Heartland Trail in September

Photographs in this posting show off fall scenery near Nevis, Minnesota along the Heartland Trail, a Rails-to-Trails trail for biking/running/walking that extends from Park Rapids to Cass Lake (49 miles). Also in our area is the Paul Bunyan Trail, a Rails-to-Trails route between Crow Wing State Park and Bemidji (115 miles).

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) promotes conversion of abandoned rail corridors to bike/running paths across the country. As a frequent user of these paths in Minnesota and other states, I’d like to advocate that people get out and use them. They are tremendous resources, and seem to me to be under-utilized.

Along the Trail

Lake Belle Taine

A very different wildflower

Indian pipe is different from any of the plants previously shown in this blog. It also has the most interesting survival strategy.

Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora)

Unlike most plants, Indian Pipe has no chlorophyll and does not depend on the sun. This clump of it was thriving in a deeply shaded forest setting. However it is not a fungus, it is in the Ericaceae family of plants, the same family as blueberries and azaleas.

The Indian Pipe survives as a parasite of the Russulaceae family of fungi in a relation known as mycotropism. Fungi are thought of as parasites of plants, but actually plants and fungi are commonly in a mutually beneficial relationship (mycorrhiza). Fungi receive sugars from the plants and give the plants nutrients that they have liberated by breaking down vegetative debris in soil. Indian Pipes seem truly parasitic though, fungi don’t appear to realize any benefit in return for feeding them.

September Wildflowers

Wildflowers, particularly members of the aster family, are still decorating the roadsides in our area in September.

Asters (genus Symphyotrichum and Eurybia)

Asters are very prevalent along the roadsides here in mid-September. Minnesota has many species of Aster, within the genus Symphyotrichum the Minnesota Wildflower website lists 19! The first two asters shown in the slideshow below have white petals. I believe the first of these shows the Panicle Aster and the second is the Calico Aster. The following four slides are blue/violet asters and there are many species these could be: Lindley’s Aster, Smooth Blue Aster, Large-Leaved Aster, Sky Blue Aster… maybe others too.

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

Goldenrod is another very common roadside wildflower here in September. It is actually in the same family as asters (Asteraceae). Like the asters, there are numerous species of Goldenrod, I believe Tall Goldenrod is the one most often seen locally.

Goldenrod is widely believed to cause seasonal allergies, but this is not true. Goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be wind-borne. Ragweed produces wind-blown pollen at the same time that Goldenrod blooms; it is likely responsible for the bad reputation of Goldenrod.

While Goldenrod is generally considered a weed in North America, it is regarded as a desirable garden plant in Europe.

Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)

Ragweed was mentioned as the true culprit largely responsible for seasonal allergies (not Goldenrod). So, it seems appropriate to show what it looks like.

This picture of Ragweed was taken in July, before it produced its characteristically non-showy flowers. It is very common alongside our gravel roads, but I confess that I did not realize its identity until using the Picture This app…

September Scenery

We took a walk along the Paul Bunyan Trail, north of Hackensack MN, on a gorgeous day in mid September. This post simply intends to share some of the views from along the way.

Sumac turning red among paper birch

Virginia Creeper climbing in a Green Ash

Virginia creeper and its similar species Woodbine are vines that can strangle their ‘hosts’. Also their berries are toxic to humans. In these pictures its red leaves contrast nicely with the yellow leaves of an ash.

White pine towering over yellowing ash and maple

Paper birch, feisty garter snake, and red sumac

Scenic ponds


Mushrooms have appeared in abundance in our area in September. Mushrooms are actually reproductive structures that seasonally sprout from networks of fungal cells in the soil called mycelium. These fungi are critically important in the forest ecosystem as decomposers, soil would not form without them. About 120,000 species of fungus have been identified, however it is estimated that there actually are 2-4 million distinct fungal species. There is much left to be learned in this field!

Definite identification of mushrooms requires expertise and careful examination. All the identifications of mushrooms below are uncertain, specific species are often nearly impossible to distinguish. After struggling to identify the mushrooms pictured below and learning how several mushroom species are deadly poisonous, I certainly will not be tasting any of the specimens I find in the woods!

Genus Amanita (?)

The mushrooms in the pictures above are likely in the genus Amanita. A possible species identification is Amanita vaginata, or the grisette mushroom. If so, the mushroom is not poisonous. However, the Amanita genus include the most deadly poisonous mushrooms, namely Amanita bisporigera, a.k.a the Destroying Angel, and Amanita phalloides, a.k.a. the Death Cap. Mushrooms in the Amanita genus are estimated to have caused 95% of deaths from mushroom poisoning. So, eating any mushroom from this genus is strongly discouraged.

False Chanterelle (?)

Chanterelle are sought-after edible mushrooms, but they can easily be confused with the false chanterelle. I think the mushrooms pictured above are the false chanterelle — a helpful YouTube video describes how to distinguish between the two.

Boletaceae family

Mushrooms in the Boletaceae family, commonly called Boletes, are characterized by pores rather than gills on their undersides. The more common boletes are not poisonous. Like many mushrooms, boletes are mycorrhizal partners with trees. This means that they and trees have a mutually beneficial relationship. The mushroom helps the tree absorb water and nutrients, while the tree provides sugars and amino acids to the mushroom.

Genus Russula (?)

Genus Clitocybe (?)

Spruce, Fir, and Tamarack

Pines are the dominant conifers in our area; but spruce, fir, and tamarack are also commonly found.

White Spruce (Picea glauca)

Two species of spruce are native to Minnesota, the White Spruce and Black Spruce. The spruce in our area are predominantly White Spruce, Black Spruce are small and found in swampy areas. The White Spruce ranges across Canada and extends south only into the northernmost United States. It is the tree species that survives furthest north in North America, reaching north of the Arctic Circle, up to the 69th latitude.

In our area, small White Spruce trees are found around the edges of stands of pine trees. The larger spruce that I’ve seen locally were planted around homesteads or in cemetaries rather than growing wild. It seems that pine out-competes spruce for sunlight here.

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

Balsam Fir is another conifer fairly common in our area, it has many similarities to White Spruce. Both have short needles that grow singly on the branches, the trees also have roughly the same conical shape.

There are several differences between the two trees that can be used for reliable identification. Balsam fir usually grows in a more slender conical shape than White Spruce. The bark of mature spruce trees is rough and scaly, while the bark of the fir tree is smoother. Their cones are distinctive; spruce cones hang down while fir cones stick up. Examination of the needles provides unambiguous identification. The needles of the fir are softer and flat, those of the spruce are stiffer and diamond-shaped in cross section. Spruce needles can be rolled between your fingers.

Tamarack (Larix laricina)

Tamarack, also known as the American Larch, is the only one of our native conifers with needles that turn yellow and completely fall off in autumn. It is most commonly found in low boggy areas.

The tamarack tree typically has a scraggly shape. It has short needles that grow from the branch in distinctive clusters of 15-20.


The three pine trees native to Minnesota are the White Pine, Red Pine, and Jack Pine.

Pine trees are distinguished from other conifers, like spruce and fir, by having needles attached to their branches in clusters of two or five. Needles of spruce and fir trees are attached singly to the branches.

As shown in a previous post, Red Pines have long needles in clusters of two, Jack Pine needles are also in clusters of two but are shorter, and White Pine needles are in clusters of five. This post will illustrate features other than needles that distinguish these pines from one another. Plus, I just want to share images of these beautiful trees.

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Eastern White Pine is a majestic and valuable tree. It has been extensively logged for its desirable white wood; estimations are that only 1% of old growth White Pine forest remained by the early 1900’s.

White Pines are long-lived, commonly reaching 250 years and occasional individuals live over 400 years. It is the tallest tree in Eastern North America. Its maximum height is thought to have been about 230′, but this is uncertain because the tallest individuals were cut down long ago.

White Pine needles are soft and tightly packed, giving the tree a feathery appearance.

Red Pine, or Norway Pine (Pinus resinosa)

Minnesota’s state tree is the Red Pine, also known as the Norway Pine (although it is a North American native, not Norwegian). Logging of Red Pine in Minnesota peaked between 1880 and 1900.

It is another long-lived tree, some living more than 200 years. Managed stands of Red Pine typically grow 60 to 120 years before harvest. Such managed stands of Red Pine are common in our area, as seen in the image at the upper left below.

Natural regeneration of Red Pine requires fire. In nearby Itasca Park, the oldest stand of Red Pines originated from widespread fires there in 1714.

Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana)

Jack pine is a tree that does not get much respect, it is often described as straggly or scrubby. Jack Pine rarely grows as large as the other two pines and typically is not very straight. Its wood has uses, but is not as desirable as the other pines. However, the US national champion Jack Pine at 73′ tall is found in Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota.

The cones of Jack Pine typically point up along the branch, which is unusual for pines. The cones open to drop seeds only when exposed to high temperatures, as in a fire. Jack Pine is very well adapted to fire. It dominates areas in its range that have experienced frequent burns.

Fall Colors in August

Surprisingly to me, there already are hints of fall colors here — prior to September! This post features pictures of these early signs of season change.

The conditions here in late August are nearly perfect — crisp days with nearly no bugs.

Sugar Maple — August 22

Viburnum; Guelder-rose — August 28

Amur Maple — August 29

American Hazelnut — August 31

The top row of images shows hazelnuts of the American and Beaked Hazelnut with their green-to-brown wrappings (called involucres) and a group of the nuts with involucres peeled away. Sites to guide you on foraging and preparing wild hazelnuts are available here and here. The bush in the lower image that is just starting to turn color is an American hazelnut.

Black Cherry — August 31

Paper Birch — August 31

Hops and Brewing

Hops planted in our yard are ready for use in homebrewing

Cascade Hops (Humulus lupulus)

Humulus lupulus, or hops, is a perennial viney plant in the hemp family. Its cone-shaped fruits are one of the four key ingredients in modern beer (water, malted grain, hops, and yeast). Hops add bitter flavor and provide anti-microbial protection for beer. A wide variety of herbs have been used throughout history as the flavoring agent for beer, but since the 15th century, hops have essentially replaced all of these.

Much of the variety among beers is controlled by the choices the brewer makes in use of hops. This is especially true in currently popular hop-forward types of beer, like Indian Pale Ale (IPA). There are well over 100 varieties of hops, often categorized into bittering and aromatic varieties. In the right-most picture above, a hop cone has been pulled apart to show its yellow lupulin, which are small glands containing the essential oils and hop acids important to brewing.

Three years ago I planted the Cascade Hop plants seen in these photos next to a Red Pine tree that they could climb up. Cascade was developed in the 1960’s in Oregon; it is most commonly used for its aroma, but can also be used as a bittering hop. It gives a citrusy, grapefruit-like flavor to beers.

Yesterday I brewed a basic IPA recipe, using only fresh-picked Cascade hops from my plants.

The following slideshow illustrates yesterday’s brewing process. Many websites provide home brewing instruction; John Palmer’s site is one of the best.

  1. The ingredients other than hops and water — malt products, oats, and yeast
  2. The setup used to boil the mixture of hops and grain sugars (wort)
  3. Inside the kettle while boiling the wort
  4. The wort with yeast added fermenting in its carboy

Late Summer Wildflowers

Fewer new wildflowers are to be found in August, but lately I have found four new and attractive purple flowers

Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera)

There are 5 species of Blazing Star in Minnesota. The Northern Plains Blazing Star is similar to the Rough Blazing Star, but commonly has its flowers on stalks. All Blazing Star flowers are very attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds and bees; and are offered by nurseries specializing in native plants.

Sky Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense)

The Smooth Blue Aster is a very similar species to the Sky Blue Aster. These asters prefer sunny well-drained locations. They are another late-summer bloomer very attractive to butterflies.

Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

According to Minnesota Wildflowers, the Eastern Purple Coneflower is not native to Minnesota, although other coneflower species are. Despite this, I think the plants pictured below are the Eastern Purple Coneflower. I’ve seen them only one place. They are prevalent along the Paul Bunyan Trail running between highways 34 and 371, south of Walker, Minnesota. It seems suspicious that they are so prevalent there and seen no where else in the area. Reportedly they are increasingly common as a “garden escapee”, which seems a likely explanation for this occurrence.

Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

Joe-Pye Weed was found growing along a nearby roadside in a lower marshy spot. From a distance it appears similar to a milkweed. Because the plants did not have spots on the stems, they are likely Sweet-Scented Joe-Pye Weed rather than the similar Spotted species.

There are two stories about the origin of the plant’s name. Either “Joe Pye” was the name of a Native American medicine man in colonial New England, or the name is derived from “jopi”, which is a Native American word for typhoid — because the plant has been used as a remedy for typhoid. Its root contains volatile oils and is the part of the plant most commonly used medicinally.