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

Southern Dry-mesic Forest

State Rank: S3     Global Rank: G4   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Southern Dry-mesic Forest in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

Red oak (Quercus rubrum) is a common dominant tree of this upland forest community type. White oak (Quercus alba), American basswood (Tilia americana), sugar and red maples (Acer saccharum and A. rubrum), white ash (Fraxinus americana), shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), and wild black cherry (Prunus serotina) are also important. The herbaceous understory flora is diverse and includes many species listed under southern dry forest plus jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea canadensis), large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana), lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), tick-trefoils (Desmodium spp.), and hog-peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata).

Southern dry-mesic forests occur on loamy soils of glacial till plains and moraines, and on erosional topography with a loess cap, south of the tension zone. This community type was common historically, although white oak was considerably more dominant than red oak, and the type is still common today. However, to the detriment of the oaks, mesophytic tree species are becoming increasingly important under current management practices and fire suppression policies. Oak forests are succeeding to more mesic species (e.g., central and northern hardwood forest types), or to brush.

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 Southern Dry-mesic Forest 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.

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Indiscriminate Cuckoo Bumble BeeBombus insularis1
Rusty-patched Bumble BeeBombus affinis1
Yellowbanded Bumble BeeBombus terricola1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Brilliant GranuleGuppya sterkii2
Bronze PineconeStrobilops aeneus2
Cherrystone DropHendersonia occulta2
Smooth CoilHelicodiscus singleyanus2
Bright GlyphGlyphyalinia wheatleyi1
Broad-banded ForestsnailAllogona profunda1
Hubricht's VertigoVertigo hubrichti1
Ribbed StriateStriatura exigua1
Wing SnaggletoothGastrocopta procera1

Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens3
Cerulean WarblerSetophaga cerulea3
Hooded WarblerSetophaga citrina3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus3
Worm-eating WarblerHelmitheros vermivorum3
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus2
Kentucky WarblerGeothlypis formosa2
Long-eared OwlAsio otus2
American WoodcockScolopax minor1
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus1
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus1
Yellow-breasted ChatIcteria virens1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Columbine Dusky WingErynnis lucilius1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Black-striped KatydidScudderia fasciata1
Forest LocustMelanoplus islandicus1
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus1
Short-winged GrasshopperDichromorpha viridis1
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A Seed BugSlaterobius quadristriata1

Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Tricolored BatPerimyotis subflavus2
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum2
Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus1
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus1
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans1

Gray RatsnakePantherophis spiloides3
Ornate Box TurtleTerrapene ornata3
Timber RattlesnakeCrotalus horridus3
Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii2
GophersnakePituophis catenifer2
North American RacerColuber constrictor2
Prairie Ring-necked SnakeDiadophis punctatus arnyi2
Western WormsnakeCarphophis vermis2

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
Asclepias purpurascens Purple Milkweed 2
Besseya bullii Kitten Tails 3
Boechera dentata Short's Rock-cress 2
Carex backii Rocky Mountain Sedge 2
Carex swanii Swan Sedge 2
Carex sychnocephala Many-headed Sedge 2
Dasistoma macrophylla Mullein Foxglove 2
Desmodium perplexum Perplexed Tick-trefoil 2
Eurybia furcata Forked Aster 3
Hydrastis canadensis Golden-seal 2
Juglans cinerea Butternut 2
Paronychia canadensis Smooth Forked Nail-wort 2
Phegopteris hexagonoptera Broad Beech Fern 2
Platanthera hookeri Hooker's Orchid 3
Polytaenia nuttallii Prairie Parsley 1
Prenanthes crepidinea Nodding Rattlesnake-root 3
Primula fassettii Jeweled Shooting Star 3
Ptelea trifoliata ssp. trifoliata var. trifoliata Wafer-ash 2
Quercus muehlenbergii Chinquapin Oak 2
Rhamnus lanceolata var. glabrata Lanced-leaved Buckthorn 1
Rhus aromatica Fragrant Sumac 2
Scutellaria ovata ssp. ovata Heart-leaved Skullcap 3
Silene virginica Fire Pink 2
Solidago caesia Bluestem Goldenrod 3
Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata October Lady's-tresses 2
Teloschistes chrysophthalmus Gold-eye Lichen 2
Thaspium chapmanii Hairy Meadow Parsnip 2
Trillium nivale Snow Trillium 2
Triphora trianthophora Nodding Pogonia 2


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Southern Dry-mesic Forest, 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


The following are additional considerations for Southern Dry-mesic Forest in Ecological Landscapes with opportunities for protection, restoration, and/or management. For more information, see the Wildlife Action Plan.

Central Lake Michigan Coastal

Although southern dry-mesic forests are not widespread in this Ecological Landscape, there is an opportunity to maintain a large, older block of oak forest along the lower Wolf River. Other sites occur at Fairy Chasm (Ozaukee County) and Waldkirch Oak Woods (Brown County).

Central Sand Hills

Several significant sites of this community type occur in this Ecological Landscape. They occur at Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area and Otsego Oak-Maple Woods (Columbia County), Caves Creek Fisheries Area and Fox River Crane Marsh (Marquette County), and Mud Lake-Radley Creek Savanna State Natural Area (Waupaca County).

Central Sand Plains

This type is not extensive in the Ecological Landscape, but some significant sites occur within the matrix of dry forest communities. Opportunities exist to maintain large blocks of oak forest in the Black River State Forest (Jackson County), Clark County Forest, Jackson County Forest, Quincy Bluff State Natural Area (Adams County), and Mill Bluff State Natural Area (Juneau County). Existing sites should be connected to other blocks of forest where possible.

Southeast Glacial Plains

Significant patches of the community type exist in both the Southern (Walworth, Jefferson, and Waukesha Counties) and Northern Units of the Kettle Moraine (Washington, Fond du Lac, and Sheboygan Counties); these may represent the best opportunities to manage for large blocks of oak forest in southeast Wisconsin. Other sites that have this community type include Hook Lake Bog (Dane County), and Millhome Forest (Manitowoc County). Opportunities to develop larger, older blocks of oak forest, and/or connect existing blocks should be sought. Remnants of old oak forests should be preserved and managed to control invasives. Some native species such as prickly ash, dogwoods, grapevines, and cherries can become aggressive in these communities in the absence of fire. Deer densities should be reduced where feasible and other factors affecting oak regeneration should be explored and addressed. Rural housing development is occurring at an especially rapid rate in this Ecological Landscape, and opportunities to promote sustainable development are desirable.

Southern Lake Michigan Coastal

Examples of this community type are found at Cudahy Woods State Natural Area and Fall Park Woods (Milwaukee County), Bishop's Woods and Muskego Park Hardwoods (Waukesha County), Silver Lake Bog State Natural Area (Kenosha County), and Sander's Park Hardwoods State Natural Area (Racine County). River corridors offer the best opportunities to develop forest connectivity. In urban settings, encourage planting of oaks in parks and adjacent to existing urban woodlands. The native prickly ash, dogwoods, grapevine, and cherries are aggressive in the absence of fire. High deer densities and other factors may be affecting oak regeneration, particularly in urban park areas.

Southwest Savanna

Several opportunities exist to manage southern dry-mesic forests in this Ecological Landscape. Examples of the community type exist at Browntown Oak Forest State Natural Area and New Glarus Woods State Natural Area (Green County), Weir White Oaks State Natural Area and Yellowstone Wildlife Management Area (Lafayette County), and Pecatonica River Woods State Natural Area (Iowa County).

Western Coulee and Ridges

There are many opportunities to manage this community type on both public and private lands in this Ecological Landscape. Larger blocks of oak forest in the Middle and Lower Kickapoo Watershed (including the Kickapoo Valley Reserve; Vernon and Crawford Counties), the Baraboo Hills (including Devil's Lake State Park and the Badger Army Ammunition Plant, Sauk and Columbia Counties), Rush Creek State Natural Area (Crawford County), and Lower Wisconsin Riverway (Dane, Iowa, Grant, Sauk, Richland, and Crawford Counties) should be maintained. There are opportunities to maintain this community type on private land through Managed Forest Law and other private lands forestry programs.

Western Prairie

This community type occurs on bluffs along the St. Croix River where it would have historically been protected from frequent fire disturbance. Larger blocks of oak forest along the St. Croix River bluffs, in areas east of the Willow River, and along the Kinnickinnic River should be maintained. Management should occur within the context of floodplains, southern mesic forest, dry oak forest and savanna in a gradient from forests to native and surrogate prairie grasslands. Urban expansion is occurring in this Ecological Landscape; housing developments can impact this community directly and also limit opportunities to manage with prescribed fire.


Southern Dry-mesic Forest Photos

Southern Dry-mesic Forest Photo

Mature dry-mesic hardwood forest of red oak, white oak, and red maple. Western Coulees and Ridges ecological landscape.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Southern Dry-mesic Forest Photo

White oak, red oak southern dry-mesic forest, Adams County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Southern Dry-mesic Forest Photo

Photo by Christina Isenring.

Southern Dry-mesic Forest Photo

This mature dry-mesic hardwood forest is dominated by red oak, white oak, shagbark hickory, American beech, sugar maple and basswood. Northern Kettle Moraine Region.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

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