A new study released Sunday in the journal Nature may provide clues about how climate change could affect the state's plants in the future.
The study is the most exhaustive research yet about when flowering plants and trees evolved certain traits to survive the cold weather.
The researchers say early flowering plants were woody, but when they started being exposed to colder temperatures, the plants changed with the climate. For example, they developed the ability to drop leaves or lose stems and retreat back into the ground.
University of Minnesota forestry professor Peter Reich, one of 25 scientists who worked on the study, said the findings may be useful for understanding what will happen as temperatures rise.
"If it gets a lot warmer and doesn't freeze anymore in places like Iowa or Kentucky, the plants that have those traits that have been selected for to deal with the cold actually probably won't do as well and species that don't have these traits may win out," he said.
Reich said looking back at how plants evolved to survive cold winters might also help us think about what vegetation will thrive in warmer temperatures.
"When you go to the colder and colder parts of the world, you see a greater fraction of all plants tend to be non-woody, they tend to be grasses and herbs," he said. "And so all else being equal, which is a big caveat, this suggests that if it gets warmer, which is the direction we're going in, that we should see more woody plants and more evergreen trees."
The researchers looked at 32,000 species of land plants and combined data that had been collected over many years.
The team identified three attributes plants and trees acquired to survive the cold: They developed skinnier pipes to carry water, started dropping leaves, and lost stems to retreat back into the ground as seeds.