Apple Blossom Overlook Park is a Winona County park located three miles north of downtown La Crescent, MN on Apple Blossom Drive Scenic Byway. Its 55 acres includes a ridge top overlooking the Upper Mississippi River Valley 580 feet below. A 1.3 mile loop trail has a spur that leads to a spectacular overlook on a narrow promontory. The trail is wide, grassy, and well maintained. It passes through new and old growth hardwood forest, two newly established prairies, and a few small areas of remnant prairie, and by rock outcroppings, steep cliffs, and an historic stone quarry. The park also includes a small depression that is sometimes a small pond but at other times just a wetland.
Until very recently, yellow to yellowish-orange chanterelles in North American hardwood forests were all treated as a single, easily identified species, Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius). Recent DNA analysis shows that the North American chanterelles are a group of closely related species now known as the Cantharellus cibarius group. The type species of the group, Cantharellus cibarius, is restricted to Europe and does not occur in North America. To date (2022), several new species have been defined, four of them occurring only west of the Rocky Mountains. More species east of the Rockies will almost certainly be described in the coming years.
Hypogastrura is a genus of springtails. They are sometimes called snow fleas, but this common name is properly applied to just one species, Hypogastrura nivicola. There are at least 159 Hypogastrura species worldwide, at least 89 species in North America, and at least 1 species in Minnesota. They are found in moist areas rich in organic matter. They often appear in in very large numbers.
Hypogastrura springtail has a plump, elongated oval body. It is bluish-black but appears black when viewed against a light background. The legs and antennae are short. Identifying a springtail to the genus Hypogastrura is relatively simple, but identifying one to the species is extremely difficult. It requires microscopic examination of the hairs on the last leg segment.
White-winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera) is a colorful, medium-sized finch. It occurs in the temperate and subpolar regions of the Northern Hemisphere. In Minnesota it is common to uncommon in the northeastern coniferous and mixed forests, occasional to rare in the remainder of the state. Migration is irruptive, with large numbers visiting the state one year and none the following year.
White-winged Crossbill is found mostly in coniferous forests with spruce, tamarack, and eastern hemlock, sometimes in deciduous forests, and sometimes in towns. Adults feed mostly on spruce and tamarack seeds, but also on the seeds of other coniferous trees and deciduous trees, and occasionally on insects.
White-winged Crossbill breeding male is pinkish-red with black wings and tail. There are two bold white wing bars on each wing. This is the feature that gives the species its common name. The tips of the bill are crossed over, an adaptation that helps when extracting seeds from a spruce seed cone. Females are greenish-yellow streaked with brown.
Vetsch Park is the second largest park in La Crescent Minnesota. At one time the location was an apple orchard. The owner donated the 25 acres to the City of La Crescent, and the park is named after him.
There is a parking area at the end of N. 2nd St. A short mowed trail leads west from the parking area, past a dog walking area, to a 0.52-mile loop trail. The loop trail passes through a red oak – white oak – silver maple forest as it climbs a steep bluff, follows a ridge line, and returns to the parking area. There are also several other intersecting trails within and south of the park. One of these trails leads to Stoney Point, a bald area with a spectacular view of La Crescent and the Mississippi River. The narrow ridge and steep bluff is characteristic of the topography of the driftless area in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Dolomedes is a large species of nursery web spiders known as fishing spiders, raft spiders, dock spiders or wharf spiders. There are more than 100 currently recognized species worldwide, 8 species in North America north of Mexico. Four species have been recorded in Minnesota.
Fishing spiders have a worldwide distribution, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. They are usually found near permanent bodies of water, or on floating vegetation in a body of water. Some are found in grassy meadows. One, dark fishing spider, wanders well away from water. One, white-banded fishing spider, lives in trees. The remainder are semiaquatic, spending part of their time in or on water.
Some fishing spiders sit quietly at the edge of a lake or pond or on floating vegetation. They rest their front three pairs of legs on the water surface to detect ripples or vibrations of prey. Others stalk prey on land. They eat mostly aquatic insects but also small fish. None hunt from webs, but all make nursery webs for their young.
All fishing spiders are covered with water repelling (hydrophobic) hairs. They are able to run across the surface of the water and even to “climb” under the surface to subdue prey. When they submerge, air is trapped on the underside of their abdomen, and they are able to breath underwater.
Juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) is a common and widespread moss with a worldwide distribution, occurring on every continent including Antarctica. In North America it has been recorded in every Canadian province and in every U.S. state except Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. It is common in Minnesota. It is found in a wide variety of habitats, including upland open woodlands, savannas, sand prairies, roadsides, trail sides, rocky ledges, and creek banks. It sometimes colonizes forest openings following a fire or a blowdown. It grows under full sun to light shade, in dry conditions, on acidic, gravelly or sandy soil, or on thin soil over rock. It usually forms loose to moderately dense colonies, and often forms extensive patches.
Juniper haircap moss stems are densely leafy. The leaves are narrow, stiff, and sharply pointed. They resemble juniper leaves. This is the feature that gives the species its common name. When moist, they are flat and they spread straight out in all directions from the stem. When dry, they fold upward against the stem. Male plants develop a flower-like, yellowish to reddish “splash cup”, allowing sperm to be dispersed by rain drops. The fertilized female plant produces a sharply rectangular capsule at the end of a long yellowish to reddish stalk. At maturity, the spores are dispersed by wind.
Early buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis) is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in the spring. It produces glossy yellow flowers in April and May. It is found usually in tufts in open woodlands, woodland openings, savannas, prairies, pastures, farmyards, lawns, railroads, and roadsides. It grows under full sun to partial shade on rocky or sandy soil that is poor in nutrients and where there is little competing vegetation.
Early buttercup occurs in the United States and southern Canada east of the Great Plains. In Minnesota it is scattered to common in the lower third of the state, local and uncommon to absent in the middle third, and absent in the northern third.
Early buttercup is a small plant with relatively large flowers. The basal leaves are on long hairy stalks and are divided into 3 to 5 primary leaflets. The leaflets may also be divided into 3 lobes or secondary leaflets. The stem leaves are similar but smaller and less divided. The outer floral leaves (sepals) are flat, not folded or ridged. The flowers are yellow and glossy, and almost always have just five petals. The seed capsules have a long straight beak.
Common house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum) is the most common house spider in the eastern United States. It has a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. In the United States it is common east of the Great Plains and west of the Rocky Mountains, uncommon between.
Common house spider is found in and around human dwellings, sheds, barns, and privies, in stables, under highway bridges, and in culverts. It appears year-round when indoors, but it cannot survive northern winters outdoors. Its web is often built in upper angles of rooms and in corners of window frames and doorways. It hunts at night, hanging upside-down in the middle of the web. During the day it retreats into a corner or a crack.
Common house spider is a medium-sized colorful comb-footed spider. The front part of the body is short, flat, highest in the middle, and yellowish-brown. The back part of the body is gray with white and dark markings. There is a dark horizontal line just before the highest point, white chevrons before the line, a white spot just behind the highest point, and dark chevrons behind the spot. On lighter individuals the markings are indistinct. On the male the abdomen is more slender. The legs are yellow with dark bands on the female, orangish on the male.
Elbowpatch Crust (Fomitiporia punctata) is one of many fungi that cause a disease known as canker rot. Cankers are open wounds or lesions on the trunk or a branch. With this species, the canker is takes the form of a brown “elbow patch.” It spreads flat on the surface of the substrate with no stalk or cap (resupinate). The outer (pore) surface is yellowish-brown or grayish-brown. The margins are yellowish-brown at first, eventually becoming black and cracked.
Elbowpatch Crust is a common and widespread wood decaying fungus. It occurs worldwide on every continent except Antarctica. In North America it occurs east of the Great Plains and in the Pacific Northwest. It is found in deciduous and mixed forests and woodlands. It grows on many hardwood trees and shrubs, including willow, ash, maple, plum, buckthorn, mountain ash, Siberian peashrub, and common lilac. It is usually seen on fallen trees and branches, but will also grow on live trees and shrubs. It causes white rot of sapwood and in some species also of heartwood. It can weaken a tree making it a hazard to buildings and people.