Nature Notes

Three-Mile Phenology

The Crabapple Collection is a perfect site to note seasonal changes, it has four seasons of beauty. Now, an array of crabapples are scattered about the ground and hang from many trees, providing food for Robins, local and migrating.

By Zan Tomko

Harrison Sculpture Garden’s ‘Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer’

The Arboretum is closed Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, when our wild turkeys and the Arboretum staff enjoy a day of gratitude. The Arboretum is located on the traditional homelands of the Dakota people. It is important to acknowledge the peoples on whose land we live, learn, and work.

I started these Nature Notes at the beginning of one week and ended them seven days later. What a difference a week makes, and that is what phenology is all about, the observation of an organism or habitat over time. The differences in one week can be subtle or dramatic. 

Autumn Arboretum Wild Turkeys

Winter Arboretum Wild Turkeys

A monthly tour on Three-Mile Drive is one way for everyone to check in with changes over a season. There are many pockets of parking spaces along the Drive for you to pull aside and open your window, to stop, look and listen. At the entrance of Woodland Azalea Garden, a clump of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra), beckons you into the Woodland Azalea Garden. The grass glows with the energy of summer and rustles with the sound of autumn, until it snows. As the season moves forward, more of these short grasses will be hidden with additions of snow, a small example of phenology.

Autumn Japanese Forest grass (Hakonechloa macra)

 Winter Japanese Forest grass (Hakonechloa macra)

As you round the bend toward the Shade Tree Exhibit, mature Redbud trees arch over the roadway from both sides. Look for other Redbud trees throughout the Arboretum in formal gardens or as part of flowering tree collection. First, the redbuds display the golden heart-shaped leaves, 7 days later, the wet, black limbs demand my attention.

Autumn Redbud

Winter Redbud

The Weeping Tree collection is full of high drama with a white canvas of snow and dark tree trunks and limbs.  Weeping Larch, a deciduous evergreen, went from a golden-needle fluff, to a dense collection of line texture, in a week. Phenology note: Larch drops its needles.

Autumn Weeping Larch

Winter Weeping Larch

The Crabapple Collection is a perfect site to note seasonal changes, it has four seasons of beauty. Now, an array of crabapples are scattered about the ground and hang from many trees, providing food for Robins, local and migrating. The small grove of crabapple trees, where the walking trail crosses over the road, is a fast-food fly through for noisy robins. Some flocks of Robins are still hanging around.

Autumn Crabapples

Winter Crabapples

Turn left on the Drive and head to the Bee Center. On the left is a beautiful line of spruce trees. Some of the branches, near the road, have spruce cones. Spruce cones have much thinner center stem and scales that make the cone flexible, as opposed to a pinecone. The Spruce cones are open when it is warm to release seed and closed when immature or in cold weather.

Autumn Spruce Cones

Winter Spruce Cones

The walkway from the parking lot of the Bee Center leads to one the best panoramas at the Arboretum. Three-Mile Drive has many more stories to share. Stop at special places along the Drive frequently throughout the year. Keep a small notebook and pencil in the glovebox to make notes about your favorite space, tree or garden and use the long look of Phenology to have a better understanding of the natural world.

Bee Center Panorama

ZanTomko is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

1 comment on “Three-Mile Phenology

  1. Susan Swanson

    Thank you for taking us along on your walk.

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