A Ghost in the Forest

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The woodland is freshened by yesterday’s gentle rains. Dust is gone; the air is sweet. Cool, humid breezes riffle the tops of white snakeroot. Wet leaves no longer skitter loudly. I notice tramping squirrels by their movement and not their noise.

Red Turtlehead
Red Turtlehead

Red turtleheads bloom in groups throughout the forest. I watch bumblebees laboriously work their way inside the tight-lipped turtlehead blossom. It strains to push with its feet and reach deep into the flower for nectar; even more slowly, it backs out.

White baneberries glow in the dull forest light. A barred owl is calling, “Who, who, who cooks for you all?” incessantly from deeper within the forest.

Lush ferns and banks of mosses line the little creek that darts and bubbles through the woods. Straight green dowels that are rough horsetail stand out against the curvy leaf forms of astilbe, snakeroot, woodland asters and goldenrod.

Bright blue dots of color pop in the muted light: the lovely blue lobelia. Spiders are busily spinning new webs after the rain. White, lavender and purple asters splash the floor with color.

Turkey Tail Fungus
Turkey Tail Fungus

Mushrooms and fungi suddenly appeared during the rainy night. Turkey tail fungus sprouts from a downed log. Its bands of grey, brown, ochre and orange are edged with cream. Oyster mushrooms march precisely horizontal across tree bark. Weirdly shaped fungi like upside-down bowls with long-fingered edges rise out of rotting wood.

Indian Pipe
Indian Pipe

Then, next to a huge log, barely peeking through the leaves, I see a flash of ghostly white. A few inches of translucent, candy-cane shaped Indian pipe rise above the ground. A new Indian pipe is unfurling right at the soil line next to it.

This incredible plant – yes, plant, not fungi – has no chlorophyll. Also called ghost plant, it can only be found in moist, rich woodland soil. Find out how this unusual native Minnesota plant exists without chlorophyll at my favorite wildflower field guide: www.minnesotawildflowers.info.

Ten-foot tall Maximilian sunflowers arch into the wetland at the forest edge. Golden sneezeweed, its three-lobed petals drooping almost straight down, dot the wetland. White and lavender asters, goldenrods, sunflowers, blue lobelia bloom in profusion.


As I stroll past the bright, multi-colored annual garden, the chubbiest hummingbird I have ever seen perches on a flower sign amid a confusion of bright annual flowers. Her side is unusually yellow. I wonder whether that is the late afternoon sun, or is she dusted with pollen?  You decide!

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Eileen Braxton says:

    LOVE your Nature Notes, MB! Your writing seems inspired by your subjects! Keep ’em coming!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s