Burke Branch Research Natural Area

The Burke Branch RNA contains relatively undisturbed examples of dry upland forest, dry-mesic upland forest, and mesic upland forest natural community types. A small remnant of the mesic barrens natural community, a type that is very rare in the midwest, is also present. Three Illinois Endangered species are present within the RNA: beard-grass (Gymnopogon ambiguus), loosestrife (Lysimachia fraseri), star chickweed (Stellaria pubera). Three state Threatened species are present as well: golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), grass-leaved lily (Stenanthium gramineum), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium).

Ecological Information

Physical and Climatic Conditions

Nearest weather station, with distance and direction from RNA:
The closest weather station is at New Burnside, IL, which is 30 miles (48.3 km) north-northwest of the RNA.
Annual precipitation (type, seasonal distribution) :
Annual precipitation averages 46 inches (116 cm) and ranges between 32 and 70 inches (81.2-177 cm). Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. Average annual snowfall ranges from 10 to 15 inches (25.4-38.1 cm).
Maximum and minimum temperatures:
July and August are the warmest months, with average daily maximum temperatures near 90 ° F. January and February are the coldest months, with temperatures as low as -15 ° F .
Elevation ranges from 550 feet (167.6 m) on the ridge in the northwest corner to 360 feet (109.7 m) at the southeast corner where Burke Creek leaves the RNA.
Geology and Soils:
Pleistocene loess, with a uniform silty texture, mantles the upland and forms much of the soil on the slopes. Mounds brown chert gravels underlie the loess on the hill tops and ridge crests. The Tar Springs Sandstone is found on the upper or midslopes. The Glen Dean Formation limestone and shale is present, but is rarely exposed. Soils in the area are derived primarily from the loess. Belknap silt loam is found along Burke Creek, and Burnside silt loam occurs as a narrow band along the valley bottoms in the two main tributaries of Burke Creek. Wellston-Berks complex is found on the south edge of the RNA and in ravines and slopes of the southwest corner of the area. Zanesville soils are found on the south-facing upper slopes. Hosmer silt loam occurs as very narrow bands along ridge crests.
Aquatic Features:
Burke Creek is part of the Big Grand Pierre-Big Creek Stream System. The two main branches of Burke Creek display a sharp contrast in the beds of the channels. The north fork has sandstone and limestone boulders and cobbles, while the bed of the south fork consists largely of pebbles.

Ecological Classification & Inventory

Interior Low Plateau, Shawnee Hills (222D)
Lesser Shawnee Hills (222Di)
Plant Communities:
Big bluestem: mesic barrens natural community
Southern red oak-black oak-post oak: dry upland forest
Chinquapin oak: dry upland forest
White oak: dry-mesic upland forest
White oak-northern red oak-sugar maple: dry-mesic upland forest
Sugar maple-sycamore: mesic bottomland forest
Bluestem spp.: successional field
SAF Cover Types (list acres): Kuchler Types (list acres):
40 Post oak-blackjack oak (20) 91 oak-hickory forest (156)
52 White oak-black oak-northern red oak (100) 94 mixed mesophytic forest (50)
53 White oak (36)  
59 Yellow-poplar-white oak- northern red oak (50)  

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Common Shrub Species:
Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), shining sumac (Rhus copallina), American hazel-nut (Corylus americana), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum).
Common Herbaceous Species:
Beard-grass (Gymnopogon ambiguus), beak-rush (Rhynchospora capitellata), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), bluestem (Andropogon sp.), tick-trefoil (Desmodium sp.), goldenrod (Solidago sp.), divaricate sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus), greenbrier (Smilax bona-nox), Appalachian bugbane (Cimicifuga rubifolia), loosestrife (Lysimachia sp.), star chickweed (Stellaria pubera), golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), grass leaved lily (Stenanthium gramineum), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolims).
Common Mammal Species:
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), coyote (Canis latrans), grey fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), raccoon (Procyon lotor), opossum (Didelphis virginiana), red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus).
Common Bird Species:
Loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus), Bewick’s wren (Thryomanes bewickii), red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

Related Reports and Publications

Adams, Eric D. 1995. Vegetation Analysis and Examination of Beta Diversity at Burke Branch and Ozark Hill Prairies Research Natural Areas in the Shawnee national Forest, Illinois, OR: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.156 p. M.S. thesis.

Anderson, R., and J. Schwegman. 1971. The response of southern Illinois barren vegetation to prescribed burning. Transactions of the Illinois Academy of Science 64:287-291.

Anderson, R., and J. Schwegman. 1991. Twenty years of vegetational change on a Southern Illinois barren. Natural Areas Jour. 11(2):100-107.

Hutchinson, Max D. 1987. Establishment Record for the Burke Branch Research Natural Area within the Shawnee National Forest, Pope County, Illinois. (pdf) Unpublished report on file at the Northern Research Station, Rhinelander, and the Shawnee Supervisor's office, Harrisburg, IL. 94 pages with appendices.

Schwegman, J., and R. Anderson. 1986. Effect of eleven years of fire exclusion on the vegetation of a southern Illinois barren remnant. Pp.146-148. In G. Clambey and R. Pemble, eds., The prairie: past, present and future. Proc. of the Ninth North American Prairie Conference, North Dakota State University , Fargo.

Last Modified: May 6, 2021