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Wildflowers in the Ozarks

marsh violet

Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata) This violet is rare in Missouri, and flowers from April to July. Look for it in wet, low-lying areas.

Rare Wildflowers of the Ozarks


by Fred L. Fox
Former Lower Ozarks Project Director
The Nature Conservancy


Everyone likes wildflowers, and there is something for every wildflower enthusiast in the Ozarks. From the bloom of spring beauties in late winter, to the last goldenrods of November, there is always a floral display somewhere. Many of our most appreciated wildflowers, like fire pink, larkspur, purple coneflower and columbine, are common here and easily identifiable for the beginner.
There are few better places than the Ozarks to catch sight of some of the rarest and most unusual wildflowers. Several dozen species of plants are endemic to the Ozarks, meaning they live nowhere else in the world. Plus, several globally rare plants, as will as many that are rare in Missouri, can be seen in the Ozarks.


If you are just starting out, a good field guide, such as “Missouri Wildflowers,” is a must. Here are some rare and unusual wildflowers to look for on your visit to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

 
Loesel's Twayblade
Loesel’s Twayblade, (Liparis loeselii). This member of the orchid family was first found in Missouri in 1936 in Shannon County. Although no additional sightings occurred until 1979, it is now known in six Missouri counties. Its yellow-green flowers are visible in May and June, and it is most likely to be seen in fens (grassy wetland areas), alder thickets and at the edge of sinkhole ponds.
 
Showy lady's slipper
Showy Lady’s Slipper    (Cypripredium reginae) A large, rare and extremely beautiful member of the orchid family, it can be found at the base of north facing limestone bluffs along small streams, and in fens and wet swales. It flowers from the middle of May until early June.
 
Early lady's tresses
Early Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes lucida) Another orchid, it is rare in Missouri. In flower from mid-May through June, it is the only species of ladies tresses found here that flowers in the spring. It can be seen in fens and other wetland areas.
 
Royal catchfly
Royal Catchfly (Silene regia) This striking plant may grow as high as five feet, with bright red flowers.
It flowers from May through September, and can be seen in remnant prairies and open woods. In Missouri, it is known only in the Ozarks.
 
Rein orchid
Rein Orchid (Platanthera flave)
This rare orchid produces greenish-
yellow flowers in June and July,
and can reach a height of two feet.
In Missouri, it is known to occur in
only five counties.
 
Plantain
Heart-leaved Plantain (Plantago chordata) once common throughout the eastern United States, this plant survives in a very small handful of sites outside the Ozarks, making this its last stronghold. Siltation, pollution and other water quality degradation of previously clear, gravel bottom streams caused this plant’s disappearance from much of its former range. Look for it in small gravel creeks throughout the area.
 
Forked aster
Forked Aster (Eurybia furcatus) Another edge of range species, it blooms on wooded slopes in August and September. New flowers are almost pure white, becoming rosy or lilac colored with time.
 
wild crocus

NPS photo by Dan Swofford

Ozarks Wild Crocus (Tradescantia longipes) This beautiful flower is found in the Ozarks, and nowhere else on Earth. Its variably colored flowers (magenta, purple, purplish-blue) are visible in April and May in heavily forested areas surrounding the Current River and its tributaries.
Learning to identify wildflowers and other plants can be a very rewarding experience. But please, don't pick or dig wildflowers and other plants. Leave them there for others to enjoy also.
The Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth. It depends on the voluntary contributions of thousands of Americans to do its work.

The Nature Conservancy can be contacted at:
P.O. Box 960
Van Buren, MO 63965.

For more detailed information and range maps, go to the USDA Plant Database. You can look up any native plant by common or scientific name.

Did You Know?

thick stand of rivercane, which looks like bamboo.

Cane brakes are thick stands of rivercane, which is much like bamboo. The endangered Swainson's Warbler nests in these thickets. Many stands have been lost to reservoir impoundments throughout the South, but many stands are protected at Ozark National Scenic Riverways. More at www.nps.gov/ozar More...