Prairie Sun

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The sun plays hide-and-seek behind drifts of fluffy white cumulus clouds as I ramble through the wetlands. Goldfinches and chickadees make furtive little “tik” calls to each other.


Tall stems of deep purple Ironweed reach for the sky. The blossoms morph to deep rust. Early goldenrod is already sporting yellow-gold blooms, but most goldenrods are just setting buds. Many have interesting galls: bushy bunch galls at the stem tip, or round ball galls halfway up the stem. The plants will flower unharmed while protecting tiny insects important in the food chain.

Male and female Pearl crescent butterflies sun on a leaf and dance in the air. Lavender Allium and yellow Goat’s beard peek between cattails. Small yellow Common St Johns wort and tall yellow Cup plants flower alongside feathery, lavender Joe pye weed and Purple coneflowers.

A tiny blue butterfly flits to a Black snakeroot flower. Common yellowthroats call back and forth. Wild rose hips are green and Jewelweed is chest high. Finally – a Jewelweed flower! Hummingbirds need this sweet nectar to prepare for migration.

New England aster
New England aster

In the prairie, the sun-warmed scent of bee balm and white sage sooth my lungs and I inhale deeply. Flat-topped white aster and deep purple New England aster are already in bloom. Yellow coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans, sunflowers, Prairie dock, and Cup plants all sport golden-yellow flowers. Giant sunflowers stand 10 feet tall with attractive reddish purple stems. Several crickets are calling: a high, constant whirr; a C-note repeated continuously; and a funny buzz that might be a bird…

White Boneset and Blue vervain are in full bloom! A Black saddlebags skimmer sits on a cattail. A Twelve-spotted skimmer – a dragonfly with white and black spots on its wings – suns on a leaf. Sedges bloom with explosions of brown nutlets at their tips. Indigo buntings warble back and forth at each other from the maple trees in the prairie.

Riot of color
Riot of color

The Prairie Garden is a riot of color: Billows of tiny white Flowering spurge, tall white spikes of Culver’s root, golden-yellow sunflowers and Gray-headed coneflower, green spiked balls of Rattlesnake master, and soft, lavender Lead plant. Short spikes of Purple prairie clover and tall purple Gayfeathers add texture to the fray.

The turkey-foot buds of Big bluestem and graceful panicles of Prairie dropseed buds sway in the stiff breeze. Indian grass is tipped with shiny brown buds.

Eastern swallowtail
Eastern swallowtail

Common milkweed now has small green pods. A blue metallic fly works on Wild quinine. Bright yellow Wholeleaf rosinweed flowers rise above the prairie. White wild indigo has ripening green pods, and the bees are on coneflowers. An Eastern swallowtail nectars on pale lilac Bee balm.

A tiny brown damselfly with deep blue on its tail eyes me from its perch. The Prairie sage is in bud, with a silvery glow in the deepening shade. It is a wonderful plant for a moonlight garden. An orange and black Fritillary darts through the grasses. Yet another monarch – this one in a spruce tree behind the prairie. I count nine monarchs today!

Liatris and indian grass
Liatris and indian grass

As I head home, I spot a Clay-colored sparrow with a mouthful of ants resting on a tall plant. I’ll bet that was not a cricket buzzing earlier! Gayfeathers and Indian grass glow as the sun sets over the prairie. What a glorious day!

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


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