So what exactly is Carolinian Canada? This is a remarkable life zone in Canada, “being the low lying portion of the Ontario peninsula, enclosed by Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron.’ Confusion arises in the naming of this region. Back in 1859 this area was known as, ‘the Carolinian zone’ but by the 1930’s known as, ‘Deciduous Forest zone’ and then present day, ‘Carolinian Canada’. However you call it, this area is predominately composed of broad leaved trees where a large number of them find their northern limit.
When you look at a map, the most southerly part of Canada is within this region (Point Pelee). This southern part is actually at the same latitude as the northern border of California. The term “Carolinian” refers to the many plant and animal species where their natural ranges radiate from the Carolinas. Some nicknames for this area are, “Banana belt” and “Deep south of Canada”.
Although this forest zone only covers 550 km, or 0.1% of the total forest area of Canada, it is also the richest life zone in Canada. How privileged we are to live in this zone! It has a rich biodiversity supporting 70 tree species, 2,000 plant species, 400 bird species and 47 types of reptiles and amphibians.
So how does southern Ontario support this unique ecosystem more typical of the southern states? The answer lies in the weather created by our Great Lakes. The moderating affect of the Great Lakes produces humid, warm to hot summers. Frequent heavy thunder storms create ample precipitation and moisture. We also tend to have mild, snowy winters providing lots of insulation for dormant trees.
Unfortunately, our richest life zone of Canada is also our most endangered. 90% of all threatened or endangered species in Canada are found within the Carolinian zone. Only 11% of the forest remains and in some key counties the original forest cover is only 4%. Are you wondering what happened to this beautiful diverse life zone?
This ecosystem is under severe pressure from agricultural activity and expanding population. This area supports 25% of Canada’s population. Also, one of the most extensive highway systems in North American has chopped up this pool of green into “pockets of green”. Highways, agricultural vineyards, fields and sprawling cities have disconnected the landscape. Living plant and animal communities are separated with no genetic mixing possible.
What can we do to help preserve this region? Considering 98% of the land within Carolinian Canada is privately owned, I think we as land owners can do a lot. If each and every one of us purposely planted Carolinian, native and/or endangered plants and trees on our properties we could create interconnected sizable “webs of green” instead of having fragmented pockets and natural areas. We could increase the gene pool by having more individuals to harvest seeds and propagate from. Absolutely everyone could grow something from this life zone on their properties since this is a diverse group of trees and shrubs ranging in needs from wet to dry sites and open to shaded, under story conditions. Something will fit your site needs and requirements!
We also need to start taking inventory of what we know we have or have planted and actively communicate this knowledge to agencies and conservation areas. We need to allow seed harvesting and propagation of these treasures and encourage more plantings of them throughout the area. Also, we need to patronize and support trees sales and programs offering Carolinian and native stock.
One of the biggest things we can do is to become educated and act as ambassadors of this cause. Become familiar especially to the nonnative species invading the region. They are a huge menace since they quickly take over sites since they are introduced to. Since these non natives have not evolved in our area where they have no natural controls or predators. With no constraints on reproducing and colonizing they quickly “crowd out” the naturally evolved inhabitants of the area. There are extensive web sites and pictures available. Local conservation authorities and groups can help focus your attention to identified problems within your area.
Hopefully, we can save this unique area of Canada.