Why a National Park Needs a Greenhouse

By John Snyder, Voyageurs National Park 


Did you know Voyageurs is one of the few national parks with a greenhouse and nursery?

The vegetation program at Voyageurs National Park is focused on maintaining or improving the biodiversity of native plant species in the park. Nature is pretty resilient, but park staff try to lend a hand by removing –and preventing establishment of — unwanted plant species that are not native to the area and by giving restoration a jump start with plantings.

To facilitate these restoration efforts the park established a native plant nursery program and constructed a 24 ft. by 30 ft. greenhouse to propagate plant species native to Voyageurs and the surrounding area. 2013 marked the second full season of operation of the greenhouse and we currently have thousands of individual plants from over 40 different species growing in our nursery. These plants will be planted (many by volunteers at VNPA’s Volunteer Rendezvous) along the new Recreation Trail when it is completed and in the Ethnobotanical Garden at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. Some plants will also be planted at building removal sites to speed up their ecological restoration.

Although some were purchased, the vast majority of the plants growing in the park’s greenhouse were grown from seeds collected in the park. Plants from southern Minnesota or other regions can be quite different from the plants that grow in Voyageurs, even if they are the same species. These ”non-locals” may have different growth forms, phenology, or may not be adapted to the harsher winters in the borderland. Seed collection and processing can be a labor-intensive process and it sometimes takes several years for some species to germinate. However, it is important to use plants from the park, or at least from northern Minnesota, to ensure successful restoration of sites and to preserve the local genetic material.