of the Niagara Escarpment
After the last ice age and once the Wisconsin Ice Sheet had receded, life returned in plenty to the Niagara Escarpment. In the last 10,000 years many diverse ecosystems established themselves along the 800 kilometre length of the Escarpment: Wetlands, fens, bogs, forests, meadows, and alvars to name a few.
In the south, the Carolinian Forest contains many deciduous (broad-leafed) trees such as white pine, sugar maple, oaks and hickories, with some interesting truly Carolinian species such as Sassafras, Paw Paw, and Tulip trees. In the north, the forests are part of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest Region, containing more coniferous (narrow-leafed, needled) species such as Eastern White Cedar and boreal species such as Balsam Fir and White Spruce.
The Niagara Escarpment is also home to some truly amazing orchids, some of which grow nowhere else in the world. 37 species have been recorded in the northern parts of the Escarpment, including Calypso Orchid (Calypso bulbosa), and Ram’s-head Lady-slipper (Cypripedium arietinum). These orchids are delicate and, on some, the flowers themselves are no bigger than the nail on your pinky finger!
A recent and incredible discovery is the existence of the oldest living creature in Eastern North America… the Ancient Cedar.
You can see Eastern White Cedars growing out of the rocks on the side of the Escarpment. Seeds find a crack to settle in, then they begin to grow very slowly in a habitat with very few nutrients and little water. This species has adapted to grow in these harsh conditions.
Some of these cedars have been dated at more than 1300 years old!
Turkey Vultures are those big black birds which glide up and down the Escarpment. While they are originally from South America, the Niagara Escarpment has become the perfect habitat for these timid creatures. They have an amazing digestive system which purifies anything they eat… which are mostly dead things… including deadly viruses which would otherwise spread to other scavengers. They are the clean-up crew of the ecosystem! The Turkey vulture never kills and is a timid, social, intelligent creature who has been classified the most graceful bird in flight.
The Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere is home to roughly a quarter of Canada’s endangered or threatened species such as the Jefferson Salamander, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, the vulnerable Southern Flying-squirrel and the rare Eastern Pipistrelle bat. It contains 50 species of ferns, more than 300 species of birds, 55 mammal species and 34 species of reptiles and amphibians, and more than 1500 species of vascular plants.
The Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere is a world of natural wonders and an area of biodiversity unlike any other in the world.