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.
Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Township is one of three units that make up the 862-acre Bald Eagle-Otter Lakes Regional Park. Its 320 acres encompass oak-aspen woodland, restored prairie, and marsh and other wetlands. It has four miles of hiking trails that include an interpretive trail and boardwalks over wetlands. In the winter, some of the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing. Osprey and Bald Eagle have been seen flying overhead. For the kids it has Discovery Hollow Nature Play Area & Garden and many programs offering educational opportunities.
Marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata) is a common and widespread plant in wetlands across North America. It is found throughout Minnesota in wet meadows, marshes, bogs, fens, swamps, stream banks, pond edges, and roadside ditches. It is often overlooked as its weak stems lean against nearby plants and its blue flowers, though showy, appear sparsely.
There are five skullcap species in Minnesota. Marsh skullcap is distinguished by its leaves which are narrow, no more than ¾″ wide, shallowly round-toothed, very short stalked or stalkless, and pinnately veined with lateral veins that branch and rejoin before reaching the margin; flowers more than ½″ long rising from leaf axils but not at the end of the stem; and its preference for wetlands.
Maryland black snakeroot (Sanicula marilandica) is a very common and widespread perennial herb. It is found throughout Minnesota in moist woodlands, at marsh edges, and along river banks. From June to August it produces small clusters of tiny flowers. In late summer the flowers are replaced by seed capsules that are covered with hooked bristles which cling to the fur of passing animals and the legs of passing hikers.
There are five species of black snakeroot, four of which are found in Minnesota. Careful examination of multiple features is required to tell them apart. Maryland black snakeroot is distinguished by basal and lower stem leaves with 7 divisions; flower clusters with 12 to 25 flowers, always including both long-stalked male flowers and a few stalkless flowers with both male and female parts; sepals as long or nearly as long as the petals, and greenish-white flower petals.