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.

DSC_0116
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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Watery Weekend Weather for Father’s Day

By Greg Lecker

Our June rains continue; and with them, winds! But for patient Minnesotans ready to pounce at the slightest brightening of skies come rewards. Just after lunch on Father’s Day, overcast conditions yield to partly cloudy skies. Arriving at the Arboretum, I’m happy that my vehicle has all-wheel drive and high clearance – because the weekend’s torrential rains gouged gullies in the construction zone that is the future new entry gate. Bu, fear not, visitors – by the time I depart several hours later, gravel had been spread to level out the roadway. Only a facility such as the Arboretum would mobilize resources to make such spontaneous remedy on a Sunday!

A similar degree of stewardship is demonstrated on the path below the composting toilets of the Sensory Garden – this time, by two pairs of Canada Geese in their own celebration of Father’s Day. A precocious set of goslings and their watchful guardians, dined on turf grass, grazing from seated and standing positions. Occasionally, a gosling extends a stubby wing – impossibly graceless in its absence of primary and secondary feathers. The circular extent of their necks is measured in the “crop circle” that is faintly visible in the freshly sheared turf. Adjacent to this older, bolder brood is a timid, younger clutch that largely rests on the path.

Canada Geese Family Portraits

Canada Geese Family Portraits

I find a less furry critter in Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden. A medium large snapping turtle pauses on the edge of the asphalt path. Whether it is taking a rest after laying eggs or simply exploring the waterlogged bottomlands and swollen vernal ponds, I do not know. On my return walk around the woodland loop, I find that the turtle has crossed the path. After a few moments rest, the turtle retreats into the relative concealment of the thick ground cover. Amidst the rich habitat, I also observe a toad, chickadees, flying goldfinches, butterflies and dragonflies.

Snapping Turtle Time Lapse

Snapping Turtle Time Lapse

The native woodland garden has advanced beyond its spring ephemerals into the bold blooms of Penstemon and Cow Parsnip. Walking over to the Green Heron pond, I pause at the tamaracks that lie at the edge of the wetland just beyond the Ordway Shelter. I find Golden Alexanders flowering amid the growing masses of a small patch of prairie plants. How wonderful that the native gardens have been expanded beyond the bounds of their original display areas!

Golden Alexanders

Golden Alexanders

I walk along the asphalt path through the shady woodland edge and marvel at the signs of great water movement during our recent rains. Small gullies have been sculpted amidst the ground cover. Thankfully, underground pipes divert the water under the path. At the transition between the asphalt and boardwalk paths, I find that both the Yellow Lady’s Slipper and Showy Lady’s Slipper are blooming in this shady cool microclimate. Come on out to the Arboretum within the next week if you want to see these native orchids!

Cool Microclimate

Cool Microclimate

Rising water has soaked the engineered path that snakes through the wetland edge just off the boardwalk. The wood chip path sinks under my feet; and water threatens but does not rise to the soles of my still-dry shoes. Visible from this path or from the more accessible boardwalk, Blue Flag Iris blooms amidst the very watery world of this juicy June!

Blue Flag Iris

Blue Flag Iris

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Lush

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Tulips are shouting their last hurrahs while the irises carry the color flags at the Arboretum today. The warm temperatures and heavy rains have brought trees, grasses, shrubs and forbs to a million lush shades of green.

Young Maria admires tall purple tulips. Her brother Joey rolls down a grassy knoll, landing with a delighted laugh in a mud puddle. Their mom laughs, too.
Dozens of dragonflies flit and dart through the sensory garden. Their recent hatch attests to the good quality of the wetland. Alas, none hold still long enough for me to identify!

Large yellow lady's slipper

Large yellow lady’s slipper

In the woodland garden, large and small yellow lady’s slippers are in full bloom along the brook. Its cousin and our state flower, the showy lady’s slipper, is almost knee-high but hasn’t started setting its buds yet.

Western chorus frogs are still singing their songs that sound like a thumb running down a comb. American toads trill high-pitched, long notes, punctuated by an occasional tree frog’s raucous call.

Bluebirds, robins, warblers, jays, cardinals and crows add their songs and calls to the amphibian concert. Rainwater gurgles down slopes and the little woodland brook babbles as it rushes by. Occasional drips from trees above splash to the ground. I feel as though transported to a tropical rainforest.

Field of wild geranium

Field of wild geranium

Jack-in-the-pulpits and golden Alexanders are just starting to bloom. Cherry-pink wild geraniums and wild blue phlox glow in the low forest light. Virginia waterleaf is in bloom everywhere, and Virginia bluebells are still sporting blossoms.

Graceful, delicate maidenhair ferns are already six inches tall. Sensitive fern, Christmas fern, and ostrich fern add to the verdant woods. Graceful columbines dangle above the fray.

Sticky Willy

Sticky Willy

Spires of tiny white blossoms tip many False Solomon’s seal plants. Sticky-willy’s hooked leavesand four-petaled white flowers draw my interest. A few mayapples sport waxy white blooms protectively under their umbrella-like leaves.

Interesting pyramid-shaped green fruits dangle on large-flowered bellwort. Tall meadow rue, now hip-high, is just starting to set its buds. Celandine poppies form bristly white pods before blooming into golden-yellow, papery disks.

At a woodland pond, water striders skate along the water’s surface. The fine hairs on bottom of their feet do not absorb water, holding the insect above the surface as it hunts for an insect dinner.

A damselfly surprises me, almost landing on my hand. The bright blue of an Eastern bluebird catches my eye as it flits uphill. I follow it up to the prairie and am rewarded with its cheerful song.

Recovered from its recent burn, the prairie, too, is verdant with plants and grasses starting to grow. Warblers sing and whistle from the prairie garden trees, daring me to find them as leaves shield them from view.

Prairie smoke seedheads

Prairie smoke seedheads

Wild prairie rose and spiderwort are forming their buds. Prairie smoke has now completed flowering, and presents its luxuriant seed heads like pink puffs of smoke. Prairie grasses are still only inches tall.

Monarch larva

Monarch larva

Common milkweed is barely a foot. But – surprise! – I find a third instar monarch larva munching on its leaves. Another plant has several caterpillars feeding on it, which rarely happens. Adult butterflies usually deposit one egg per plant unless there are not enough milkweed plants. Unless, of course, there was an escapee from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s butterfly exhibit!

We all can help the monarch recover from its recent habitat loss by planting flowers in the milkweed family, which is the only plant the larva can survive on. Bright orange butterflyweed and seductively-scented swamp milkweed are especially effective in more formal gardens.

You can also learn about the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Larva Monitoring Project at this website: http://www.mlmp.org/Training/Videos.aspx. Maybe you would like to monitor, too!

After all, butterflies, and especially monarchs, help make our world lush, too.

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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Flower Explosion

By Boak Wiesner

The recent rains and heat made the plants on the forest floor in the Wildflower Garden explode into bloom. Just three weeks ago, just a handful of species braved the long-lasting cold to show their colors (or lack thereof, actually, all of them being white) above the barely thawed ground. Today, though, I am surrounded by an abundance of spring beauty. Quite a change!

Entering the woods, the flash of a Common Yellow Violet in the sunlight catches my eye. There are a variety of colors of violets around here. Right now the Twins sure could use a famous member of their tribe, namely, Frank!

Common yellow violet

Common yellow violet

The balmy weather makes me a bit balmy, too: “Did you see any wildflowers?” “Oh yeah, Phlox!” “Wow, that many? Me, I just saw a couple.”

Phlox are in bloom, flames on the forest floor, hence their names. To some,
Phlox can be used to wish someone the pleasantest of dreams – how nice!

Phlox

Phlox

An interesting feature of Phlox is that its leaves are connate-perfoliate. Whew! Connate means they arise together and perfoliate means that the stalk goes through the leaf. See?

Phlox leaves

Phlox leaves

The three parts of the flower and the leaves of Great White Trillium indicate that this plant is a monocot, the second biggest group of Angiosperms, the flowering plants. Their time of blooming is nearly over.

Great White Trillium

Great White Trillium

While they are not nearly as showy as the plants of the forest floor, those of the Red Oak are nonetheless just as important as, without them, oak trees would not be making acorns, a staple food source for many animals around here.. One has to only look just a little closer to see their beauty.

Oak flowers

Oak flowers

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.

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