Natural History

Bennett Arboretum

Bennett Arboretum is filled with natural historic wonders. Before it was populated with trees and other greenery, thousands of years ago, it and all of Michigan were completely covered in snow. The snowfall was so abundant and unrelenting that older snow under the new snow would freeze and turn into ice. These ice sheets, or glaciers, were up to a mile thick (that’s approximately 5,280 feet of ice). Wondering why we aren’t skiing over glacial sheets to get to and from work every day? The glaciers melted thousands of years ago.

When the glaciers melted away, they did not leave Michigan’s landscape unmarked. These glaciers left us with glacial moraines, natural materials and ground formations left over from massive passing glaciers. Typically consisting of rock, soil, and other sedimentary materials, these materials combined and piled over and around each other over thousands of years. On top of the hills in and around the Arboretum, you will see a rolling landscape. To the naked eye, these moraines look like steep hills. Moraines are concrete evidence of Michigan’s diverse and fascinating glacial history.

Map of Southern Michigan glacial formations
1917 color map of Michigan soil from Frank Leverett’s Surface Geology of Michigan

The glacial moraines in Bennett Arboretum belong to the Huron-Erie Ice Lobe (of the Laurentide Ice Sheet). The Huron-Erie Ice Lobe consists of moraines that formed, due to glacial flow, on the eastern slope of Michigan’s “Thumb.” It covered and helped create the present Lake Huron, the Lake Erie basin, and Ontario’s peninsula. It is also due to the Huron-Erie Ice Lobe (and continental glaciers colliding and shifting over time) that the Hines Park area and greater southeast Michigan today consist of flat lands and rolling hills. Michigan’s historic glacial activity gave us these unique and homegrown natural gems. In other words, pure Michigan!

What kind of moraines can be seen in Bennett Arboretum and Northville Township? Terminal moraines! Terminal moraines are moraines that took shape at the end of moving glaciers. These remnants of glacial activity appear as irregular-shaped ridges, varying in height and materials that formed depending on how much time the ice remained at a specific area and in a certain position. The terminal moraines in Bennett Arboretum and greater Northville Township are all situated close to and directly along the Johnson Drain as well as the Northville area of Hines Drive. Want a better look? Just past I-275 and M-14 is where one can explore even more.