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Ontario Lowlands

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About the Ontario Lowlands

The Ontario Lowlands are a region located in New York State, and extending into Ontario, mostly located south and east of Lake Ontario, but not extending fully to the lake in the western portions of the region. This area mostly corresponds to the extent of the prehistoric Glacial Lake Iroquois, a lake whose water level was about 100 feet (~30m) higher than that of present-day lake Ontario.

Although called a "lowlands", the terrain is highly variable, with elevations ranging from 246-1100ft and local relief ranging from 46-300ft. The landscape is marked by many glacial features, including Drumlin fields, moraines, kames, and glacial lake plains, and kettles. Where this region borders Lake Ontario, there are beaches and sand dunes.

The region has a humid continental climate with a strong lake influence, mostly from Lake Ontario and less from Lake Erie except in the far west. The lake effect produces more moderate temperatures, high cloud cover, and high winter snowfall. The frost-free growing season ranges from 130-200 days, unusually long for a region so far north and inland.

Original forest cover consisted of mostly American beech and sugar maple on moist, fine-textured soils, and white oak on sites with coarser, drier soils. There was also some American basswood, American elm, and white ash. Poorly-drained, swampy sites supported forests of American elm, black ash, and silver maple. There are a small number of limestone barrens here as well.

Much of the original forest cover has been cleared, and what little forest remains is mostly in small fragments in a landscape dominated by agriculture. More forest remains on the poorly-drained sites than elsewhere. Agriculture here produces dairy, livestock, forage crops, fruit, and vegetables. This area has experienced moderate urbanization and suburbanization, much more than areas south and east. Syracuse is the largest city here, and the region also contains the southern part of the Rochester metro area, although not the city itself. There are also some smaller cities and towns.

This region, owing to its long and somewhat irregular shape, borders many other ecoregions. In the west, this region is bordered to the north, and at the very western end, also to the south by the Erie/Ontario Lake Plain. Along most of its length, it is bordered to the south by the Finger Lakes Uplands and Gorges. West of this region there is also a small border to the south with the Cattaraugus Hills. The far southeast of this region has a small border with the Mohawk Valley. North of that, this region borders the Tug Hill Transition to the east, and north of that there is a small border to the east with the Upper St. Lawrence Valley. The far northeast has a slightly larger border with the St. Lawrence Lowlands.

Plant Lists & In-Region Search

We do not yet have data to generate plant lists for a region as fine-tuned as this one. However you can move up to the broader Eastern Great Lakes Lowlands and generate lists for that region: native plants or all plants. Or search that region's plants here:


1. Bryce, S.A., Griffith, G.E., Omernik, J.M., Edinger, G., Indrick, S., Vargas, O., and Carlson, D. "Ecoregions of New York (Poster)", U.S. Geological Survey (2010) Web.