By Mary Beth Pottratz
A bright green tree frog clings for dear life to an arrowhead stalk waving in a 15-mile an hour wind. He is surrounded by the waxy white flower petals and green seed balls. Crickets trill loudly and a pair of cicadas saw in the distance.
Huge plumes of showy goldenrod flowers provide the main color in the green meadow backdrop. Blue vervain’s tiny florets shout their last hurrahs from the spike tips. Its leaves are bug-eaten into a fine lace.
I find an interesting display of carnivorous plants in the Great Hall. Native to tamarack and black spruce bogs of northern Minnesota, specimens of pitcher plants, tiny sundews and butterworts await their next insect meal.
In the Spring Peeper Meadow, evening primrose are just starting to open under late afternoon clouds. Giant bur-reed’s spiky green balls have faded to brown, and some of the seeds have already been eaten away. Joe-pye weed is still blooming, and beneath, pink smartweed lifts its tiny pink buds. A red meadowhawk rests on the warmth of dried vegetation, its wings tinged amber at the base.
Flocks of geese honk overhead, vying for position in their V-formation. Glowing blue in the grass, a bottle gentian raises its closed petals upwards. The blue tips are fringed white. Golden balls of sneezeweed flowers brighten the meadow.
In the prairie, anise hyssop and bee balm’s faded petals and drying leaves still scent the air. Stiff goldenrod and tall yellow flowers of prairie dock dot the landscape with golden pompoms. Canada goldenrod is just setting its buds, while Canada wild rye’s light tan seedheads and long, spindly awns arch over with their weight. Cucumber vine sends up stalks with pairs of white, long-petaled flowers, some with burr-crusted “cucumbers”.
White asters grow in waves. Yellow gentians buds are still pale green and twisted tightly shut. A pair of goldfinches perch on a branch. The adult female in olive drab seems to be tapping its beak on a juvenile’s, while the juvenile shakes its wings and repeats a steady call. I wonder whether she is feeding it.
Dwarf bush honeysuckles are still green with burgundy-colored tinging on its topmost leaves. The once-purple flowers of liatris have become fuzzy tan as it prepares to set seed. Smooth blue asters wink at me as they bobble in the breeze.
Spiderwort is still in lavender-purple bloom! Black- and brown-eyed Susans stand out in the green and tan prairie. Yellow compass plant flowers with brown centers rise several feet above my head! Lemon-yellow rosinweed is till blooming and forming seedheads.
Hairy golden asters twist around lower stems of sunflowers and goldenrods. A few purple coneflowers still have ray flowers, but most are drying disks. Rattlesnake master’s flowers have morphed into dry green and tan balls. A pair of monarchs fly slowly through the fray. One nectars on New England aster.
The grasses are a special treat right now. Many have miniscule florets dripping off the tip of the seedhead. Little bluestem is green at the base, with pipestone stalks and cream-colored feathery tufts at the top.
Walking along a narrow footpath through tall blades of big bluestem and Indian grass, I have to look up to see sky! Amazingly bugless, the silky grasses brush me like caresses in the brisk wind. I will have to return soon!
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.