Erika and I discovered a "new" place in Rice County: the Valley Grove Church and Prairie. The church is just north of Big Woods State Park, on the highest elevation of land (about 1200 feet above sea level) between Minneapolis and Chicago. The Valley Grove Preservation Society acquired the church and began returning the surrounding acreage from farmland to native prairie. The church was built in 1894; it was decommissioned in 1973. The Burr Oak on the right side of the photo above is at least 200 years old.
Historically Rice County contained a dynamic mosaic of woodland and prairie. When Nicollet passed through the county in 1838, land south and east of the Cannon River was prairie; north and west was woodland (opposite of what you might predict). The Cannon River Valley, once a gigantic glacial drainage, lies in the far distance in the photograph above. Today the restored prairie and adjacent woodlands are definitely worth exploring.At a monthly meeting of the Northfield Garden Club, Erika and I attended a talk on prairie invasive plants. Invasive plants are non-indigenous species that replace native vegetation (weeds are simply unwanted plants in disturbed or cultivated areas). Reestablishing a prairie means battling invasive plants.
Two of these invasive plants are photographed here--the yellow Bird's-Foot Trefoil and the white Queen Anne's Lace. The trefoil is native to Eurasia and North Africa. It is grown as a forage plant, but can replace native species, especially in Australia and North America. Trefoil's cyanogenic glysoides can be poisonous to humans. (The species is common along Northfield streets, so caution with young flower collectors is advised.)
Queen Anne's Lace, native to Europe and Asia, is also known as Wild Carrot. Garden Carrots are derived from Queen Anne's Lace. It is a pest, taking over pastures and prairies. Apparently eating wild carrot seeds interferes with progesterone synthesis--thus the plant had a folk use for birth control. Crushed seeds prevent egg implantation in laboratory mice. Handling the plant can also cause skin sensitivity to sunlight. All of these amazing plant facts must be correct, because I read them in Wikipedia!