High Summer Days Bring People To Superior’s Shore

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Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives here in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology, or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.
 
Anderson: Hi, Jay.
 
Well, Chel, during these high summer days lots of people are drawn to the Lake Superior shore. What will they see when they get there?
 
Anderson: Oh, splendor. Splendor. Lake Superior splendor. They will be delighted, I’m sure by whatever they see there, but there are a few things we can highlight. First off, the Lake Superior shore is a very unique environment to our landscape. We can see some things there that we don’t see further inland. In the plant world, one of those things is called the Ninebark shrub. So, this is a woody plant, might get up to waist-high if you’re out walking along the bedrock shore, it might get up to waist-high. This time of year it may have beautiful sprays of snow-white flowers, so very showy, three-pointed leaves. If there a little past bloom, then they’ll be starting to develop pink fruits. So, both during their bloom and after blooming, they’re very colorful, and very common along the shore, but you won’t see these at all inland. Another common plant that people may or may not be familiar with is the harebell, and of course this is one of the kind of darlings of both the Lake Superior shore and you can also see this on cliff communities in the inland forest, but far more common right down along the Lake Superior shore, very beautiful, blue bells that dangle out over the water and kind of bounce around in the wind. They are a real beautiful plant of the shore. Other specialties that show up here and there along the shore would be Wood lilies. These are beautiful, upright, trumpet-shaped, orange lilies, quite dramatic, and they’re not as common as the other plants I’ve mentioned, but here and there, they show up. So, if you’re fortunate enough to happen to get to the right place and have your eyes open, you’ll be treated with these beautiful orange trumpets. Also, you can see some small plants that are very interesting. There are sundews that grow in a number of places right along the shore. We tend to think of sundews as an inland plant of our wetlands, open wetlands. They are a little, carnivorous, insectivorous plant, but they are found along the shore and have these beautiful, glossy, red hairs growing over their little kind of spatula-shaped leaves, and little rosettes close to the ground. If it’s not too late by the time you get out there to look, they may have nice wands of tiny, white flowers that are extending up from those basal rosettes of what, at more of a distance, look like red leaves. And also, we can see all throughout the summer the butterworts, which are another insectivorous plant, strictly of the Lake Superior shore. Those won’t be found inland at all, just on the bedrock shore.
 
Isn’t there a natural area down on 61 called Butterwort Cliffs?
 
Anderson: Exactly. Yeah. The scientific and natural area that is down kind of at the east end of Cascade State Park is called Butterwort Cliffs Scientific and Natural Area, and one of the reasons that that was designated as a scientific and natural area is because of the quality of the native plant community and shoreline community there, including the presence of the butterwort species which is a special-concern species in Minnesota, again restricted strictly to the bedrock shore. That’s pretty easy to recognize, even though it’s on the small-side, maybe two inches across at the most in terms of these basal rosettes, but they look like, I think, bright-green, kind of chartreuse-green starfish. It’s a wonderful time to be down by the lake and enjoying these balmy days and just to relish the beauty and the uniqueness of that particular part of our landscape.
 
Well, if you’re down by the lake and it’s in the evening, what should we look for in the sky?
 
Anderson: Yeah, the evening. Well, as July comes to a close, the evening stars, Mars, Venus and Saturn--which of course are planets—they are in this interesting configuration. They are going up from the western horizon towards the west-southwest, so starting in the west and going to the west-southwest, and they are forming this line about a 40-degree line, 40 degrees from the horizon. As the month comes to a close, and then as we move into August, they’re going to get tighter and tighter and eventually they’re going to form, by the end of July, a triangle that’s very distinctive, easy to see, only like seven and half degrees wide, so they’ll be very close together and getting even closer in August. So, it’s a good time to pick those out, start watching them whenever we have a clear night, and looking to see how they eventually come into a nice, kind of tight knot.
 
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist, thanks for helping us understand what’s going on, particularly down by the shore.
 
Anderson: My pleasure.

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