Nature Notes

Summer’s First Treasures

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Overcast skies and an occasional mist greet the second day of summer today. Cloudy, damp days are wonderful for exploring the natural habitat areas at the Arb!

20190622_190806 gray dogwoodGray dogwood

The wetlands around Green Heron Pond have come to life in the last few weeks. Willows bear light green leaves. Gray dogwood buds are popping open, raising flat round circles of white blooms towards the sky.

Yellow loosestrife sports golden yellow balls. Unlike the infamous non-native purple loosestrife, this lovely native plant also provides a stunning display in fall when its foliage turns crimson-orange.

DSC_0525 (2)Song sparrowSong sparrow

A song sparrow perched atop a young spruce tree trills, “Maids, maids, maids, put on your teeea kettle-ettle-ettles”, making me laugh at how accurate that mnemonic is. A common yellowthroat calls “wickety, wickety, wickety” and goldfinches warble, tweet and twitter at each other.

Green orchids are in full bloom, but blend in well with the green background. Large blue flag iris flowers sway in the breeze atop single stems.

20190622_184708 blue flag irisABlue flag iris

Streams of birdsong pour through the willow thickets. I hear many different songbirds calling one at a time! Then I spot the gray catbird with its telltale black cap and realize the ruse. This amazing bird mimics many others’ song; but its own typical song is a plaintive, single note “mew”.

DSC_0602 (2)showy lady's slipper and budShowy lady’s slipper

Pink and white flowers glow against greenery in today’s overcast light. Showy lady’s-slippers are in full bloom in the tamarack bog. And at the garden where the boardwalk joins the woodland trail, a huge display of our treasured state flowers glow in the mist. One bud is split open and just about to start unfolding its petals.

Large yellow lady’s-slippers are also in flower today. Horsetails have sprouted up. Some have circles of grass-like blades sprouting up from each node. Some have brownish cones on top. Others have tiny brown caps at the end of the stalk.


Sensitive ferns are coming up throughout the bog, and pale blue-violet harebells peek out from behind ferns. Arrowhead leaves rise above the water line, but no sign yet of its interesting flower buds.

20190622_161301Columbine seedpodColumbine seed pod

In the woodland, columbines are forming interesting green seedpods. They will eventually dry, causing the pods to pop open and release the tiny seeds inside. Once the seed is released, the plant will draw energy down into its roots to overwinter. This is why it is so important to refrain from picking flowers: it not only prevents seeds from creating new flowers, it also prevents plants from having the energy needed to produce flowers next season.

20190622_170331tall meadow rueTall meadow rue

Golden Alexanders are exploding like miniature golden fireworks. Tall meadow rue is setting its green buds.

Wild raspberries are hard green berries right now, barely starting to blush. Wild rose petals scatter the damp forest floor. Hips will form into seedpods where the petals fell away. Canada anemone is still blooming in both the wetland and woodland.

White wild indigo is in full bloom in the prairie. Its tall stalks tower gracefully above the grasses and forbs. The whistling wings of a v-shaped flock of birds passing low overhead startles me. The nine birds are pelicans! They must be migrating north to Canada or to western U.S. to their breeding areas.

20190622_195830 basswood flowersBasswood flowers

A basswood tree’s flowers are fully open, but oddly no bees or other pollinators are present. Small brown-capped mushrooms grow in swaths here and there.

There are many more treasures to savor. I’ll have to return soon!

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

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