Native Baldwin: Prairie or forest?

A collection of palm trees used to line the street in Princeton. They were a gift from the millionaire and later imprisoned drug-smuggler Casey Ramirez and part of a history the town would rather forget.

But for years Baldwin Township board chairman Jeff Holm remembers seeing them in town during the warm months. During the cold months, they were placed inside to shelter them from the hostile Minnesota winters.

The point of this story, Jeff says, is that if Baldwin really wants to do something with its land, residents can do almost anything. It’s all a matter of how much effort it takes to maintain its plants and open spaces.

The more native its vegetation, the less effort it will take to keep open spaces vibrant. But there is some disagreement over exactly which plants are native to Baldwin. It matters as residents try to figure out what to plant in their yards and in the township’s open spaces.

Is Baldwin home to prairie or more suited for young forest? It turns out there are arguments on either side of that and I’ll explore them in this post and another to follow next week.

Up first, the prairie position:

The history of Princeton and Baldwin has been well-connected to their forests and early logging that was done here. But according to Josh Richardson of Baldwin-headquartered Prairie Restoration, the area has always contained a variety of flora.

“Sherburne County, in general, is a real mosaic of different plant community types,” he said.

His research shows that prairie in the area has shifted in location over time dependent on climate and wildfire. Pollen records suggest that cooling trends in the area expanded forest, while warming trends encouraged prairie growth.

And so it is in a wax and wane of forest and prairie that Baldwin has found itself.

“Obviously Baldwin township is not a good place to grow turf grass,” he said. But prairie thrives in the area.

“Prairie grasses and prairie flowers are very deep-rooted and well suited to the soils in Baldwin Township,” He says. “The deep roots allow them to thrive even in the heat of the summer,” with minimal watering and maintenance.

The crux of the argument is that if there is evidence in pollen and observational records that prairie has been here in the past and prairie grasses seem to thrive here, then prairie belongs here. Therefore, it is one of types of plants Baldwin should consider in restoring open lands and residential backyards.

Check back next week for the notion that Baldwin was really less prairie than you might think.