Intense reds, oranges and yellows are exploding in the annual gardens right now, despite the heat. I had planned to walk through the prairie, but stopped in my tracks at the spicy-sweet scent of wildflowers basking in the sun. Just downhill from the iris collection native wildflower plantings border a pond to demonstrate alternatives to lawn and riprap. Dozens of native wildflowers are in bloom – the prairie will have to wait!
Spikes of blue vervain and deep purple prairie ironweed tower above me. I gently tilt an eight-foot tall cup plant to see its yellow flowers on top, and cool water from the cup-shaped leaves that clasp the stem splash my feet. Bees coated thick with pollen work atop bunches of common boneset. Fleabane blooms in large clumps like baby’s breath between swathes of purple coneflowers, blue giant hyssop, snakeroot and blazing star.
Monarchs and swallowtails dance over swamp milkweed, sweet joe-pye weed and fragrant wild bergamot. Rough cinquefoil, brown-eyed Susan, and my favorite, mountain mint (try crushing a leaf!) compete with fringed loosestrife and spiderwort. A Lincoln’s sparrow whistles its melody. Red-winged blackbirds have all but finished fledging, and their “conkaree” calls are softer and more melodic. And far in the center, orange flowers peek out from the jewelweed.
But the flowers aren’t all! Lacy panicles of switchgrass seeds and the turkey-foot shapes of big bluestem grass stand over the flowers. Graceful arcs of prairie cordgrass are a playground for sanddragon and widow skimmer dragonflies. Even the duckweed and water meal decorate the bog with a pale-green glow. A ten-spot skimmer dragonfly suns on a parched leaf. Wooly sedge and green bulrush show off their funky brown nutlets, and bottlebrush and lance-fruited sedges sway in the hot breeze.
The roots of these native wildflowers, grasses and sedges will extend deep into the soil, helping to prevent erosion, absorb runoff, and filter pollutants. These same roots help the plants survive our hottest days and iciest winters. Because they are native to our area, they don’t require fertilizer and can out-compete weeds. Their flowers attract bees, butterflies, and other insects that are important to songbirds and waterfowl. And they comprise a magnificent cutting garden!
To escape the hot sun, I stroll towards the woodland wildflower garden. A brown damselfly on a branch poses, but I can’t identify it. Along the way, the first aster of the year raised its petite lavender bloom towards me, reminding me of the prairie and still more wildlife to come.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.