Inescapable Colors

By Boak Wiesner

“Blazing in gold and quenching in purple” certainly described well the edges of the Ordway Prairie. Goldenrod, Sunflowers, and at least two shades of purple of New England Asters greeted me on maybe the last hot day of the year. Emily Dickinson sure knew her stuff.

The red leaves of a Pagoda Dogwood drew me in as their deep red offers such a contrast to the otherwise gold and purple. A closer look yielded an unexpected treasure: a small spider had spun its web in the dished area of the folded leaf.

DSC_0185Next to the dogwood, I noticed that some of the leaves of Milkweed leaves that had gone yellow were eaten along the edges. I thought it a little late to be Monarchs just hatching out. Turning the leaf over, voila!, Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars. These colorful little guys will metamorphose into rather small, drab, white moth soon.

DSC_0207Collecting pollen on an aster was a Common Honeybee. That she can fly at all with all that pollen to carry is wonderful to behold!

DSC_0269Another bee caught my eye but wait! Look again, it’s a fly. How can one tell? It only has two wings – most insects have four. It’s a Bee Mimic Fly. A rather straightforward naming I’d have to say.

DSC_0251A Grasshopper was resting on what was left of the inflorescence of a Sunflower. Petals don’t have nearly as much nutritional value as do leaves, so this little orthopteran wasn’t eating, just basking in the sun.

DSC_0317Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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Take a Second Look!

By Greg Lecker

I hope readers took note of Saturday evening’s sky show. Following the wind and brief rain, skies gradually brightened west to east. Low light raked across the landscape, illuminating trees and plains against a warm gray overcast sky. To the south, clouds and sky cooked a layer cake of blue and orange. To the east, still thick roiling clouds glowed orange.

Entering Akire Drive, I’m relieved to see that Arboretum plantings sustained forecast threats of scattered frost earlier in September. The shift from summer to autumn foliage hangs suspended, barely changed from my last visit three weeks ago. Crimson and scarlet patches dot drifts of sumac. A few oak boughs and sunny edges of the Sugarbush hint at the colors to come.

From the Sensory Garden parking lot, I descend into Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden and make a double-take. At first glance to my right, a flash of creamy white and yellow tease me with the memory of Dutchmen’s Breeches, a spring ephemeral. Delicate, thinly textured, and low to the ground – check. On second look, I see that it’s a white woodland aster.

White Woodland Aster

White Woodland Aster

The temporary deception forces me to look a bit more closely. William Blake’s admonishing verse comes to mind: “To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.” I sit down and work to capture the fireworks bursts of zig-zag goldenrod. A brief hour color sketch; but still more time than I sometimes grant a plant. The rare goldenrod that not only tolerates but thrives in shade, the stems turn direction at leaf nodes and yield yellow blooms.

Zig-Zag Goldenrod

Zig-Zag Goldenrod

Nature delights me with her flora and fauna. Birds are calling; squirrels are collecting black walnut fruits; Canada geese are flocking. I study pink turtlehead; and I find a bee forcing its way into the partly closed flower. White turtlehead and closed or bottle gentian offer a similar challenged to our winged friends.

Pink Turtlehead and Bee

Pink Turtlehead and Bee

A bit deeper into the woods, near the green duckweed covered pool, I find the most interesting seed heads on sunflower braches. The ripe spherical heads are segmented into encircling papery segments that hold thin seeds. The plant stems are winged – unique among native sunflowers. I don’t find a plant label; but a Google search yields a probable name: Wingstem (Verbisina alternifolia). Yes, leaves are alternate. And, yes, the centers of intact flowers are indeed foreshadow the seed heads in form.

Wingstem

Wingstem

After extended exploration of the woodland, I make a quick visit to the Bennett Johnson Prairie Savannah. Goldenrods are beginning to fade; but New England asters have begun to bloom recently. Grasses are still rusty orange; though this color will mute to tawny gold by autumn’s end. Warm temperatures are forecast this week with possibly 80 degree highs by week’s end – fine weather for a visit to the Arboretum. Make the time.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Late Summer Lollygagging

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Twenty-seven species of mushrooms have been identified at the Arb, according to the Nature Notes whiteboard in the visitor center lobby. That’s a lot of fungi!
And the list includes interesting ones like the gooey white jelly fungus, ash bolete with its spongey pores in place of gills, giant puffball and funnel cap.

Cut-leaf Coneflower

Cut-leaf Coneflower

But I eschew mushrooms for wildflowers and am richly rewarded in the prairie: cut-leaf coneflower with its hundreds of tiny disk flowers like miniature golden trumpets; deep purple New England asters contrast next to smooth blue aster, and many shades of gold on sunflowers, goldenrods, coneflowers and black-eyed Susans.

Female American Goldfinch

Female American Goldfinch

Black-capped chickadees converse in a lone maple tree before flitting away, the discussion resolved. A female American goldfinch poses on a sunflower branch with a prairie backdrop under clouded sky. The bright orange of a milkweed bug larva catches my eye as it sunsatopa coneflower seedhead.

Bumblebees, honeybees and myriad flies flit through jumbles of asters and sunflowers while I stand just to watch this living, moving, busy bouquet.
Interesting little bluestem grasses are topped with hard little seeds that erupt into tiny white frays, ready to blow away with a coming breeze.

Guara

Guara

Graceful red stems of prairie dropseed wave their seeds coated papery white in a lightly scented breeze. Tall and graceful, biennial guara rises above with bright scarlet pods near its branch tips. Rows of small green seeds tinged scarlet on the edges march up the stems in precise step.

I lollygag in the woods as a fox squirrel chatters and runs up a tree trunk, promptly sending acorns and twigs crashing to the forest floor. White snakeroot punctuates the cool dark. A vireo, chortling like a squeeze toy, calls in abrupt, short syllables. You can listen to a red-eyed vireo here: http://birds.audubon.org/birds/red-eyed-vireo.

Jewelweeds in yellow and black-spotted orange line the trail to the boardwalk at Green Heron Pond. A light buzz behind me makes me turn, scaring off a ruby-throated hummingbird. Hummers just love the sweet nectar hiding in the jewelweed spur.

Pink turtleheads

Pink turtleheads

Young Kayla giggles as her dad Chris bounces on the spongey bog while she rides the waves. She laughs at the pink turtleheads in full bloom. “They really look like turtles!” Kayla exclaims.

White clusters of fine water hemlock florets are almost invisible. Bunches of flat-topped white aster and explosions of green water plantain seedheads fill the marsh.

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed

Mauve Joe Pye Weed, some still in bloom and others with brown seedheads sport leaves tinged brick-red. Tiny round buds of white smartweed are tangled in sunflower clumps and grasses around the bog. Drooping spires of pink smartweed are scattered throughout the wetland.

Ferns are tinged brown at the edges, and red maple’s outer leaves are shaded crimson. Leaf edges of woodbine vines and sumac shrubs are flushed red.
I could spend the entire day just taking it all in.

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer Program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.

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A Jewel of a Day

By Boak Wiesner

It’s hard for me grasp that there may be frost later this very week on such a warm and sunny day. School’s back in session and, since I’m a Gopher myself (’83), I wander the prairie parcels of the Arb in search of gopher activity. The U’s mascot doesn’t depict a gopher very accurately, but I hope that seeing it on the sidelines gets folks thinking about the animals of our state. Real ones aren’t above ground very much.

Gophers can move a lot of soil in a year – just one can bring up over a ton! – and so provide a mechanism for aerating the soil of open areas. In fact, an archaeologist pal of mine was alerted to artifacts in a nearby state park because gophers were bringing them to the surface.

DSC_0182Down here at the gopher’s eye view, one of the prettiest plants in Bottle Gentian. The corolla, that is, its ring of petals, never really opens up, so it looks like a bottle, hence its name. It takes a big beefy bumblebee to muscle its way in for pollination to occur.

DSC_0152Here at the end of summer, Goldenrod is one of the showiest common flowers. Many kinds of insects including Soldier Beetles and various kinds of wasps hide in the inflorescences and prey on insects coming in for a meal.

DSC_0176Goldenrod stems are host to the larvae and pupae of the small Goldenrod Gall Fly – not very aptly named as it doesn’t fly very well and instead crawls up and down the stems. Come winter, the larvae’s metabolism begins to produce glycerol (a small, soluble sugar) which acts as an antifreeze. Larvae carefully removed from galls can be used as bait for ice fishing.

DSC_0175Watching these critters eat brought thoughts of my own diet to mind and what should find almost was some rose hips. Their wine-red color stands out in stark contrast to the greens, yellows, and purples of a prairie in late summer. Rose hips contain lots of vitamin C and A, calcium and iron. A medicinal tea can be steeped from them and I’ve eaten them raw. Not overly tasty but better than having one’s teeth fall out from scurvy!

DSC_0197Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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So Much Yellow!

By Greg Lecker

So much yellow! That is my recent observation while travelling around the Arboretum’s natural areas and even when studying the 2014 planting color palette (and orange too!) Prairie and savannah areas are awash with the many native “sunflower” species – rosin weed, prairie dock, Jerusalem artichoke – but also, and especially with goldenrods. Sunny areas now bloom with the common showy goldenrod, and also stiff goldenrod.

Savannah Yellows

Savannah Yellows

Even woodlands are showing yellow at the edges, and not just on the intricate carpet underfoot. Trees foliage is beginning to show yellow, and even some orange – fitting, I suppose, since today is September 1! The fading purplish-rose of Joe-Pye Weed complements the yellow hue of sunflowers.

Yellow below and above

Yellow below and above

Besides the sunflowers at woodland edges, the happy zig-zag goldenrod is beginning to bloom in the woodland – the rare goldenrod that tolerates shade – though not the rabbits in my garden. The combination of plentiful food as well as raptors, foxes, and coyotes must distract Arboretum cottontails from devouring one of my favorite plants. In my yard, discerning bunnies distinguish between the nearly identical new foliage of emerging white snakeroot and zig-zag goldenrod. Speaking of spring, I can’t believe that I’m in the same woodland (Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden) I toured three months ago. Short, wind-tousled ephemerals dotted amongst sun-lit brown soil and forest duff have been replaced with stocky foliage that is cool, dark, and green.

Even around Green Heron pond, yellow jewelweed, as well as its orange colored relative are painted with the yellow-orange color scheme. A Spring Peeper Meadow spur boardwalk visit is cut short by the approaching 8 pm closing time. I quicken my pace, stepping carefully on the wood decking made slick by driving rains that accompanied my evening drive to the Arboretum.

Bog Boardwalk Spur Trail

Bog Boardwalk Spur Trail

Staying as late as possible, I am rewarded by skies that are filled with yellow, orange, red, violet, and even a faint rainbow (following rain Saturday evening).

Arboretum Evening Delights

Arboretum Evening Delights

Walking around Green Heron Pond, I curve northward just below the conifer garden and the original Arboretum building. There, beside the duckweed pond, Canada Geese are bedding down for the evening, their heads tucked next to their body. Nature serenades with a murmuring evensong.

Don’t delay your visit to the Arboretum and to any natural area. Prairies and savannahs are at peak bloom. Thanks to bountiful rain, grasses have not been this tall in my 10-year memory of studying natural areas.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Looking Up

By Mary Beth Pottratz

A barn swallow chitters and squeaks, leading me to its mud and straw nest under the eaves.

DSCN1916I look up, and two tiny nestlings poke their heads over the edge. Barn swallows used to nest only in cliffs and trees, but have in recent times evolved to almost exclusively nesting in the nooks and crannies of buildings.
Grasshoppers skip ahead of me down the grassy path like munchkins on the yellow brick road. A small green frog hops up a branch for protection. Monarchs, cabbage whites, a painted lady, dragonflies and damselflies dart and dash around me as I stroll.

Upland White Goldenrods

Upland White Goldenrods

Six-foot tall stems of pink and cream biennial beeblossom, or guara, sway in the breeze, sprinkling their seeds around them to start next year’s season. Pale Indian plantains nod above their palm-shaped leaves. Clumps of Upland white goldenrods, which do not look like goldenrods at all, show off hundreds of mini-daisy like flowers. Flat-topped white asters with yellow centers are just starting to open their petals. Pink smartweed blooms in the wetland. Silky blue asters, aromatic asters, and the last of the blooming bee balm of the season provide the lavender in the color scheme.

Giant Sunflowers

Giant Sunflowers

But most of today’s colors are Minnesota Vikings’ purple and gold: Purple coneflowers, Ironweed and Purple giant hyssop. New England asters’ bright purple petals and golden disks stand next to the yellow of Black-eyed Susans.Sneezeweed’s golden skirts and yellow-brown seedheadsare tinged light rust. I crane my neck at bright yellow Compass plants andGiant sunflowers standing tall against the blue sky.
The gold petals of Grey-headed coneflowers and showy goldenrod are footed by pale purple lead plant flowers. Sedges’ deep brown nutlets are drying and turning pale as they prepare to release their seeds. Coneflowers already have some shriveled petals and burgeoning brown seedheads.

A bee sips nectar atop a golden Rosinweed, its legs packed with pollen. Hummingbirds hover at blue allium flowers. Do you suppose allium nectar tastes of onions?

DSCN2090 Monarch on liatris Northern plains blazing starA monarch stretches its proboscis deep inside purple spikes of Northern plains blazing star. Milkweeds are sporting fresh green pods above its dried and curled brown leaves.
Blue vervain has just a few tiny blue buds left on its now-green fingers of seeds pointing upwards. Likewise, tall white spires of Culver’s root have changed to green seeds. Dwarf bush honeysuckle are just starting to turn crimson.

But the flowers cannot outdo the grasses this time of year! Long blades of big bluestem topped with turkey-foot seedheads wave gracefully against a lightly clouded sky. Tiny seeds of russet, orange or pale yellow dangle, then drift away with the wind. Silky, russet panicles of Indian grass seeds rise to reach towards the sky.

In the Spring Peeper Meadow, I look for bottle gentians but it must be too early. The earlier floods and deep waters are completely gone. Geese stand on the open mud bottom, pecking for invertebrates.

Canada goldenrods have spiky green bunch, or rosette, galls caused by a gall midge, or fly. There are three types of goldenrod galls: ball or round, elliptical, and bunch. Galls on plants in general, and on goldenrods in particular, do not harm their host plants. They still bloom and set seed, and often even look more interesting!

DSCN2137 Grasshopper on IronweedLooking up yet again, I am amazed to find a grasshopper clinging to the tiptop of a tall ironweedblossom!

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.

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Butterflies

By Boak Wiesner

Now that most bird species have quit singing and many have headed out for the south, my attention shifts to the other diurnal winged tribe, the butterflies. With several habitats within close proximity to each other at the Arb, a wide variety can usually be seen on any given day. A pair of decent binoculars is all you need to bring these beauties in close. In fact, since many can be approached closely, a little less magnification, like 7 x 35’s, are just the ticket.

As I crawled through the art, one of nature’s works caught my eye near the ravine around which the art booths were set up, a Great Spangled Frittilary. Silver spots on the underside of its wings gives it its name. And off it goes.

DSC_0160

Butterflies don’t “chill” for long in any one place so you have to grab any photo you can. Put on a telephoto lens to bring them in “closer.”

Unmistakable, this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectars on the last vestiges of some Joe-Pye Weed. Their presence, and I saw many around today, indicate that the woods are in a healthy state.

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Nearby I see a tattered Red-spotted Purple. Most butterflies don’t live very long so the ragged edges of its wings are really pretty commonly seen.

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Heading out to the prairie, I come across a whole flock of Monarchs nectaring on a Blazing Star. These five I see in just one place is more than twice as many as I saw throughout all of last year. The winter around here lasted a long time but down in Texas where the grandparents of these here were last February wasn’t nearly as cold as it was in 2013.

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Blazing Star seems like the smorgasbord today as I see a Cabbage White coming in for some chow. One spot on it forewing shows it’s a male. The species immigrated to the U.S. during the time of the Civil War from Europe and now are found across the country. Some say they’re invasive exotics, but then, so are cabbages!

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Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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