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U.S. Forest Service

Eastern Region Viewing Area


pale purple coneflower. Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) is a wildflower more commonly encountered on the tall grass prairies of central Illinois. However, many of the wildflowers occurring in conjunction with the open limestone barrens community are also commonly encountered on the Illinois prairies. Photo by Larry Stritch.

Rosinweed. Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) is the tallest wildflower found at Simpson Township Barrens sometimes approaching 5 to 6 feet in height.. Photo by Larry Stritch.

hoary puccoon. One of the very first prairie wildflowers to bloom on the limestone barrens hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens) is limited to the shallowest soils on the limestone barrens. Photo by Larry Stritch.

wild geranium. On the slopes below the limestone barrens are a diversity of mesic forest spring ephemerals such as wild geranium (Geranium maculatum). Photo by Larry Stritch.

Simpson Township Barrens

Forest: Shawnee National Forest

District: Hidden Springs Ranger District

Description: Simpson Township Barrens is a unique ecological area containing several native plant communities such as limestone barrens, seeps, dry and dry-mesic upland forest, an intermittent creek drainage and support a rich diversity of plants. The limestone barrens communities are characterized by very dry, calcium rich soils that support a flora more commonly encountered on the tall grass prairies found north of the Shawnee National Forest. At the Simpson Township Barrens Ecological Area two limestone barrens are located within a matrix of dry and dry-mesic upland forest each with a southwestern aspect. The dry and dry-upland oak forests are dominated by post oaks (Quercus stellata), white oaks (Quercus alba) and black oaks (Quercus velutina). pignut hickory (Carya glabra), and mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa) are also commonly encountered. Unlike the barrens community the forested matrix is characterized by sandstone cliffs, sandstone boulders and other sandstone rocks giving the soils a somewhat sandy consistency. The soils are acidic and support a flora completely different from the limestone barrens.

Wildflower viewing: Throughout the year numerous wildflowers can be seen in throughout this beautiful area. Spring ephemerals in the limestone barrens include hoary puccoon (Lithospermun canescens), bird’s foot violet (Viola pedata) pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) and marbleseed (Onosmodium hispidissum). The oak forest’s spring ephemerals include spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), toothwort (Dentaria laciniata), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) and common blue phlox (Phlox divaricata). Spring flowering shrubs are encountered sporadically across the landscape. The intermittent creek drainage is dominated by bryophytes and lichens. The seep community contains an uncommon fern ally blackfoot quillwort (Isoetes melanopoda) and marsh blazing star (Liatris spicata) and southern sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa). In autumn the limestone barrens community is dominated by flowering, warm season grasses such as Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Virginia wild rye (Elymus virginicus) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), and prairie forbs, rosin weed (Silphium integrifolium), woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus), scaly blazing star (Liatris squarrosa), and smooth aster (Aster laevis). In the oak hickory forest, autumn wildflowers such as elm-leaved goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia), gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus), white snakeroot (Eupatorium serotinum) and various woodland asters (Aster spp.) will delight visitors into late October.

Safety First: Be prepared in spring, summer and autumn for rapid changes in weather as thunderstorms may develop rapidly. Timber rattlesnakes and copperheads may occasionally be present so please stay alert. None of these snakes tend to be aggressive but they will defend themselves if stepped on or threatened at close range. Just watch the ground as you walk and you should not have any problems. The roadside pull off is narrow on this gravel road so be alert to other traffic. Summer temperatures can be high, 90 to 100 F. Bring plenty of sunscreen and insect repellant. Poison ivy is common; remember leaves of three let it be.

Directions: From the village of Vienna proceed east on IL 146 to the intersection with IL 147. Turn left on IL 147 and proceed through the small community of Simpson; on the east side of Simpson turn left on Trigg Tower Road. Proceed uphill on Trigg tower road until you come upon the roadside pull off and interpretive sign for Simpson Township Barrens. See Map.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest, Hidden Springs Ranger District.

Closest Town: Vienna, Illinois.