Ecoregions of Kansas

About Ecoregions

Ecoregions can be defined by vegetation type, which is mostly defined by rainfall amounts and soil characteristics (see Vegetation Cover Map).

They can be defined by geology and physiography (see Physiographic Map).

But a combination of geology, physiography (physical geography), vegetation, hydrology, and climate gives a more exact definition (See EPA Ecoregion Map).

Vegetation Cover Map

The following map represents vegetation cover at the time of white settlement in Kansas as determined by A.W. Kuchler. Map provided by KARS.

Kansas Potential VegetationClick the map to enlarge it.

The various vegetation types are:

  • Shortgrass prairie
  • Sand and sandsage prairie
  • Mixed prairie
  • Tallgrass prairie
  • Cross timbers
  • Oak-hickory forest
  • Mix of tallgrass prairie and oak-hickory forest
  • Floodplain vegetation

Land Cover Today (2005)

Note how the land cover of Kansas has changed since settlement. Map provided by KARS.

2005 Kansas Land CoverClick the map to enlarge it.

Physiographic Regions Map

Kansas is divided into physiographic regions. Map provided by Kansas Geological Survey.

Generalized Physiographic Map of Kansas

Click the map to enlarge it.

Download map & descriptions: Kansas Physiographic Map (PDF - 192KB)

Region Descriptions

  • High Plains - This region comprises northwest and southwest Kansas. Excellent
    farmland slopes gently downward from the west. Numerous irrigated fields compensate for the area's limited rainfall.
  • Arkansas River Lowlands - The river that produced the Royal Gorge 240 miles to the west cuts the High Plains of southwest Kansas, leaving sand and gravel deposits, irregular hills, and sand dunes over a wide area.
  • Red Hills - Located along the state's south central boundary, this province has sandstone and shale stained red. Also included are areas of rugged hills, buttes, and mesas.
  • Smoky Hills - There are three hill ranges. Dakota sandstone makes up the first hill range. Noted outcrops are Coronado Heights, located north of Lindsborg; Pawnee Rock, a Sante Fe Trail landmark; and Rock City, an area filled with 200 large sandstone concretions near Minneapolis. Greenhorn limestone makes up the middle hill range, an area known as Post Rock Country. Early settlers cut their fence posts from this rock because timber was scarce. The third range, chalk bluffs in the Smoky Hill River valley, produced some astonishing rock formations in Logan and Gove counties. A large sea once covered the area. Fossils found in the rock made the area famous for paleontology studies.
  • Wellington and McPherson Lowlands - Permeable sand and gravel and a large quantity of high-quality water in the Equus beds underlie some of this area. Salt mines and marshes are nearby.
  • Flint Hills - Stretching north and south across the state, this is an area of beautiful scenery and unexcelled pasture land. Elevation differences vary from 100 to 400 feet. The area is named for the chert or flint rock that covers the bluestem slopes. An underlying fault has been known to produce a few minor earthquakes.
  • Glaciated Region - This area is bounded by the Kansas and Blue rivers. There are rounded hills and broad valleys with glacial deposits of quartzite on some of the hills.
  • Osage Questas - This is a hill-plain or broad-terrace panorama with the eastern slopes of the hills steeper than the western slopes. There is a plentiful limestone supply.
  • Chautauqua Hills - Extending north from the state's southern border, this province is only a few miles wide. The underlying rock is thick sandstone.
  • Cherokee Lowlands - Bituminous coal veins are near the surface in this region where thousands of acres have been strip-mined. Until recently this stripped ground was considered ruined, but now efforts are being made to restore the land to productive use.
  • Ozark Plateau - The Ozark region begins in the extreme southeast corner of Kansas. Crinoids, trilobites, and other fossils may be found in this area.

EPA Ecoregions Map

The EPA has a map of Nebraska and Kansas with their respective ecoregions. Information on this page comes from the EPA map. Below is the Kansas portion of this map.

EPA ecoregion map

Click on map to enlarge it.

Download complete map & descriptions: Ecoregions of Kansas & Nebraska (PDF - 1 MB)

Summary of EPA Ecoregions

The following descriptions correspond to the EPA Ecoregion map. Public natural areas found in each region are also listed. From west to east the ecoregions defined on this map are:

  • 25. Western High Plains (yellow)
    • 25b. Rolling Sand Plains
    • 25c. Moderate Relief Rangeland
    • 25d. Flat to Rolling Cropland
    • 25e. Rolling Cropland and Range
  • 26. Southwestern Table Lands (pink)
    • 26a. Cimarron Breaks
    • 26b. Flat Tablelands and Valleys
  • 27. Central Great Plains (tan)
    • 27a. Smoky Hills
    • 27b. Rolling Plains and Breaks
    • 27c. Great Bend Sand Prairie

    • 27d. Wellington McPherson Lowland

  • 28. Flint Hills (yellow)
    • 28. Flint Hills
  • 29. Texas/Oklahoma Central Plains (tan)
    • 29a. Cross Timbers
  • 39. Ozark Highlands (green: extreme southeast corner)
    • 39a. Springfield Plateau
  • 40. Central Irregular Plains (light yellow)
    • 40b. Osage Cuestas
    • 40c. Wooded Osage Plains
    • 40d. Cherokee Plains
  • 47. Western Cornbelt Plains (orange/brown: northeast corner)
    • 47d. Missouri Alluvial Plain
    • 47h. Nebraska Kansas Loess Hills

    • 47i. Glacial Drift Hills

25. Western High Plains

25b. Rolling Sand Plains

Square Miles: 2661
Physiography: Sandy undulating plains with small scattered areas of active sand dunes. Few perennial streams.
Geology: Eolian sand sheets and dunes over Miocene sandstone (Ogallala Formation).
Potential Natural Vegetation: Sandsage prairie: sand sagebrush, sand bluestem, prairie sandreed, and little bluestem. This community type sometimes is called sandsage steppe due to the presence of a dominant shrub, however, sandsage prairie is the name most frequently used in the plains.
Land Use and Land Cover: Predominantly rangeland with irrigated agriculture.

25c. Moderate Relief Rangeland

Square Miles: 3084
Physiography: Irregular plains with moderate slope. Intermittent streams, with a few large perennial streams. Historically, perennial streams fed by isolated springs may have been more abundant, but water consumption for agriculture and the lowering of the watertable have reduced flow and dried up springs and many streams.
Geology: Loess mantled uplands. Sandy, gravely and loamy colluvium. Miocene sandstone (Ogallala Formation).
Potential Natural Vegetation: Combination of shortgrass and mixedgrass prairies, with mostly mixedgrass prairie in the north. Shortgrass prairie (blue grama and buffalograss) dominates on upland sites, giving way to mixedgrass prairie (little bluestem, side oats grama) on slopes, more mesic sites along rivers and streams, and also on sites overlain by thicker loess deposits. In the south, largely on Cretaceous chalks, a unique association called the chalk flat prairie, which is a mixedgrass prairie.
Land Use and Land Cover: Rangeland and some small areas of dryland farming with major crops of winter wheat and grain sorghum.

25d. Flat to Rolling Cropland

Square Miles: 17882
Physiography: Flat to rolling plains. Few streams, mostly intermittent.
Geology: Loess mantled uplands with alluvial deposits. Northern area: Sandstone and siltstone (Ogallala Formation) with thin loess mantle. Also some Brule Formation (White River Group).
Potential Natural Vegetation: Mixedgrass prairie in the north: needle and thread, blue grama, threadleaf sedge, prairie sandreed, and western wheatgrass. Shortgrass prairie to the south: blue grama, buffalograss, and scattered, isolated sites with alkali sacaton, western wheatgrass, and inland saltgrass.
Land Use and Land Cover: Dryland cropland with large areas of irrigated agriculture. Major crops include winter wheat, with corn, grain sorghum, and sugar beets grown under irrigation.

25e. Rolling Cropland and Range

Square Miles: 765
Physiography: Nearly level to rolling plains. Few streams, mostly intermittent.
Geology: Eolian deposits; thin mantle of loess, loessial alluvium, and colluvium.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Shortgrass prairie in loess mantled areas with sandsage prairie in areas with coarse textured soils.
Land Use and Land Cover: Irrigated and dryland cropland, and rangeland with a significant amount of bare ground. Major crops include winter wheat, grain sorghum, alfalfa, and corn.

Locations

26. Southwestern Tablelands

26a. Cimarron Breaks

Square Miles: 2812
Physiography: Irregular, dissected slopes, bluffs, and gypsum capped buttes.
Geology: Red colored Permian shale, siltstone, sandstone, salt, and gypsum deposits.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Mixedgrass prairie, dominated by big bluestem (on more mesic sites), little bluestem, side oats grama, blue grama, and some hairy grama, with eastern red cedar a dominant tree, especially in sites sheltered from fire.
Land Use and Land Cover: Rangeland and grassland.

26b. Flat Tablelands and Valleys

Square Miles: 779
Physiography: Flat tablelands and river valleys.
Geology: Silty alluvium, sand and gravel, red colored Permian shale, siltstone, sandstone, salt, and gypsum deposits.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Sandsage prairie common in sites with sandy or well-drained soils. Floodplain woodlands dominated by plains cottonwood, black willow, and peach leaf willow. Common hackberry, green ash, and American elm locally common, especially in the eastern part of the region.
Land Use and Land Cover: Cropland on flat tabletops and rangeland along the Cimarron River valley.

Locations

27. Central Great Plains

27a. Smoky Hills

Square Miles: 7834
Physiography: Undulating to hilly dissected plain. Broad belt of low hills formed by mature dissection of Cretaceous rock layers.
Geology: Sandstone and shale, loamy colluvium, and chalky limestone. Locally mantled with thin loess over Cretaceous sandstone (Dakota Formations).
Potential Natural Vegetation: Transitional from tallgrass prairie in the east to mixedgrass prairie in the west. Some floodplain forests along riparian areas.
Land Use and Land Cover: Cropland with winter wheat as primary crop (more corn grown in irrigated areas) and areas of grassland.

27b. Rolling Plains and Breaks

Square Miles: 24739
Physiography: Dissected plains with broad undulating to rolling ridge tops and hilly to steep valley sides.
Geology: Holocene to Illinoian aged loess on uplands with alluvium in floodplains and stream terraces. Tertiary sandstone (Ogallala Formation) and Cretaceous limestone and shale (Niobrara and Greenhorn Formations).
Potential Natural Vegetation: Mixedgrass prairie: big bluestem, little bluestem, blue grama, needle and thread, side oats grama, and western wheatgrass. Some areas of floodplain forests along major riparian corridors.
Land Use and Land Cover: Mosaic of predominantly cropland and rangeland. Winter wheat and grain sorghum are the major crops with large areas of corn in the north. Irrigated areas along the major rivers planted with corn, alfalfa, and small grains. Rangeland on breaks.

Locations

27c. Great Bend Sand Prairie

Square Miles: 4118
Physiography: Undulating to rolling sandy plains, dune areas.
Geology: Sandy eolian deposits, dune sand, and loamy Quaternary sediments over sandy alluvium.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Sand prairie bunch grasses: sand bluestem, sand dropseed, and sand reedgrass.
Land Use and Land Cover: Dryland and irrigated cropland. Winter wheat is main dryland crop. Large areas of center pivot irrigation support grain sorghum and alfalfa crops. Some areas of rangeland.

Locations

27d. Wellington McPherson Lowland

Square Miles: 6058
Physiography: Flat alluvial lowlands. Perennial streams and numerous springs.
Geology: Loess and silty, sandy, and clayey alluvium. Permian sandstone, shale, and salt deposits (Wellington Formation).
Potential Natural Vegetation: Tallgrass prairie: big bluestem, little bluestem, and Indiangrass, with switchgrass in more mesic sites. Floodplain forests are well developed along rivers and streams and are dominated by plains cottonwood, black willow, peach leaf willow, common hackberry, American elm, green ash, and black walnut, with bur oak becoming less abundant westward.
Land Use and Land Cover: Extensive cropland agriculture. Major crops include winter wheat and grain sorghum. Small area of cotton cultivation.

Locations

28. Flint Hills

28. Flint Hills

Square Miles: 9783
Physiography: Undulating to rolling hills, cuestas, cherty limestone, and shale outcrops. Perennial streams and springs common.
Geology: Cherty and clayey residuum. Interbedded cherty Permian limestone and shale. Some limited glacial drift in the northeast corner of region.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Tallgrass prairie: big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass, and Indiangrass. Largest area of intact, native, tallgrass prairie in the Great Plains.
Land Use and Land Cover: Rangeland with extensive cattle grazing. Some limited areas of cropland agriculture along the river valleys and in areas with little relief.

Locations

29. Central Oklahoma/Texas Plains

Cross Timbers

Square Miles: 775
Physiography: Rolling hills and uplands.
Geology: Sandy residuum and shale outcrops. Pennsylvanian shale with thin sandstone strata.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Cross timbers savanna: post oak, blackjack oak, hickory, and eastern red cedar with an understory of tallgrass and mixedgrass species.
Land Use and Land Cover: Woodland and rangeland.

Locations

39. Ozark Highlands

39a. Ozark Plateau

Square Miles: 56
Physiography: Smooth to rolling hills.
Geology: Loamy residuum. Mississippian cherty limestone.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Oak hickory mixed forest. Pecan, Shumard oak, pin oak, white sassafras, and river birch are common in places along rivers and streams, with flowering dogwood on uplands. Tallgrass prairie and some sandstone and limestone glades were also found on uplands, but most prairies have been converted to cropland.
Land Use and Land Cover: Mosaic of woodland, grassland, and small areas of cropland.

Locations

40. Central Irregular Plains
40b. Osage Cuestas

Square Miles: 8988
Physiography: Cuestas and gentle undulating plains. Perennial streams.
Geology: Silty and clayey residuum and colluvium. Alternating layers of Pennsylvanian sandstone, limestone, and shale. Glacial drift fairly abundant in the extreme northern part of this ecoregion.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Transitional: mostly tallgrass prairie in the west to a combination of tallgrass prairie and oak hickory woodland in the east. Upland forests dominated by shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, red oak, white oak, and black oak, with Ohio buckeye, American bladderpod, and pawpaw common understory trees.
Land Use and Land Cover: Mosaic of cropland, woodland, and grassland.

Locations

40c. Wooded Osage Plains

Square Miles: 1565
Physiography: Cuestas and gentle undulating plains. Perennial streams.
Geology: Silty and clayey residuum and colluvium. Alternating layers of Pennsylvanian sandstone, limestone, and shale.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Mixture of oak hickory woodland and tallgrass prairie with a greater concentration of hardwood forest. Much like 40b, but Shumard oak, pecan, pin oak, and persimmon a bit more common, especially along the Marais des Cygnes River.
Land Use and Land Cover: Mosaic of woodland, cropland, and grassland.

Locations

40d. Cherokee Plains

Square Miles: 1308
Physiography: Flat to gently sloping plains. Perennial streams.
Geology: Sandy and clayey residuum and colluvium. Pennsylvanian sandstone, limestone, and shale (Cherokee Group).
Potential Natural Vegetation: A combination of mostly tallgrass prairie and oak hickory woodland in areas of greater relief. Upland areas dominated by hardpan and claypan prairie with little bluestem, side oats grama, varying amounts of big bluestem and Indiangrass, and a variety of forbs.
Land Use and Land Cover: Combination of cropland and grassland, with scattered areas of woodland. Areas of historic coal strip mining, especially along the Kansas Missouri border.

Locations

47. Western Corn Belt Plains

47d. Missouri Alluvial Plain

Square Miles: 559
Physiography: Glaciated. Level floodplain alluvium. Riparian wetlands largely drained.
Geology: Alluvial deposits over Cretaceous sandstone and shale (Carlile shale through Dakota sandstone) in the north, and Pennsylvanian shale, sandstone, and limestone to the south.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Northern floodplain forest: cottonwood, green ash, boxelder, and elm, with lowland tallgrass prairie: big bluestem, prairie cordgrass, switchgrass, and sedges.
Land Use and Land Cover: Intensively farmed for corn and soybeans. Transportation corridor with most areas drained by surface ditches, land grading, or protected by dams or levees.

47h. Nebraska Kansas Loess Hills

Square Miles: 3333
Physiography: Glaciated. Deep, rolling loess covered hills. Perennial streams.
Geology: Loess mantle with underlying calcareous glacial till on Pennsylvanian shale, sandstone, and limestone.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Tallgrass prairie: big bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass, and little bluestem. Scattered oak hickory forests and some floodplain woodlands along rivers and streams: bur oak, basswood, black walnut, green ash, plains cottonwoods, and willows.
Land Use and Land Cover: Principally in cropland except on the steep slopes, which are in trees and pasture. Corn, soybeans, small grains, and alfalfa are typical crops.

47i. Glacial Drift Hills

Square Miles: 6460
Physiography: Glaciated. Rolling low hills. Perennial streams.
Geology: Loess and clay loam calcareous glacial till. Loess is variable. Generally loess depth decreases with distance from source rivers. Pennsylvanian shale, sandstone, and limestone and Permian shale and limestone.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Tallgrass prairie with cottonwood dominated forests along floodplains and oak hickory forests on bluffs.
Land Use and Land Cover: Predominately cropland on the flatter loess hills with main crops of wheat and corn, and some areas in grain sorghum, soybeans, and alfalfa. Pastureland is more extensive on till soils.

Locations