By Greg Lecker
It’s Showy Lady’s Slipper time! If enjoying these pink and white blooms is part of your early summer routine, then plan to visit the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum within the next week. I’ll share a secret with you (the visitor map also identifies this area). The largest masses of these orchids grow along the south side of Green Heron Pond; and these are just reaching their peak bloom.
I park at the Sensory Garden lot, then walk to the Ordway Picnic Shelter, then advance to the deck overlooking Green Heron Pond. Made of recycled plastic, the deck resembles leaves in its floor plan. Darker accent boards are inlaid as curving outlines and veins of the leaves.
I turn to the right, walking the Green Heron Trail to the south, in a counter-clockwise fashion. Above the thirty-six-inch trunk of a Silver Maple, a Pileated Woodpecker wildly cackles its call. Another Pileated Woodpecker echoes its answer. Interpretive signage describes the flow of water through this area of the Arboretum. I also learn that Green Heron Pond is one of the southernmost glacial “potholes” — where a remainder of a retreating glacier melted to form this depression and water body.
Just before the asphalt path transitions to a boardwalk, I spy the Showy Lady’s Slippers. There may be more than one hundred flowers. A few blooms have not yet opened. There, a photographer lingers, searching for the best vantage point. I hope that the blooms survive the storms forecast for Sunday evening (6/10/12).
I enter the wetland via the recently renovated boardwalk, and then turn left onto what appears to be a simple dirt path that curves outward into the wetland. Here and there, a corduroy pattern of log segments pokes up from underneath the soil overlay. In some places, the path moves up and down, and I realize that I’m walking on a “Quaking Bog”. I would sink downward if not for the constructed path. Along this wetland path, the star of the wetland is Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor).
Strolling near the Grace Dayton Woodland Garden wetland, I overhear Saturday morning walkers remark “Look at those huge Queen Anne’s Lace flowers!” Right umbel and family (Carrot); but wrong species. The native perennial Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum) bears very large leaves and fragrant flowers. Its maple-like leaves are extremely large – up to twelve inches wide. The plant stem is hollow and very strong structurally, swelling at the joints to support the large branches that support the ample leaves and the four to eight inch wide inflorescence (aggregation of flower structures.
At the Capen Prairie display garden, Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) clumps have expanded. Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohienis) leaves appear to be walking. Rushing the early march to summer are the blooms of:
– Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa) – purple pink blooms
– Foxglove Beard-tongue (Penstemon digitalis)
– Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
– Common Milkweed (Asclepius syrica)
The candles of White Indigo (Baptisia alba) glow not just in the display garden but also in the Bennett-Johnson prairie drawing one’s eyes uphill beyond the parking lot.
Flowering display gardens of perennials and annuals are not the only interesting blooms in the Arboretum. Almost all deciduous trees bear flowers too – and early summer brings obvious and subtle flowers. Large and luscious describe the blossoms and the fragrance of the Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata) trees in the main parking lot. Their blooms will be succeeded by interesting seed heads that persist through the winter.
Among the trees within the Pillsbury Shade Tree Collection, the most fleeting of flower and fragrance are offered by Basswood (Tilia americana ‘Bailyard’ Frontyard® Linden). Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) orchid-like blooms that are followed by long seed pods. Near the duckweed laden pond that connects Green Heron Pond to the waterfall by the visitor center, I find Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana). Its blooms resemble white inflated pine cones.
Special Summer 2012 attractions include three display areas and special programming on soil science. On my next visit, I plant to explore these exhibits; I urge the reader to do the same. For more information about the exhibits that run through mid-October, visit www.arboretum.umn.edu.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer