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For information on Wisconsin's natural communities, contact:
Ryan O'Connor
Natural Heritage Inventory Ecologist

Forested Seep

State Rank: S2     Global Rank: GNR   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Forested Seep in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

Forested seeps are shaded seepage areas with active spring discharges in hardwood forests that may host a number of uncommon to rare species. The overstory dominant is frequently black ash (Fraxinus nigra), but yellow birch (Betula allegheniensis), American elm (Ulmus americana), and many other tree species may be present, including conifers such as hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and white pine (Pinus strobus). The groundlayer includes groundwater-loving species such as skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), water-pennywort (Hydrocotyle americana), marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata), swamp saxifrage (Micranthes pennsylvanica), golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum), golden ragwort (Packera aurea), silvery spleenwort (Deparia acrostichoides), and several uncommon sedges (Carex scabrata and C. prasina). Most documented occurrences are in the Driftless Area or along major rivers flanked by steep bluffs.

Defining Characteristics and Similar Communities

Forested seeps are characterized by their small size, the presence of active springs, prevalence of groundwater-loving herbaceous plants, and their occurrence within an upland forest setting. They are most similar to northern hardwood swamps, which may have many of the same common wetland species, but forested seeps are smaller in size, are often bordered by moderately to steeply sloping uplands, and contain more active discharge (greater volume of flowing water per unit area) of groundwater that often quickly coalesces into a small stream. Forested seeps are prevalent in the Driftless Area, associated with ravines and steep slopes along major rivers but also occur in clay ravines. In contrast, northern hardwood swamps tend to occur in larger wetland basins associated with lakeplains or poorly drained till plains in glaciated regions. Forested seeps have hydrologic similarities to springs and spring run communities, but those tend be located in wetlands or on the margin between forests and larger wetland complexes rather than completely embedded within a forested context. They also tend to lack the swamp hardwoods and hummock-dwelling conifers that typify forested seeps.

Rare animals

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

The following Species of Greatest Conservation Need are listed according to their level of association with the Forested Seep natural community type, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

Scores: 3 = high association, 2 = moderate association, and 1 = low association. See the key to association scores for complete definitions.

Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum2
Pickerel FrogLithobates palustris2
Mink FrogLithobates septentrionalis1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Appalachian PillarCochlicopa morseana1
Eastern Flat-whorlPlanogyra asteriscus1

American WoodcockScolopax minor2
Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens1
Evening GrosbeakCoccothraustes vespertinus1
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus1
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis1
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus1
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus1
Yellow-crowned Night-HeronNyctanassa violacea1

Dragonflies and damselfliesScore
Forcipate EmeraldSomatochlora forcipata1
Zigzag DarnerAeshna sitchensis1

Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus3
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans2
Tricolored BatPerimyotis subflavus2
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis2
American MartenMartes americana1
Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus1
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis1
Water ShrewSorex palustris1

Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta1

Please see Section 2. Approach and Methods of the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Rare plants

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

Scores: 3 = "significantly associated," 2 = "moderately associated," and 1 = "minimally associated."
Scientific Name Common Name Score
Carex backii Rocky Mountain Sedge 1
Carex laevivaginata Smooth-sheathed Sedge 2
Carex prasina Drooping Sedge 2
Carex schweinitzii Schweinitz's Sedge 3


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Forested Seep, based on the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Major (3 on map)
A major opportunity for sustaining the natural community in the Ecological Landscape exists, either because many significant occurrences of the natural community have been recorded in the landscape or major restoration activities are likely to be successful maintaining the community's composition, structure, and ecological function over a longer period of time.

Important (2 on map)
Although the natural community does not occur extensively or commonly in the Ecological Landscape, one to several occurrences do occur and are important in sustaining the community in the state. In some cases, important opportunities may exist because the natural community may be restricted to just one or a few Ecological Landscapes within the state and there may be a lack of opportunities elsewhere.

Present (1 on map)
The natural community occurs in the Ecological Landscape, but better management opportunities appear to exist in other parts of the state.


Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

What are conservation actions?

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for natural communities


Forested Seep Photos

Forested Seep Photo

Forested seep groundlayer dominated by Floerkea proserpinacoides and Carex plantaginea.

Photo by Emmet Judziewicz.

Forested Seep Photo

Forested seep bordering Skinner Creek, Flambeau River SF. Ostrich fern, cinnamon fern, and marsh marigold are common here.

Photo by Emmet Judziewicz.

Forested Seep Photo

Arbutus Creek, Black River State Forest.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Forested Seep Photo

Forested Seep running into oxbow of Totagatic River

Photo by Rich Staffen.

Forested Seep Photo

Close-up of Forested Seep

Photo by Rich Staffen.

Note: photos are provided to illustrate various examples of natural community types. A single photograph cannot represent the range of variability inherent in a given community type. Some of these photos explicitly illustrate unusual and distinctive community variants. The community photo galleries are a work in progress that we will expand and improve in the future.

Last revised: Tuesday, August 30, 2022