Nature Notes

A Winter Flower

By Mary Beth Pottratz

As I drive into the Arb, a raptor soars out of the Arboretum and across the highway. Red-tailed hawk, I speculate. It’s a densely cloudy day, but a balmy 36⁰ and barely a breeze.

Arboretum Landscape

The landscape seems foggy in the distance, almost as though it is waiting for tonight’s predicted snowfall. Ponds seem frozen, but they’re not yet ready to walk and drive on.

Pink Turtlehead Spikes

Many plants provide winter interest, rising tall above the snow. Pink turtlehead spikes have attractive, pipestone-colored seedheads lined up on stalks.

The trees are lively with birds and squirrels. A large pileated woodpecker is startled by my footsteps and swoops away. A black-capped chickadee calls a warning and one almost touches my head as it swoops past. Am I near their food cache or their nest? I scoot quickly away so as not to distress them while they scold my back!

Witch Hazel

Tiny bright yellow petals lining the tall gray branches of witch hazel catch my eye. Our latest-season flower always fascinates me. And now, with the Arb’s Find A Plant widget, we can look up exactly where they are located on a map.

Tall Christmas trees in the visitor center add holiday cheer. Three ornate lit trees decorated in pastel hues sit lengthwise in the hall. At the westernmost end is a two-story tall tree made of live poinsettia plants.

Spiky Mouse

But my favorite is the “Green Man” tree decorated by the Minnesota Herb Society. It has an engaging scavenger hunt. Ornaments are hand-crafted from natural materials, such as this spiky mouse with pine-cone seed ears and berry eyes peeking out of a knothole. Masks of “Green” people stare out, representing this guardian of the forest and reminding us that winter gives us the opportunity for rest and renewal.

The Reedy Gallery is host to a stunning display by three artists featuring Wide Open Spaces. Colored pencil sketches a lá Seurat and casein paint depict the sun’s glow. Alowan, which means “song of praise” in the Lakota Sioux language, is a series of long-exposure photos of bluestem grasses and flowers in a prairie that demonstrate the changing colors of the seasons. Still other photos depict pieces of wood or logs, with those same items painted in a way reminiscent of the photo hanging next to it.

Ironwood Trees

Back outdoors, rust-colored leaves still hang, translucent, from ironwood trees. Nuthatches, cardinals and woodpeckers vie for spots at the feeders. Blue jays seem unusually timid, and squirrels casually dine on fallen seed. I search for dark-eyed juncos but see none. Maybe they have migrated already.

“Winter Lights”

Lights start to glow here and there in preparation for tonight’s “Winter Lights” show. Time to head home!

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

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