Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Township is one of three units that make up the 862-acre Bald Eagle-Otter Lakes Regional Park. Its 320 acres encompass oak-aspen woodland, restored prairie, and marsh and other wetlands. It has four miles of hiking trails that include an interpretive trail and boardwalks over wetlands. In the winter, some of the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing. Osprey and Bald Eagle have been seen flying overhead. For the kids it has Discovery Hollow Nature Play Area & Garden and many programs offering educational opportunities.
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.
Maryland black snakeroot (Sanicula marilandica) is a very common and widespread perennial herb. It is found throughout Minnesota in moist woodlands, at marsh edges, and along river banks. From June to August it produces small clusters of tiny flowers. In late summer the flowers are replaced by seed capsules that are covered with hooked bristles which cling to the fur of passing animals and the legs of passing hikers.
There are five species of black snakeroot, four of which are found in Minnesota. Careful examination of multiple features is required to tell them apart. Maryland black snakeroot is distinguished by basal and lower stem leaves with 7 divisions; flower clusters with 12 to 25 flowers, always including both long-stalked male flowers and a few stalkless flowers with both male and female parts; sepals as long or nearly as long as the petals, and greenish-white flower petals.
Meadow fritillary (Boloria bellona) is the most common and the most widespread of the lesser fritillaries. It is found from mid-May to mid-September throughout Minnesota in sedge meadows, grassy fields, hay fields, pastures, and roadsides. Males can be seen patrolling low over grassy areas with a slow, zigzagging flight during the day.
Adults feed on the nectar of flowers, mostly those in the Asteraceae family, and especially those with yellow flowers. Caterpillars feed on common blue violet, small white violet, and Canadian white violet.
Meadow fritillary is a medium-sized brush-foot butterfly. It is identified by the squared-off wing tip; the upper side of the wings lacking chevron-shaped, inward-pointing spots and usually lacking a black marginal line; and the underside of the wings having a pale purplish sheen on the outer half and lacking the white or silver spots found on most lesser fritillaries.
American Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria var. guessowii) is a large, conspicuous, yellow variety of one of the most recognizable mushrooms in the world. It is widespread in North America, common in northeastern United States, and not uncommon in Minnesota. It occurs in coniferous, deciduous, or mixed woodlands, woodland edges, and among planted trees. It is found from June to November, solitary, scattered, in groups, or in fairy rings, on the ground under pine, spruce, fir, aspen, or birch trees. It is mycorrhizal, obtaining its nutrients from the rootlets of a tree while facilitating greater absorption of nutrients from the soil by the tree.
Most guidebooks and authorities state that American Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric is poisonous, and it is true that about 90% of mushroom-related fatalities involve Amanitas. Fly agaric contains the hallucinogenic compounds muscimole and ibotenic acid. They may have been involved in prehistoric rituals. It is poisonous in large, possibly even in moderate amounts, but not normally fatal.
Mushrooms in the genus Amanita are identified by pale gills usually not attached to the stem; a white spore print; a universal veil that creates a sac-like base or other distinctive feature at the base of the stem; and caps that are more or less dry. Fly Agarics (Amanita muscaria) are identified by cottony scales on the cap; a partial veil that creates a persistent ring or collar of tissue at the middle or near the top of the stalk; and one ring or two to four concentric rings of scales at the base of the stalk. American Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric is distinguished by a bright yellow or orangish-yellow cap that is often reddish-orange or yellowish-orange in the center.
Split Gill (Schizophyllum commune) is one of the most common and widespread mushrooms on the planet. It occurs on six continents, absent only from Antarctica, where there are no trees to support it. It is also one of the best studied fungi species. The genome was sequenced in in 2010, and it is often used in the laboratory because it fruits so readily.
Once thought to be a single species with worldwide distribution, Split Gill is now known to be a complex of several closely related species that cannot be reliably distinguished based on their morphology. There are more than 28,000 sexes of Schizophyllum commune. Each individual is sexually compatible with 27,997 (99.98%) of other individuals worldwide.
Split Gill is found year round, scattered, in small groups, in rows, or in fused clusters, on stumps, logs, and sticks of dead hardwood, especially oak. Worldwide it is found decomposing more than 150 different species. The cap is whitish or grayish, densely hairy, and small, less than 1½″ in diameter. The “gills” appear hairy when dry, smooth and split down the middle longitudinally when moist. They close up in dry weather, protecting the spores, and open when moistened. Split Gill is considered inedible in North America and Europe due to its toughness and small size. However, it is used in the cuisines of places with dryer climates, where fleshy mushrooms are difficult to transport to market.
Ravenel’s Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii) is a common and widespread mushroom in gardens, lawns, meadows, cultivated areas, and woodlands of eastern North America. It is found from August through October, singly or in clusters, on the ground or on well rotted stumps, logs, wood chips, or sawdust.
The fruiting body at first is white to pinkish and egg-shaped, resembling a puffball. When conditions are right the “egg” ruptures and expands rapidly, sometimes in as little as one hour, producing a 4″ to 6″ tall, distinctly phallic structure with a stalk and thimble-like head. The rapid expansion is possible because all of the parts are fully formed and compressed inside the “egg”, and because the individual cells elongate, rather than new cells being produced. As the stinkhorn expands the gelatinous layer mixes with the spore mass producing a shiny, putrid slime that covers the cap. The foul-smelling slime is irresistible to flies, which feed on it, lay their eggs in it, and transfer spores when they fly to other stinkhorns.
Like all stinkhorns, this mushroom is edible. However, the slimy consistency inside the “egg” and the putrid odor the mature mushroom are enough to dissuade most from collecting it for the table.
Crowded Parchment (Stereum complicatum) is a common, widely distributed, wood decaying, bracket fungi. It is found from spring through fall as fused masses or dense, overlapping clusters on stumps, logs, and sticks of hardwood trees, especially oak.
The fruiting body is sometimes a thin, semicircular or fan-shaped bracket (cap), but very often it lies flat without a well-defined cap, with the margins free and folded inward. The upper surface is concentrically zoned with shades of orange, orangish-brown, tan, pinkish, or cinnamon. The under surface is bright orange and smooth, with no layer of pores or tubes. The flesh is thin, tough, and inedible.
Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea group) is a common and very widespread, extremely variable group of closely related gill mushrooms. It is found around the globe in the northern temperate zones and has been introduced in South Africa.
At least 14 varieties of Honey Mushroom have been described. Several characteristics are relatively constant. It usually appears in small to massive clusters on stumps or logs, on the lower trunk of living trees, or on the ground growing on tree roots. On young mushrooms the gills are covered with a Kleenex-like, cottony, membranous tissue. On the cap there are usually tiny brown scales, most dense in the center and more or less radiating outward. The stalk is tough, and fibrous, tapered to the base when in clusters, expanded at the base when solitary. The flesh is bitter when raw. The spores are white and white spore dust can be seen on lower mushrooms in large mature clusters.
Long-spined Puffball (Lycoperdon pulcherrimum) is a beautiful, small to medium-sized puffball. It is found in the fall, alone or in small groups, on ground under hardwoods or on very rotten wood. It is common in the southern United States, uncommon in Minnesota.
Long-spined Puffball is more or less pear-shaped, about 1½″ in diameter and 2″ in height. It has a globe-shaped top and a sterile, stalk-like base that is usually well developed but sometimes inconspicuous. The top is white and densely covered with spines when young, dark brown to dark purplish-brown, shiny, and smooth at maturity. The slender spines join at the tips in groups of 2 to 6 or more creating numerous pyramid-shaped clusters. They remain white until they are shed or wear away, leaving no marks on the outer layer. When mature, a pore-like mouth develops at the top of the puffball through which spores are released by wind and rain. It is edible when it is young and the flesh is firm and white.
Several spiny puffballs are found in Minnesota. Curtis’s Puffball (Vascellum curtisii) spines and outer layer remain white at maturity. It usually occurs in clusters. Gem-Studded Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) stem is substantial. The top is flattened and is covered with short white spines interspersed with white granules. The spines wear off by maturity leaving scars on the pale brown outer layer. Spiny Puffball (Lycoperdon echinatum) spines and outer layer soon turn brown, changing color together.