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Recommended trees and plants for east-central Minnesota

Map of Minnesota divided into 10 areas. The area described in this article covers all or parts of Anoka, Benton, Blue Earth, Carver, Cass, Chisago, Crow Wing, Dakota, Hennepin, Isanti, Le Sueur, McLeod, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Nicollet, Ramsey, Rice, Scott, Sherburne, Sibley, Stearns, Waseca, Washington, and Wright counties.
Map of woodlands of Minnesota, courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

For those of you looking to rewild your backyard woods in east-central Minnesota, we recommend species that are native to the Eastern Deciduous Forest, climate resilient, and beneficial for little critters like bats, birds, and pollinators that are essential for ecosystem functioning. 

These recommendation lists are targeted for the region that ecologists call the Mille Lacs Uplands and Glacial Lake Superior Plain, which includes Pine, Kanabec, and Mille Lacs counties, and parts of Carlton, Aitkin, Crow Wing, Morrison, Benton, Chisago, and Isanti counties (region 6 on the map). 

Some of the tree species we recommend are ones you may have never heard of — for example, chittamwood is a tree native to Texas in the far southern range of the Eastern Deciduous Forest. This may seem like a large geographic jump for this species, but chittamwood is predicted to perform well in the future climate of Minnesota. Planting species like chittamwood is an example of assisted migration, which is one of the techniques that we can use to adapt and transition our forests for Minnesota’s future climate

Recommended trees for the Mille Lacs Uplands and Glacial Lake Superior Plain

Common name Scientific name Height Soil preference Light requirement
Sugar maple Acer saccharum 80 ft. Evenly-moist, well-drained Full to part sun
Yellow birch Betula alleghaniensis 45 ft. Deep well-drained loam Full sun to shade
Bitternut hickory Carya cordiformis 75 ft. Evenly-moist Full to part sun
Pignut hickory Carya glabra 60–80 ft. Adaptable Full to part sun
Shagbark hickory Carya ovata 80 ft. Dry sandy or rocky soil Full to part sun
Black hickory Carya texana 140 ft. Adaptable Part shade
Mockernut hickory Carya tomentosa 85 ft. Moist to occasionally dry Full to part sun
Sugarberry Celtis laevigata 60–80 ft. Adaptable Full to part sun
Eastern redbud Cercis canadensis 30 ft. Evenly-moist, well-drained Full to part sun
Pagoda dogwood Cornus alternifolia 18 ft. Acidic, evenly-moist Full to part sun
Honeylocust Gleditsia triacanthos 60 ft. Adaptable Full sun
Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua 60–100 ft. Well-drained Full to part sun
Yellow-poplar Liriodendron tulipifera 80 ft. Evenly-moist, well-drained Full sun
Osage-orange Maclura pomifera 40 ft. Adaptable Full sun
Red mulberry Morus rubra 25–80 ft. Moist to dry Full sun to shade
Black gum Nyssa sylvatica 30–50 ft. Moist, acidic Sun to part shade
Ironwood Ostrya virginiana 65 ft. Well-drained Part sun
Sycamore Platanus occidentalis 75–100 ft. Adaptable Full sun
Chokecherry Prunus virginana 25 ft. Adaptable Full sun
White oak Quercus alba 75 ft. Well-drained to dry Full sun
Bur oak Quercus macrocarpa 75 ft. Adaptable Full sun
Post oak Quercus stellata 50–75 ft. Moist, well-drained, adaptable Full sun
Chittamwood Sideroxylon lanuginosum 20–45 ft. Evenly-moist, well-drained Sun to part shade
Basswood Tilia americana 90 ft. Mesic loam or alluvial soils Sun to part shade
American elm Ulmus americana 35–45 ft. Average to wet soil Sun to part shade

Recommended plants for the Mille Lacs Uplands and Glacial Lake Superior Plain

Common name Scientific name Height Soil preference Light requirement
Hog peanut Amphicarpaea bracteata 1–5 ft. Evenly-moist Part to full shade
American hazelnut Corylus americana 8 ft. Evenly-moist Full to part sun
Beaked hazelnut Corylus cornuta 12 ft. Medium textured moist Full sun
Large-leaved aster Eurybia macrophylla 60 in. Adaptable Part to full shade
Clayton's sweet cicely Osmorhiza claytonii 24 in. Medium-wet to medium-dry Shade
Prickly gooseberry Ribes cynosbati 6 ft. Average to moist Part sun
Common blackberry Rubus allegheniensis 6 ft. Well-drained, organic-rich Full to part sun
Dwarf raspberry Rubus pubescens 4–6 in. Moist, organic-rich Full sun to shade
Zigzag goldenrod Solidago flexicaulis 36 in. Medium-wet to medium-dry Full to part sun
Early meadow-rue Thalictrum dioicum 36 in. Well-drained, organic-rich Full to part sun
Large-flowered bellwort Uvularia grandiflora 16 in. Alkaline, well-drained loam Sun to part shade
Downy yellow violet Viola pubescens 6 in. Average to medium-wet Part shade
Rugulose violet Viola rugulosa 12 in. Dry to average moisture Part to full shade

What’s next?

We’ll be releasing tree and plant lists for the rest of the state in the coming months. These lists are intended for those of you who own or steward backyard woods that are less than 20 acres in size. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter to be notified of future posts in this series.

Author: Anna Stockstad, Extension forestry educator

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