By Greg Lecker
Anticipating continued record-breaking temperatures, I scheduled an early morning visit. I’m pleasantly surprised that temperatures have moderated somewhat. With today’s partial cloudiness and an oncoming cold front Saturday night, further cooling is expected (and in fact arrived the day after my visit).
Sunrise over Spring Peeper Meadow can be quite beautiful – as evidenced by the first picture – not a photograph, but a plein air landscape study. I hope that readers will indulge my late 1900s-style recording “app”.
Even in the relatively weak light of the breaking dawn, the meadow’s yellow sunflowers shine. These continue to bloom even though many other prairie plants have suspended flowering. Cup Plant and Common Milkweed stand with developing seed pods. A few stubborn flowers remain on the long stalks of Blue Vervain. Growing in water in the central bowl of the meadow, the aquatic plants actually look parched – even though their roots are standing in moist to wet soil. Most likely, these plants have simply completed their growing cycle for this year – with the extreme heat ending their flowering and reproduction. Near the entry to the boardwalk, Joe Pye Weed continues to flower with large purple flower heads atop tall stalks.
Insects appreciate the fact that flowers remain this late in the summer. Turning away from the glare of the low, rising sun, I find a honeybee harvesting a sunflower’s pollen bounty.
Beyond the adjacent bench, I find Big Bluestem towering over Indian Grass. The three “fingers” of the flower head of Big Bluestem resembles a turkey foot – which is in fact another common name for this grass.
Nestled low within the grasses, Lead Plant is in full bloom. Lead Plant flowers are purple with orange accents. Leaves are finely divided.
Continuing on the path, I happily spot not one but two Monarchs – the first butterflies that I’ve seen this year! They flight is too fast; and they choose not to pause at the nearby Goldenrod – so taking a photograph is impossible. Looking more carefully among the prairie, I find a grasshopper grasping a plant stalk. After “posing” for a few snapshots, it springs off with a spring in its step.
With even greater animation, Goldfinches flit around and chatter amidst a Smooth Sumac clump. I bid them farewell and depart.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.