Dakota Gardener: The East and the West

Joe Zeleznik
Special to Devils Lake Daily Journal

Last week, my wife and I took some time off to visit my family in Ohio.

While we were there, I checked out the trees and the forests (of course!). Of course, my little nieces and nephews have changed since we were last there, but how have the forests changed since I was away?

In all ecosystems, change is constant, but often is really slow. Ohio has had emerald ash borer (EAB) for more than 15 years and most of the ash trees are gone, although a few still linger. Other trees – the sugar maples and oaks, especially – are huge. My hometown averages nearly 46 inches of rain each year. With that amount of precipitation, the trees grow amazingly fast.

This lone limber pine tree is in North Dakota's Slope County.

North Dakota gets relatively little precipitation, so it’s dominated by prairies. The forests that we do have are not nearly as diverse as those where I grew up. But that’s OK. The eastern forests and western forests come together in North Dakota in fascinating ways.

Riparian forests – those found along rivers and streams – are found throughout the state. In some places, these waterways support only the smallest willows, while other places are dominated by massive cottonwoods.

American elm is found less commonly now in these forests, replaced by green ash, hackberry, boxelder and American linden. The riparian forests help protect the rivers and streams, keeping the banks in place and providing habitat for myriad wildlife species.

Other pockets of unique forest can be found in the broader prairie landscape:

Black ash – Black ash is a tree found in the swamps of the eastern U.S. and Canada. In North Dakota, we have a pocket of black ash between the communities of Cavalier and Walhalla. The area where they’re located follows a line of subirrigated soils that emerge from the Pembina Escarpment. Black ash wood makes beautiful paneling and it’s also been used by native peoples for constructing baskets.

Limber pine – Limber pine is a western forest tree, often found at higher elevations. However, we have an isolated stand of limber pine in southwestern North Dakota, in Slope County. The area is small, only about 200 acres. This is the lowest-elevation stand of limber pine, at about 2,850 feet above sea level. This unique area has been studied intensively through the years. The early research looked at the ages of the trees and their distribution, while more recent research has focused on a disease – white pine blister rust. The limber pines are on U.S. Forest Service land and the area has been designated as a Research Natural Area.

Other unique areas of forest are found throughout the state. Visit the oak savannahs found in the sandhills of the Sheyenne National Grassland outside of Lisbon. Enjoy the ponderosa pine and Rocky Mountain junipers found in the Badlands between Amidon and Medora. Buffaloberries grow in the west and central part of the state, but not the east. For bur oak, it’s the opposite. I find that fascinating