Category Archives: Plants

Marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata)

marsh skullcap

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.

Four-flowered yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia quadriflora)

four-flowered yellow loosestrife

Four-flowered yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia quadriflora) is a slender, non-woody, flowering plant. It is common in moist and wet prairies across eastern North America. In Minnesota it is found throughout the state except for the Arrowhead region.

When not in flower, the foliage of four-flowered yellow loosestrife is easily overlooked among the taller prairie grasses. The stem is slender and the opposite leaves are narrow, up to 3½″ long but no more than ¼″ wide. The flower arrangement often appears as a whorl of four flowers, each one pointing in a different direction and nodding at the end of a slender stalk. In late summer the flowers are replaced by a shiny, globe-shaped, seed capsule with a long sharp spine at the tip. The capsule ripens in the fall.

Four-flowered yellow loosestrife is identified by the narrow leaves, nodding yellow flowers, and globe-shaped fruit capsule. When in flower, it is similar in appearance to fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) and whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia). Both of those species have much wider leaves.

Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

Kentucky coffee tree

Photo by Randy

Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) has the largest leaves of any tree in Minnesota. They are 12″ to 36″ long, up to 24″ wide, and twice compound with 40 to 100 leaflets. They are the latest to appear in the spring in Minnesota and one of the first to drop in autumn.

Kentucky coffee tree is uncommon or rare wherever it is found. The large fruit pods of Kentucky coffee tree are probably an adaptation to large mammals of the Pleistocene epoch. Horses, giant sloths, mastodons, and mammoths were present on the North American continent for millions of years. They probably ate the pods and dispersed the seeds in their scat. They disappeared in the Late Pleistocene extinction event, 20,000 to 10,000 years ago, when all large mammals (over 2,200 pounds) in North America went extinct.

Kentucky coffee tree is identified by its large, twice-compound leaves with 40 to 100 leaflets; and the thick, somewhat flattened, 3″ to 6″ long fruit pod.

Celandine (Chelidonium majus)


Double-flowered Form

Celandine (Chelidonium majus) is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It was introduced and cultivated in eastern North America as an ornamental. It occasionally escapes cultivation and is now well established in moist woodlands from Maine to Ohio south to Virginia. It is uncommon in Minnesota.

Celandine is found in full sun to light shade in moderately moist woodlands, thickets, hedge rows, roadsides, railroads, and waste places. It produces small clusters of bright yellow, 4-petaled flowers from May to August. There is a double-flowered form of this plant that produces flowers with 12 to 24 petals each. The sap is bright yellow or yellowish-orange and toxic. It is a skin irritant and has been used medicinally to treat warts.

Celandine is easily identified by its leafy stems with 5- to 9-lobed leaves; bright yellow, 4-petaled flowers; and ascending, slender, hairless seed capsules. There are no similar species in Minnesota.

Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica var. aromatica)

fragrant sumac

Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica var. aromatica) is common in eastern and central United States from Connecticut to Kansas south to Georgia and Texas. In is uncommon in the upper Midwest. It is native to Minnesota but has been recorded only in Goodhue and Winona Counties. It is sometimes used for stabilizing embankments. The low-growing cultivar Gro-Lo is sold as an ornamental shrub.

Fragrant sumac is found in prairie ravines, open hillsides, woodland edges and openings, and sand dunes. In April and May it produces small clusters or greenish-yellow flowers. In late summer these turn into clusters of hairy, bright red berry-like fruits. Stems and leaves, when crushed, have an odor which has been variously described as citrussy, pleasantly bittersweet, very unpleasant, and malodorous.

Fragrant sumac is easily distinguished by its leaves with only 3 leaflets. Smooth sumac and staghorn sumac both have leaves with 11 to 31 leaflets.

Lance-leaf fog-fruit (Phyla lanceolata)

lance-leaf fog-fruit

Lance-leaf fog-fruit (Phyla lanceolata) is common in its core range from Ohio to Kansas, much less common in Minnesota. It is found in wet to moist areas along streambanks, margins of ponds and lakes, marshes, and roadside ditches. From June to September it produces numerous small heads of many tiny flowers surrounding a purple cone.

The common name “fog-fruit” comes from an old Scottish word for moss, fog. It refers to the matted, moss-like habit of the plant. Another common name “frog-fruit” originated in what appears to be a typographical error in the 1834 book Botanical Teacher for North America. The error has persisted and is now the most commonly used name for this plant.

The flower heads of lance-leaf fog-fruit are distinctive. There are no similar species in Minnesota.

European bur-reed (Sparganium emersum)

European bur-reed

European bur-reed (Sparganium emersum) is a common plant in northern Minnesota. It is found in shallow water at the margins of lakes and swamps, in ponds and streams, and in backwaters of large rivers. From June to August it produces conspicuous, spherical heads of tiny white flowers.

The spongy leaves rising from the base of the plant may be stiff, erect, and up to 32″ long, or limp, floating, and up to 80″ long. The leaf-like bracts on the flowering stem are smaller and spread outwards or bend upwards.

There are 22 species of bur-reed worldwide, 9 in North America north of Mexico, 6 in Minnesota. European bur-reed is distinguished by its small size; leaves that are flat, not rounded, on the back; unbranched inflorescence with up to 6 pistillate heads; pistillate flowers with a single stigma; and spindle-shaped fruit that tapers to both ends.

When a flowering stem is not present the stiff leaves may be mistaken for narrow-leaved cattail. However, those leaves are rounded on the back, not flat.

Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias)

cypress spurge

Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) is native to Europe and western Asia but not to North America. It was imported, cultivated as an ornamental, and sold in nurseries for use in gardens, parks, and graveyards. It escaped cultivation and is now naturalized across the United States and southern Canada. It is considered invasive and is on the state noxious weed list of 46 states including Wisconsin, but does not show up on any list of invasive or noxious species in Minnesota.

The latex exuded by broken stems and leaves of this plant causes a rash in some people similar to that of poison ivy. The plant may be also toxic to cattle and horses.

Cypress spurge is similar in appearance to another invasive plant, leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula). Cypress spurge is a much smaller plant with smaller, very crowded leaves.

Allegheny monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens var. ringens)

Allegheny monkeyflower

Allegheny monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens var. ringens) is a plant of wet places. It is common in meadows, swamps, fens, and marshes, and is also found on streambanks, riverbanks, and in roadside ditches. Between June and August it produces solitary purplish-blue flowers from the axils of the upper leaves.

The genus name Mimulus, from the Greek mimos meaning “imitator”, and the common name “monkeyflower”, refer to red markings on the corolla of some of the yellow species which are said to resemble a monkey’s face.

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium var. yuccifolium)

rattlesnake master

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium var. yuccifolium) is a common plant of native tallgrass prairies in the eastern United States. Southeastern Minnesota is the northwest extent of its natural range, but very little tallgrass prairie remains in the state. This habitat loss led the Minnesota DNR to list it as a special concern species in 1984.

The common name is derived from its traditional use by Native Americans to treat rattlesnake bite. The plant was also used as a diuretic, a sedative, a pain reliever, a tonic, and for cordage.

This plant is easily identified. The waxy, bluish-green stem and foliage; stiff, grass-like leaves with widely scattered spiny or thread-like teeth; and white, spherical flower heads, combine to create a unique appearance. There are no similar species in Minnesota.