By Mary Beth Pottratz
Bright sunshine warms me. A sharp blue sky is dotted with small clouds. Maple leaves are tinging shades of yellow and brick.
Purple turtleheads are in full bloom throughout the sun-dappled woods. Chickadees call at the edge where woods and wetland meet. A barred owl hoots for dinner in the distance.
Brown-eyed Susans, Zigzag goldenrod, and the thin white petals of Large-leaved asters are still in bloom. Tiny fawn-colored pompoms litter the ground beneath the oaks and maples. Seed? Fungus? Gall? I find a hard little nut beneath the soft hairs of one cottony ball.
Near the little stream, Horsetails rise above the leaf litter. Mosquitoes are gone. But so are dragon- and damselflies, butterflies and hummingbirds. Turkey tail fungus juts out from a fallen log. Acorn remnants suggest it served as a dinner plate for a squirrel.
Tiny white fungi dots the end of a stick, with a few beetles pressed hard into it. I wonder whether they are eating the mushroom, or nesting?
Anise hyssop seedheads are tall spikes of tiny green florets packed with seeds. I crush a leaf to inhale its delicious licorice-camphor scent. Nearby, a pileated woodpecker taps studiously at a trunk, moving slowly up the tree.
A group of white mushrooms rise out of the leaf litter. Most asters and goldenrods have morphed into fluffy white seedheads. Great St. Johnswort seedheads are deep reddish-purple standing out against greenery.
I smell the bee balm before I see it. Sweet and refreshing, its dull brown seedheads belie the enigmatic scent. Thimbleweed’s white petals are dried and gone, leaving behind its elongated seedhead that is now bursting open into fluffy cream-colored fibers attached to seeds.
Many milkweed pods are already dispersing their seeds on silky tufts. Leaving these and other wildflower stems up over winter serves many purposes: The curly pods, now dried and empty of seeds, provide winter interest above the garden’s snowline. Tiny bees and flies are nesting in many of the hollow stems, and their larvae will emerge in spring to pollinate our fruit, vegetables and flowers. And birds, such as Baltimore orioles, will pull tiny strips of fiber from the stalks in springtime to weave into their nests.
Bright yellow Maximilian sunflowers stretch 9 and 10 feet tall, reaching for the sky. At the prairie’s edge, Pagoda dogwood is starting to turn deep cerise. Dwarf bush honeysuckle is edged dark red. Little bluestem seeds glow in the fading sunlight.
Yet, the tamaracks are still full green. A lone bird in olive drab perches high in bare branches, and geese fly low overhead. I love to mark the passing of the season with each new change. And soon there will be more changes to note.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.