Wildlands & Woodlands Website

Highstead works to inspire curiosity and build knowledge about plants and wooded landscapes in order to enhance life, preserve nature, and advance sound stewardship practices.

Highstead Property Description

About > The Landscape


Nestled among the rugged outcrops and rounded hills of Fairfield County, Connecticut, Highstead comprises 100+ acres of wetlands, woodlands, and meadows in the town of Redding. At a broader scale, Highstead is located in the southwest corner of the Northeastern Coastal Zone Ecoregion, a broadly similar region of moderate relief and high human population that extends from New Jersey to the southern coast of Maine.

Highstead Topography

Highstead Topography - click map for larger view

oak forest

Oak-Mountain Laurel Forest

red maple white ash

Red Maple - White Ash Forest

red maple swamp

Red Maple Swamp


Two opposing highpoints - a rocky ridge to the west and a smooth-sided drumlin to the east -- separated by a low-lying basin and stream define this diverse landscape. The land drops sharply to the north and east from the 760 foot western ridge to a low of 605 feet in the northwest corner of the property. East of the Central Basin, the land ascends gradually to the base of the drumlin before rising sharply and cresting at 810 feet - the highpoint of the property that offers panoramic views of Redding and surrounding towns.

Natural Communities

Oak-Mountain Laurel Forest:

Rocky ledges and dry, acidic soils on the western half of the property support oak forests with towering mountain laurel understories. Chestnut oak and scarlet oak are the dominant trees on the ridgetop and upper slopes with huckleberry and Pennsylvania sedge appearing in the sparse understory beneath the laurel. On the moister lower slopes, red oak pre-dominates with witch hazel joining mountain laurel in the understory and a more diverse herb cover including ferns appearing on the forest floor. White-tailed deer, wild turkeys and red-backed salamanders are common inhabitants of this community type.

Mesic Hardwoods:

A small section of mesic hardwood forest with abundant fern cover occurs on the rocky, moist soils west of Tannery Brook adjacent to the Redding Country Club. Hickories, tulip tree, red maple and oaks are common in the overstory with ironwood and birch in the understory and the shrubs a mix of spicebush and mountain laurel. This community type is transitional between oak-mountain laurel and red maple swamp.

Red Maple Swamp:

High water tables and seasonally saturated soils in the basin and stream-side areas of Highstead support red maple-yellow birch forests. Fragrant spicebush and sweet pepperbush shrubs combine with dense herbaceous layers of skunk cabbage and cinnamon fern to provide the characteristic lushness of this community. Among other animals, box turtles inhabit this community type.

Red Maple-White Ash Forest:

Moist, fine-grained soils of the drumlin's lower slopes support red maple-white ash-tulip tree forests with spiny, exotic shrub layers and grassy herbaceous layers. These forests were historically cleared for agriculture and are consequently heavily invaded by invasive plants, including Japanese barberry, oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, and garlic mustard. White-tailed deer and red fox are common inhabitants of these woodlands.


Meadows dominate the Eastern third of the property, covering most of the drumlin (some 45 acres). Introduced European grasses -- timothy, smooth brome, orchard, and bent - are the dominant species with patches of the native forbs, Indian hemp and common milkweed. This community supports one of the largest populations of bobolinks in southwestern CT.