Trail through Henry’s Woods Park
When settlers started arriving in south-central Minnesota in the 1800’s, they encountered a large stretch of forest about 100 miles long and 40 miles wide, basically from what is now Mankato to Monticello. The predominant mix of trees was elm, sugar maple, basswood, and oak, which contrasted with the surrounding prairies, savannas, and brushier oak and aspen woodlands. In the 1700’s, French explorers called this region bois grand, which translates to the commonly used English name – Big Woods. There is a similar region in western Wisconsin, and part of this area near Lake Pepin is the setting for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first book, Little House in the Big Woods. Over the years, the increase of farming and real estate development has reduced the Big Woods to scattered remnants and secondary stands that are mainly preserved in parks and other protected areas – about 2% of the original expanse. Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park is one of the most pristine fragments. Another well-preserved remnant is Henry’s Woods Park in Rogers, MN.
An article in the July-August 1998 edition of The Minnesota Volunteer talks more about the Big Woods and features the Henrys’ farm. Rising taxes and land values encouraged many land owners to sell their land to developers, but the Henrys instead wanted to preserve their 60-acre forest as a memorial to Lloyd’s grandparents who bought the farm shortly after the Civil War (it was Hassan Township at the time). Eventually, the current 52-acre site was gifted to Hassan Township (now Rogers), and it is permanently protected in conjunction with the Minnesota Land Trust. The main parking area is off Brockton Lane, and the first things you see are a circle garden in the middle of the parking area and a restored farm building near the trailhead by the woods. A large polished stone marker in the middle of the garden talks about the Henrys’ gift and the history of the woods. The Henrys not only farmed the area, they also had a sawmill and used the woods for lumber and firewood. In addition, they tapped the maple trees each spring and made maple syrup; the preserved building on site is the Henrys’ “sugar shack” where they made the syrup. When you enter the woods, the trail starts as minimally graveled, but then turns to bare earth as it loops through the woods. A bridge crosses over a small stream, and there are two small ponds with wood duck boxes. It’s a tranquil spot not far from a large commercial/retail area. A trip to Cabela’s could result in a purchase of hiking shoes and an opportunity to use them right away at Henry’s Woods.
Text and photo by Kirk Nelson
Photo by Christa Rittberg
Orb weaver spiders (Aranidae) is the third largest family of spiders. There are about 3,100 species in 169 genera worldwide. They spin a large circular web that hangs vertically. This web is called an “orb”, which gives this family its common name.
Marbled orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) is a medium-sized orb weaver spider. Females are about twice the size of males. They are highly variable in appearance, but all have a light colored abdomen with black, gray, and white markings, at least at the front edge, that give them a marbled appearance.
The marbled orbweaver orb is a closed hub, 20″ to 30″ in diameter, with 15 to 35 spokes (radii) that are not sticky. The radii extend to the center of the hub and are connected to each other by sticky threads that spiral outward from the center. The spider also makes a retreat out of silk near one edge of the orb. The retreat is connected by a signal thread to the center of the web, allowing the spider to feel vibrations of prey. The web is usually consumed and a new web constructed each evening.
Photo by Christa Rittberg
With 7,003 species in 530 genera worldwide, robber flies are one of the largest and most abundant families of insects alive today. Bee-like robber flies, as the common name for the genus suggests, resemble bees. There are 240 species of bee-like robber flies, 62 species in North America north of Mexico. Few of the species have been given a common name. Laphria sacrator is one of several species famous for being a bumble bee mimic, so “bumble bee mimic robber fly” will stand in for the common name.
Bumble bee mimic robber fly (Laphria sacrator) is a short, robust, medium-sized, bee-like robber fly. It is fairly common in northeastern and north-central United States, including Minnesota. It has a stout thorax and a short abdomen, both partially covered with long yellow hairs making it resemble a bumble bee. It is one of the hairiest of the bee-like robber flies. Adults are ⅝″ to 1″ long.
Photo by Christa Rittberg
Two-spotted bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus) is small, colonial bumble bee. It is common in eastern North America and in Minnesota. It emerges very early in the spring and is active until mid-summer.
Two-spotted bumble bee usually nests underground but sometimes in the cavity of a dead tree. Like other bumble bees, it will sting to protect itself or its nest. The stinger is not barbed and the bee can sting multiple times. It feeds on the pollen and nectar of flowers. It has a very long tongue that allows it to feed on nectar of plants with long corolla tubes.
Two-spotted bumble bee is identified by the thorax which is yellow except for a small, round, black spot in the middle; the first abdominal segment is entirely yellow, the second has a broad, yellow, W-shaped spot in the middle, and the remaining (on the female) are all black; and the hairs on the back of the head are yellow.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
Crown-tipped Coral (Artomyces pyxidatus) is very common and widespread eastern North America. It grows alone or in groups on dead, well rotted wood of hardwoods, especially aspen, willow, maple, and cottonwood. It can be found throughout Minnesota from spring through fall. It is edible but tough and stringy. It has a peppery taste when raw that goes away when cooked.
The fruiting body is a candelabra-like profusion of whitish, upright branches with a tiny, crown-like tip. The branches turn brownish as they age. Occasionally, the tips of the branches are brown.
Crown-tipped Coral looks superficially similar to many club and coral fungi. It is identified by its growing on wood; the whitish or yellowish color when young; and the crown-like depression at the branch tips with 3 to 6 points.
Photo by Christa Rittberg
Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis) is a small, very common, colonial, ground-nesting bumble bee. It is the second most common bumble bee in eastern North America, after only the common eastern bumble bee. It is less common in Minnesota and the other northernmost states.
Bumble bees are the first bees out in the spring and the last bees out in the fall. Brown-belted bumble bees emerge earlier in the spring than most other bumble bees. They nest in the ground in small colonies of 50 or fewer individuals.
Brown-belted bumble bee is identified by the thorax which is yellow except for a small, round, black spot in the middle; the first abdominal segment is entirely yellow; the second has a single yellow, narrowly U-shaped spot in the middle and a brown band that swoops around the yellow spot; and the remaining are all black.
Designated on August 22, 2016, River Warren Outcrops SNA is one of Minnesota’s two newest SNAs. Its 89 acres include a prairie restoration, densely wooded bedrock outcrop, and floodplain forest along the east bank of the Minnesota River. Plains prickly pear and Kentucky coffee tree, two species of special concern in Minnesota, are found here.
Future management plans include the removal of buckthorn and redcedar from about 85% of the site, and continued restoration of a former agricultural field to prairie. An unusual feature of this SNA is 1.6 miles of horse trails. These trails were on the site when the land was purchased by the DNR, and they will continue to be maintained by the seller.
On rare occasions we come across a wild space so fragile or beautiful that we hesitate to publish it. We want to keep it to ourselves, to protect it and prevent it from being spoiled. The hidden cove at Crystal Spring Scientific and Natural Area, Minnesota’s newest SNA, is that kind of place. Crystal Spring SNA is near Taylor’s Falls in northern Washington County. Its 38 woodland acres are mostly red oak forest with small areas of black ash swamp.
A forest road and then a well-worn hiking trail lead from the northwest corner to the southeast corner of the SNA. The hiking trail eventually passes a set of winding steps that leads down a bluff and out of sight. The steps end at a sandstone cliff about 25 feet above a stream. A narrow trail at the base of the cliff but only halfway down the steep bluff leads to a hidden cove. The north wall of the cove is dry cliff exposing two bedrock layers, Jordan Sandstone and Saint Lawrence Shale. A spring at end of the cove bubbles into a “crystal” clear pool which overflows down the cliff to Zavoral’s Creek below. The steep walls of the gorge, the waterfall, and the lush vegetation join to create an alluring natural attraction.
Four species with conservation status in Minnesota have been seen here: butternut, an endangered species; and American ginseng, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Red-shouldered Hawk, all special concern species.
River Terrace Prairie SNA features a rare gravel prairie on a terrace above the Cannon River valley.
The northwest-facing slope of the terrace is the best place to view native wildflowers in the spring. Visit in early May to see blooming American pasqueflower, mid-May for prairie smoke and kittentails, and late May for fringed puccoon and prairie violet.
The old field below the terrace is a work in progress. Recent management activities in this area include cutting and stacking eastern redcedar and mowing down other woody species. A prescribed burn north and east of the terrace was conducted in the spring of 2017.
Many species of orchids are found in Minnesota prairies, but only three are prairie specialists: western prairie fringed orchid, Great Plains ladies’ tresses, and small white lady’s slipper. They all occur in lime-rich sediments deposited by glaciers and in clay-rich soils of glacial lake beds.
Small white lady’s slipper (Cypripedium candidum) is widely scattered but uncommon across the Great Lakes states to the Dakotas and adjacent Canadian provinces. Minnesota is the core area of the species and may have more individual plants than all other states and provinces combined. It is found in relatively undisturbed, high-quality prairies in the western, southern, and metro regions of the state.
Small white lady’s slipper produces small flowers that are easily overlooked. The best time to see it in bloom is … right now, the last week of May in southern Minnesota and the first or second week of June in the north.