The St. Francois Mountains, in the southeastern part of Missouri, are home to the state's highest peaks and only igneous glades. This unique area harbors a diverse flora that is currently under threat from encroaching species. Concern for survival of the glade's plant communities has prompted a study that will lead to mapping out a conservation management plan.
An article in the current issue of the journal Castanea reports on a vouchered floristic inventory of the Buford Mountain Conservation Area. Specimens were collected on a weekly to biweekly basis during the growing season, from April to August, in both 2010 and 2011.
More than 100 years ago, logging and charcoal production were part of this region's economy. Since 1979, however, Buford Mountain has been owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation and is a designated conservation area. The mountain has steep, forested slopes and its surface is half-covered with stones and boulders. Its igneous glades appear in patches, interspersed with wooded areas.
In addition to providing a detailed account of the flora on the mountain, this inventory sought to document any rare or endangered taxa. A thoroughwort, Eupatorium semiserratum, considered an imperiled plant in Missouri, was found in some abundance at this site. This find may cause the plant's status to be reexamined. A rare species of milkweed, Asclepias meadii, known to exist on igneous glades in this region, was not found on the Buford Mountain site.
Red cedar and shagbark hickory are common threats to the local flora. In an effort to inhibit their spread, the Missouri Department of Conservation conducted a controlled burn in April 2011. It will be important to monitor the effects of the fire over the next few growing seasons to determine if the undesired species were sufficiently suppressed. Fire has also been shown to stimulate germination of Asclepias meadii seeds and may help bring the species back to the mountain.
This inventory identified a total of 132 vascular plant species in 102 genera and 49 families. The Asteraceae family proved the most diverse, with 22 different species represented. All plants but one, nodding foxtail, are native to Missouri.
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