What is oak woodland?

Canopy coverage in an oak woodland ranges from 50% to nearly 100%. Dominant trees include white oak, bur oak, and black oak, sometimes mixed with red oak and shagbark hickory.

Because the trees in oak woodlands have grown up close to each other, they don’t have the broad, outstretched branches of oaks found in savannas. At the same time, quite a bit of sunlight still reaches the wildflowers on the forest floor due to a lack of shrubs.

What maintained it?

red-headed-woodpecker
The red-headed woodpecker lives in oak woodlands.

Once scattered throughout southern Wisconsin on soils ranging from dry to wet-mesic, oak woodlands were maintained by frequent wildfires of low intensity. These fires prevented the establishment of many shrubs that are found in oak woods today.

In fact, oak woodlands are often “hidden” now amid the dense growth of shrubs and trees that grew up quickly in the absence of fire.

How do I recognize it?

Today oak woodlands are most likely to occur in areas next to where prairie and oak savanna remnants have been found.

What other plants and animals can I find in oak woodlands?

The herb layer in an oak woodland is potentially diverse, including some members of the prairie and oak savanna communities, but also featuring grasses and wildflowers that are best adapted to partial shade. Plants may include: upland boneset, Culver’s root, rough-leaved sunflower, shooting star, leadplant, little bluestem, bottlebrush grass, and silky wild rye.

Birds include the whip-poor-will, red-headed woodpecker, and orchard oriole. Reptiles and mammals include the black rat snake, bull snake, and woodland vole.