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Kettle Moraines

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About the Kettle Moraines

The Kettle Moraines are a region in southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois, mostly oriented north-south, characterized by glacial features and numerous lakes and wetlands.

This region is poorly-drained, with conspicuous glacial landforms including terminal and ground moraines and pitted outwash plains. The terrain is variable: flat in places, and hilly or hummocky in others. There are numerous lakes and wetlands, including bogs, fens, and marshes. Stream networks here are poorly developed, reflecting the younger age of glacial sediments here. Soils are mostly developed on relatively recent glacial till; in a few areas there is thin loess. The texture tends to range from more clayey to the east and more sandy in the west. There are a few areas with peaty or mucky soils reflecting the accumulation of organic matter in poorly-drained depressions. Soils here tend to be nutrient-rich but are often poorly-drained.

In the early 19th century, this region was covered in a mix of mostly forest, with some areas of savanna and prairie, and depressions mostly were covered in wetlands. Sites protected from fire mostly supported forest of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and American basswood (Tilia americana), with smaller amounts of northern red oak (Quercus rubra), elm, and white ash (Fraxinus americana). White oak (Quercus alba) and black oak (Quercus velutina) were found on drier sites, opening into savannas on the most fire-prone sites; savannas also included bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa).

Nowadays, most of the lakes in this region have been surrounded by a combination of summer resorts and permanent residential development. This region is also heavily urbanized and suburbanized, containing nearly all of the Milwaukee, WI metro area, including the smaller city of Waukesha, WI, and in the south, also including some of the northernmost of Chicago's suburbs. There are also some smaller cities and numerous small towns throughout the region. There is also some agriculture farther from the urban areas.

This region is partly surrounded to the south by the Valparaiso-Wheaton Morainal Complex, another hilly region of moraines, but with fewer lakes and (at least originally) a higher density of prairies. Most of the region is bordered to the west by the Southeastern Wisconsin Savannah and Till Plain, except in the south of Wisconsin where there is a small border to the west with the Rock River Drift Plain. In the south, this region borders the flatter Chiwaukee Prairie Region to the east. Farther north, it is bordered to the north and east by the Lake Michigan Lacustrine Clay Plain, a lower, flatter areas with more clayey soils.

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 Southeastern Wisconsin Till Plains and generate lists for that region: native plants or all plants. Or search that region's plants here: