Photo credit: Brad Demers
The park is located in the Carolinian Zone of forests in Southern Ontario. Due to the location of the park in the Carolinian Forest Zone, approximately 50% of the park’s vegetation is considered to be exotic (Durley, 1997). The park is home to many rare plant species such as Sassafras and Black Gum trees. Other plant species that can be seen within the park include: Black Oak, Sugar Maple, Black Walnut, White Trillium, Sharp-lobed Hepatia, and Wild Leek. Much of the vegetation that is not under forest cover in Short Hills Provincial Park is currently characterized by post-agricultural succession.
One of the most noticeable plants in the park includes the Trillium (Trillium gandiflorum). You may recognize this flower as the emblem of Ontario. The Trillium flowers in the springtime and bears 3 large leaves with a flower that consists of 3 white petals. The flower withers away and eventually returns as reddish-purple berries for the duration of the summer.
The Aboriginal People used these plants as food and aphrodisiacs. The plant was also used in a curse to wish bad luck on enemies. The green part of the plant may be cooked and eaten; however, the plant will die and it is illegal to kill a Trillium plant in Ontario.
The Carolinian Forest brings many unique and common wildlife species to Short Hills Provincial Park. Mammal species include: Brush Wolves, White-tailed Deer, Red Fox, Chipmunk, and the Meadow Vole.
Significant Bird species include: Great Horned Owl, Indigo bunting, Bobolink, Baltimore Oriole, and the Scarlet Tanager. Amphibians and Reptiles include: Eastern Milksnake, Leopard Frog, American Toad, Red-backed Salamander, and the Brown Snake.
Invertebrate species include: Swallowtail butterfly, Orange sulpher, Least skipper, and Great Spangled Fritillary. Short Hills Provincial Park is also a part of the 12 Mile Creek watershed, which is the only cold-water creek in the area. As a result of this unique condition in the streams of Short Hills Provincial Park offers a unique fishing opportunity for the residents of the area. Some of the fish species that may be found in the Short Hills streams include: Brown trout, Brook trout, Carp, Hornyhead chub, American eel, Rock bass, and Blackside Darter.
The biophysical history of the Short Hills site has been dominated by significant glacial processes, which have acted to alter the landscape. Over one million years ago a river system flowed north out of present day Lake Erie into what is now Lake Ontario. As water flowed over the escarpment, a gorge was created which recessed southward. The periods of glaciation that followed played the largest role in the creation of the current landscape. Glaciers scoured the surface, widening the valleys, and as they retreated they deposited a great deal of sand, gravel and clay. During the Wisconsin Ice Age (12,800 to 12,700 years ago), the area of Short Hills was flooded by the body of water known as Lake Warren. Glacial deposits then filled the lake, essentially burying the pre-existing gorge to 150 metres above sea level. The full retreat of the bodies of water that existed in the area left behind a network of streams flowing from south to north. These streams cut through the deposited materials, forming river valleys and various waterfalls.
Over time, the water levels in Lake Ontario lowered, resulting in the down cutting of streams and the further erosion of the landscape. Certain materials on the surface were left, forming the “Short Hills”. Following the leveling of Lake Ontario water, the severe erosional activity in the area sharply declined. This brought about a return of vegetation and ultimately resulted in the landscape establishing its current state.