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The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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U identifies state’s important plants

The results of the U’s arboretum contest will be part of new educational programs.


The University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum is asking the public to decide the top-10 plants that have had an impact on Minnesota.

Members of the public — especially students — are encouraged to nominate their choice for the top plant online on the arboretum’s website.

The results of the vote will be put to use in a public lecture series at the arboretum, educational programs for K-12 students and a freshman seminar for University students.

The three-credit seminar will meet once a week at the arboretum in Chaska, Minn., and fulfill a liberal education requirement for environmental perspectives.

Those who may not consider themselves plant experts are welcome to cast their vote, said Mary Meyer, head of the “10 Plants that Changed Minnesota” project and University horticulture professor.

“It’s funny; Even students that I talk to about [the contest], they say, ‘Oh gee, I don’t think I know anything about that, I’m not even from Minnesota,’”Meyer said.

But even out-of-state students may be surprised at how much they already know about Minnesota’s horticultural history.

Meyer suggested that those who enjoy apples may choose the Honeycrisp, a variety first developed at the University’s Horticultural Research Center in the 1960s. Someone with a sweet tooth might want to nominate the wheat processed by the Gold Medal Flour and Pillsbury companies.

Regardless of which plants come out on top when the results are announced in early June, the main focus of the contest is to promote horticultural education and awareness to the public.

University horticulture professor Tom Michaels explained that educating children about plants at a young age may inspire some to pursue a career in horticultural science.

“When a lot of kids are in grade school, one of the things the teacher will have them do is plant a seed,” Michaels said, and that simple interaction in early childhood can spark an interest in learning about where their food comes from.

Michaels’ suggestion for one of the state’s most influential plants was the sugar beet. Minnesota is the top sugar beet-growing state in the nation, but the small-root vegetable has played a large role in labor movements in the northwest Minnesota

“Not only is the sugar beet really important, but it has a history with the labor movement in Minnesota,” Michaels said.

Recently, the sugar beet industry has made news as workers at the American Crystal Sugar plant in the Red River Valley fight their employer over union lockouts and contract disputes.

Meyer suggests that prairie grasses — her area of expertise — should make the top-10 list due to their contribution to Minnesota’s rich prairie soil.

“I’m particularly biased for grasses, which have made such wonderful soil for growing the crop plants that we have today, [like] corn, wheat and soybeans,” Meyer said.

Online voting for the contest closes April 15, when a committee appointed by Meyer will begin compiling the top-10 plants from the public’s nominations and applying them to the Arboretum’s new educational programs.

The committee is made up of faculty from the University, members of the state’s horticultural society, the Minnesota Historical Society and even Karen Kaler, the wife of University President Eric Kaler.

For Michaels, the best part of the contest is educating the public about the history of the plants that grow outside their homes and end up on their dinner plates.

He said he anticipates unexpected nominations and stories.

“A lot of it will be about the back story about that plant, well beyond its worth of so many million dollars to the economy,” Michaels said.

“It’s how [the plant has] impacted people, how it’s had an imprint on the state and there’s so much richness to those stories. Those are the things I want to hear.”

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