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The Uniqueness of Carolinian Canada


Carolinian Canada is a region in Ontario found south of an imaginary line which runs approximately from Grand Bend to Toronto. The Carolinian life zone is actually the northernmost edge of the deciduous forest region in eastern North America, and is named after the Carolina states.


The climate of this region is the main reason it forms a unique ecosystem. Affectionately termed the `banana belt' of Canada, this zone boasts the warmest average annual temperatures, the longest frost-free seasons, and the mildest winters in Ontario. For example, Point Pelee near Windsor averages over 170 frost-free days while Guelph, which is just north of the Carolinian boundary averages only 135 frost-free days per year.

Botanists have mapped the distribution of plants in Ontario, and have established the boundary of the Carolinian life zone based on the northern limits of the many species which are found only within this region in Canada. A glance through either the Atlas of the Rare Vascular Plants of Ontario, or the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario will reveal many species whose range corresponds to Carolinian Canada.

The Diverse Flora of Carolinian Canada

Even though Carolinian Canada is quite small compared with other Canadian vegetation zones, making up only 1% of Canada's total land area, it boasts a greater number of both flora and fauna species than any other ecosystem in Canada. It is estimated that some 2,200 species of herbaceous plants are found here, including 64 species of ferns, at least 110 species of grasses, and over 130 different sedge species. There are 70 species of trees alone.


Numerous species of reptiles and amphibians make their home primarily or entirely in this southern portion of Ontario, including the Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle, the Eastern Fox Snake, the Hognose Snake, the Queen Snake, and Fowler's Toad. Close to 400 bird species have been recorded representing over half of the species in all of Canada. Several butterflies, such as the Karner Blue and the Frosted Elfin are restricted to this region. As well several mammals such as the Badger, the Gray fox, and the Virginia Opossum are primarily restricted to the Carolinian forest.

Rare Species

The most unique feature of the Carolinian life zone is the number of rare species found here. The region boasts fully one-third of the rare, threatened and endangered species found in all of Canada. Sixty-five percent of Ontario's rare plants are found in the region, and 40% are restricted to the Carolinian zone. Included in these are trees such as the Pawpaw, Blue Ash, Tulip, and the Kentucky Coffee Tree, herbaceous plants such as Green Dragon, Harbinger-of-Spring, Yellow Mandarin and Swamp Rose Mallow, shrubs such as the native Burning Bush and the Rough-leaved Dogwood, and our only cactus, the Eastern Prickly Pear.

Prothonatary Warbler: Mark Peck

There are numerous rare birds in Carolinian Canada, including the Acadian Flycatcher, the Prothonotary and Hooded Warblers, Tufted Titmouse, and Louisiana Waterthrush.

The rare southern Flying Squirrel, while also known from a few sites between Orillia and Ottawa, hasits main habitat along the north shore of Lake Erie.

Perhaps most interesting are thevariety of unusual reptiles and amphibians in the Carolinian zone.Among these, the Blanchard's Cricket Frog, the Lake Erie Water Snake, and the Blue Racer (another snake) are all listed as endangered species.

Conserving Carolinian Canada

The ecological significance of Carolinian Canada has attracted many botanists, naturalists, and conservationists over the years. Over the past decade, a unique Carolinian Canada partnership program has operated to promote the conservation of remaining natural areas in the region, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Wildlife Habitat Canada. Several other organizations, both government and non-government, including the Ontario Heritage Foundation, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, the Ministry of Natural Resources and local Conservation Authorities have played important roles. Many private landowners are also doing their part by conserving habitats and rare species on their own properties.

Some success stories resulting from this activity include the conservation of Spooky Hollow Sanctuary and Backus Woods near Long Point, Ojibway Prairie in Windsor, and part of the Jordan Valley in the Niagara Peninsula. These protected areas represent a combination of efforts produced by government and non-government agencies, and private landowners. Further conservation of the Carolinian zone depends on the commitment of these groups and concerned citizens.

Voluntary Stewardship Programs

During the Carolinian Canada Program, conservation groups have increasingly begun encouraging and supporting the effort of private landowners to protect natural features on their own land. Carolinian Canada was the first region in Canada where a voluntary `handshake' stewardship agreement was used to encourage commitment to conservation by private landowners.

The Natural Heritage Stewardship Award is a plaque given to landowners of Carolinian Canada sites in return for a promise to protect the natural features of their land. Nearly 500 landowners, who own over 12,000 acres in 30 different natural areas, had made such agreements in the Carolinian zone as of early 1994.

This experience in recognizing the role of private landowners through a voluntary stewardship program has been successful enough that it is now being widely copied, both elsewhere in Ontario, and in Canada, from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia.

For Further Information:

Allen, G.M., P.F.J. Eagles, S.D. Price (editors). 1990. Conserving Carolinian Canada. University of Waterloo Press, Ontario.

Argus, G.W., K.M. Pryer, D.J. White, C.J. Kelly. 1982-1987. Atlas of the Rare Vascular Plants of Ontario. (Four Parts). National Museum of Natural Sciences, Ottawa.

Cadman, M.D., P.F.J. Eagles, F.M. Helleiner. 1987. Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario. University of Waterloo Press, Ontario.

Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON). 1985. Seasons. Summer Issue. FON, Don Mills, Ontario.

Theberge, J.B. 1989. Legacy, The Natural History of Ontario. McLelland and Stewart Inc., Toronto.

Produced by:

The Centre for Land and Water Stewardship, University of Guelph, June, 1994.

Funding for the development of this factsheet was provided by the Carolinian Canada Program. Agencies involved include: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation, Ontario Heritage Foundation, Association of Conservation Authorities of Ontario, Wildlife Habitat Canada, World Wildlife Fund, Canadian Botanical Association, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Federation of Ontario Naturalists, and Parks Canada.