Natural North Dakota

Saturday and Sunday at 8:35 am CT
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Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota" and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers. Lura has been a biology professor at Dakota College at Bottineau since 1984, and he publishes research on ecological aspects of grasslands in the northern Great Plains.

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

Blue-Green Algae

Aug 14, 2018

Blue-green algae have been in the news recently.  Blooms of the algae have led the North Dakota Department of Health to issue public health warnings for several lakes across the state.  

There are several types of algae that are common in our marshes, lakes, rivers, and streams. They are important to the food chains in these bodies of water, and serve as little aerators, by releasing oxygen into the water as a byproduct of photosynthesis.  Most of the time we don’t even notice them, but if conditions are right, their populations may erupt, causing an algae bloom.  These blooms may be unsightly and perhaps a nuisance, but with the exception of blue-green algae, generally do not pose a health risk.  


Aug 3, 2018

What you and I know as blanketflower or gaillardia was unknown to science when Meriwether Lewis collected a specimen near what is now known as Lewis and Clark Pass in Montana, July 6, 1806.  It was later described by Frederick Pursh and named Gaillardia aristata after French botanist Gaillard de Marentonneau.  Blanketflower or gaillardia are the most commonly used names for this plant today, but it is also known as brown-eyed Susan because the flowers are said to resemble those of black-eyed Susan, but red-eyed Susan would be more accurate.

American Goldfinch

Jul 28, 2018

I have been enjoying watching the goldfinches at our nyjer feeder as well gracing the fields and meadows of the Turtle Mountain area recently. They are always a treat to watch. 

Noted ornithologist, naturalist, and bird guide author Roger Tory Peterson must have had a soft spot for goldfinches when he described them by saying “The responsibilities of life seem to rest lightly on the Goldfinch’s sunny shoulders.” 


Jul 19, 2018

I received a text from a friend recently wondering if some mushrooms could be a type of morel.  They were not morels, they were stinkhorn, and there is a good reason for that common name!

Stinkhorns are club fungi, in the Order Phallales and Family Phallaceae.  One of the genera is Phallus.  So no doubt about the phallic form of this group of mushrooms.  

Stinkhorns have been variously described from fascinating to bizarre to disgusting.   There are around seventy to eighty species globally.  And within their range, these mushrooms seem to seemingly pop up out of nowhere, anytime and anywhere.  They really are quite unpredictable. 

Swamp Ragwort

Jul 19, 2018

Some of you have no doubt noticed some large patches of yellow flowering plants around the margins of some cattail sloughs and similar wet habitats this summer.  That is swamp ragwort, also known as marsh ragwort, northern swamp groundsel, marsh fleabane, or, get this, mastodon flower.   It is a member of the aster family and is known to botanists as Senecio congestus, and more recently Tephroseris palustris.

Sand and Gravel Pits

Jul 19, 2018

We have all heard it.  “There are two seasons in North Dakota, winter and road construction.”   Of course, that is a tongue in cheek proclamation.  But however you define the road construction season, one thing is certain, gravel and sand pits are going to be busy places.  Many of us see this activity, but I suspect that few of us have given much thought as to how these sand and gravel pits were formed. 


Most all North Dakotans are familiar with the flickertail or Richardson’s ground squirrel.  They are quite common over most areas of the state north and east of the Missouri River. And of course, North Dakota is occasionally referred to as the “Flickertail State.”

Scarlet Globemallow

Jun 19, 2018
Chuck Lura

One of my favorite wildflowers on the prairie is scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea).  It is also known as red false mallow and another common name, but more on that later. Its flowering period in North Dakota runs roughly from June through the first half of July.

Prairie Coneflower

Jun 14, 2018
Chuck Lura

One of the most widely recognized prairie wildflowers is the prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera).  Also known as long-headed coneflower and upright prairie coneflower, the species ranges over prairies from Canada to Mexico, particularly on well drained soils.  If it is not in flower in your area now, it will be soon.  The flowering period generally runs from June through August here in North Dakota. 


Jun 14, 2018

Perhaps like me, you are getting comfortable with warm summer nights.  And if the sky is clear and the mosquitoes tolerable, one of the advantages of those warm nights is being able to observe the constellations and other sky objects in relative comfort.