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.
Photo by Bill Reynolds
Masked hunter (Reduvius personatus) is native to Europe and was accidentally introduced into North America. It is now common in eastern and central North America, including Minnesota, but has been reported across the continent.
Masked hunter inhabits woodlands but is often found in human homes. It eats bed bugs and other small insects, spiders, centipedes, and millipedes. It is active at night and hides during the day. If handled or trapped between clothing and skin, it can deliver a painful bite. The swelling and stinging from the bite will last up to a week.
At ⅝″ to ⅞″ in length, masked hunter is much larger than any otherwise similar assassin bugs in North America.
Photo by Wayne Rasmussen
American badger (Taxidea taxus) is a solitary, medium-sized, common but seldom seen, carnivorous mammal. It is a solitary animal, active mostly at night but also often during the day, especially in early morning. It has a home range of about 1 square mile in which it may have up to 46 burrows. It is a good digger, the only mammal that can dig out pocket gophers. It eats mostly ground squirrels and pocket gophers, but also voles, mice, reptiles (including rattlesnakes), amphibians, ground-nesting birds and their eggs, insects, and other invertebrates.
Badgers are easily recognized. The low, flattish profile and white middorsal head stripe are diagnostic. The common name is thought to refer to the black “badge”-shaped markings on their cheeks. There are four, fifteen, or twenty-one subspecies of badger in North America, depending on who you ask. All sources recognize the two subspecies found in Minnesota. Common badger, the largest subspecies, is found in the western border counties. Jackson’s badger, typically darker and smaller, is found in the remainder of the state.
Oxbow Park & Zollman Zoo is a County of Olmsted park less than 20 minutes west of Rochester. The 620 acres of mostly woodland span both sides of a bend in the Zumbro River, South Branch, Middle Fork. It includes about 12½ miles of hiking trails. The trails pass through moist oak-hickory forest along the river, through drier oak forest along the crests and upper slopes of the river bluffs, and around a restored or recreated prairie carved out of the woods at the bluff top. Some of the trails are narrow footpaths through dense forest, some are two-track seldom used utility roads through more open woodlands, some are wide mowed paths skirting the prairie.
Oxbow Park contains two native plant communities. Three plants with conservation status in Minnesota are found here: handsome sedge, an endangered species; and rattlesnake master and white wild indigo, both special concern species. The Nature Center and Zollman Zoo are open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. They may not be open yet when you arrive early in the morning, and may be already closed when you finish your hike in the late afternoon.