The savanna was among the numerous types of plant communities found in pre-settlement Wisconsin. The environment of the savanna falls between that of forest and prairie. It can be described as having between one and twenty trees per acre. There are 4 plant communities in Wisconsin that exhibit the traits of a savanna: the oak opening or oak savanna, the scrub oak barren, the jack pine barren and the cedar glade. During pre-settlement times, the oak savanna was one of the most characteristic ecological communities in the state, covering 20% of the state's land area. The legendary fires that swept over the prairie created these unique areas. What you see in the demonstration area is a re-creation of an oak savanna. The bur oak, like the one before you, was the most common tree found in the oak savanna community. Its thick, corky bark allowed it to survive the fires when all else was burned to the ground. After settlement the fires were stopped, prairies were converted to cropland, and less fire resistant trees flourished in the oak savanna. The once open stretches of prairie dotted with oaks quickly became closed oak forests.
A Diverse Ecosystem
Grasses and wildflowers were characteristic of the oak savanna, creating a unique environment that was diverse in both plants and animals. Today existing remnants of savanna remain habitats for many species.
Original Oak Savanna
Before settlement there were 5.5 million acres of savanna in Wisconsin. Today less than .01% remain.