It’s Arbor Day, so let's talk about trees! Earlier this week we introduced you to Minnesota’s backyard woods, those small woodlots that sit in the middle space between the suburbs and larger tracts of forest. In that post we highlighted a few dozen shrubs, vines and herbaceous plants we recommend for rewilding efforts in the greater Twin Cities metro area.
Today we’re sharing our tree recommendations for backyard woodlands in East Central Minnesota — the ecoregion marked as area 7 on the map. All recommended tree species on this list meet the following criteria:
- Native to Minnesota or nearby in the Eastern Deciduous Forest.
- Climate resilient plants, well-suited for the area’s projected climate.
- Beneficial to wildlife, specifically charismatic microfauna — the tiny ecological ambassadors that make forests fun, such as butterflies, bees, fireflies, birds, and bats.
Most of the trees on this list come from the Field Guide to the Native Plant Communities of Minnesota by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. From that list we prioritized species that provide wildlife benefits and are also predicted by the DNR to do better in Minnesota’s future climate.
We also included five trees that are not native but have good potential to thrive in the area. These trees are native to the broader Eastern Deciduous Forest, of which the Twin Cities metro is on the northern edge, and have been carefully assessed by the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science for their future suitability.
If you live in the greater Twin Cities metro area, have a small woodlot between 1-20 acres, and want to rewild your backyard woodland, this list is for you. Don’t worry if you live somewhere else or have a larger property. By the end of this summer we will have tree and plant lists for backyard woodlands in all of Minnesota’s 10 major ecoregions. We also have a team working on a sister project, creating lists of climate adapted trees for larger woodlands (greater than 20 acres) in each ecoregion.
Recommended trees for East Central Minnesota
|Common name||Scientific name||Height||Width||Soil requirements||Light requirements|
|Sycamore||Platanus occidentalis||75-100'||75-100'||Prefers fertile soils||Full sun|
|Cottonwood||Populus deltoides||90'||60'||Adaptable||Full sun, Part sun|
|Mockernut hickory||Carya tomentosa||85'||60'||Prefers moist, well-drained soil||Full sun, Part sun|
|Silver maple||Acer saccharinum||80'||55'||Adaptable||Full sun|
|Shagbark hickory||Carya ovata||80'||35'||Prefers dry sandy or rocky soil||Full sun, Part sun|
|Common persimmon||Diospyros virginiana||35-80'||35'||Well drained, sandy soil||Full sun, Part sun|
|Bitternut hickory||Carya cordiformis||75'||30'||Prefers evenly-moist||Full sun, Part sun|
|White oak||Quercus alba||75'||80'||Prefers well-drained||Full sun|
|Hackberry||Celtis occidentalis||75'||60'||Adaptable, Prefers well-drained||Full sun|
|Black walnut||Juglans nigra||60'||75'||Prefers evenly-moist||Full sun|
|Swamp white oak||Quercus bicolor||60'||50'||Prefers evenly-moist||Full sun, Part sun|
|Northern pin oak||Quercus ellipsoidalis||60'||45'||Prefers dry, acid, sandy soils||Full sun|
|Black oak||Quercus velutina||60'||50'||Prefers droughty soil||Full sun|
|Honeylocust||Gleditsia triacanthos||60'||50'||Adaptable, Prefers evenly-moist||Full sun|
|Black cherry||Prunus serotina||60'||35'||Prefers well-drained||Full sun, Part sun|
|Sassafras||Sassafras albidum||30-60'||25-40'||Prefers well-drained sandy, acidic soils||Full sun, Part shade, Part sun|
|Peach-leaved willow||Salix amygdaloides||50'||65'||Prefers wet||Full sun|
|American elm||Ulmus americana||35-45'||20-35'||Average to wet soil||Part shade, sun|
|Eastern redbud||Cercis canadensis||30'||25'||Prefers evenly-moist, well-drained||Full sun, Part sun|
|Chokecherry||Prunus virginiana||25'||20'||Adaptable||Full sun|
|Pagoda dogwood||Cornus alternifolia||18'||12'||Prefers acidic, Prefers evenly-moist||Full sun, Part sun|
Some notes on the recommendations
Did you notice American elm on our list? Before you take up your pitchforks in protest, note that these need to be Dutch elm disease (DED) resistant elms. The U has been working on an elm selection program since the early 2000’s, and work continues on developing DED resistant elms. Extension has a great resource on selecting DED resistant American elms.
These trees are all commercially available, but in some cases rewilding might mean letting the chokecherry grow, rather than actually planting it. Speaking of planting, Extension has a great resource on tree planting that is mostly geared towards yards. You may also want to check out the woodlot tree planting guide from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Forest trees are not typically staked, mulched and watered, but they commonly need tree tubes or fencing to protect them from hungry critters, including deer and rabbits.
What’s next in the series?
Our next blog will focus on how to create a project in iNaturalist so you can track the species you discover in your backyard woods, learn about your non-human neighbors, and begin to understand what’s doing well and worth encouraging as you rewild.
In future blogs we’ll also provide greater context to the decisions behind our recommendations. We’ll discuss assisted migration, whether we should try it, and if so, where and when. We’ll talk about the benefits these trees and plants provide to our charismatic microfauna, such as the endangered northern long-eared bat. And we’ll dive into the cultural significance of some of the species. (Did you know hackberries have been used by humans for over 7000 years?!) We look forward to sharing these fascinating and complex issues with you in future blogs. Happy Arbor Day, everyone!