By Mary Beth Pottratz
A song sparrow beckons us along the trail around Green Heron Pond with its delightful melody. With the woodland to my left and wetland to my right, I dash from one side of the trail to the other.
An orange Meadowhawk rests on flower buds of Culver’s root. Its wings reflects its body in orange sparkles. A chipping sparrow summons us further up the trail.
Little white cones with green spikes top Thimbleweed stalks in the woods. Wood sorrel sports tiny yellow flowers and green buds along the forest floor. Enchanter’s nightshade has tiny white blooms on slender stems rising above the leaves.
Wild cucumber is running its tightly-twisted tendrils throughout plants and shrubs on the edges of the wetland. Its first buds are just starting to form. Goldenrods are in bud and about to burst into flower. Wild quinine, Blue vervain and Ironweed are already in full bloom!
Glossy red and white berries glow in clusters above Baneberry’s matte green leaves. The burnt ochre of a mushroom head pops up through leaf litter.
White avens tiny five-petaled blossoms, pointed green sepals with a spray of cream-colored stamens from its green center. Once the petals fall, it becomes a ball of spikelets tipped with seed.
Ostrich ferns are setting their deep green spikes, which will release spores next spring. Golden Alexanders have lost their yellow flowers, and now sport an explosion of tiny green fruits.
Clusters of green berries ripening to red hang from the Bitternut hickory tree on the trail around Green Heron Pond. Virginia stickseed flowers are fading to fruits already.
Common yellowthroats call back and forth. A rich melody of mixed birdsong, tweets and whistles entices me further along the boardwalk. “A Catbird!” claims my friend, Mary. The concert ends in a few repeated mews, confirming her guess.
Lavender Mint flowers bloom at the stem axis. Iris are setting their large green pods. White meadowsweet’s five-petaled flowers are accented by coral centers and white stamens tipped with pink. Horsetail and Sensitive fern carpet the wetland floor.
Stinging nettle is in full bloom. If someone touches it, there is plenty of thick-stemmed jewelweed nearby to help reduce the prickles with its soothing aloe-like gel. But it is unusual to see so much robust jewelweed, with no buds or flowers on any of them yet. Jewelweed nectar is important to hummingbirds. I hope they develop soon.
Boneset has fully open white blossoms. Spotted Joe-pye weed’s mauve buds are just starting to open. Flat-topped white aster is already opening its white petals to reveal gold centers and tan stamen.
The scent of Bee balm and Mint drift on the breeze. Pagoda dogwoods still have a few blooms left; most are covered heavily with white berries along red stems. Jack in the pulpits have tightly-packed, shiny green berries atop a short stem.
A Northern green orchid has just finished blooming. A Willow flycatcher calls “Fitz-bew”, a Phoebe repeats its name, and goldfinches twitter. A Tiger swallowtail dips over the wetland.
A turtle suns lazily on a log in the pond. Nearby, a female Mallard preens on shore. Stems rise above Water plantain’s large leaves, with whorls of flower-tipped branches every few inches. Billows of these airy plants resemble baby’s breath at a distance and create banks of misty white against green foliage.
Pennsylvania buttercup has both tiny yellow blossoms and larger green, spiked fruit at the same time. Bulrushes flower with brown spikelets, set off by long, thin leaves. The last of the white, tropical-looking Arrowhead flowers are visible deeper in the bog.
A Turkey vulture hovers and banks overhead. Maidenhair, Bracken and Lady Ferns add beautiful texture to the woodland bog. Grape honeysuckle vines are splashed with bunches of red berries.
I count three monarchs today at the Arboretum. Still very low, but far better than last year’s one and none at all in 2013. Avoiding insecticides and planting milkweeds and native plants will help.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.