Neighborhood Gems

Neighborhood Gems: Shaw Nature Reserve

If you ever forget how gorgeous this state of ours is, a short westward drive down Highway 100 is all that’s needed to remind you. Shaw Nature Reserve, 2,400 acres situated on the northern edge of the Ozarks, is run by the Missouri Botanical Garden and features a variety of stunning native plant habitats, including wetlands, savanna, prairie and forest.

A quaint visitors center and gift shop stands at the reserve’s entrance, where knowledgeable employees can suggest a walking route or answer questions about the property. General admission is $5 or free for garden members and reserve passholders. From there, 14 miles of trails twist and turn through and around the property, and it’s possible to experience all the native habitats in one, long walk.

Each season has something unique to offer visitors. In the spring, thousands of daffodils bloom around Pinetum Lake. “It’s just a sea of yellow, and people who see it for the first time sometimes laugh because they’re so delighted,” says Holly Berthold, the garden’s public information officer. Later in the season, vibrant wildflowers bloom, particularly in the Whitmire Wildflower Garden, which includes a home gardening area that displays more than 800 native plant species. “In the summer, the place is magical; it’s really lush and beautiful, and the prairies are full of wildflowers,” Berthold adds. And in the winter, hidden treasures like an old graveyard reveal themselves, and the bare trees allow for expansive views across the rolling landscape.

Shaw Nature Reserve has been around since 1925, when the Missouri Botanical Garden began to purchase land for plant collection far from the city’s smoke pollution. Its mission includes restoring and creating habitats for as many native species of plants and animals as possible. “We focus on native habitat management and restoration, which requires prescribed burning, correctly timed field mowing and a variety of other management techniques,” Berthold says. “When we do the prescribed burns, for example, we watch the weather carefully, because it’s a delicate window where there’s the right amount of moisture and little to no wind. When the right time comes, it’s all hands on deck and the whole team works together.”

The reserve also is dedicated to educating St. Louisans of all ages about nature and native landscaping. The Nature Explore Classrooms which opened in 2008, is a collaborative effort between National Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation designed to address the growing disconnect between children and nature. The reserve also holds Native Plant School to spread awareness about native gardening practices.

Beyond exploring the trails, visitors also can sign up for a host of outdoor activities, including paddleboarding, kayaking, running clubs and a variety of photography and art workshops. One upcoming offering is led by Sam Abell, a renowned National Geographic photographer.

The Shaw Wildflower Market, one of the reserve’s signature events, takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 11. Admission is $5, and the event, which also occurs in the spring, features a variety of native gardening and wildflower vendors and locally made products, including bread, meat, cheese, art and wine. “It feels like a farmers market, only the emphasis is on native wildflowers,” Berthold says. “After the hot months of summer, it’s so nice to be out there envisioning what your native garden could look like next spring.”

when » open year-round, 7 a.m. until sunset
where » highway 100 and i-44 in gray summit
why » to explore missouri’s natural landscapes

Photo Courtesy of Shaw Nature Reserve