North Dakota Forests  

TOPIC: North Dakota Forests

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Date: Mon, Jan 28 2008 9:36 pm
From: "Edward Frank"

I spent two days visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota in August 2005. North Dakota is dominated by prairie but does have some trees. They are mostly found along rivers, streams, and lakes within the state. The highlight of the park are the badlands of the Little Missouri River that passes through the park. The park itself is divided into two sections, north and south units. The river provides water for one of the better collections of trees in the state. This page provides a listing of the 102 most common of the 400 plant species found in the park. there are only 5 of the most common trees listed, but there are surely more species found within the park. Grasses dominate the land surface, with trees and shrubs located in the hollows and along the streams and river.

The most prominent memory of driving across the state were the "linear forests" between the fields. Trees planted as windbreaks separated the fields. The other memory was needing to stop every few miles to clean the bug splatters from my windshield.

North Dakota Forest






Common Name

Scientific Name



American elm

Ulmus americana


Riverbottom, draws

Box elder

Acer negundo




Populus deltoides



Green ash

Fraxinus pennsylvanica


Draws, riverbottom

Rocky Mountain juniper/cedar

Juniperus scopulorum


North-facing slopes











Common Name

Scientific Name




Big sage/ Three-toothed sage

Artemisia tridentata





I took several hundred photos in the park and have some good shots of various habitats and plant species. I want to share with my fellow ENTS.

Trees growing along the Little Missouri River. They are dominated by cottonwood.

Rocky Mountain Juniper/Cedar

Rocky Mountain Juniper/Cedar

Big Sage

Cottonwood trees

Cottonwood trees


Some local wildlife amongst the grassy plains


I am sure a few days of measurement by ENTS could document most of the species in the park. Here are some facts about North Dakota forests for further reading:

North Dakota is the countries least forested state by percentage. Less than 1% of the state is forested. The North Dakota Forest Service Website states:

"North Dakota was considered part of the Great American Desert. With hundreds of years of annual prairie fires in this semi-arid climate, the grasslands became established and trees had difficulty competing. The natural woodlands of North Dakota covered about 700,000 acres, spread across the state. One of every 100 acres is naturally forested. Forests and other woody vegetation are generally confined to moist riparian sites along lakes, rivers, and streams."

"The native forests are characterized by both eastern and western forest types. North Dakota forests are comprised of four major types: elm-ash-cottonwood, aspen, oak and ponderosa pine. Elm-ash-cottonwood, the most abundant eastern forest type occur in riparian areas along the Missouri, Red and Sheyenne Rivers. Aspen, and the less extensive oak type, are concentrated in the Turtle Mountains, the Pembina Hills and the Devils Lake region. The state's smallest forest type, ponderosa pine, is limited to the Badlands of western North Dakota."

The North Dakota Forest Service has a long history in the state. A Brief History of the North Dakota Forest Service 1.22 MB

It might be surprising to people, but despite the small percentage of trees the state has a Big Tree Program live and well: The 2006 Register of Champion Trees is available here in PDF format (2.15MB). Included among the Big Trees on the list are some historic cottonwood trees:

The giant cottonwood trees along the Missouri River near Washburn in Smith Grove will be recognized as living witnesses to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The trees - towering 100 feet above the forest floor and more than 250 years old - have been officially accepted to the National Register of Historic Trees!

Edward Frank

"I am not bound to please thee with my answers."
William Shakespeare