Minnesota’s forest communities are represented by two major ecological communities; deciduous forests characterize southeastern Minnesota, extending up to northwestern Minnesota, dividing the transitional prairie-coniferous zones, while northeastern Minnesota is characterized as coniferous forest, dominated primarily by white spruce, balsam fir, and stands of aspen and birch.
Much of the deciduous forest biome has been cleared for agriculture since European settlement in the early 1800s, with nearly all of the 3,000 square-mile Big Woods being converted to farmland. Norway Valley, a 15-acre parcel of native hardwood trees is the oldest woodland area on campus, representing the Big Woods habitat. Wildflowers, or spring ephemerals, cover the floor of Norway Valley in early spring before the trees and shrubs have shaded out the sunlight.
In order to restore a portion of the Big Woods habitat, St. Olaf has planted over 40,000 tree seedlings to date. St. Olaf’s restored woodlands encompass over 90 acres of land. This includes seven acres of coniferous species, planted primarily for educational purposes.