By Greg Lecker
The thought strikes you as soon as your vehicle turns onto the Alkire entry drive. The Arboretum in mid-July is incredibly lush. Compared with last year’s drought, this year’s water-soaked landscape is noticeably larger, thicker. Walking from the Sensory Garden parking lot into Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden, I’m struck with the dense undergrowth. No longer are there open views through the forest as there were in the spring and early summer.
Nature’s canopy has spread over and woven though the network of tree trunks and wooden fence rails and pergolas. This Saturday, temperatures and dewpoints have dropped after a week-long heat wave. The stroll is comfortable even though the air is very still. Insects swarm around my head seeking drops of water to lap.
Further evidence of insects appears in a lacy leaf of Glade Mallow that has been skeletonized by beetle or sawfly larvae, thrips, or slugs. What remains are the tough portions such as leaf veins.
Glade Mallow and Black Elderberry bloom in broad white flower clusters that arch in contrast to the tall white spires of Black Snakeroot. Summer woodland flowers are primarily white, mirroring the early spring palette. These light accents brighten the deep dark vegetation.
A few colored wildflowers standout among the white blooms. Growing in several patches, the native Tall or American Bellflower (Campanula americana) is brilliant blue and exquisitely articulated. Often twisting, the five pointed petals join to form a shallow cup that points straight outward. A white ring encircles the stamens and a pistil that projects outward, ending in a slight curl.
The flower’s cousin, Creeping or European Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides), visits from “across the pond”. Outside the Arboretum, in overlooked spaces, the invasive Creeping Bellflower often dominates, deeply rooted by creeping rhizomes. Its purple bell-like blooms dangle on the sides of its flower spike, complementing adjacent Tawny Orange or “Ditch” Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) flowering along roadsides at this time of year.
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Compared with the shade garden, the oak-speckled prairie is full of color. Black-eyed Susan, native sunflowers, Prairie Rose, Blue Vervain, Butterfly Weed, and Big Bluestem are stitched together in a sunlit quilt. Near the parking lot, textures abound. The bristles of Bottlebrush Grass tickle the ripening berries of Pagoda Dogwood.
On my return stroll from the prairie, a light rain has begun falling. Back under the dense woodland canopy, I’m protected by Mother Nature’s umbrella-like tree canopy.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.