Prickly Pear Cactus
Points of Interest:
- Visit a globally unique natural community – a chert glade.
- Look for the exquisitely camouflaged lichen grasshopper.
- Enjoy spring blooming wildflowers.
Natural Features Description:
Here are glades formed on nearly solid beds of chert rock. Chert, silicon dioxide, is composed of mainly interlocking crystals of quartz less than 30 microns in diameter. It is relatively insoluble and has weathered out of the more soluble limestone and dolomite rocks. Flint is a type of chert. Some geologists believe silica was deposited at the same time as the surrounding materials accumulated while others contend the silica was later transported into the carbonate rocks by silica-rich groundwater and deposited in pore spaces or in solution cavities. In any event the Grand Falls formation consists of massive chert beds over six feet thick here. Chert glades are only found along Shoal Creek and its tributaries in about a two square mile area around Joplin.
These globally unique chert glades are a tough place for life. Soils are shallow to non-existent. The sun bakes down in the summer. In the winter they are exposed and the shallow soils that do exist are prone to frost-heaving. So if you’re an organism making a living on a chert glade you have to adapt. Plants found here such as fame flower, widow’s cross sedum and Nuttall’s sedum have small, greatly thickened leaves covered with a waxy cuticle. The waxy coating seals the fleshy leaves and permits storage of water during the spring for blooming and seed development in the summer. The prickly pear cactus produces disk-like pads of succulent stem material that store water. Another way plants survive is to be an annual plant, sprouting from seed in the early spring and growing, maturing and flowering then when the moisture is available. Venus’ looking glass plant is an example of this. Lichens, a symbiosis between algae and fungi, cover many of the chert outcrops. The fruticose lichens, British soldiers (Cladonia species) and reindeer lichen (Cladina species) are two of the more easily recognized lichens. Capitalizing on the extensive lichen growth are the lichen grasshoppers which blend right in with them.
In the spring the yellow blooms of lance-leaf coreopsis put on a colorful show.
This natural area is owned both by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the City of Joplin. From Joplin, head south on Highway 86, crossing Shoal Creek. Immediately after crossing Shoal Creek turn right (north) on to Castle Drive. Follow Castle Drive as it winds around for about 1.25 miles to the parking area on the left (west). The natural area begins on the western side of the parking lot.
If you are visiting this natural area you may also be interested in visiting the nearby Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center located at 201 W. Riviera Drive in Joplin (call 417-782-6287 or see http://wildcatglades.audubon.org/). The center includes exhibits on local natural history and has developed hiking trails. It is well worth a visit for naturalists of all ages.
Get more information from the MDC Atlas.
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