Western Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas

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RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21
Western Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas

On October 12, I took a day trip to a few of Minnesota's Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA) in the western part of the state. Western Minnesota is prairie land, and topographically speaking, quite boring. We in the Midwest U.S. can get excited at the smallest things, as mountains, picturesque lakes or oceans, etc. are just not outside our back doors.

First stop: Gneiss Outcrops SNA (241 acres).

Along the Minnesota river (which was gigantic in ancient times), rock out crops are many due to the removal of earth by what was then the Glacial River Warren.

Lichens seem to love this rock, and it was difficult to find any amount that was not covered with them. The following might paint me as a geologist, but really, I am (hopefully correctly) interpreting from the posted information at the site.

1. Granite gneiss.

2. Garnet-biotite gneiss. (Or might it be an igneous rock complex?) At any rate, the rocks are quite interesting here.

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

The Brittle prickly pear (Opuntia fragilis) here tend toward a flattish pad, reminiscent of what most people think of as prickly pear cactus.  Of course with winter approaching, they are shrinking down in preparation for the season, too.

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

While examining the Opuntia fragilis, I noticed the familiar form of the floral skeleton of our native Fame flower (Phemeranthus parviflorus).  I followed it down to the dormant plant.  Phemeranthus rugospermus resides in the eastern part of Minnesota.

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

My first encounter with this cute little Panicum sp. (or would it be Dichanthelium now?). The gray pen is 6 inches long.  As I continued to walk along, I soon found that it can "explode" when in flower.

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

1. Our native form of Artemisia frigida.
2. Campanula americanus still in bloom in a woodsy part of the SNA.

The 8-10 inches of rainfall that was received in the area a week and a half ago made the marsh area impassible to the other, higher outcrops.  I'll have to remember to bring my snowshoes next time...

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

Next stop, Blue Devil Valley (30 acres), named for the rare Five-lined skink that lives there.  Commonly known as a Blue Devil, it has a blue tail. (I didn't see any, though.)  Very different from the Gneiss Outcrops SNA, it still has the same type of rock outcrops.

1. Only about 15 miles from the Gneiss Outcrops, the Brittle prickly pear (Opuntia fragilis) here has close to globular segments. The species in the north and east of the state have definite cylindrical pads.

2. Opuntia humifusa.

3. Houstonia longifolia. Just for you, Mark. I thought I had gotten a better pic, but...

4. One of our wild onions, Allium stellatum, is everywhere in this SNA. All had dried seed heads.  I did find one that also had both dried heads and an immature seed head.  So I was able to confirm its identity.  Allium cernuum is apparently uncommon to rare in Minnesota.

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

1. A pleasantly curled Blue Grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis).

2. Wild Four o'clock (Mirabilis nyctaginea) skeleton.

3. Because these leaves were so large, I assumed them to be an anemone or ranunculus of some sort, but then I spied the unmistakeable cleistogamous seed capsule of a violet.  The Bearded Birdsfoot violet (Viola ×palmata) is known to occur here, so I assume it is that.

4. And I actually found one in bloom in October!

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

At the end of the day and another 70 miles west, I visited Yellow Bank Hills SNA.  This is an 80 acre area of gravel hills surrounded by flatland as far as one can see.  The topography is the result of the glaciers of the last ice age.  This was by far the most austere of the three Scientific and Natural Areas.  Thankfully, there were no cactus, since there were not rock outcrops.  Many plants here were also at the other SNAs, but grew much smaller.  Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparius) for example grew only 12-14 inches, when it is usually at least 2 ft.

1. One could swear it was daytime by the photo, but this was take well after the sun had dropped below the horizon, and the sunset waning.  (I love digital cameras!)  In the foreground is a field dominated by Side Oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), regularly interspersed with Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparius) and a mid size Liatris sp.  Even here, there was much diversity.

In the background you can see one of the little knolls where a decidedly different flora existed. Here are two, which I could use some help identifying.

2. Astragalus sp.? missouriensis and lotiflorus are know to grow in the county.  Also Oxytropis lambertii.

3. ArtemisiaErigeron?

Calling it a day and walking back to my truck, it occurred to me how nice this is about prairies: with a clear sky you can hardly get lost in the dark!

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

Excellent series Rick!  It reminds us all, to just get out there and look around, there are fascinating "finds" all around us.  I believe this is particularly true of native flora that is still largely overlooked.  I hope you do a repeat in the spring and/or summer, or both, to show us some of these prairie plants and environment.

The last photo looks very Artemisia-esque to me, that would be my guess :)

Bouteloua gracilis is very interesting with those curling tips to the leaves.

Thanks for thinking of me and showing Houstonia longifolia; it certainly lives up to its name with much larger foliage than H. caerulea.

On Allium stellatum seed head, it has the tell-tale reddish pedicel coloration of stellatum, and a seed head more diffuse than cernuum.  Thanks for showing.  Did you collect seed? ;) ;)

Seeing your photo series, I am reminded that things like Opuntia grow in Minnesota, not a natural connection in my head, but great to see in this topic showing some of the variability.  Would love to see these in flower, and flower variability, in summer 2011.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

Reed
Reed's picture
Title: Guest
Joined: 2010-10-09

Great Info Rick. Thanks  :)

Albany, Oregon USA. Pacific Northwest, elevation approximately 200ft zone 8. Winter wet and Summer Dry. Hot enough to ripen the peaches.

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

Seed collecting is forbidden in the SNAs, but for something like A. stellatum that really was everywhere, it seems a little silly. There is usually a good work around for seed gathering from plants that are not rare: Most SNAs are small and relatively new compared to state parks.  The acreage is often donated by citizens or the Nature Conservancy.  Since they aren't vast areas, usually you can go just outside the boundaries to private land and get what you want, and I've never had an owner refuse me.  Many of Minnesota's Scientific and Natural Areas are not in remote locations.  Blue Devil Valley abuts a housing development right in the town of Granite Falls.  I was literally at the edge of people's backyards.  Another 20 acre SNA in the city of Hastings is between a golf course and the Vet's Hospital.  Most of it is marsh along the Mississippi River, but the little strip that runs into town is where the Snow trillium is that I had talked about on the Trillium 2010 thread.

Anyway, I had briefly thought about seed, but I already grow A. stellatum from seed from just a few counties to the east.  I guess I was a little selfish, not thinking of anyone else...  By the way, a few years back I reduced my stellatum stock, gave away some and fried up the rest of the bulbs for dinner.  The texture was a little soft when raw, but when cooked they were a good, mild tasting onion. 

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

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