The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum

Oak Openings Garden

Oak openings (also called oak savannas) once characterized much of southern Michigan, even inspiring James Fenimore Cooper’s 1852 book The Oak Openings. They were preferred locations for homesteads, cemeteries, towns, and college campuses, and many sites were converted to these uses. Today, these natural systems are among the rarest in the state. Dominated by towering oaks (white, bur, chinkapin, black, and northern red) and occasional hickories, this system had an understory kept open by frequent fires. A few shrubs such as hazelnut (Corylus americana) and New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) were commonly found with the rich array of native grasses, sedges, and wildflowers. Our oak openings garden acquaints visitors with this lost feature of the Michigan landscape.

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