Oak Openings – Great Lakes Gardens
at Matthaei Botanical Gardens
Great Lakes Gardens Endowment Fund
Support the continued maintenance and care of this one-of-a-kind garden, so that future generations can experience the unique living heritage of the Great Lakes region.
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.