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Central Wisconsin Undulating Till Plain

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About the Central Wisconsin Undulating Till Plain

The Central Wisconsin Undulating Till Plain is a predominately agricultural region extending fairly far east-west in central-to-northwestern Wisconsin. Some sources break this region into several separate regions based on differences in bedrock.

Most of this region is a gently rolling plain, but there are some dramatic areas of rugged terrain in the east, and a few slightly less dramatic ones in the southwest as one approaches the Driftless Area. In the east, Rib Mountain rises to 1,942 feet (592 m) above sea level, and 741 feet (226 m) around its surroundings, making it the area of largest relief in the state of Wisconsin. The bedrock is somewhat variable across this region, ranging from igneous and metamorphic rock in the east, to sandstone and shale in the west and southwest, with sandstone covering the largest area. Glacial drift throughout the region is thin, and the terrain mostly follows the shapes that existed prior to glaciation. There are outcroppings of the various bedrock substrates throughout. In addition to thin glacial drift, the flatter portions of this region are also mantled in loess, fine, wind-blown deposits. Surface soils here are mostly nutrient-rich silt-loams, varying from well-drained to poorly-drained, although in some places, notably the southwest, there are also some sandy loams and loamy sands of low fertility. The subsoils also vary, from loamy, acidic till in places, to various types of bedrock in others. On average soil textures are suitable for agriculture throughout much of the region, and nutrient deficiencies are mostly amenable.

The climate is humid and continental, with four distinct seasons, including hot summers and very cold winters, and generally extreme swings of temperature possible at any time of year. Precipitation is higher in the warmer months, due primarily to temperature, but there is less variation in average humidity year-round; summers also tend to be significantly sunnier than winters. The climate averages cold enough that the region is transitional between boreal and temperate ecosystems, and there is significant snowfall over a period of about 5 months. Relative to this region's large area, there is little change in average temperature or precipitation over the region.

This region was originally almost entirely forested. The most common forest type throughout was a variant of northern hardwood forests, with the dominant trees being sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), along with some yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). In the north, there were some areas of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and red pine (Pinus resinosa). In the south, there were also some forests of sugar maple, American basswood (Tilia americana), and oaks. There were also a few oak forests in the south and west, and in the west, also some open oak barrens, with mostly black oak (Quercus velutina) and jack oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis), with smaller amounts of bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), white oak (Quercus alba), jack pine (Pinus banksiana), and quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides). There were some areas of conifer swamp, particularly near the headwaters of streams. Farther south, swampy areas supported more mixed forests, with hemlock, white pine, black spruce (Picea mariana), red maple (Acer rubrum), and elm. Throughout most of the region, windthrow was the most important disturbance, but in the west, the oak barrens were maintained by frequent, often severe fire.

This region has been largely cleared for agriculture. It primarily produces corn for silage, oats, and barley, as well as some apples. Forest cover is spotty. In much of the region, there are only small, isolated woodlots, and occasional larger tracts of forest along riparian corridors. However in the east, south, and southwest there are also large portions of this region that are mostly forested. There are also a few fairly large tracts of protected public land, including Mead Conifer Bogs State Natural Area and the adjacent George W. Mead State Wildlife Area, the McMillan Marsh State Wildlife Area; these areas mostly protect wetlands on poorly-drained ground. In the west, the Otter Creek Oak Barrens State Natural Area protects a small area of oak barrens. There are relatively few protected areas of forest in the region.

Although this region is large and mostly rural, it does contain two small cities, Eau Claire and Wausau, both of which have suburbs and sprawl exceeding the size of the cities themselves, and the smaller city of Marshfield. There are also numerous towns throughout, making this area relatively populous for a rural area. There is also an extensive road network covering nearly the entire region in a grid of roads spaced at 1-mile increments, which fragments forests in the few places they are larger than the 1-square-mile blocks.

Due to this region's large size, it borders numerous regions. The eastern portions of it are bordered to the south by the Glacial Lake Wisconsin Sand Plain, a flat region with sandy soils, little agriculture, and more forest cover, to the east by the Upper Wolf River Stagnation Moraine, with slightly more rugged terrain and forest cover, and to the north by the Perkinstown End Moraines, a highly rugged region that is almost entirely forested. To the west, the region is bordered to the southwest by the Blufflands and Coulees of the Driftless Area, a region that escaped glaciation. At the far west end, this region is bordered to the south by the Lower St. Croix and Vermillion Valleys, and to the northwest by the St. Croix Stagnation Moraines. The northernmost part of this region also borders the Chequamegon Moraines and Outwash Plain to the northeast. South of that is an irregular border to the east and north with the Blue Hills, and east of that, in the central part of this region, a border to the north with the Chippewa Lobe Rocky Ground Moraines, a region with rockier soils and slightly more irregular terrain.