Spring Rushes In

By Greg Lecker

Spring is here at last! The honking of Canada Geese attract my attention. In addition to those flying overhead, three geese are perched atop the Oswald building. How strange! Red-winged Blackbirds call with raspy metallic trills. Northern Cardinals sing their pleasing melodies.Daffodils and blue Siberian squill bloom in drifts along the drive and the hillside next to the Ordway shelter respectively.

In the Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden, green sprouts and leaves are displacing brown leaves and bare soil. How remarkable that emerging stems and leave possess the strength to thrust upward through brown leaves that are pasted together on the woodland floor. Here and there, solid glossy wild leek leaves and dull mottled trout lily leaves mingle in drifts.

Twinleaf buds open

Twinleaf buds open

Many spring wildflowers are in bud; and some are even in bloom. In particular, Dutchman’s breeches catch my eye. Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) is just beginning to open. Perhaps in some southern areas of the county, Thomas Jefferson’s namesake blooms nearer to the April 13 birthday of this former president and botanist. A few scattered hepatica are beginning to open their buds. Wild violets add their blue-violet hues to the widening color palette. Yellow buds of woodland poppy are glowing near the woodland rivulet. Anemone shines in the backlight of the sun.

Shining Anemone

Shining Anemone

On my way from the woodland garden to the prairie, I stop to admire the white flowers of magnolias. Then I notice the somewhat inconspicuous flowers of a bur oak blooming in the foreground right under my nose. Oak flowers are small and knobby; and from the center of the flower cluster,emerging oak leaves are just barely visible.

Bur Oak Flowers

Bur Oak Flowers

The aroma of a recently extinguished campfire and the sight of a black seared landscape reach me simultaneously as I come upon the prairie and Capen Display Garden. I’m happy that Rich and Arboretum staff were able to shoehorn a controlled burn amidst the prior week’s winds. In no time, flushes of green growth will tint the charcoal. The growing crowns of prairie plants and grasses lie protected under the burned growth that remains from last year. Just recently, I heard a radio story describe how the growing crown of corn similarly remains under the soil until after the corn shoot shows five or six leaves. Thus it is that nature has the means to protect the growing heads of plants from frost as well as fire.

Ashes Await Rebirth

Ashes Await Rebirth

The week’s expected warmth and, hopefully some rain, will further speed the greening of spring. Spring is rushing in; and I must be rushing out – home to complete weekend chores.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Blooms, Buds and Ephemera

By Mary Beth Pottratz
Daffodils and jonquils have popped up in a few places at the Arb. A grand clump of forsythia shines bright yellow, and even a few tulips are open in the rock garden.
But I rush past them to the woodland garden, hunting spring ephemeral wildflowers this late afternoon. I am richly rewarded.

Snow Trillium

Snow Trillium

A few tiny snow trilliums are still open. Soft white petals of false rue anemone are spotted with its gold pollen. Are there any pollinators out yet? Just then a loud buzz rushes the side of my head, brushing my hair. It was big. Maybe hummingbird big! Or was it a queen bee seeking a nest? Either way, pollinators are out!

Dwarf Trout Lilies

Dwarf Trout Lilies

At the entrance to the woodland garden, a group of Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lilies grow lushly at the base of a tree. These endangered flowers only grow naturally in three southeastern counties in Minnesota. Kudos to the Arboretum staff who have – with permits – coddled them into bloom here.

Twinleaf

Twinleaf

The larger White trout lily’s leaves are evident throughout the woodland garden, but I find only one blooming. Tiny clumps of Twinleaf are also in bud. Purple stems and bud scales, and even purple-tinged leaves, set off a single bright white ball atop a single stem.
I am pleased to find a sharp-lobed hepatica. Its lavender-blue flowers not fully open, and last year’s brittle leaves are still attached to its base. A single white bloodroot blossom is held warm by its two enclosing leaves. None are fully open on this cloudy and drizzly day. A drift of fallen petals surrounds the base.

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia bluebells are in bud, and a fun sight too! Tiny, lavender-pink petal balls form a starry pattern as they try to push their way through dark green bud scales. Early meadow rue is also in bud, and Spreading Jacob’s Ladder, too. The water-stain leaves of Virginia waterleaf form large patches throughout the forest, and violet leaves abound, but no buds yet for either.

Large flowered bellwort droops its yellow blossoms in a few plants, and many others are merely starting to push out of the dirt. Dutchman’s breeches wave their pantaloon-flags here and there. A few tiny buckbean flowers are almost hidden among anemones.
A heavenly scent drifts through the woods. Could it be Marsh marigolds? Several clumps are just opening to show off the golden flowers. Interesting lichens expand in the moist air.

Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger

Birds are strangely silent in the woods. Wild leek leaves are already a foot tall. The peculiar flower of Wild ginger lays on bare ground to tease ants into visiting and pollinating it.
While the Skunk cabbage flowers are withering, its leaves are already springing above it. May apple buds are starting to push through the center of the two leaves, but most are not even sprouted yet!

As I leave the woodland garden, a pair of barred owls call from up the hill, “Who, who, who cooks for you all?” Trees covered with magnolia flowers perfume the air.
Driving past the wetland on Alkire drive, I stop to listen to nature’s concert. Red-winged blackbirds call “konklaREE!!” to declare their territories. Western chorus frogs – dozens of them – sound like many people running their thumbs down a comb. Some hidden birds are whistling, and a wood frog quacks from the wetland edge.

Although my camera can capture a likeness, I can’t save these scents and sounds. And within a few days or weeks or months they will be gone. Like the wildflowers, they too are ephemeral.

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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31 days

By Richard DeVries

We tapped the first sugar Maple on March 7 this year and we pulled all the taps on April 7. The season lasted 31 days, exactly one month. During that period we had some warm weeks and some cold weeks and only a handful of days  that the sap was flowing. We tapped a total of 270 sugar Maples and we ended up with 49 gallons of Maple syrup this year, that is about 15 gallons below average.

We store the syrup in 5 gallon containers in a undisclosed location. The syrup needs to be at a minimum temperature of 180 degrees when we put it in a container. The temperature sterilizes the container and with a good seal on the cap the syrup can be stored at room temperature.

When the gift store needs more bottles we take one of the 5 gallon drums, heat it back up and repeat the hot-packing process.  Sugar is a natural preservative and with a good seal on the cap the bottle can be stored at room temperature again. After opening it needs to be refrigerated because we don’t add any other preservatives.

p_00505

We finished cleaning all the lines, tanks, pans and other equipment and it is stored away till next spring.

A lot of work for a short season but the sweet treat of pure Maple syrup makes it worth the effort.

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Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me

By Boak Wiesner

Considering the brief burst of snow just a day ago, it’s a shocking change to be out in the broiling sun. A stiff wind from the south brings warmth, a reminder of the strong high pressure system that just passed by over the last few days.

Pussy willow catkins add some welcome yellow to an otherwise drab landscape – drab for just the moment, though, as the sense of things being completely ready to burst out is fairly palpable.

DSC_0010The remarkably loud call of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet greets me at the south junction of the boardwalk. Such aloud call out of such a small bird. The steep hill here minimizes the wind so that lots of calls can be heard. Early spring is a great time of year to look for birds because, with no leaves on the trees yet, they can be spotted much more easily.

DSC_0032A couple, literally, of Chickadees are part of the festivities. A pair of Hermit Thrushes flit through; however, it’s too early in the day for them to be singing – too bad for me, as they are some of the forest’s most melodious singers! Songbirds fall into two main groups, the Oscines and the Tyranni, based on the structure of the syrinx, the singing organ.

DSC_0019A bit further on, the first singing of Chorus as well as Wood Frogs – and there’s no surer sign of spring! – more than makes up for that. Frogs have a larynx like other vertebrates but use a lot of energy singing, up to 15% of their total expenditure. (There’s a joke here about politicians and I’ll leave you to finish it.)

I come across a downed branch of a Bur Oak. On it grows not only fungi, some kind of Polypore, but also lichens. At a glance, I see three of the six kingdoms, the lichens being a symbiotic pairing of an alga and a fungus.

DSC_0072Glistening in the sun, the wet ends of willow stick up out of the water. The tooth marks were made by a beaver the remnants of whose dam can still be seen just back there on the south side of the boardwalk. Things in Nature are never static.

DSC_0082Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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Overture of Spring

By Greg Lecker

A wide variety of birds are singing their overture to spring as I begin hiking. I hear calls from Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee; and flying overhead, Killdeer, a flock of Canada Geese, and a higher pitched distressed sounding call from one of a pair of ducks. Accompanied by this music, I stroll quickly past newly cleared annual beds where the tulips are thrusting their reddish-tinted leaves from towards the sky.

On my travel to the Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden, I notice that Green Heron Pond has opened up. I hear that the ice went out on Lake Minnetonka this weekend. How appropriate that the holidays of Passover and Easter mark the release and rebirth from the dark and cold of winter.

In the woodland wildflower garden, wild leek foliage is up; but as is the habit of this native plant, its flowers will not appear until after the foliage goes dormant. Not only is snow trillium up but it’s blooming – about two weeks earlier than in 2014.

Snow Trillium

Snow Trillium

On my way to the prairie, I’m struck by the forsythia clump. Two weeks ago, buds were just beginning to show a hint of yellow. Now, all the buds are ready to pop. A few buds have opened already!

Forsythia Blooms

Forsythia Blooms

In the Capen Display Garden next to the prairie, Rich and two assistants are clearing the leftover plant detritus from last year.

Cleaning the Capen Display Garden

Cleaning the Capen Display Garden

In this garden eleven months ago, I watched Rich and others transplanting fragile prickly pear cactus rescued from a development site. Rich reminds me to look for the cactus blooming in another month or two. Rich also points out the blooming Pasque Flower.

Pasque Flowers

Pasque Flowers

Rich clues me in on the sites of a number of unusual native plants I’ve not yet found at the Arboretum – inviting me on a scavenger hunt to complete and share with future Nature Notes readers.

Just after leaving these garden guardians, I see in the distance a band of wild turkeys running quickly. Then I notice the cause – a male is strutting in full Thanksgiving mascot fashion. His display and gobbling doesn’t appear to be completely welcomed by his “harem” which is moving away from him.

On my walk through the Shade Tree collection, I notice a recent windfall. The totem marking heights of tree growth over the years has been felled – likely by Wednesday evening’s high winds.

Wind-Fallen Totem

Wind-Fallen Totem

The damage the totem inflicted on a nearby sign reminds one to pay due attention to the severe weather warnings to come this year. I have a feeling that the 2014 drought of tornadoes (about half the average 45) may not be repeated in 2015. Fair warning to us all. Will the spring overture be followed by a calm or a story passage?

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Cooking Inside and Out

By Richard DeVries

We had a good sap run over the weekend. We emptied the bags on Saturday after the open house and Monday morning all the bags and tanks were full. Monday morning the sap-lines were frozen and we had a good sap-run again.

Cooking Inside

Cooking Inside

The warm temperatures had me cooking inside and out. I decided to cook down all the sap before it would spoil. Monday I cooked down 350 gallons of sap and made 10 gallons of syrup. On Tuesday I cooked down 425 gallons of sap and made another 15 gallons of pure Maple Syrup.

I wanted to pump out all the tanks and clean them to minimize the bacteria in the sap. People frown upon the word bacteria and I try not to use it too much but the warm weather leaves me no choice. To keep it to a minimum we have to work clean and fast.

Cooking Outside

Cooking Outside

Early in the season the sap from the trees is crystal clear, not unlike water. When it gets warmer during the days the sap turns cloudy and we have to cook it down right away and we have to clean the  tanks more regularly. The sap will spoil if it sits around too long but a little bit of bacteria in the sap is not bad.

The sap will be cooked for hours and the bacteria will make it a darker grade with a stronger flavor that most people prefer. Usually the syrup will be a lighter grade early in the season and turn darker as the season goes on. This year we actually started out with a medium to dark amber color, darker than I have seen before for the first syrup of the season.

Hydrometer Reading Hot Maple Syrup

Hydrometer Reading Hot Maple Syrup

I hope the temperatures will drop below freezing again before the trees leaf out. If the forecast is right we might get some more sap to cook for the weekend. If the buds on the trees get bigger than a chipmunks ear, according to a visitor I talked to last year,  we will be done for the season.

We have cooked 46 gallons of Maple syrup so far. We also cooked one gallon of Walnut syrup on our outdoor cooker but we handed most of that out as samples to the public.

Stop by the Arboretum this Saturday, April 4, from noon to 4,  for the last demonstration and sampling day of the season.

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Announcing Spring

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Pussy willows display soft wooly catkins and glint in bright sun against a pale blue sky. Tiny flowers are just starting to appear through silvery fur. These will provide the season’s first sweet nectar. Bees and other pollinators will soon throng to the only feast around this time of year.

Pussy Willow Flowers

Pussy Willow Flowers

New green tulip leaves edged in red are pushing their way through dirt and arching towards the sun. The wintertime spruce and pine arrangements in the large patio canisters have given way to simple, striking red osier dogwood twigs. Cardinal calls echo through the grounds. Chickadees state “fee-bee” continuously. A lone dark-eyed junco flits up into a tree.

Lungwort

Lungwort

My friend Barb points out the Lungwort leaves pushing through a mulch of leaves and twigs. Their tiny hairs shine in the sun, and their spotted leaves confirm their identity. A raucous blue jay calls as it flies between tree tops. I watch for a minute to see if he is warning others of a nearby predator. Lamb’s ears’ leaves are already four inches long!

Doubtless their wooly jackets protect them from freezing nighttime air.
A rafter of turkeys prance out of a garden onto the lawn. The male, sporting black-tipped breast feathers, tiptoes out first and pauses. The size of his beard and spurs shows that he is 2 or 3 years old. His feathers glisten, iridescent in the sun. The females stand timid at the lawn’s edge before darting across the lawn. The male flies down to the Green Heron Pond trailhead, and the females rapidly follow.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Prairie smoke leaves are up already, forming small mounds. No sign yet of Pasque flowers! And we could not find any visible skunk cabbage. A pileated woodpecker sounds its prehistoric cry from the trees beyond.

One maple syrup bag near the woodland garden looks ready to burst its seams! Another next to it is completely flat. A tiny, pale green fern rises up from snow-crusted leaf litter. We are mocked by a white-breasted nuthatch as we hike out of the woods.

Fern in Snowcrust

Fern in Snowcrust

Tamarack’s wooden cones have grown large over the winter. There is no evidence yet of needles prying through the many small woody buds along the branches and twigs.
A male hooded merganser sculls around the center of Green Heron Pond. He puffs his white hood fully open, glaring in bright sun. Sure she must be nearby, we search for the female but saw none.

Two red-winged blackbirds call back and forth from the cattails, claiming territory boundaries. They have not arrived yet at the wetland near my home, and I am grateful to hear their raspy voices. Not melodic, but still heralding the arrival of spring.

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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