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Big Back Yard

Prairie Maze & Gardens


prairie mazeHave you ever seen grass so tall, you could get lost in it? Come snake your way through our 17,000 square-foot prairie maze! Once, much of Minnesota's land was covered in prairies. Now, most of that land has been developed. At the Science Museum, you can see what a Minnesota prairie might have looked like! Enter the maze, take in the beauty of the prairie flowers, and imagine a place where the sky and prairie extended as far as you could see. And as you wander through the maze, find the hidden markers to learn about the importance of prairies, how they clean our environment and power our lives, and why it is important to have prairies in Minnesota.


Three Sisters GardenThe Science Museum of Minnesota's collections include 167 plant specimens and 90 food processing objects collected by Wesley Hiller. Hiller was a dentist in Minneapolis, and an avid amateur anthropologist. He spent years persistently building his seed collection during the 1930-1940's, focusing on ancient indigenous species.

Each year, the museum deaccessions plant seeds from the Hiller Ethnobotany collection for research purposes.

Since 2004, staff has successfully germinated seeds from the Hiller collection, which we plant yearly in the Big Back Yard. A symbiotic planting of beans to fix nitrogen in the soil, corn which acts as a trellis for the beans, and squash, a natural shade plant, is known as the Three Sisters Garden.

In successive years, we will experiment with germinating and planting different seed varieties from Hiller's original collection and hope to work with Native American communities on critical issues such as diabetes and diet.


Turtle Effigy GardenIn 2004, Paul Red Elk (Lakota) and Yako Tahnahgah (Mohawk / Anishinaabe) designed and planted the Turtle Effigy Garden in the Big Back Yard. This garden is in the shape of a turtle, with its head and tail planted with sage, legs in sweetgrass, and four quadrants of the shell in indigenous plants. The herbal plants are those used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes.
Download the Plant Guide (PDF | 747 KB)


The Science Museum of Minnesota and the National Park Service worked together to create a garden about the Mississippi River. Step back through time and see how American Indian gardens along the Upper Mississippi River changed over the past 2,000 years. By 1,000 years ago, vast stores of food produced through active gardening were required to support towns like Cahokia, near St Louis, where nearly 20,000 people lived. Each of the large villages near Red Wing, Minnesota, may have supported and fed hundreds of people at this time.
Download the Plant Guide (PDF | 275 KB)