Abundant Diversity in a Single Stride

By Sydney Chandler

Choosing to cover minimal distance this week provided the opportunity to observe extraordinary variety at the Dwarf Conifers garden. The distinct scent of conifers wafts across the path, the waterfall’s din covers any rustling of needles, and walking too closely to the edge of the path results in scruffy ankle-high tickles.


Dwarf Conifers Diversity

Variety among the Dwarf Conifers comes in many categories. Color varieties include green, yellow, and even silver needles. In particular, the Common Juniper and Tamarack exhibit multiple shades on a single stem. Several plants are embellished with cones. Some cones are green and resemble the tight elongated shape of a caterpillar chrysalis while others are brown with each scale pealing outward.


‘Petite’ Common Juniper

Stems have contrasting needle patterns: radial growth or a much flatter shape. Up close, needles mimic both organic and in-organic textures: feathers, plastic Lego trees, sturdy grasses, and worn-out felt. Stepping back, the plants’ shapes range from ground creepers to bushes to trees. Comically, a few varieties (such as the Jack Pine) appear to be tree-wannabe’s but are too exhausted to grow vertically.


‘Pusch’ Norway Spruce

For tired legs, the Dwarf Conifers spark curiosity and provide ample variety with minimal walking. Where else in the Arboretum is there so much diversity in a single stride?

Sydney Chandler is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Heat, Wind, Dark, … and Stormy?

By Greg Lecker

Since showy lady’s slipper is blooming, I head directly to the boardwalk of Green Heron Pond.  Though some orchids can be found in the woodland, this corner of the bog is where the plants are most plentiful.  I’m not disappointed – and you won’t either if you hurry.  Sunday storms may affect the blooms I see (and paint).

Showy Lady’s Slipper

The Minnesota state flower features one or two showy flowers per stem, 1” to 1-1/2” long, white with pink or purple stripes cascading over the pouch.   Three white sepals add the finishing design touches to a slipper fit for a princess!

Though long-lived, the plant requires 15 years from seed germination to flowering.  Sawdust-sized seeds germinate into a swollen corm-like structure, then develop further only if a certain type of fungus is present. Only in symbiotic concert with this fungus will this orchid mature, for the flower’s spaghetti-like roots have forgone the usual root hairs that are necessary to absorb soil nutrients.   The flower’s tenuous grip in our landscape, if not the laws prohibiting the plant’s harvest and transplant, is reason enough to rely on reputable growers if one feels one must try growing this orchid in one’s home landscape.

I seek refuge from the heat and wind in Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden.  The woodland is very dark.  The garden is densely forested now and lush – the result of more than plentiful spring rains.  Wild ginger and Mayapple have formed spread drifts of softly rounded foliage.  Under the spreading palms of the latter, the miniature green apple-like fruit is forming.

All shades of green are present today:  the deep blue green of the maple woodland a well as distant violet-greens in the long open views where the heavy atmosphere holds diffusing moisture.  And, I glimpse yellow and reddish greens in the prairie beyond the trees.  Between the woodland and the prairie, golden Alexanders are still blooming, though in decline.  One of the longer lasting flowers, it bridges the gap between spring ephemerals and prairie profusion.

Golden Alexanders

The prairie is in that odd adolescent stage where there is much potential; though the fruits of labor are not displayed yet. Lead plant unfurls its leaves; we await its spikes of dusty violet accented with orange.

Lead Plant Unfurls

On the roadside edge of the Bennett Johnson Prairie, two standout flowers are false white indigo and spiderwort.


The heat and wind have tired both the landscape and me.  Sunday’s forecast storms will bring needed moisture and, hopefully not damage.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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