Pembina! What does the word mean to you? There are several meanings for this corruption of a Chippewa term for the fruit of the plant most of us know as highbush cranberry. Some in our region, particularly Canadians and Native Americans prefer calling the plant pembina. By the way, the plant is not a cranberry; it is in the honeysuckle family.
The plant is quite common along the river that now bears its name. The Pembina River starts northeast of the Turtle Mountains and flows southeastward across southern Manitoba before dipping down into North Dakota northwest of Walhalla. It then continues eastward where it drains into the Red River in the northeast corner of the state at Pembina in Pembina County.
The ancient Pembina River formed near the end of the ice age when it carried large amounts of glacial meltwater from glacial Lake Souris into glacial Lake Agassiz. Many of you have heard of the Pembina Escarpment. It is the boundary between glacial Lake Agassiz and the Glaciated Plains to the west. Although the escarpment can be rather inconspicuous in some areas, it is quite prominent up here near the Canadian border. The ancient Pembina River carved a deep gorge in the Pembina Escarpment here. Today, the Pembina Gorge and associated “Pembina Hills” are one of the more unique and interesting areas of the state.
The Pembina Hills comprise a biologically rich area. It contains perhaps the most extensive forests remaining in state, largely dominated by bur oak and aspen with some pembina of course. Add an interspersion of grasslands, wetlands, and the Pembina River itself, and you have an area that supports a myriad of wildlife species including moose, elk, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, and snowshoe hare. The area is also home to about thirty of the states endangered plants.
The area is also rich in scenery and recreational opportunities. There are several tracts of public land here, including Tetrault Woods State Forest, and the J. V. Wessels and Pembina Hills Wildlife Management Areas. There are several thousand acres of public land here just waiting to be explored.
Go to the Pembina Hills and enjoy some of what nature has to offer. You might even want to consider a visit this fall when the leaves are changing color. But whatever the season, the Pembina Hills always put on an impressive show.
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.
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