By Mary Beth Pottratz
Amazing winter landscaping is obvious at the Arboretum now that leaves have fallen. A curbside planting of purple coneflower bordered by catmint on one side and blue fescue on the other plays light against dark; short against tall; fluffy, straight and dotted against each other.
Red oak leaves hang stiffly above swaying, hay-colored grasses. The brown seed globes of bee balm become distinct against a backdrop of flaxen grasses. Naked magnolias are tipped with furry white catkins.
Red berries of common winterberry add brightness to the landscape despite today’s heavy clouds. Northern white cedars are dripping with clusters of small brown cones. A blue jay perches silently atop a bare tree, scrutinizing the treetops. Two skeins of geese honk as they fly overhead in V-formation. Other birds are keeping quiet today, just a few jays, crows, and sparrows calling quickly.
Kentucky coffee tree’s bare branches now reveals its large brown seed pods. Some have holes drilled into them, and I wonder whether the predator sought seeds or insects.
With plants now bare, muskrat lodges are visibly dotting the wetlands. These furry mammals eat many cattails, along with other plants, insects and amphibians. They also build their homes of cattails, literally eating the walls during winter. Their presence prevents wetlands from becoming too heavily planted, prevents flooding and provides open water for aeration and waterfowl.
The brook in the woodland gurgles loudly as water rushes downhill. Witch hazel is still in bloom! Four tiny, yellow thread-like petals splay open from four round golden sepals in the center.
With our late fall staying above freezing, some hybrid roses are still in flower, although withered from cold. Conversely, our Minnesota native wild rose has no petals. It sports a few red hips, but most are black and starting to release seed.
Indoors, a pair of fir trees are decorated with a pollinator theme in the dining room. Created by the Minnesota Herb Society volunteers, its handcrafted ornaments are delightful: butterflies, bees, and birds made of dried flowers, leaves, seed pods and strands, birch bark, acorns, felt, and more.
Multiple buds are growing on oak branch tips – a promise of spring before our winter has fully set in!
As the sky darkens, pairs of huge circles glow yellow and pink atop a grassy mound. They blink like giant owl eyes as part of the “Bruce Munro: Winter Light at the Arboretum” exhibit. As I depart, cars stream in to view this unique indoor and outdoor show.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.