By Mary Beth Pottratz
A warm 85⁰ and blue sky with distant clouds invites me into the Arboretum. Humidity is still high with the past week’s heavy rains, and the woodland provides a shady retreat.
An ant crawls across a large clump of Indian pipe. Also called ghost plant, it has a translucent radiance in the shaded woodland. Green acorns from red and pin oak are scattered on the forest floor. A concave yellow toadstool with a frill around its stem tries to hide under leaves. Gill mushrooms in shades of cream and tan catch pools of water.
Clusters of white baneberries glow, and white jelly fungus is luminous against the green. Red osier dogwood has smooth white berries, its leaves tinging deep burgundy. At the woodland’s edge, a meadowhawk dragonfly perches on a leaf. The spicy scent of sun-warmed phlox floats by.
Spotted touch-me-not, or jewelweed, is in full bloom around Green Heron Bog. When ripe, its seed pods burst open at a touch, flinging out the seeds. Hummingbirds gorge on its nectar before migrating. Only a few animals have a proboscis long enough to reach the nectar in the flower’s spur. Some jewelweeds have tiny holes in the spur – evidence of a wily, short-tongued bee or other insect!
Half of American spikenard’s green berries are ripened to shiny purple. False Solomon’s seal berries are still green. Bright yellow sneezeweed has three-lobed petals surrounding its disk. I startle as an eastern wood-pewee whistles its name loudly from the woods.
Last year’s new plantings at the northeastern edge of the boardwalk are especially beautiful: blue lobelia and blue vervain bloom in spikes; sweetly-scented swamp milkweed, pompoms of boneset fuzzy with white stamen,stalks of pink-tinted white turtlehead, waxy white arrowhead blossoms, and white meadowsweet setting its seeds. Dainty lavender asters stand tall. A lone wild petunia throws its petals open to the fading sun. Light violet false pimpernels shine against its green leaves. Pink-lavender obedient plant and tall stalks of spotted Joe-pye weed rise above the fray. Tiny damselflies dart in the flora. There is little breeze to shoo mosquitoes, so I walk on.
In the prairie, rough blazing star is still in blossom. A chipmunk skitters past. A tiny orange butterfly and a cabbage white flutter among flowers. Large-flowered beard tongue sports dapper brown seedpods along its stem. A few tiny mounds of prairie phlox are still pink with blossoms.
I smell anise hyssop before I see it! Its fragrant leaves are used in tea. Today, the grasses are luxuriant. Little bluestem is tipped with fuzzy white spikelets that catch the sun. I see turkey-foot seedheads of big bluestem. My favorite is Indian grass, dancing gracefully above my head in a breeze. Its golden-brown seedheads have tiny yellow florets and feathery white spikelets that defy my camera’s ability.
I also strike prairie gold! Yellow rosinweed flowers face me at eye-level, where I can inspect their interesting center disk flowers up close. Black-eyed Susans, smooth oxeye,and sprays of goldenrod gild the prairie. It’s too early for evening primrose, but its yellow blossoms prepare to unfurl.Jerusalem artichokes’ golden daisy-like flowers wobble on thin purplish stems. And it is all set off by billows of flowering spurge drifting through the prairie like white clouds.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.