Nature Notes

Fullness of Fall

By Greg Lecker

The first fall day is full.  Full – full of plant biomass (foliage, flowers, fruits) and full of temperature. I enter the Grace Dayton Wildflower woodland seeking a bit or relief.  Clumped on a patch of wood chips is a small pile of black and green.  At first I think it’s scat (animal droppings).

Not Scat - Black Walnut HullsNot scat – Black Walnut Hull

Looking more closely, I see that it is the outer hull of black walnut fruit – already eaten by squirrels.  Also near the forest floor is a bit of red – berries atop a short stalk.

Jack-in-the-pulpit berriesJack-in-the-Pulpit Berries

Jack-in-the-Pulpit is woodland plant that grows best in deep shade in moist, humus-rich soil.   Resembling a green calla lily, it is attractive in bloom in late April to mid-June and again in the fall when it produces clusters of bright red berries on 2-foot tall plants. The tip of its spaethe (its hood or pulpit) droops to hide its spadix (the Jack). The seed berries form at the base of the spadix. It can be easily grown in a shady garden by planting the fleshy corms in the fall.  These are the same corns that wild turkey seems to pursue as it forages in leaf litter with those sharp, strong feet!  Another method – and nature’s preference – is for plants to grow from the tiny seeds present in each fleshy red berry.  In the first year, a single heart-shaped leaf appears.  After several years of producing pairs of three-part leaves, the plant will produce the flower.   This plant may go dormant if soil dries out.

False Solomon's Seal BerriesFalse Solomon’s Seal – Berries

Walking slowly up the serpentine path leading back up to Three Mile Drive, I spy ribbed alternate leaves on an arching stem that ends in red and pink berries:  false Solomon’s seal.  These berries have been making a slow color change this summer — first striped green and brown, then a yellow-white, next speckled with pink, and finally red when ripe.  Blooming in mid-May to late June, False Solomon’s Seal is smaller than the Great (or true) Solomon’s Seal.  It can be found in open woods, prairies and along roads throughout Minnesota.   It prefers moist humus-rich non-alkaline soil in light to full shade, although it blooms more in full sun.

Crossing the roadway, I hear a familiar honk.  I barely turn the camera lens upward in time to capture the source – Canada geese flocking and flying as they gather for their journey southward.

Canada GeeseCanada Geese in Flight

In the prairie, two different asters are blooming:  the taller New England Aster and a smaller more-delicate, blue-violet aster – which I think is sky-blue aster.

Pale Blue AsterPale Blue Aster

Changes – in color and temperature – are expected over the next month. Get outside and explore!

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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