Photo by Bill Reynolds
Sigmoid prominent (Clostera albosigma) is a medium-sized, heavy-bodied, nocturnal moth. It is the most common of the four Clostera species found in Minnesota. Adult moths are found from mid-May to mid-August in deciduous woodlands and forests, and in shrubby wetlands and fields.
A sigmoid prominent adult has grayish-brown wings, a dark brown head and upper thorax, and on the male, a dark brown tuft at the end of the abdomen. The wings are crossed by four pale lines. A dark, chestnut-brown area near the end of the forewing is sharply delineated by a prominent white “S”-shaped bar. The species name albosigma means “white S” and refers to this marking. Spring individuals are darker with more highly contrasting markings. Summer individuals are paler and less conspicuously marked.
The caterpillar feeds mostly on quaking aspen, but also on poplar and willow, and sometimes on alder, birch, maple, and elm. It is a solitary feeder. During the day it curls up a leaf of a host plant and sticks it together with silk webbing, make a shelter where it can feed in safety. Adults do not feed.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
Morel mushrooms (Morchella spp.) are some of the best known and most sought after wild mushrooms in North America. They are particularly abundant in the upper Midwest. They are edible, considered delicious, and are hunted for in deciduous woodlands every spring. False morels (Gyromitra spp.) look superficially similar and appear at the same time of year in roughly the same areas. However, false morels are poisonous. They contain the chemical gyromitrin, which is metabolized in the body into a volatile chemical used as a rocket propellant.
Gabled False Morel (Gyromitra brunnea) is the most common false morel in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is found in the spring, alone or in groups, on the ground under hardwood trees. The cap is tan to reddish-brown, 2″ to 4″ wide, and loosely wrinkled. It is usually saddle-shaped or winged, divided into 2 or 3 strongly projecting lobes that are fused to each other.
Snow Morel (Gyromitra gigas) is a common early mushroom in forests of North America. It is called a “false morel” due to its similarity in appearance and seasonality to true morels. It is found in the spring and early summer alone, scattered, or in groups, on the ground or on rotten wood, under coniferous or hardwood trees, often poking through leaf litter. It is saprobic, obtaining nutrients from rotting wood, and might also be mycorrhizal, having a mutually beneficial relationship with the tiny rootlets of trees. It may exhibit both traits at different parts of its life cycle.
Snow Morel is edible if sautéed but not edible when raw. Some authors suggest that it be avoided due to its similarity in appearance to the poisonous False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta).
Snow Morel is identified by the squarish, blocky, convoluted cap that is compact and rarely has projecting lobes; and the massive, ribbed or longitudinally wrinkled stem that is often mostly or completely hidden by the closely appressed cap.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
Lilydale Regional Park lies on the south bank of the Mississippi River south of St. Paul. Its 286 acres of river bottom forest are prone to flooding in the spring. It is this seasonal flooding that eventually convinced the residents of the town of Lilydale, established in 1896, to relocate to the top of the bluff. The presence of spruces and lilacs among the usual floodplain trees testifies to the areas urban past. In the summer, lily pads dot the surface of Pickerel Lake.
Lilydale Regional Park is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA). MNRRA, pronounced “minnra”, is a partnership park, a new and unique kind of national park. It is a 72-mile, 53,775 acre corridor along the Mississippi River stretching from Weigh Station Highway Park on US Highway 10 in Ramsey to the Dakota County/Goodhue County border. Only two small parcels are owned by the National Park Service.
At 230 acres, Terrace Oaks West is the largest park in the City of Burnsville park system. The entire park is oak woodland. There are 3.8 miles of summer hiking trails, 2.5 miles of mountain bike trails, about 6.8 miles of winter ski trails, and about 1.7 miles of winter hiking trails.
With the help of Great River Greening, 19 acres at the northwest corner of the park are undergoing restoration to oak savanna. The project began in 2014 and is expected to be completed in 2017. Invasive woody species, including buckthorn and boxelder, have been cut, reduced to wood chips, and carted away. The area will undergo a controlled burn to stimulate the growth of understory vegetation. Following that, it will be seeded with 6 to 8 species of prairie grasses and 20 to 30 species of wildflowers.
There are six Asian bush honeysuckles that have been introduced into North America and are now naturalized here. Three of these, Bell’s, Morrow’s, and Tartarian honeysuckle, are found in Minnesota. A fourth, Amur honeysuckle, has spread to Wisconsin and Iowa and will probably reach Minnesota soon.
In the past, Bell’s honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella) was widely planted in eastern and mid-western North America, including Minnesota, to control erosion and as an ornamental. It has since spread aggressively to a broad range of natural and semi-natural habitats. It leafs out early in the spring, grows vigorously and large, crowds other plants, shades the ground, and uses available soil moisture and nutrients. It may also release a chemical into the soil that further inhibits the growth of other species.
Bell’s honeysuckle is a horticultural cultivated fertile hybrid of Morrow’s honeysuckle and Tartarian honeysuckle. As a hybrid, it shares characteristics of both of its parents, and is difficult to distinguish from them. Bell’s honeysuckle is identified by its leaves, which are sparsely to moderately hairy on the underside, at least along the main veins; and by the minute bractlets at the base of each flower, which are at least half as long as the ovary which they subtend.
A planthopper is an insect in the superfamily Fulgoroidea that resembles a leaf in its environment. It often hops, like a grasshopper, for transportation, but usually walks slowly to avoid detection. There are more than 12,500 planthopper species worldwide.
Citrus flatid planthopper (Metcalfa pruinosa) is native and very common in eastern North America. It has been introduced into southern Europe and is now an invasive species of concern in orchards and vineyards there. It feeds on a wide variety of woody species including maple, elm, willow, black locust, dogwood, hawthorn, elder, grape, and raspberry.
The body of citrus flatid planthopper is flattened laterally, giving it a wedge-shaped appearance when viewed from above. The wings and body are moderately to densely covered with a mealy, bluish-white, waxy powder. When at rest, the wings are tent-like, almost vertically, over the body. There are two dark spots on the basal half of each forewing.
There are about 75 species of spurred gentian (genus Helenia) worldwide. Only two occur in North America north of Mexico. Only one, American spurred gentian (Halenia deflexa ssp. deflexa), is found in Minnesota.
American spurred gentian is an often overlooked member of the Gentianaceae (gentian) family. Its flowers are much smaller and less showy than the more common bottle, pleated, and fringed gentians. It blooms in northern Minnesota under partial shade in moist coniferous forests (especially at the edges), cedar swamps, and bogs, and on river banks. It is often encountered on woodland trails that are wide enough to allow some sunlight to filter through.
From July to August American spurred gentian produces clusters of green to yellowish, often purplish-tinged flowers. The flowers have four petals, each of which has a long, downward-pointing spur at the base. There are no similar species in Minnesota.
There are at least 78 species of bladderpod (genus Physaria) recognized in North America. Most of them are restricted to western United States. Only Louisiana bladderpod (Physaria ludoviciana) is found in Minnesota. The natural range of this plant is from Montana and North Dakota, south to New Mexico and Arizona, and north to Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In Minnesota it is found in full sun growing on sandy soil on steep, south-facing, weathered, dolomitic sandstone bluffs. Spring Creek Prairie SNA has one of the largest known populations. Most of the other populations are within the city limits of Redwing.
Louisiana bladderpod is is common in its natural range but is classified as endangered in Minnesota and Illinois, threatened in Wisconsin. The few known populations in Minnesota may have been transplanted by a seed dropped by a bird, or may have survived from a time when the central plains extended into the area long ago.
Louisiana bladderpod is identified by its narrow, unlobed leaves forming a basal rosette; yellow flowers; and inflated, hairy, more or less globe-shaped fruit. There are no similar species in Minnesota.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
Pilot Knob is an historic site in Mendota Heights on the east bank of the Minnesota River. Two overlooks provide spectacular vistas of Fort Snelling, the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, and the Minneapolis skyline. A half-mile of paved and mowed trails include interpretive signs that describe the history of the site. The trail connects to Dakota County’s Big Rivers Regional Trail, a paved bike trail. Bald Eagles and migrating raptors are often seen flying overhead.
Pilot Knob is known to the Dakota as Oheyawahi, or “a hill much visited.” It served as a burial site for for Dakota Villages along the Minnesota River. It is here that the Dakota signed a treaty in 1851 that transferred millions of acres of land to the United States. The City of Mendota Heights acquired 25 acres on the hill in 2006. Overhead power lines were buried underground, brush was cut and removed, prairie was restored, and wildflowers and oak trees were planted.