Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
There is no such thing as "just a forest"

In today’s post, park naturalist Nicole Guthrie discusses what makes a forest a forest and the unique features of Pinery Provincial Park.

This week marks National Forest Week in Canada, making it the perfect time to discuss the amazing diversity of species and ecosystems in forests because there is no such thing as “just a forest.”

Each forest has a unique combination of soil types, microclimates and pollution levels, which dictate which species can establish themselves there.

If you’ve ever been to Pinery, you’ve probably enjoyed its beautiful forest.

But did you know that it really isn’t? all forest?

A savannah in Ontario?

Pinery is largely composed of rare oak savanna habitat.

Savannas are a type of wooded ecosystem where there is 25% or less canopy cover (the amount of sky that is obscured by trees).

Canopy cover between 25% and 50% is considered forest, and anything greater than 50% is considered forest. TRUE forest.

leavesCounterclockwise starting at top left: Black Oak (Quercus velutina), Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), White Oak (Quercus alba), Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor), Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), Red Oak ( Quercus rubra), Dwarf Chinquapin Oak (Quercus prinoides)

Specifically in Pinery, the dominant type of trees found are oaks, hence the name oak savanna. Seven species of oaks that dominate the landscape.

What makes sheets so different? The “forest” floor is flooded with light during the day. This allows plants to grow in the soil that otherwise could not survive in a traditional forest.

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Some of these plants include:

  • New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus spp.)
  • Forest sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
  • Rough burning star (liatris aspera)
  • Green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).

Here in the park, there are many creatures that love oak trees, love an open canopy, or both!

Red-headed woodpecker

One of them is the red-headed woodpecker, an at-risk species listed as endangered in Ontario.

Part of the reason for their endangered status comes from a decreasing amount of habitat to live in, along with a decreasing amount of standing dead oak trees (also known as snags) in which they feed and nest.

Dead trees can be just as valuable as living ones and play an important role in our savannahs and forests.

The Carolinas in Canada

Pinery is also in a unique location because it is located at the northern edge of Carolinian Canada.

This is an ecoregion that lies west of an imaginary line between Grand Bend (just outside of Pinery) and Toronto.

tulip trees

Carolinian Canada is the most biodiverse ecoregion in all of Canada, with an interesting mix of northern and southern species.

It owes its name to the Carolinas of the United States, where many of the same archetypal species abound.

Typical Carolina forests may have:

  • American walnut (Carya spp.)
  • Elm (elm species.)
  • Ash (Ashes spp.)
  • nut (Juglan spp.)
  • maple (Acer spp.)
  • American sycamore (american sycamore)
  • Tulips (Liriodendron tulipifera).Many of these species do not occur naturally any further north than Pinery in Canada.

A small portion of the Pinery is a true Carolinian forest, located at the southwestern edge of the park.

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person looking at the tree

It can be seen better from the Carolina Trail.

Compared to the fast-draining sandy soil found throughout the park, the nearby Ausable River allows for greater soil water retention here.

Over time, wet conditions cause nutrients to build up in the soil. This allows Carolina species to live where they otherwise would not elsewhere in the Pinery.

Perhaps the best example of this is the tulip tree.

They are one of the fastest growing tree species in eastern North America. They are known to grow up to 30 meters (or around 100 feet) tall, their trunks are remarkably straight and they have beautifully rough bark.

In the spring, they grow flowers that look like tulip flowers, which is their namesake.

tulip tree flower

Given the extreme height of mature trees, flowers are difficult to find; However, in May, the flowers begin to fall and you can watch the petals dance to the forest floor.

Explore these unique landscapes!

National Forest Week is an incredible opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation of the Carolina oak savannahs, oak forests, and ecoregion.

On your next trip to the woods, look a little deeper and you’ll be surprised what you find!