By Greg Lecker
Oh what a beautiful morning….afternoon, and evening. After spending the day plein air painting at a nearby orchard and winery that grows University of Minnesota introductions, I visited the Arboretum’s Spring Peeper Meadow. What a wonderful growing season it’s been, especially compared with 2012. No late killing frost this spring to threaten apple blossoms, ample rainfall for fruit of all types! Hopefully, your plantings escaped last week’s damaging hail storms.
Spring Peeper Meadow is awash in Big Bluestem, also known as Turkey Foot because its flower and seed head resemble the large game bird’s foot. In addition to the tall grass, there are many forbs such as Cup Plant, Blue Vervain, and Common Milkweed.
In spite of the wonderful habitat provided, there has been a noticeable shortage of butterflies, including the common Monarch. A public wildflower garden’s naturalist reports that she has seen just two Monarch butterflies and few other butterflies within their oak savannah. If butterflies cannot be found within these native plant refuges, where can they be found?
Reportedly, there have been population crashes of butterflies in previous years. I hope that others may share my wish for a strong butterfly recovery to follow the present crash. Multiple suggestions for the dearth of butterflies: last year’s droughts, killing frosts at their wintering grounds within Mexico, loss of habitat at their summer or winter homes, pesticide use, and the commonly cited loss of milkweed, an important host plant for the Monarch.
Within Spring Peeper Meadow, there is no shortage of Common Milkweed, which can be found in flower and with developing seed heads. Retaining, possibly at the edge of one’s property, at least a few Common Milkweed plants provides a valuable host plant on which the female Monarch butterfly lays its eggs and on which its caterpillar feeds.
Walking a bit deeper into the meadow, I find Joe Pye Weed at the transition between upland and aquatic plants.
Deep within Spring Peeper Meadow, one finds open water, a boardwalk, and aquatic plants such as floating Duckweed and blooming emergent Arrowroot.
A sunset stroll is a great way to finish a wonderful summer day in Minnesota.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.