Introduction

Black Oak Savannah and Woodlands in High ParkHabitat

Black Oak Savannah and Woodlands in High Park Habitat

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.

Cup Plants in Oak Savannah. Photo: Karen Yukich

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.

Oak Savannah. North of labyrinth. Photo: Karen Yukich

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

TREES

  • Black Oak
  • Sassafras

SHRUBS

  • Bush Honeysuckle
  • Northern Dewberry
  • Smooth Rose
  • New Jersey Tea
  • Shrubby St. John's Wort

GRASSES

  • Big Bluestem
  • Bottlebrush Grass
  • Canada Wild Rye
  • Indian Grass
  • Little Bluestem
  • Pennsylvania Sedge
  • Sand Dropseed
  • Switch Grass
  • Wood Rush

FORBS/WILDFLOWERS

  • 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).

Savannah in High Park. Tony Pus

Last modified: November 12, 2019

Sources

See also

News & Sightings

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.

High Park Stewards Guidebook: Rare Plants of the Endangered High Park Black Oak Savannah

Sample | Poster

A plant and habitat guide, history of High Park, account of volunteering experiences and catalog of stewardship resources all in one entertaining pocket-sized book.

Rare-Plants_green_shadow_v1

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Black Oak Savannah and Woodlands in High Park

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.

Cup Plants in Oak Savannah. Photo: Karen Yukich

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.

Oak Savannah. North of labyrinth. Photo: Karen Yukich

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's High Quality Savannah Areas

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

TREES

  • Black Oak
  • Sassafras

SHRUBS

  • Bush Honeysuckle
  • Northern Dewberry
  • Smooth Rose
  • New Jersey Tea
  • Shrubby St. John’s Wort

GRASSES

  • Big Bluestem
  • Bottlebrush Grass
  • Canada Wild Rye
  • Indian Grass
  • Little Bluestem
  • Pennsylvania Sedge
  • Sand Dropseed
  • Switch Grass
  • Wood Rush

FORBS/WILDFLOWERS

  • 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).

What are Savannahs?

Goldenrod in savannah. Photo: Karen Yukich

Before the arrival of the first European settlers, the landscape that is now Southern Ontario was dominated by vast areas of forest. The forest cover was occasionally interrupted by two principal types of tallgrass ecosystems – prairie and savanna. Although these open habitats characterised the landscape in the Midwestern United States and parts of the prairie provinces, only scattered patches were found further east, primarily in the south-central and southwestern parts of Ontario. Because they were already open, relatively dry, and attractive sites, prairies and savannas were prime targets for settlement. The great expanses of prairie on the great plains and most of the smaller patches in the northeast were rapidly converted to agriculture or urban land uses. Now, only very small isolated remnants of the original habitats remain. Coincidentally, some of these have survived in older urban parks, and Toronto is blessed with several of these rare treasures. The two tallgrass community types are quite distinctive. Prairies are open treeless areas dominated by grasses and forbs (wildflowers). In contrast, a savanna (also spelled savannah) is essentially an open woodland that combines prairie and forest features. Technically speaking, a savanna is a tallgrass community with 25-35 percent tree cover, according to the Ecological Land Classification System for Southern Ontario.  The type of savannah is defined by the dominant tree species. In North America the most common types are pine and/or oak savannas, since these trees tolerate dry sandy soils and are fire-resistant.


Source: Toronto’s Savannas brochure

Savannah in High Park. Tony Pus

Western Woodlands Nature Trails

Western Woodlands. Photo: Karen Yukich

The western woodlands include a prime example of the rare Black Oak Savannah and Woodlands habitat found in High Park. On these trails you will see examples of remnant oak woodland communities on the upland slopes and locally significant wetland communities within and surrounding Grenadier Pond.They also provide habitat for many species of birds, animals and insects, and fish and other aquatic life in the ponds.


Last modified: November 12, 2019

Sources

See also

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.

High Park Stewards Guidebook: Rare Plants of the Endangered High Park Black Oak Savannah

Sample | Poster

A plant and habitat guide, history of High Park, account of volunteering experiences and catalog of stewardship resources all in one entertaining pocket-sized book.

Learn more Rare-Plants_green_shadow_v1

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