Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My beloved dry chert woodlands

I've spent the past week immersed in the Niangua River Hills region of the Central Ozark Highlands. An area rich with dolomite glades, karst topography and my cherished dry and dry-mesic chert woodlands, the Niangua River Hills hold a dear place in my heart. I cut my teeth on Missouri's woodlands here, learning all of the plants from my first Missouri boss, Larry (whom I still address as "boss"), a devotee of the landscape. I think he's only 27 now, but he has actively managed his own private dry chert woodlands with prescribed fire every 3-5 years since he was 20. (He has separated his property into 3 named woodland burn units: one after his dog, Maverick, one after the main hollow, and the other named after his daughter).

It's been a great week out here: A big raging fire, bright enough to embroider by, made with wet wood by a master of fire. An uncustomarily well-behaved dog companion in Molly who didn't push me out of the sleeping bag.
Good, rich campfire coffee. A thick bed of white oak leaves to sleep on (I'll wager 5 years' worth? This area desperately needs a good burn). And, the coup de grace, the first morels of the season, found only yards away from my tent.

But it dawned on me earlier today as I was combing through my 200+ pictures of dry chert woodlands from every angle that all of these recent photos of winter woods might not inspire the same awe in my fair readers as they do in me. When you see these sepia-tinted pictures of open woodlands in winter dormancy, do you see the topography? The relief? The ancient sedimentary layers deposited on the Ordovician bedrock? The dolomite outcroppings so intricately associated with chert woodlands? Do you see a landscape? As spring crept through the area in the course of four days, I watched as dogwoods bloomed, as a common dry chert woodland sedge (Carex albicans var. albicans) transformed from its flowering structure to fruit, as my favorite phlox (divaricata) opened up, and as the first flush of green moved into the understory. Utterly breathtaking.

Out of my enormous collection of pictures from the past few days, I'm sharing Rose verbena (Glandularia canadense), Wild sweet William (Phlox divaricata), a little dolomite creekbed, from which Molly drank, and the final picture of a dry chert woodland in its winter glory. Spring has reached the Ozarks, reigning in another lovely season for this dynamic, cherished landscape.


Ted C. MacRae said...

Lovely pictures - lovely writing! The Ozarks are a jewel hidden right in the middle of the country.

btw - you've inspired me to (finally) join the Missouri Native Plant Society, but your link is dead (now http://herbarium.missouri.edu/monps/)

Anonymous said...

i love it!! Molly looks thrilled to be out camping! *rowf* - Dan