Native Plant Community Spotlights for St. Louis Moraines and Tamarack Lowlands

Northern Wet-Mesic Boreal Hardwood-Conifer Forest

paper birch and balsam fir

The canopy of this common forest community is usually dominated by quaking aspen, often with paper birch and balsam fir and less frequently with white spruce, red maple, black ash, and basswood. Common ground-layer plants include Canada mayflower, wild sarsaparilla, sweet-scented bedstraw, dwarf raspberry, and large-leaved aster. The shrub-layer has variable cover, and is frequently dominated by beaked hazelnut but also often includes chokecherry, bush honeysuckle, juneberries, and mountain maple.

When in a younger stage, this native plant community is very attractive to grouse and moose due to the abundance of aspen. Cutting mature aspen causes it to sprout from the roots, providing a wealth 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 implementing this strategy along the perimeter of your wildlife opening.

Learn more about Northern Wet-Mesic Boreal Hardwood-Conifer Forest

Northern Dry-Sand Pine Woodland

landscape showing variety of jack pine, red pine, and balsam fir.

This native plant community is considered "imperiled" based on its rarity and threats facing it. It is found in dry, nutrient poor sandy areas and most commonly has an interrupted canopy (50-75 percent cover) but ranges from (25-100 percent). The canopy is dominated by jack pine, red pine, or both with occasional balsam fir and paper birch. Broad-leaved, evergreen ground-layer species such as pipsissewa, wintergreen, bearberry, and trailing arbutus are common and characteristic of this community. When present, ground-layer forbs and grasses are often interspersed with patches of lichens and bare soil. Common shrub-layer species include blueberry, wild roses, beaked hazelnut, and bush honeysuckle.

There are a number of threats facing this native plant community and your efforts to monitor the understory and edges of your woods for invasive plants can help make this ecosystem as healthy and resilient as possible. A few invasive to look for include: spotted knapweed, Canada thistle, and common tansy.

Learn more about Northern Dry-Sand Pine Woodland

Northern Rich Mesic Hardwood Forest

landscape showing sugar maple

This hardwood community is typically found in the region's rich, well-drained soils on glacial drift and till. It is typically dominated by sugar maple and lesser amounts of basswood and yellow birch. Paper birch, ironwood, northern red oak, black ash, balsam fir, and white spruce are also occasionally present. The most frequent ground-layer species include lady fern, wild sarsaparilla, Clayton's sweet cicely, hairy Solomon's seal, Canada mayflower, rose twistedstalk, mountain rice grass, and Pennsylvania sedge. The shrub-layer is typically dominated by sugar maple with occasional beaked hazelnut, basswood saplings, fly honeysuckle, mountain maple, chokecherry, and ironwood saplings.

Catastrophic disturbances were historically very rare, while small gap disturbances that created a mix of shrub, sub-canopy, and canopy layers were far more common in this community. Tailoring your firewood harvesting strategy to create small gaps in your woods will allow some of the abundant maple saplings to develop and give your forest more vertical diversity. If basswood and yellow birch are present, and you want to increase their abundance, open the canopy by adding medium to large gaps to allow more light to reach the forest floor. In addition, expose the soil through scarification to encourage germination of basswood and yellow birch seeds or leaves or provide decaying logs and stumps from which they can grow. Whether you choose to create small or large gaps, you will help create diverse age groups among your trees, similar to historic disturbances, which creates better wildlife habitat and help your woods be more resistant to environmental stress.

Learn more about Northern Rich Mesic Hardwood Forest

Northern Wet Ash Swamp

landscape showing black ash, red maples and balsam poplar.

These native plant communities are widespread across northern and east-central Minnesota. They grow on mucky mineral soils in shallow basins and ground-water seepage areas and on low, level terrain near waterbodies. They typically have standing water in the spring but drain by late summer. Because ash can tolerate harsh growing conditions of wet forests, their canopies consists of black ash or black ash mixed with other deciduous trees like red maple, quaking aspen, green ash, and balsam poplar. Catastrophic events by wildfire have been historically rare. Smaller disturbances such as windthrow creating gaps in the forest have been more common.

Now is the time to start reducing the amount of black ash in the canopy to prepare for the eventual arrival of emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that kills 99.9 percent of all ash trees. Due to the wet nature of the soil, harvesting should only occur when the ground is frozen. To prevent sedges from taking over and prolific stump sprouting of ash, avoid a clearcut. Instead, use group selection to create gaps that are one-tenth to a quarter acre in size to mimic windthrow or natural tree death. To add diversity, introduce new tree species and leave non-ash trees to reseed the area after the harvest. Tree species known to do well in a gap include disease resistant American elm, balsam poplar, and northern white cedar (cedars will need to be caged or fenced to protect from deer browse). Additional replacement trees include tamarack, yellow birch, red maple, silver maple, and black spruce. Focus on planting trees in mounds above ground. Consider combining a harvest with adjacent landowners to increase appeal to loggers.

Learn more about Northern Wet Ash Swamp

Spotlight: Lowland Conifer Bog

conifer bog showing black spruce and tamarack.

Lowland conifer bogs in this region typically consist of black spruce, tamarack, or both with an understory of forbs, sedges, and broad-leaved evergreen shrubs that have adapted to growing out of a mossy ground layer. This habitat is important for many wildlife species in your region, and is particularly valuable to a number of bird species for feeding and nesting. These include: Connecticut warblers, boreal chickadees, olive-sided flycatchers, and spruce grouse. Bog lemmings, snowshoe hares, red squirrels, bobcats, mink, and a number of butterfly and dragonfly species also use lowland conifer bogs. Most of this habitat is undeveloped and not suited for casual exploration. This area is extremely susceptible to changes in water flow and care should be taken whenever roads and access routes are planned. Additionally, the slow growing species that live in these forests are very susceptible to damage by off-road vehicle use.

Learn more about Forested Rich Peatland Systems

Back to top