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.

DSC_0168

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!

DSC_0169

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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Summer Advances With Speed of a Plow

By Greg Lecker

A visit to Spring Peeper Meadow is a trip back to a landscape before the John Deere moldboard plow transformed Midwest America’s prairies into the most productive farmlands. Better than earlier wrought iron blades, smooth steel shed the prairie’s rich but mucky fertile soil. The plow’s success speedily led to the loss of most native prairie land in but a generation. The Arboretum is fortunate to offer examples of both oak-dotted Savannah (Bennet Johnson Prairie, along Three Mile Drive) and treeless Tallgrass Prairie (Spring Peeper Meadow). One can hike to Spring Peeper Meadow from trails near Green Heron Pond; and one can drive to its small parking lot on the north side of 82nd Street, just west of MN41 – Hazeltine Boulevard.

Prairie Sunflowers

Prairie Sunflowers

Mid-August sees “sunflowers” completing their bloom: cup plant and rosin weed. The few purple plants include monarda and vervain. The goldenrods are in bud and a few are even showing signs of bloom.

A rare ecosystem indeed, Tallgrass Prairie defines the eastern-most of three types of prairie. From roots six to ten feet deep within the soil, the ecosystem manifests itself in plants that respond to the greater rainfall of the eastern region.

A signature plant of the Tallgrass Prairie, Big Bluestem is a beneficiary of the year’s abundant rainfall. Pioneer literature records Big Bluestem as “tall enough to tie in a knot over a horse’s back”. In the ten years since I’ve been purposefully observing our native landscapes, I’ve not seen Big Bluestem as tall as it has grown this year.

Big Bluestem

Big Bluestem

Coated in cold moisture, a honeybee – a native one? – rests on common milkweed, awaiting the cold moisture that coats it to evaporate.

Honeybee and Milkweed

Honeybee and Milkweed

Hopefully, the Tashjian Bee Discovery Center at the Arboretum, expected to open in 2015, will discover how we can help these fragile but necessary creatures!

Passing storms and morning dew decorate Indian Hemp (also known as Hemp Dogbane). The greenish-white flowers will bear just a tinge of pink inside.

Indian Hemp and Water Drops

Indian Hemp and Water Drops

Indian Hemp prefers mesic prairies; and so it appreciates the 2014 moisture like many other plants. The name “hemp” refers to the outer fibers of the stems. Some Native American tribes wove textiles from such fibers. “Dogbane” refers to the toxic nature of the plants, which bear a milky juice. In these traits Indian Hemp shares some traits common to milkweed.   I’m relieved that, even with the long-running polar vortex channeling cooler than normal temperatures, none of the leaves hint at the brilliant yellow foliage to come this fall. Summer is speeding by; and I’m treasuring every one of its remaining days!

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Colors of August

By Mary Beth Pottratz

White, yellow and purple set the theme for August flowers against a backdrop of lush greenery on this warm, sunny day.

Compass plant flower

Compass plant flower

The sunny yellow flowers of compass plant tower tall above the rest of the prairie. Single purple spikes of prairie blazing star point upwards. Small sticks of purple and white prairie clovers stand out against green leaves. Grey-headed coneflowers with their drooping golden petals resemble ballet skirts billowing in the breeze.

Showy tick trefoils show off delicate purple flowers like tiny orchids studding each stem. Most have strings of half-moon shaped seedpods.

Wild bergamot

Wild bergamot

The lavender flowers of wild bergamot are abuzz with bumblebees and other pollinators like the syrphid fly in this photo. Large white wild indigo seed pods are starting to turn from cream to black. Black-eyed Susans beam golden against airy mounds of tiny white blossoms of flowering spurge.

Purple and pale purple coneflowers rise between clumps of switch grass. Bulging purple buds ascend from the grass blades, a few already dangling tiny yellow flowers. Pom-poms of purple alliums droop from the tip of stalks.

There is a hush over the prairie – just the gentle whoosh of a breeze and an occasional cricket, goldfinch or chickadee calling. The time to attract a mate with birdsong is past.

Milkweed leaf beetle

Milkweed leaf beetle

The accent color is red. Indian grass sends up flower stalks in shades of brick. A bright red cardinal flower seems to leap out from the fray. And an orange-and-black milkweed leaf beetle chews busily away.

Silvery-green orbs of rattle snake master bloom before a backdrop of prairie dropseed grasses. Its seedheads ride waves of wind with grace.

A red-eyed vireo calls“where are you?” from the shady edge of the cool woods. Smooth red sumac berries are almost jelly-ready.

Chewed Austrian pine cone

Chewed Austrian pine cone

Mounds of needles and cones litter the ground beneath a stand of Austrian pine. A green pine cone, chewed from stem to tip, lays on a branch, all scales removed. Some little critter is enjoying a lot of this treat!

In the wetland, puffs of purple-pink Joe pye weed and deep purple prairie iron weed bloom near wetland edges. Sedges display bursts of brown nutlets like little fireworks. Golden sunflowers stand out against green rushes and spikes of brown cattails. Yellow gentian will soon be opening its creamy buds, reminding me that there will be more to see tomorrow.

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.

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