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Many Minnesota lakes are considered warm-water lakes, so their surface temperatures can be expected to rise to 80 degrees or warmer during the last week of July and into early August. That can make for some great swimming, kayaking and canoeing.

Joe-Pye weed, boneset and blue vervain bloom nicely in wetlands. Wild rice is blooming in shallow water areas of central and northern lakes. By early autumn the grains of rice will be ripe. Mallards and wood ducks have begun flying again after their molt.

Both great and common ragweeds begin to shed pollen this time of year. Early season apples such as Quinte and Lodi are ready for picking. Watermelons, muskmelons and other garden melons have ripened. Mourning glories, "glads" and giant sunflowers bloom in gardens. Farmers continue the harvest of small grains. Wild serviceberries, blueberries, pin cherries, and red raspberries are ripe in northern Minnesota, and make good snacks for hikers and campers.

Wild chokecherry fruit is ripe and is popular for jelly-making, and is an important food for wildlife such as black bears, gray foxes, chipmunks, cedar waxwings, and American robins. A large shrub or small understory tree, chokecherry grows 15 to 25 feet tall, often forming thickets on stream banks and along fencerows, and on the edges of forests and fields. Dense clusters of white flowers are followed by clusters of green fruit ripening to red and finally to a purple-black hue. The name comes from the taste of the fruit, which I have eaten numerous times. Its natural range includes most of Canada and the United States and into northern Mexico. It is found in every Minnesota county.

Most parts of the chokecherry shrub are toxic to humans and livestock. Digesting of chokecherry seeds, leaves, twigs, and bark by enzymes in the stomach releases cyanide. The fleshy portion of the choke-cherry fruit is not poisonous and can be safely eaten, although it's extremely tart. Cooking the fruit with the pits (seeds) in will rid it of the toxic cyanide. The fruit was a staple for numerous Native American groups across the continent. They would dry the fruit and then pound it into powder, or simply grind it all, pit stones and all, and then dry it in the sun in the form of small cakes that could be stored for later use. A sauce was made by adding water. In dry form, it was mixed at times with dried meat to form pemmican. The process of grinding and drying seems to have leached out the cyanic acid.

Also, the chokecherries make an unusual tasting and invigorating hot weather drink. Just mash the fresh-picked clusters of fruit, drain the juice and add water and sugar.

Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.