Reaching for the Sky - Woodlands, Forests, and Swamps | Carolinian Canada

Reaching for the Sky - Woodlands, Forests, and Swamps

Lush deciduous forests are the hallmark of Carolinian Canada. Towering Tulip Trees, beautiful Flowering Dogwood and striking Sycamore are recognizable to many as typically Carolinian. Originally, Carolinian Canada was almost entirely covered with a thick canopy of trees. The tops of some trees, soared high over others, creating a super-canopy, important habitat for many birds. These giants of the forest were often a few meters in diameter.

Carolinian forests are full of surprises. A tree never seen before in Canada, was discovered at Bickford Oak Woods, south of Sarnia in 2002. Over 60 Swamp Cottonwood (Populous heterophylla) the only known population in Canada may have been inadvertently wiped out if the Nature Conservancy of Canada had not purchased the property.

Our mild climate, varying topography, and wide range of soil types allows a rich variety of deciduous trees, evergreens, shrubs and wildflowers to flourish. Even minor variances can produce dramatic shifts in forest composition. A change in soil moisture caused by an elevation of a metre or two is enough to favour one species over another. Hence, lowland swamps are very different from upland forests. Woodlands have fewer trees than forests and swamps, often with a grassy understory.

What Trees are in my Area?
Dry clay soils Beech, hard Maple, Oak and Hickory
Sandy soils Oak and Pine
Very dry soils prone to frequent fires Black Oak woodland
Swampy clay soils Ash, Elm, soft Maple
Rich, cool, swamp White Cedar or Hemlock

Protected Areas

A few Old Growth Forests are accessible in places such as Backus Heritage Conservation Area managed by the Longpoint Region Conservation Authority and Clear Creek Forest Nature Reserve, managed by Rondeau Provincial Park and the Nature Conservancy of Canada

Conservation Authorities are the largest public landowners in Carolinian Canada. Link to yours through

Many municipalities manage public forests and recreation trails, such as Skunks Misery / Bothwell Forest / Mosa Forest in Middlesex County which is also partly protected by Lower Thames Conservation Authority

Land trusts protect several thousand acres in Carolinian Canada, most not open to the public. There are several local, provincial and national land trusts and nature clubs which operate in Carolinian Canada, members of the Ontario Land Trust Alliance (OLTA)

What's the Problem?

Today, forest cover in Carolinian Canada varies from less than 3% in Essex County to about 20% in Brant County. There is only a handful of forests greater than 1,000 hectares and less than 1% Old Growth. Fragmented remains of the once mighty Carolinian forests are often degraded and impacted by overuse, yet still provide critical refuges for many Species at Risk. In some areas, plantations have replaced original forest, however, it takes hundreds of years of careful management before a new forest will host the same great variety of plants and animals.


Recovery Strategies


  • Wood Poppy
  • White Wood Aster
  • Small-Whorled Pogonia
  • Spotted Wintergreen
  • American Ginseng
  • Deerberry
  • Hoary Mountain Mint


  • American Chestnut
  • Cucumber Tree
  • Red Mulberry


  • Jefferson's Salamander
  • Wood Turtle
  • Acadian Flycatcher / Hooded Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler


Habitat Saving Ideas

Landowners are helping to bring the Hooded Warbler back! This bird is our fastest recovering Species at Risk because landowners are modifying their logging practices slightly to create habitat for it. Both the Acadian Flycatcher and Hooded Warbler nest in large, older growth forests. The Acadian Flycatcher prefers closed canopy, shady areas and the Hooded Warbler prefers open gaps where a tree has fallen. Recovery Actions benefit a host of other forest Species at Risk including the Cerulean Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black Rat Snake and Southern Flying Squirrel, to name a few. Research shows that landowners can log and protect Species at Risk at the same time by using group tree selection to create a pattern of older growth areas and gaps. Check out forestry extension notes from the Landowner Resource Centre

Tree Smart! Available in many book stores, the Trees of the Carolinian Forest by Gerry Waldron identifies 74 unique tree species of Canada's Carolinian life zone, and offers advice on how to identify, preserve, use and propagate each species.

Log Smart! Most significant natural areas in Carolinian Canada are cared for by private landowners. Many landowners are creating Old Growth preserves. When logging, use certified tree markers to protect wildlife habitat, old growth features, as well as, your economic interests. Ask a local naturalist to identify important features. Avoid disturbances during spring nesting The Ontario Woodlot Association with a network of regional chapters brings woodlot owners together to share ideas and learn about forest management

Forest Watch! Communities can support landowners by promoting forest benefits and good community stewardship ethics, helping to reduce trespass, vandalism and misuse. Some landowners work with local schools to provide educational outings. Students are helping to manage and restore local conservation areas. The best place to learn about Carolinian ecology is in your neighbourhood! Find local habitat projects in registries provided by Ontario Nature, Evergreen and the Ontario Stewardship Centre

Get your hands Dirty! Volunteer for Nature (VFN) in one of many events and expeditions planned annually by Ontario Nature and the Nature Conservancy of Canada

Camp smart! Campers, hikers and other nature lovers enjoy Carolinian Canadas lush forests in its many parks and conservation areas. Keep in mind that many species off the trail are fragile. Practice good etiquette: stick to designated campsites and recreation paths; pack out what you pack in; and refrain from collecting plants or wildlife. Get to know the trail users code promoted by Hike Ontario

Dig a hole! Create biodiversity hotspots when planting trees using a new technique called pit and mound restoration which mimics craters left from fallen trees, an Old Growth feature. Orford Ridges Native Plants near Clear Creek Forest offers tours and workshops

De-fragment! Forest edge clearing and cutting roads through forests create smaller and smaller patches leading to the loss of area sensitive species such as the Cerulean Warbler which needs very large forests of greater than 400 ha. Use Carolinian Canadas Big Picture to get ideas for creating a healthy, connected green landscape.

Shop Smart! Discourage harvesting of the popular medicinal plants, such as wild American Ginseng or Goldenseal, by buying sustainably grown commercial strains. Both these plants are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Although, exports are closely watched and regulated, illegal trade of wild plants still occurs.

Leave it alone! Many landowners install nesting boxes. Consider leaving natural wildlife habitat when managing woodland. Keep standing dead trees, brush piles, cavity trees, rotting logs, tangled thickets, wildflowers, over-mature and oddly shaped trees. Avoid the temptation to seed lawn in natural areas. Manage for a variety of species and structure.

Keep it out! In Carolinian Canada, a healthy forest requires careful management to protect native species. Keep out invading alien species by growing garden species far away from the edge of natural areas. Avoid dumping lawn clippings, garden trimmings or compost into woodlands, especially on slopes. Keep trails to a minimum. Eliminate toxic or nutrient-rich runoff into green spaces. Check out publications such as Caring for your Land from Carolinian Canada

Remove the Forest Snatchers! Periwinkle, English Ivy, Garlic Mustard, Norway Maple, European Buckthorn and a host of other alien plants are changing the species composition of our woodlands. One study found that even birds are at greater risk when the alien honeysuckle spreads because nest predators can move easily on the stouter stems of the shrub when searching for nests to rob. Check out the invasive species database of the Canadian Wildlife Federation

Reduce Your Edge! The Brown-headed Cowbird is a grassland species that followed the great bison herd migrations, laying eggs along the way in the nests of other prairie birds. When land was cleared in the east, the cowbird readily followed herds of cattle and sheep. However, eastern woodland birds are not adapted to this nest parasite. Even today, cowbird females lay eggs in up to 25% of all birds nests and their young out-compete the hosts young to the point where most species do not raise any of their own young. In the last decade, two more species of Central and South American cowbirds, the Shiny and the Glossy have invaded North America. With global warming, these two species may soon invade Carolinian Canada. We can reduce the easy access to woodland nests by growing bigger forests, with healthy buffers of shrubs and wildflowers.

For the Birds! Several Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have been designated in Carolinian Canada that are vital to the long term conservation of the worlds birds through a partnership of BirdLife International, Bird Studies Canada and the Canadian Nature Federation. Communities, stakeholders and landowners help to implement IBA conservation plans


Plant Communities @ Risk

Hackberry Forest (Dry-Fresh)

G?S2. Rare in Ontario

This community is usually found on sandy and rocky soils. Hackberry is the dominant tree in a mix of Red Oak, Basswood, Chinquapin Oak, and Ash. Hackberry is found throughout southern Ontario and southwest Quebec, in river valleys, but the Carolinian life zone is the only place in Canada where it has become a dominant forest tree.

Where? In Canada, primarily at Point Pelee and on Pelee and Middle Islands

Whats the problem? This forest community is vulnerable to natural succession as other trees tend to crowd out the Hackberry.

How to Help! Many forests of this type are in protected areas on the Lake Erie Islands or in Point Pelee National Park.


Pin Oak Swamp (Mineral)

G2S2S3. Globally rare, Rare to uncommon in Ontario These swamps are found on poorly drained soils where there is a layer of organic muck over a mineral substrate and spring flooding lasts a short time. Other trees in Pin Oak swamps include Swamp White, Burr and Shumard Oaks, Shagbark, Big Shellbark, and Bitternut Hickory, Green Ash, Red and Swamp Maple and White Elm.

Where? In Canada, primarily in Essex County and the Niagara Peninsula

Whats the problem? Altered drainage patterns

How to Help! Maintain natural wetland drainage patterns.

Species @ Risk

American Chestnut Castenea dentata

G4S2. Threatened in Canada

Canadas only native chestnut, this tall (30 m) tree has edible fruit. Its dark brown bark cracks with age. It was once a major component of Carolinian forests, and settlers used its leaves and bark for medicinal purposes. It usually grows on well-drained acid and sandy soils.

Where? In Canada, this species is restricted to the Carolinian Life Zone.

How many? Approximately 140 sites in Canada with one to several hundred trees.

Whats the problem? Most populations are affected by chestnut blight, a fungus accidentally introduced into North America in 1904. It infects the tree through cracks in the bark and quickly spreads around the trunk, cutting off water transport between the root and crown. The portion of the tree above the fungus dies off. By 1950, nearly all American Chestnuts in the eastern deciduous forests were dead.

How to Help! The American Chestnut recovery program and the Canadian Chestnut Council works with landowners to grow these trees blight-free


Goldenseal Hydrastis canadensis

G4S2. Threatened in Canada and Ontario

This 20 cm high plant is topped by three leaves and a flower. It grows in rich, moist deciduous Sugar Maple forests or moist Red Mape and White Oak floodplain forests.

Where? In Canada, southwestern and mid-western Ontario

How many? Approximately 15,000 in about 20 sites

Whats the problem? Prized for its antiseptic and medicinal properties, Goldenseal is greatly over-harvested. It is one of the top 10 species protected by CITES.

How to Help! Protection of habitat, protection from harvesting.


Ginseng Panax quinquefolius

G3G4S2. Endangered in Canada

A long-lived, perennial herb, 20 - 70 cm high, the Ginsengs root resembles a carrot and is prized for its medicinal qualities. It grows in rich, moist, undisturbed and mature deciduous woods.

Where? In Canada, the Niagara Escarpment and the edge of the Shield and southwestern Quebec

How many? About 140 sites in Canada and 65 in Ontario, with fewer than 9,000 plants in 7 major sites in Ontario and declining

Whats the problem? Small populations are highly vulnerable to over-harvesting, habitat clearing and logging.

How to Help! Prevent harvesting, and protect populations from logging damage.


Wood Poppy Stylophorum diphyllum

G5S1. Endangered in Canada and Ontario

This low, showy yellow wildflower was once thought to be extirpated in Canada, but was rediscovered in 1987. The Wood Poppy prefers calcium-rich soil in damp rich woods, usually on forested ravine slopes.

Where? In Canada, only in the London area

How many? Three populations of 250, 150 and 6

Whats the problem? Small populations are highly vulnerable to poor logging practices and accidental trampling. Mice love to eat Wood Poppy seeds making it difficult to replant a site.

How to Help! The Wood Poppy recovery team, active for several years, includes landowners who help to enhance habitat and protect it from major disturbance. Two historic populations were found again as part of the recovery effort.


Southern Flying Squirrel Glaucomys volans

G5S3S4. Special Concern in Canada

This small mammal does not actually fly, but has a membrane of skin extending from wrist to ankle which allows it to glide through the air. It has large, luminous black eyes useful for night feeding when it may visit your bird feeder. The squirrels live in mature oak, hickory, maple and beech forests. Dens are located near water.

Where? In Canada, south of Algonquin Provincial Park, in Ontario and Quebec

How many? Likely thousands

Whats the problem? Loss of large cavity trees for dens and seed-producing (mast) trees

How to Help! Keep at least 8 seed-producing trees of a variety of species and 6 cavity trees greater than 25 cm diameter per hectare.


Prothonotary Warbler Protonotaria citrea

G5S1S2. Endangered in Canada

One of Canada's rarest birds, this small songbird lives in maple or buttonbush swamps or willow floodplains. The males have a golden-orange head, back, and breast. It nests in small, low cavities of rotting trees and uses moss for nest-lining. (Previously known as Golden Swamp Warbler)

Where? In Canada, mostly along the Carolinian coast at Holiday Beach, Rondeau Provincial Park, Long Point and Dundas

How many? 10 - 20 breeding pairs

Whats the problem? Swamp drainage and clearing, habitat disturbance, cowbird parasitism, and lack of nesting cavities

How to Help! Landowners with suitable habitat can set out nest boxes that are designed to exclude cowbirds and species such as House Wren and Tree Swallow that compete for tree cavities. The Essex Region Conservation Authority at Holiday Beach has increased flooded habitat for this species by managing drainage patterns


Acadian Flycatcher Empidonax virens

G5S2. Endangered in Canada

This medium-sized olive-green, migrating songbird is best identified by its call, a loud and sharp pizza. It nests in large, Old Growth forests near a stream or woodland pond.

Where? In Canada, primarily the Carolinian Life Zone

How many? 20 - 30 breeding pairs

Whats the problem? Clearing of forest edges and poor logging practices

How to Help! Set aside the centre of your woodlot as a permanent no-cut zone or Old Growth preserve and manage for trees over 90 years old.


Cerulean Warbler Dendroica cerulea

G4S3. Special concern in Canada,Vulnerable in Ontario

This bird is one of the fastest declining forest species in North America. The adult male has bright blue upper parts and cheeks, with black streaking on the back. It prefers mature, deciduous floodplain or wet forests, over 400 ha big with super-canopy oaks.

Where? In Canada, Ontario, south of the Shield

How many? Likely less than 1,000 pairs

Whats the problem? Clearing of forest edges and poor logging practices

How to Help! Manage for super-canopy trees and keep your forest wet with a closed canopy.


Hooded Warbler Wilsonia citrina

G5S3. Threatened in Canada

About the size of a house sparrow, this bird has a brilliant yellow face and belly. Males have a dramatic black hood and a loud, penetrating song. It nests in shrubby clearings of older growth forests, often where large trees are toppled by wind storms.

Where? In Canada, primarily the Carolinian Life Zone

How many? 200-300 pairs.

Whats the problem? Poor logging practices

How to Help! This species is fastest recovering Species at Risk because landowners are modifying their logging practices slightly to create habitat for it. Always keep some large trees in your forest, do not remove too many trees and avoid disturbances during spring nesting.


Red-Headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus

G5S3. Special concern in Canada, Vulnerable in Ontario

This crimson-headed bird can be very aggressive at feeding stations, driving off jays with spectacular power dives. It nests in open deciduous woods, groves, fence rows, and river edges with scattered large trees. Some say the population increased in the 1960s due to habitat creation by massive tree die-off from Dutch Elm Disease, and is now adjusting to previous levels.

Where? In Canada, southern Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia, in Ontario, Lake-of-the-Woods area and south

How many? Less than 1,000 pairs and declining rapidly in eastern North America

Whats the problem? Decline in number of nest trees, competition with starlings for nest holes, road traffic

How to Help! Manage for large, old, cavity-filled trees.


Jefferson Salamander Ambystoma jeffersonianum

G5S2. Threatened in Canada

This large salamander (up to18 cm) is dark black with brilliant blue spots and easily confused with the more widespread Blue-spotted Salamander with which it hybridizes. It lives in undisturbed, upland, deciduous woodlands with fish-free ponds that hold water until mid summer.

Where? In Canada, Long Point and the Niagara Peninsula to Oak Ridges Moraine **

How many? Likely thousands

Whats the problem? Forest disturbance, Roadkill, particularly on roads that intersect migration paths to breeding ponds

How to Help! Protect and restore deep water, fish-free ponds near woodlands, Avoid excessive disturbance such as logging except when the soil is frozen.


Giant Swallowtail Papilio cresphontes

G5S2S3. Rare in Ontario

The largest butterfly in Canada (wingspan: 8 - 11 cm), the Giant Swallowtail has broad dark brown wings with a band of bright yellow spots. It lives in open woodlands with Hop Tree or Northern Prickly-Ash which are the caterpillar food plants.

Where? In Canada, primarily Carolinian

How many? Likely fewer than 1,000 in good flight years

Whats the problem? Shortage of food trees

How to Help! Maintain open woodland with adjacent wildflower meadows so the adults can find nectar. Grow Hop Tree or Northern Prickly Ash (see Grasslands and Shrublands).


Carolinian Canada Coalition 2009

Content based on 2004 guide by Michelle Kanter, Dave Martin, Veronique LeHouk, and Jane Bowles

Many Thanks to Photographers who donated their work for this project:
Jane Bowles, Allen Woodliffe, John Ambrose, Scott Gillingwater, Ben Porchuk, Rob Willson, Mathis Nativik, Shawn Staton, David Mihilik, Joe Milner, George Brackx, Kevin Railsback, Hamilton Conservation Authority, Essex Region Conservation Authority, Margaret Pickles, Leora Berman, Donald Kirk, Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, Larry Lamb, Peggy Hurst, Michelle Kanter, Gregory Peck, Jim Flynn and Rick Battson. 

Thanks also to expert support from Dan Kraus, Mike Nelson and Paul Smith.

 Assistance for this project was provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources.


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