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Phenology Report, August 30 2022

15-30 small, single-stemmed clubmosses stick out from a blurry green background. They have thin stalks with small, green leaflike structures coming out perpendicular to the stem. The tops of the stalks have an elongated scaly structure that looks like a green pinecone.
Bristly clubmoss

It's time for the last phenology report of August! John begins by summarizing the berries he sampled over the last week.

He started with a chokecherry, which he describes as initially sweet with an astringent aftertaste (it leaves a dry, waxy feeling in the mouth). The chokecherries are fully ripe in the Grand Rapids area, and John describes them as a "pretty decent berry." His neighbor, Marv, crushed a number of them and combined the juice with gin and sparkling water: pretty good, apparently! Next, he sampled the black chokeberry, which tasted similar to the chokecherry. He took a handful of varietal blueberries growing in his backyard to clear his palate, then found a lone ripe raspberry! He believes it'll be the final one of the season, and it was everything he hoped it would be. The northern gooseberry, which can be distinguished from other gooseberries by its lack of thorns, presented itself next. John would have happily eaten more if they were available! Next, he tried the bunchberry. These red berries are found on small, 5-6 inch tall dogwood plants and taste "kind of pasty and not overly sweet." He'd eat them if he were ravenous, but not for pleasure!

Finally, he found the northern holly, also known as the winterberry. These berries were far from ripe, with just a hint of a blush on their green skins. John had absolutely no interest in sampling them since he tried one last October, and he reported (on-air) that it tasted like earwax! This observation garnered a lot of feedback from his listeners, who wondered how he would know. John says, "Did you wear mittens as a child? How was it possible for you not to have tasted earwax?" If you are one of those lucky people who have never gotten an accidental taste, earwax is very bitter. Avoid it!

There were a few other berries John won't eat. Mountain ash berries are bright orange but not quite ripe. The birds aren't eating them, and John knows better than to try them! Woodbine has dark blue berries, but John isn't touching them either. Finally, the bluebead lily has 2-3 bright blue berries perched on a 10-12 inch stalk. If you make the mistake of trying one, you won't be coming back for seconds! It won't kill you, but it has some nasty chemistry that'll make you regret putting it in your mouth.

While he was out eating berries (and passing on some), John also made a list of the plants he saw in flower. Here it is:

Common ragweed: Though often blamed for spring allergies, ragweed actually blooms this time of year! Buckle up and get your Benadryl if you know you're allergic.

Stiff goldenrod: About 50% of the flowers are done and beginning to set seed.

Gray goldenrod: About 50% of the flowers are done and beginning to set seed.

Early goldenrod: Setting seed

Canada goldenrod: Ending its flowering period

Giant goldenrod: Blooming

Common tansy: Blooming

Large-leaved aster: Blooming

Flat-topped aster: Blooming

Heath Aster: Blooming

Western-lined aster: Blooming

Eastern lined aster: Blooming

Calico aster: Blooming

Purple-stemmed aster: Blooming

Panicled aster: Blooming

At this point, John notes that it's a great time to practice your wildflower identification skills! Get out there with a field guide (or download the Minnesota Wildflowers app), and play around with the asters. John likens it to solving a puzzle. Does the stem have any hairs on it? If so, does it have hairs in rows, or are they uniformly distributed on the stem? Does the leaf have hair? Where? Does the leaf clasp the stem, or does it have a petiole? The questions are endless, and detective work can be fun as you identify the species.

Fireweed: Begun to go to seed

In the forests:

Downy rattlesnake plantain: This is a lovely little orchid with beautiful leaves at ground level. A foot-tall stalk shoots up from the basal leaves, with dozens of tiny white orchid flowers. Look for them in the pine woods with sandy soils: the stalks be the thickness of your thumb and covered in white flowers. Looking down the plant, you'll find the basal leaves (you may have to scrape away pine needles to see them clearly). They are dark green and heavily reticulated, with white lines outlining the veins.

Speckled alder: These shrubs have just begun to set their catkins for next year. About half an inch long and green now, they will fade to a dark purple-brown over time and stay on the plant through winter. Next April, they'll begin to stretch out and produce pollen.

Black ash: This tree is beginning to turn yellow.

White spruce: Look at the top half of the tree: they're heavily laden with cones this year! The cones are beginning to turn brown and open up to disperse their seeds.

Roses: Rose hips are getting quite red.

Jack in the pulpit: These berries are turning quite red!

Interrupted ferns: turning yellow-green

Next, he introduces us to a little forest plant called bristly clubmoss. It forms a tall (as clubmosses are concerned) structure called a sporophyte that looks like a tiny pine tree or a little skyscraper! The spores form on the top of this tall structure. The bristly clubmoss has a single-stemmed sporophyte, while the running clubmoss may have three or four sporophytes atop a single stem. In 3-4 weeks, the spores will be ripe and ready to disperse. If you hold a lighter by the sporophyte and flick the plant with a finger, you'll see quite a flash! The spores are quite flammable when aerosolized.

John ends with a note on the stars. Those of you who are up early may be noticing Orion in the southeastern skies. Look for the prominent 'belt' of three stars around five AM. Orion will be visible from now until March or April when the constellation disappears into the daytime sky.

See something noteworthy? We would love to hear from you! Get in touch with me (smitchell@kaxe.org) or John (jlatimer@kaxe.org), or text 'phenology' to 218-326-1234.

For more phenology content, subscribe to our Season Watch newsletter!

As a mail carrier in rural Grand Rapids, Minn., for 35 years, John Latimer put his own stamp on a career that delivered more than letters. Indeed, while driving the hundred-mile round-trip daily route, he passed the time by observing and recording seasonal changes in nature, learning everything he could about the area’s weather, plants and animals, and becoming the go-to guy who could answer customers’ questions about what they were seeing in the environment.
Heidi Holtan has worked at KAXE/KBXE for over 20 years. She currently helms the Morning Show as News and Public Affairs Director. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North. In 2018 Heidi received the “Building Bridges in Media” award from the Islamic Resource Group for her work on KAXE/KBXE hosting conversations about anti-Muslim movements in rural Minnesota.
Sarah Mitchell (she/they) joined the KAXE team in February of 2022. Sarah creates the Season Watch Newsletter, writes segment summaries for the website, and coordinates our Engaging Minnesotans with Phenology project. With a background in wildlife biology, Sarah enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, aquatic invertebrates, or the short-tailed shrew (did you know they can echolocate?).