Eloise Butler images

Trees in the Wild Garden - 1926.

by Eloise Butler, from Annals of the Wild Life Reserve

Note: Since Eloise Butler's time, the scientific names of plants and the classification of plant families has undergone extensive revision. In brackets within the text, have been added when necessary, the revised scientific name for the references she used in her article. Nomenclature is based on the latest published information from Flora of North America, USDA and the Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Flora of Minnesota. Other information in brackets may add clarification to what she is saying.


A census was taken at once of the most obvious inmates of the Reserve, which has been increased from time to time by many delightful surprises. To begin with the trees, the most conspicuous is a majestic white oak, 700 years young, the largest and oldest in the vicinity of Minneapolis. “Monarch,” as we call him, was slowly dying atop. So, in obedience to the scriptural injunction, his dead limbs were cut off and cast away, and decayed portions of his “heart” - not essential as with humans for circulation -- were taken out and replaced with concrete. [done in 1912] Thus, lopped and reinforced, he bade fair for many more years to hold sway. Alack and alas! In the tornado of June [1925], large chunks of concrete were belched out and all the limbs torn off. How long will he yet stand without his crown?

Birches in 1926
Above: The large white birches on the east hillside in 1926- referenced in the text. Photo Martha Crone Archives.

The leading tree in the swamp was the tamarack. They were piled up like jackstraws by the tornado, and but few left standing. But most of the white birches, which were nearly equally abundant, were spared by reason of their deeper root system, as was also another prime ornament of the garden - a much be-photographed eight-boled white birch that dominates the eastern hillside. A few clumps of yellow birch reside in the swamp, the rarer small tree, Betula sanbergii, and many dwarf birch, B. pumila. One river birch, B. nigra, has been planted at the base of the south hillside. A few ash trees both black and white, border the swamp, and the green and red ash have been introduced. A single tall hackberry, with its beautiful corrugated bark, adorns the west side of the pool. Younger trees will be developed in time to take its place. Next in size to “Monarch” are the white and red elms, more or less defaced by the storm. Two cork elms have been planted on the west bank. A goodly sized basswood stands in the east meadow and young basswoods are springing up on every side. A fine specimen of large-toothed poplar, Populus grandidentata, is on the “Plateau” near the south entrance to the garden, and innumerable youngsters are springing up that must be held in check. The smaller quaking [aspen] is much in evidence, and two cottonwoods are beginning to tower above the landscape.

In the garden’s second spring, a small balm of gilead was planted at the base of the west hillside. It has grown into a lusty tree, and, after a shower, the fragrance of the young leaves is wafter over the whole enclosure. In September 1919, the curator, on a trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior, dug up a balsam poplar, as fragrant as its variety, the balm of gilead, and added it to the treasures of the garden. It is planted near the gate on the south side of the tarvia road that divides the precincts.

Besides “Monarch” there are many other white oaks whose leaves in rich shades of maroon lend a special glory to the autumnal coloring. And red oaks vie with them when dressed in reds and browns, not to speak of the tender blush of the young leaves just escaping from the bud. Several bur oaks express their gnarly individuality - the Carlyles among the oaks. A few swamp white oaks Quercus bicolor, have been introduced, also Q. prinoides, the chinquapin oak, the latter from Boulder Colorado.

The most popular tree in the Reserve is commonly called the “fire tree,” the red swamp maple, Acer rubum. It really is aglow twice a year. The young leaves and keys warm the landscape and often in August, before frosts, the trees are aflame throughout the swamps. Our other native maples have been introduced to the Reserve, even the common white or silver maple and the hard or sugar maple which form large “orchards” in many sections of Minnesota. Very interesting additions are two northern species, Acer spicatum, the mountain maple, thickly hung with yellowish flower plumes which develop into highly decorative small rose-red keys, and the striped maple, or moosewood, whose showy striped bark is a tidbit for moose. It bears drooping green racemes and the largest leaves of any of our maples.

Below: Tamaracks and Red Maples in October color at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in recent times.

Larch and Red Maple

The ten most abundant trees in the Native Plant Reserve, Minneapolis, are: tamarack (Larix laricina), white birch (Betula alba var. papyrifera), ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), northern pin oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis), white oak (Quercus alba), red oak (Quercus rubra), white ash (Fraximus americana), red maple (Acer rubrum), basswood, (Tilia americana), large-toothed aspen (Populus grandidentata).

The least frequent trees in the Reserve are: Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea), one tree only; white maple (Acer saccharinum), one tree endemic; hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), one tree endemic and a few young ones.

The other trees in the Reserve are not rare in the immediate vicinity. Two other rare trees in Minneapolis are Kentucky coffee-tree (ymnocladus dioica), swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor).