Missouri Department of Conservation – Kansas City Regional Office
Points of Interest:
See a rare natural community, a bottomland prairie.
Marvel at the productivity of prairie cordgrass or ripgut.
Natural Features Description:
Prior to the construction of the Bates County Drainage Ditch in the early 20th century, wet bottomland prairies and associated wetland communities were common along the floodplain of the Marais des Cygnes river. Historically over 700,000 acres of bottomland prairie occurred in Missouri. Today less than 3,000 acres remain. Because these bottomland prairies are so fertile for row crops when artificially drained and protected from flooding they have been nearly completely plowed for row crops.
Here prairie cord grass dominates. Prairie cord grass is a tall (six to eight feet) native warm-season grass that spreads rapidly by coarse, woody rhizomes. Cord grass is a facultative wetland species meaning it is usually found in wetlands (67–99 percent of the time) but is occasionally found in nonwetlands. Reproduction is typically by rhizomes, which occupy the surface six to ten inches of soil. Roots can extend eight to eleven feet deep. Seed production is typically poor. Seedlings need bare areas as they are shade intolerant. Seedlings develop rapidly to avoid the frost-heaving problems of wet soils. Up to three hay cuttings per season can be obtained and production can be as much as 3 to 5 tons per acre. Native Americans used cord grass for thatching lodges and early Euro-American settlers used it for roof thatching. Cord grass works well for protecting water ways and slowing erosion. Duck hunters have long used cut cord grass for duck blinds. Early settlers called cordgrass “ripgut” because of the serrations on the grass leaves that could cut the bellies of livestock running through it.
But the wet prairie is more than cordgrass. Sullivant’s milkweed and swamp milkweed provide blooming flowers that attract butterflies and other insects. The milkweeds also provide food for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. In the late summer and fall the golden yellow blooms of sawtooth sunflower and beggarticks (Bidens species) enliven the prairie. A number of sparrow species use the area throughout the year for food and cover.
Go a third mile east of Rich Hill on Highway B then turn left (north) on to County Road 515 (gravel). This road goes north 0.5 mile, then turns east for 0.5 mile, then turns north and goes a quarter mile to a “T” intersection. Continue north on the unmarked gravel road for another quarter mile to the parking lot. Hunting and fishing are permitted. A map is recommended to explore the area.