Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each week to amp up your nature vocabulary!
The word of the week is savannah [SUH-VA-NUH] (noun): a grassy plain with few trees spaced wide enough such that the canopy is not closed. Technically speaking, a savannah is defined as a tallgrass community with 25-35 percent tree cover, according to the Ecological Land Classification System for Southern Ontario.
There are various savannah ecoregions around the world including tropical and subtropical savannah, like the famed Serengeti region in east-central Africa, and temperate savannahs which cover much of the Great Plains region in North America.
Savannahs are named after the dominant tree species in the ecosystem. High Park is known for its rare Black Oak Savannah ecosystem. With about 23 hectares of fragmented Black Oak Savannah, High Park is home to the most significant area of the savannah ecosystem in Toronto. This ecosystem can also be found in Lambton Park and South Humber Park.
The vast open landscape of the tallgrass savannah ecosystems made them attractive locations for human settlement. Prior to European settlement, the landscape was defined by Indigenous Peoples' use of controlled burns coupled with naturally occurring wildfires. Controlled burns were used to clear the land for agriculture, rejuvenate the quality and quantity of forage and medicinal plants, attract wildlife, and regenerate and maintain savannah habitats.
At one point in time, High Park's remnant black oak savannah ecosystem stretched from as far as Royal York Road in the west to Roncesvalles Avenue in east and Lawrence Avenue in the north to Lake Ontario in the south. Today, only 1% of this ecosystem remains.
Controlled burns and the natural fire cycle had been suppressed in High Park for over 100 years. However, since 2000, Toronto's Urban Forestry department has been conducting prescribed burns in High Park. These prescribed burns are designed to echo the Indigenous practices of controlled burns and to benefit the native plants and animals of the park.
Use the follwing resources to learn more about the Black Oak Savannah ecosystem, the history of Indigenous Land Stewarship and prescribed burns:
For more information about the prescribed burn in High Park scheduled for early spring 2022, please read the City of Toronto's press release.