Earth Partnership for Schools



General Characteristics

Distribution: The original southern lowland forest was 420,000 acres or 1.2% of the total land surface in Wisconsin.

General: The lowland forests have more species of trees than any other community in Wisconsin. This is due to species entering the state along river bottoms. These unique species to Wisconsin include smooth buckeye, river birch, honey locust, and sycamore. Many lowland trees make excellent street trees because of their tolerance of low oxygen levels in soils that are waterlogged. Street trees typically need to tolerate compacted soils, high salt, damage, and stressful conditions. Vines play a significant role in lowland forests. Over 60% of vines climb to the tops of trees and contribute to over 25% of the canopy cover.

Physical Environment: Lowland forests are found in either river valleys or lake plains. River valley forests are called floodplain or bottomland forests. These forests grow along all major rivers in the southern region. Forests in lake plains are known as hardwood swamps. Hardwood swamps border existing lakes and grow on extinct glacial lakes. A few hardwood swamps are found on poorly drained clay uplands along Lake Michigan. These two forest types differ in the amount of soil disturbance they receive and variation in water supply. Bottomlands take in frequent additions of silt from spring floods. In spring, bottomlands are flooded; by late summer they are often very dry. Hardwood swamps receive a nearly constant supply of water and tend to have a higher content of organic matter due to less decomposition.

Microclimate: In the summer, the climate within a lowland forest is hot and humid. The environment is uncomfortable for human visitors due to swarms of mosquitoes.