Turning Over a New Leaf

By Boak Wiesner

Once again, I find myself at the edge of the forest, with the recently burned and now sprouting abundant life area of the Bennett-Johnson Prairie just to the south of me. One nice thing about an edge is that the branches of trees, with leaves on them, of course, are right at ground level, making it easy to observe them.

There aren’t a whole lot of trees in Minnesota compared to some other states and they stay in their respective biomes pretty nicely, so the task of identifying the various kinds of trees we have around here isn’t too hard.

Some things I look for are the way the veins are arranged. These vascular bundles have xylem on the top, continuous tubes, essentially, that run all the way from the roots to the leaves, through which water and dissolved nutrients and minerals pass, drawn upward as water evaporates out of the leaves pulling the water behind it all the way up. Then the sugar made in the leaf is transported down through the lower level of the vein, in the phloem.

The leaves of Sugar Maple show a pattern called palmate, because they look like palm fronds; the lobes and veins radiate out from a common center at the base of the leaf.

Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum

Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum

Basswood, the other major tree of the forests around here, shows pinnate venation. There’s a central vein away from which extend smaller veins.

Basswood, Tilia americana

Basswood, Tilia americana

By the way, since the veins go out opposite of each other, that’s called, not surprisingly, opposite. Contrast that to these leaves of Red Oak, which have alternate veins, i.e., there’s one on one side, then a space, then one on the other.

Red Oak, Quercus rubra

Red Oak, Quercus rubra

Those oak leaves have lobes, the tongue-like projections that stick out. Red Oak has pointy lobes whereas Bur Oak as rounded ones.

Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa

Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa

Seeing Red Oaks reminds me that this area must have been much more open for them to have started growing and that was because the area burned when they were acorns.

Or I can use the margins, the edges of the leaves to identify which tree I’m seeing. These have doubly-toothed margins, which tells me it’s in the Elm family. I’m going to have to come back and look at the leaves later on for some more clues about which of the elms it is. Will those leaves be “folded” I wonder?

Elm, Ulmus sp.

Elm, Ulmus sp.

I find a couple of these among the leaf litter under a Red Oak. Inside I would find the larva of a little wasp, the Oak Apple Gall Wasp, whose mother laid it as an egg in the vein of the leaf. Secretions from its cuticle cause mutations in the leaf to make it grow this structure around itself.

Oak Apple Gall

Oak Apple Gall

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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On Edge

By Boak Wiesner

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: things change fast ‘round these part! Why just Saturday, the cool shade of the forest was a welcome relief from the heat of the day, and now today a flake or two of snow may be seen.

The area of transition between the forest and the openings that surround the patches of the Big Woods was where I prowled. The cool wetness has allowed ferns frond to unroll themselves from their fiddleheads. These new leaves are very tasty, too, with countless recipes for their preparation. Woodlands around the area, not the Arb itself, of course, offer a bounty of fresh greens come spring. Fiddleheads, ramps (which are a mild-flavored wild onion), Morels – these can be cooked and tossed with freshly made pasta for a delicious natural feast for H. sapiens in the know!

Fern Fiddleheads

Fern Fiddleheads

Here at the edges some familiar plants offer some counting lessons. “Leaves three, let it be” is a mnemonic device children learn to avoid the itchy and painful results from brushing up against the leaves of Poison Ivy. It the oily urushiol that causes the burning. Its name comes from the Japanese urushi, a kind of lacquer. It is very potent – I brushed against a plant just for a second and felt it itch the rest of the day. The oily material makes the leaves look waxy, which I found on several other plants today.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

Another 3-leafed plant is Jack-in-the-Pulpit, which is poisonous, too, but in a different way. It contains calcium oxalate, which can form sharp needle-like crystals, which hurt when they poke – what a good defense against getting chewed! – along with causing a whole host of other symptoms. “Jack”, there, is a spadix, a spike covered first with tons of tiny male flowers, then with female flowers. In this way, the plants don’t fertilize themselves.

Jack-In-The-Pulpit

Jack-In-The-Pulpit

“Leaves five ain’t no jive” could be a new mnemonic for Virginia Creeper, since I just made it up, could be useful to help differentiate between it and Poison Ivy, both of which grow as vines up trees. Its species epithet tells it like it is: ”five leaves.” Yo! I notice that these leaves are also pretty waxy looking, too.

Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper

Another 3-leafed plant, which to my knowledge only causes problems for me because I can eat a pound of them at a time, are strawberries, the small wild variety being infinitely more flavorful than the store-bought kind. It’s worth a trip up north to pick them.

Wild Strawberry

Wild Strawberry

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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Spring Carries On

 By Mary Beth Pottratz

Red-winged blackbirds call from the wetland as I enter Alkire Drive. Wide swaths of may apples raise their umbrella-like leaves in a layer a foot above ground. Hiding beneath this canopy are cream-colored buds and even a few blossoms springing from the branched stems.

Phlox

Phlox

The spicy sweet scent of Wild blue phlox draws me into the forest. Marsh marigolds are still in bloom.Wild strawberry and Large-flowered trillium are flowering at peak. And birds are calling everywhere – chickadees, robins, nuthatches, cardinals.

Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke

Prairie smoke is in full bloom. To me the flowers resemble buds. Cerise balls droop from each stem, five slender bracts flaying out from the base. Once pollinated, the stem will straighten and petals and sepals will extend upwards like a spray of pink water. From a distance, these seedheads will resemble rosy smoke.

There is no trace of the Dwarf Trout Lily’s mottled leaves, and only a few White Trout Lily leaves inch above the greening forest floor. Pasque flowers are mostly gone. The few that remain have burst into seedheads.

Pasque Flower

Pasque Flower

But the ground they graced is now carpeted with violets of many kinds: Common blue, Canadian white, Downy yellow, some light blue violets, white speckled with purple, and more. Greek valerian has just started to pop out its lavender posies. Meadow rue looks as though it will be setting its buds soon. Maidenhair ferns are six inches tall, and ostrich ferns three feet!

Canadian White Violet

Canadian White Violet

Purplish Blue cohosh buds are opening into puce green petals from a green, yellow and white base. Such interesting colors!

Suddenly, a barred owl calls from deeper in the woods. Its mate replies, “Who, who, who cooks for you all?” The calls continue as I wander through the Wildflower Garden. How unusual for owls to call in early afternoon!

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium

Wild geranium leaves, many with fresh buds, carpet the forest floor. Only a few have started flowering.

False Solomon’s seal is setting its green cauliflower-like buds at its stem-tips. False rue anemone’s five-petaled flowers glow against dark woodland leaves. Most form star-shaped seed clusters already.

Red columbine’s smart red spurs and yellow petals hang upside down from drooping stems. Large-flowered bellwort and Early meadow rue are also in full flower.
Along the dry creek bed I spot Skunk cabbage leaves. A few weeks ago I searched in vain for this unusual (and stinky!) flower. With its spathe now withered, huge leaves are starting to shoot up, marking the very place I searched for it. Skunked again!

Bloodroot pods are almost hidden by the now-large leaves. Sticky-willy’s tiny four-petaled blooms and false rue anemone’s five white petals with dainty yellow-tipped stamens poke out between violets and trilliums.

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

Small and large yellow lady’s slippers’ stems are above ground, but are not yet setting their buds. Jack in the pulpits are freshly opened. Virginia bluebells are starting to open their purple buds and blue bells. Bare branches of witch hazel sport twigs with new buds that are just about to burst open.

I could wander here for hours if I had the time. As I walk away, I find fluffy yellow goslings paddling with their parents in the pond near the Iris garden. And spring carries on.

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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White in the Forest

By Boak Wiesner

How rapidly things in nature change over the course of Spring around here! I was at the Arb the day after our final snow squall and now look! Flowers are out in such abundance I am forced to select a theme today so that I can “get” even a sliver of what the woods have to offer me. Several wildflowers show white in their petals and this is what I’ll look at today.

Ah! finally… it’s summer. And that allows me to lie full-length on the path to get up-close-and-personal with some of the denizens of the forest floor. I find some White Trout Lilies near the creek below the Shade Tree parking lot. What a good place to begin my summer’s ramblings, both ambulatory and epistolary.

DSC_0001I only need to scootch my bulk across the path a little to go face-to-face with some Cutleaf Toothwort. Its name comes from its leaves, which are finely divided, like those of carrots.

DSC_0090

DSC_0100Again, just a short distance away are some violets. Though there are purple ones and gold ones nearby, I’m sticking to my theme: white. Looking deep into a subject sometimes yields unexpected treasures. Did you know, for instance, that the family of flowers is named after the Italian scientist Malpighi, about whom usually hears when dealing with insect kidneys. If you dissected a grasshopper in school, I’m sure you’ll recollect the term.

DSC_0131Some Rue Anemone catches my eye. The softly rounded lobes of their leaves show what they are. One might think that the botanists in Paris would live along the Rue Anemone, but alas!, there is no such place.

DSC_0205He who I call my guru, Aldo Leopold, considers a skein of geese arriving to be the hallmark of spring but to me, nothing says “spring is sprung” like the blooming of Trillium. There are many patches of them here. I can follow their blooming as I will be traveling north soon.

DSC_0111Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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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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