24 June 2011

A Minnesota Cedar Swamp

On a recent work trip to Superior, Wisconsin, our group of monitoring biologists made a brief trip to Carlton County, Minnesota to check out the flora in a rich conifer swamp dominated by Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis). These groundwater-influenced wetland communities are often known as cedar swamps.

I was excited to find a club moss that I'd never seen that generally has a more northern distribution (with populations ranging south into the Appalachians in eastern North America and into New Mexico in western North America). Stiff Clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum), shown below, grows in coniferous forests and in exposed rocky areas.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis, below) is also a species of northern North America that extends south in higher elevations in the western United States into Arizona. Like the inflorescences of the related Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), the widespread small tree of the eastern United States, the four large white "floral" structures are actually bracts, or modified leaves, not petals. The flowers are the small white structures clustered above the bracts.

A boreal lily species of eastern North America that is common in the northwoods is Bluebead (Clintonia borealis), shown below. The crushed leaves of this species emit an odor that smells like cucumbers.

Yet another boreal species that we saw at the Carlton County Cedar Swamp was Goldthread (Coptis trifolia), shown below. Named for its threadlike yellow roots, Goldthread grows in mixed and coniferous forests, bogs, and on tundra.

One of the most interesting aspects of Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum, below) is the dense reddish-orange tangled pubescence on the undersides of the revolute-margined leaves. The flowers aren't half bad to look at, either. This shrub is found in boggy areas in Canada and only the northernmost parts of the United States. Some botanists now consider this species to be in the genus Rhododendron.

Naked Mitrewort (Mitella nuda) gets its common name and specific epithet from its naked (usually lacking leaves) stem. With a distribution that barely reaches into the northern United States, this is a boreal species of forests, swamps, and bogs. Shown below, the flowers of this species remind me of snowflakes.

One of two orchid species that we saw in the cedar swamp was Moccasin Flower (Cypripedium acaule), another plant with a leafless stem. This species of eastern North America, shown below, grows in acidic soils in forests, woodlands, and bogs.

The only places I have seen Yellow Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida), shown below, are in Superior, Wisconsin and in this Minnesota cedar swamp. In addition to the northern parts of the eastern United States, this small partially parasitic orchid also grows in montane regions of the western Unitied States, as well as throughout Canada. It can be found in forests and swamps.

I look forward to my return trip to the northwoods in August to see what other boreal delights we can find.


A.L. Gibson said...

Great post, Scott! I just got back from the Bruce peninsula ad saw a ton of amazing and rare northern flora, many of the same species! Loved the pics! I saw corallorhiza trifida too but your pic turned out much more incredible than mine!

Scott Namestnik said...

Thanks Andrew. I got lucky with the photo of Corallorhiza trifida.

Hope your year is going well.

Heather@RestoringTheLandscape.com said...

Great post Scott. Now I have no excuse to get up that way since it's not too far.

Scott Namestnik said...

Thanks Heather. Some good sedges there as well, including Carex disperma, Carex intumescens, Carex leptalea, Carex leptonervia, and Carex vaginata. Enjoy!