By Greg Lecker
Mild weather encourages me on my visit today. For a late November day, the sun feels quite strong. In the wetlands surrounding Green Heron Pond, cattails glow in the backlight of the sun.
Cattail fluff – “swamp down” is a fascinating substance. A Native American word for the material translated to “fruit for bed”. And it was – tribes used the down to line moccasins and their baby carriers. In early wartime, the United States Navy explored the material because it remained buoyant even when wet. It has been used as stuffing, to dress wounds, to provide tinder, and even as insulation against sound and heat!
The once brilliant autumn tree canopy is muted now – as the remaining leaves clutch at a blush of tan and purple-gray. The overall woodland is zebra-striped: dark tree trunks and bright sky beyond.
A familiar view over a watery basin in the sugarbush woodland always tugs at me. It appears near but is surrounded by a thicket of trees and understory shrubs. An inviting bench particularly teases me to linger and wonder at the passing season. We appreciate the comfort we have in these warmer days – fully aware of the coming changes within a month or two.
Familiar View Beckons
Deeper in the Woodland it is cooler and less bright – but no less interesting. The slightest movement in the nearly still air attracts my attention to a particular clump of maidenhair fern stubbornly holding onto its leaves.
Borne on black wiry stems, the leaves are in places, tan and partly translucent; and in other places partially green. A red squirrel chatters overhead. On the ground, gray squirrels tussle and rustle amongst the fallen leaves.
Back in the open prairie, the light is bright and milkweed silk glistens. That a plant can produce a silvery lining has always intrigued me. Beyond the milkweed, tall stalks stretch seed heads skyward.
I find in the prairie an interesting seed head. It’s an umbel shape –the name originating from the Latin umbella “parasol, sunshade”. The umbel arrangement can vary widely from species to species – from being flat toped to almost spherical. An inverted umbrella’s ribs is an accurate description for this specific umbel seed head, and formerly, its flower head. It appears to be a strong form, holding fast against rain, and soon the coming weight of snow….maybe.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.