Change Is In the Air …

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Fall colors are evident at the new entrance to the Arboretum, but they are not yet at peak. There are still sunflowers towering tall over grasses and shrubs. The deep purple of New England asters compete against a backdrop of autumn-hued trees.

New England Asters
New England Asters

Sumac berries are fuzzy red, and most of the foliage is deep scarlet. Rosehips are now bright red as well. American bittersweet berries glow bright orange, not yet split open to reveal the red fruit inside.

Maples are the most colorful right now, in shades of red, yellow, green, orange and brown. I am delighted to find Zigzag goldenrods blooming low in the shaded woodland. Unlike most goldenrods, these petite plants have petals blooming from the axils.

Maple Leaves on Bench
Maple Leaves on Bench

A large planting of bright red turtleheads, native to the southern part of our state, glows in the subdued light of the forest. A barred owl calls, “Who, who, who cooks for you all?” from the hill above.

Someone calls my name, and I find a longtime family friend beaming at me. Kevin has just proposed to Megan in the Woodland Azalea Garden, and she accepted! I take their photo in the forested shade, enjoying Kevin’s grin and Megan’s giddy joy. Love is in the air…

Kevin and Meg
Kevin and Meg

Huge leathery white oak leaves resemble an artist’s palette in greens, scarlet, yellows, plums. Pagoda dogwoods are turning yellow-orange and red-plum on the outer edges. A white-breasted nuthatch laughs teasingly from beyond the tree line.

Salt Marsh Moth Larva
Salt Marsh Moth Larva

Milkweed pods have dried and split open and are now spilling their seeds into the brisk wind. A Salt marsh moth larva languishes on a bunch aster flowers. Its orange tufts and long black hairs seem exotic in the brisk Minnesota wind.

Lavender clusters of stiff gentian flowerheads resemble wrapped-up morning glories. The six-inch plants bloom in small clusters at the end of upright, branched stems.

Goldenrod Seedheads
Goldenrod Seedheads

Tall stems of Showy goldenrod have now burst into thick woolly seedheads. Hairy false golden aster is still in bloom. Prairie grasses rise in luxurious volume, and I admire the mathematic precision of Canada wild rye seedheads.

Eight geese rise from the prairie pond in V-formation, honking raucously over the iconic gnarled maples in the prairie. The trees are completely orange-red, many leaves already blown away.

The waxing moon rising over the eastern horizon reminds me of the total lunar eclipse of a full moon occurring this Wednesday at 5:51 a.m. Let’s hope for clear skies!

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


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