Mid-Winter Thaw

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The Nature Notes sign in the Visitor Center says that the first hornedlarks have arrived. I listen to their calls on the Merlin Bird ID app on my phone to be sure I could recognize them!

My usual buddies flit throughout the grounds this afternoon: White-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, blue jays, cardinals, and a woodpecker or two. No juncos today. Turkeys are still fighting and wrestling, this time in the rose garden.

American high-bush cranberry
American high-bush cranberry

The leafless American high-bush cranberry, its bright red berries long gone, is just starting to sport swollen orange-red buds on its twigs. Yesterday’s 58⁰ melted much of the snow cover, and today’s mid-40’s melts even more.

American Senna presents dangling clumps of interesting brown seedpods. Each pod is about 8 inches long. Although not native to Minnesota, it is native to our Wisconsin and Ontario neighbors. Some of the pods are splitting, and I can just see pairs of brown seeds still inside.

Hepatica leaf
Hepatica leaf

In the woodland, a few ferns rise green above snow and leaf litter, and a sedge or two pop up in wispy sprays. Green mosses peek through leaf litter and snow. Melted ice crystals surround the winter purple of a lone hepatica leaf.

Sunlight rolls down forest hillsides. Mostly melted snow gives the scene the look of autumn rather than today’s deep winter! The sun plays off puddles and crystalized snow, streaking the late afternoon with tree shadow.

Nursery logs
Nursery logs

Fallen trees and branches are left in place on the forest floor. These are nursery logs. They provide interest in late fall and winter landscapes, and habitat for small animals and insects. They help minimize erosion, especially when placed perpendicular to a slope. But more importantly, they return their nutrients to the forest floor, which are taken up by small animals, insects, and the new season’s growth.


An interpretive sign in the woodland discusses the mycorrhizal fungi needed for Lady’s-slippers’ specialized seeds to grow. These seeds are like dust, and have no nutrients stored to help them germinate. The Arboretum’s Plant Conservation Program is experimenting with growing Minnesota’s state flower, Cypripedium reginae, from seed. This photo shows the Showy Lady’s-slipperbud-like protocorms. These were developed from seed and are ready to be replanted for much-needed growing room.

The snow has melted on the south-facing slope of prickly pear cactus. The cacti are shaded old green and tinged with red wine. Tiny spots where buds will appear are evident. In one sunny spot, leaf tips are just starting to emerge from the buds!

Cottonwood buds
Cottonwood buds

My friend Mary finds a fallen cottonwood twig tipped with maturing buds lying in crystallized snow. “Balm of Gilead” is comprised of these buds, its purported curative properties inspiring both physical and spiritual healing.
With buds comes spring, and spring itself heals and renews.

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer Program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.


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