Muted – “A Hazy Shade of Winter”

By Greg Lecker

Like the rest of south central Minnesota, the Arboretum is has been wet this past week, and gray – the color Simon & Garfunkel had in mind when they sang of “A Hazy Shade of Winter”.  Colors and forms are muted and one longs for something of interest amidst the muted color and form outside.Dew drops sparkle on the few evergreen leaves amongst the brown leaf duff just beyond the cultivated landscape of the home landscape demonstration garden.

Walking Three Mile Drive, one can now more clearly see the water that lies in the bowl below the maple sugarbush hillside.  Skim ice has begun to form on silvery water that is surrounded by rusty leaves and marsh and purple soaked deciduous woodland.

Ice Forming

Ice Forming

The prairie’s carpet of tan undulates with the flowing landform.  Here and there, galls distort dried plant stems or leaf masses.  I head to Green Heron Pond in search of new discoveries.

The wetland area does not disappoint me.   Near the Trex Leaf Deck below the picnic shelter, Winterberry red fruits decorate stems from which dangle wrinkled brown leaves.

Winterberry

Winterberry

Before I reach the entry to the bog boardwalk, I spy the spiny kiwi-shaped podsof wild or prickly cucumber.

Wild (or Prickly) Cucumber

Wild (or Prickly) Cucumber

What words come to mind when you study these alien looking forms?  ”Cactus balls” and “porcupine eggs” are nicknames some use to describe the fruit.  The vine is found near streams, rivers, and yes, wetlands like Green Heron Pond. In the growing season, the elongated star-shaped maple-like leaves and small greenish white flowers could be mistaken as belonging to the host plant through which the vine twists and turns.Fall or early winter is the best time of the year for locating and identifying the plant.  As other foliage discolors and withers away, the small fruits and even its tendrils stand out among thickets of twigs.

Within the bog itself, little tufts of sphagnum moss grow in the crotch of the persistent crown of deciduous plant stalks.

Island of Moss

Island of Moss

Chilled by the dampness, I retreat to the visitor center where I enjoy the current art exhibit at the Café Gallery.  Heather Tinkham weaves color and texture into her unique wall hangings.  Andy Tinkham’s photography uses both natural and introduced light to force us to study natural phenomena.

I understand that snow is coming to brighten the dreariness of this “in-between” season.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

 

 

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Winter Interest

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Amazing winter landscaping is obvious at the Arboretum now that leaves have fallen. A curbside planting of purple coneflower bordered by catmint on one side and blue fescue on the other plays light against dark; short against tall; fluffy, straight and dotted against each other.

Bee Balm and Grass

Bee Balm and Grass

Red oak leaves hang stiffly above swaying, hay-colored grasses. The brown seed globes of bee balm become distinct against a backdrop of flaxen grasses. Naked magnolias are tipped with furry white catkins.

Common Winterberry

Common Winterberry

Red berries of common winterberry add brightness to the landscape despite today’s heavy clouds. Northern white cedars are dripping with clusters of small brown cones. A blue jay perches silently atop a bare tree, scrutinizing the treetops. Two skeins of geese honk as they fly overhead in V-formation. Other birds are keeping quiet today, just a few jays, crows, and sparrows calling quickly.

Kentucky Coffee Tree Branch

Kentucky Coffee Tree Branch

Kentucky coffee tree’s bare branches now reveals its large brown seed pods. Some have holes drilled into them, and I wonder whether the predator sought seeds or insects.

Muskrat Lodges

Muskrat Lodges

With plants now bare, muskrat lodges are visibly dotting the wetlands. These furry mammals eat many cattails, along with other plants, insects and amphibians. They also build their homes of cattails, literally eating the walls during winter. Their presence prevents wetlands from becoming too heavily planted, prevents flooding and provides open water for aeration and waterfowl.

The brook in the woodland gurgles loudly as water rushes downhill. Witch hazel is still in bloom! Four tiny, yellow thread-like petals splay open from four round golden sepals in the center.

With our late fall staying above freezing, some hybrid roses are still in flower, although withered from cold. Conversely, our Minnesota native wild rose has no petals. It sports a few red hips, but most are black and starting to release seed.

Handcrafted Ornaments

Handcrafted Ornaments

Indoors, a pair of fir trees are decorated with a pollinator theme in the dining room. Created by the Minnesota Herb Society volunteers, its handcrafted ornaments are delightful: butterflies, bees, and birds made of dried flowers, leaves, seed pods and strands, birch bark, acorns, felt, and more.

Buds on Oak Branch tips

Buds on Oak Branch tips

Multiple buds are growing on oak branch tips – a promise of spring before our winter has fully set in!

As the sky darkens, pairs of huge circles glow yellow and pink atop a grassy mound. They blink like giant owl eyes as part of the “Bruce Munro: Winter Light at the Arboretum” exhibit. As I depart, cars stream in to view this unique indoor and outdoor show.

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

 

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Transitions

By Boak Wiesner

How rapidly things change here in our fair state! Some parts got the first real blast of winter with upwards of two feet of snow; we got just a dusting. The speed of this transition got me thinking about the whole “the more things change, the more things stay the same” – what would our old friend Heraclitus think about this epigram?

It’s chilly but superbly quiet at the Arboretum, with hardly another walker about. The solitude is reinforced by the calm air. The most obvious change from the last time I was here is the snow on the ground. It’s clear the wind blew the snow from the north.

dsc_0073Seasonal changes are just one kind of transition. East of the main area of the Arb, woods and a grassy area form an edge; the juxtaposition of two biomes lets many kinds of animals find food and shelter here. Historically, edges were rather rare but as settlers cut down the forest, they left woodlots scattered here and there to provide heat and building material. All edge. Some issues arise as many forest species need a good-sized contiguous area to thrive.

dsc_0046Another kind of transition is physical: one day water is liquid, the next, it’s ice. The motion of the current, albeit slow, is enough to keep the center portion from freezing, making an excellent mirror for an overhanging ash.

dsc_0064Still another is the transition from living to dying. The dead tree provides food for woodpeckers, of course, and the standing crop of nutrients doesn’t stay standing for long, as fungi and bacteria work their magic on the cellulose.

dsc_0067Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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Of the Season– or Not?

By Greg Lecker

A flock of seasonally appropriately plump wild turkeys cross the entry road in front of me.  In the parking lot, leafless crabapple trees are flush with red fruit. Less seasonally appropriate are wild geranium and roses that are still blooming.  It’s not just the rose blooms that are persistent, but the buds are strong and ready to seemingly continue for another week or two.  Fresh cut local roses to grace the Thanksgiving table?

Glowing Grass

Glowing Grass

Morning glow on grass seed heads of Green Heron Pond beckon me in their direction.  The sun’s warmth is abundant in this open landscape.  As I walk across the bridge connecting the larger water body to its smaller neighbor, a pair of Mallards take off; and their wings produce a warning whistle. The duckweed that had covered the water is now halfway gone.

Willow Sentinel

Willow Sentinel

At the water’s edge, a wise old willow holds onto its green coat of leaves on this brisk morning.  The boardwalk is frosted in few spots. Tamarack trees have shed leaves.  The greenness of maidenhair fern in the bog’s lady slipper glade make me wonder whether the season is moving forward or backward.

What Are You Looking At?

What Are You Looking At?

A red squirrel chatters overhead.  On the ground, one gray squirrel whimpers to another as their alternatively tussle and paw at the ground.  One of them deftly climbs up brush.

Sweet Black-eyed Susan

Sweet Black-eyed Susan

Sparsely scattered at Green Heron Pond but in full bloom at the entry to the woodland garden, a large clump of sweet black-eyed Susan stands defiantly.

Ginkgo Fruit

Ginkgo Fruit

Most of the trees are barren now.  The golden fruits of ginkgo glow against the blue sky.  I step gingerly, avoiding their windfall fruit to snag the right photograph.  The odor comes from the butyric acid in the fleshy outer layer.  Speaking of fall fragrance, has anyone else noticed the smell of senescence around wetlands?  Not all autumn experiences are olfactorily pleasant, yet they trigger memories that are fond upon reflection.

I hear rustling leaves – then find the source.  Like a camouflaged combine, a dozen wild turkeys crawl up the incline pecking and clawing through leaf duff in search of acorns or other food.

Three weeks since my last observance, I still find plenty of hairy golden aster still blooming – but not much else now.  Common milkweed pods have split their silver lining open to shed silken seed.Returning to the visitor center through the perennial garden, I enjoy the daytime sparkle of Bruce Munro’s Winter Light art installation.  Yes, the seasons are advancing, albeit in a start-stop fashion!

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

 

 

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Looking Long Range

By Boak Wiesner

A lot has changed since I was last here. The woods are now mostly brown, and the leaves are down, but here and there splashes of color grab my eye. The gray day seems to mute the sounds around me. The quiet air is good for where I’m at as I think the predictions about this coming fall and winter, and I realize that taking some photos from a distance could be an analogy, for then that what comes into my camera’s eye, and my eye, happened longer ago than those images right in front of me. I wonder why the Weeping Willow is still so green, while the Aspens are yellow, while still the Red Oaks have mostly lost all their leaves? Something in that “dark laboratory we call the soil”?

There are many oscillating cycles that contribute to the overall climate of regions of the Earth, the main one being the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, which is in a neutral pattern right now. So our winter is expected to be normal.

A little Red Squirrel scampers across the path. Busy collecting then burying nuts and seeds, he seems to hardly mind my presence at all. On the steep hill to my right are a couple of Gray Squirrels thrashing through the sere leaves.

Here and there are bursts of color, especially prominent against the background of dull brown. The leaves of some False Rue Anemone almost glow in comparison to the oak leaves.

dsc_0027Overhead there’s the nest of Bald-faced Hornets. They chew up wood fibers which mix with chemicals and enzymes then regurgitate the mixture out as the familiar paper of the nest. It was made to house their larvae n comb made or paper rather than wax.

dsc_0034Some Black-capped Chickadees are busy eating seeds of various plants in the bog. Their bustling brings a smile to my face on an otherwise cold and gray day.

dsc_0039Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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Talking – and Taking Accounts

By Greg Lecker

Yellow leaves fall around me as I descend the switchback trail from Berens Cabin into the Grace Dayton Woodland.  Though past peak, autumn colors still delight.  It’s easy to see through the trees now.Morning’s first light breaks over the tree line and lights up the remaining leaves of the forest canopy.

Dawn’s Early Light

Dawn’s Early Light

Looking around, I note the seed heads fluffy seed heads of zig-zag goldenrod.  Its foliage and that of woodland poppy remain green among the brown forest floor.  Maidenhair fern has turned mottled brown.

Mottled Maidenhair

Mottled Maidenhair

Scanning skyward at the filtering light scattered by the filigree of foliage and fine twigs, I focus on three trees that form a story circle.Let me tell you not a tale of two cities but a tale of three trees.

A Tale of Three Trees

A Tale of Three Trees

Sugar maple begins, speaking in words as smooth and gold as honey.  Red oak rustles, somewhat brusquely.  Seemingly hurt, sugar maple whimpers, its response trailing off.  Long after the others have hushed their exchange, Canada hemlock lingers, brooding deep and dark.

A bit more about the mighty red oak – in truth, a swell fellow.  Looking skyward now at the red accents of the woodland ceiling, I realize just how much red oaks dominate the mature canopy of the woodland bowl below the sugar maple fringed ring.  Anchored by massive trunk and bough, the red oaks here reach 120 feet (my estimate).

Mighty Red Oak

Mighty Red Oak

As I walk between the woodland and the prairie, the subtle music of Jim’s flute serenades me this Sunday morning.  Subtle movement in the treetops attracts my attention.  A pileated woodpecker cackles.  It encircles a tree trunk.  Flashing one after the other through the canopy, two large winged forms dart past.  At first I suspect they are grouse, given the fan shape of the tails.  Watching, I barely catch a glimpse of the tail and wing patterns.  Red shouldered hawks chasing one another – I think.

Having heralded the march towards autumn, blazing sumac foliage now brings up the rear.The story of the prairie is now all about textures. Bridging the roadway gap between the wide open prairie and the Capen Display Garden are the blooms and fuzzy seed heads of hairy golden asters.

Hairy Golden Aster

Hairy Golden Aster

Though seemingly dainty, a few purple harebell blooms dangle above the spiral of the water feature — now quiet and dry.  The silence is marred just slightly by distant traffic.   Calling and buzzing, a black-capped chickadee plays peek-a-boo among the stems of goldenrod.

Milkweed

Milkweed

The breeze picks up –a milkweed pod clings steadfastly to its downy seeds. Time to go, say I.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

 

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Color Collision

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The morning air is still nippy, but robins and finches still chortle short little tunes. A raptor kettles upward against deep blue sky dotted with puffs of cloud.

Fiery Skipper Butterfly

Fiery Skipper Butterfly

A fiery skipper butterfly stretches its proboscis for nectar and dewdrops as it clings with its forelegs to a yellow flower. The concave clubs on its antennae each face a different direction. I wonder if they work like satellite dishes to receive signals and vibrations.

The hillside across Green Heron Bog is a patchwork of yellow, magenta, rust, orange, and green fall colors, striped by white-trunked paper birches and grey snags .

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

Witch hazel sports tiny golden flowers with four long, wrinkled petals. Its yellowed leaves are tinged brown and will soon fall, leaving the flowers to bloom even past frost!

I am distracted by a huge mound of deep purple blooms of New England aster – a Minnesota native despite its name! A stately American elm still has most of its leaves, but about half are brightened to yellow.

New England Aster

New England Aster

Gingko leaves are changing from green to gold. Soon its leaves will drop all at once! Introduced to the U.S. from China, gingko is tolerant of pollution and one of the world’s oldest species. Gingko provides beauty, clean air and shade. And happily, it is not invasive.

But it also displaces a native tree, which evolved over thousands of years in a mutual relationship with our native fauna to provide the right timing, pollination, nutrition and even habitat. That makes native plants critically important to our environment.

Strolling Couple

Strolling Couple

A couple strolls under bowers of colored leaves. Even the boardwalk behind Green Heron Bog is alive with bounding footsteps and strollers. Chickadees and sparrows make tiny chip calls to keep in touch while hiding from passersby.

The mature tamarack’s needles are starting to turn yellow. The youngest are mostly gold, and a few tall ones are already completely bare. They all grow within feet of each other. I wonder what factor makes them react differently. Are some hybrid, or a non-native larch? Are the bare trees older than the others?

Creamy beige shelf fungus lines a deadfall. Nodding bur-marigolds are still in bloom. Sunlight filters down a hillside of maple trees and seedlings, casting a golden glow. Red maple has lost all of its leaves, while hybrid maples still wear yellows and reds.

A juvenile mallard preens on a log in the pond. Further out, another duck dives and pops back up a minute later. Clematis vines are puffy with seedheads. Some brown-eyed Susans and prairie golden aster are still in bright golden bloom.

Milkweed Seed Pods

Milkweed Seed Pods

Butterfly milkweed still models green leaves, but its upright pods are magenta. Many pods are bursting open, with silk-tufted seeds slowly escaping into the next breeze. Those that land on a spot of earth will freeze over winter, then sprout in spring, just as they have for thousands of years.

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

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