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Floodplain Forests
photo  Michael Kucinich [Click here to view full size picture] In the early 1800s, forests covered most of Michigan's 36 million acres. Today, nearly all of Michigan's landscape has been disturbed by human activity causing the loss of more than 50% of the state's original forest.

Floodplain forests, hardwood swamps, and moist hardwood forests are the dominant forest types in southwest Michigan. The most common forest type in southwest Michigan is the southern floodplain forest, found next to rivers and creeks along flat and seasonally wet areas.

Michigan's southern floodplain forests support silver and red maple, red ash, and cottonwood, with components of red oak, swamp white oak, black willow, black ash, butternut, tulip tree, and black walnut also occurring. Several southern trees reach their northern ranges in these forests, such as paw paw, Kentucky coffee tree, honey locust, red mulberry, and sycamore.
What is found in them?
Why are they important?
What are the threats?
Protecting the forests

What is found in them?

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photo by William Westrate Songbirds that inhabit these forests include the red-eyed vireo, northern oriole, indigo bunting, gray catbird, and eastern wood pewee. Other species include the wood duck, black duck, great blue heron, woodcock, deer, wild turkey, woodpecker, salamander, frog, snake, coyote, fox, beaver, and rabbit. Rare and unique species include the red-shouldered hawk, Indiana bat, smallmouth salamander, spotted turtle, Blanchard's cricket frog, cerulean warbler, and yellow-throated warbler.

photo by Joe Ervin Common plants found in floodplain forests include wild geranium, cinnamon fern, buttercup, violet, spring beauty, jewelweed, skunk cabbage, marsh marigold, and jack-in-the-pulpit. Rare plants include prairie trillium, cup plant, snow trillium, and black cottonwood.

Why are they important?

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photo by William Westrate Why are southern floodplain forests important?
Floodplain forests are a transitional habitat between the river or stream and upland and serve as a wildlife corridor between habitats. Nutrients are exchanged in these wetlands, with floodwater depositing silt and nutrients and the upland contributing leaf litter and runoff The fluctuating water levels and nutrientrich soils make these wetlands highly diverse and excellent habitat for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

Floodplain forested wetlands also provide services that cannot easily be duplicated by man-made facilities. During heavy rainfall, these wetlands divert, store, and slow the flow of water to reduce flood damage downstream. Forested floodplains:
  • protect surface water quality

  • aid in recharging groundwater

  • act as buffers for rivers and streams to reduce erosion and sedimentation downstream, and

  • improve the overall health of the watershed. When protected, floodplain wetlands improve

  • the quality and function of our natural systems.


What are the threats?

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Southern floodplain forests are among the lower peninsulas largest remaining natural habitats, because they are not easily farmed or logged. In recent years they have become highly desirable for home site development because of water access and scenic views.

The largest threat to our remaining forests is fragmentation, which occurs when large pieces of land are divided into smaller parcels. These smaller parcels are used for residential, commercial, and industrial activities, leaving isolated fragments of forests. These remaining small patches of forest become islands in a sea of human activity and face other threats, including over-grazing by livestock, browsing by deer, invasive exotic species, or hydrologic alterations.

Protecting the forests

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photo by Joe Ervin How can I protect the remaining southern forested floodplains in southwest Michigan?
  • Contact your county Conservation District representative to learn more about managing southern floodplain forests.

  • Consider protecting these forests with a conservation easement through the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy or through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Wetland Reserve Program.

  • Consider re-creating and adding forested buffers or wetlands along waterways on your property.

For more information
Contact your county Conservation District or the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy at (616) 324-1600.
photo by William Westrate
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