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By Greg Lecker
The calendar is nearing a favorite time of year for me: early autumn. The hottest, most humid days are past and the green landscape is still full – with only hints of the coming changes: changes in color and more. The flowers of white snakeroot brighten the deep dense green shade.
Flowering from mid-August to mid- to late September, white snakeroot is a member of the Aster family. Tiny white flowers resembling Baby’s Breath, are borne atop tall stems bearing lance-shaped leaves. Many plants with the word “snake” as part of their common name were believed to either conceal snakes in their shade or offer treatment for snakebite. An advantage over our cultivated flowers, this plant grows especially well in dry shade and at the edges of deciduous woodlands. It is a hardy wildflower that rebounds quickly after invasive buckthorn is removed.
A contrasting flower shape is offered by zigzag goldenrod.
Zigzag goldenrod provides late season color in the woodland. From fibrous rooted crowns, its stems grow in a “zigzag” configuration. Elongated toothed leaves alternate along crooked stems. Yellow “firework”-like flowers grow from each connection of the leaf with the stem. In addition to its unique flower location, this plant differentiates itself from other goldenrods by its habitat – woodland rather than prairie.
A tree with distinctive fruit and foliage catches my eye. Inside this prickly thick husk is a glossy brown nut. The “buckeye” name of the tree comes from the observation that the large seed resembles the eye of a deer, a buck. Ohio Buckeye is one of the first trees to leaf out in the spring. Resembling a hand with fingers; each leaf is palmately compound with 5 to 7 leaflets.
The state tree of Ohio (the “Buckeye” state), Ohio Buckeye is native to southeastern and Central United States where it grows in bottom lands along the banks of rivers and streams. It has been widely planted elsewhere. Autumn foliage color will be spectacular. Though it colors and drops its leaves early, it bears fall colors that range from yellow to red-brown and even pumpkin orange. After two decades of observation, University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, in the 1990’s, introduced a selected cultivar, Aesculus `Autumn Splendor’, that develops an outstanding maroon red fall color. In addition to offering shade and color, trees shelter us in so many ways!
Perched on the hillside of the ravine, maple trees are “hanging on” by their roots. If not for tree roots, such landforms would be eroded away.
Don’t miss visiting the current Reedy Gallery show “Trees as Sanctuary,” which includes paintings by three artists including my friend Dan Wiemer. The show is well suited for an Arboretum – a collection of trees. Recognizing the sheltering tree is a fitting tribute to the Bur Oak on the hillside below the rose garden. The August 18 Nature Notes explains the decline of the tree and its planned removal due to disease. For twenty-five years, I have appreciated the way that the tree spreads its canopy over a wide area, even reaching its branches below the base of its trunk. Sanctuary, indeed.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.