Taberville Prairie

Location: St Clair County north of Taberville.

Owner/manager: Missouri Department of Conservation.


From the southwest at Interstate 44 exit 18: Go north on Highway 71 fifty-five miles to Highway 54 in Nevada and turn right. Go east on Highway 54 eighteen mile to Highway 82 in El Dorado Springs and turn left. Go north on Highway 82 three miles to where the road bends northeast and turn left on Route H. Go north on Route H eleven miles to a parking area for the preserve on the right. Free. No camping. Pets on leash.

Taberville Prairie at one time was the largest publicly accessible prairie in Missouri. It was acquired by the Missouri Department of Conservation in 1959 primarily to preserve Greater Prairie Chicken habitat. This large prairie has a small resident population of these birds, typically about fifty, and is full to the brim with rare plants, butterflies, grassland birds and mima mounds.

Taberville Prairie is probably a good place to talk about Geocarpon minimum. Geocarpon minimum is indeed a minimal plant. It was first collected in 1913 by the botanicst Ernest J Palmer. That this plant was missed by the great wave of 19th century botanists who passed through Missouri is perhaps understandable – it is an annual not more than two inches tall and completes its life cycle in early spring in about a month. Geocarpon minimum is not only a rare plant but is also monotypic, a species that is the only member of its genus. It has succulent grey to red leaves and looks a bit like it should be growing in South Africa rather than Missouri. Geocarpon would appear to be at a disadvantage competing with the much taller grasses of the prairie and it survives in a niche environment, small shallow sandstone depressions that have a heavy concentration of magnesium salts. Such depressions are thought to be former Pleistocene lake beds which in a forest would eventually fill up with leaf litter but in grassland remain open through periodic fire. This particular prairie has a small population of this plant which no longer grows at its type locality in Jasper County. Within the public lands of Missouri Geocarpon minimum is found at only two other natural areas and one highway right-of-way. Including populations found on private land this plant is known to exist at about three dozen locations with the largest at Warren Prairie in Arkansas.