Nature Notes

Unexpected Color Amidst the Gray

By Greg Lecker

Waterfowl are especially talkative this morning.  One pair of Canada geese honk overhead flying towards Iris Pond.  Another pair honk as they come in for a landing on Green Heron Pond.  A pair of wood ducks fly from the water surface as the trail and I near pass by.  Their call is heard as they take flight or when they are alarmed – and clearly both are true now.  While the male call is a thin whistle; the female call is a repeated, nervously warbling ooo-eeek, ooo-eeek.  I feel I owe them an apology for my presence.

Though the day seems dull, gray, dreary and drizzling, unexpected light and color can be found by those who search.  I discover that my friend Libby Scheele, husband Paul, and son Ben are also visiting today.  Libby, ever the artist in words and paint, describes the skies as “platinum”; and I agree that we need to be open to each day, whatever it presents.  That seems true of skunk cabbage, found in wetlands like those bordering the boardwalk.  A gray day challenges my photography skills – so I’m turning to other art forms.

Skunk Cabbage

When painting them, I find subtle interest amidst their unfurling leaves.  In the mottled colors of a bruise, fleshy flowers can occasionally be found.  A pointed, spotted brown or purplish hood (spathe) emerges to a height of about 4” to 6” tall.  Inside this spathe, a club-like stem or spadix bears tiny flowers.  The spathe-spadix arrangement resembles its Arum family sibling, Jack-in-the-Pulpit.  Layered like cabbage leaves, the foliage will grow to be as tall as two foot or more.

Seemingly overnight — presumably because of abundant moisture and intermittent sunny warmth – Grace Dayton wildflower woodland has been carpeted with green ground cover and yellow and blue blooms!  The same yellow “buttercup” found in Green Heron pond’s bog also blooms here along the waterway.

Cow Slip

Cowslip appears to be a poetic, pastoral name for a flower, also known as Marsh Marigold.  Its linguistic origins suggest a more base association.  The original Anglo-Saxon word was cuslyppe, cu for cow and slyppe for slop.  Thus cowslip literally means “cow-slop” or “cow-dung”, presumably because cowslip flourishes in cow pastures!  Might cows have also slipped on patches of this flower?  The name “Marigold” comes from an Anglo-Saxon work meaning “marsh-gold”.

Virginia Bluebells

Blooming unusually early, Virginia Bluebells cover the hill below the sensory garden restrooms.   Flowering lasts only a few weeks at most and sometimes less.  The flowers begin opening as the stems elongate.  The typical flowers are elongated, bell-shaped flowers, about 1” long with five petals that fuse into a long tube (corolla) blue with a reddish cast in the bud.


Twinleaf leaves are almost completely divided into two symmetrical halves and resemble open butterfly wings.  The genus name Jeffersonia commemorates Thomas Jefferson who, among his other accomplishments, was a botanist.  Twin Leaf is a plant you won’t find blooming unless you visit the woodland nearly every day.  The flowers resemble those of Bloodroot – which was nearly as elusive this spring as Twin Leaf always is.  Today, I’m skunked!  I see one flower bud and seed heads but no open flower.  Maybe later today when (and if) the sun comes out.  Good things come to those who are present – early and often!

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.





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