Bottomland Hardwood Forest

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Since Europeans settled in the United States, there has been a substantial decrease in bottomland hardwood forests and it is now considered an endangered ecosystem and rare in Kentucky. As a result, managing this habitat type has become very important and was the purpose in establishing Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge.


Sometimes a bottomland hardwood forest is referred to as an “overflow swamp” because it catches the overflow of flood waters during the wet seasons. Flood duration can vary from a few days to a couple of months, but does not usually harm the trees because it happens while they are dormant in winter and early spring. This seasonal flooding creates lush and fertile soil from the depositing of sediments. 

Rich soil means a variety of fast growing trees. Common species found include oak, gum, hickory, and maple. These species are unique to this habitat because they have the ability to survive in seasonal floods or remain covered with water much of the year. Other interesting feature of these trees are their fluted or swollen trunks, and the presence of knees or aerial roots.

These forests provide important habitat to a variety of wildlife including migratory songbirds called “neotropical migrants” and to many species of waterfowl. Here, in bottomland hardwood forest, these birds can feed, rest, and raise their young.

The acorns from the abundant oak trees are an important source of food for squirrels, deer, and many other animals. Locations of standing water such as backwater sloughs and small vernal pools are important breeding grounds for animals such as frogs and crayfish.

Bottomland hardwood forests hold tremendous value to humans as well. During the wet seasons it acts like a giant sponge to soak up floodwater, decreasing the devastation of flooding to land downstream. Bottomland hardwood forest also filter and purifies water as it flows through the plants and soil. Thus, making bodies of water cleaner and safer for recreation such as fishing.