Southeast Students Preparing Sand Prairie at Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus Nature Center

Photo of Prairie Preparation

Dr. Bill Eddleman, left, chair of the Department of Biology, assists Ryan Alberg, a freshman from Blue Springs, Mo., in arranging plants for a sand prairie at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus Nature Center.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,

Nov. 10, 2005 – Southeast Missouri State University students have had a hand this semester in developing a sand prairie that will showcase this rarest of endangered dry habitats to visitors to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus Nature Center.

Twenty-three students are enrolled in the freshmen seminar UI100 “Wildlife in American Culture” taught by Dr. Bill Eddleman, chair of Southeast’s Department of Biology. He said the students began from the ground up, writing a prospectus, designing the area, selecting plants, and developing handout information and interpretive signs to accompany the area.

The sand prairie is located on the southwest side of the Nature Center, which is located in Cape County North Park.

The students finished final plantings at the Center this week and will soon turn in a final report on their work to Eddleman. 

He says Southeast Missouri is home to sand prairies, which are very dry habitats unique to this region. The southwest side of the Nature Center is prone to hot, dry characteristics, so Eddleman said it was the perfect place to develop the sand prairie.

He says sand prairies have influenced the cultural history of Southeast Missouri. Missouri’s lowlands were once flooded by a shallow gulf. The Ohio River emptied into this gulf, dumping enormous amounts of sand. When the glaciers melted that had spread across North America, they released huge amounts of water that flowed down what is now the Mississippi River, Eddleman said. This current eroded sand plains that had been deposited by the Ohio River much earlier, leaving only two sandy ridges – the Sikeston Sand Ridge and another that begins south of Crowley’s Ridge and runs down through Malden, Mo., into Arkansas.

Eddleman says that when the sand prairies first began developing in southeast Missouri, bison, elk and prairie chickens wandered the area. Interpretive signage at the sand prairie being created at the Nature Center will address these animals, he said.

The development of a sand prairie at the Nature Center took root after Eddleman and Bob Gillespie, natural history biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southeast Region, had a conversation about sand prairies being a hotbed for rare species.

Since then, the Department of Conservation brought in sandy soil from Scott County to lay the foundation for the sand prairie. Eddleman started some plants for the area from seed, and Gillespie also accessed some plants for the showcase area. In total, about 200 plants have been put in by students, including several state and federally listed plants, the distinctive splitbeard grass, which is a type of blue stem grass, and Patterson Dawn Flowers, which are in the Morning Glory family, cacti and a state endangered plant.