By Mary Beth Pottratz
Tulips are shouting their last hurrahs while the irises carry the color flags at the Arboretum today. The warm temperatures and heavy rains have brought trees, grasses, shrubs and forbs to a million lush shades of green.
Young Maria admires tall purple tulips. Her brother Joey rolls down a grassy knoll, landing with a delighted laugh in a mud puddle. Their mom laughs, too.
Dozens of dragonflies flit and dart through the sensory garden. Their recent hatch attests to the good quality of the wetland. Alas, none hold still long enough for me to identify!
In the woodland garden, large and small yellow lady’s slippers are in full bloom along the brook. Its cousin and our state flower, the showy lady’s slipper, is almost knee-high but hasn’t started setting its buds yet.
Western chorus frogs are still singing their songs that sound like a thumb running down a comb. American toads trill high-pitched, long notes, punctuated by an occasional tree frog’s raucous call.
Bluebirds, robins, warblers, jays, cardinals and crows add their songs and calls to the amphibian concert. Rainwater gurgles down slopes and the little woodland brook babbles as it rushes by. Occasional drips from trees above splash to the ground. I feel as though transported to a tropical rainforest.
Jack-in-the-pulpits and golden Alexanders are just starting to bloom. Cherry-pink wild geraniums and wild blue phlox glow in the low forest light. Virginia waterleaf is in bloom everywhere, and Virginia bluebells are still sporting blossoms.
Graceful, delicate maidenhair ferns are already six inches tall. Sensitive fern, Christmas fern, and ostrich fern add to the verdant woods. Graceful columbines dangle above the fray.
Spires of tiny white blossoms tip many False Solomon’s seal plants. Sticky-willy’s hooked leavesand four-petaled white flowers draw my interest. A few mayapples sport waxy white blooms protectively under their umbrella-like leaves.
Interesting pyramid-shaped green fruits dangle on large-flowered bellwort. Tall meadow rue, now hip-high, is just starting to set its buds. Celandine poppies form bristly white pods before blooming into golden-yellow, papery disks.
At a woodland pond, water striders skate along the water’s surface. The fine hairs on bottom of their feet do not absorb water, holding the insect above the surface as it hunts for an insect dinner.
A damselfly surprises me, almost landing on my hand. The bright blue of an Eastern bluebird catches my eye as it flits uphill. I follow it up to the prairie and am rewarded with its cheerful song.
Recovered from its recent burn, the prairie, too, is verdant with plants and grasses starting to grow. Warblers sing and whistle from the prairie garden trees, daring me to find them as leaves shield them from view.
Wild prairie rose and spiderwort are forming their buds. Prairie smoke has now completed flowering, and presents its luxuriant seed heads like pink puffs of smoke. Prairie grasses are still only inches tall.
Common milkweed is barely a foot. But – surprise! – I find a third instar monarch larva munching on its leaves. Another plant has several caterpillars feeding on it, which rarely happens. Adult butterflies usually deposit one egg per plant unless there are not enough milkweed plants. Unless, of course, there was an escapee from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s butterfly exhibit!
We all can help the monarch recover from its recent habitat loss by planting flowers in the milkweed family, which is the only plant the larva can survive on. Bright orange butterflyweed and seductively-scented swamp milkweed are especially effective in more formal gardens.
You can also learn about the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Larva Monitoring Project at this website: http://www.mlmp.org/Training/Videos.aspx. Maybe you would like to monitor, too!
After all, butterflies, and especially monarchs, help make our world lush, too.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer Program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.