Nature Notes


By Mary Beth Pottratz

It’s a balmy 30 degrees this first day of Daylight Saving Time. But a stiff breeze and dense cloud cover remind me that spring won’t officially arrive for another ten days.

Chipmunks venture out – perhaps for the first time this year – from their warm dens beneath the snow. I watch them scamper between juniper bushes and dive for cover.


The first greens to appear with the latest snowmelt are heucheras, coral bells, in the perennial garden. Skunk cabbage might be starting to bloom, but the snow is too deep for now.

The birds are enjoying the respite from freezing temperatures, too, and many have started their springtime calls. A tree sparrow whistles its little song from branches above. Chickadees are calling sweet “fee-bees” and scolding when other birds invade their space.

Downy woodpecker
Downy woodpecker

Dark-eyed juncos repeat high-pitched single-note chips. A nuthatch mocks me with its raucous laugh. I follow a rapid, high, single-note squeak call that leads me straight to a downy woodpecker.

Bright red cardinals are showing off for groups of tan-backed females while calling “cheweet cheweet” or “birdie birdie birdie.” I can hear the loud squawk of blue jays and caws of crows all around me.

Yellow is the main color in today’s landscape. Bare willow branches reach straight up with mustard-yellow twigs. Tan and golden grasses and cattails stand out against bare shrubs and branches.

Ironwood leaves
Ironwood leaves

Masses of golden ironwood leaves tinged with pale pink stand out against the naked forest. They are still commonly found along creek and river banks. Also called American Hop Hornbeam, this tree provides food for pheasant, grouse, rabbits, deer and squirrels.

Its slender trunks are usually less than a foot in circumference, yet the wood is extremely hard. Although farmers used to plant them as windbreaks, their graceful habit and love of shade make them attractive landscape trees.

Behind the ironwoods, I see blue plastic tubing running between maples. The Arboretum is preparing to collect sap for maple syrup. A few more cold nights and warm days are all that’s needed to build up the pressure inside the maples. That pressure will start the sap flowing.

Then I will stop in at the annual Sugarbush Pancake Brunch on March 23 to taste Arb Maple Syrup!

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More informatoin about the Master Naturalist Volunteer Program is available at


2 comments on “Ironwood

  1. Brian O'Brien

    It’s interesting to hear that the Heucheras are already sprouting. I need to get up there to check out the awakening. I have yet to see skunk cabbages blooming, but they’ve long been on my list. Where would I look for them in the Arboretum?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: