Early Autumn Jewels

By Greg Lecker

I leave the Trex deck overlook below the Ordway Shelter and enter the path that winds around the north side of Green Heron Pond. Immediately, a cluster of blue berries catches my attention.

Arrowwood with BerriesArrowwood with Berries

A thickly branched bush is flush with dark green leaves and laden with intensely blue berries.  The name arrowwood refers to the use of young shoots by Native Americans to make arrows.   Woodland birds eat the berries; but they haven’t disturbed these yet.  I’m fortunate to have found these berries – ripe by color if not by taste.

The next jewels that catch my attention are the fruits of high bush cranberry.

High Bush CranberryHigh Bush Cranberry and Fruit

These are not the cranberry fruits that adorn our Thanksgiving table.  Instead, it is a native shrub that is planted in both natural areas and cultivated gardens here at the Arboretum.  The species name Trilobum describes the three lobes of the plant’s leaves – easily visible now and when the foliage changes color very shortly. The red hue of its autumn foliage competes with the color of the fruit.

I walk past the still pool nestled in the grove downhill from Snyder Building.  The slight current of water flowing towards a drain draws patterns of dark water and floating light green duckweed and watermeal plants.  Entering the Green Heron pond’s Wurtele boardwalk, I decide to explore the newest trail.  There I find the purple feathery flowers of anise hyssop.

Anish HyssopAnise Hyssop

Anise hyssop can be found in the prairie as well.  Crush the leaves and you will be greeted with the fragrance of anise – the specific scent of this mint family member.  I cross the wooden walkway and explore a wood chip path that curves towards Green Heron pond.  I can’t see the water through the dense grasses and shrubs; but I find other interest.  A small hillock has been disturbed and mixed into the soil that has fallen from the mound is gray fur.  I wonder whether this was the burrow of a small animal that became a meal for a larger one.  Nearby, a sturdy small vine is decorated by clusters of red berries – and one has split open to reveal seeds within the jelly-like interior.

Bittersweet NightshadeBittersweet Nightshade

The egg-shaped fruits of bittersweet nightshade are toxic to humans; unlike the fruit of the tomato plant, another member of the nightshade family.

Near the spur trail leading to Spring Peeper Meadow there is a newly planted collection of juvenile pitcher plants.  I look forward to seeing these grow into the larger plants that I have enjoyed while paddling the Boundary Waters.  Red and green stripes streak the small tubes arranged in each plant cluster.

A stand of winterberry is full of red holly-like fruit – the female plants, at least.  Nearby, signage identifies this and other shrubs of the wetland, so many which bear autumn fruits.  Speaking of finding jewels at the Arboretum, don’t miss “mining” the Cafe Gallery for your favorites among the works by my fellow artists who have been painting on location (“plein air”) since July.  In the exhibit that opens this week, the fruits of our labor will be on exhibit until the first of next year!  Artists will paint outdoors on the Arboretum grounds this Saturday, October 6.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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