Nature Notes

Season Turning

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Fresh rain washed away the wildfire smoke of the past few days, removing the recent dust and returning our air quality index to good. I enjoy the scent of moist earth and wet leaves. And the flowers are drinking it in, too!

DSC_0356 New England Aster croppedNew England asters

Deep purple New England asters are flanked by pale lavender silky aster, and clumps of tiny white asters so thick they resemble clouds. Crickets whirr all around me as I follow the mowed trail, and birds hide in the prairie calling furtively to each other.

Golden blooms of black-eyed Susan, Jerusalem artichoke, Canada and stiff goldenrods stand out against the prairie. And the prairie itself is a mosaic of pipestone-red seedheads from big bluestem and Indian grass, green blades of grass and shrubs, beige stripes of dried stalks and stems, punctuated with black wild indigo pods and pools of color from the flowers.

DSC_0421 stiff gentian croppedStiff gentian

I spy the little blue flowers of stiff gentian low in the grass. Great Indian plantain stands eight feet tall, its tan seedheads reaching for the sky. Yellow evening primrose are scattered about.

Long-fruited thimbleweeds are just puffing out with seeds attached to feathery fibers.Compass plant and cup plant flower stalks rise several feet above my head. The petals have already dropped. Blue vervain’s flowers have morphed to walnut-brown spikes of seeds. Geese honk, skeining overhead.

DSC_0477 Yellow woolly bear caterpillar croppedWoolly Bear caterpillar

Gillian, Audrey and Ben have a beige and orange woolly bear caterpillar! They found it walking on the trail near the prairie display garden. It is the larval form of the tiger moth, and legend has it that the markings on a woolly bear can predict the severity of the coming winter. The National Weather Service, however, debunks that as myth.

Trees and shrubs are just starting to turn. An American elm and maples are tinging yellow, and sumac have scarlet tips on some of their leaves.

DSC_0750 Scarlet Canada anemone leaves croppedCanada anemone

Deep maroon leaves of Canada anemone tangle on the forest floor. White snakeroot and elm-leaved goldenrod lighten the woodland edges. A few Indian pipes stand straight, indicating they have been pollinated.

But the highlight of my weekend was the opportunity to join a session of Nature Sketchbooks: A Visual Journal in the Arboretum with Pam. Pam Luer’s art class at the Arboretum was amazing as she guided her students in sketching and painting techniques to capture the beauty that we then went outdoors to capture in pencil and paint.

DSC_0550 Hummingbird croppedHummingbird

Hummingbirds dash and dart through the dahlias on display. Two juveniles chatter and squeak then hover facing each other. They dart up 30 feet while twirling around each other, before racing back down. They are gorging on nectar, preparing for their long migration south.

And the season marches on.

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

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