Into the Hills: An Expedition into the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri

by Jon Hetman, Director of External Relations & Communications

October 10, 2017

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Into the Hills: An Expedition into the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri

By Robert Dowell and Kea Woodruff

During the last week of September, an Arboretum plant collecting team including Living Collections Fellow Robert Dowell and Weld Hill Growth Facilities Manager Kea Woodruff ventured through the diverse Ozark landscapes of Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri to secure living plant material for The Campaign for the Living Collections.


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Growth Facilities Manager Kea Woodruff alongside Dirca decipiens (Ozark leatherwood). We were able to spot this non-descript population in the forest thanks to invaluable help from local flora expert Steven Foster, an authority on plants in the region.

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Arkansas local flora expert and Peterson Field Guide co-author Steven Foster, about to lead the team over a walkway on top of the largest dry stack limestone dam in the United States in Lake Leatherwood City Park, Eureka Springs, AR.

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Living Collections Fellow Robert Dowell standing alongside Cladrastis kentukea (Kentucky yellowood) at the Long Pool Recreational Area in the Ozark National Forest. Thanks to helpful hints from Jeffrey Carstens at the USDA, we were able to pinpoint this population and collect propagules.


Highlights of this trip included visiting wild populations of Dirca decipiens (Ozark leatherwood) and Cladrastis kentukea (Kentucky yellowwood), both rare species in Arkansas; finding populations of three-foot-diameter Fagus grandifolia (American beech) in the Ozark National Forest; and collecting a two-pound Maclura pomifera (Osage orange) fruit! Our adventures included taking in breathtaking mountain vistas, exploring massive Platanus occidentalis (sycamore) groves along mountain streams, and a brief ride on Arkansas’ last operating public ferryboat to cross the White River.


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Lake Leatherwood City Park, Eureka Springs, AR is home to a population of Dirca decipiens (Ozark Leatherwood)

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A glimpse of the White River within the Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri.


Seed was hard to come by in many areas. Northwest Arkansas, the main focus area for the trip, experienced a pronounced drought in 2016 and has been experiencing abnormally dry conditions over the past few months, making hunting for viable seed an often challenging exercise. Despite their abundance in the region, target species such as Carya texana (black hickory) and Quercus velutina (black oak) offered few viable seeds. Yet, regardless of the drought, our team managed to secure combinations of herbarium vouchers and propagation material for 23 plant taxa.


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A two pound Maclura pomifera (Osage orange) fruit collected from the grounds of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR. The large Maclura trees, some up to 60 feet in height, predate the museum.


Like almost every other Arboretum expedition, our trip owes a great deal of thanks to the local collaborators and other flora experts who assisted us in making our collections, namely Steven Foster, Crystal Bridges Horticulturist Cody George, and USDA’s NCPRIS woody plant curator Jeffrey Carstens.

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