Nature Notes

Looking Up

By Mary Beth Pottratz

A barn swallow chitters and squeaks, leading me to its mud and straw nest under the eaves.

DSCN1916I look up, and two tiny nestlings poke their heads over the edge. Barn swallows used to nest only in cliffs and trees, but have in recent times evolved to almost exclusively nesting in the nooks and crannies of buildings.
Grasshoppers skip ahead of me down the grassy path like munchkins on the yellow brick road. A small green frog hops up a branch for protection. Monarchs, cabbage whites, a painted lady, dragonflies and damselflies dart and dash around me as I stroll.

Upland White Goldenrods
Upland White Goldenrods

Six-foot tall stems of pink and cream biennial beeblossom, or guara, sway in the breeze, sprinkling their seeds around them to start next year’s season. Pale Indian plantains nod above their palm-shaped leaves. Clumps of Upland white goldenrods, which do not look like goldenrods at all, show off hundreds of mini-daisy like flowers. Flat-topped white asters with yellow centers are just starting to open their petals. Pink smartweed blooms in the wetland. Silky blue asters, aromatic asters, and the last of the blooming bee balm of the season provide the lavender in the color scheme.

Giant Sunflowers
Giant Sunflowers

But most of today’s colors are Minnesota Vikings’ purple and gold: Purple coneflowers, Ironweed and Purple giant hyssop. New England asters’ bright purple petals and golden disks stand next to the yellow of Black-eyed Susans.Sneezeweed’s golden skirts and yellow-brown seedheadsare tinged light rust. I crane my neck at bright yellow Compass plants andGiant sunflowers standing tall against the blue sky.
The gold petals of Grey-headed coneflowers and showy goldenrod are footed by pale purple lead plant flowers. Sedges’ deep brown nutlets are drying and turning pale as they prepare to release their seeds. Coneflowers already have some shriveled petals and burgeoning brown seedheads.

A bee sips nectar atop a golden Rosinweed, its legs packed with pollen. Hummingbirds hover at blue allium flowers. Do you suppose allium nectar tastes of onions?

DSCN2090 Monarch on liatris Northern plains blazing starA monarch stretches its proboscis deep inside purple spikes of Northern plains blazing star. Milkweeds are sporting fresh green pods above its dried and curled brown leaves.
Blue vervain has just a few tiny blue buds left on its now-green fingers of seeds pointing upwards. Likewise, tall white spires of Culver’s root have changed to green seeds. Dwarf bush honeysuckle are just starting to turn crimson.

But the flowers cannot outdo the grasses this time of year! Long blades of big bluestem topped with turkey-foot seedheads wave gracefully against a lightly clouded sky. Tiny seeds of russet, orange or pale yellow dangle, then drift away with the wind. Silky, russet panicles of Indian grass seeds rise to reach towards the sky.

In the Spring Peeper Meadow, I look for bottle gentians but it must be too early. The earlier floods and deep waters are completely gone. Geese stand on the open mud bottom, pecking for invertebrates.

Canada goldenrods have spiky green bunch, or rosette, galls caused by a gall midge, or fly. There are three types of goldenrod galls: ball or round, elliptical, and bunch. Galls on plants in general, and on goldenrods in particular, do not harm their host plants. They still bloom and set seed, and often even look more interesting!

DSCN2137 Grasshopper on IronweedLooking up yet again, I am amazed to find a grasshopper clinging to the tiptop of a tall ironweedblossom!

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Program is available at

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