The Minnesota State Horticultural Society was formed in 1866, as an association of fruit growers who took on the challenge of growing apples and other fruits in a northern climate. Two years later, the association became the Minnesota Horticultural Society to recognize the importance of all phases of horticulture development in rural and urban Minnesota. In 1873, the organization's name changed for the final time to the Minnesota State Horticultural Society when the Minnesota Legislature appropriated funds for the purpose of publication and distribution of annual reports (1873 Minn. Laws Chap. 36).
The society is considered a "semi-state" organization, that is, it has usually received some funding from the state since the 1873 appropriation. Since its organization, this nonprofit, educational organization has sponsored annual conventions, workshops, state fair activities, and awards for outstanding contributions to the field of horticulture. The society was active in the development of the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center in Excelsior, and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska.
1894 marked the birth of one of the longest continually published horticultural magazines in the country: Northern Gardener, formerly known as Minnesota Horticulturist.