This ecoregion is among the richest in North America for herbaceous plants and shrubs, with more than 2,500 species. Oaks and hickories blend with flowering dogwoods, sassafras, and hop hornbeam. And beautiful wildflowers dot the prairies. In wetter areas grow tulip and sweetgum trees.
Drought-resistant trees such as oak and hickory, which characterize this ecoregion, are favored by the relatively dry climate. As you travel northward through the region, the oak-hickory forests become more savanna like, and in some areas, the forests form a mosaic with prairie.
In 100-year-old oak trees, vireos and tanagers feast on caterpillars. Among the mammals scurrying through the forest are gray squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and opossums. Monarch butterflies flutter through prairies, seeking milkweed on which to lay their eggs. Beneath this flurry of activity are extensive cave systems--stretching for hundreds of kilometers and inhabited by many specialized cave invertebrates. Bison once roamed the prairies of this region, but they have disappeared. Black bears, whose colors vary from black to reddish brown, search for fruit, honey, rodents, fish, and small mammals. The Ozark Mountains harbor many endemic land snails and some rare salamanders.
Cause for Concern
Just one percent of the Central U.S. Hardwoods ecoregion remains as intact habitat. Most of the ecoregion has been lost to urban sprawl and converted to agricultural land and pasture. Threats to the remaining patches of the ecoregion include the invasion of exotic grasses, cave vandalism, overuse for recreation, fire suppression, and overcollecting of wild herbs for the medicinal trade.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001