Flora and fauna
- Itasca is known nationally for its old-growth red and white pines, some of which are well over 200 years old. Deciduous hardwoods, such as oak, maple, and basswood, are intermixed with pine trees.
- Tamarack or larch trees are a very common “evergreen” species; however, these trees are different from their evergreen cousins because they are actually deciduous and lose their needle-like leaves in the fall.
- Wildflowers from three biomes are abundant. There are 28 species of orchids at Itasca, including the ram’s head lady slipper, which is among the rarest orchids in North America.
- The showy lady’s slipper, Minnesota’s state flower, is very common. Large clusters are estimated to be more than 100 years old.
- Horsetail, a primitive plant that appeared during the Carboniferous era (358 million years ago), is also common at Itasca.
- Edible plants and mushrooms abound at Itasca, including fiddleheads, morels, oyster mushrooms, blueberries, wild asparagus, red and black raspberries, serviceberries, hazelnuts, rose hips for tea, and chokecherries for jelly and flavorings.
- A fringe of wild rice grows around most of Itasca’s shoreline. Wild rice (Mahnomen) is a traditional food of Native Americans. Lake Itasca rice may only be harvested by Native Americans for religious purposes.
- Fifty-two species of mammals, 18 species of amphibians and reptiles, 49 species of fish, and more than 170 species of birds make seasonal or year-round homes in Itasca’s pristine habitats.
- Some familiar species include loons, herons, owls, eagles, ospreys, pileated woodpeckers, beavers, coyotes, porcupines, and foxes.
- Trappers nearly eliminated Itasca’s beaver population by 1901. Minnesota governor John Lind had four beavers shipped from Canada to repopulate Itasca. By 1921, nearly 1,000 beavers lived in the park. They continue to thrive today.
- Itasca’s old-growth forests support the pileated woodpecker. This woodpecker, the largest in North America, feeds on ants that live in old-growth trees where the woodpeckers make their nests.
- The mink frog is another unusual Itasca species. It makes a distinctive low-pitched TONK-tonk-tonk sound and, when handled, gives off a musky onion smell as a defense against predators.