By Mary Beth Pottratz
The morning’s dark, brooding skies give way to sun by late afternoon during this first week of summer. Nightly thunderstorms have poured more than 4 ½” of rain on the Twin Cities metro area in a matter of days. But the wetlands at the Arboretum are doing their job well. Water has not even swelled above the boardwalks and pathways.
And Sunday evening, the clouds shift away in time for us to enjoy a beautiful “Super Full Moon.” The moon is at perigee, its closest distance from earth.
Although monarch butterflies have finally returned, I hope they find enough milkweeds to lay their eggs on! Milkweeds are the only plants that monarch larvae eat.
Common milkweed plants, the monarch favorite, are already up to three feet tall on the south side of the Green Heron Pond trail, with just a few starting to set their buds. They show no evidence of monarch eggs or larva.
But the less common whorled milkweed with its tiny leaves is only one or two inches tall. Garden-bright orange butterflyweed and fragrant magenta swamp milkweed are several feet shy of full-grown.
Luckily, monarchs will have no trouble finding nectar to feed on! The air is scented spicy-sweet with purple and magenta phlox and with wild prairie roses. Columbine, golden Alexanders, graceful blue harebells and tall spears of white wild indigo grace the prairie and woodland.
Showy and yellow lady’s slippers light up the forest floor. Alum root’s tall sprays of yellow-green blooms rise above mounds of scalloped leaves. Sensitive fern has unfurled, joining lacy maidenhairs, tall clumps of ostrich fern, bracken fern and more. Gray tree frogs trill hoarsely back and forth.
Wild quinine, its many white flowers each resembling a tiny cauliflower, is just starting to blossom. Spikes of beardtongue line pathways. A lone bur-reed wears its male and female flowers along the same stem, pollen sifting down. Drifts of white fleabane ride the wetland like waves.
Dragonflies in pairs and triplets play and link mid-air. They swoop lightly along the bog’s surface, touching down two or three times to absorb water through their exoskeletons. Damselflies dart playfully around the wetland. Their colors flash blue – black – green – brown – silver metallic as they flit past me.
At the Green Heron Bog, tufted loosestrife is in full bloom, sporting golden flowers from its leaf axils. White wild callas blossom just above the water. Tall blue flag iris stand above the fray like slender guards. Freshly dug anthills stand several inches above ground, making me wonder how these tiny denizens rode out the heavy rains.
Pathways lead off the boardwalk directly into the wetland. I feel the sponginess of the peat beneath me. Sphagnum mosses rise above the tannin-stained water. Tamarack branches are lined with fleshy little red cones.
Spike rushes sport nutlets on some stems rising above their mounds. Airy drifts of long-leaf starwort’s tiny white blossoms are tangled along the boardwalk. Porcupine sedges display quilled spikelets along its stems.
A gray comma butterfly, one that overwinters in Minnesota, suns on the boardwalk. The underside of its wings is chalky gray, but the upper side a brilliant orange bordered and spotted with brown.
Jewelweed – that wonderful plant whose fleshy stem juice cures mosquito bite itch and whose spurred flowers provide nectar beloved by butterflies, bees and hummingbirds – is already three feet tall. Its flowers will open next month.
Not everything is flowering: Jack-in-the-pulpit petals have turned to paper. The petals split as an arum of round green seeds swells. Wood anemones’ slender stalks are topped with green bristly balls. Prairie smoke explodes in red tendrils and white cottony fibers; even basswood flowers have ripened into seed balls.
Spring cycles into summer.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.