Sunday Brunch

By Boak Wiesner

Summer has settled on us and with it a veritable feast of color on the prairie. Everywhere I turn, colors, especially purples and gold, greet my eyes. Clouds and sunny skies alternate overhead, lighting them in different ways.

It’s not merely the flowers that show these colors but some insect visitors, too. On some Prairie Blazing Star what looks like a wasp at first glance turns out to be a Hoverfly. Its coloration perhaps serves to keep predators away; hence, it’s a mimic.

Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)

Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)

I had to look closely to see the little gold flowers of Big Bluestem. These are pollinated by the wind and soon tiny, like, really tiny seeds will develop. A grass that dominates the prairie, gardeners and landscapers are returning to it for use in low-maintenance plantings. It’s quite nutritious, too.

Big Bluestem (Andropogan gerardii)

Big Bluestem (Andropogan gerardii)

Here’s a flower whose scientific name, Sun’s Eye, is sadly not its common name: Oxeye. The dark abdomen on the bee tells me it’s probably some kind of Leafcutter bee, an important pollinator around these parts.

Smooth Oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides)

Smooth Oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides)

Something big flits near, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The blue scales on the back edge shows she’s a female. And another big-winged thing lands near me, a Monarch. The first nectars with open, fluttering wings, the latter with its wings closed.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Monarch (Danaus plexipus)

Monarch (Danaus plexipus)

Late in my walk, I come across a new species to me, a very large black and gold bumble bee, which, I’m not surprised to find out, is its actual name.

Black-and-Gold Bumblebee (Bombus auricomus)

Black-and-Gold Bumblebee (Bombus auricomus)

Many groups around our area are surveying bees, whose numbers are suffering due to a variety of factors, such as the use of some pesticides and climate warming. Considering how many native and agricultural plants require specific kinds of bees and their allies to be pollinated, their work can’t come too soon.

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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Summer Song

 By Mary Beth Pottratz

A song sparrow beckons us along the trail around Green Heron Pond with its delightful melody. With the woodland to my left and wetland to my right, I dash from one side of the trail to the other.

Meadowhawk

Meadowhawk

An orange Meadowhawk rests on flower buds of Culver’s root. Its wings reflects its body in orange sparkles. A chipping sparrow summons us further up the trail.
Little white cones with green spikes top Thimbleweed stalks in the woods. Wood sorrel sports tiny yellow flowers and green buds along the forest floor. Enchanter’s nightshade has tiny white blooms on slender stems rising above the leaves.
Wild cucumber is running its tightly-twisted tendrils throughout plants and shrubs on the edges of the wetland. Its first buds are just starting to form. Goldenrods are in bud and about to burst into flower. Wild quinine, Blue vervain and Ironweed are already in full bloom!

Glossy red and white berries glow in clusters above Baneberry’s matte green leaves. The burnt ochre of a mushroom head pops up through leaf litter.
White avens tiny five-petaled blossoms, pointed green sepals with a spray of cream-colored stamens from its green center. Once the petals fall, it becomes a ball of spikelets tipped with seed.

Ostrich Fern Spikes

Ostrich Fern Spikes

Ostrich ferns are setting their deep green spikes, which will release spores next spring. Golden Alexanders have lost their yellow flowers, and now sport an explosion of tiny green fruits.

Clusters of green berries ripening to red hang from the Bitternut hickory tree on the trail around Green Heron Pond. Virginia stickseed flowers are fading to fruits already.
Common yellowthroats call back and forth. A rich melody of mixed birdsong, tweets and whistles entices me further along the boardwalk. “A Catbird!” claims my friend, Mary. The concert ends in a few repeated mews, confirming her guess.

White Meadowsweet

White Meadowsweet

Lavender Mint flowers bloom at the stem axis. Iris are setting their large green pods. White meadowsweet’s five-petaled flowers are accented by coral centers and white stamens tipped with pink. Horsetail and Sensitive fern carpet the wetland floor.
Stinging nettle is in full bloom. If someone touches it, there is plenty of thick-stemmed jewelweed nearby to help reduce the prickles with its soothing aloe-like gel. But it is unusual to see so much robust jewelweed, with no buds or flowers on any of them yet. Jewelweed nectar is important to hummingbirds. I hope they develop soon.

Spotted Joe Pye Weed

Spotted Joe Pye Weed

Boneset has fully open white blossoms. Spotted Joe-pye weed’s mauve buds are just starting to open. Flat-topped white aster is already opening its white petals to reveal gold centers and tan stamen.

The scent of Bee balm and Mint drift on the breeze. Pagoda dogwoods still have a few blooms left; most are covered heavily with white berries along red stems. Jack in the pulpits have tightly-packed, shiny green berries atop a short stem.
A Northern green orchid has just finished blooming. A Willow flycatcher calls “Fitz-bew”, a Phoebe repeats its name, and goldfinches twitter. A Tiger swallowtail dips over the wetland.

A turtle suns lazily on a log in the pond. Nearby, a female Mallard preens on shore. Stems rise above Water plantain’s large leaves, with whorls of flower-tipped branches every few inches. Billows of these airy plants resemble baby’s breath at a distance and create banks of misty white against green foliage.

Bulrush

Bulrush

Pennsylvania buttercup has both tiny yellow blossoms and larger green, spiked fruit at the same time. Bulrushes flower with brown spikelets, set off by long, thin leaves. The last of the white, tropical-looking Arrowhead flowers are visible deeper in the bog.

A Turkey vulture hovers and banks overhead. Maidenhair, Bracken and Lady Ferns add beautiful texture to the woodland bog. Grape honeysuckle vines are splashed with bunches of red berries.

I count three monarchs today at the Arboretum. Still very low, but far better than last year’s one and none at all in 2013. Avoiding insecticides and planting milkweeds and native plants will help.

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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On Flying Things

By Greg Lecker

Arriving at the Spring Peeper Meadow parking lot, I view a prairie tableau: grassy expanse, bur oak, anise hyssop, and a female brown headed cowbird on fence post. Early mornings are good times to visit prairies and wetlands – especially on a day when a heat advisory is forecast. Even at 71 degrees Fahrenheit, dew on the grassy paths soaks the toes of my shoes.

Birds are active this morning. Swallows are flittering and gliding overhead, occasionally swooping downward in search of the insects – which appear abundant based on my observation of nearby plants. Red-winged blackbirds are chattering – but escape my photography. Only after I pass to they return to the plants flanking the paths.
In bud just two weeks after my last visit to Spring Peeper Meadow, showy milkweed is now reaching full bloom. On this early morning, their fragrance is faintly present. In the full soft heat of midday, their bouquet would be more obvious.

Showy Milkweed

Showy Milkweed

Besides birds, flying points of interest include the common mosquito – undaunted by my insect repellent and an elusive monarch. A single bumblebee reminds me of a recent radio story on the overall health of bumblebee populations. New evidence seems to suggest that the earth’s changing climate is threatening. Bumblebees are quite furry – and that suits them well in the cool weather of a late spring afternoon or a mild summer morning. As overall temperatures rise, one would hope that the bumblebee could expand its range northward. However, arboreal forests do not offer the flower nectar sources of the prairie.
Speaking of prairie blooms, Black-eyed Susan is one of the several yellow flowers now coming into bloom. At least two different insects feast on the flower.

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Cup plant holds its yellow blooms aloft. Among of forest of cup plant stems, rosin weed flowers nestle. Aphids cover the stems of nearby goldenrod stems; and many stems display galls – tell-tale signs of insect habitation.

Another gall-like sign of an insect “nest” is the deformation of the growing top of a cup plant. On the plant stem, the name-sake “cup” is formed opposite clasping leaves that are pierced by the plant stem – “perfoliate” is the official term. But at the tops of several plants, leaves and stem are tormented and twisted. Furthermore, evidence of a dramatic exit marks the side of the gnarled mass. Nature offers insects a creative means of inducing a plant to form – or deform – a protective shelter for insect “young’uns” – protecting them from predation.

Cup Plant Gall - Insect Nursery

Cup Plant Gall – Insect Nursery

I turn to return to the parking lot. An overview of Spring Peeper Meadow includes sweeping waves of different grasses, and in the foreground, common prairie plants: showy milkweed, cup plant, and goldenrod.

Spring Peeper Meadow Overview

Spring Peeper Meadow Overview

Venture forth and explore the fleeting nature of the plains.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Slow Superlative

By Boak Wiesner

Here I am in the Woodland Garden on our aphelion, which means that a little later this evening, the Earth will be farthest from the Sun. Since the force of gravity makes us revolve around that Sun, we’re therefore moving the most slowly in our orbit. Ah, that we really could slow summer down, if even for just a few more weeks!

Coming across the sign about the highly localized habitat of the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily sets me thinking about the relationship of the Earth and the Sun and how they interact to cause the Ice Ages, at the edge of whose remnants the lily grows. Most plant species in the woods have completed their flowering and have set fruit, structures around seeds that aid in their dispersal.

Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily (Erythronium propullans)

Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily (Erythronium propullans)

The parallel venation of its somewhat nibbled on leaves reminds me that lilies are among the group of flowering plants called the monocots. Overhead, the fruit of a Basswood tree is nearing the time when it will fall and spin to the ground with its neat attached propeller. The branching veins of its familiar leaves shows it’s a dicot – its seeds have two parts.

Basswood fruit (Tilia americana)

Basswood fruit (Tilia americana)

On the floor of the forest, I find my old friend False Solomon’s Seal, whose name I learned so many years ago while hiking with my friend Levi. Its name is exceedingly straightforward: “flowers in May, as a raceme”, that is, it has a long spike of flowers. Now in July, the fruits are found in a cluster at the ends of the stalks.

False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)

False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)

It’s “cousin”, True Solomon’s Seal grows nearby. I can never remember which is which, i.e., which has flowers at the end and which has them, and then its fruits, along the stalk. They get their names from their six-pointed flowers. And they, too, are monocots.

True Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

True Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

Since it’s been plenty wet this year, there’s a variety of ferns growing. One is Maidenhair Fern, the spirals of whose leaves cause me to reflect on how many living things show this helical pattern, like DNA or proteins.

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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Above and Below

By Greg Lecker

Even after the rain overnight, bolts of lightning accentuate the murky clouds. I arrive at the edge of Spring Peeper Meadow just after sunrise. From behind swirling clouds, a brightening cerulean sky emerges and I realize that it will be a beautiful day! Racing the moving clouds and fading light spectacular, I dash off a “quick paint” to capture my impressions.

Bright Day Overcomes Dark Clouds

Bright Day Overcomes Dark Clouds

Everywhere, I’m surrounded by dripping wet foliage. Bright sunshine sparkles off the dewy, dripping moisture. In particular, non-native four-o-clocks capture my attention in the way that webs of water bridge the spidery stems and paper-like petal/sepal corolla (flower assembly). Beads of water create a sparkling outlines of grass blades backlit with morning sky.

Four-O’Clocks and Grass Blades

Four-O’Clocks and Grass Blades

If you’ve ever seen flowering red dogwood in the home, business, or garden landscape, you’ve noticed its umbels (umbrella-like forms) of bell-shaped flowers, its red stems and its pointed oval leaves. A similar looking plant is Indian hemp. But Indian hemp offers an added attraction of a life surface that beads water beautifully.

Indian Hemp with Rain Water Beads

Indian Hemp with Rain Water Beads

I investigate the boardwalk which has been closed for the past year. It appears that repairs are underway. I hope that the walkway and the shallow wetland are both restored soon. These are some of my favorite features of the Arboretum. On my walk back towards the parking lot, I notice red fruit on low brambles. Raspberry fruits are ripening!

Raspberry Ripens

Raspberry Ripens

I consider a walk through the prairie grasses towards the main body of the Arboretum; but the dewy grasses that would envelope my tennis shoes and socks in soaking moisture discourage me. Maybe on a later visit, when the warm season prairie grasses have grown, a drier day will be more favorable for hiking. Looking further on the path, I notice broadleaf plantain and white clover. These non-natives, and especially the plantain (also known as “white man’s footprint”) grow where foot traffic may have transplanted their seeds. And, these stands are especially lush – the result of less foot traffic now because of the boardwalk closure. Plantain leaves have interesting wavy leaf edges and spike-shaped flower – features that one wouldn’t normally notice. White clover has a spherical white cluster of small florets and a three-leaflet clover-like foliage on thin curving stems.

Broadleaf Plantain and White Clover

Broadleaf Plantain and White Clover

If nothing else, my early morning visit reminds me to look up as well as down to find nature’s wonders.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Bud, Flower, Fruit

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Balmy 80⁰, light wind, and very low humidity make for a wonderful day to walk the Arboretum. Dragonflies and damselflies dart in all directions. I follow them past banks of white five-petaled Canada anemone that glow against their deeply lobed green leaves.

White Avens Flower

White Avens Flower

They lead me into the woodland garden, where a beautiful White avens dangles in front of me. Five green, pointed sepals and five white, rounded petals curve back to make room for the green stamens in its center. Pointed buds resembling a child’s play top dangle from nearby stems. An Indigo bunting repeats its two-syllable notes.

Jewelweed is hip-high in the woodland, but I see no buds or flowers yet on this hummingbird favorite.Showy Lady’s-slippers have bloomed and dried to papery brown. Spider webs glint in patches of sun.

Tall Meadow Rue Flowers

Tall Meadow Rue Flowers

Tall meadow rue flowers have no petals at all! Four white sepals open wide, from which hang small tassels of white stamens tipped in butter-yellow like wind chimes. They sway and ripple in the breeze. There are no chimes, but a Common yellowthroat calls “wicketywicketywickety” and robins sing “pip, pip, cheerio.”

A buzzing bumblebee accompanies me through the woodland, droning slowly from leaf to leaf. Odd that it lands on leaves – not flowers. A closer look reveals wings that stick out from its body, and eyes towards the front of its head. It is a fly, not a bee.

Large-flowered bellwort have pyramidal green pods dangling from stem tips. May apples hide oval green fruits under their leaves. “Fee bee,” sings a chickadee.
Huge Jack-in-the-pulpit leaves stop me in my tracks! The flower petals below have withered away. A thick cone of green berries stands where Jack once preached.

Blue Flag Iris

Blue Flag Iris

A spiketail dragonfly rests on a tree trunk. He flits away, pulling me towards the wetland. There, Blue flag iris is in full bloom. Green bulrush’s flowers are a soft, fuzzy green. River bulrush flowers erupt in a brown explosion. Giant bur-reed shows off its green, bur-like flowers below, small white pompoms above the stem, and tiny round green buds at the tip.
A song sparrow serenades me from a willow. Daisy fleabane, masses of soft pink Crown vetch, and flowering spurge have started to bloom. White wild indigo stands tall above the prairie. Bright orange Butterflyweed pops out. Thimbleweed only has a few blossoms left; most already sport their tall cylindrical green thimbles. Dwarf bush honeysuckle has just begun to show its yellow flowers.

Common Milkweed Flower

Common Milkweed Flower

Large beardtongue, Lead plant, several coneflowers and Spiderwort are all showing off ripening buds. White Wild quinine and golden Smooth oxeye dot the prairie. I smell a sweet scent: Common milkweed in full flower.

Pagoda dogwoods have green berries. Solomon’s seal flowers are drying beneath the arching stem, hanging listlessly from round fruits. Red baneberries now light up the woods with bright red berries where flowers once bloomed. A Red-eyed vireo calls from the woods, and a tree frog replies.

Tom Turkey and family are pecking under the crabapples. He puffs out his feathers, doubling in size. His tail fans open and he calls “gobble-obble-obble-obble-obble”.
One variety of basswood has already started blooming. I stop to enjoy the sight of bees and pollinating flies visiting its fragrant flowers.

Yellow Sweet Clover

Yellow Sweet Clover

Hours have passed. Yellow sweet clover glows in the late afternoon sun. Crickets sing and red-winged blackbirds call as I head home.

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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Old Friends on the Prairie

By Boak Wiesner

The first truly smothering of heat of the summer finds me out on the prairie, and since it’s my intention to move slowly, the blossoms of many wildflowers attract my attention. Last time I was here, I was looking closely at leaves; this time, it’s the different kinds of inflorescences, that is, the arrangement of the flowers, makes me lean in.

Just as I head out into the open sun, some Spiderwort catches my eye. After the spring’s plethora of white flowers, its deep purple sets a nice tone for the summer. I wonder if the various colored flower petals might be due to the pH of the soil, as some plant pigments make usual acid-base indicators. The flowers of Spiderwort form a raceme, because it looks like a cluster of grapes, but upside down.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis)

Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis)

Vetch also shows purple flowers which form racemes. Part of the Legume family, in its roots grow nodules filled with bacteria that can break apart nitrogen, which is what air is, mostly, and then reduce it to ammonium, which can then be used to make amino acids and proteins. Thus Vetch can be a good nutritious foods source for animals.

Vetch (Vicia sativa)

Vetch (Vicia sativa)

Some Prairie Fleabane look like small eyes among the prairie grasses. Their blossoms are composites: each white petal is alone of its flower and there are many florets grouped together.

Prairie Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus)

Prairie Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus)

I come up on the first prairie wildflower I learned as I began my Nature Notes gig, lo these many years ago, Golden Alexanders, so I’m cheered by it and my memory of that moment. Its flowers form umbels, relatively flat clusters of small flowers.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)

The most conspicuous flower these days, though, is that of White Wild Indigo, whose scientific name comes from word for milk, the appearance of its flowers, don’t you think?

White Wild Indigo (Baptisia lactea)

White Wild Indigo (Baptisia lactea)

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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