By Greg Lecker
I hope readers took note of Saturday evening’s sky show. Following the wind and brief rain, skies gradually brightened west to east. Low light raked across the landscape, illuminating trees and plains against a warm gray overcast sky. To the south, clouds and sky cooked a layer cake of blue and orange. To the east, still thick roiling clouds glowed orange.
Entering Akire Drive, I’m relieved to see that Arboretum plantings sustained forecast threats of scattered frost earlier in September. The shift from summer to autumn foliage hangs suspended, barely changed from my last visit three weeks ago. Crimson and scarlet patches dot drifts of sumac. A few oak boughs and sunny edges of the Sugarbush hint at the colors to come.
From the Sensory Garden parking lot, I descend into Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden and make a double-take. At first glance to my right, a flash of creamy white and yellow tease me with the memory of Dutchmen’s Breeches, a spring ephemeral. Delicate, thinly textured, and low to the ground – check. On second look, I see that it’s a white woodland aster.
The temporary deception forces me to look a bit more closely. William Blake’s admonishing verse comes to mind: “To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.” I sit down and work to capture the fireworks bursts of zig-zag goldenrod. A brief hour color sketch; but still more time than I sometimes grant a plant. The rare goldenrod that not only tolerates but thrives in shade, the stems turn direction at leaf nodes and yield yellow blooms.
Nature delights me with her flora and fauna. Birds are calling; squirrels are collecting black walnut fruits; Canada geese are flocking. I study pink turtlehead; and I find a bee forcing its way into the partly closed flower. White turtlehead and closed or bottle gentian offer a similar challenged to our winged friends.
A bit deeper into the woods, near the green duckweed covered pool, I find the most interesting seed heads on sunflower braches. The ripe spherical heads are segmented into encircling papery segments that hold thin seeds. The plant stems are winged – unique among native sunflowers. I don’t find a plant label; but a Google search yields a probable name: Wingstem (Verbisina alternifolia). Yes, leaves are alternate. And, yes, the centers of intact flowers are indeed foreshadow the seed heads in form.
After extended exploration of the woodland, I make a quick visit to the Bennett Johnson Prairie Savannah. Goldenrods are beginning to fade; but New England asters have begun to bloom recently. Grasses are still rusty orange; though this color will mute to tawny gold by autumn’s end. Warm temperatures are forecast this week with possibly 80 degree highs by week’s end – fine weather for a visit to the Arboretum. Make the time.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.