By Mary Beth Pottratz
Bright red cardinal flowers greet me at eye level in the sunny prairie. Flowering spurge, also known as false baby’s breath, blooms in white clouds. I avoid touching the plant and its irritating sap, but I know the birds love its seeds. Tiny slivers of golden petals are starting to emerge from rosinweed’s green centers. This tall and sturdy plant is a wonderful late summer flower for gardens.
Prairie blazing star
Thick purple spikes of prairie blazing star stand out against goldenrod and green grasses. These beautiful monarch magnets are an important source of nectar.
Anise hyssop blooms in shorter and thinner lavender spikes nearby. Although many birds and other pollinators love its nectar and seeds, I love it for its clean licorice fragrance and the aromatic tea it makes.
Purple coneflower and bee balm
A hummingbird hovers over a purple coneflower. It sees me and darts around behind me. Surprised, I laugh out loud at myself, spinning in a circle to see it.
Bee balm is dropping its lilac petals, its centers bulging with seeds. Wild quinine is topped with white flower clusters that resemble tiny heads of cauliflower. Look closely: you may see a spider camouflaged amid the flowers!
Several goldenrods are already in bloom. Stiff goldenrod is showing rosettes of green buds at the top. Soon they will open to a center disk of tiny gold flowers with 6 or more petals surrounding the disk. I stop to listen to a bluebird chortle its song.
A few tall spikes of great Indian plantain stand out above the prairie. The Department of Natural Resources lists this plant threatened in our state. Learn why, and discover its Minnesota relatives at my favorite site for plants and more in our state: https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/search?kw=indian+plantain .
Late afternoon sun sidles through the forest. I hurry over to the Spring Peeper Meadow and am well rewarded!
The open water is gone, and a dried bed is filling in with cattails, arrowheads, reeds and sedges. A set of muskrat tracks show in the mud.
Cup plants are scattered everywhere in the wetland and along the mowed trail as well. Six and more feet tall, its bright yellow flowers glow in the sunlight. Each pair of its large leaves meet at the stalk, forming a cup that holds rainwater for days for thirsty birds and bugs.
Goldfinches and swallows swoop and dive. A song sparrow trills invisibly.
Looking down, I am surprised to see a beautiful cream gentian in bloom. Its white petals are tightly closed and lined with green veins. Nearby, blue vervain plants point skyward.
Big bluestem grass towers a few feet over my head, with “turkey foot” seedheads. Some have tiny florets dangling from the seed. Side-oats grama, a shorter grass, has tips lined with dangling florets rippling in the breeze.
A small aster’s lilac petals are so light at first they appear white. My first aster of the season! Sturdy stems of boneset are topped with heads of tiny white flowers, each with a yellow center. Large swaths of purple Joe Pye weed color the wetland with its fuzzy flower tops. Other patches of deep purple are ironweed. Small swatches of goldenrods add their accents.
A brilliant red damselfly glints in the sun. Giant bur-reed stems are heavy with green spiky balls, like medieval mace.
But the sun sinks over the wetland, and I reluctantly head home.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org .