By Mary Beth Pottratz
Twenty-seven species of mushrooms have been identified at the Arb, according to the Nature Notes whiteboard in the visitor center lobby. That’s a lot of fungi!
And the list includes interesting ones like the gooey white jelly fungus, ash bolete with its spongey pores in place of gills, giant puffball and funnel cap.
But I eschew mushrooms for wildflowers and am richly rewarded in the prairie: cut-leaf coneflower with its hundreds of tiny disk flowers like miniature golden trumpets; deep purple New England asters contrast next to smooth blue aster, and many shades of gold on sunflowers, goldenrods, coneflowers and black-eyed Susans.
Black-capped chickadees converse in a lone maple tree before flitting away, the discussion resolved. A female American goldfinch poses on a sunflower branch with a prairie backdrop under clouded sky. The bright orange of a milkweed bug larva catches my eye as it sunsatopa coneflower seedhead.
Bumblebees, honeybees and myriad flies flit through jumbles of asters and sunflowers while I stand just to watch this living, moving, busy bouquet.
Interesting little bluestem grasses are topped with hard little seeds that erupt into tiny white frays, ready to blow away with a coming breeze.
Graceful red stems of prairie dropseed wave their seeds coated papery white in a lightly scented breeze. Tall and graceful, biennial guara rises above with bright scarlet pods near its branch tips. Rows of small green seeds tinged scarlet on the edges march up the stems in precise step.
I lollygag in the woods as a fox squirrel chatters and runs up a tree trunk, promptly sending acorns and twigs crashing to the forest floor. White snakeroot punctuates the cool dark. A vireo, chortling like a squeeze toy, calls in abrupt, short syllables. You can listen to a red-eyed vireo here: http://birds.audubon.org/birds/red-eyed-vireo.
Jewelweeds in yellow and black-spotted orange line the trail to the boardwalk at Green Heron Pond. A light buzz behind me makes me turn, scaring off a ruby-throated hummingbird. Hummers just love the sweet nectar hiding in the jewelweed spur.
Young Kayla giggles as her dad Chris bounces on the spongey bog while she rides the waves. She laughs at the pink turtleheads in full bloom. “They really look like turtles!” Kayla exclaims.
White clusters of fine water hemlock florets are almost invisible. Bunches of flat-topped white aster and explosions of green water plantain seedheads fill the marsh.
Mauve Joe Pye Weed, some still in bloom and others with brown seedheads sport leaves tinged brick-red. Tiny round buds of white smartweed are tangled in sunflower clumps and grasses around the bog. Drooping spires of pink smartweed are scattered throughout the wetland.
Ferns are tinged brown at the edges, and red maple’s outer leaves are shaded crimson. Leaf edges of woodbine vines and sumac shrubs are flushed red.
I could spend the entire day just taking it all in.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer Program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.