Hardwood & Oak Forests
A working woodland, the thoughtful regeneration of high-quality hardwoods such as oak is a Saint John’s priority. Red and white oak are still used to build furniture seen around campus. Oak also provides mast, or acorns, to sustain deer, squirrels and other animals. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources designates most of Saint John’s oak and maple-basswood forest as sites of outstanding biological significance.
Saint John’s was built in a mature forest of northern hardwood and oak, a habitat that has grown rare in the region. Without regular disturbances such as fire, blowdown or intentional harvest, shade intolerant species like oaks naturally decrease in the landscape in favor of the more shade tolerant maple, basswood and aspen. Regular burning, probably by the Dakota Indians, helped maintain oak dominance prior to European settlement. The monks rapidly harvested timber for building and heat which actually helped regenerate the oak forest as more light reaching the forest floor gave rise to oak seedlings, now the towering trees we see today that are 125-150 years old. While regenerating species like maple, basswood and aspen is relatively simple and requires little effort, regenerating long-lived species like oak and pine in the presence of high populations of deer is more challenging and especially labor intensive.
In addition to oak management, Saint John’s has a 29-acre grove of about 1,500 mature sugar maples, managed for the Saint John’s Maple Syrup operation. Prompted by sugar shortages during World War II, the monks started making maple syrup in 1942, making Saint John’s one of Minnesota’s oldest maple syrup operations.