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Vascular Plants of the
University of Kansas Field Station

Craig C. Freemanl, W. Dean Kettle2, Kelly Kindscher2, Ralph E. Brooks3, Vicky C. Varner2, and Catherine M. Pitchers

1. Kansas Biological Survey, The University of Kansas, 2101 Constant Ave., Lawrence, KS 66047-3759
2. The University of Kansas Field Station, The University of Kansas, 2101 Constant Ave., Lawrence, KS 66047-3759
3. Ronald L. McGregor Herbarium, University of Kansas, 2045 Constant Ave., Lawrence, KS 66047-2906

Vascular Plants of the KU Field Station Document

Vascular Plants of the KU Field Station List


The University of Kansas Field Station supports a diverse vascular flora of more than 700 species, including 19 species that are rare in Kansas. The Field Station is located along the eastern deciduous forest-tallgrass prairie ecotone in northeastern Kansas (Settergen 1974; Fitch and Kettle 1988). Plant communities on the Field Station have been minimally disturbed to severely disturbed by human activities. Principal habitats include deciduous forest, tallgrass prairie, cool-season grassland, aquatic and wetland sites, and land in various stages of ecological succession (old fields and woodlands). The Field Station consists of three major units: Baldwin Woods, the Robinson Tract, and the Tri-County area. These areas support distinct floras, a fact substantially related to their recent history of use by humans and to edaphic factors.

Baldwin Woods is a unique remnant stand of relatively undisturbed deciduous forest at the western edge of its range (Settergen 1974; Fitch and Kettle 1988). Field Station tracts contained within the Baldwin Woods ecosystem are Breidenthal Biological Reserve, Rice Woodland, and Wall Woods (Fitch and Kettle 1988). Two other managed areas also largely within Baldwin Woods, but not discussed in this report, are the Ivan L. Boyd Woods (managed by Baker University) and the Douglas County State Lake (managed by the Kansas Dept. of Wildlife and Parks). Baldwin Woods was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1980 by the National Park Service in recognition of its exemplary condition (Fitch and Kettle 1988).

The vegetation of Baldwin Woods is largely oak-hickory forest. Small areas of floodplain forest parallel creeks, and isolated patches of xeric tallgrass prairie occur along dry sandstone ridges, especially on the Breidenthal Biological Reserve. Soils are mostly well drained and formed in material weathered from sandstone or loamy shale (Dickey et al. 1977). Historical data from Government Land Surveys in the 1850s record Baldwin Woods as a 3,000-4,000 acre grove of timber; the size and contiguous nature of this grove has been altered greatly in the intervening 140 years.

By contrast, those Field Station units north of the Kansas River (Tri-County area and Robinson Tract) have long histories of intensive use, especially for agricultural production. They generally support natural communities that are moderately to severely disturbed, some of which are in secondary succession. Small forest and prairie remnants contribute significantly to the total species richness of the northern units. Soils range from somewhat poorly drained to well drained in material weathered from limestone and shale bedrock, alluvium, glacial till, and loess (Dickey et al. 1977).

The Tri-County area consists primarily of level to hilly uplands above of the Kansas River floodplain. It comprises four adjacent Field Station tracts: Fitch Natural History Reservation, Rockefeller Experimental Tract, Nelson Environmental Study Area, and McColl Nature Reserve. Government Land Surveys from the 1850s indicate the area was primarily tallgrass prairie with some timber along draws. Much of the Tri-County area was farmed previously, and cool-season grasslands, old fields, and successional woodlands predominate. A few small, scattered remnants of the presettlement vegetation are extant. Most conservative prairie species recorded from the Tri-County area are restricted to the Rockefeller Native Prairie, a 4-ha mesic, native tallgrass prairie in the southwest corner of the Rockefeller Experimental Tract (Fitch and Kettle 1988; Kindscher in prep.).

The southern and southwestern portions of the Robinson Tract lie on upper terraces of the Kansas River floodplain. The northern portion extends up a southwest-facing section of the valley wall. Many areas of the tract once were cultivated or grazed. Small areas of relict tallgrass prairie and floodplain forest remain (Fitch and Kettle 1988).


Five major habitat types are distinguished on the Field Station: forest, prairie, cool-season grassland, aquatic and wetland sites, and successional areas and other disturbed sites. These types and significant subtypes are discussed below.


Forests are natural communities with a tree cover of 50% or greater and three distinct canopy layers (Lauver 1989). Two subtypes are recognized: oak-hickory forest and floodplain forest.

Oak-hickory forests occupy gentle to moderately steep slopes on uplands and steep valley sides. The best examples are on Baldwin Woods, a ravine in the Nelson Environmental Study Area, and East Woods on the Fitch Natural History Reservation. Dominant species include Quercus (Quercus borealis var. maxima, Quercus macrocarpa, Quercus muehlenbergii, and Quercus velutina) and Carya (Carya cordiformis and Carya ovata). Other common forest trees are Celtis occidentalis, Fraxinus americana, Juglans nigra, Morus rubra, Ulmus americana, and Ulmus rubra. Quercus alba also is common in Baldwin Woods. Characteristic understory shrubs and vines are Aesculus glabra var. arguta, Asimina triloba, Cercis canadensis, Cornus drummondii, Ostrya virginiana, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Smilax hispida, Staphylea trifolia, and Symphoricarpos orbiculatus. Common herbs and graminoids are Anemonella thalictroides, Botrychium virginianum, Bromus pubescens, Carex blanda, Carex davisii, Carex jamesii, Circaea lutetiana subsp. canadensis, Cryptotaenia canadensis, Cystopteris protrusa, Desmodium glutinosum, Dicentra cucullaria, Festuca obtusa, Galium aparine, Isopyrum biternatum, Lactuca florida, Phlox divaricata subsp. laphamii, Podophyllum peltatum, Sanicula canadensis, Sanicula gregaria, Solidago ulmifolia var. ulmifolia, Viola pratincola, and Viola pubescens.

Floodplain forest occupies level to undulating floodplains along rivers and major creeks. This forest type is restricted to floodplains along tributaries of Coal Creek in Baldwin Woods and the Kansas River along the southwestern edge of the Robinson Tract. Dominant species include Celtis occidentalis, Populus deltoides subsp, monilifera, Platanus occidentalis, Fraxinus americana, Ulmus americana, and Ulmus rubra. Acer saccharinum also is a dominant on the Robinson Tract. Characteristic understory shrubs are Aesculus glabra var. arguta, Asimina triloba, Staphylea trifolia, and Symphoricarpos orbiculatus. Common herbs and graminoids are Campanula americana, Cinna arundinacea, Circaea lutetiana subsp. canadensis, Dichanthelium latifolium, Erythronium americanum, Hydrophyllum virginianum, Hystrix patula, Isopyrum biternatum, Laportea canadensis, Pilea pumila, Verbesina alternifolia, and Viola sororia. Chasmanthium latifolium and Diarrhena americana var. obovata also are characteristic in floodplain forests on Baldwin Woods.


Prairies are grassland communities dominated by graminoid and herbaceous species, often with scattered low shrubs (Lauver 1989). Several tallgrass prairie subtypes occur on the Field Station, but they are combined here for purposes of clarity. The largest and most diverse prairie on KUFS is the Rockefeller Native Prairie. Smaller remnants also occur on other tracts north of the Kansas River, but most have been moderately to severely degraded. Andropogon gerardii and Andropogon scoparius are dominant species on the Rockefeller Native Prairie. Common shrubs are Amorpha canescens, Ceanothus herbaceous, and Rhus glabra. Characteristic herbs and graminoids are Ambrosia artemisiifolia, Apocynum cannabinum, Aster praealtus, Baptisia bracteata var. glabrescens, Eryngium yuccifolium, Euphorbia corollata, Helianthus rigidus, Lespedeza violacea, Panicum virgatum, Silphium laciniatum, Solidago canadensis, Solidago missouriensis, Solidago rigida, Sorghastrum nutans, Sporobolus heterolepis, and Tripsacum dactyloides (Kindscher unpubl. data).

Several small, xeric prairie remnants are situated along the western edge of the Breidenthal Biological Reserve in Baldwin Woods. These occur on well drained, sandy loam soils on south-facing slopes as openings in oak-hickory forest. Andropogon scoparius and Andropogon gerardii are dominant. Other characteristic species include Agalinis tenuifolia, Lechea tenuifolia var. occidentalis, Dalea purpurea var. purpurea, Desmanthus illinoensis, Lespedeza virginica, Liatris aspera, Liatris hirsuta, and Viola pedata. Historically, a small, mesic prairie was present along the railroad right-of-way near the western edge of the Breidenthal Biological Reserve, but this now is overgrown with woody vegetation (McGregor personal communication). Several mesic prairie species reported for Baldwin Woods by McGregor (1966) apparently came from this area.

Cool-season Grasslands

These areas are dominated by introduced grasses, but they often contain remnant or colonizing prairie species. Several units in the Tri-County area are maintained in this state for experimental studies by periodic mowing. Common species include Bromus inermis, Festuca arundinacea, Festuca pratensis, Poa compressa, Poa pratensis, Sporobolus asper, and Tridens flavus. Common remnant or colonizing prairie species are Asclepias viridis, Asclepias verticillata, Desmanthus illinoensis, Desmodium illinoense, Ruellia humilis, and Silphium laciniatum.

Aquatic and Wetland

Intermittent streams and ponds account for most of the aquatic and wetland habitats on the Field Station. Stream beds and temporary pools in drainages are home to a variety of aquatic and wetland species. Common species in a wet-mesic ravine in the northern part of the Robinson Tract are Carex annectens, Carex brevior, Bidens aristosa var, retrorsa, Lobelia siphilitica, Phalaris arundinacea, Polygonum lapathifolium, Polygonum hydropiperoides, Rudbeckia laciniata, Spartina pectinata, Tripsacum dactyloides, and Veronicastrum virginicum. In Baldwin Woods along tributaries to Coal Creek, common species are Commelina communis, Impatiens capensis, Impatiens pallida, Lobelia siphilitica, Pilea pumila, and Polygonum punctatum.

An array of ponds form the experimental pond facility on the Nelson Environmental Study Area. In addition, there are nine farm ponds on tracts in the Tri-County area. A small, shallow limestone quarry in the northeast corner of the Breidenthal Biological Reserve contains water, but aquatic species there are limited. Potamogeton spp. and Najas guadalupensis are common submerged aquatics in ponds. Emergent species include Typha angustifolia, Typha latifolia, Carex spp., Eleocharis spp., and Scirpus spp.

Successional Areas and Other Disturbed Sites

These habitats, which include old fields (abandoned farmland), roadsides, ditches, and forest clearings, are similar in that they have been altered by major ecosystem disturbances. If permitted to undergo succession, these areas pass through a predictable series of vegetative stages. Disturbed areas initially are dominated by weedy herbaceous annuals for several years. Eventually, herbaceous biennial and perennial plants replace the annuals. Ultimately, in the absence of further human disturbance or manipulation, woody species dominate and the site is transformed into a woodland. This phenomenon, called secondary succession, is studied at the Biotic Succession Facility on the Nelson Environmental Study Area. Common species of disturbed sites include Ambrosia artemisiifolia, Ambrosia trifida, Asclepias syriaca, Bromus inermis, Bromus japonicus, Conyza canadensis, Digitaria sanguinalis, Digitaria ischaemium, Eragrostis cilianensis, Eragrostis pectinacea, Gaura parviflora, Lespedeza stipulacea, Melilotus alba, Melilotus officinalis, Poa pratensis, Setaria faberi, Taraxacum officinale, Verbascum thapsus, and Xanthium strumarium.

Rare Plants

One indication of the high quality of certain natural community remnants is found in the numerous protected and rare species that occur on the Field Station. Nineteen rare plant species currently are known from the Field Station, including two that are federally protected, one that is a federal candidate, and 16 that are rare in Kansas.

Mead's milkweed (Asclepias meadii) and Western prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara) are listed as threatened species under provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act. These two tallgrass prairie forbs have declined rangewide because of habitat loss and degradation. Both occur on the Rockefeller Native Prairie. Earleaf foxglove (Tomanthera auriculata) is being studied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for possible listing as an endangered or threatened species. A population was discovered recently on a disturbed prairie in the northwest portion of the Tri-County area.

Sixteen species considered rare in the state of Kansas and tracked by the Kansas Natural Heritage Inventory (KSNHI) of the Kansas Biological Survey occur on the Field Station. Most occur in Baldwin Woods. They are American spikenard (Aralia racemosa), Hirsute sedge (Carex hirsutella), Reflexed-fruit sedge (Carex retroflexa), Bur-reed sedge (Carex sparganioides), Buttonbush dodder (Cuscuta cephalanthi, White gentian (Gentiana flavida), Michigan lily (Lilium canadense subsp. michiganense), American gromwell (Lithospermum latifolium), Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata), Virginia bunchflower (Melanthium virginicum), Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys), Green adder's mouth (Malaxis unifolia), Oval ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes ovalis), Nodding pogonia (Triphora trianthophora), Hooked buttercup (Ranunculus recurvatus), and Woodland agrimony (Agrimonia rostellata). Ongoing field studies by the KSNHI will provide detailed data about the quality, condition, and status of populations of these species.

Floristic Studies

Floristic studies of the University of Kansas Field Station date back to the early 1940s when the first specimens unequivocally referable to Baldwin Woods were collected. Wells and Morley (1964) characterized the woody vegetation of the Rice Woodland, listing 31 trees and 21 shrubs and vines in their study area. Fitch (1965) compiled a list of nearly 340 species from what is now the Fitch Natural History Reservation and the Rockefeller Experimental Tract. His study was begun in 1948 and provides important baseline data for the Tri-County area. McGregor (1966) provided the first inclusive list of vascular plants for the Breidenthal Biological Reserve, enumerating 404 species. Recently, field work has been conducted to update earlier lists, to verify species reports (particularly those based on unvouchered reports), and to characterize plant communities. Systematic surveys of all management units on the Tri-County area and Robinson Tract were begun in 1987 (Kettle and Kindscher unpubl. data) and on the Baldwin Woods in 1990 (Freeman unpubl. data).

Annotated List of Vascular Plants

In the list that follows, plants are arranged alphabetically by family, genus, species, and infraspecific taxon, respectively. Scientific names follow the Great Plains Flora Association (1986) or, for groups with recent nomenclatural changes, Brooks and Freeman (in prep.). Colloquial names follow Brooks and Freeman (in prep.). The origin of each taxon is designated either as native (n) or introduced (i). The typical habitat of each taxon on the field Station is designated by one or more letter: A = aquatic and wetland sites; F = forest; G = cool-season grasslands; O = successional areas and other disturbed sites; and P = native tallgrass prairie. Occurrence data are presented for each taxon on the three major units of the Field Station: Baldwin Woods (BW), Robinson Tract (RT), and Tri-County area (TC). Taxa are included on the basis of a voucher specimen (V) or a reliable report (R). Records based on misidentifications from earlier studies are excluded. Voucher specimens are deposited in the Ronald L. McGregor Herbarium of the University of Kansas (KANU) and duplicate specimens are in the Field Station reference collection in Foley Hall at the University of Kansas. Data for plant surveys and reference collections are maintained in a relational database on an IBM-compatible computer.

A total of 718 species and infraspecific taxa in 371 genera and 103 families of vascular plants are listed. These numbers represent 33% of the species and infraspecific taxa, 51% of the genera, and 71% of the families in Kansas (Brooks 1986). Eighteen percent (126 taxa) of the vascular plants on the Field Station are considered introduced, slightly lower than the 20% figure for the entire state's flora. The ten largest families and the number of taxa in each are Poaceae (98), Asteraceae (91), Cyperaceae (44), Fabaceae (35), Rosaceae (31), Brassicaceae (24), Lamiaceae (18), Euphorbiaceae (17), Scrophulariaceae (17), and Polygonaceae (15).

A summary of taxon occurrences by habitats reveals 140 in aquatic and wetland habitats (125 native, 15 introduced), 253 in forests (241 native, 12 introduced), 109 in cool-season grasslands (88 native, 21 introduced), 209 in prairie (202 native, 7 introduced), and 266 in successional areas and other disturbed sites (150 native, 116 introduced). The sum of values for the five habitat types exceeds the total number of taxa on the Field Station because many taxa occur in more than one habitat. Of the 718 species and infraspecific taxa reported from the Field Station, 127 are unique to Baldwin Woods, 22 are unique to the Robinson Tract, and 137 are unique to the TriCounty area. One hundred eighty-five taxa occur on all three units.


The authors wish to thank Alison Smith and Kelly Welsh-Wingate for their assistance mounting plant specimens and entering database information. Dr. Meredith Lane, Director of the Ronald L. McGregor Herbarium, kindly provided work space and materials for this project.

Literature Cited

Brooks, R. E. 1986. Vascular plants of Kansas: a checklist. Kansas Biological Survey. Lawrence, KS. 129 pp.

Brooks, R. E, and C. C. Freeman. In prep. Vascular plants of Kansas: a checklist. Kansas Biological Survey. Lawrence, KS.

Dickey, H. P., J. L. Zimmerman, R. O. Plinsky, and R. D. Davis. 1977. Soil survey of Douglas County, Kansas. U.S.D.A. Soil Conservation Service and Kansas Agr. Exp. Station. 73 pp.

Fitch, H. S. 1965. The University of Kansas Natural History Reservation in 1965. Univ. of Kansas Mus. Nat. Hist. Misc. Pub. 42: 1-60.

Fitch, H. S. and W. D. Kettle. 1988. Kansas Ecological Reserves (University of Kansas Natural Areas). Trans. Kan. Acad. Sci. 91: 30-36.

Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, KS. 1392 pp.

Lauver, C. L. 1989. Preliminary classification of the natural communities of Kansas. Kansas Natural Heritage Program, Kansas Biological Survey. Lawrence, KS. 21 pp.

McGregor, R. L. 1966. Flora of the Maurice L. Breidenthal Biological Reserve. Unpubl. report. Department of Botany, University of Kansas. Lawrence, KS 16 pp.

Settergen, C. C. 1974. Evaluation of Breidenthal Reserve and Gertrude Priestly Woods, Douglas County, Kansas, for eligibility as a natural landmark. Unpubl. report. National Park Service, Midwest Region. 12 pp. + appendix.

Wells, P. V. and G. E. Morley. 1964. Composition of Baldwin Woods: an oak-hickory forest in eastern Kansas. Trans. Kan. Acad. Sci. 67: 65-69.


Listed alphabetically by family name

Aa-Az    B-Cn    Co-E    F-G    H-L    M-O    Pa-Pok    Pol-Pz     R-T    U-Z