In early September the oncoming fall season is already evident in Northern Minnesota.
In addition to clear crisp days there have been hazy days lately, reportedly caused by smoke from the terrible fires in the far west. Remarkable that the fires have such dramatic effects over 1000 miles away.
What’s our first thought about fungi? Fungal infections? No doubt certain occurrences of fungus are unpleasant (athlete’s foot, black spot on roses). However fungi are critical to all life, particularly because over 90% of plant species benefit from a symbiotic relation with fungi termed mycorrhiza.
Occasionally fungi in the form of mushrooms are attractive. Following are two examples.
These small mushrooms were growing on wood chip mulch in our garden. They most likely are Coprinopsis lagopus, commonly known as the hare-foot mushroom. These mushrooms last only a few hours before they dissolve into an inky mess.
These large mushrooms were found growing from a standing dead tree in the Chippewa National Forest, near Walker, Minnesota. They are Pleurotus dryinus, or Veiled Oyster mushrooms. This mushroom is most often found growing on decaying wood of oak, ash and beech trees.
Young swans are known as cygnets, a name derived from the swan genus Cygnus. These two were seen in a pond next to the Paul Bunyan trail in north-central Minnesota, their parents stayed at a distance.
Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) are now fairly common in our area. However, in the 1930’s they were thought to be near extinction, with less than 70 known to exist. Fortunately, in the 1950’s a population of trumpeter swans was discovered in the Copper River Basin of Alaska. These Alaskan swans were key to restoration efforts, which have been quite successful. The Minnesota DNR estimates that there are now over 30,000 swans in the state.
Swans are the heaviest flying bird in North America. This may be why they tend to not migrate far south in the winter. A favorite spot for trumpeter swans to spend the winter is in the Mississippi River near Monticello, MN. Warm water discharged from the Monticello nuclear power plant keeps a stretch of the Mississippi ice-free. A few swans discovered this spot in the late 1980’s. Today an estimated 2000 swans over-winter near Monticello, where they have become an attraction for winter visitors. In winter a real-time view of the swans is available using the “swan cam” maintained by Monticello.
During these last days of July our blooming bee balm plants (Monarda fistulosa) have been a hive of activity for insects and an occasional hummingbird. The hummingbirds were too skittish to capture in a photo, but the insects were too busy to notice my presence.
When the sun is out two-spotted bumble bees (Bombus bimaculatus) are constantly working the bee balm flowers. This bumble bee is thriving in eastern North America. Unlike other species of bees its numbers are not declining. They typically nest below ground, commonly repurposing abandoned rodent burrows.
Clearwing Hummingbird Moth
The Clearwing Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe) Is also a frequent visitor to our bee balm. It is found in forests, meadows, and suburban gardens throughout North America, but is most common in the Eastern United States and Ontario, Canada. This moth is very similar to hummingbirds in appearance and feeding habits, it can easily be mistaken for a small hummingbird.
The petals of Bee Balm flowers are small tubes. The pollen and nectar of the flower are apparently within these tubes; the bumble bees go from petal to petal sticking their heads into each tube. The photos below of our domestic bee balm focus on illustrating the tubular shape of its petals.
Native Bee Balm
Native bee balm in our area is lavender, in contrast to the magenta flowers of domestic bee balm from the local nurseries.
Peonies are beautiful garden flowers that bloom for a short time in late spring and early summer in temperate climates. Two peonies we planted last year in north-central Minnesota came through with gorgeous flowers in late June.
Peonies are known as the “king of flowers” in China, where they have been highly appreciated for over 1000 years. In a recent online poll in China asking which of 10 choices should be the national flower, the peony won the support of 79% of the voters. Peonies have also been a favorite subject for Renoir, and are a common motif in Japanese tattoos.