By Greg Lecker
Inside a Kaleidoscope – this is apt description of the current eruption of color at the Arboretum. Multi-colored tulips, daffodils, magnolias, redbud, PJM Rhododendron, forsythia, crabapples, and, yes, wildflowers too! Not in recent memory has the blooming of so many different types of flowers coincided – the result of our unusual spring. Where snow lay not four weeks ago, weather records were broken by a high temperature of 98 degrees this past Tuesday (5/14/2013).
Before long, the forest floor of the Grace B. Dayton Wildflower Garden will become a green carpet of textures. Before this transformation happens, let us appreciate the spring blooms of yellow, and blue, and white!
Cheery blooms of Marsh Marigold burst atop shiny, sunlit, bushy clumps flanking a small brook flowing by still leaf-less Kentucky Coffeetrees. The alternate name, Cowslip, descends from the Old English cu-slyppe. Cu – “cow” and slyppe – “slop, slobber, dung” – describe the flower’s preferred habitat. It is found along swampy boardwalks and canoe portages across central and northern Minnesota.
The limp-looking but stubborn stems of Virginia Bluebells slowly unfurl and lift their trumpet-like flowers – reddish-pink in bud and blue in bloom. In a fortnight or two, the failing foliage will fade away, not to reappear for four seasons.
Spotted Fairybells are a spring wildflower with which I was not previously acquainted.
Crowning the forked stems bearing dark green glossy leaves, frilly white flower petals are freckled with brown speckles. Spotted Fairybells is a spring showstopper!
However, like a late-night television marketer, Mother Nature offers “but wait, there’s more”. The launch of new life continues with two Barred Owl chicks tentatively exploring the dense woodland swamp outside the nest of their birth four or five weeks ago. But for an overall softening of their grayish-brown plumage, the fledglings resemble the adults: a yellow beak and a pale face with dark rings around the eyes. It is the only Minnesota owl with brown eyes; all others have yellow eyes. Plumage patterns include bars and streaks. Smaller than a Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl (Strix varia) has no ear tufts.
The owlets warily track me with their rotating head, and wail with eerie screeches. Only partially visible through the emerging tree foliage, their guardians reassuringly answer with their distinctive call of “who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all”. As dusk descends, perhaps the parents will proffer their progeny the prowess of hunting habits.
Savor the sweet spring!
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.