Of Waxwings and Wildflowers

By Mary Beth Pottratz

A common yellowthroat greets me, calling “witchety witchety witchety” as I enter the Arboretum. A chipmunk skitters across the path in front of me.

Cedar Waxwing - Photo by Rick House
Cedar Waxwing – Photo by Rick House

Outside the Sensory Garden I see four dozen cedar waxwings roosting atop a tall tree. The birds take turns swooping down into a stand of flowering crabapples. Each bird tears off a pink crabapple petal, quickly downs it, and flits off. Their little black eye masks make them seem all the more like thieves.

Rick and Barb House are delightedly photographing the action. Rick offers one of his photos to the Nature Notes blog, depicting a waxwing thief caught red-beaked.

The woodland is a patchwork quilt of yellow lady’s slippers, green leaves, wild blue phlox and large rocks. The spicy-sweet scent of phlox draws me further into the forest. There’s much more to see!

The ferns are scattered everywhere throughout the woods. Delicate maidenhair ferns are already five inches tall. Sensitive and ostrich ferns are still unfurling their tips. Interrupted ferns sport small brown midsections, where their spores will grow. The spare, lacy frames of bracken fern will fill in as summer continues.

Large-flowered trilliums in white and pink dot the forest floor. Red baneberry sends up its small white globes. Panicles of tiny yellow blooms top waxy stems of blue cohosh.

Pink Shooting Stars
Pink Shooting Stars

Clumps of shooting stars sway in the breeze. False Solomon’s seal and starry Solomon’s seal show off their white blossoms. False rue anemones still boast tiny white blooms. From deeper in the woods, I hear a pair of western chorus frogs calling back and forth, their song sounding just like a thumb running down a comb.

The first mosquitoes of the season bump my face awkwardly but are too young to bite. Blues, deep pinks and purples of Virginia bluebells, spreading Jacob’s ladder, Virginia waterleaf, and countless violets glow in the muted light. A few golden Alexanders are starting to set their yellow buds.

Jack in the Pulpit
Jack in the Pulpit

But I have to look closer! Playing a game of hide-and-seek are the flowers of nodding trillium and Jack-in-the-pulpit under their three-petaled umbrellas. Solomon’s seal stretches its long stems in arches, with tiny green-yellow flowers dangling underneath its axils.

May apples hide their waxy white flowers that resemble magnolias under a canopy of round green leaves. And most difficult to see, wild ginger’s exotic-looking flowers lie directly on the forest floor at the base of their velvety stems.

Be sure to check under the leaves next time you visit the Arb!

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


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