Wild World Ecoregion ProfileWild World Ecoregion Profile WWF Scientific ReportSee The MapGlossaryClose Window

Nearctic > Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests >
Central U.S. hardwood forests (NA0404)

Central U.S. hardwood forests
Giant State Park, Illinois, USA
Photograph by NPS


Eastern North America: Eastern United States
Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests

114,300 square miles (296,000 square kilometers) -- slightly larger than Arizona

· Heartland Forests
· Special Features
· Did You Know?
· Wild Side
· Cause for Concern
More Photos

Heartland Forests

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.

Special Features Special Features

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.

Did You Know?
Beneath the sandstone-capped ridges of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky lies the most extensive cave system known on Earth. More than 350 miles (563 km) of passageway have been mapped and surveyed, but the full extent of this water-formed labyrinth remains a mystery.

Wild Side

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