Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica), also called elliptic shinleaf, is a common and widespread, up to 10½″ tall woodland wildflower. It occurs across northern United States and southern Canada, and in Arizona and New Mexico. It is common in Minnesota. It grows under dappled shade in acidic, nutrient-poor, well-drained soil in moist areas of upland forests and woodlands. Because it grows in nutrient poor areas, shinleaf depends in mycorrhizal fungi on its roots for nutrients. It cannot survive in the absence of this fungi.
Shinleaf appears as a single, unbranched, flowering stalk with a cluster of leaves at the base. The leaves appear basal but are actually alternate and very closely spaced at the base of the stem. Up to 21 white flowers bloom at the top of the stem from June to August. The flowers hang downward and have a conspicuous, curved, pale green style hanging below.
Shinleaf is distinguished by elliptic or oblong leaves without whitened veins; the cluster of up to 21 flowers; the white to greenish-white petals; and the long, curved, protruding style.
Lily-leaved twayblade (Liparis liliifolia), a common orchid in eastern United States, is scattered to rare in Minnesota. It is found from the driftless area in the southeast to just north of the St. Cloud area, with isolated populations in Itasca and Watonwan Counties. It grows in open woodlands, small woodland openings, and along woodland trails, where it gets partial sun or light shade. It is declining in Minnesota due to loss of habitat and to forest management practices. It has been recorded historically, but is no longer found, in Wright, Sherburne, and Anoka Counties. It may be decreasing in part due to fire suppression and forest succession, as oak forest is overtaken by maples and basswood, becoming more densely shaded.
Lily-leaved twayblade has two large, lily-like leaves at the base; a single, leafless, 10″ tall, flowering stem; and a loose, unbranched cluster of up to 31 flowers. The flowers are brownish-purple and have a spidery appearance. The sepals are green, long, and very narrow. The side petals are long, very narrow to thread-like, and hang downward. During development the flower twists 180° so that, when mature, the upper petal (lip) appears to be the lower. The lip is brownish-purple and more or less flat. After the flowers drop off in late summer the cluster of erect, green, seed capsules at the end of a bare green stem rising from persistent green basal leaves is distinctive.
Cream pea (Lathyrus ochroleucus) is a low vine that is common in Minnesota except for the southwest quarter of the state. It is found in open woodlands, woodland openings, trailsides, riverbanks, and thickets.
The leaves of cream pea are divided into 3 to 5 widely-spaced pairs of large leaflets. At the end of each leaf there is a slender tendril, and at the base there is a pair of small, leaf-like appendages (stipules). The stipules are rounded at the base and sharply pointed at the tip, appearing half heart-shaped. The shape is distinctive, and can be used to identify the plant when no inflorescence is present. From May to July clusters of cream-colored flowers rise from the leaf axils.
Bohemian knotweed (Fallopia × bohemica) is a fertile hybrid between two highly invasive plants, Japanese knotweed and giant knotweed, and it shares features of both of those plants. The hybrid was introduced into North American and cultivated as an ornamental. It escaped from cultivation and is now naturalized across northern United States. It is reported to be partially or fully fertile, but it spreads mostly by rhizomes and by the dispersal of plant fragments.
Bohemian knotweed is found on river banks, along roadways, and in other disturbed areas. It often forms large dense colonies. Its bamboo-like stems are erect, stiff, and hollow, and usually have many long slender branches. The leaves are up to 12″ long and may be spade-shaped, straight across at the base, or slightly heart-shaped, indented at the base. Both leaf shapes may appear on the same branch. Flowers appear from July to October. The inflorescence may be long, narrow, and unbranched, or short, broad, branched, and plume-like, and it may be either shorter or longer than the nearest leaf.
Though one parent, Japanese knotweed, is listed as invasive in Minnesota, this hybrid is not … yet.
Bluntleaf sandwort (Moehringia lateriflora) is a common but often overlooked perennial forb. It occurs in Asia, northern Europe, and North America. In the United States it is common in the northern tier of states but absent in the south. It is very common in Minnesota. It is found in woodland edges and openings, open woodlands, and gravely riverbanks, and less commonly in meadows and prairies.
Bluntleaf sandwort is a low plant. The stems are much branched, less than 12″ long, and weak. They either curve up from the base or recline on the ground with only the tip ascending. The leaves are opposite, broadly ellipse-shaped, and no more than 1¼″ long. From mid-spring to early summer it produces a few small but showy white flowers.
Bluntleaf sandwort is similar in appearance to chickweeds, but the petals are neither deeply cut nor notched.
Bryophytes are small, seedless, nonvascular plants. Because they lack vascular tissue, they also lack true stems, leaves, flowers, and roots. They grow low to the ground and absorb water by osmosis. The three major groups of bryophytes are mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. Liverworts have prominent gametophytes, which is the sexual phase in the life cycle of plants. Thalloid liverworts consist of a flattened mass of tissue (thallus).
Water liverwort (Marchantia aquatica) is one of the largest thalloid liverworts. It is found across North America and in Europe. It grows on moist or wet soil in swamps, calcareous fens, wet meadows, cliffs, springs, disturbed areas, and recently burned areas. It often forms colonies of overlapping plants, sometimes creating extensive mats. It can be a pest if allowed to invade a greenhouse.
Liverworts reproduce both sexually and asexually. The asexual reproductive structure of water liverwort is a splash cup (gemma cup) that is produced on the upper surface of the thallus. The cups are green, circular, and shallow, and contain a few gemmae. The gemmae are dispersed when they are splashed out by raindrops. Each gemma can produce one or two plants if it lands on soil.
Water liverwort is distinguished from its close look-alikes by a dark, midrib-like furrow on the thallus that is uninterrupted and conspicuous.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a slow-growing, perennial, evergreen, 2″ to 8″ tall, dwarf shrub. It is common in most of its range from Maine to Minnesota and south along the Appalachian Mountains to Georgia. It is fairly common in northeast and northcentral Minnesota. It grows in dry or moist woodlands, in partial sun or light shade, in nutrient poor, acidic soil.
The upright stems of wintergreen are actually branches rising from a horizontal stem lying flat on the ground or buried just under the surface. Two to five shiny green leaves are crowded at the top of the stem, and one to three white flowers droop from the upper leaf axils. The flowers are replaced in September by bright red berry-like capsules. The leaves and berries are edible and have a minty, wintergreen fragrance and flavor.
Wintergreen contains the aromatic compound methyl salicylate. In the past, oil of wintergreen has been used as a natural flavor in chewing gum, candy, soft drinks, toothpaste, and snuff. Dried leaves have been used to make tea, giving it another common name “teaberry”. In large amounts oil of wintergreen is toxic. Today, methyl salicylate is produced artificially for commercial uses.
Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is unfamiliar to most hikers because it grows in swamps, marshes, and wet meadows, places that most hikers avoid. In Minnesota, it is found only in nine east-central counties.
Poison sumac looks similar to distant relatives smooth sumac and staghorn sumac, neither of which are poisonous. Poison sumac is distinguished by the untoothed margins of its leaflets. Poison sumac looks nothing like its two closest relatives, eastern and western poison ivy. Eastern poison ivy is a vine with three leaves. Western poison ivy is a small shrub with three leaves. Poison sumac is a tall shrub or very small tree and has compound leaves with 7 to 13 leaflets.
The saps of poison sumac, western poison ivy, and eastern poison ivy all contain the allergenic urushiol. Not all people are allergic to urushiol, but most can become allergic if they are exposed to it. It usually takes 12 to 48 hours for a rash to develop on a previously sensitized person. In some individuals, a single exposure will cause a reaction. In these individuals, the rash will develop in seven to ten days. The lesions last 14 to 20 days. Rashes do not spread and are not contagious. Treatment can dry the blisters, reduce the swelling, and relieve the itching, but it will not speed the healing.
There are 189 species of Funaria. Only two have been recorded in Minnesota. Bonfire moss (Funaria hygrometrica) is the most abundant species of Funaria and one of the most common and widespread mosses in the world. It frequently occurs in waste areas, and is especially common in recently burned areas and around campfire rings. It is also found in natural areas in swamps, fens, meadows, cattail marshes, and wet prairies. It grows in dense tufts and often forms extensive turfs. The tufts are soft to the touch.
The plant consists of a short leafy stem and a spore capsule at the end of a long slender stalk. The leaves are clustered at the top of the stem forming a rosette. They have only one layer of cells and are almost transparent. The stalks supporting the spore capsule nod at the tip. They readily absorb moisture from humid air, twisting as they do, and becoming entangled with other stalks. The spore capsules are relatively large and appear earlier in the year than those of most mosses. Spores are dispersed late spring to mid-summer.
Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) is a small, fast-growing, short-lived, deciduous tree. It is common from New England to the upper Midwest and across southern Canada, uncommon and scattered west of the Great Plains. It is common throughout Minnesota except for the southwest quarter.
Pin cherry reproduces mostly by root sprouts and often forms thickets. In forests, it rarely germinates, and when it does, the saplings rarely survive except in large openings with plentiful moisture and light. Seedlings mostly appear in a forest after heavy cutting, burning, or a blow down. They mature rapidly and live only 20 to 40 years.
Pin cherry can easily be mistaken for black cherry or American Plum. Unlike black cherry, the bark remains thin and smooth on mature trees; the leaves are yellowish-green, not dark green; the leaf tips are drawn out into a long thin point; and the inflorescence is an umbrella-shaped cluster of 2 to 7 flowers, not a 3″ to 6″ long cluster of 20 to 60 flowers. Unlike American plum, the branches do not have spines, and the inflorescence often has clusters of 5, 6, or 7 flowers.