by High Park Nature
High Park contains approximately 110 acres of remnant oak woodland communities which were once common on the sand plains of the Great Lakes. Today less than 0.01 percent of these oak woodland communities remain in southern Ontario.
The large Black Oak trees (Quercus velutina) and many other plants, wildflowers, birds and insects dependent on these communities for their habitat are considered to be provincially rare by the Ministry of Natural Resources. Black Oak, found on dry sandy sites throughout the southern United States, is at the northern limit of its natural distribution in High Park. Extensive development of the Great Lakes region has all but eliminated these rare and endangered oak woodland communities.
About 1/3 of the park’s natural environment consists of nationally rare oak savannah, an open, park-like landscape that contains widely spaced black oaks, scattered low shrubs and a rich variety of prairie grasses and wildflowers.
Of the over 2 million ha of prairies and savannahs that once covered southern Ontario, less than 2,100ha (0.1%) remain today.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has identified approximately 44 hectares (110 acres) of the park's natural environment as significant oak woodlands. Experts consider the oak savannah at High Park to be "continentally significant" because it occurs near its northern limits in the park and because of the size, nature and characteristics of the remnant ecosystem.
High Park shelters 41 rare plant species, 32 of which appear in the savannah. Among these plants are nationally rare woodland fern-leaf, wild lupine and cup-plant.
Savannahs are dependent on periodic fire to maintain their open character and rich variety of plant species.
Some Common Plants of the Black Oak Savannah
- Black Oak
- Bush Honeysuckle
- Northern Dewberry
- Smooth Rose
- New Jersey Tea
- Shrubby St. John's Wort
- Big Bluestem
- Bottlebrush Grass
- Canada Wild Rye
- Indian Grass
- Little Bluestem
- Pennsylvania Sedge
- Sand Dropseed
- Switch Grass
- Wood Rush
- Blazing Star
- Blue Harebell
- Brown-eyed Susan
- Butterfly Weed
- Cup Plant
- Early Goldenrod
- Gray Goldenrod
- Hairy Beardtongue
- Hoary Vervain
- New England Aster
- Showy Tick-Trefoil
- Sky Blue Aster
- Spreading Dogbane
- Upland White Aster
- Wild Bergamot
- Wild Columbine
- Wild Geranium
- Wild Lupine
Lupines on the Oak Savannah. Photo: Bob Yukich
A number of exquisite flowers and shrubs adorn these plains which rival any garden of beauty during the spring and summer months.
Catherine Parr Traill, 1836, describing the savannah south of Rice Lake. Catherine was an English-Canadian author and naturalist who wrote about life in Canada, particularly what is now Ontario (then the colony of Upper Canada).
Last modified: November 12, 2019
- Take a Guided Tour of the Black Oak Savannah with Sam Benvie
- Natural History of Toronto's High Park
- The Oaks of High Park
- Prairie Grasses in High Park
- Oak Savannas. Characteristics, Restoration and Long-Term Management (Wisconsin).
- Tallgrass Ontario.
- ON Nature magazine. A Garden of Rarities article by Lorraine Johnson, 2009.
- A Survey of the Prairies and Savannas of Southern Ontario, Wasyl Bakowsky and John L. Riley.
- Toronto Once had a Prairie! article by Frank Remiz in Toronto Field Naturalist newsletter, February 2017. More from Toronto Field Naturalists.
- High Park’s Black Oak Savannah. Article in SNAP, September 2013.
- High quality savannah areas in High Park.
High Park Tour with Sam Benvie
Featured external resource from Ryerson University
This guided tour of the Black Oak Savana and High Park ecosystem for Ecology and Sustainable Landscapes (CKLA 400), an online course offered at Ryerson University. The tour is led by Sam Benvie, an instructor with The Chang School.
Sources and references:
- YouTube video link.
- Google map link.
- Entire learning object link.
- Except otherwise noted, content in this video is licensed under YouTube's Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
- Featuring of the above content does not represent endorsement of High Park Nature site or organisation by Ryerson University.