Native Flowering Shrubs

From late May through mid-June, we have noticed a succession of native shrubs blooming in north-central Minnesota. Each of them has similar small white flowers, and seemingly take turns blooming one after another. Serviceberry was first, in late May. It was followed by Red-osier Dogwood, then Viburnum in mid-June.


Red-osier dogwood


Two species of viburnum are growing close to each other in the woods lining our yard. Their flowers seem nearly identical. The leaves of the Downy Arrow-wood are smaller and have coarsely jagged edges, while the leaves of the Nannyberry are larger with finely toothed edges. Leaves of Nannyberry also have a shinier waxy surface.

Downy Arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum)

Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)

Quaking Aspen and Paper Birch

Quaking Aspen and Paper Birch are both fast-growing trees common in Northern Minnesota. While they are similar in some respects, they actually belong to different plant families.

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) belongs to the birch family, Betulaceae.

Paper birch is distinguished by its white bark that readily peels off of the tree. The leaves of paper birch are oval with irregularly toothed edges

Photos below show paper birches earlier this spring.

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) are in the willow family, Salicaceae.

The bark of young quaking aspen trees is also white, but it does not easily peek off and the bark turns darker as the tree ages. Leafs of quaking aspen are more circular than birch leaves, with less pronounced teeth along their edges.

In late May this year quaking aspens in our area produced a prodigious number of cottony seeds that filled the air, much more than in the last few years. Photos below show the aspen cotton accumulating along the edges of the Paul Bunyan biking trail and show the catkins that release these seeds.

The amount of aspen seed cotton this year was truly remarkable, particularly since aspens reproduce much more effectively from shoots arising along its long lateral roots. Very few aspen seeds survive to produce new trees.

Tammany Trace

The Tammany Trace is a paved running/biking/skating trail that runs 31 miles through St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain. The Trace was created by the parish in 1992 from an abandoned corridor of the Illinois Central Railroad, as part of the nation-wide Rails-to-Trails program.

The Trace has been tremendously beneficial to me over the past 25 years, and this post is to share some of my favorite photos of it.

Starting near the southeast end of the Trace, this bridge spans Bayou Lacombe.

This pond with water lilies is just east of the intersection of the Trace and Johns Road.

Between Johns and Bremerman Roads huge displays of blooming Cherokee Roses are seen in early April.

This bridge spans Cane’s Bayou, which is a popular waterway for kayaking.

Occasionally alligators can be seen in bayous crossed by the Trace. This one was spotted from the bridge over Bayou Castine, near Mandeville.

In May there are several places along the Trace where irises bloom. These are just north of the underpass where the Trace crosses Florida Street in Mandeville.

Further north the Trace runs through Abita Springs, Louisiana, home of Abita Brewing. Their brewpub is right along the Trace, and their brewery is just a bit further west, a few blocks to the north of the Trace.

Another bridge, this one crossing the Bogue Falaya River, on the eastern side of Covington, Louisiana.

A trailhead in Covington is where the Trace reaches its northwest end. Sadly, the Covington Brewhouse, shown in the picture above, is no longer in business.

Barred Owl

This barred owl is a frequent visitor to our backyard in SE Louisiana. It is more common for us to hear these owls than to see them, they have a loud distinctive call that you can hear in this YouTube video. According to experts, their call sounds like “who cooks for you”, which seems like a stretch.

Barred owls (Strix varia) are one of the most common owl species, particularly in the eastern United States. Over the last century they have expanded their range to the Pacific Northwest, where they are considered invasive and displace less aggressive spotted owls.

Suburban Opossum

This opossum was calmly perched on a fence in our neighborhood as we walked by on a recent morning dog walk. Opossums are nocturnal animals, so seeing one out in mid-morning seemed unusual.

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is the only wild species of opossum in the United States, and it is our only native marsupial. They have a reputation as a pest, but this may not be deserved. They are useful scavengers of dead animals, and also eat many types of noxious rodents and insects, particularly ticks.

I was surprised to find an organization online that is devoted to opossums, the Opossum Society of the United States. They rescue and rehabilitate injured and orphaned opossums, and also present educational programs in schools. Good for them!

Kayaking down Cane Bayou

The pictures below were taken on a balmy Sunday in mid-November during a kayak excursion on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain. Cane Bayou is one of several streams that empty into Lake Pontchartrain from the north, it runs between Fontainebleau State Park and the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. There is a convenient launch for kayaks just off of highway 190, about four miles east of Mandeville LA, as seen on the map below.

The Tammany Trace bike path crosses Cane Bayou a short distance south of the launch point.
Near the kayak launch the shores of Cane Bayou are heavily forested.
Trees thin out approaching Lake Pontchartrain
Near the lake the terrain is marshy, here we saw some trees toppled by Hurricane Ida

Mandeville LA, 70 Days after Hurricane Ida

People who have not experienced the aftermath of a severe hurricane may be surprised at how long it takes to clean up an area. Today, 70 days after Ida’s landfall, tree debris still lines the streets of my neighborhood in Mandeville LA. Mandeville is around 40 miles from the path of Ida’s eye, but still experienced very damaging winds. Crews are hard at work clearing our streets, but the huge volume of material makes it slow going.

Hurricane Ida was a category four storm that made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana on August 29, 2021 — 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina. Its maximum sustained wind speed at landfall was 150 mph, which was equaled only by two other hurricanes in Louisiana’s recorded history. The damage cause by Ida has been estimated at more than $65 billion, making it the sixth costliest Atlantic hurricane.

Many of the downed trees were tall loblolly pines
Magnolia trees, like the one in the background of this picture, were less likely to fall
Tree debris lining our streets
Big tree stump

Thankful that most trees in the neighborhood survived the storm.

Autumn around the Lake

In fall the scenery on and around our lake in north-central Minnesota is wonderful. This post simply shares images taken this October.

Usually these guys jump in the water before my kayak gets this close
Bald eagle surveying the lake from a white pine
Beavers have been busy
Red pines in front of an aspen grove near the lake.

The Shaggy Inkcap (another mushroom)

The shaggy inkcap mushroom (Coprinus comatus) is a common mushroom that is also known as lawyer’s wig or shaggy mane. Reportedly is is an excellent mushroom to eat when young, but only immediately after picking. It turns black and dissolves into an inky mess soon after it is picked (which is why it is called inkcap).

The pictures below show a lone inkcap alongside a local road and a group of them seen in Minnesota’s Itasca State Park.

An excellent specimen of shaggy inkcap along a roadside

A group of shaggy inkcaps found in Itasca State Park