Nature of Light

Purple coneflowers are in radiant glory curbside near the visitor building, flanked by lavender blooms of catmint alive with bees.

DSC_0077 We Are Light by Ashley DullOil Painting

Inside, I check the Nature Notes board for updates. Sunlight spilling from a large oil painting in the hallway by Ashley Dull draws me in. The Incredible Being of Light showcases works by four artists in oil, mosaic and glass. These stunning works will be in the Reedy Gallery through Sept. 4.

DSC_0114 prairie dock flowerPrairie Dock

Outside, sunlight spills through the woodlands, too, and the prairie is bathed in it, glowing golden with sunflowers, cup plants, prairie dock, black-eyed Susans, goldenrod and rosinweed. Crickets and grasshoppers chirp a wavering melody as I stroll.

DSC_0323 Indian grass flower croppedIndian Grass

Prairie dropseed stems arch above their grassy clumps in airy seed tops that glint in sunlight. Indian grass has smooth bronze-colored seeds opening to reveal yellow stamen dangling and feathery white styles.

In the prairie garden, a female monarch nectars on her favorite -rough blazing star,Liatris aspera. Despite fewer liatris than in previous years, I see at least a dozen monarchs over the prairie.

Other blooms include rattlesnake master, great Indian plantain, flowering spurge, grey coneflower, wild quinine, American vetch, and stiff goldenrod.

DSC_0240 new England asterNew England aster

I find my first aster of the season, a deep purple New England aster. Nearby, an orange sulphur butterfly is camouflaged as it sips on golden cup plant blossoms. It flits away and leads my eyes to another aster: the miniature daisy-like flowers of false aster.

DSC_0254 bottle gentian croppedBottle Gentian

A blue glow between the grasses catches my eye. Bottle gentian in full bloom! Blue vervain is sporting its last blooms, and song sparrows serenade from cattails bursting in seed.

A bumblebee and a dark female eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly nectar in tandem on a thistle flower and then switch spots! A monarch hovers patiently above when suddenly a female ruby-throated hummingbird darts in, wings buzzing, to take a turn.

DSC_0353 Grit PickersGrit Pickers

In the shady forest, chickadees call furtively, blue jays warn, and a gray catbird meows. Pagoda dogwoods have just a few leaves starting to tinge claret. Just outside the woodland wildflower garden, I stop to hear the Grit Pickers trio of banjo, guitar and fiddle entertaining a crowd with a lively polka in the shade of crabapple trees.

The magnificent American elm near the Ornamental Grass Collection is starting to fade pale green on its southern side, where the sunlight hits it most, in just another facet of light.

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



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