When parents show up on campus it is a time to put your best foot forward so this Friday for parent’s weekend student naturalists put our Best Woods forward. Several parents spent a couple of hours this past beautiful Friday afternoon exploring the north-eastern edge of the Arb with us. There lies Best Woods. “Best” Woods are also Carleton’s oldest woods and the only remnant forest at Carleton. These woods are still relatively young woods, distinguished from older forests both by the size of trees and by the presence of a significant under story. In Carleton’s case this under story is primarily prickly ash. The upper story of Best Woods, on the other hand, is primarily made up of Oak and Walnut. The amount of Walnut is also indicative of how young the forest is, as Walnut is a tree less shade tolerant than those common in older northern forests such as Maple and Basswood.
Although Best Woods is a remnant forest, it is not as old as other such forests, like the one at Nerstrand State Park, because the area where the Arb is located was originally prairie. The Cannon River was a sort of dividing line between northern forests and the Midwestern prairies. Best Woods probably migrated across the river when human population of the area decreased fire frequency making it possible for forest seeds to germinate.
Despite its youth Best Woods is home to many wonderful things. If you are lucky at this time of year you can catch a yellow and black striped garter snake as it makes its sinuous way into a limestone outcrop and eases into the underground warrens where it will spend many months close beside many others of its kind. The parents who were with us were treated to one such chance and while one might usually be embarrassed showing their parents garters we were not at all embarrassed to show parents garter snakes. We saw late blooming Tall Bell Flower which has a small purple flower, which opens out slightly more than the non-native Creeping Bell Flower; a common resident in the alleys of Minneapolis. Also growing in Best Woods to astonish and amaze is the Green Briar a plant that looks like something out of a fairy tale. A vine almost completely covered in long needle like thorns which would not be out of place guarding a sorcerer’s stronghold.
Although the Green Briar in Best Woods does not guard an enchanted castle or anything of the sort it does guard something just as magnificent and yet far more fragile and that is the forest itself. The forest is young, low on Maple and Basswood, and perhaps should not even be where it is yet none of this changes the importance of allowing it to grow into something that hints at the woods that used to cover the opposite bank of the Cannon.
This article brought to you by Mira Alecci and your student naturalists.