Tall white Seneca snakeroot plants line Alkmire Drive like toy soldiers. Their creamy spires lord over the golden-yellow prairie coreopsis and purple prairie clover.
The rose walk is in its full glory. Beyond, rainbows of annuals carpet the ground. But I don’t even stop to decipher the mysterious bird stuttering incessantly from deep within a leafy oak. The powdery sweet scent of milkweeds in full bloom hurries me on to the prairie!
I am richly rewarded. Culver’s root sends its white spikes high above its green foliage. Lavender-purple showy tick trefoil flowers wave in the breeze. A single locust saws his summer solo from a nearby tree, above a stand of pearly everlasting below.
Common and swamp milkweed flowers stand three and four feet tall in the prairie in shades of cherries, pinks and mauves. Their bright orange cousin butterflyweed dots the grassy landscape as well. I watch for monarch butterflies but see none, although several milkweed plants have signs of possible recent monarch visits.
Just yesterday I inspected 53 milkweed plants in Minnetonka and found only one larva. These beautiful butterflies and their larva are experiencing severe problems from weather to pesticides, loss of habitat and predation.
If you would like to monitor monarch larva, visit the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project online at www.mlmp.org. This citizen science program is sponsored by the monarch professionals at the University of Minnesota.
At least there are other butterflies and moths! A bright orange skipper flits frantically through the prairie. A great spangled fritillary soars over flower tops as if scouting its next meal. Wood nymphs dart to and fro. Flower heads are alive with beetles, spiders, ants, aphids, flies, and yes – bees!
Soft, fuzzy leaves and flowers of the lead plant belie its name. Tiny blue blossoms emit a dark purple stamen tipped with a bright orange bulb. The overall effect is like bright flashes of fireworks exploding against the deep blue.
Dragonflies and damselflies cavort in the sky. A common yellowthroat calls from the woods nearby, and a distant mourning dove coos slowly. A goldfinch sips water from a fountain, then jumps all in to cool from the day’s heat.
The yellow and orange flowers of dwarf bush honeysuckle are set off against its purplish-tinged green leaves. Rattlesnake master’s cone-like buds are just about to pop open. White prairie clovers resemble dancers clothed in fluffy white tutus.
Sumac shrubs are tipped with bright red spires of berries. Grandma used to make nutritious jelly and teas from these – if she got them before the deer did!
Tiny white 5-petalled blossoms with green centers and yellow stamen dot the jumble of grasses and leaves. It is flowering spurge; its blue-green leaves lend a cooling effect to the sunny grassy warmth.
New Jersey tea sends up white balls of petite flowers, low to the ground for a beautiful front border. Wild quinine is now in full bloom. Each floret sports five tiny blossoms circling the edge of a cauliflower-like head.
Attractive sprays of bottlebrush grass are in flower. Pairs of spikelets grow perpendicular to the stem at the top, giving the plant its brushy name. This native grass is Important for northern pearly eye butterfly larva, among others.
Raspberries are ripe and many more are on their way! Even the oak trees are setting tiny acorn buds.
Basswood flower petals have fallen, leaving a fruit the size of a pea. It will later dry and float to the ground with its single bract acting like a sail to carry it in the wind.
Ironwood trees, too, are in fruit. This beautiful tree is often found in the understory. A sheaf of papery bracts hang gracefully from some of the leaves. They look similar to hops, hence ironwood is also known as Hop hornbeam.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.