By Greg Lecker

Along the entry drive and within the gardens, tulip petals are soaking wet, their colors saturated with moisture.  Several inches of rain have fallen and continue to fall.   In general, plants don’t seem to mind; but the earth yields to the flow of water.  Pools gather at the base of the hill below the climbing rose garden, flows across the Sensory Garden parking lot and onward to Iris Pond – which appears full.  Even with Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden, new vernal ponds have formed along and almost over the path this spring.

Along the entry path into the woodland, red and yellow columbine laps in the moisture.  Its flower stems seem to be stronger than they appear.  They remain erect, the flowers suspended and floating.


Marsh Marigold decorates the edges of the zig-zag brook where water flows stronger than I’ve witnessed before.

“I love the Cowslip, with its yellow cup;

And there the honey-bee delights to dwell

Athirst, still lingering for the last sweet sup

Till daylight fade;

Humming her merry airs o’er twilight dell

And dewy glade.”

– T. L. Merritt;

The Language of Flowers compiled and edited by Mrs. L. Burke

No insects are flying this morning – it’s too wet out.  I too enjoy the long-lasting blooms of cowslip or marsh marigold, which blooms here and in the bog at Green Heron Pond.

Marsh Marigold

The woodland is lush now.  A purple haze hovers above the green ground cover.  The blooms of Virginia waterleaf are delicately detailed.

Virginia Waterleaf

While many gardeners consider this plant a weed, it is a native wildflower found in woodlands.  Surprisingly, as often as not, the leaves are not mottled with patterns than resemble water droplets.  I cannot find any such plants this morning.

A flower that carries its own umbrella is Mayapple.  Large palmately divided leaves resemble the protecting outstretched hands of giant garden gnome.  Below are the wondrously softly tinted flower.  Carefully look under the leaves, and you will find the flowers.


I don’t have an umbrella this morning, not even a rain coat – forgotten at home.  Thus, I wrap up my visit early.  Be sure to bring rain gear and sunscreen on your next visit.  One never knows what nature will offer as entertainment next.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.






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Familiar Faces

By Boak Wiesner

Strangely, it was Kipling who comes to mind as I went in search of the famous and elusive Dwarf Trout Lily. I head towards where I saw them last spring, recalling “I knew his times and his seasons…” But I find none. Yet. All around me are the familiar wildflowers of the Minnesota woodlands, which more than make up for not seeing one species.

Is there anything else that says “Spring is here” better than the blooming of Trillium? I remember the first time I was really aware of them, lo these 25 years ago, when the woods up at Banning State Park was carpeted in their blossoms.

Another familiar face is Marsh Marigolds. Wherever there is a little water standing or flowing, as in the little creek here, you’ll find these happy golden flowers. They remind me how much I have learned about wildflowers over the years of writing these Nature Notes.

Take these Foam Flowers. Up ‘til a few years ago, I didn’t even know they existed, much less be able to identify them. Learning something new is always on the docket when I wander the paths of the Arboretum. I note they are white with yellow pollen on the stamens, which seems to be the main coloration pattern for the flowers that bloom early in Minnesota.

Another example is the False Rue Anemone. Their abundance around me cheers me up at the onset of a little rainshower. Some time ago I had some back surgery, which hinders me was I walk, but right now, I feel that it has slowed me down sufficiently from my past hurried pace, so I can truly observe and enjoy all the beauty around me out here in Nature.

The Jack-in-the-Pulpit growing so nicely in on the forest floor indicates that these woods are relatively healthy. The flower parts are all gathered together in the “jack” called a spadix. Probably it should be called “Jack and Jill in the Pulpit.” Don’t eat it, though. It contains oxalic acid crystals which are long and thin and sharp. They poke into your tender cheeks and hurt.

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

*This is Boak Wiesner’s final scheduled “Nature Notes” blog post as he heading off for a well-earned retirement.  The Arboretum thanks Boak for his dedication and love of nature and of the Arbortetum. Have a great retirement!

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Unexpected Color Amidst the Gray

By Greg Lecker

Waterfowl are especially talkative this morning.  One pair of Canada geese honk overhead flying towards Iris Pond.  Another pair honk as they come in for a landing on Green Heron Pond.  A pair of wood ducks fly from the water surface as the trail and I near pass by.  Their call is heard as they take flight or when they are alarmed – and clearly both are true now.  While the male call is a thin whistle; the female call is a repeated, nervously warbling ooo-eeek, ooo-eeek.  I feel I owe them an apology for my presence.

Though the day seems dull, gray, dreary and drizzling, unexpected light and color can be found by those who search.  I discover that my friend Libby Scheele, husband Paul, and son Ben are also visiting today.  Libby, ever the artist in words and paint, describes the skies as “platinum”; and I agree that we need to be open to each day, whatever it presents.  That seems true of skunk cabbage, found in wetlands like those bordering the boardwalk.  A gray day challenges my photography skills – so I’m turning to other art forms.

Skunk Cabbage

When painting them, I find subtle interest amidst their unfurling leaves.  In the mottled colors of a bruise, fleshy flowers can occasionally be found.  A pointed, spotted brown or purplish hood (spathe) emerges to a height of about 4” to 6” tall.  Inside this spathe, a club-like stem or spadix bears tiny flowers.  The spathe-spadix arrangement resembles its Arum family sibling, Jack-in-the-Pulpit.  Layered like cabbage leaves, the foliage will grow to be as tall as two foot or more.

Seemingly overnight — presumably because of abundant moisture and intermittent sunny warmth – Grace Dayton wildflower woodland has been carpeted with green ground cover and yellow and blue blooms!  The same yellow “buttercup” found in Green Heron pond’s bog also blooms here along the waterway.

Cow Slip

Cowslip appears to be a poetic, pastoral name for a flower, also known as Marsh Marigold.  Its linguistic origins suggest a more base association.  The original Anglo-Saxon word was cuslyppe, cu for cow and slyppe for slop.  Thus cowslip literally means “cow-slop” or “cow-dung”, presumably because cowslip flourishes in cow pastures!  Might cows have also slipped on patches of this flower?  The name “Marigold” comes from an Anglo-Saxon work meaning “marsh-gold”.

Virginia Bluebells

Blooming unusually early, Virginia Bluebells cover the hill below the sensory garden restrooms.   Flowering lasts only a few weeks at most and sometimes less.  The flowers begin opening as the stems elongate.  The typical flowers are elongated, bell-shaped flowers, about 1” long with five petals that fuse into a long tube (corolla) blue with a reddish cast in the bud.


Twinleaf leaves are almost completely divided into two symmetrical halves and resemble open butterfly wings.  The genus name Jeffersonia commemorates Thomas Jefferson who, among his other accomplishments, was a botanist.  Twin Leaf is a plant you won’t find blooming unless you visit the woodland nearly every day.  The flowers resemble those of Bloodroot – which was nearly as elusive this spring as Twin Leaf always is.  Today, I’m skunked!  I see one flower bud and seed heads but no open flower.  Maybe later today when (and if) the sun comes out.  Good things come to those who are present – early and often!

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.





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Ephemeral Treats

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The cool morning air is clean and smells fresh from yesterday’s rains. Bright sunshine stripes the woodland floor with naked tree shadows. Branch tips are swelling with barely open buds. Clumps of low green leaves dot the forest floor, standing out against the snow-bleached leaf litter. Ferns, Virginia waterleaf, bluebells, trout lilies, bellwort and anemones are leafing out.

Large-flowered Trillium

Just three short weeks ago, tiny snow trilliums were in full bloom! Now there is no sign of the ephemeral flower, but its cousin, the large-flowered trillium, is just forming buds.

Kim and Linda

Three people bend carefully over a small clump of green and purplish-brown mottled leaves. The dwarf trout lilies are in full bloom! Kim and Linda, under close supervision by endangered plant curator David Remucal, are flagging and counting this endangered plant. Cameras and temperatures gauges automatically record weather and disturbance data. It is hoped that this research can save the dwarf trout lily from impending extinction.


A white trout lily – not of the endangered dwarf species – blooms nearby. There are many trout lily leaves up, and soon the carpet of mottled green and brown leaves will be dotted with many white and yellow drooping lilies. Purple and pink hepaticas glow against the carpet of leaves. Bluebells have bright cherry buds, promising their little blue trumpet-shaped flowers in short order.

Siberian squill have just started blossoming. Although a lovely, tiny blue flower, the plant has spread throughout the woodland. It is not native to the U.S., and has no natural predators here. Sadly, I find squill amid the dwarf trout lilies, where it will be very difficult to remove. Squill resprouts easily, so each plant must be removed in its entirety.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Chickadees are calling and flitting about. Silently, a flash of yellow darts behind a tree trunk. I follow the quick movements.  Sure enough, my first yellow-rumped warbler of the season! These birds are migrating through to their nesting grounds in Canada.

Bird melody floats through the trees. Red-winged blackbirds are claiming their territories. Song sparrows warble sweetly, chickadees whistle long, slow “feeee-beeeees” and robins call their familiar “pip, pip, cheerio!” Haunting pileated woodpecker calls echo through the trees. Chorus frogs provide a sweet rhythm, and drumming woodpeckers mark the beat.

Cutleaf Toothwart and Beetle

Some bloodroot plants are still in flower, but most have unfurled leaves and some are already in fruit. Cutleaf toothwort is tipped with buds. A few are in flower, and one sports a beetle at its top. Mayapple stems are already five inches tall; some grow in pairs where a flower will soon form.

As I slowly pick my way – stepping on a plant can curtail its life cycle – I see sign of deer that were not so careful. They even munched the tops of leaves. I only hope they leave some for next year!

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

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Home Demo Gardens Sprout Seeds of Inspiration

By Barbara DeGroot

Innovative, adventurous and always relevant, the Arboretum’s Home Demo Gardens never fail to engage and delight visitors.  This year is no exception. Arboretum gardener extraordinaire Ted Pew shares a few highlights:

Edible Pollinator Garden
This garden is designed to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Bamboo “teepee” structures support Phoenix climbing nasturtiums (reds & oranges) and heirloom Golden Marie beans. Also featured: Imperial Star artichokes, the small and roundish Thai Yellow Egg eggplant, Kilimanjaro white marigolds (yes, white!), Swiss chard (Bright Lights), Eleonora basil, salvia Pink Sunday, rhubarb, English lavender, day lilies and plum trees. And don’t miss the compact, red popcorn plant – Two Inch Strawberry – so named because its cobs resemble the aforementioned fruit.  Likewise, the Orange Banana tomato!

Rainbow Garden

The main vegetable bed (garden for a family of four) will feature a rainbow theme, with waves of plants in rainbow hues – from violet, indigo and blue to green, yellow, orange and red. From eggplant to radishes and everything in between; there’s even a blue tomato!

Other home-demo specialty gardens include: AAS Seasonal Garden, Intensive Veggie Bed (aka, Bean Garden), Root Vegetable Garden, Pizza Garden and an Ornamental Veggie Bed (aka Oddball Garden for its unusual plants).  And don’t miss the Teaching Garden.

Teaching Garden

Also focusing on pollinator-friendly veggies and flowers, especially zinnias, the Teaching Garden spotlights several top winners from the Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Seed Trials over the past 35 years.

Pew lists his favorite “pollinator plus” zinnias – State Fair Mix, California Giant, Zinnia Zowie Yellow Flame, Uproar Rose, Benary’s Giant and Orange Profusion.

You’ll also find: Brussel sprouts – Jade Cross and Hestia, both All-America selections; leeks– American Flag and Lancelot; celery – Tall Utah and Conquistador; cucumber – Marketmore; winter squash – Sweet Mama, Ponca and Table Queen; and many more selections. The Teaching Garden is located just outside the west entrance to the Visitor Center.

All in all, lots of inspiration for home gardeners!

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Spring is Moving in

By Boak Wiesner

One sure moving sign of spring is the water flowing everywhere. In the ravine, the little rivulet trickles down towards Lake Minnewashta, then Minnetonka, then the creek, then the Mississippi, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. Reminds me that soon very many neotropical migrants, birds, that is, will be back. I grew up near Minnehaha so it will always be “the” creek to me.

Red Oaks are beginning to leaf out pumping water and nutrients from their roots up to the ends of the twigs where they are the source of material for the new leaves. Spring is bustin’ out all over! Some of their neighbors still have last year’s leaves on them. I wonder what makes one tree hold its leaves while another doesn’t? There’s probably some physiological reason but still there’s a lot of variability in natural systems.

Up in the sun, some Sugar Maples are a bit farther ahead with their leafing out. Soon flowers will appear – the yearly cycle is turning once again. Each species has its own time of blooming. Their flow of sap is pretty much finished. But I notice some critters up in the leaves where I wish I could be.

A Gray Squirrel clambers out on a branch, one of several I watch her sample as she nibbles the twigs to get a drink of sap. I’m pretty sure I can see evidence that’s she’s nursing right now. If you have never tried freshly tapped sap, I highly recommend it. It’s cold and refreshing with just a touch of sweetness. I sure envy that squirrel right now!

Her little “cousin” is also at work up in a nearby tree. It paused for an instant for its portrait, likely the only time it was still the whole day. They usually act like wind-up toys and are fun to watch.

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer



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Spring has Sprung

By Greg Lecker

Daffodils and Siberian Squill decorate the edges of the entry drive.  In the courtyard perennial garden behind Snyder Building, crocus of all colors and a pink hyacinth bloom.  Spring has returned to Minnesota.

Songs serenade me as I walk along Three Mile Drive. Notes of Jim’s native American flute playing waft from within the Japanese garden.  Red-winged blackbird, red-bellied woodpeckers and countless other birds add their voices to the dawn song.  As I descend the hill toward Green Heron Pond, two Canada geese arc overhead and descend toward Iris Pond.  I note the clarity of the color crisp water flowing from pond to pond.

Along the path, numerous small tree flowers lie on the asphalt.  I’m reminded to look for star magnolia flowers to start popping this week.  A red squirrel chatters with dissatisfaction as I enter its territory.

Pussy Willow Pollen and Stamens

Pussy willow catkins are being shed even as the male flowers are extruding their pollen tipped stamens through the fuzzy overcoat of the flowers.  I too shed my coat even at this early hour.  I sense humidity is rising with the temperatures.  Northeast of Green Heron Pond, I’m tempted by the waterway and islands that were sculpted a few years ago.  They are looking more and more established; and the log founded wood chip path looks solid.

Red Elderberry

Nature celebrates her woody shrubs by encouraging their emergence slightly below the overhead tree canopy.  One such understory native is the ugly duckling, Red Elderberry.  I use the name ugly duckling to refer to its unattractive winter appearance – all knobby and gangly.  But in the spring, semi-tropical foliage and cauliflower-like buds appear.  Soon, white fragrant flowers will appear, followed by red berries that will be stripped by hungry wildlife.

Snow Trillium

Presently, snow trillium and hepatica remain the lone blooming woodland plants within Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden.  Look for that to change in the near future as rains and warming temperatures come.  The sweet cacophony of chorus frogs mutes as I approach their woodland pool.  One can mimic their call by stroking a hair comb – then imaging a chorus of combs singing in unison!  Yellow and white forsythia bloom along Three Mile Drive between here and the prairie.

Pasque Flower

Within the prairie Capen display garden, Pasque flower is blooming on schedule.  The native wildflower grows on south facing slopes in dry to average sandy soil.  The name, pasque means “passing over”; and the adjective often refers to the events of the Judeo-Christian Passover-Easter season:  the Angel of Death’s passing over of the Israelites and the paschal victim embodied in Holy Week.  Whatever holidays you celebrate this week, I wish you happy times with families and friends.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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