Once you start going native, you’ll never come back.
I spent much of last summer rebuilding the 300 square foot roof of my little sauna and planting native grasses and wild flowers in four inches of granular soil. I wanted to put a green roof on our house, but my wife suggested I experiment with the sauna.
Members of the Minnesota Green Roof Council helped me with my plan and volunteered a day of labor. These people are so devoted to green roofs they put a small roof on a trailer giving demonstrations at fairs and expos.
My wife and I tore off the old roof, spread out a rubber membrane and built a fence to hold the new dirt and plants. The folks at Prairie Restoration helped me pick out the low-growth, drought tolerant plants that could survive long dry spells and wouldn’t grow so tall it would need mowing. You can find some of these plants coming up out of the rocks along the North Shore so you know they are tough – most of the plants like June Grass, Sideoats Gamma and Potato Oats. We went wild with wild flowers picking 13 varieties such as Pussytoes, Prairie Smoke and Purple Prairie Clover.
As of this printing, the green roof is about three to nine inches high and ready for the summer sunshine. People ask if we plan on getting goats to graze on the grass.
I started working with native plants 12 years ago when we planted 40 of our 80-acre hobby farm in native plants. While I love hiking through tall pines and mysterious bogs, I grew up along the prairie and feel so at home here. I love the orchestra of colors that moves through the seasons in a diverse field of these ancient plants.
Indian Grass, big Blue Stem and Purple-Cone flowers once ruled over 18 million acres of Minnesota. Settlers’ diaries tell of grasses – so tall they couldn’t see over them – that would sway in the wind like green and amber waves across the prairie.
Today only one percent of our native grasslands remain. This is why the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a statutory mandate to preserve and perpetuate the natural features of its parks and trails while introducing the original plants where possible.
There is a movement toward planting and restoring native prairie. We see people planting little prairies in their front yards instead of fertilizing and mowing grass all summer. There is a movement to plant grasses on garage and commercial roofs to reduce run off. Many owners of shoreline property have discovered the values of buffer strips around lakes.
You can’t go to a state park or ride on a bike trail without seeing native plants.
State parks started planting and restoring prairie in the 1970s as part of their statutory mandate to preserve and perpetuate the natural features of its parks and trails while introducing the original plants where possible.
Over 80 state parks, recreational areas and waysides have substantial plots of native plants. Resource Management Coordinator Ed Quinn says these efforts have brought back species of butterflies, birds and animals to the state. Some of these species were actually endangered before the state started planting.
Glacial State Park near Starbuck has the largest stand of restored prairie at 1500 acres, with Glendalough, Buffalo River and Lake Bronson having large stands as well. Some parks have small demonstration plots of Little Blue Stem, Black Eyed Susans and Purple Cone Flowers.
Our bike trails are another place to find native plants. Many are built on old rail beds with 100 to 300 foot right-of-ways untouched for as much as 140 years ago. You can find Showy Lady Slippers blooming on the Lake Wobegon Trail in early June between Avon and Albany, Yellow Lady Slippers along the Willard Munger Trail near Duluth in later June, and you can find such grasses as Prairie Dropseed, Sideouts Gramma and Indian Grass on the Casey Jones, Shooting Star and Root River Trails.
Angela Anderson, the Natural Resource Coordinator for DNR Trails and Waterways says we don’t have much native land left, and we have to preserve and protect it as well as enjoy it. She would like to see more interpretation along the trails giving people an appreciation for the natural and geological history of our state.
As you begin moving around this beautiful state of ours keep an eye out for our native plants. I’ve listed a few places where you can learn more. Should you come across some prairie plants on a rustic old sauna, stop by for a sweat.