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.

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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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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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A Day on the Prairie

By Boak Wiesner

With the flies buzzing around my head, I was glad of a Twelve-spotted Skimmer as my companion along my walk. This one perched on a Lead plant for a bit before continuing to circle me as it hunted.

DSC_0160I was struck by how many of the plants flowering right now produced yellow flowers. Common Mullein grows tall spikes of flowers. It’s rather a nuisance as it’s an invasive exotic from across the pond, i.e., it was carried, most likely inadvertently, from Europe. Goldfinches can eat the seeds.

DSC_0183Feelin’ down? St. John’s Wort can help with that in a variety of ways, one of which is just to revel in its glowing yellow flowers. Extracts of St. John’s Wort, of course, have been used to treat depression for centuries.

DSC_0172A little Skipper of was nectaring on some Oxeyes. Nectar is secreted in specialized cells called nectaries that are usually found deep at the base of flowers.

DSC_0193Black-eyed Susans are a commonly found splash of yellow in many open areas. Think botanical thoughts when you see these – Linneus named them after one of his professors.

DSC_0187Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.

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Something Buggin’ Me

by Mary Beth Pottratz

A welcome sun shines in a blue sky made pale by an airbrushed mist of cloud. Breezes carry the heady scent of common milkweed in waves as I enter the arboretum.

Culver's Root

Culver’s Root

Tall, slender spires of Culver’s root line Alkire Drive like an honor guard. Black-eyed Susans nod their greeting as song sparrows and red-winged blackbirds trumpet our arrivals. Dragonflies swoop down to inspect the new visitors before darting quickly away.

The arboretum is alive with bright colored annuals. The rose garden is in peak bloom. Graceful glass sculptures capture sunbeams inred poppies, yellow sunflowers, a pair of common loons, a brilliant blue starburst, and more.

But my heartstrings pull me towards water, and I obey the call. I am richly rewarded.

Cup Plant

Cup Plant

Dainty neon blue damselflies flit from bright orange butterflyweed to tall spikes of prairie blazing star. Cup plants have just started displaying their golden sunflowers and cups full of buds ready to burst. Bottlebrush sedges arch gracefully over Canada anemone’s single white posies.

White boneset, wild quinine, yellow loosestrife and bright red cardinal flowers are just starting to open. I luxuriate in the icy-fresh aroma of Virginia mountain mint. Giant bur-reed shows off its multiple flower forms, and green bulrushes are tipped with explosions of brown nutlets.

Tamarack cone

Tamarack cone

Joe-pye weed, rosinweed and Great St. John’s wort are about to pop open their buds. Water plantains show off thick bud-tipped spires. Huge leaves of glade mallow anchor 7-foot tall stems just starting to open rounds of white florets. Swamp milkweed is setting its buds in the wetland around Green Heron Pond. Tamaracks have fresh waxy red cones.

From the boardwalk, I watch a pair of wood ducks with four ducklings dabble on the pond. A common yellowthroat calls, “wicketywicketywickety”, and is answered by half a dozen compatriots from as many directions.

Despite heavy rains, the trails leading directly onto the bog are but not underwater and feel wonderfully spongey.I can’t identify a deep raspy buzz and another bird repeating a “see YA!” call from deep within the cattails and shrubs. Red osier dogwood’s white berries are already half-eaten, leaving bright red stems.

Parasitized Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Parasitized Meadowhawk Dragonfly

A meadowhawk dragonfly parasitized by red mites rests in the jewelweeds. Its leg and side are covered with tiny red balls.

The woodland is dark, lush green and cool. Mosquitoes are shooed away by the wind. Northern bedstraw is almost done flowering. Bladdernut trees show off pyramidal pods that wave in the breeze. Rough cinquefoil almost hides its tiny yellow blooms.

Red baneberry is already showing off bright red fruits. Raspberries are forming, and false Solomon’s seal flowers have swelled to beige berries. Pink sticks of pointed-leaf tick trefoil wave in the air.

Blue Vervain

Blue Vervain

Rising above to the prairie is a marked contrast. Warm and bright with sunshine, the swales are a jumble of color: purple and yellow coneflowers, purple and white prairie clovers, golden black-eyed Susans and prairie coreopsis, spicy-scented lavender bee balm, dotted with tiny white flowering spurge and misted over with large swaths of lavender lead plants in bloom. Spires of blue vervaincompete with tangled black pods of wild indigo.

Frogs have gone silent with most of their mating done, but a few crickets pick up the tune and chirp away.

A large deep purple butterfly is too quick for me to check its marks. I note only three other types of butterflies. Lone monarchs flit by, eight in all by day’s end. A huge improvement over last year’s single monarch sighting, but nowhere near past numbers.

A simple drive – in city or in country – doesn’t bring the mashing of insects against my windshieldof just a few years ago. Are pesticides on farm and commercial lands affecting ourbeneficial insects? How many people are aware of the pesticides applied to their own lawns?

Basswood trees used to seem alive with bees on their flowers. I rest at the crabapple trees on Three Mile Drive just to inhale the perfume of the carpet of red and white clover beneath. And I wonder: where are the bees?

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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Windy Day in the Forest

By Boak Wiesner

The wind cavorts in the leaves, as I make my way along the path east of rhododendrons, and what strikes me is that wind in trees is auditorily like fog is visually: it narrows one’s perspective down to the immediate surroundings and no more. Only the loudest bird calls can be heard.

Water, water everywhere. I find a little male Eastern Tailed Blue “puddling” from some moist soil along the path. Its rubs its hindwings together like they itch.

DSC_0104There were several species of dragonflies around me, maybe contributing to the lack of mosquitoes I was thinking. A Red Meadowhawk perched long enough to snap its photo. The veins in its wings cast interesting shadows on the leaf underneath.

DSC_0111With the abundant rain the last two month, fungi are having a field day, or should I say, a forest day. Here in the wet woods some Magpie Inkcaps are hard at work, digesting up a the fallen oak log. These are just the fruiting bodies, of course, as the whole organism’s hyphae are growing through the substrate of the wood as its enzymes dissolve and digest it.

DSC_0119As I emerge from the woods into the hot sun, in the tall grass I notice some pale yellow flowers, and thinking that a little more subtle coloration after the profusion of gaudy spring flowers might be a nice change of pace. Some Sulphur Cinquefoil has a couple of insect visitors.

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Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.

 

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Springing into Summer

By Mary Beth Pottratz

A curvy pink sliver of moon peeks through my blinds before dawn, escorting the last day of spring offstage. It waits patiently to usher in the first day of summer this afternoon.
And an unusual spring this was. Would the Spring Peeper Meadow be washed out from our deluge of rains this June?

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

A song sparrow calls from the tip of a bare shrub, well above the greens below. Lush vegetation, shrubs and stands of trees seemed unfazed by the recent monsoons. Dragonflies dart around my head. A concert of crickets, western chorus frogs, and a snoring northern leopard frog tell me these denizens of the low ground survived.
Common yellowthroats and red-winged blackbirds seem to be answering each other, and asora rail laughs at my stretching, ducking and posturing as I try to spy it through dense wetland growth.

Common Milkweeds

Common Milkweeds

Common milkweeds, those venerable protectors of monarch larvae, are festooned with pompons of buds just waiting for a dry enough day to open and spill their luscious scent.
Northern bedstraw blooms in graceful poufs of white. Lime green grasses glow in sunshine. Cattails and sunflowers, cup plants and pale green willows, even deep hunter spruce trees all brush the landscape in a riot of greens.

Prairie Rose

Prairie Rose

The wetland near the Iris Garden shows off blue flag iris and alum root flowers. Tree frogs call from the woodland edge, and a brilliant indigo bunting whistles its fast, double syllabled song from a treetop high above. Prairie roses bring their delicate single blooms to eye level.

Although flattened grasses, sedges and flowers line the edge of the woodland creek,theirprone stems seem ready to spring back upright. The deep roots of native plants naturally resist erosion and flooding, unlike the shallow roots of non-native flowers and lawns. You can see a comparison of root systems here: http://www.nature.com/scitable/content/image-showing-the-diversity-of-root-system-97971735.
Mayapple flowers have evolved into round green fruits. Large yellow lady’s slippers are in their final round but the delicate columbines are still blooming.

Narrow-Leaved Coneflower

Narrow-Leaved Coneflower

On the prairie, I marvel at the mathematical precision of narrow-leaved coneflowers’sseedheads, just starting to show petals. A few wild quinine plants already sport flowers that look like miniature heads of cauliflower. Lead plants have silvery buds waving from their tips.

This first day of summer heralds a plethora of plants in bloom:Tall meadow rue, sumac, Canada anemone, flowering spurge, daisy fleabane,prairie phlox, yarrow, golden Alexanders, slender beardtongue and large-flowered beardtongue are giving their shows. Thimbleweeds are a full two feet tall, with petals already dropping.

Ohio Spiderwort

Ohio Spiderwort

American hazelnuts are sporting their green flowers if you look hard enough to find them. Ohio spiderwort buds have just split to reveal deep purple petals tightly closed beneath the hull. Prairie blazing stars stand 3 to 4 feet tall, already tipped with flower buds.
Tall spires of white wild indigo rise above the prairie and glow in the sunset, giving me hope that the land will soon dry out in the coming summer days.

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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