Minnehaha phenology April 16 2019

For years, I have wanted to find a survey of the plants in Minnehaha Park. I’ve got a few incomplete lists, mostly mentioned in the context of a picnic or hike, not anything like a study.  With no promise of a complete list, I’ve started to identify what is growing in the park, and when the blooms come on flowering plants.

Though we long for green in the early springtime, the skunk cabbage flowers inside these pointed red spathes.  Here they are growing at the base of a willow tree.

On April 16, 2019, I went looking for skunk cabbages.  I did smell one; it had no scent at all.  I guess bruising the leaves will release the smell, but I did not touch them.  The skunk cabbage that grows in Minnehaha Park is Symplocarpus foetidus, and is native to Minnesota.    It has been observed in the park since at least 1914.  This is a plant that grows in soft wet ground, and so the glen below Minnehaha Falls is an ideal location for it.  There are hundreds of them.

The skunk cabbage blooms among the earliest of Minnesota’s spring flowers.

As documented else in this blog, there are springs and seeps everywhere along the bluffs in the park, and all that water flows to the creek.  The ground is so wet that a raised boardwalk has been placed on the south side of the creek.

There are historical reports of a chalybeate spring closer to the river, a spring with iron-rich waters.  Of course this is what colored the sand in the park.  But since I don’t know where that spring was, precisely, and because the Park Board has done so much to re-route the ground water, I have hopes of locating where the iron-rich spring water is today.

Is this an upwelling of iron rich water?

In the grey-brown landscape of early spring, every color is inviting.  I’d never seen anything like this odd color in a wet patch on the south side of the creek.

I don’t even know what phylum this is.

A closer look presented itself, and it appears to be some organic material.  It’s a slimy mystery, as I am more expert in dicots.

The creek usually runs high in early spring and after our late heavy snows, this year the creek is quite high.

There was no reaching the river on April 16, 2019.

The Mississippi River is also high, and so the creek cannot empty into the river.  The water backs up and floods the pathways. Happily, this created a pause on my hike.

One of the two pileated woodpeckers!

Several people got held up by the flooded trail, and as we stood around chatting, there was a flash of movement, the insistent tapping, and we saw them.  A pair of pileated woodpeckers!  I suppose they must have been Dryocopus pileatus pileatus. They did not like being closed in on, and so the pictures I got are not great.  But wow.  I have now seen these around Lake Harriet and at Pickerel Lake over in St. Paul.  It’s amazing to see these birds in the wild.

The fourth bridge was under water.

Some people did cross this bridge, which is Bridge 4.  (The first bridge is the first one below the Falls, not the one above it.) They waded to the railings and walked over.  But the water was truly cold, and there was nothing but more flood and a less-good trail on the other side.

A maple tree, though in tattered shape, was nevertheless blooming with delicate small red flowers.

This is not a sugar maple, which has more chartreuse-colored flowers.  It has to be the red maple, Acer rubrum.   And it was the only tree I saw in bloom this day.

Moss awakening.

Nearly nothing remains of the time when today’s Minnehaha Park was privately owned.  But the old dam walls for one of Ard Godfrey’s mills can still be found.  He lived on the high ground above where today is found the Soldier’s Home.  Down at the creek, he had both a saw mill and a flour mill.  To retain water to run these mills, he built dams.  Some of the stone work is still there.  On top of Godfrey’s old dam, I found a patch of moss bright and growing.  The small stalked growths are not leaves but sporophytes.  Mosses produce these and not seeds.  So, not technically in bloom, but I’m counting it.

The very wet conditions are from both the spring run-off and from groundwater. And the forget-me-nots are already growing.

One of the great delights of Minnehaha in the spring is the forget-me-nots. In early April, they show only small roundish leaves. In the upper left quadrant of this picture is the slowly-unfurling heavy green leaves of the skunk cabbage, post-flowering.  There’s also quite a lot of grass in this scene. It’s not identified.

The irises are also on the way.

These sharp green points are surely the yellow flag iris, which likes its feet wet. It may not be a North American native. but the Park Board does like to plant it. Highly placed sources inside the Park Board alerted me that the yellow flag iris is not planted by them, and that they consider it invasive. I thought it was a Park Board planting from having seen it along the creek here and there, and frankly attractively so. Time will tell what these irises are.

The only flowering plants I saw were the red maple, the moss, and the skunk cabbage.  But there were signs of spring and growth in many places.

The Virginia waterleaf is a common Minnesota forest flower.

In a few weeks, Virginia waterleaf, Hydrophyllum virginianum, will show itself in large colonies with light lavender flowers.

(The complete list, in alphabetical order.)

One thought on “Minnehaha phenology April 16 2019”

  1. I always count moss as a blooming plant, when I’m counting.

    I really enjoyed this entry and hope you’ll have the time to do others as spring progresses.


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