More to Explore

March 24, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

When we were asked to do an article for Explore Minnesota about where to see wildflowers around the state, we were excited to share some of our favorite places and flowers. As we worked on the article, we realized we have so many favorites that we wanted to share a few more places and flower faces with fellow and future wildflower searchers. 


Nerstrand Big Woods State Park near Northfield, Minnesota, is a must-visit for us each spring.  Dwarf trout lilies, known in only three counties in Minnesota and nowhere else in the world, grow in the park. When the dwarf trout lilies bloom, a park naturalist is usually available to point out these rare, tiny flowers. Look, too, for Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, white trout lily, Canadian wild ginger, Virginia spring beauty—a wealth of early woodland wildflowers, and a waterfall along the trail to boot.

Flowers don’t stop at borders, so we don’t always either.  Once the prairie begins to bloom we slip across the border to visit Hayden Prairie near Lime Springs, Iowa.  As the season unfolds we’re dazzled by displays of prairie shooting star (listed as endangered in Minnesota where it is found in only one known remaining location), plains wild indigo, prairie coreopsis, wood lily, swamp milkweed, and prairie milkweed. 

As spring blossoms, we cross another border where at Perrot State Park near Trempealeau, Wisconsin, a spectacular explosion of jeweled shooting star covers the hillside, visible from the road as well as from trails.


To spot one of the season’s very first wildflowers, look along the boardwalk below Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis where skunk cabbage can generate enough heat to melt its way up out of the snow and delight us with the promise that the wildflower season is beginning.

Not far from Minneapolis, Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area is another woodsful of springtime flowers.  Look for bloodroot, Jack-in-the-pulpit, large-flowered bellwort, sessile-leaf bellwort, nodding trillium, red columbine, and rue-anemone under the lacy new leaves of tall trees.

Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage, Minnesota, is a good place to see hillsides of lovely  blue lupines, the ones that are native to Minnesota.  (The larger lupines along the north shore, although beautiful, are, sadly, not native to the state.)

For more showy orchis than we’ve ever seen, go to French Regional Park in Plymouth, Minnesota. In mid-May a hillside along the trail is covered with one of our state’s earliest orchids.

Near Saint Cloud, Minnesota, visit Quarry Park and Nature Preserve to see scarlet paintbrush, prairie blue-eyed grass, and other blooms in the prairie section of the park.  Trails among the massive rocks and old quarry pits (two quarries are designated for swimming) offer a chance to see spring woodland wildflowers such as Canada mayflower and wild geranium. On sunny rock outcrops look, too, for brittle prickly pear, one of our state’s three native cacti. If you are very lucky, as we were on one visit, you might even see great horned owlets on a rocky cliff, waiting for their momma to bring them a meal.


Any of the state parks along the north shore of Lake Superior are splendid places to see woodland wildflowers, including rose twisted-stalk, bunchberry, and wild sarsaparilla.

At Artist’s Point by Grand Marais, Minnesota, and almost anywhere along Lake Superior’s rocky shore, look for hardy little plants such as harebell, shrubby cinquefoil, and upland white goldenrod. The Grand Marais breakwater is also a good place to search for bird’s-eye primrose and common butterwort, arctic relicts that are rare in Minnesota, although common much farther north. (Based on personal experience, we recommend waiting at least until the ice is off the breakwater.)


We love bogs no matter where we find them, and Savanna Portage State Park near McGregor, Minnesota, has a great bog boardwalk leading to a small lake.  From the boardwalk look for buckbean, bog laurel, bog rosemary, three-leaved false Solomon’s seal, Labrador tea, and naked miterwort along with purple pitcher plant and other bog dwellers.  You might even spy some of the orchids that love peat bogs.

At Seven Sisters Prairie, a Nature Conservancy site near Alexandria, Minnesota, a path up the gravel prairie climbs almost 200 feet, offering a 360 degree view of prairie, hills, sky, and Lake Christina, an important stopping place for migrating waterfowl. As you climb, you’ll pass purple prairie clover, Canada milkvetch, whorled milkweed, leadplant, bergamot, and a richness of other prairie flowers.  (If you find yourself, as we did, suddenly losing the trail in a patch of sumac, turn back and retrace your steps or you will find yourself bushwhacking your way back down the hill through head-high sumac bushes. We know.  We should have turned back. We didn’t.)


Among all the trails in Itasca State Park, located near Park Rapids, Minnesota, be sure to check out the Schoolcraft Trail which begins near the headwaters of the Mississippi. Here you might see wood anemone, bluebead lily, starflower, large yellow lady’s-slipper, and even the pale white stems of ghost pipe.

Frenchman’s Bluff Scientific and Natural Area near Twin Valley in northwestern Minnesota is a dry hill prairie, splendid in the fall (which is the only time we’ve visited so far, but it’s on our list to see earlier in the summer this year).  Here you’ll find pasqueflowers in the spring, followed by blanketflower, prairie onion, rough blazing star, dotted blazing star, downy gentian, bottle gentian, and goldenrod.

From the first signs of skunk cabbage to the last goldenrods, asters, and drifting milkweed seeds, Minnesotans (and other folks) can travel the state or search close to home for our native wildflower treasures.  We wish you happy searching!

North to Churchill, Day Eleven

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

July 11, 2018

We are driving back to the Twin Cities today and plan a few stops at places to look for flowers.  The first is Seven Sisters Prairie near Ashby.  The hills rise above the rolling landscape, and we climb the path up the first hill as the temperature climbs toward a high of 90 degrees.  Along the hilltops the prairie wind whips the grasses and flowers, a welcome relief from the hot sun, and the landscape—lake, farm, woods—stretches around us 360 degrees. Along the path that winds over the hilltops we find purple prairie clover, white prairie clover, Canadian milk vetch, stiff goldenrod, thimbleweed, harebell, fleabane, side-oats grama, hairy grama whorled milkweed, lead plant, prairie milkweed, ground cherry, prairie turnip, wild rose, wild bergamot, pale spiked lobelia, hairy false goldenaster, yellow sundrops, and green milkweed.  Bumblebees buzz, and dragonflies flit among the flowers like electric blue darning needles.  We are clearly back in the Minnesota prairie.

Then we lose the path in sumac. Is this it, we wonder.  Or this?  Or this? When we finally make our way through sumac waist-high and higher, down hills, under trees, and alongside a marsh through buckthorn to where we left the car we are both drenched in sweat and decide that perhaps we will head on home after all.  The other places we had planned to stop are well within driving distance of the twin cities, and we will come back another day soon.  We also invent a new word (or at least we think we do): shrubwhack.  Harder than bushwhacking, not as difficult as treewhacking.

As we drive through Alexandria, Minnesota, we spot Cherry Street Books, an independent bookstore, and stop for a quick look.  In the window we see our book Searching for Minnesota Wildflowers.  At our first stop on the way north at Mille Lacs State Park we also saw our book in the hands of a naturalist.  It seems auspicious that our trip is bookended by book sightings—we are already talking about doing some sort of book about Churchill and the sub-arctic wildflowers we’ve seen.

Quietly contemplative—so much to let settle in from the incredible experience we’ve just had—we drive on home.

p.s. We don’t recommend shrubwhacking, but we do recommend the Northern Studies Centre in Churchill, Manitoba.  It really is the experience of a lifetime.


North to Churchill, Day Ten

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

July 10, 2018

Our last morning in Churchill, we awake to the endless light and our last views  out the window of sun over tundra and lakes.  We pack the bug shirts that have been essential to the trip, say our good-byes, head for the airport.  Walking across the tarmac to the plane we both tear up.

Our plane takes us nearly 300 miles farther north to Rankin Inlet before heading toward Winnipeg.  Out the plane window as we descend toward Rankin Inlet the water is patterned with patches of floating ice.  Not a tree in sight—we are above the tree line now, the farthest  north either of us has ever been.  During the layover we start to walk to the nearby town (no bear guard needed) but are captivated by a gravelly bit of ground where we can’t stop ourselves from identifying white mountain-avens, northern hedysarum, broad-leaved fireweed, alpine milk-vetch, lacerate dandelion, bog asphodel, cotton-grass, dry-ground cranberry, long-stalked stitchwort, mouse-eared chickweed, dwarf Labrador tea, flame-coloured lousewort, and one flower new to us, a beautiful little ball of tiny pink blossoms which we figure out from our book is thrift. We feel as though we have passed a final in our wildflower class.

I’ve been thinking about this class for ten years.  Learning about the loss of the tundra train to Churchill spurred me to come; we are worried about the future of a town with no access except plane and barge.  And we are so glad we came.  Churchill has changed us in ways we have yet to discover.

On the plane to Winnipeg we make a list of what we are grateful for:
Northern Studies Centre
Our amazing instructor Jackie, who endlessly pointed out flowers and answered our questions.
Our bear guard Evan, who kept us safe
Our program assistants Carrie and Beth
Everyone who makes the Centre work for researchers and learners like us
All the people who live and work in Churchill

What a gift.

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