When I refer to native Missouri, I am not referring to the Missouri that you see today. Did you know that before European settlement, Rolla was on the western edge of the great prairie? That’s right; Rolla was mostly a tall grass prairie.

When I refer to native Missouri, I am not referring to the Missouri that you see today. Did you know that before European settlement, Rolla was on the western edge of the great prairie? That’s right; Rolla was mostly a tall grass prairie. How do we know that? Research of the 1837 surveyor notes show that finding witness trees to mark was difficult at best. In fact, our nature center sits on the edge of cross section lines and the witness tree was a small 4 inch black oak over 200 feet away.

If you visit Benton Square and sit at the bar, you will see hundreds of pictures of Rolla at the turn of the century and before. Notice the wide open landscape with few or any trees. But the real proof is in the plants. Justin Thomas, one of the state’s most respected botanists, located a state listed extinct grass in the rush family at our nature center four years ago. It is now documented and in the state register. The only other place it has been located in Missouri is Golden Prairie, which sits on the Kansas-Missouri border.
 
It took us decades to corrupt our backyard with invasive plants. I have heard people say, “if it grows here it belongs here”, which could not be farther from the truth.  It grows here simply because it has been taken out of its native environment and planted someplace where it has no natural enemies.  Invasive plants crowd out native plants and in many cases, poison or destroy the soil. They are of absolutely no benefit to pollinators, including endangered species of butterflies, bees, grasshoppers, beetles, ants, crickets, moths, and many species of birds. Our native wildlife, such as rabbit, deer, quail and other creatures would starve if only invasive plants were on the landscape.
 
Reflect for a moment on your back yard, back-forty or back-woods.  At one time it was part of the native fabric we call the Ozarks.  It can be again!  Each of us acting independently, can make all the difference; one plant at a time.  
 
Here is a list of some of the most common invasive plants that I see every day in the Ozarks: Autumn Olive, Bush Honeysuckle, Japanese Honeysuckle, Callery Pear, Crown Vetch, Garlic Mustard, Johnson grass, Japanese Knotweed, Kudzu, Multiflora Rose and Spotted Knapweed.  If you Google “invasive plants in Missouri”, you will find that MDC has a list of these plants and others and what you can do to rid your property of these invaders.
 
Just take one of these plants out and replace it with a native plant. You will not believe the difference it will make on your property over time. And if you do not believe me, just drive down to Audubon Trails Nature Center and see for yourself.
 
It took us years of volunteer work to cut out and burn thousands of cedar, which had choked our remnant prairie to death. We are still tackling Autumn Olive and Sericea Lespedeza, one plant at a time. And now Callery Pear is beginning to rear its ugly head.  It is a never ending battle, but I am proud to say that we are finally getting the upper hand. After years of controlled burns and limited herbicide applications, the wildflowers and pollinators are absolutely everywhere across the prairie. If you walk the trails, you will see fields of Black -eyed Susan, Compass Plant, Lead Plant, Coreopsis, Sneezeweed, many species of sunflowers, Rough Blazing Star, Swamp Milkweed, Goldenrod and many other native plants. I have counted multiple species of butterflies and moths and so many species of native bees, that I have lost count. Black and Yellow Swallow -tail are everywhere, as are Sulphur’s, fritillary, admirals and many more. And yes, the monarchs are back.  Our nature center is a sanctuary for all of nature’s creatures.  Grab your camera and take a walk in your ancestors’ footsteps, for this is what they saw when they first settled in this area.

Another impressive number is the species of birds that visit. Over the past seven years that we have been doing controlled burns and other habitat restoration processes; we have seen a substantial increase in the number and species of birds that visit. In fact, over the past seven years we have added thirty-seven species of birds that either visit or live at the nature center. This year, we have added Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Eastern Kingbird and Blue Grosbeak. What will we find next?
 
This is what native Missouri used to look like and with your help, it can look like that again. It really is as easy as one plant at a time.  Please, plant native, grow native and bring native Missouri back to your property.  You can make a difference.