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Hummingbird loves, just won't leave Portage Lake

I've been learning a lot about the trees and shrubs in my driveway.

First, readers identified American hazelnuts for me, and I found out I'd been living in a hazel thicket and didn't even know it.

I then included in the column a photo of an odd, green "flower" I found growing on a shrub and asked for help identifying it.

This week help arrived in the form of an e-mail from Marilyn Peterson of Portage Lake, who told me she found a similar flower, or rosette, on top of a willow at the edge of the parking lot at Itasca Visitor's Center.

It turns out this rosette is a kind of gall that affects willows, and it's caused by a little midge.

This is all brand new for me. Here are some basics:

n According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, galls are "abnormal" growths on plants caused by a variety of organisms, including insects, bacteria, fungi and nematodes. They often appear as swellings and can be found on just about any part of the plant.

n Galls don't really threaten the health of a plant.

n For some reason, willows are particularly vulnerable to galls.

Marilyn said she could not identify the kind of willow she saw at Itasca, and I'm having trouble with mine, too. It has the characteristic long green leaves of a black willow, but the undersides of the leaves are whitish, so I don't know.

In any case, I find these willow roses beautiful, and to learn that they are a defect in the plant caused by an insect is fascinating to me. This little, irritating midge caused the willow to create something beautiful, sort of the way an oyster produces a pearl when it gets a bit of sand inside it.

However, one word really got my attention when I was reading about plant galls, and that was nematode. A nematode is a microscopic worm, and they live everywhere, including the soil.

But why did nematode get my attention? Read on.

Deformed frogs

The "Star Tribune" ran a story Sept. 24 about the increasing number of deformed frogs found in recent years in Minnesota. The story cited research done by scientists at the University of Colorado, who found that extra nitrogen and phosphorus in runoff are to blame. Here's how it works:

n The extra nitrogen and phosphorus in runoff makes for more algae in ponds and lakes, which is good for a certain kind of snail.

n This snail, in turn, eats a lot and reproduces a lot, so then there is an explosion of snails. And guess what lives inside the expanding population of snails? A little parasitic worm called a trematode -otherwise known as a fluke.

n These trematodes infect tadpoles and create cysts in the tadpoles' developing legs. In response to this irritation, tadpoles get those extra limbs we've all seen pictures of.

So, a nematode and a trematode are two different things, I know, but I think you can see what got triggered in my mind.

In a way, the deformed frogs have "frog galls." Except they aren't as pretty or as harmless as the willow roses.

Bird news

n At least one hummingbird was still hanging around Portage Lake this week. Helen Wettlaufer from the north side of Portage saw it Sept. 22, and Marilyn Peterson, who also lives on Portage, spotted a hummer drinking from her plants at 5:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 24. I don't know if it's the same bird, but it sounds like it might be.

n Folks at Long Lake spotted a green heron on a dock Sunday, Sept. 23. Earlier this month, Jack Brann spotted some green herons near Mud Lake. After seeing the herons, Jack contacted someone in the DNR, who informed him the birds are becoming more common in our state.

n Stan from Becida saw five magpies Tuesday, Sept. 25.

Thanks to all who wrote with news. When sending your reports, be sure to give your name and a little information on where you made your sighting. Send to

This column is brought to you by Park Ace Hardware.

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