Although historical inventories of the Oak Openings Region are scarce, the map The Vegetation of the Oak Openings of Northwest Ohio at the Time of Euro-American Settlement (Brewer, Vankat and Walser, Figure 3,1993) provides a plausible estimate. Compiled from survey records obtained from 1817 -1832, this map indicates the region was a mosaic of vegetation types, often influenced by topography. It is important to note that although Brewer’s map and Edwin Moseley’s map from 1928 delineate the same general region, Brewer’s area is over 50 square miles larger. This is likely because by 1928 a significant portion of the area that the surveyors had noted as “savanna” had already been modified.
The following vegetation descriptions are based on a combination of both Brewer and Moseley’s work. Upland beach ridges and dunes historically supported approximately 60,000 acres (this figure combines Brewer’s oak savanna and oak barrens communities) of oak savanna with a density of 2 to 17 trees per acre and an average of 6 trees per acre. Approximately 27,000 acres of oak woodland also occurred in these upland areas with a density of 17 or more trees per acre and an average of 36 trees per acre (Brewer, 1993). According to Moseley, dominant trees within these habitats were white oak (Quercus alba), black oak (Quercus velutina), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and wild black cherry (Prunus serotina). Common shrubs included blueberries (Vaccinium sp.), huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina), New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus), and prairie willow, (Salix humilis).
Common and abundant grasses and sedges included little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), sandbur (Cenchrus sp), various species of Panicum, big bluestem, (Andropogon gerardii), Indian grass (Sorgastrum nutans), june grass (Koeleria macrantha), Carex muhlenbergii, Carex pensylvanica and others. Common forbs consisted of wild lupine (Lupinus perennis), puccoon (Lithospermum sps.), blazing star (Liatris aspera), goldenrods (Solidago sps.) sunflowers (Helianthus sps.) and pinweeds (Lechea sps.).
Swales between the ridges and dunes supported approximately 32,000 acres (Brewer, 1993) of nearly treeless wet prairies. Sedges and grasses common in these areas included Carex lasiocarpa,Carex sartwellii, Carex lanuginosa and Calamagrostis inexpansa. Common and abundant forbs consisted of fringed gentian (Gentianopsis crinita), goldenrods (Solidago sps.), blazing star (Liatris spicata), and cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior). Trees and shrubs that were present included pin oak (Quercus palustris), trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), dogwoods (Cornus sps.) and Spirea sps..
Historically, the Oak Openings, and much of Northwest Ohio, supported an impressive list of fauna that depended on the persistence of the natural ecosystems. According to Harold Mayfield (1976) in “Changes in the Natural History of the Toledo Region Since the Coming of the White Man”, bison, elk, white-tailed deer, mountain lion, bobcat, grey wolves, black bear, beaver and porcupine were found in the Northwest Ohio area.
Birds were also a significant component of these communities. Naturalist Lou Campbell (Campbell, 1968) reported that sandhill cranes nested in the region until the 1880s. Mayfield reports that swallow-tailed kites, golden-winged warblers and various species of ducks frequented the wet prairies. Greater prairie chickens, wild turkeys, eastern ruffed grouse, Henslow’s sparrows and lark sparrows were found in the uplands.
Selected insects, specifically the lepidoptera, depended upon the unique characteristics of the Oak Openings ecosystem. Butterflies like the Karner blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis), the frosted elfin (Incisalis irus) and the persius dusky wing (Erynnis persius) were widespread in the region. These species thrived on a diversity of nectar plants and abundant populations of wild lupine, the host plant for their larva.