Wetlands Wednesday: Beyond Your Typical Ozarks Excursion

By Cynthia Cassel

Missouri is the fourth and final destination on our May tour of Region 7’s intriguing wetlands as we mark the 25th anniversary of National Wetlands Month. Following my journey to the prairie potholes and fens of Iowa in last week’s blog, we go down south to the breathtaking Show-Me State.

Since we had honeymooned in St. Louis (Paris was full), my husband and I decided to reenact the event on our fifth anniversary. Of course, my family doesn’t just “go somewhere.” It had to be a road trip through Missouri to arrive at a location four hours away. But I was pleased to take the long way ‘round after investigating the distinctive wetlands of the state: sinkhole ponds and hardwood swamps.

Sinkhole Ponds

Although we can easily appreciate the bounty of water and habitat the Ozarks provide, the rarer sinkhole pond is typical of a Missouri wetland. Sinkholes are natural depressions formed by the dissolution of underlying limestone layers or the collapse of a cavern roof. Since there are so many caves in the state, sinkholes form naturally.

Sinkhole PondsSinkhole wetlands are usually isolated and form in karst topography, which is caused when soluble rocks dissolve, such as limestone. Karst may form when rainwater, reacting with carbon dioxide from the air and forming carbonic acid, seeps through the soil into the rock. Drainage to a sinkhole is underground.

Wetter types of sinkhole wetlands can have non-woody plants, while the drier ones can be vegetated by trees or shrubs. These areas can provide habitat for amphibian and reptile breeding, depending on the amount and timing of the water supplied to them.

Hardwood Swamps

Hardwood SwampsThese beautiful bottomlands in southeast Missouri are truly an example of forest primeval, found along rivers and streams, generally in broad floodplains. Such ecosystems are commonly found wherever waterways at least occasionally cause flooding beyond the confines of their channels. They are deciduous forested wetlands, made up of different species of Gum, Oak and Bald Cypress trees, which have the ability to survive in areas that are either seasonally flooded or covered with water much of the year. Identifying features of these wetland systems are the fluted or flaring trunks that develop in several species, and the presence of knees, or aerial roots.

Hardwood swamps serve a critical role in the watershed by reducing the risk and severity of flooding to downstream communities by storing floodwater. In addition, these wetlands improve water quality by filtering and flushing nutrients, processing organic wastes, and reducing sediment before it reaches open water.

I hope you enjoyed our four-part journey to the wonderful wetlands of Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri. There’s so much more to see here in the Heartland. You could start by taking your own trip to Kansas’ two internationally recognized wetlands: Cheyenne Bottoms in Great Bend and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County. And if you’d like to continue your mini-education in wetland ecology, let me know!

About the Author: Cynthia Cassel has worked as a Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program grantee with EPA Region 7’s Wetlands and Streams Protection Team for 5½ years. She received her Bachelor of Science from Park University. Cynthia lives in Overland Park, Kan.

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