Native Plant Community Spotlights for Chippewa Plains & Pine Moraine-Outwash Plains

Central Dry-Mesic Pine-Hardwood Forest

forest landscape showing burning area with red pine.Before modern wildfire control, fires were common in this moderately dry native plant community. Mild to severe fires occurred every 23 years or so. The particular tree species in this area change over time after a severe fire. Young forests consist largely of aspen, which give way to a mix of red pine, jack pine, and red oak. Eventually, red pine will dominate the canopy in middle-aged forests, and then be replaced by white pine in old forests. Throughout the understory you might find large-leaved aster, beaked hazelnut, Canada mayflower, round-leaved dogwood, chokecherry, and serviceberries.

When in a younger stage, grouse are attracted to this native plant community because of the abundance of aspen, which begin to disappear 60 to 70 years or so after a fire or harvest. Cutting mature aspen causes it to sprout from the roots, generating a profusion of tender young shoots and a protective thicket for grouse. Other animals such as deer and songbirds can benefit from this type of management as well. You might consider periodically harvesting aspen along the perimeter of your wildlife opening to create and maintain this type of habitat.

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Central Dry Pine Woodland

landscape shwoing jack pine and american hazels.This unique, fire-dependent community is considered "critically imperiled" due to its rarity both within the state and globally. This community is found almost exclusively within the Chippewa Plains and Pine Moraines—Outwash Plains subsections. Soils are fairly dry, nutrient-poor, and sandy. These harsh growing conditions, combined with frequent disturbance from fire, favor an abundance of jack pine in the canopy. Other canopy species include red and white pine, red and bur oak, and quaking aspen. Below the canopy you will find Pennsylvania sedge, wild rose, American hazel, bearberry, wintergreen, yarrow, poverty grass, and Virginia ground cherry.

Historically, frequent ground fires occurred in this plant community every 22 years or so. If fire or other disturbances are restricted, the jack pines will begin to die around age 35 and the forest begins to fill with hazel. Over time, hazel can become so thick that it becomes very hard to reestablish trees. To preserve his unique native plant community, frequent disturbances such as prescribed burns or timber harvest (at fairly young ages) should be done, along with monitoring the understory and woodland edges for invasive plants. If you find invasive plants such as thistles, common tansy, Kentucky bluegrass, or other weedy invaders, taking fast action to control them can help protect this biologically unique north-central Minnesota ecosystem.

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Central Dry-Mesic Oak Aspen Forest

Northern red oak was historically the dominant canopy tree of this fairly dry hardwood native plant community, mixed at various stages with other hardwoods such as quaking aspen, paper birch, red maple, and bur oak, and occasionally with conifers such as white pine. Fire and wind caused disturbance frequently enough to prevent shade-tolerant species such as red maple, basswood, and sugar maple from replacing the oak in the understory. However, since the modern-day suppression of fire, some of these communities have slowly transitioned to maple. Noteworthy understory plants include low-bush blueberry, blackberries, dogwoods, downy arrowwood, columbine, large-flowered trillium, and an abundance of beaked hazel.

Oaks need full sunlight to reach maturity. If you want to keep oak in your woods, you can tailor your firewood harvesting strategy to achieve this goal. Creating medium to large gaps in your woods (up to an acre) allows oak to grow back, whereas small gaps (the size of single trees or small clusters) may favor maple. Either strategy will help create better wildlife habitat, help your woods be more resistant to environmental stress, and create diverse ages among your trees, similar to the effects of fires in the past.

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lakeshore with reed grasses in the fallLakeshore is prevalent in north-central Minnesota. Shores may be sandy or muddy and could contain a variety of terrestrial and aquatic plants depending on the season and current water level. Just above the normal water level you may find shrubs and forbs such as sandbar willow, spotted touch-me-not, and swamp milkweed. Below the normal water level you may find broad-leaved cattail, an assortment of sedges and rushes, and floating plants like water lilies and pondweeds.

A variety of ecosystems, from upland forest to lowland swamp, surround these lakes. While proper management along the shore can protect it from wave damage, how land is managed near shorelines also plays a key role in erosion control. Forests help filter runoff and hold soil in place, whereas agriculture and lawns can add soil, fertilizer, and pesticides to the runoff that flows into lakes. It is important to consider the impacts that all land use and management activities have on your lake, even beyond the shores.

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Habitat Spotlight: Jack Pine

Native jack pine forest provides important habitat in your region for many wildlife species such as redback salamanders, whip-poor-wills, ermines, spruce grouse, scarlet tanagers, and northern flying squirrels. In total, nearly 100 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians in your region make their home in jack pine habitat. However, in recent years, an increase in row-crop agriculture and other land development is placing growing pressure on jack pine habitat in the region. According to the USDA Forest Service, the Chippewa Plains and Pine Moraines–Outwash Plains have lost over 85,000 acres of jack pine or jack/red/white pine mixed forest between 2003 and 2013.

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