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.
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.