by Janice Welsh
Illustrations by Vera Ming Wong
What kind of place is Minnesota? It does not have mountains. It is not a desert. It is not near the ocean.
Minnesota is a land of lakes (more than 12,000), rivers (more than 90,000 miles), prairies, and forests. More than 4 million people and 2,000 species of plants and animals live here. Wherever we live - in a city, on a far, by a lake - we are part of a large plant and animal community called a biome. Minnesota has three biomes: coniferous forest, deciduous forest and prairie.
This biome covers most of southern and western Minnesota. The climate is drier and warmer here than in other parts of the state.
Cheyenne, Assiniboine and Dakota Indians roamed the prairie before European settlers arrived. Herds of big animals ate the grasses, and the Indians hunted them for food and hides. What were the animals? (answer below)
Pioneers plowed the prairie to plant corn, wheat, and other crops. Today, soybeans and beets are other important crops.
The grasslands have small lakes and marshes called prairie potholes. This one has a muskrat lodge on it.
Look for these plants: purple coneflower, dotted blazing star, goldenrod. And animals: upland sandpiper, common yellowthroat, greater prairie chicken, coyote, regal fritillary butterfly, bobolink, five-lined skink, vole, gopher snake, red-tailed hawk.
North and east of the prairie, the climate is colder and wetter. This biome has more lakes and trees. Maple, oak, basswood, and other broadleaf trees grow here. These trees are often called hardwoods.
Ojibwe Indians still gather wild rice and fish in lakes and streams here. Some tap maple trees for sap to make maple sugar and syrup. And some hunt deer. What other large hoofed animal did the Indian people once hunt in these woods? (answer below)
When European settlers arrived, the cut the woods for timber and firewood. They started farms. But farms in this biome were not as large or plentiful as farms on the prairie.
Try to find these animals: red fox, skunk, opossum, pileated woodpecker, barred owl, American goldfinch, black bear, blue jay, rose-breasted grosbeak. Can you find the birdwatcher?
Northern Minnesota has the state's coldest climate. Pines, spruces, firs, and other coniferous trees grow here. So do deciduous trees such as aspen and birch. This biome is also called the boreal forest or north woods.
In the far north, near Canada, you can canoe on hundreds of rocky lakes in forests almost as wild as they were when the Dakota, Cree, and Ojibwe Indians lived here. Other than deer, what large animals did they hunt? (answer below)
Loggers cut the big pine trees from many places. Farmers planted crops but soon discovered that summer was too short to grow much corn or wheat.
Look for these plants and animals: white pine, spruce, boreal owl, common raven, fisher, spruce grouse, porcupine, lynx, black bear, gray wolf, snowshoe hare, evening and pine grosbeaks.
Janice Welsh, who wrote this story, runs the DNR's Project WILD, a program for schools.
A complete copy of the article can be found in the January-February 1996 issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, available at Minnesota public libraries.