By Mary Beth Pottratz
Prairie roses shine pink, rose and white against the meadow green. Dwarf bush honeysuckle’s tiny explosion of yellow flowers have stamen shaped like enoki mushrooms. A light breeze foils the mosquitoes and cools me from 80 summery degrees.
I smell it before I see it: the sweet, powdery scent of common milkweed in full bloom. Bright pink showy tick-trefoil rises around it. A trio of pale purple coneflowers, like most plants in the very dry prairie, droop languidly. Purple coneflowers are in bud. Only one has a few tiny petals starting to emerge.
Gray-headed coneflowers have tiny yellow petals, or ray flowers, just starting to extend from the cone.The disk flowers form a Fibonacci mural of green buds. An orange butterfly with black and white flits past quickly. Was it a monarch?
New Jersey tea boasts pompoms of tiny flowers: five petals curved back into the center, plus five long petals extending past them, tipped with tiny bowls. Purple blazing star have just started opening their purple florets with thread-like stamens extending beyond the petals. My friend reminds me that they bloom from the tip down.
An eastern pondhawk dragonfly perches briefly on a leaf. Nearby, a house wren repeats its loud, bubbling call from the roof of a bluebird box.
Petals gone, thimbleweeds and large-flowered beardtongue have green fruits. Stalks of white and purple prairie clover glow under a cloudless sky. Spiderworts bulge with ripening fruits.An indigo bunting perches almost invisibly in a treetop, blending with the deep blue sky. Its melodic string of two-syllable whistles exposes it. A common yellowthroat replies, “Wickety-wickety.”
Furry spikes of lead plant flowers lend a lavender tint to the green of the prairie, highlighted in spots by the gray-silver of white sage, airy white billows of northern bedstraw, and dotted gold with smooth oxeye and black-eyed Susans.
Looking down between the greenery, I spot a bright pink prairie phlox. Puffs of grasses with seedheads are blushing pipestone-red or dangling tiny yellow florets. Culver’s root plants lean under the weight of their buds. A twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly rests on a dead stalk, its body glinting almost metallic gold in the bright sun.
A widow skimmer dragonfly poses to display its brown and amber stained glass wings. Another spike with delicate lavender flowers, anise hyssop waves in the breeze. Its spicy fragrant leaves make a delicious tea.
A song sparrow straddles the crotch of a sapling as it sings its heart out across the prairie. Bunches of fleabane like tiny daisies waft over the greens. Rattlesnake master sports pointed buds on its flower globes, soon to display tiny white florets.
Stately stalks of white wild indigo are busy with bees. Most already have large green fruits. But along the prairie trail, many of the stalks stand bare; the fruits stripped off, without telltale deer-chewed edges. What or who would do that, I wonder?
Dainty stalks of petite white flowers rise along the branched stems of enchanter’s nightshade, dotting the prairie’s edge at a woodland. In the shade, the temperature drops five degrees. The ground here is dusted with orange-gold dried flower parts, perhaps from the trees above.
Wild rye and bottlebrush grasses mingle with stalks of white large beardtongue and heads of wild quinine flowers. Tomorrow’s forecasted rain should turn this bounty into a profusion of flowers!
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.