First Week of Fall

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The woods are still vibrant green. Sunlight bounces off leaves. The canopy is airy, as some leaves have already fallen.

Airy canopy
Airy canopy

Mushrooms abound after our tumultuous September rains: Blobs of white mushrooms tarred with grit and feathered with aspic; a white-stalked mushroom with a concave red top; yellow shelf fungus with orange centers; another shelf fungus in darker shades of orange and brown with ruffled edges;plate-like mushrooms coated with a clear jelly lining a deadfall; and just above them, button mushrooms with brown dots,orange tint, and stems studded with pointed brown barbs.

Red-capped mushroom
Red-capped mushroom

A few lavender-grey flowers of Joe-Pye weed are in bloom, but most are already fluffy brown seedheads. Golden sneezeweed flowers attract bees, butterflies and flies as each new level of the disk flowers bloom and offer nectar.


Water around the Green Heron Bog is deep, and in many places it gurgles and runs like a brook. Bright green duckweed tops the water, and mosses form verdant green mounds.

Red-osier flower
Red-osier flower

Red-osier dogwood leaves are mostly crimson. They curve inward, drooping gracefully from each stem and ruffling in the breeze. A surprise holdover – a bright white blossom – stands out against the dark leaves.

A couple seated on the deck overlooking Green Heron Pond play with 5-month old Mary and hold her up to enjoy the view. Wood ducks paddle on the far side. Suddenly, the bog’s namesake flies across the deck just inches behind the couple, startling little Mary and making us both laugh. A moment later, the green heron swoops onto the railing and jumps down into the wetland fray.

Crickets chirp and grasshoppers whirr from beyond the boardwalk. A lone cicada buzzes nearby. A great-horned owl hoots in the distance. Nearby birds give only single chirps, alerting each other to my presence and hiding deep in shrubs. I see chickadees, blue jays, crows, sparrows, and a hairy woodpecker.

Some swamp milkweeds have closed green seedpods. Others have orange and black milkweed beetles huddled in open seedpods. Nodding bur-marigold still sport yellow blooms. The bog water is unusually deep, and makes patterns as it flows and reflects the sky.

Fluffy balls of grey boneset seedheads top still-green plants. A few jewelweed still bloom, but we see no hummingbirds. A turkey vulture soars silently overhead. Amazingly, a few clumps of marsh marigolds are in bloom, probably urged on by our warm weather and heavy rains. It usually spends its last blossom in May!

Blue lobelia
Blue lobelia

Marsh willowherb has large tangles of deep tan seedheads. Blue lobelia still blooms. Sensitive fern is starting to yellow.

An orange butterfly flits by. Monarch or viceroy? I’m unsure. White flat-topped asters and pale lavender crooked-stem asters bloom throughout the wetland.Meadowsweet leaves are yellowing, and its seed stalks are brittle brown. Anise hyssop’s last few lavender florets scent the air. Sedges explode with nutlets gone to seed.

Obedient plant
Obedient plant

Obedient plant is resplendent in rust, green and wine-colored foliage, with tall seed stalks of brown and purple florets and seedheads. Common winterberry branches bend down with heavy clusters of bright red berries.

Tall tamaracks’ needles are starting to yellow, in preparation for their fall. The youngest tamaracks are already fully gold, promising fall and cooler weather.

Newly grown greenish-yellow catkins of the yellow birch peek out from under the toothed leaves. I love autumn and am glad it is finally here, and the catkins remind me that spring will come in good time.

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at





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