Posts tagged ‘wildflowers’

Colossal Wildflowers of the Mississippi River backwaters: Part 1—Houston County, MN

July 20, 2020

When the description of a wildflower uses feet instead of inches, you know you have a colossal plant! And at this one spot on the backwaters of the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota I found 3 stands of blossoming behemoths! Where am I? The Amazon?

Backwaters of the Mississippi River above the Reno, Minnesota dike (Reno Landing)

I was meandering back from Iowa where I had dropped off the boys for a week of “Nana Camp” at Bridget’s mom’s. The night before I camped at Minnesota’s Beaver Creek Valley State Park. It is in Houston County which is the southeasternmost county in the state. This is in the “driftless” region, an area that was missed by all of the last glaciers of the Ice Age and retains its high hills, meandering creeks, coulees and valleys. It is an area pockmarked with limestone caves in the karst topography. The hardwood forests have more in common with the southern midwest than the rest of Minnesota. As a result there is a plethora of unique species to Minnesota in this region.

I stopped at the Reno Landing on the Mississippi River to explore the dike and look for Minnesota’s rarest lizard (future blogpost!) when I noticed my first “mega-flower.”

The massive size of the flower is hard to comprehend without something to compare it to. But unfortunately I didn’t have my kayak with so I couldn’t get near the flowers.

It was the huge blossom of the American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea). The flower itself can be as big as your head (4 to 8 inches across) and the leaves dwarf the flowers at one to two feet across!

At first I wasn’t even sure this was a native plant, but a quick check of my Minnesota Wildflowers app on my iPhone confirmed that it is indeed Minnesota’s largest native wildflower. This was Lifer Number 1 (a species I had never seen in my life before).

The American Lotus is only found along backwaters of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and a few inland lakes (Lake Minnetonka) in Minnesota. And their populations seem to be ephemeral, and not blooming every year.

I wish I would have brought my kayak to actually get up close and personal with these aquatic mammoths. Next summer!

I then spotted a flower I had never seen before. Lifer Number 2. I didn’t even know where to start looking in my Peterson Field Guide nor my iPhone app to identify this monster. It emerged in a cluster from the backwaters to a height of three feet. Atop a stalk was a showy umbell of stunning magenta blossoms with 6 petals (or was it 3 sepals and 3 petals?) maybe half a foot across.

Blossoms of Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus) are held in an umbel of stalks.

Once I got home, my copy of Field Guide to Wisconsin Streams came to the rescue; the plant was Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus), a non-native species that is in the Flowering-Rush family (Butomaceae)

Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus)
Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus)

Then on the way out I spotted a huge and robust stand of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata). Hundreds of purple-blossomed spikes stood a couple feet above the dense tangle of large arrowhead-shaped leaves.

Dense stand of the large and robust Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)
The spike of blossoms of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

In the next post I will show a few photos of the lizard I found at this site.

Easter Flower of the Prairie—Pasqueflowers bloom

April 26, 2019: Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County, Minnesota.

It had been several decades since I’d seen a blooming Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) [Othern synonyms: Anemone patens or Pulsatilla nuttalliana]. They are a true harbinger of spring on western prairies, and are often pushing up when snow still dots the landscape.

My main reason for driving 4 1/2 hours one-way from my homestead in Carlton County, Minnesota to the northwest corner of the state was to spend a morning with Greater Prairie-Chickens. I only had about 24 hours for the entire trip. But I wondered if I could get a bonus photo subject and find a clump of Pasqueflowers. I really didn’t think I’d find any, but while slowly cruising down a “Minimum Maintenance” dirt road, dots of color in the mainly brown landscape caught my eye. And, Yes!, it was a cluster of just blooming “Easter Flowers.”

It is the state flower of South Dakota and the Provincial flower of Manitoba. This species grows around the globe and can be found in the western U.S., Europe, Finland, Russia, Mongolia and China. Other names for this spring beauty are Prairie Crocus, Easter Flower, Windflower, Cutleaf Anemone, and Prairie Smoke in reference to its long wispy seed plumes.

The name Pasqueflower has its roots in the Christian celebration of Easter. The name for Easter in Latin and Greek is Pascha, and Hebrew Pasach,which originally referred to Passover. Many languages use this root for their current name for Easter (Påske in Norwegian, Pascua in Spanish, Pasqua in Italian, and Pâques in French). This flower gained its common name from its association with blooming at the time of Easter, likely in its range in Europe.

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5453

Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) at Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge; Polk County, Minnesota

[Most photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 70-200mm f4 lens (some with Canon 500D close up lens attached to 70-200mm lens]

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5459

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5417



Range of the Pasqueflower in Minnesota. Note that it is mainly a prairie/grassland species so is absent from Northeastern and Northcentral parts of the state.


Range of Pasqueflower in the U.S. It is also found in Europe, Finland, Russia, Mongolia and China.

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5514

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5411

I’ve never seen white Pasqueflowers! Interesting that this clump was the only white ones amidst many purple clusters (see photo below).

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN MG_5526

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5492

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5540

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5559

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5564

Franklin's Gull flock over Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5403

A flock of migrating Franklin’s Gulls over Glacial Ridge NWR. One of the most beautiful gulls in the world. They nest in massive colonies in remote marshes such as those in NW Minnesota’s Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge and Thief Lake WMA. Tens of thousands may nest in the same marsh!

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Tundra Wildflowers & Landscapes

Though the main purpose of my trip was to photograph and video the birds of the tundra, I also got in a bit of landscape and flora photography. Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) was by far the most dominant wildflower (actually a dwarf shrub) in the landscape. The showy purple-pink flowers dotted the tundra and edges of the boreal forests. At only a few inches high, it is funny to think of this as the same genus of the much larger Rhododendrons and Azaleas that are more familiar to us in “the south.”

I learned that the Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens makes a pretty darn good macro lens due to its amazing close focusing ability. You’ll see many “telephoto macro” images below using this lens.

I also used the iPhone 7+ for several landscape photos. Post processing them with Snapseed on the phone.

Oversized inch-long catkins dwarf the willow they belong to. I believe this is Salix arctica or Arctic Willow. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 287 mm; 1/320 sec at f5; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Edge of the boreal forest on a road off of Goose Creek Road. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[iPhone 7+ and post processed with Snapseed on the phone]


An interesting phenomenon I witnessed was the mirage of icebergs on Hudson Bay. Low floating pans of ice appeared to be giant walls of icebergs or a glacier when viewed through the heat shimmer of midday. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

Willows, dwarfed Spruce, water pools and scoured bedrock dot the landscape along the shores of Hudson Bay. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

Quartz veins on bedrock decorated with lichens. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100 mm; 1/400 sec at f10; ISO 640; +1.33 ev; handheld]

Lichens [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

Lapland Rosebay at the base of a lichen encrusted boulder. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 135 mm; 1/250 sec at f11; ISO 640; +1.33 ev; handheld]

Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) is actually a dwarf rhododendron shrub that enlivens the tundra in early summer (mid June).

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/160 sec at ??; ISO 320; handheld]

The dwarf rhododendron called Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) is only a few inches tall (3 – 18 inches around Hudson Bay), but it has spectacular purple-pink blossoms. It is in the Family Ericaceae along with other small shrubs including blueberries, cranberries, Leatherleaf, Bog Rosemary, Bog Laurel and azaleas.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/640 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Lapland Rosebay and spruce. This dwarf shrub grows around the world at farn northern latitudes. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100 mm; 1/100 sec at f13; ISO 400; +1 ev; handheld]

Lapland Rosebay and spruce. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

An island of Lapland Rosebay on the edge of the boreal forest along Twin Lakes Road. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/160 sec at ??; ISO 320; handheld]

Lapland Rosebay and Reindeer lichens. Caribou in winter paw through the snow to get at and feed on Reindeer lichen, which is also known as “Caribou Moss.” [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Lichen pattern


The white flower with red speckled petals is Saxifraga tricuspidata or Prickly Saxifrage (a.k.a Three-toothed Saxifrage), one of the most common Saxifrages in the Arctic. It is a colonizer of bedrock, taking hold in cracks. Its Inuktitut name is kakilahan.

Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) ?? Not quite sure. The leaves below are not Dryas leaves, but maybe from another flower?

Interesting boulder with more resistant quartz veins.

The tundra is extremely colorful in the fall, but equally so in June in spots.

Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) is a member of the rose family. It is a circumpolar species and is found across Arctic Canada into Alaska and west through Siberia. It is also found at high eleveations in the Rocky Mountains. This species exhibits “heliotropism” as the flower faces and tracks the sun as it moves across the landscape. This may be more attractive to insects as it creates a warmer microclimate. [Launch Road tundra; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 286 mm; 1/320 sec at f6.3; -1 ev; ISO 100; handheld]


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) range map

Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) had gone to seed in the warmer parts of the Churchill area. Styles of the pistil elongate, twist and become fluffy heads from which the feathery seeds disperse in the wind. [Cook Street off Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/250 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; handheld]

Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) [Cook Street off Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 263 mm; 1/400 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; handheld]

Gulls, jaegers, terns, loons, sea ducks…All can be seen at the tip of Cape Merry (remnant ice chunks float in the background). [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

Speedboat in the Arctic? No, just a wonderfully shaped ice floe drifting past Cape Merry. It upended and sank a minute later. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

Ice chunks on Hudson Bay and steel gray skies greeted me as I arrived in Churchill on June 16th.

Ice floated in and out of the shoreline areas of Hudson Bay during my entire visit (June 16-20). [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

“Flag Spruce” dot the tundra in clumps such as this. They are shaped by the harsh winter conditions; snowpack covers the lower branches, protecting them from the strong ground winds that carry ice chunks and scour the middle trunk of all its branches. The tip of the spruces still carry needle-bearing branches (the “flag”) as they are above the effects of the ice-scouring forces. [Launch Road, Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[iPhone 7+]

You may recognize the blueberry type pink flower of this ground hugging shrub. This is likely a species of Vaccinium but I’m not sure which.

Net-veined Willow (Salix reticulata) is a ground-hugging dwarf willow that span less than the diameter of a quarter on the tundra. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with with Canon 50mm f1.8 lens; 1/320 sec at f4.5; ISO 100; handheld]

A pair of large willow catkins greet the start of another tundra summer.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Cactus in Minnesota?—Blue Mounds State Park: Part 2

Prickly Pear Cactus 3 1024x
Yes, actually two species of Prickly Pear Cactus occur in southwest Minnesota…Opuntia fragilis and Opuntia macrorhiza. And Blue Mounds State Park is a great place to see them for yourself. No, not giant cartoon-type cactus but a low-growing cactus with GORGEOUS and HUGE yellow blossoms. They should be blooming now! To make sure, call the park office in advance.
Purple Prairie Clover? 234_3452 copyIf you squint, you can almost imagine a time when tallgrass prairie covered the endless landscapes of southern and western Minnesota. And Purple Prairie-Clover (Dalea purpurea) was part of that rich mosaic of prairie wildflowers.
This species is a legume with a taproot that may reach down 6 feet into the soil! This root system helps prevent soil erosion. It is a true prairie plant that has evolved with fire, and does not tolerate shade. Pronghorns are even known to eat it.

Bison foursome Blue Mounds 153_5345 copyA looming thunderstorm provides a dramatic backdrop to these grazing Bison. Don’t let me mislead you…There is a fence around the entire herd, and they are not always visible to park visitors.

Bison run blur Blue Mounds State Park Luverne MN _MG_5157 copyIn 1961, the park added three bison from the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska to start the present bison herd. Today, the Blue Mounds’ herd is maintained at more than 100 bison.

Coneflower Blue Mounds Rock Co MNNotice the deeply cut leaves and extemely reflexed ray petals of the Pinnate Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) (sometimes called Gray-headed Coneflower). To emphasize the incredible five-foot height of this prairie native, I crouched down with my wide angle lens and put the flowering heads “in the clouds” so to speak. This photo would not have had much impact if taken at “eye-level” with the flowers.

Gray Partridge near Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNGray Partridge, the bird formerly known as Hungarian Partridge, are not easy to find…anywhere. So I was very fortunate to run into this breeding-plumaged male near the park. They are one of the few birds that utilize seemingly barren crop fields that surround the park. I lost the original of this image when I dropped a hard drive years ago, but fortunately I printed a 4×6. This is a scan of that 4×6 print.

Turkey Vulture Blue Mounds State Park landscape Rock Co MN IMG_9978A Turkey Vulture soars over the prairie at Blue Mounds State Park. This is the same tree and Sioux Quartzite outcrop as in another photo in this post.

Great Horned Owl cliff, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5237Cliffs can be habitat too. This Great Horned Owl has made a home of the Quartzite cliffs on the east side of the park. Hiking trails parallel the cliffs along the base and also on top of the bluff.

GHOW-SS in flight, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5240We rarely see Great Horned Owls in flight during the day. So when this guy took off, I held down the shutter. He/she then obligingly banked to reveal the full spread of its large wings and a full tail fan. The fact that he/she peeked over his/her shoulder at me was a bonus.

Rock Wren BlueMoundsSP-Stensaas (1)RARE FIND
I found this singing Rock Wren at the top of a cliff several Junes ago. The closest this western bird regularly breeds to Minnesota would be the Black Hills of South Dakota, over 300 miles away! Unfortunately, this guy did not find a mate here and likely moved on.

Tree and Sioux Quartzite Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNSome outcrops of Sioux Quartzite are more red than others, and this one also has excellent patterning with crusted green lichens. This scene is near the drive up to the Interpretive Center. The Box Elder (I think it’s a Box Elder) adds to the composition that might be a little boring without it.

Bison Rainbow Blue Mounds-Stensaas copyA dawn rainstorm spawned a sunrise rainbow. The clouds, 180 degrees from the rising sun, lit up a beautiful pink color. In order to get the entire arc of the rainbow, I used my 10mm lens (equivalent of a 16mm lens as it was on my camera with a 1.6 crop factor) and placed the Bison underneath. I tried everything I could think of to get him to lift his head, but to no avail. I still like this unique image.