Western Star Flatwoods
Points of Interest:
• See the largest known high-quality upland flatwoods natural community in the state.
• Observe a complex of natural communities that support hundreds of native plant species.
• Look and listen for open woodland and shrubland bird species.
Natural Features Description: Historically the broad flat ridges of the central Ozarks were a mix of upland flatwoods, savannas and open woodlands. Upland flatwoods such as those found here develop on level ridges with soils developed from loess (silty wind-blown soil deposits) over a residuum weathered from dolomite bedrock. These soils have a fragipan at a depth of 20-30 inches. A fragipan is a layer of cemented silty and clayey particles that impedes water movement and root growth. Because of this the trees in the flatwoods are stunted in growth and must be adapted to conditions of saturated soils in spring followed by droughty soils in summer. Post and blackjack oaks and black hickory can tolerate these fragipan soils. In seasonally wet depressions spike rushes, sedges and wood reed grass occur.
On the shoulder slopes open expanses of native grasses and prairie forbs with scattered oaks occur. The ground is cherty here and these sites are considered chert savannas. On the steep side slopes of south and west aspects post and black oak and black hickory grow together more thickly forming dry chert woodlands with a rich cover of legume species in the understory. On north and east aspects the hillslopes support taller trees, predominantly white oak, mockernut hickory and black gum. These dry-mesic chert woodlands are characterized by abundant rough sunflower and elm-leaved goldenrod in the understory.
The open structure to these woods is the result of active restoration by resource managers using prescribed fires and thinning treatments. This mix of savanna and woodland structure is conducive to supporting breeding populations of blue-winged warbler, summer tanager, prairie warbler, eastern wood-pewee and field sparrow. The ringed salamander has been documented from the area utilizing the moist, protected microenvironments along the drainages. This salamander is endemic to the Ozark ecoregion.
This natural area is within the Mark Twain National Forest. From Interstate 44 exit 169 on to Highway J and proceed south for ¾ mile. Turn left (east) on to Highway P. Travel east on Highway P for about 2.5 miles. Look for the Forest Service Road 1571 to the right (south). Pull off and park here on the north side of the natural area. Hunting is permitted. A map and compass are recommended for exploration.