Much more than trees at Linnaeus Arboretum in Saint Peter, Minnesota

(Last Updated On: May 5, 2021)

True to its name, Linnaeus Arboretum at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota, features a large collection of trees and shrubs. But there are also flower gardens, pools and ponds, wetlands, and a restored prairie. The arboretum is also home to a cabin built by Swedish settlers.

paved pathways, shrubs, and bench

Trees, flowers, and ecosystems on display at Linnaeus Arboretum

Technically, an arboretum is a garden or living museum of trees and shrubs. Of course, many arboretums are noted as much for their flowering gardens as for their collection of woody plants.

Portions of the Linnaeus Arboretum are a true arboretum. But the property also includes formal flower gardens and three “natural” areas planted to represent Minnesota’s prairie, hardwood forests, and conifer forests.

Flowers and formal plantings

Most of the arboretum’s formal flower gardens are located near the interpretive center where most visitors enter the garden. The interpretive center itself is nearly engulfed by gardens, with a butterfly garden that all but obscures the back of the building from view.

flowers and shrubs by a building

Nearby, the hosta garden offers a shady retreat.

shaded hosta garden

A waterfall garden is at the other end of the visitor center.

garden waterfall surrounded by plants

Many of the other gardens are a little harder to keep track of, as most feature a mix of flowering annuals, perennials, and shrubs. However, one stands out from all the others: A large formal garden where roses are inter-planted with colorful annuals and punctuated by towering evergreens.

formal garden with flowers and evergreen shrubs

Prairies and potholes

More than half of the arboretum’s 125 acres is being restored with native prairie plants.

building in background with plants in foreground

While all of this land was once part of the vast tallgrass prairie that stretched across the Great Plains, European settlers turned it into farmland in the 19th century. The oldest prairie you see at the arboretum today wasn’t planted until 1988, when the college began a project to restore a bit of the original landscape.

But prairies weren’t just endless expanses of grass.

Glaciers left depressions that filled with water to become small lakes and wetlands. Bits of this landscape have also been re-created at Gustavus. And, when I visited, these were among the most interesting areas, with blue stem and other prairie grasses mixed in with moisture-loving plants like giant hyssop.

purple flower spikes and grass

Trees from Minnesota and around the world

Not surprisingly for an arboretum, the college has planted a lot of trees here.

path through lawns and trees to a natural area

The formal arboretum includes almost 700 trees native to Minnesota and from around the world. These represent over a hundred species, many of which are planted in groves that highlight a single type of tree, like oaks or maples, to show the variations within that family.

Other areas include more natural areas reminiscent of the Big Woods that once covered eastern Minnesota and the conifer forests of northern Minnesota.

An old Swedish homestead

The Linnaeus Arboretum also includes a bit of an old homestead. It’s located in an open area where a traditional Swedish fence surrounds a small log cabin and garden.

Swedish fence around a log cabin

The cabin is a good example of the Swedish construction techniques immigrants brought to Minnesota from their homeland. (Originally located in nearby Norseland, the college moved it to the arboretum in the 1980s.)

Although not regularly open, the exterior provides a hint of how early settlers lived in Minnesota.

Today it’s a little hard to imagine a family with eight young children and a hired man all living together in this place. However, Borgeson’s immigrant neighbors may have looked at his well-built house with envy. It’s certainly larger and more substantial than the log home my grandfather built when he settled in Minnesota some 50 years later!

Named for Grandmother Clara, the large kitchen garden behind the house features flowers, herbs, and other plants that would have been familiar to a Swedish pioneer family of the time.

fence and sign by a garden

History of Linnaeus Arboretum

While the size of some mature trees may make you think otherwise, the College of Gustavus Adolphus didn’t plant the first trees in what would become the arboretum until 1973.

Plan your visit to the Linnaeus Arboretum

Because so many “arboretums” these days include huge botanical gardens, visitors may be surprised by how little of the Linnaeus Arboretum is dedicated to traditional gardens. But there are flowers, so even those in search of nothing more than flower gardens will find plenty to enjoy.

Other things to while in the area

Despite the tornadoes of 1998, Saint Peter is a pretty charming place with a busy historic main street. The city itself is definitely worth a stop. And, if you are looking for a lunch suggestion, we were very pleased with our lunch at the atmospheric Patrick’s on Third (TripAdvisor affiliate link).

Mankato and Minneopa State Park are located just a little farther to the south of Saint Peter. Both offer visitors a variety of activities.

See more arboretum and garden photos at

zinnia blossoms with text "Minnesota's Linnaeus Arboretum"

forest and lighthouse with text "Minnesota"

A wonderful world of flowers and gardens - ExplorationVacation

2 thoughts on “Much more than trees at Linnaeus Arboretum in Saint Peter, Minnesota”

    1. It is lovely and it is a lot quieter than most of the other arboretums and gardens in and around Minneapolis. Looking forward to the day when you can head down here and I can head up there again!

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