For five generations, Nan Poage's family has lived on property in Ralls County. Its history reaches back to a deed from a Spanish land grant.
In May, she showed her natural salt spring to Steve Buback, natural history biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, and they discovered endangered species nearby — including a variety of ditch grass that hasn't been seen in Missouri for 21 years.
Buback confirmed the presence of the state’s endangered ditch grass species, Ruppia maritima — sometimes called beaked tasselweed — and credited its presence to Poage's conservation efforts. MDC officials planned to nominate her salt spring — or “lick” — to its Natural Areas Program, which highlights the best examples of natural communities around the state.
“Your salt spring is truly amazing from both a historical and ecological perspective,” Buback wrote to Poage. “Your stewardship of the site is readily apparent, and I appreciate your work to preserve this unique part of Missouri's heritage.”
There aren't yet any salt springs included in the program, because other examples in the Show-Me State are too degraded or have been filled.
The Ruppia maritima flora was first documented by Julian Steyermark in 1938, Buback said. It naturally grows in coastal regions around the United States and is native to several other countries.
Conservation personnel documented several other rare plants on Poage's land — including a salt-marsh grass called Distichlis spicata, stiff cowbane, bushy smartweed, cut-leaved geum, yellow water buttercup and Carex hystericina. They are also researching a rare insect believed to be a damselfly collected from the site.
The Salt River was named for the numerous salt springs in the area, Poage said. It takes 50 gallons of salt water to produce one gallon of salt. The water in the spring contains 34 different minerals. Native Americans camped on the nearby hills, hunting animals drawn to the spring. She has discovered several arrowheads in the area. The salt trade began in the 1800s when a salt maker with the surname Beauvais brought salt down the Salt River for trade.
The land was home to a Victorian hotel in the 1880s-1890s, attracting patrons to “take the water” by soaking in the spring to treat various ailments. A dance hall was active on the property in the 1950s, but a wide variety of rare natural species have thrived on the land for centuries.
Poage is proud to help conserve a part of local history that is also home to several rare species of Missouri flora. She stressed the importance of doing her part to keep history alive for future generations.
“It's a little bit of weight on my shoulders to know that I'm responsible for that,” she said. “I want to keep people out of there so they don't destroy it, yet I want people who are interested to be able to know that it is there in Spalding.”