By Holly Einess
I like to visit the Arb’s Spring Peeper Meadow at least once a year, and August is one of my favorite times to do so. Today I start my hike on the trail that leads away from the meadow and through restored prairie.
Giant blue hyssop, blue vervain, and blazing star still have a few blossoms, but lead plant, white prairie clover, wild bergamot, and purple prairie clover have all mostly gone to seed. The hyssop is a particular favorite of bees (and of mine, as its blossoms and seeds smell like black licorice). Big bluestem and Indian grass stalks sway gently, many of them taller than I am. The Indian grass is in full flower, tiny yellow blossoms dangling delicately and trembling in the breeze.
A grasshopper perches beside bottle gentian blossoms. These flowers don’t open, so are pollinated almost exclusively by bumble bees, one of the only insects strong enough to push apart the petals and get inside.
The prairie trail enters a small wooded area, and I’m grateful for the cool shade. A bird lands overhead and at first I have trouble identifying it. Its shape is sparrow-like, but the streaked chest throws me off. I consult my field guide and determine that it’s a juvenile chipping sparrow.
There’s a lot of joe-pye weed in bloom here in the dappled shade, as well as woodland sunflowers. A wild turkey sees me and trots quickly away.
Soon I’m out in the open again, a tall stand of Norway pines on one side, marsh and wet meadow on the other. Goldenrod is everywhere, vibrating with insect activity. I count seven monarch butterflies, the most I’ve seen in one place all summer. A small flock of Canada geese flies overhead.
Beside the boardwalk arrowhead is in bloom, its small white blossoms peeking out from beneath large, arrow-shaped leaves. A flock of goldfinches is moving about the southeastern part of the meadow, undulating in flight, disappearing into dense patches of goldenrod, and enthusiastically harvesting seeds from cup plants (sometimes sending seeds flying).
The Spring Peeper Meadow is a great option if you’re looking for a nature-filled hike away from the busier areas of the Arboretum. The small parking lot is easily accessed on the north side of 82nd Street, just south of Hwy 5 and west of Hwy 41. As the meadow is separate from the Arb’s main grounds, no reservations are required.
Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.