Nature Notes

Spring Ephemerals!

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Bright sunlight warms me despite a light breeze.


Forsythia flowers have opened their buds! Although not native to Minnesota, this harbinger of spring, when in full flower, tells Minnesota gardeners that it is time to wake up the roses.It also tells me to hustle down to the woodland garden to check on our native spring ephemerals – those that bloom before the trees have leafed out, taking advantage of sunlight on the forest floor.


And they have started flowering! Pale lilac hepatica petals sit behind a dozen or two bright white stamen, with a yellow-green center. Like forsythia, this flower blooms before the leaves come out. Last year’s purple, tri-lobed leaf reveals it to be a sharp-lobed hepatica.

Dwarf Trout Lily

Dwarf trout lily pips are already an inch above ground. Single or double green-and-brown mottled leaves still curve tightly around its swelling bud. The flower will be a miniature white lily with four petals curving back at the tip of a single stalk.This endangered plant blooms only in three counties in southeastern Minnesota, except for this population moved in the 1960s to the Arboretum, and another at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis.

The dwarf trout lily rarely develops seed. It reproduces mostly by runners. Transplants fail, due to highly specific requirements for soil, light, microclimate and fungi. Attempts by poachers to steal plants further endangers the dwarf trout lily. Taking this plant or any part is now subject to a $25,000 fine. Research is being done to understand dwarf trout lily requirements and to further protect it.

Snow Trilliums

Snow trilliums have just started to bloom along the edges of the woodland trail. These resemble the large-flowered trilliums that will come up later, but its blossoms are the size of a dime! I am surprised to hear a mourning dove coo its sad song as I leave the forest.

Two pairs of hooded mergansers dive on Green Heron Pond. Canada geese and a pair of mallards swim and dabble for snacks. Three male red-winged blackbirds are calling “konklaree!” from their respective cattail perches, claiming their territory. I watch for females but find none.

A strange scream comes from a nearby tree! I look up to see a raptor, tearing at animal flesh on a branch above. With a flash of orange undertail coverts and three thick white bands along its tail, it flies off with its prey.


A tamarack nearby sports dark brown buds, but I search and find just a few tinged green at the tip. The needles are about to burst out of the buds!

Nearby, a song sparrow whistles sweetly atop a naked shrub. Pussy willows are loaded with furry catkins. I search in vain for skunk cabbage, which should be in bloom right now, but I seems to be hidden beneath wet leaves and last year’s prone grass stems. Couldn’t find them last year, either. Skunked again!

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


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