Maplewood Native Habitats

Maplewood's Native Landscape
When early white settlers came to Maplewood in the 1840’s, Maplewood’s landscape was dominated by oak savannas, wetlands, and oak woodlands. These are the dominant native plant communities of Maplewood. Remnants of these habitats can still be found today in parks, natural areas and backyards.

Our native habitats were shaped by the soil, topography, climate, and the history of our region. Native Americans routinely set fire to the landscape and fire-adapted landscapes like oak savanna and oak woodland thrived. In the steep creek valleys of south Maplewood, fires were not severe and forests flourished. Some had a canopy of primarily oaks and in a few sugar maple and basswood mingled with the oaks.

Oak Savanna
Scattered oaks with a ground cover of prairie grasses and wildflowers are the building blocks of an oak savanna. Grown in the open sun, the old oaks are majestic specimens with sprawling limbs. Savannas typically have 10% to 50% tree canopy cover. This density allows enough sunlight to reach the ground to support sun-loving grasses and wildflowers. A good example of oak savanna is on the east side of Wakefield Lake in Maplewood. Old oaks are scattered over the hillside and native prairie grasses have managed to hang on over the decades.

At the time of European-American settlement, Maplewood didn’t have expansive prairies. But there were small pockets of prairie vegetation associated with the oak savannas. Dramatic tall grasses and flowers of all colors bloomed from spring through fall. Patches of prairie remain today at the Priory Neighborhood Preserve and the city has planted prairies at several sites including Prairie Farm Preserve and Beaver Creek.

When the last glacier retreated it carved out wetlands, ponds, lakes, and streams. Wetlands are land areas saturated with water. The hydrology of the wetland helps define the many types of wetlands. Shallow ponds, like Green Heron Pond at Maplewood Nature Center, typically have at least 1’-2’ of water and support many species including waterfowl and muskrats. But seasonally flooded areas and mudflats, like some of the wetlands at Priory Neighborhood Preserve, are also wetlands. Some are wooded wetlands some are in the open sunshine. Different plants thrive in the different water and sunlight regimes.

Once much maligned, these areas are now valued for their wildlife habitat, beauty, diversity, and for their important role in holding and filtering rainwater runoff.

Woodland and Forest
Maplewood historically had many areas of oak woodland. In oak woodlands, the canopy is dominated by oak trees, with a mix of cherry, elm, and ironwood. The shrub layer, today often dominated by buckthorn, included a host of native shrubs for wildlife - red twig dogwood, nannyberry, and highbush American cranberry. The ground layer hosts native ferns, sedges, and dozens of species of wildflowers such as great white trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit. Today, we have remnant oak woods in many areas of the city, including at Joy Park and the Priory Neighborhood Preserve.

Vegetation maps indicate there were historically 2 areas in Maplewood with maple-basswood forests. Maple and basswood trees dominate this type of forest, but share space with many other trees including species such as oaks, elms, cherries, butternut, and hickory. A small maple-basswood forest still exists along Fish Creek, with the best example where the creek runs through St. Paul.