by Mary Beth Pottratz
A welcome sun shines in a blue sky made pale by an airbrushed mist of cloud. Breezes carry the heady scent of common milkweed in waves as I enter the arboretum.
Tall, slender spires of Culver’s root line Alkire Drive like an honor guard. Black-eyed Susans nod their greeting as song sparrows and red-winged blackbirds trumpet our arrivals. Dragonflies swoop down to inspect the new visitors before darting quickly away.
The arboretum is alive with bright colored annuals. The rose garden is in peak bloom. Graceful glass sculptures capture sunbeams inred poppies, yellow sunflowers, a pair of common loons, a brilliant blue starburst, and more.
But my heartstrings pull me towards water, and I obey the call. I am richly rewarded.
Dainty neon blue damselflies flit from bright orange butterflyweed to tall spikes of prairie blazing star. Cup plants have just started displaying their golden sunflowers and cups full of buds ready to burst. Bottlebrush sedges arch gracefully over Canada anemone’s single white posies.
White boneset, wild quinine, yellow loosestrife and bright red cardinal flowers are just starting to open. I luxuriate in the icy-fresh aroma of Virginia mountain mint. Giant bur-reed shows off its multiple flower forms, and green bulrushes are tipped with explosions of brown nutlets.
Joe-pye weed, rosinweed and Great St. John’s wort are about to pop open their buds. Water plantains show off thick bud-tipped spires. Huge leaves of glade mallow anchor 7-foot tall stems just starting to open rounds of white florets. Swamp milkweed is setting its buds in the wetland around Green Heron Pond. Tamaracks have fresh waxy red cones.
From the boardwalk, I watch a pair of wood ducks with four ducklings dabble on the pond. A common yellowthroat calls, “wicketywicketywickety”, and is answered by half a dozen compatriots from as many directions.
Despite heavy rains, the trails leading directly onto the bog are but not underwater and feel wonderfully spongey.I can’t identify a deep raspy buzz and another bird repeating a “see YA!” call from deep within the cattails and shrubs. Red osier dogwood’s white berries are already half-eaten, leaving bright red stems.
A meadowhawk dragonfly parasitized by red mites rests in the jewelweeds. Its leg and side are covered with tiny red balls.
The woodland is dark, lush green and cool. Mosquitoes are shooed away by the wind. Northern bedstraw is almost done flowering. Bladdernut trees show off pyramidal pods that wave in the breeze. Rough cinquefoil almost hides its tiny yellow blooms.
Red baneberry is already showing off bright red fruits. Raspberries are forming, and false Solomon’s seal flowers have swelled to beige berries. Pink sticks of pointed-leaf tick trefoil wave in the air.
Rising above to the prairie is a marked contrast. Warm and bright with sunshine, the swales are a jumble of color: purple and yellow coneflowers, purple and white prairie clovers, golden black-eyed Susans and prairie coreopsis, spicy-scented lavender bee balm, dotted with tiny white flowering spurge and misted over with large swaths of lavender lead plants in bloom. Spires of blue vervaincompete with tangled black pods of wild indigo.
Frogs have gone silent with most of their mating done, but a few crickets pick up the tune and chirp away.
A large deep purple butterfly is too quick for me to check its marks. I note only three other types of butterflies. Lone monarchs flit by, eight in all by day’s end. A huge improvement over last year’s single monarch sighting, but nowhere near past numbers.
A simple drive – in city or in country – doesn’t bring the mashing of insects against my windshieldof just a few years ago. Are pesticides on farm and commercial lands affecting ourbeneficial insects? How many people are aware of the pesticides applied to their own lawns?
Basswood trees used to seem alive with bees on their flowers. I rest at the crabapple trees on Three Mile Drive just to inhale the perfume of the carpet of red and white clover beneath. And I wonder: where are the bees?
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.