By Greg Lecker
Like the rest of south central Minnesota, the Arboretum is has been wet this past week, and gray – the color Simon & Garfunkel had in mind when they sang of “A Hazy Shade of Winter”. Colors and forms are muted and one longs for something of interest amidst the muted color and form outside.Dew drops sparkle on the few evergreen leaves amongst the brown leaf duff just beyond the cultivated landscape of the home landscape demonstration garden.
Walking Three Mile Drive, one can now more clearly see the water that lies in the bowl below the maple sugarbush hillside. Skim ice has begun to form on silvery water that is surrounded by rusty leaves and marsh and purple soaked deciduous woodland.
The prairie’s carpet of tan undulates with the flowing landform. Here and there, galls distort dried plant stems or leaf masses. I head to Green Heron Pond in search of new discoveries.
The wetland area does not disappoint me. Near the Trex Leaf Deck below the picnic shelter, Winterberry red fruits decorate stems from which dangle wrinkled brown leaves.
Before I reach the entry to the bog boardwalk, I spy the spiny kiwi-shaped podsof wild or prickly cucumber.
What words come to mind when you study these alien looking forms? ”Cactus balls” and “porcupine eggs” are nicknames some use to describe the fruit. The vine is found near streams, rivers, and yes, wetlands like Green Heron Pond. In the growing season, the elongated star-shaped maple-like leaves and small greenish white flowers could be mistaken as belonging to the host plant through which the vine twists and turns.Fall or early winter is the best time of the year for locating and identifying the plant. As other foliage discolors and withers away, the small fruits and even its tendrils stand out among thickets of twigs.
Within the bog itself, little tufts of sphagnum moss grow in the crotch of the persistent crown of deciduous plant stalks.
Chilled by the dampness, I retreat to the visitor center where I enjoy the current art exhibit at the Café Gallery. Heather Tinkham weaves color and texture into her unique wall hangings. Andy Tinkham’s photography uses both natural and introduced light to force us to study natural phenomena.
I understand that snow is coming to brighten the dreariness of this “in-between” season.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.