Horticulturalist uses northwoods as test grounds for exotic plants

By UW-Barron County

The cold winters and sandy soils of the northwoods are often regarded as limiting factors in the kinds of plants that will survive and thrive in Wisconsin. However, a winter-long blanket of snow and well-drained acidic soils can actually be a boon to plants, including ones not native to the area, according to Michael Heim. He has discovered some plants are hardier than given credit for and capable of enduring Wisconsin’s temperate zone climate with its vast temperature and weather extremes.

Heim, a natural sciences instructor from Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, Hayward, Wis., will share what he has learned about these plants, along with their aesthetic possibilities, during a presentation at the University of Wisconsin-Barron County on November 30, noon to 1 p.m., in the Blue Hills Lecture Hall (R234). His talk, “Zone Envy: Pushing Hardiness Limits,” is part of the university’s Thursdays @ the U Performance and Lecture Series.

Heim’s interest in plants and in natural history started while growing up in the Chicago area. His family often went on excursions to coal strip mines to collect fossils. During his youth, he also learned that a variety of trees and plants, including ginkgo, dawn redwood, bald cypress and box huckleberry,

existed in what is now Wisconsin before the last ice age.

In the past 40 years, Heim has used the northwoods as testing ground for many exotic plants. Bamboos, cacti, manzanitas, elepidote rhododendrons, mountain laurel and palms have piqued his interest. He collected many of these as cuttings or seed from the coldest portions of their natural ranges to test the limits of their hardiness.

His research has been published in the Journal of the American Rhododendron Society and the Minnesota Horticulturist, among others. In 1999, Heim received the Bronze Award from the Wisconsin Garden Club Federation for his work on cold-hardy plants. He has a degree in horticulture from the University of Minnesota.

Thursdays @ the U series is free and open to the public. UW-Barron County is located at 1800 College Dr., Rice Lake. For more information, call 715-234-8176. 


Brian Becker