By Greg Lecker
After rising, the sun disappeared behind the skull cap of overcast cover. Morning temperatures are still comfortable – nearly 20 degrees F; but by evening, an arctic vortex of “mature” polar air is forecast to spin into the upper Midwest and much of the United States. But before King Boreas blows his cold breath across the landscape, Mother Nature has tucked in the tender roots of her plants under a protective cover of snow. Even the smallest of animals and birds she shields in thick evergreen boughs or in tents of bent stems and brush.
The year is full of promise – lengthening days, new clothes, new school semesters, and possibly new jobs. Nature too showcases a treasure trove of riches stored for future redemption – stored in the seed heads and berries.
Fragrant in bloom, Common Milkweed now displays an intricate seed head – bristly on the outside and smooth on the inside. Seeds with fluffy tails pour from their ship-shaped vessel.
Appearing first in the spring and maturing in the fall, berry-like Juniper cones are ¼” to 3/8” diameter, dark blue or purple-blue with a whitish waxy “bloom” (covering). These cones contain one or more seeds each, are soft, juicy, and sweet and are highly desired by birds, which disperse the wingless seeds.
Female Ginkgo trees are bare except for their luminous yellow orange fruits that yield a musky moldy cheese smell when crushed. An edible nut is produced within the 1” long orange, elliptical, pulpy fruit that releases butyric acid when crushed. In the orient, the nut is eaten for its taste and medicinal qualities, once the fruit pulp is removed.
Along Three Mile Drive, on the edge of the oak savannah, three joggers pass me. Roadways and many paths, including the walkway through the sculpture garden, are plowed and sanded or brushed for pedestrian traffic. And, on Saturdays and Sundays, a $3 narrated bus tour offers visitors a warm means of travel through the Arboretum grounds. Snowshoes are available for rent at $6 per hour. Whichever mode of travel you select, consider planning a visit, possibly after the next few days of sub-zero cold pass!
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.