the summer months dragonflies are commonly seen skimming around the opening in the woods the fen creates. Because the area provides a source of saturated soils year-round amphibians and crayfish use this site.
This natural area is within the Mark Twain National Forest. From Doniphan, travel west on Highway 160 for about 2 miles. Turn right on to Ripley County Road 160 W-7 (gravel). Travel north and west for 2.2 miles. Then turn right (north) on to Forest Road 4817 and after a third of a mile turn left (west) on to Forest Road 4811. Go about 0.6 mile and park at the pull off. The natural area is directly west. A four-wheel drive vehicle may be needed to navigate the secondary roads. Hunting is permitted. A map and compass are recommended for exploration.