Nature Notes

Primary Colors

By Greg Lecker

All around me, the foliage is lush and thick and dripping with water from yesterday’s rains – especially in the woodland.  Green foliage is all around.  At the edge of forest are medium height spikes of blue flowers.  These are bellflowers – but not the purple European bellflowers that are weeds in our Minnesota gardens.  No, these blue flowers are the native American bellflowers.

American BellflowerAmerican Bellflower

The native Tall Bellflower features a tall single flower spike of flowers, about 1’ to 2’ long that blooms atop a 3’ to 6’ tall stem – the tallest of any bellflower.  Tall Bellflower has regular flowers that are more flattened than its tube-like or bell-like siblings.  Flowers are light blue to purple with a white ring at the center of the flower, at the opening of the flower throat.  The five petals are pointed and often twisted.  The 3” to 6” long leaves are lance-shaped, pointed, and toothed.  Tall Bellflower grows in wet shade, in deciduous woods or along openings created by water.

Speaking of waterside flowers, cardinal flower is now blooming along the woodland brook.

Cardinal FlowerCardinal Flower

Cardinal flower is one of our most showy wildflowers.  Its deep blood red exotic looking tubular flowers bloom typically in August on one- to two-foot-long spikes atop the three-foot-tall plant in moist meadows and along streams in southeastern Minnesota.  From a wide basal rosette of foliage grow stately spires 2- to 3- feet tall.  in It is a short-lived perennial but reseeds itself in sites to its liking.  After flowering, seed pods swell with a multitude of tiny bronze seeds.

Though woodlands still offer a few blooms in late summer;  the prairies and savannas now take center stage in the flowering landscape.  A drive along Three-Mile Drive offers glimpses to roadside blooms; but take time to park at the prairie and enjoy the display gardens there.  The bergamot and anise hyssop described in recent Nature Notes entries are still present; as are many other forbs (flowers).

Blue Vervain and WormwoodBlue Vervain

Blue Vervain features 3 to 4’ tall stalks with pairs of narrow lance-shaped leaves, and at the top, tall thin spikes of 2 to 3” long deep bluish-purple flowers.  These flower spikes bloom from the bottom up.  Although the stems are square, this plant is not a member of the Mint family.  Butterflies and bees seek this plant for its high nectar content.

Gray-headed ConeflowerGray-headed Coneflower

Gray-headed coneflower grows 1- to 3- feet tall and flowers in July-September, displaying drooping yellow rays of the flowers make the plant appear to be drought-stricken but this growth habit is typical.  Raised center knobs can be gray or brown.  It has a hairy stem.  A member of the sunflower family, it is drought tolerant and likes dry woods and open prairies.

Retracing my steps through the woodland, I notice another yellow coneflower – this one grows in moist woodland edges.

Sweet Blackeyed SusanSweet Black-eyed Susan

Just as this flower reminds me of new surprises around the bend; there are new things to see before this summer ends!

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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