Carolinian forest

Discovering the beauty of Ontario’s southern belle: the Carolinian Forest

Why not enjoy a deliciously lazy afternoon fanning yourself beneath a leafy sassafras tree, sipping lemonade and reading your favourite book? Or take a relaxing stroll among the tulip trees or red oaks, with their luxurious canopies whispering from above?

Inhale the beauty, exhale the stress.

The deciduous trees of southern Ontario, which are among the most plentiful at Wheatley and Rondeau Provincial Parks, for example, have a rare beauty all of their own and can only be found in the Carolinian Forest.

The Carolinian Forest, as it is known in Canada, is a unique ecozone containing about 10 to 20 broad-leaf species of trees that reaches across much of the eastern United States, from the Carolinas up into southern Ontario. Unfortunately, the fertile land, increasing population and certain invasive species in southern Ontario such as the emerald ash borer have encroached on the Carolinian Forest, pushing it to near extinction.

According to Carolinian Canada, there are more endangered and rare species in the Carolinian Forest than any other life zone in Canada. Plus, CC says, forest cover has been reduced from 80 per cent to 11 per cent, making the Carolinian Forest one of the most fragile forests in Canada. This in turn affects everything from biodiversity and climate change to species at risk and water quality.

Types of deciduous tress

Trees such as oak, hickory, ash, chestnut, walnut as well as hard and soft maple, sassafras, tulip and beech, make up the Carolinian Forest and have supported various animal and plant species for generations. They are among the most beautiful and rare trees in Ontario and Canada.

“We have so many different species of deciduous trees in the Carolinian forest with such great biodiversity, which is why it is so important for us to protect it,” says Jim Wigle, superintendent of Wheatley Provincial Park near Windsor, which sits at the same longitude as northern California.

man photographing flower

“As Ontario strives for development and the amount of Carolinian forest is reduced, there is less and less place for wildlife to live, which affects the entire ecosystem. We have to manage that and manage it effectively while striking a balance.”

Endangered species

At Rondeau, for example, natural heritage education specialist Emily Slavik says her park has “the highest number of endangered species in all the provincial parks because it is situated within a Carolinian area.” Species such as the red mulberry tree and the yellow breasted chat bird are two examples of endangered species at Rondeau.

“It would be wonderful to be able to protect some of the wonderful tracts of Carolinian landscape that are left for the benefit of all the species in the park,” says Slavik.

Conservation efforts

The province, conservationists and park staff are working hard to prevent any further loss of the Carolinian Forest in southern Ontario and have been trying to build new growth through reforestation for the past 20 years. Plus, ongoing efforts to teach children about the importance of trees and nature give hope for the future.

“We hosted a group of inner city kids here at Wheatley during the school year and we got the kids to plant a tree so they could get their hands dirty and really feel what it was like to connect with nature in that way,” says Wigle. “We encouraged them to come back to the park every year to watch how their trees progress and grow. This is one way we can try to preserve the Carolinian Forest and create awareness for the next generation.”

How you can help

If you would like to learn more about the Carolinian Forest of Canada and what you can do to help, ask park staff or visit the CFC website.