Late Fall Findings

By Mary Beth Pottratz

There are still a few white berries red-osier dogwood; most have been eaten by birds and other animals. Pale golden tamarack needles dust the pathway, and some are still on the trees. Mixed with pale golden gingko leaves, it is a study in monotone texture.

20181123_112139 tamarack needlesTamarack Needles

The Rose Garden and many others have been put to bed for winter, covered with blankets of yellow hay. A few tall shrub roses still sport shriveled hips, the berry of a rose. A tiny squirrel sways at the tip of a branch, gnawing on a nutshell and making a loud scraping noise. A white-breasted nuthatch scoots up and down a nearby tree trunk looking for seeds cached in the bark.

It’s tree pruning time, and small stacks of sticks and branches line a pond’s edge. Sparrows call “check!” to each other from within a brush pile. A red-breasted nuthatch flits between branches above, and a dark-eyed junco scavenges the ground for dinner.

20181123_111620 Witch hazelWitch Hazel

The only flower blooming right now is the tiny but beautiful witch hazel. It sports four crinkled petals, resembling tiny strips of yellow crepe paper that stand up to our freezing temperatures. A blue jay calls warning, and crows caw loudly. Must be an owl or a hawk nearby…

With leaves gone, it’s easy to see all the nests. Tiny, woven-grass nests are tightly attached to the crotch of a small tree. Large leafy squirrel nests sit high in the tallest trees, seeming to defy gravity. Mud-lined robin’s nests meet my eye level in shrubs. Larger nests of twigs and scavenged bits of plastic, twine and leaves mark crow’s nests. My most amazing find one spring was a tiny hummingbird nest. It had an egg the size of a Tic Tac mint! The width of my thumbnail, it was a delicate weaving of thin grasses dotted with pine cone scales and lichen, all held together with spider silk which expands with the nestlings.



I hear drumming and follow the sound. A red-headed woodpecker peeks out from behind a tree trunk! Seconds later, I find a smaller woodpecker. Hairy or downy, I can’t be sure.

Indoors I find a delightful display of botanic art lining the skyway to the cafe. A stately American elm is sketched, with details of its buds, flowers, samaras or seeds, and its leaves. I recall streets lined with these majestic trees. They gave eep shade and fresh air until most of them succumbed to Dutch elm disease.

20181123_112542 American elm and dim sunDim Sun Through Elm Branches

There are still a few American elms at the Arboretum. One along Three Mile Drive has a crown wearing thin of leaves in the summer. Another is below the Herb Garden, and I see the sun dwarfed by the elm’s tall branches. I wonder what magic the amazing staff at the Arboretum has conjured to keep them alive.

How Dutch elm disease started in the U.S. is described on my favorite plant information website: While you’re there, check out the wonderful advanced search features; you can find detailed information and photos on most Minnesota plants. And there’s an app!

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


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