In the immediate vicinity of the Refuge, much of the native prairie occurs as small patches. Most of the remaining native prairie here has been converted to fescue pasture, row crops or grown into forest. A casual view of the region reveals a series of large forested hills running in a southwest to northeast direction. Between the hills is gently rolling pasture land with woods occurring along boundary lines and along rivers, streams, or other wet sites. Some cropland is found in the region but is not a dominant feature of the area.Native tallgrass prairie sites are extremely diverse and may contain 200 to 300 plant species. These prairies are very different in appearance from western prairies in that they are dominated by flowering plants and often appear more as a flower garden than a grassland. Some plant species which are likely to be encountered are compass plant, prairie blazing star, rattlesnake master, and Ohio spiderwort. Mature upland forest is oak-hickory and bottomland forest is pin oak - pecan or sycamore-cottonwood. Woodland wildflowers displays are most dramatic in mature upland forest sites. Some likely species encountered from late March through April are toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, mayapple, toad trilliums, and trout lilly. Vegetation cover types on the Refuge are approximately 55% forest, 15% grassland, 12% shrubland, 7% wetland and 11% agriculture. Examples of native tallgrass prairie, bottomland hardwood forest, and upland oak-hickory forest are found throughout the Refuge, though high quality tracts are quite limited in size and number. Much of the forest and grassland on the Refuge is in early to mid succession, having been logged or farmed in the last 30 years.Some predominant early succession tree species are persimmon, osage orange, green ash, and wild plum. Examples of predominant early succession/disturbed grassland plant species are broomsedge grass, mountain mint, black-eyed susan, and Illinois bundleflower.Roughly one-third of the Refuge lies within the floodplain of the Marais des Cygnes River and is subject to periodic flooding. Flood events are most common in the spring and early summer and again in the fall and generally last anywhere from a few days to as long as three weeks. The floodplain is generally one-half to one mile wide. Depending on the severity of the flood, all or only a small portion of the floodplain may be flooded. Flood depths may be several feet deep for large expanses of the floodplain.The overall climate, vegetation, and wildlife of the Refuge are quite typical of those found throughout the southeastern U.S. from Missouri to central Kentucky. While these characteristics are quite typical of the southeastern U.S. they are extremely atypical for Kansas and the Mountain-Prairie Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which administers the refuge and offer a unique glimpse of another world for many westerners.
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Bottomland hardwood forests, wetlands, and prairie combine to offer a showcase of diverse and unique plants and animals.