Turtles in The Land of the Swamp White Oak basking in the sun on a log
Turtles basking on a log Turtles in The Land of the Swamp White Oak basking in the sun on a log © Sofie Jaramillo A./TNC

Places We Protect

The Land of the Swamp White Oak


Rare plant communities can be found in this southeastern Iowa project area.


Southeast Iowa’s Lower Cedar Valley hosts a wide array of unique communities including two extremely rare plant communities – swamp white oak woodlands and rich peat fens. Perched along the Cedar River, this remarkable wetland region contains a wondrous array of natural diversity – oxbows, sand prairie, peat bogs, floodplain forest and oak savanna. Sandy soils provide habitat for hundreds of plant species and possibly as many as 44 species of reptiles and amphibians, including rare massasauga rattlesnakes and ornate box turtles. In fact, the region has been dedicated as the nation’s first reptile and amphibian conservation area.

The floodplain oak savannas of the Lower Cedar Valley were historically more open – when fire, grazing and seasonal floods controlled growth. Now, without adequate fire and grazing, too many trees grow in an unnatural density, preventing new oak trees from growing. The Cedar River also is flooding unnaturally, causing certain populations of plants and animals to decline while invasive species like reed canary grass are increasing.

The Conservancy currently owns 1,049 acres here and an additional 20,000 acres are protected by private landowners and partners. We are working with partners to focus on natural areas management, sharing research and developing science-based conservation plans.

The Conservancy’s long-term goals include working with partners to conserve and restore 5,000 acres of swamp white oak and floodplain savannas through controlled fire and other science-based techniques. The Conservancy is working with partners to create a viable aquatic passage to the Mississippi River, providing critical habitat for large freshwater fish that spawn in its tributaries. The Conservancy has completed groundbreaking floodplain savanna restoration research, a botanical and a reptile and amphibian survey of the region. Current research is focusing on how the floodplain processes water and nutrients to help us evaluate the ecosystem services that these ecosystems can provide. Also, savanna clearing and invasive species treatment are currently occurring at several preserves.