Hastings Scientific and Natural Area - Minnesota, USA

Submitted by RickR on Sun, 03/25/2012 - 12:09

Hastings Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) is within the city of Hastings near the west side of the Mississippi River.  The part that I like consists of a small exposed limestone “escarpment” about a quarter mile long.  The area is home to a dense assortment of spring ephemerals and includes the Snow trillium (Trillium nivale) that is rare in Minnesota. 

I arrived a bit before sunset.  Had I had a film camera, it would have been of no use.  But even digital photography has its limitations, so the photos here are not all that clear.

This has been a ridiculously warm (at least a full zone warmer) and very dry winter.  We have had practically no spring weather: three days with highs in the 50’s, and then 65-79F highs for the ensuing three weeks.  Plants cope the best they can.  Spring seems to be coming about a month early here.

The Snow trilliums have been out for a while already.  The warm winter, or the hot spring, or both has produced the largest plants I have ever seen there in the ten years that I have been observing them.  Although the plants are bigger,  the flowers themselves are no larger than normal.




Of course, these are only the best flowers. It is clear that the species is not that happy with all this heat in the 70'sF (21-26C) and 55-60F (13-16C) nights.  Most show signs of heat stress in the flowers (or perhaps even a tiny bit of malformation) that I would normally attribute to aged flowering.  You can see, however, that the anthers are barely dehiscing, and the flowers are not chronologically old.  The petals seem a bit more narrow than normal, too.  One can hardly even detect a blue tinge to the green leaves that is normally unmistakeable, even in late stages of growth.  Undulating petal margins are not normal. Most look like these:


This is a view of the "escarpment".  Unremarkable by most standards, I know, but for us relative flatlanders it's not a common sight.  It faces north.


The preferred habitat for the Snow trillium here is at the edge.  The best examples are always the most difficult to view close up.  A patch of Trillium nivale is at the top left of each photo.




Edited to add missing photos


Submitted by Lori S. on Sun, 03/25/2012 - 12:13

Very beautiful, Rick, even with the little abnormalities you note (which needless to say, I would not otherwise even be aware of).  Wouldn't we all love to have a cliff like that in our yards?

Submitted by RickR on Sun, 03/25/2012 - 12:28

Yes indeed, Lori.  ;D

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) is just coming out, and the native Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucularia) almost in bloom:



Some ferns and Hepatica acutiloba





Submitted by RickR on Sun, 03/25/2012 - 12:45

The first wild rosy form of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) I have eve seen.  The mauve coloring is correct from what I saw, but I am not sure if the late evening light was influencing it or not.  It may be more pink in regular daylight.  Pulsatillas, for instance, always seem more blue late in the day or in overcast weather.)  There were about ten sprouts in a 2-3 ft area that all look the same.  I suspect they are actually from the same original clone(?).



Submitted by Mark McD on Sun, 03/25/2012 - 14:13

Most informative seeing how Trillium nivale grows, and preferring the edges of those rocky escarpments.  My Trillium nivale took a hit a couple years back, where as small a plant as they are, all my mature plants had their tops eaten off by deer (a rare occurence in my yard) soon after flowering.  All that I've seen since then is a couple flowers, such as this year, with a number of smaller immature sprouts, the mature plants either perished or have been set back by being beheaded.  It would seem that the edge of the escarpment as seen in your photos would be a deterrant for deer grazing.

About 4-5 years ago I bought a pink form of Sanguinaria canadensis from Darrell Probst's nursery, but the following year it didn't appear.  I believe it was something like $35, so I was sad to have lost such an expensive plant so quickly.  In the ensuing years there was no sign of any Sanguinaria leaves.  Then today I noticed in bud, a small, undersized plant of pink bloodroot.  Could it be that the rhizome stayed alive all this time but didn't show until it developed enough mass to sprout? Anyway, how fantastic that you spotted a pink bloodroot in the wild, certainly a rare find.

This looks like a most interesting and aesthetically pleasing place to botanize, love seeing the colonies of snow trillium.  What other fine spring ephemerals grow there?

Submitted by Hoy on Sun, 03/25/2012 - 14:25

Rick, what an exciting place!
You say the escarpment is limestone. Does that mean that snow trillium and bloodroot prefere a calcareous soil?

Whatever the colour of rosy bloodroot - it is a beauty :o

Submitted by RickR on Wed, 04/18/2012 - 20:09

Somehow I missed that these last three messages were even posted, and I just now realized it while looking for something else.

I'm not sure how really pink those bloodroot are since they weren't open.  Recall how the white Multiplex blushed this year on the outer petals.  These were darker, but I don't know...

Mark, your positing that the Snow trillium grows at the rock edges to escape deer is plausible.  There were definitely deer tracks there.  The thought had never crossed my mind.  Rather, I figured the edges would be the first to warm in the spring, yet still stay cool then and provide a very long period of just above freezing weather, which would seem to be perfect for the trillium's preference.

This place is quite rich in wildflower and species.  Off the top of my head:
Trillium nivale
Trillium cernuum
Uvularia grandiflora
Uvularia stellata
Asarum canadense
Dicentra cucullaria
Anemone quinquefolia
Thalictrum thalictroides
Thalictrum dasycarpum
Caltha pulustris
Whatever species of water cress we have
six or more species of ferns
Allium tricoccum
Hepatica nobilis var. acuta (H. acutiloba)
Viola spp.
Actaea rubra
Arisaema triphyllum

Hoy wrote:

Rick, what an exciting place!
You say the escarpment is limestone. Does that mean that snow trillium and bloodroot prefere a calcareous soil?

No, I don't think so.  There are a lot of plants there that grow in acid soils farther north, and these flowers are not growing in mineral soil as alpines do.  They live in the humus on top of the limestone.  Still, I would think they must be at least tolerant of the limestone.

Submitted by RickR on Tue, 04/22/2014 - 08:39

I took an early excursion on April 18 to the Hastings Scientific and Natural Area to see the Snow trilliums.  I usually go later, so I can see more of the varied ephemeral flora there. The first Trillium nivale were in bloom, but of course, not much else was even peaking.  These trillium in the wild is always a treat, and they are very photogenic.  A late 4 inch snow had melted off of them two days before.











Hepatica acutiloba were barely in bud, and this was the only Dicentra cucullaria I found (and they are common in this area).

Allium tricoccum was the only other herbaceous material sprouting.



The limestone here is the kind we all dream of for use in out troughs: full of character, and long lasting.


The forest here is mostly oak and maple, with a spattering of basswood and hickory.  Of course, fallen maple leaves decompose very quickly, and oak leaves are relatively resistant to breakdown, so from the leaves on the forest floor, one might think it is a mostly oak woods, but no.





Submitted by RickR on Tue, 04/22/2014 - 08:32

With a very wide aperture, I took a couple "artsy" pics....


Submitted by RickR on Sat, 04/26/2014 - 21:03

You bring up an interesting query, Trond.  There are some trees at the top that are at least 50 years old, and a few fallen scattered rotted logs that look to have been much older, but your right, most of the "old" trees are in the 30-40 year range, I estimate.  Not sure why or how that is.  But next week I plan on seeing some old friends that have visited there for probably 50 years, and I'll see if I can get some background from them.


  I've often lusted at the growth you get in your lowland homestead, even that far north.  Everything seems to have a slower growth rate here in the Minnesota north.

I am awaiting the answer regarding the age of the woods!


Regarding the growth here I think the climate is good for some plants - those which need humidity and benefit from the rain we usually have plenty of. The mild winters make possible an early spring but the cool weather does that growth is slow before warmer weather appear, usually in April/May. The long summer days are also beneficial.

However, a lot of plants which need really warm summers dislike the rather low summer temperatures here and die in the winter although they tolerate much colder winters where they come from!

Submitted by David L on Mon, 04/28/2014 - 02:55

Great posting Rick. Shows the special plants and topography of the area in beautiful detail. It is always very revealing to see how  plants such as Trillium nivale grow naturally.

Submitted by RickR on Thu, 05/15/2014 - 20:08

Our Minnesota Chapter was fortunate to have Martin Wash give two presentations on May 3rd.  He has been on twelve expeditions to different parts of the Himalayas and is a wonderful speaker.  I jumped at the chance to be with him May 5th and showed him some wild areas here. Thanks to our unseasonably cold weather, the Snow trilliums were still blooming quite nicely.



Asarum canadense doesn't escape deer browsing in the wild either, although it is minimal.



Sangunaria canadensis



Trillium cernuum with its bud starting to turn downward and Dicentra cucullaria



Hepatica acutiloba





There were a lot of them, as an example.....



And has anyone ever seen this?  I've noticed it before (only once), but never realized it was actually part of a Hepatica plant.  The tall "dimorpic leaves" always seem to arise from a separate little stem at the crown, different from the normal leaves.  I can't seem to find any mention of it anywhere. 


. . . .

And has anyone ever seen this?  I've noticed it before (only once), but never realized it was actually part of a Hepatica plant.  The tall "dimorpic leaves" always seem to arise from a separate little stem at the crown, different from the normal leaves.  I can't seem to find any mention of it anywhere. 




I've seen something similar on Anemone nemorosa here and that's caused by a virus infection I think. But "your" leaves look healthy.

Coul'd also be a mutation of a flower bud producing real leaves in stead of the bracts (the bracts are I think botanically the same structure as the leaves of a wood anemone).


I like that wood very much! Wouldn't mind taking a walk there!


Submitted by Lori S. on Sun, 05/18/2014 - 10:36

In reply to by Hoy

I'd love to walk there too... so different from the plants that occur here.

[quote=Lori S.]

I'd love to walk there too...


One can't just stroll around here.  In much of the area, and even on the not so steep parts, the choice plants are so dense that you have to watch where you place your feet with each step so as not to crush them.  Michelle, our current Chapter Chair came with Martin and me, and while we were busy photographing, she would stand in one place and study the view all around her, then move on to another stationary position.

A couple more pics I neglected to include:

Nasturtium officinale or N. microphyllum (I can't tell which). Watercress.  Tasty and very edible where the waters are clean, but this European plant isn't very welcome in our wilds.  It tends to clog streams and degrade the natural biodiversity.



Hopefully, I'll get back to take a better look at those Hepatica leaf anomalies.  I normally would have studied them more, and hardly even realized that I didn't since Martin was with us.  I am still so tickled that I was able to spend so much time with him!