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Recommended trees and plants for North Central Minnesota

Map of woodlands of Minnesota, courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

The St. Louis Moraines and Tamarack Lowlands (region 4 in the map shown here) covers parts of Itasca, Aitkin, Carlton, St. Louis, Crow Wing, and Cass Counties. These areas have been shaped by the glacial history of Minnesota, just like the rest of the state. 

Rolling hills in this area of the state are caused by glacial deposits which are called moraines. Lowlands cover a large part of this region as a result of ancient lake plains, where glaciers previously melted and left behind flat topography with lacustrine (lake drainage) deposits. The Sax-Zim Bog is a great example of this landform. 

The low-lying topography and wet conditions led to the accumulation of slowly-decomposing vegetative material called peat on top of those lacustrine deposits. These conditions created the large areas of bogs that we see today, characterized by tree species such as black spruce and tamarack, but also a great diversity of bird species. The Sax-Zim Bog is a very popular destination for Minnesota’s birders. 

Envision the future of your land 

Just as it’s important for you to understand the history of your land, you should also think critically about its future, especially in light of a changing climate. What do you envision the future of your backyard woods to look like? Do you want your woodland to look the same as it does today, or do you want it to change in some way? Do you want a different cover type, for it to become more diverse, or perhaps you hope for an increase in a certain species? Understanding your vision for the future of your backyard woods is the first step in creating a plan to manage your land in the face of climate change. 

Below you will find lists of recommended trees and understory plants for backyard woods in the St. Louis Moraines - Tamarack Lowlands. All of the trees and plants on this list are native to Minnesota or nearby in the Eastern Deciduous Forest, climate resilient, and beneficial to the pollinators, birds, bats and other creatures that call your woods home.

Some of these species, such as yellow birch, are currently native to this region of the state and are expected to be resilient to the impacts of a changing climate. Other species may be native to Minnesota but not to this region of the state, such as black walnut. And some of the species on this list, such as sweetgum, are not currently native to Minnesota, but are predicted to thrive in your area’s future climate. 

We highly recommend that you work with a forester or another natural resource professional to determine if implementing assisted migration strategies is the best option for your land and goals. Climate-smart management strategies can fall anywhere on the spectrum of Resistance, Resilience, or Transition. Your goals and desired future conditions will help you to decide if assisted migration (a method of transition) is the best option for you.

Recommended trees for the St. Louis Moraines and Tamarack Lowlands

Common name Scientific name Plant type Height (feet) Width/Spread (feet) Soil requirements Light requirements
serviceberry Amelanchier spp. Shrub, Tree 30' 15' Prefers clay, does well in medium to course texture Sun to part shade
yellow birch Betula alleghaniensis Tree 45' 50' Prefers deep, well-drained loam, but tolerates rocky soil or shallow peat Full to part sun
pignut hickory Carya glabra Tree 60 - 80' 25 - 40' Adaptable Full to part sun
shagbark hickory Carya ovata Tree 80' 35' Dry sandy or rocky soil Full to part sun
mockernut hickory Carya tomentosa Tree 85' 60' Good drainage, moist, occasionally dry Full to part sun
beaked hazelnut Corylus cornuta Shrub 12' 9' Prefers medium textured soil Full sun
bush honeysuckle Diervilla lonicera Shrub 3' 4' Adaptable Full to part sun
honeylocust Gleditsia triacanthos Shrub, Tree 60' 50' Adaptable; prefers evenly-moist but tolerates alkaline, dry, and sandy soil Full sun
chokecherry Prunus virginana Shrub, Tree 25' 20' Adaptable Full sun
swamp white oak Quercus bicolor Tree 60' 50' Prefers evenly-moist but tolerates dry, sandy soil Full to part sun
post oak Quercus stellata Tree 50 - 75' 40 - 70' Moist, well-drained, adaptable Full sun
wild rose Rosa spp. Shrub 5' 4' Prefers evenly-moist, loamy soil; tolerates dry Full to part sun
eastern hemlock Tsuga canadensis Tree 40' 25' Prefers well-drained Full sun
American elm Ulmus americana Tree 35-45' 20-35' Average to wet soil Sun to part shade

Recommended plants for the St. Louis Moraines and Tamarack Lowlands

Common name Scientific name Height (inches) Soil requirements Light requirements
wild sarsaparilla Aralia nudicaulis 8 - 24" Average to moist soil Part to full shade
bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 4 - 8" Dry sandy or rocky soil Sun to part shade
pipsissewa Chimaphila umbellata 3 - 10" Dry soil Part to full shade
large-leaved aster Eurybia macrophylla 60" Adaptable Part to full shade
Canada mayflower Maianthemum canadense 6" Acidic soil with high organic matter Part to full shade
mountain rice grass Oryzopsis asperifolia 10 - 26" Alkaline, average to dry rocky soil Sun to part shade
Clayton's sweet cicely Osmorhiza claytonii 24" Medium-wet to medium-dry Shade
hairy Solomon's seal Polygonatum pubescens 12 - 40" Average to moist soil Part to full shade
dwarf raspberry Rubus pubescens 4 - 6" Moist, organic-rich Sun to shade

Author: Anna Stockstad, Extension forestry educator

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