The Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area displays a gorgeous array of wildflowers through the seasons. To see more photos contributed by visitors to the Barrens, see our Flickr and Instagram sites.
This list is not exhaustive by any means but these are the most common wildflowers, the ones you’ll notice the most through the spring, summer and fall, more or less in order of appearance:
Pasque flower (Anemone patens). This has a delicate, pale purple blossom that is the first to emerge in April or even March before all the snow is melted. It is low to the ground and can be hard to spot. A patch often blooms near the Forest Home School site on St. Croix Trail.
Photo by Dave Peters
Bird foot violet (Viola pedata). Blooms from April to June. This is a low spring bloomer growing just a few inches high with purple flowers an inch or so across. They have distinctive leaves with deep lobes up to one and a half inches long. Another common name is “Johnny Jump-up!”
Lupine (Lupinus perennis). Blooms in May and June. The Namekagon Barrens almost entirely lie north of where lupines grow. But there is one patch at the very southern boundary of the South Unit of the wildlife area that grows on a south-facing open slope. The blossoms grow in spikes of purple clusters. Lupines are the only host plants for the caterpillars of the endangered Karner Blue butterfly. These delicate little butterflies have been recorded not far south of the wildlife area but never in it.
Wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis). Blooms from May to June. This is a low and not very showy flower, but it has curved tubular flowers of pale yellow that are attractive in spring, often growing in clumps.
Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa). Blooms from May to July. These are the splashy pink-purple flowers prevalent especially in June. The flower is a half-inch to three-quarters inch across, and it grows on stalks less than two feet high.
Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens) and Hairy Puccoon (Lithospermum caroliniense). Hoary and hairy puccoon have bright yellow blossoms that stand out on the terrain from May to August. The plants grow six to 18 inches tall and are quite similar. The flower of the hairy puccoon is slightly larger (an inch across instead of a half-inch on the hoary) and the hairs on the hairy leaves are more bristly. Look closely along the stem to find a small, white, hard nutlet, a seed that gives the flower its Latin name. “Litho” for stone and “spermum” for seed.
Wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum), also called Prairie Lily. Blooms from June to August. This is the barrens showpiece in summer, a bright, deep-orange flower two and a half inches across with six big petals. They grow up to three feet tall, typically scattered about on the barrens rather than in big groups. Please do not dig or pick these flowers!
Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Blooms from June to August. These tall plants are typically alive with bees buzzing about, giving them the alternative name of “bee balm.” They have round clusters of purple flowers that look like a messy hairdo, and the plants stand up to four feet tall.
Blazing star (Liatris aspera). These spikes of purple clusters bloom from July to September. They are one to four feet high. The rough blazing star is the only version found on the barrens. To the unfamiliar eye, they can be confused with the invasive spotted knapweed.
Sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis) Blooms from July to September. The western sunflower is also known as the few-leaf sunflower and, indeed, it has few leaves on a long stem that can be two to five feet high. It’s not to be confused with the woodland sunflower, which looks similar but has leaves climbing all the way up the stem.
Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis and Solidago hispida). Gray and hairy goldenrods bloom in August and last into fall, giving the late summer a yellow glow on the barrens. They grow up to three feet high.
Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve and Symphyotrichum oolentangiense). Blooms from August to October. Several asters are found on the barrens, including the smooth blue aster and the azure aster. The former has smooth leaves, the latter has leaves that feel like sandpaper. They stand up to three or more feet tall and have many purple petals arranged in a disc radiating from a yellow center.
by Dave Peters