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Plant Life

The Ouachita Mountains were at one time a westward extension of the Appalachians. Therefore the plants of the Ouachita National Forest are similar to the eastern deciduous forest. Both geographically and climatically, the area may be considered a meeting ground of several biomes or plant formation. These include plants which can be found in the northwest U.S., the southwest U.S., the Gulf Coastal Plain and the Gulf Coastal Highlands, and the prairie states.

The Ouachita Mountains are different from most mountain ranges. The ridge line run predominantly east-west rather than north-south. The east-west directional trend gives rise to distinct north slope and south slope plant and animal communities.
South slopes are occupied by shortleaf pines in almost pure stands or in mixed pine hardwood forests. Common hardwood trees occupying the southern exposures are post oak, blackjack oak, black oak, southern red oak (at lower elevations), black hickory, and winged elm, with an understory of serviceberry, wild plum and fringe tree.


Trees near the mountain crests are dwarfed and gnarled due to the constant pressure from prevailing south winds and the effect of winter icing from frequent freezing fogs, mist and rain.

Dominant trees on the north slopes include white oak, northern red oak, mockernut hickory, bitternut, black walnut, black locust, basswood, sugar maple, red maple, and at lower levels, beech. Understory trees include dogwood, pawpaw, Carolina silverbell, American bladdernut, umbrella magnolia, Ohio buckeye, redbud and wild hydrangea.

For a native plant list for Arkansas and Oklahoma, please visit Plant Native.

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The north slopes, in particular, are an extremely rich habitat for spring wildflowers.

On the north slopes the soil is extremely rich, dark, and moist. Rich Mountain derived its name from the unusually rich soil. One story says that the mountain was at one time the roosting place of vast numbers of passenger pigeons; their droppings contributing to the fertility of the soil.

With the variety of flora throughout the area there is always something at its peak or uniquely beautiful at any given time of the year. Whether it is the budding out of trees and flowers after a hard winter or the vibrant colors of the fall, the natural beauty of the area never disappoints no matter what time of year you visit.


Talimena-fallA wide variety of wildlife is abundant in the Ouachitas. The name “Ouachita” is derived from an Indian word meaning “good hunting.” True to its name, many tribes used these mountains as seasonal hunting grounds and today the Ouachita National Forest, including the area around the Talimena Scenic Drive, provide valuable hunting opportunities to the public. Deer, turkey, bear, quail, fix, and gray squirrels, black bass, crappie, and bluegill are major game species native to the area. Non-game species are considered and protected by forest managers as well. The terrain and conditions on the forest floor of the north slopes of the Rich and Winding Stair Mountains provide an ideal habitat for two amphibians unique to the area: the Rich Mountain Salamander and the Ouachita Mountain Redback Salamander. One of the more entertaining forms of wildlife is the abundant birds. Enjoy the aerial acrobatics of the golden eagles, turkey black vultures, red-tailed / red shouldered hawks, which all perform amid the strong updrafts of the mountains.

See the Majestic Byway of Talimena!

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