Monthly Archives: March 2014



Photo by Bill Reynolds

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) is common in western North America but only isolated populations exist in the Great Lakes region. At one time its range may have been uninterrupted, only to be broken up by repeated glaciations and climate change.

The species name, parviflorus, means small flowered in Latin. That is an obvious misnomer since this plant has one of the largest flowers in the Rubus genus.

White Turtlehead

Photo by Bill Reynolds

Photo by Bill Reynolds

White turtlehead (Chelone glabra) is an uncommon native perennial. It is found throughout the eastern half of Minnesota in wet meadows, open wet woodlands, sedge meadows, and marshes, often at the side of a stream. It is most easily recognized in July to September when it is topped with a spike of a few to many white flowers. The flowers are said to resemble the head of a turtle, giving this plant its common name.

The plant is highly variable and some authorities recognize up to eight subspecies.



Photo by Bill Reynolds

Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) is a native, highly variable, widespread species. It is found throughout the circumboreal region of the globe including 43 states in the U.S. and every province of Canada.

Fireweed is a successional plant occurring in disturbed areas especially after a fire. It spreads aggressively by rhizome-like roots, often forming large colonies and becoming the dominant species.

Don’t Eat the Blue Snow

Minnesotans “of a certain age” will remember roadside billboards with nothing but the words “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.” The billboards were a (stealth?) advertising campaign by Rudy Boschwitz’s Plywood Minnesota. It was a long time ago and a Google search does not return any relevant results. But you may want to add blue to the snow colors to avoid eating.

Don't eat the blue snow!

Don’t eat the blue snow!

In the late winter when there is usually very little for deer to eat they begin to browse on common buckthorn, a plant they normally avoid. Common buckthorn contains a chemical that is expelled with the urine. The tainted urine is initially yellow or brown but, after exposure to about ten minutes of sunlight, turns bright blue or sky blue.

Savage Fen Trip Report March 9, 2014

Savage_Fen_SNA_08The first warm(ish) weather of 2014 called to me and I answered the call. I threw the snowshoes in the back of the Trailblazer and headed to the newly expanded West Unit of Savage Fen SNA.

I parked near the wood SNA sign, put on the snowshoes, and walked the 130 yards to the information kiosk. Just then the sun came out from behind a thin but dense layer of clouds. I realized I did not bring my sunglasses so I went back to the Trailblazer and got them. By the time I got back to photograph the kiosk area the sun was once again hidden behind the clouds. That was the only sun I was to see all day.Savage_Fen_SNA_10

Savage_Fen_SNA_11 The kiosk area has a few well developed eastern redcedar trees. Packed snow and droppings beneath the trees indicate that this area is popular with whitetail deer. As I scanned the area I caught sight of movement near the south edge of the clearing. A deer approached the open area unaware of my presence. I managed to get the camera out without alerting the deer and took a couple of photos. Unfortunately, the only lens I brought was an 18-55mm wide angle zoom lens. This lens is good for landscapes but not for bringing distant objects closer. After a minute the deer saw me and bounded away.

There were several deer trails to choose from leaving the kiosk area. I chose one leading south and then west. Before long I realized that the trail took me off of the SNA and I doubled back. I headed east following many deer trails showing little to moderate – but some – usage. Hard packed snow beneath the more recently fallen snow helps to support the weight of a person on snowshoes. It reduces by close to 50% (my unscientific estimate) the effort required for each and every step.Savage_Fen_SNA_12

In the almost circular calcareous fen near the middle of the SNA I came across something I had never seen before. On the left (north) side of the deer trail the snow was 16″ deep and loose. On the right (south) side of the trail was an irregular shelf of yellowish ice rising 6″ to 8″ above the snow with little snow covering it. I tested the ice with my pole and it was thick and solid. A little farther on I came across another ice shelf, this one 8″ to 12″ above the snow with no snow covering it. A small area, no more than the size of a peanut butter jar lid, had visibly flowing water on top of the ice – a spring! The slow but continuous flow of water explains the irregular surface of the ice shelf.

Calcareous Fen

Calcareous Fen

If a person falls in a ravine while wearing snowshoes and finds their legs and head in the air and their rump in the ravine, they will need to come up with a strategy to get themselves back on their feet. I’m just saying.

Seepage Meadow/Carr

Seepage Meadow/Carr

Along with the one whitetail deer I saw several American Crows, two Wild Turkeys, and a hawk I was unable to identify. I heard Northern Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, a Northern/Yellow-shafted Flicker (don’t get me started), and a Mourning Dove.

Deer's-eye view of a buckthorn thicket

Deer’s-eye view of a buckthorn thicket

Total snowshoeing was 2.7 miles and 3 hours and 45 minutes. The high temperature in Savage today was 46°. By the end of the trek the snow on top was the consistency of wet sugar – heavy but still granular.Savage_Fen_Trip_Report_March_9_2014