Life on Loess is Special

Investigators in many fields have long recognized that our Loess Hills are special.

In her classic Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America, Lucy Braun writes that our Loess Hills are "The most interesting and surprising part of... " her Mississippi Embayment Section. In a standard college textbook on soils, The Nature and Properties of Soils, by Buckman and Brady, one of the most striking features of the main map identifying the U.S.'s soil types is a slender finger of "A3 UDALFS" soil paralleling the Mississippi River's eastern banks, exactly coincident with our loess zone.

In many important works, our loess zone expresses itself indirectly, especially in maps portraying plant and animal distribution. For example, distribution maps for trees profiled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States show Bitternut Hickory, Bur Oak, and Chinkapin Oak with striking peninsulas of distribution poking southward along the loess zone, as if the loess zone were a corridor where certain trees could extend their distributions southward. Similarly, Wilbur H. Duncan's paper, "Woody vines of the Southeastern States," shows that in Tennessee the vine called Bittersweet occurs in the Appalachians in the east, is absent from central and most of western Tennessee, but then reappears in the far west, on loess.

Certain organisms occur over a wide area, but behave in special ways in the loess zone. Cane and Sycamore, for instance, are typically lowlands species, found in river floodplains and near swamps. In the loess zone, however, they may appear on a hilltop. Sometimes Cane forms incredibly dense thickets called canebrakes. In fact, Cane is so abundant in our loess zone that some authors refer to parts of the zone as the Cane Hills.

As our studies of the Loess Hills get underway, it is certain that many other unusual and surprising aspects of life on loess will come to light, and we hope this information will be sent to us, so we can pass it on here.