Wild Cranberries

Just the thought of these tart red berries makes my mouth water. These are fruits of small cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and not to be confused with the ones in the grocery stores, which are cultivars of large cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon). Both species grow in wet habitats with deep peat soils. Vaccinium macrocarpon is only native to North America, but Vaccinium oxycoccos has a circumboreal distribution. Outside of North America, Vaccinium oxycoccos is cultivated to some extent.

I’ve found small cranberry in intermediate fens, poor fens, and raised bogs. They seem to fruit best in full sun. Sometimes they will make a few berries under the shade of tamaracks and black spruce. This group is growing in an open poor fen with lots of peat moss and cottongrass and no trees. There were thousands of berries to pick, but they were a little past their prime after a recent hard frost. I don’t know what wild animals and birds might feed on them. Perhaps ruffed grouse or bears do. I saw bear tracks in the fen and ruffed grouse along its edge in the low-growing shrubs, but no sign that the berries had been eaten.

A detour

On one of the days during my vacation last July I headed for Finland, Minnesota to follow the Heffelfinger Road. This would connect me with Cloquet Lake Road and from there to a little lake named Drake Lake. But as I left Finland there was a sign that said the road was closed ahead due to bridge reconstruction. I continued on a bit and saw the bridge was definitely not there anymore.

The day was still young so, I turned around and headed to Highway 11 where I knew of another way to get to Drake Lake albeit more difficult. This was the Beaver River Road and by following it north I would be able to connect to Heffelfinger Road and avoid construction. After a few miles, a sign appeared saying “road closed ahead”. Apparently another bridge was being repaired. But there was still one more way to get to Drake Lake.

This alternate route was Forest Road 102 which would connect me with Camp 26 Road where Drake lake was located. Forest Road 102 was a rough ride with many deep puddles straddling the road, ruts, and large rocks. I think my average speed was about 5 mph.

Finally, I got to Camp 26 Road. Nothing looked familiar. So much had changed since I was last there in 1995 including Forest Road 102 which was more like a two-rut road back then. Much of the forest had been cut down in the intervening years and there are now many gated driveways to hunting cabins. I never did find Drake Lake that day although I probably drove right by it. You can’t see it from the road as it is hidden by about 500 feet of dense forest.

Drake Lake is one of many small lakes in northern Minnesota gradually turning into a peatland, a centuries-long process. The water is dark brown like strong coffee from tannic acids leaching from deposits of peat. Surrounding Drake Lake is a floating fen thick with sphagnum and stunted leatherleaf shrubs. On the north side of the lake is a white cedar forest.

Patches of pogonia, clubspur, and dragonhead orchids, beaked rushes, yellow-eyed grass, and bladderwort plants grow on the floating peat mat. When in bloom these decorate the floating mat with masses of pink, white, yellow, and rusty brown flowers. I’ll be back there next year and hopefully, the bridges will be repaired by then. If not I’ll take Forest Road 102 again.

I did find other interesting spots along the road. One of these was a long patch of spreading dogbane with dozens of butterflies nectaring on the sweet flowers. So I spent some time there trying out a new camera lens. Above and below are a few of the species I was able to identify.

I went up a hill

A view of a mountain from the mountain on a section of the Superior Hiking Trail located north of Little Marias, Minnesota. I’d really like to get to that other mountain sometime. It looks interesting.

Or maybe a mountain. Hard to say but there was at least one point where the elevation above the surrounding terrain was just a little bit above 1,000 feet or 1,613 feet above sea level and so 1,010 feet above Lake Superior if Google Earth is to be believed. I don’t even know if this hill or mountain is named. I’m sure that somewhere it is on a map with a name. This mountain is on a part of the Superior Hiking Trail, a 310-mile long trail that stretches from the Minnesota-Wisconsin border southwest of Duluth to the US-Canada border in northern Minnesota. This trail section is known as Section 13.

I’d been planning this day hike for several weeks intending to get to that other mountain in the above photo. Google Earth showed a spur from the main trail going to it. So early one morning in July I parked my vehicle in the trailhead lot and began my ascent. I got as far as the top of the mountain that day but turned back since my plans were only to do a little reconnaissance and get a feel for what this place was like. The next day I came back and continued past my first stop.

This is where I made my first stop. It’s a long way down. The rocks are almost entirely anorthosite which is a very hard plagioclase feldspar. The hardness of this rock resisted glacial scouring better than the relatively softer rocks overlaying it resulting in a series of peaks known as the Sawtooth Mountains because of their sharp profiles.

The climb is very steep in most places but doable in ordinary hiking boots. I got to where I made my first stop the day before and took a short break for some lunch and water. Then I continued on towards Camp 13 and then beyond it to where the trail descended into a deep gorge. According to the map near the bottom of the trail in the gorge is a spur that loops around the other mountain. Well, I looked for it as I hiked along the trail but never saw it. Maybe the map is wrong? I think so. The rest of the trail followed pretty much where the map said it would. When it opened up onto an expansive marsh crossed by a rickety footbridge I figured it was time to turn back. Besides, I had homemade pizza and some cold IPA back at the national forest campsite where I was staying and felt I could really use those. And there was that sci-fi book I was working my way through, too.

So, I didn’t get to the other mountain that day. I’ll give it try next year. In any event, I had an interesting and pleasant two days time trekking up and down the hill (or is it a mountain?), saw fantastic scenery, and found some interesting insect and plant life, too.

Above are few examples of plants and insects found in a small marshy woodland vernal pool just off the trail. The clustered bur-reed (Sparganium glomeratum) is an odd bur-reed that often grows in woodland vernal pools rather than lakeshores and rivers.

In the gorge I found several caves that had formed when huge fallen boulders had crashed upon each other. Some were almost big enough to stand in.

And I found insects, too. All of these were on one big-leaf aster flower. There are two moths (Scythris? and Landryia?), a bug (Plagiognathus obscurus), and a bee (Family Halictidae).

And, finally this plant, Actaea rubra (red baneberry) but with white instead of the usual red berries. It was common along the trail.

A Moth Among the Ferns

Northern Petrophora (Petrophora subaequaria)


I was out taking a walk Sunday afternoon and saw many different small moths flying out from hiding in the grass and blueberry bushes. Most were too small and fast to get a good look at them. The one shown above flew and ducked under some grass blades just long enough for me to get a few snapshots before it took off. Later I went out again and saw dozens of them in a forest clearing full of bracken fern. The species is Northern Petrophora (Petrophora subaequaria, Family Geometridae) and its larvae feed only on ferns with bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) apparently the principle host plant. Photos at Bug Guide show the larvae on fronds of Osmunda fern.


Some brief information on Northern Petrophora (Petrophora subaequaria)

Superfamily Geometroidea (Geometrid and Swallowtail Moths)
Family Geometridae (Geometrid Moths)
Subfamily Ennominae
Tribe Lithinini
Genus/species Petrophora subaequaria

Wing span to 19 mm, speckled tan forewings with yellowish veins, antemedial and postmedial lines white edged and parallel. There is a small black dot in the center of the wings.

Life cycle
As with many moths not directly injurious to crops and forestry there is little information on the life history of Northern Petrophora. With so many adult moths appearing now in my bracken field it seems that mating and egg laying occur in the spring.

Northern Petrophora occurs in North America from New Brunswick to Alberta, along the Great Lakes east to New England, and then south sporadically along the Appalachians to North Carolina.



Beadle, D. and Leckie, S. (2012). Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston. 640 pages.

Voss, Edward G. (1991) “Moths of the Douglas Lake Region (Emmet and Cheboygan Counties), Michigan: IV. Geometridae (Lepidoptera),” The Great Lakes Entomologist: Vol. 24 : No. 3 , Article 11. Available at: http://scholar.valpo.edu/tgle/vol24/iss3/11

Species accounts at Bug Guide, Moth Photographers Group, HOSTS,