New England Violets and the Evolution of Species

Every spring, when the apples are flowering and the warblers are nesting, several thousand New England violets (Viola novae–angliae) bloom in northern Minnesota.  New England violet is strikingly beautiful, one of the so–called stemless blue violets, the largest subgroup of over 70 species of violets in eastern North America.  In the stemless violets, the leaves … Continue reading New England Violets and the Evolution of Species

The Ups and Downs of Wild Rice

Extreme population cycles are some of the most interesting aspects of life in the north. One year, a species may be quite sparse, and then a year or two later it is hard to avoid it. Charles Elton, who virtually founded modern population ecology with his study of vole, mice, hare, and lemming cycles in … Continue reading The Ups and Downs of Wild Rice

Cheaters in the soil: The ecology and evolution of Indian pipes

In early August this year, beneath the deep shade of old growth sugar maples, white pines, and northern red oaks in the teaching forest on my campus, Indian pipes were standing as translucently white as the finest candles. With their flowers nodding toward the forest floor, they looked like the clay pipes smoked by 17th century … Continue reading Cheaters in the soil: The ecology and evolution of Indian pipes

Petroglyphs on a Whaleback

I am in the Tweed Museum of Art on my campus, standing before a photograph by the Minnesota artist Vance Gellert, labeled Petroglyphs, Spirit Island, Nett Lake. Nett Lake is on the Bois Fort Reservation of the Lake Superior Ojibwe. Spirit Island is not the largest island in Nett Lake, but it is the most … Continue reading Petroglyphs on a Whaleback

A Beaver Pond in the Autumn Glory of the North Woods

There were plenty of chores to be done this fall – finish picking the last of the apples, harvesting the carrots, beets, and other root crops, transplanting wildflowers into the meadow and beneath the big spruces, extracting the honey from the beehive, and getting the firewood in. But the skies were bright blue, the temperatures … Continue reading A Beaver Pond in the Autumn Glory of the North Woods