woodlands

Photo credit: Carol Freeman

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Woodlands: A Forest by Many Names

Healthy woodlands are complex systems with spectacular concentrations of wildlife and native plants.  We benefit from these woodlands that offer us abundant recreation opportunities and provide clean air and water.

The Chicago Wilderness Biodiversity Recovery Plan and many scientific studies confirm that our woodlands face a triple threat: invasive species that choke out our rich biodiversity; a lack of controlled burns that protect against invasive species; and over-abundant white-tailed deer, which graze so heavily that they wipe out habitats for other animals and plants. You can help address those threats by volunteering to restore the region’s woodlands.

Types of Woodlands

Although a forest most readily comes to mind when thinking of trees, several types of wooded communities comprise the unique heritage of Chicago Wilderness. Our woodland landscapes have been shaped by many factors, including climate, soil type, topography, and drainage.

In savannas, trees stand as lone sentinels among grassland. The bur oak is the most iconic tree of the Midwestern savanna, although white and red oaks are also common. Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve (part of the Kankakee Sands Preserve, Kankakee County, IL) and Gibson Woods Nature Preserve (Hammond, IN) are examples of savannas.  

Sun-dappled open woodlands of the Chicago region are one of the most distinctive and diverse in the native landscape. Trees in woodlands grow closer together than those in savannas and are transitional areas between savannas and forests. Open woodlands are home to the many native nut bearing trees — oaks, hickories and walnuts. Open woodlands of the region include Reed-Turner Woodland Nature Preserve (Long Grove, IL) and Spring Creek Forest Preserves (Barrington, IL). 

Flatwoods developed in areas where underlying clay restricts drainage, and can be flooded for long periods during the year.  They are crucial amphibian breeding grounds. Salamanders, frogs and toads lay eggs in the ponds, safe from fish. Flatwoods also provide habitat for endangered and threatened plant species such as the purple-fringed orchid and dog violet. Visit Maramech Forest Preserve (Plano, IL) and Harms Woods (Skokie, IL) to explore this unique habitat. 

Forests are dense with trees; the treetop canopy covers 80 — 100% of the habitat. Birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles all depend on forests, as do many of the 50 native mammals of the region, including the beaver, river otter, bats, star-nosed mole and white-footed mouse. Explore the forests of Black Partridge Woods Nature Preserve (Lemont, IL) and Barker Woods (Michigan City, IN). 

Whether at a nearby forest preserve, or just a half acre in the neighborhood, you can enjoy the woods by visiting often—any time, in any season.

 

Read more about wooded communities in the Chicago Wilderness Atlas of Biodiversity.