Nature Notes

Prairie Mosaic

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Puffs of cumulus clouds dot a deep blue sky. The light breeze wisps away any mosquitoes. I had waited until afternoon for plants to dry out, and even the dew point and temperature make for pleasant weather.

The prairie is a mosaic of color: golden sunflowers, purple coneflowers, fuzzy-soft lavender lead plants, yellow mullein, white culver’s root, silver prairie sage, tan and brick-red grasses, and black pods of white wild indigo, all against a lush green backdrop.

DSC_0234 bee balmBee Balm

The delicious scent of bee balm leads me to its pale lavender blooms. Its leaves and flowers make a delicious tea. Dwarf bush honeysuckle is already starting to tinge red in places. Drooping purple flowers of American vetch stand above neatly packed leaves tipped with curly tendrils. Swamp milkweed and Joe pye weed are still flowering.

DSC_0150 purple coneflower croppedPurple Coneflowers

Dozens of flowers are in bloom, including purple coneflowers, rattlesnake master, rosinweed, grey-headed coneflower, wild quinine, smooth ox eye, liatris, and white spikes of Culver’s root. The last of the white wild indigo and white and purple prairie clovers are still in bloom.

DSC_0228 cup plant with bee or flyCup Plant

A bee – or maybe a bee mimic – nectars on the disk flowers of a cup plant. His hind legs are coated with pollen.

Fleabane, pointed and showy tick trefoil, anise hyssop, royal catch fly, mullein, allium, and clovers are in full flower. A brown rabbit sits complacently on the grass prairie trail, munching on white clover.

DSC_0302 viceroyViceroy

A pair of viceroy butterflies play tag in the cup plants. Often mistaken for a monarch, the viceroy sports a telltale black line parallel to the edge of its hind wing.

Goldenrods haven’t set their buds yet, but are already three and four feet tall. Several have round or bush galls on them, making the plant a landlord to an insect larva such as a midge fly.

DSC_0034 big bluestem flowersBig Bluestem

Big bluestem’s reddish turkey-foot seedheads have tiny yellow florets dangling from its seeds.  Little bluestem’s tips are swelling, but there is no sign of its seedhead yet. Prairie dropseed has airy panicles of seeds, and many sedges are sporting brown nutlets.

Turkey families browse around the grounds along Three Mile Drive, and a pair of geese with four goslings munch on clover.

Sumac berries, known for their high vitamin C content, are ripe for jam or drying for tea. Wild cucumber vines climb innocuously up spruce trees, although not yet in bloom.

DSC_0229 great Indian plantainGreat Indian Plantain

Tall spires of great Indian plantain stand above the prairie, with palmate leaves and a reddish stem. And as I force myself to head back home, a double-crested cormorant flaps westward, low to the ground.

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

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