As this map of Minnesota's pre-settlement vegetation shows, Saint John's Abbey & University were founded on a unique convergence of prairie, oak savanna, and hardwood forest. This landscape is the result of many factors, but the predominant shaping forces were glaciers and fire.
The soil-poor, coniferous northeast region of the state was formed as glaciers slid south scraping off the topsoil and dumping it in the central zone. Hardwood forests grew up among these terminal "moraines" (glacial deposits of soil and rocks) at the edge of the west-central prairies. Frequent, sweeping fires maintained the delicate balance of the prairie ecosystem, slowing only when they reached the rocky hills and lakes of the moraines. Park-like and open oak savannas survived at the edge of this transition zone, as the thick, corky bark of the dominant bur oaks protected them against the invading fires.
The conifers at Saint John's, unlike those of the northeast, are not native. They were planted here by the founding monks, homesick for the pine forests of their Bavarian homeland. Some of these pines are over 105 years old and are part of the oldest pine plantation in the state.
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