Lake St. Clair Coastal Habitat
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Woody Land

Lakeplain Oak Opening, Walpole Island First Nation

Photo: Dave Kenaga, MDEQ

Woody lands within the project area include deciduous forests such as dry mesic southern forest and mesic southern forest, shrub/scrub habitats and the globally imperiled lakeplain oak opening or savanna. Historically, much of the project area was forested, but by the late 1800s the majority of forest had been logged and converted to agriculture. Of the remaining woodlands, most exist as small, unconnected patches.

Lakeplain oak openings are closely related to lakeplain praries and are characterized by widely scattered oaks, in a matrix of grasses and wildflowers. They provide habitat for a number of rare species including purple milkweed, Richardson’s sedge and Hill’s thistle. Many of the species they contain are dependent on fire - to stimulate germination, to convert dead vegetation to available nutrients and to keep trees from gradually filling in the land. Remnants of lakeplain oak opening or oak savanna have survived on Walpole Island and in the Ojibway Prairie Complex in Windsor, Ontario

Mesic southern forest, more commonly know as beech maple forest, has a dense tree canopy. Because little light penetrates for much of the summer, most plants in the understory bloom before the trees leaf out, providing a rich display of spring wildflowers. Mesic southern forest is home to goldenseal, a rare medicinal plant and the cerulean warbler. On the lakeplain, where soils are often poorly drained, clay-tolerant species such as swamp white oak, which normally occur in wetter habitats, can play a prominent role.

Dry-mesic southern forests or oak-hickory forest are relatively rare within the project area as they normally occur in the dry, well-drained gravelly or sandy soils of moraines. Within the project area, they occur in moraines along the edge of the lakeplain, or in sandy beach ridges of ancient glacial lakes. Because their canopy is not as dense as that of beach maple forest and sunlight penetrates to the forest floor, plants in their understory bloom throughout the season.

Deciduous forest has decreased within the project area from over 54,000 acres (21,853 hectares) in 1995 to about 53,000 acres (21,448 hectares) in 2000, a decrease of about 2.5 percent. The largest losses were due to development.

For more information, see: Coastal Habitat Assessment, Section IV (PDF)