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Posted by on in Environmental Stewardship

On Thursday of last week, some of the HUG campus employees ventured out from our offices and took a stroll around the campus to see what we could find on a phenology walk. We wandered into the pine plantation and observed what was growing in the understory. We also took a look at what was growing along our dirt roads on campus. Perhaps you were there for all of it, some of it, or maybe you had to miss it, but this is some of what we found and discussed! We will hopefully be doing more phenology walks, which will be open to employees as well as the public, so be watching for announcements on dates & times!

These are wildflowers that are in bloom in the Pine River area right now, so head out on a hike and enjoy nature's scenery!

Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) - a native perennial in the Bellflower family, also known as bluebell.  The droop to this bell-shaped purple flower helps to protect the pollen from dew and rain. In the Pacific Northwest, the Haida Indians believed that picking this flower caused it to rain, which is why they are called "blue rain flowers" in that region. It is a circumpolar plant that grows at relatively high latitudes. In Europe, the leaves are sometimes eaten raw in salads and are thought to have minor medicinal qualities.

Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) - a native perennial in the Aster family. This plant is the only one of its species in of North America. Identifiable by a large round cluster of many individual white flowers and long, narrow leaves that are densely hairy underneath, causing them to look white. This plant was used by Native Americans for many medicinal purposes, including boiling in tea or a steam bath for rheumatism, smoking to treat colds and making poultices for treatment of sores.

Goatsbeard (Tragopogon dubius) - a nonnative biennial in the Aster family. Originally from Europe, this large, yellow, dandelion-like flower turns its flower head to face the sun, but the flower closes by noon (as shown above).  It has a long tap root that can be used as a coffee substitute. When it seeds, it looks like a giant dandelion head, which are sometimes referred to "blow balls".


Butter & Eggs (Linaria vulgaris) - an invasive perennial in the Snapdragon family, also known as toadflax. Originally from Europe and now a garden escapee. The name comes from the two-tone pea-like flowers; the darker orange part, which looks like an egg yolk, and the lighter yellow part around it, which is the butter. The orange part is actually a "honey guide", a target to guide insects into the long spur of the flower (where the nectar is located).

Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) - a native perennial in the Ginseng family. Identifiable by its three distinct round clusters of small, white flowers and clusters of round purple/black berries on a leafless stalk. The roots are very aromatic and have been used as a substitute for true sarsaparilla in root beer. The berries are often eaten by wildlife and while they are apparently not toxic to humans, they are said to be not worth the effort. 

White Campion (Silene latifolia) - a nonnative annual in the Pink (or Carnation) family. The bright white petals of this flower come out during the night to attract night-flying insects, like moths, to pollinate.  During the day, the white petals retract back into the flower's sticky calyx, or "bladder", which is where the nickname bladder campion comes from.

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) - a nonnative biennial in the Aster family. In the first year this plant is a rosette of low to the ground, spiky leaves. In the second year, it sends up a tall, spiky flower stalk, with spiky narrow leaves ending in a sharp spine, and has large, reddish purple flower heads sitting on a spiky green base. Lots of spikes - beware! The seeds are a favorite food of the American Goldfinch, which also uses the parachute-like, soft, thistledown to line their nests. This is why the Goldfinch often nests later than other summer birds.

Rabbit Foot's Clover (Trifolium pretense) - a nonnative annual of the Pea family. Identifiable by its dense, cylindrical, fuzzy flower heads ranging from pale pink to white, this species can be found in large numbers along roadsides. This plant helps out by fixing nitrogen into the soil, as do many other members of its family.

Ox-eyed Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) - a nonnative perennial in the Aster family. This plant originated in Europe but has become quite common here, often seen along roadsides. This plant contains pyrethrum, which is a chemical used in organic pesticides because it repels insects.  Also in this photo is one Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) - a native member of the Aster family. Historically, this plant had many medicinal uses. The Ojibwe people used the roots to make a poultice to treat snake bites and steeped them to cure colds or worms in children.


So get outside & find some of Minnesota's beautiful wildflowers.  While you're out there, don't forget to also enjoy some of Minnesota's delicious wild berries, like these blueberries & raspberries! (But only if you are sure of your identification as something edible - berries can be dangerous!)






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Quinn - !again! - put together a weekend update for Central Minnesota. I did the math and found a way to attend all the fun events this weekend without having to clone yourself. You just need a fast car and be willing to break a few speed limits. (Note* Drive within speed limits. I'm only joking.)

Today & Tomorrow - Super Special First Ever - Zany Zucchini Street Festival, Pine River! Crazy and fun family activities - https://www.facebook.com/PRZanyZucchiniFestival
**Check out the "Zukes" vs. Zombies game that the shop made!

Friday: Pine River Market Square - "Growers' & Crafters' Market", 2:30-5:30pm, Downtown Pine River. Produce, Crafts, baked goods, canned items & more!
*Many delicious berries expected today!

Every Saturday: 371 Flea Market, Saturday 9am-3pm, near the Info Center/Chamber Building along the Paul Bunyan Trail, Pine River.
Every Saturday: Band in the Park - Trailside Park, Pequot Lakes, 7-9pm. http://business.explorebrainerdlakes.com/events/details/band-in-the-park-41924
Every Saturday: Outdoor Music Series - Crosslake Town Square, 7pm, http://business.explorebrainerdlakes.com/events/details/2014-crosslake-outdoor-music-series-42731

This Saturday: Farm on St. Mathias Celtic Festival - St. Mathias (S. of Brainerd), Noon-10pm . https://www.facebook.com/events/530968670348117/

This Sunday: Fly-in Pancake Breakfast - Backus Airport, 7:30-Noon

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Looking for something to do this weekend? Quinn S. has put together a nice list of nice things to do this nice weekend. If you haven't had a chance to eat from the Prairie Bay Side Dish food truck, you're missing out. It's all of the delicious locally grown ingredients that you'd expect from the main kitchen, driven to your event. You really need to try the grass-fed cheeseburger, or lobster bisque, or !ooh ooh! the portobello mushroom sandwich. So good. I'm hungry.

Here's the list of events. 

All Weekend: Moondance Jam - Walker. http://www.moondancejam.com/

Friday: Pine River Market Square - "Growers' & Crafters' Market", 2:30-5:30pm, Downtown Pine River. Produce, Crafts, baked goods, canned items & more!
**This week the Prairie Bay Food Truck on site!

Every Saturday: 371 Flea Market, Saturday 9am-3pm, near the Info Center/Chamber Building along the Paul Bunyan Trail, Pine River.
Every Saturday: Band in the Park - Trailside Park, Pequot Lakes, 7-9pm. http://business.explorebrainerdlakes.com/events/details/band-in-the-park-41924
Every Saturday: Outdoor Music Series - Crosslake Town Square, 7pm, http://business.explorebrainerdlakes.com/events/details/2014-crosslake-outdoor-music-series-42731

This Saturday: 10th Annual Monarch Butterfly Release - Breezy Point, 3-5pm. http://business.explorebrainerdlakes.com/events/details/10th-annual-monarch-butterfly-release-07-19-2014-43964         

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For the last couple of weeks I have been scanning roadsides and the meadow near my house for signs that the time was almost here.  While I have seen many stages over the last couple weeks that indicated it was approaching, the time has finally come! The milkweed plants are in bloom! But it is more than just the beautiful clusters of pinkish-purple flowers that makes this plant special.


Right: Common milkweed about to bloom, 7/2/14.  Left: Common milkweed in bloom, 7/17/14.


 Left: Common milkweed often grows along the roadside. Identifiable by its large, round, purple flower clusters and broad, oval leaves.  Right: Swamp milkweed is also very prevalent in this area, normally growing in more saturated areas, identifiable by its more reddish-purple, flat flower clusters and long, skinny leaves.

Milkweed perpetually makes me think of our friends, the monarch butterflies. The adults will only lay eggs on these plants and the caterpillars feed exclusively on it as they grow. In return, the monarchs, as well as other butterflies, bees, ants, and wasps pollinate the plants by carrying pollen sacs from flower to flower. By feeding on the milkweed, the monarch gains its greatest defense: chemical warfare. Milkweed plants contain cardenolide alkaloids, a toxic chemical compound in their leaves and stems that can be fatal to vertebrates. Many invertebrates, however, rely on plants containing these compounds for food, like the monarch caterpillar, hungrily chewing its way through the milkweed leaves. By ingesting the toxic compounds, the monarchs can store the poison in their exoskeletons and later in their wings, creating a defense mechanisms against predators. Predators of the monarch have learned throughout years to perceive the bright colors of the caterpillar and the adult butterfly as a warning that this animal is distasteful and poisonous. Observers have seen birds that did not heed this warning quickly start vomiting after consuming monarchs - lesson learned! Despite this reasonably efficient defense mechanism, there are a few predators that have developed ways of feeding on the monarchs. The black-backed oriole in Mexico, for example, catches the adult butterflies, splits open the butterfly and eats only the insides, leaving the poisonous exoskeleton and wings behind, effectively avoiding the poisonous parts. 


 Top: You can often find many grasshopper adults and nymphs in fields with milkweeds. Bottom: Other insects also like milkweed, such as these iridescent green dogbane beetles.

If you go out to observe the milkweed plants, you may see monarchs in various stages of their life cycle. They start out as eggs on the milkweed leaves and quickly (three or four days) hatch into fast growing caterpillars. This stage typically lasts 10 - 14 days, during which the caterpillar may grow up to 22 times the size it was upon hatching! This incredible act is due to a ferocious appetite, starting when it eats its own egg shell and continuing as it consumes lots of foliage and each one of its skins from its five molts as it grows. The phases in between these molts are called instars. When the much larger caterpillar is ready, it spends 10 -14 days inside a well-camouflaged chrysalis during its pupa stage, after which the adult emerges. Most summer generation adults will only live two to five weeks, pressured to quickly find a mate and lay hundreds of eggs in its short lifespan. However, the generation of adult monarchs emerging in the next few weeks will be the last generation of monarchs for the summer and have a special task. As with other insects of Minnesota, the monarch needs a winter survival strategy to ensure the population continues past the harsh winters. Only the adults will survive winter - but they won't stick around for the Minnesota cold!


 Right: I think I spooked this 5th instar (almost ready to pupate!) monarch caterpillar when I pulled on the leaf for a photo. Left: Another 5th instar (7/17/14). This will be the generation that migrates to Mexico come mid-August.

The monarchs of the central and eastern United States fly an incredible journey of up to 3,000 miles to overwinter in the Sierra Madre mountains of central Mexico. Something about the last generation of Monarchs is biologically and behaviorally different than earlier summer generations, triggering an instinct that causes them to make this trek and not worry about finding a mate until the spring. Changes in day length and in temperature let the monarchs know when they should depart for their journey, usually around mid-August in Minnesota. But what do they do when they get to Mexico? They seek out a tree in the Oyamel fir forest, a very small area of the mountaintops, where they hang out with all their monarch pals for the winter. The butterflies form masses of millions in the trees, often returning to the exact same trees as previous years.

This orange-colored tint on the trees in the Oyamel forest is caused by approximately 2 million monarchs roosting. Note the forest areas close by that have been clear cut for agricultural purposes. Photo credit to Lincoln Brower.

The trees in this forest provide a very specific habitat that the butterfly can overwinter in. It is on a steep slope, protected from the wind and/or snow, consistently foggy or in the clouds, meaning there is adequate moisture for the butterflies, and it is a cool enough place where they won't freeze, but their metabolism will slow down enough to let their energy reserves last through winter, as they will not be feeding. Butterflies have to reach a certain temperature threshold before they are capable of flight, so if they fall from their winter roost in the trees, they have to climb up vegetation low to the ground and spend the rest of the winter there. In the spring, as it warms, the monarchs start moving down the mountain and finding mates, beginning their migration north by the second week of march. These monarchs will not make it back to Minnesota. They will first colonize the southern states, lay eggs and die off.  When these eggs hatch and eventually turn into butterflies, this generation will finish the migration of their parents, slowly spreading north back into Minnesota and beyond, arriving simultaneous to the milkweed plants of early summer.


Monarchs face many different dangers on their long travels, including death by cars like this butterfly.

Why haven't you seen more of this majestic insect? While I have seen quite a few caterpillars (which is promising), I could count the number of adults on both hands. The monarch populations have dropped drastically over the last few decades, mostly due to habitat loss. The monarchs need milkweed plants, which there are about 110 species of in the United States. But unfortunately the number of milkweed plants has decreased drastically throughout the years, due to clearing land for development, draining wetlands, and replacing natural prairies with mono crop systems. So what can you do? There are 14 species of milkweed in Minnesota, all are native, but many are threatened or even endangered. By leaving some milkweed plants in your yard you are providing crucial stop over areas and summer habitat for the monarch population. Not to mention you are attracting other pollinators to your yard to help your gardens! Some people don't like to have milkweed in their yard due to its prolific ability to reproduce, but many people feel that if the plant is spreading through your yard or gardens more than you care for, the young plants are easy enough to remove to avoid a takeover. So give it a try! If you don't have any milkweed in your yard, you could try collecting seeds from plants in the upcoming weeks and planting them in your yard, or you can order seeds from and for your region online.

Whatever you choose to do, get out and admire the beauty of the milkweed and the monarchs, as well as all of the other wildflowers and pollinators!



 You may also see these butterflies on your milkweed! This is a great spangled fritillary butterfly, found in the HDT gardens on 7/17/14.

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Central Minnesota is lousy with things to do during the summer. You can't turn around twice without running into an activity steeped in tradition and overflowing with the trappings of tourism and delicious delicious food trucks (I'm looking at you, mini donuts vendor!) And with these carnival fare set up so close to each other, it's only one small step from the chocolate covered bacon on a stick to the large hand squeezed lemonade stand and then to the funnel cake seller at the end of the row.

That's why there's usually an accompanying fun run or dash or run/walk/stroll to each festival. They're usually early in the morning before it gets too hot. They can be chip timed (if they're serious) or not (which they mostly aren't). But running is one of the most healthy things you can do. So, how else are you going to earn your all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast hosted by the local Legion post?

Here's a list of upcoming runs that will let you feel better about yourself as you get up for your 6th trip to the pancake line.

Crosslake Dam Run --> Crosslake, Chip Timed, 10 divisions, $25-$30 entry fee, 8am start

Tall Timber Days 5k --> Grand Rapids, 8 divisions, $23-$25 entry fee, 8am start

Walker Bay Days 5k --> Walker, 12 divisions, $15-$20 entry fee, 9am start

Railroad Days Dash --> Staples, 7 divisions, $25-$30 entry fee, individual or team registration, 8:30am start

Warrior River Run 5k --> Fort Ripley, $30-$35 entry fee, 9:15am start


Then you've got your runs that focus more on the experience of the race than the runner's high. Running by itself isn't as fun as it used to be, these coordinators thought. They believed that something needed to be done to the race to make it "a memory you'll hold onto your whole lifetime." They're usually meant to be an ordeal and they pride themselves on it. Check out these runs that will push you to the limit.

Paul Bunyan Extreme 5k --> Brainerd

MLB All-Star Game Color Run --> Minneapolis

Tough Mudder --> Hudson, WI

The Zombie Run/Black Ops 5k --> Milville, MN


Regardless of which events you choose, it's important to keep your energy level high. Ellen B. from the HDT kitchen has let me snoop into her recipe book to share her healthy energy bites (which really are healthy and give you that boost you need.)

Ellen's No-Bake Energy Bites


  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (or any nut butter)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 cup coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla


  • Mix all the ingredients together
  • Refrigerate it for a while in order to make the mix firmer and easier to work with
  • Make small balls, bite size, from the mix. Refrigerate
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