The Barrens of the Midwest: An Historical Perspective


Max D. Hutchison

Additional Authors:


September – 1994


Barrens, Midwest

The common term used by early travelers to describe lands in the Midwestern wilderness that were neither “good prairie” nor “good forest” is barrens. This natural type changed quickly after settlement, and few examples are left to document its original character. Confusion exists among ecologists today as to the definition and proper use of the term. Some doubt that it has any place in modern classification systems. Very few sites have been recognized by the barrens name in modern inventories. After studying and comparing historical descriptions of the barrens, and after examining original barrens areas in several of the Midwestern states, it appears that the barrens term was, and still is, a legitimate name for a natural community type distinct from forest and prairie. A definition is proposed, but the main emphasis of this presentation is to describe the barrens. Although all have been affected by unnatural disturbance, good examples still exist and should be recognized and preserved.