Ephemeral Treats

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The cool morning air is clean and smells fresh from yesterday’s rains. Bright sunshine stripes the woodland floor with naked tree shadows. Branch tips are swelling with barely open buds. Clumps of low green leaves dot the forest floor, standing out against the snow-bleached leaf litter. Ferns, Virginia waterleaf, bluebells, trout lilies, bellwort and anemones are leafing out.

Large-flowered Trillium

Just three short weeks ago, tiny snow trilliums were in full bloom! Now there is no sign of the ephemeral flower, but its cousin, the large-flowered trillium, is just forming buds.

Kim and Linda

Three people bend carefully over a small clump of green and purplish-brown mottled leaves. The dwarf trout lilies are in full bloom! Kim and Linda, under close supervision by endangered plant curator David Remucal, are flagging and counting this endangered plant. Cameras and temperatures gauges automatically record weather and disturbance data. It is hoped that this research can save the dwarf trout lily from impending extinction.


A white trout lily – not of the endangered dwarf species – blooms nearby. There are many trout lily leaves up, and soon the carpet of mottled green and brown leaves will be dotted with many white and yellow drooping lilies. Purple and pink hepaticas glow against the carpet of leaves. Bluebells have bright cherry buds, promising their little blue trumpet-shaped flowers in short order.

Siberian squill have just started blossoming. Although a lovely, tiny blue flower, the plant has spread throughout the woodland. It is not native to the U.S., and has no natural predators here. Sadly, I find squill amid the dwarf trout lilies, where it will be very difficult to remove. Squill resprouts easily, so each plant must be removed in its entirety.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Chickadees are calling and flitting about. Silently, a flash of yellow darts behind a tree trunk. I follow the quick movements.  Sure enough, my first yellow-rumped warbler of the season! These birds are migrating through to their nesting grounds in Canada.

Bird melody floats through the trees. Red-winged blackbirds are claiming their territories. Song sparrows warble sweetly, chickadees whistle long, slow “feeee-beeeees” and robins call their familiar “pip, pip, cheerio!” Haunting pileated woodpecker calls echo through the trees. Chorus frogs provide a sweet rhythm, and drumming woodpeckers mark the beat.

Cutleaf Toothwart and Beetle

Some bloodroot plants are still in flower, but most have unfurled leaves and some are already in fruit. Cutleaf toothwort is tipped with buds. A few are in flower, and one sports a beetle at its top. Mayapple stems are already five inches tall; some grow in pairs where a flower will soon form.

As I slowly pick my way – stepping on a plant can curtail its life cycle – I see sign of deer that were not so careful. They even munched the tops of leaves. I only hope they leave some for next year!

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

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Home Demo Gardens Sprout Seeds of Inspiration

By Barbara DeGroot

Innovative, adventurous and always relevant, the Arboretum’s Home Demo Gardens never fail to engage and delight visitors.  This year is no exception. Arboretum gardener extraordinaire Ted Pew shares a few highlights:

Edible Pollinator Garden
This garden is designed to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Bamboo “teepee” structures support Phoenix climbing nasturtiums (reds & oranges) and heirloom Golden Marie beans. Also featured: Imperial Star artichokes, the small and roundish Thai Yellow Egg eggplant, Kilimanjaro white marigolds (yes, white!), Swiss chard (Bright Lights), Eleonora basil, salvia Pink Sunday, rhubarb, English lavender, day lilies and plum trees. And don’t miss the compact, red popcorn plant – Two Inch Strawberry – so named because its cobs resemble the aforementioned fruit.  Likewise, the Orange Banana tomato!

Rainbow Garden

The main vegetable bed (garden for a family of four) will feature a rainbow theme, with waves of plants in rainbow hues – from violet, indigo and blue to green, yellow, orange and red. From eggplant to radishes and everything in between; there’s even a blue tomato!

Other home-demo specialty gardens include: AAS Seasonal Garden, Intensive Veggie Bed (aka, Bean Garden), Root Vegetable Garden, Pizza Garden and an Ornamental Veggie Bed (aka Oddball Garden for its unusual plants).  And don’t miss the Teaching Garden.

Teaching Garden

Also focusing on pollinator-friendly veggies and flowers, especially zinnias, the Teaching Garden spotlights several top winners from the Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Seed Trials over the past 35 years.

Pew lists his favorite “pollinator plus” zinnias – State Fair Mix, California Giant, Zinnia Zowie Yellow Flame, Uproar Rose, Benary’s Giant and Orange Profusion.

You’ll also find: Brussel sprouts – Jade Cross and Hestia, both All-America selections; leeks– American Flag and Lancelot; celery – Tall Utah and Conquistador; cucumber – Marketmore; winter squash – Sweet Mama, Ponca and Table Queen; and many more selections. The Teaching Garden is located just outside the west entrance to the Visitor Center.

All in all, lots of inspiration for home gardeners!

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Spring is Moving in

By Boak Wiesner

One sure moving sign of spring is the water flowing everywhere. In the ravine, the little rivulet trickles down towards Lake Minnewashta, then Minnetonka, then the creek, then the Mississippi, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. Reminds me that soon very many neotropical migrants, birds, that is, will be back. I grew up near Minnehaha so it will always be “the” creek to me.

Red Oaks are beginning to leaf out pumping water and nutrients from their roots up to the ends of the twigs where they are the source of material for the new leaves. Spring is bustin’ out all over! Some of their neighbors still have last year’s leaves on them. I wonder what makes one tree hold its leaves while another doesn’t? There’s probably some physiological reason but still there’s a lot of variability in natural systems.

Up in the sun, some Sugar Maples are a bit farther ahead with their leafing out. Soon flowers will appear – the yearly cycle is turning once again. Each species has its own time of blooming. Their flow of sap is pretty much finished. But I notice some critters up in the leaves where I wish I could be.

A Gray Squirrel clambers out on a branch, one of several I watch her sample as she nibbles the twigs to get a drink of sap. I’m pretty sure I can see evidence that’s she’s nursing right now. If you have never tried freshly tapped sap, I highly recommend it. It’s cold and refreshing with just a touch of sweetness. I sure envy that squirrel right now!

Her little “cousin” is also at work up in a nearby tree. It paused for an instant for its portrait, likely the only time it was still the whole day. They usually act like wind-up toys and are fun to watch.

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer



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Spring has Sprung

By Greg Lecker

Daffodils and Siberian Squill decorate the edges of the entry drive.  In the courtyard perennial garden behind Snyder Building, crocus of all colors and a pink hyacinth bloom.  Spring has returned to Minnesota.

Songs serenade me as I walk along Three Mile Drive. Notes of Jim’s native American flute playing waft from within the Japanese garden.  Red-winged blackbird, red-bellied woodpeckers and countless other birds add their voices to the dawn song.  As I descend the hill toward Green Heron Pond, two Canada geese arc overhead and descend toward Iris Pond.  I note the clarity of the color crisp water flowing from pond to pond.

Along the path, numerous small tree flowers lie on the asphalt.  I’m reminded to look for star magnolia flowers to start popping this week.  A red squirrel chatters with dissatisfaction as I enter its territory.

Pussy Willow Pollen and Stamens

Pussy willow catkins are being shed even as the male flowers are extruding their pollen tipped stamens through the fuzzy overcoat of the flowers.  I too shed my coat even at this early hour.  I sense humidity is rising with the temperatures.  Northeast of Green Heron Pond, I’m tempted by the waterway and islands that were sculpted a few years ago.  They are looking more and more established; and the log founded wood chip path looks solid.

Red Elderberry

Nature celebrates her woody shrubs by encouraging their emergence slightly below the overhead tree canopy.  One such understory native is the ugly duckling, Red Elderberry.  I use the name ugly duckling to refer to its unattractive winter appearance – all knobby and gangly.  But in the spring, semi-tropical foliage and cauliflower-like buds appear.  Soon, white fragrant flowers will appear, followed by red berries that will be stripped by hungry wildlife.

Snow Trillium

Presently, snow trillium and hepatica remain the lone blooming woodland plants within Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden.  Look for that to change in the near future as rains and warming temperatures come.  The sweet cacophony of chorus frogs mutes as I approach their woodland pool.  One can mimic their call by stroking a hair comb – then imaging a chorus of combs singing in unison!  Yellow and white forsythia bloom along Three Mile Drive between here and the prairie.

Pasque Flower

Within the prairie Capen display garden, Pasque flower is blooming on schedule.  The native wildflower grows on south facing slopes in dry to average sandy soil.  The name, pasque means “passing over”; and the adjective often refers to the events of the Judeo-Christian Passover-Easter season:  the Angel of Death’s passing over of the Israelites and the paschal victim embodied in Holy Week.  Whatever holidays you celebrate this week, I wish you happy times with families and friends.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Spring Ephemerals!

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Bright sunlight warms me despite a light breeze.


Forsythia flowers have opened their buds! Although not native to Minnesota, this harbinger of spring, when in full flower, tells Minnesota gardeners that it is time to wake up the roses.It also tells me to hustle down to the woodland garden to check on our native spring ephemerals – those that bloom before the trees have leafed out, taking advantage of sunlight on the forest floor.


And they have started flowering! Pale lilac hepatica petals sit behind a dozen or two bright white stamen, with a yellow-green center. Like forsythia, this flower blooms before the leaves come out. Last year’s purple, tri-lobed leaf reveals it to be a sharp-lobed hepatica.

Dwarf Trout Lily

Dwarf trout lily pips are already an inch above ground. Single or double green-and-brown mottled leaves still curve tightly around its swelling bud. The flower will be a miniature white lily with four petals curving back at the tip of a single stalk.This endangered plant blooms only in three counties in southeastern Minnesota, except for this population moved in the 1960s to the Arboretum, and another at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis.

The dwarf trout lily rarely develops seed. It reproduces mostly by runners. Transplants fail, due to highly specific requirements for soil, light, microclimate and fungi. Attempts by poachers to steal plants further endangers the dwarf trout lily. Taking this plant or any part is now subject to a $25,000 fine. Research is being done to understand dwarf trout lily requirements and to further protect it.

Snow Trilliums

Snow trilliums have just started to bloom along the edges of the woodland trail. These resemble the large-flowered trilliums that will come up later, but its blossoms are the size of a dime! I am surprised to hear a mourning dove coo its sad song as I leave the forest.

Two pairs of hooded mergansers dive on Green Heron Pond. Canada geese and a pair of mallards swim and dabble for snacks. Three male red-winged blackbirds are calling “konklaree!” from their respective cattail perches, claiming their territory. I watch for females but find none.

A strange scream comes from a nearby tree! I look up to see a raptor, tearing at animal flesh on a branch above. With a flash of orange undertail coverts and three thick white bands along its tail, it flies off with its prey.


A tamarack nearby sports dark brown buds, but I search and find just a few tinged green at the tip. The needles are about to burst out of the buds!

Nearby, a song sparrow whistles sweetly atop a naked shrub. Pussy willows are loaded with furry catkins. I search in vain for skunk cabbage, which should be in bloom right now, but I seems to be hidden beneath wet leaves and last year’s prone grass stems. Couldn’t find them last year, either. Skunked again!

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


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Damp, Gray and Cool

By Greg Lecker

A cold and damp spell hangs over the Arboretum grounds during my daybreak visit.  The drizzle ended just as I arrived; everything is quite wet.

Damp and Gray

And yet, an active wildlife scene belie the apparent serenity of this Sunday morning!  Encircling the twisted trunk of a nearby Scotch pine, gray squirrels chase one another.  Overhead, Canada geese honk as the fly by; on the ground, wild turkeys gobble to each other at the feeder.  Chickadees, red-bellied woodpeckers, and red-winged blackbird vocalize excitedly.  Blue jays sound their metallic “jay” call.

Maple syrup is being collected in the sugar bush above the Sensory Garden.  I look forward to reading reports of this year’s harvest.  Within Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden, Jacob ’s ladder foliage is unfolding leaves that appear to have been packed accordion-style.

Jacob’s Ladder Emerges

The calls of crows and an alarmed barred owl direct my gaze upward.  Two crows pester first one and then a second barred owl, over and over.  The large owls tolerate this abuse for a short time before first pursuing the black tormentor sand then flying away.  To say that owls and crows are not friends is an understatement.  Barred owls are nocturnal predators.  By comparison, crows are diurnal (daytime) aerialists.  If their paths cross (as happens in the early morning), crows will harass and mob an owl.

New Woodland Pool and Island.

Continuing onward through the woodland, I notice that a new woodland pond has been enlarged and a boulder edged island has been created.  A pair of Mallards swim in approval before my presence scares them off.  They’re not interested in posing for my camera.

As I near the shade tree collection on my hike up the rise of Three Mile Drive, two large white-tail does lope across the roadway and bound up the hill of the woodland that borders the prairie.  Confident they have put sufficient distance between them and me, one stops and shakes its head at me as if to shrug me off.  She alternatively wags her hanging tail and flags it upward still unsure of me as I watch them.  I am in awe of an animal that moves so quickly and gracefully and so quietly, seemingly without effort.

In the Capen display garden, the basal foliage of prairie smoke has emerged; and red buds decorate the fuzzy fringe of leaves.

Prairie Smoke Leaves and Buds

Below the Snyder Building terrace, vernal witch hazel buds have shed their spidery blooms.

Vernal Witch Hazel – Post Bloom

The warm humidity of the Meyer-Deats Conservatory is welcome after my morning stroll in the cold dampness. There are plenty of blooming orchids and amaryllis plants for visitors to enjoy on their next visit.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.


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A Crazy Fortnight

By Boak Wiesner

Just two weeks have passed since the last warm day I was here and Minnesota has had two tornadoes and a blizzard. Things change fast around here! Even over the course of a single day, it goes from cold to hot.

The songs of Cardinals are the main phenomenon I experience today. Not only the males, but also the females sing, which is in contrast to most other songbirds. Their range has expanded north quite a bit as the climate warms as well as folks providing food for them at their feeders.

The female and male will work together to choose a nest site and then tend to the young. Though I’m seeing this pair out away from the buildings, Cardinals show little fear of humans and may build their nest right in your window box! Nicely, their scientific name may one of the easiest to remember: Cardinalis cardinalis.

With an overcast sky, it was hard to see even these brightly colored birds, so even though I hear a Pileated Woodpecker, I can’t seem to see it. I guess I’ll have to be content with its sign, an old and decaying elm that it has hammered on looking for insects.

The first plants that have become active is some Silvergreen Moss (Bryum argentum) growing along the path. It’s bright kelly green is a welcome bit of color on the otherwise drab, late winter forest floor. This clump of moss has sent up its sporophytes, what looks like fur on the carpet of the main plant. Mosses are different than other plants in that the cells in their main life phase have only half the number of chromosomes so they are called gametophytes. The sporophytes growing out of the main plant have two sets of chromosomes. In most plants, the male gametophyte is just the small pollen grains.

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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