Nature Notes

Forest, Prairie and Wetland Drive

It’s exciting to drive through the Arb again and to walk the designated paths.

COVID-19 Update: The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is open in a limited capacity. Find updates and information here.

By Mary Beth Potratz

During the pandemic I have longed to walk in the cool shade of a forest or feel the heat rise from a prairie. It’s exciting to drive through the Arb again and to walk the designated paths! Light traffic and a controlled number of walkers leaves room for social distancing.

Grey-headed coneflower

And summer is at its peak. Grey-headed coneflower’s golden-yellow petals point sideways in windy gusts. Thimbleweeds have lost their petals and form green cones atop each stem. Cardinals call “chew” repeatedly, and chickadees and robins make contact calls.

Dwarf bush honeysuckle

Even the parking lot is beautiful. Culver’s root white spikes rise above dwarf bush honeysuckle. The honeysuckle foliage is already turning from its rich summer green to fall’s purplish hues.

Monarchs nectar on common milkweed blossoms and their sweet scent comes and goes with the wind. Some plants already sport green seed pods.

Bee balm

Golden sunflowers glow in clumps against the prairie green. Pale lavender bee balm are abuzz with bees and other pollinators seeking a sweet treat.

The green roof near the Learning Center is a patchwork of interesting plants: short sedges, mosses, allium, possibly a small cottongrass and ground covers. And beneath its eaves, barn swallows are tending mud-cup nests. They must have eggs or chicks, judging from the way they swoop around my car to warn me away.

Blue vervain

The drive along the prairie is stunning, and a few cars behind me wait patiently as I pause for a snapshot through the window. Blue vervain sends thin lavender-blue spikes upward. Northern bedstraw blooms in white billows around the prairie. The green is further accented by prairie sage plants with silvery leaves and black pods of white wild indigo.


On the way to the restroom – the only allowed stop during the drive – I spot a small horsemint. Its yellow tubular flowers are spotted with purplish brown spots. A black shadow flits through grasses and lands on a blade. Its wings are matte black and its body glows iridescent green in the sun. An ebony jewel-wing damselfly! 

I park in the main lot to continue my visit on foot. Grasshoppers rest on warm pavement and jump away. Wild quinine flowers resemble tiny heads of cauliflower. Tall ironwood plants are crowned with deep purple flowers.

Blazing star

Alliums are forming fruit in papery-covered packages. Blazing star plants, those monarch magnets, send up stalks wrapped in a foot or three of purple flowers.

I could stay here forever.

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

3 comments on “Forest, Prairie and Wetland Drive

  1. Lovely, thank you!

  2. Thank you, Angie!

  3. Pingback: Arb Links, vol. 24 | News from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

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