Prairie Rising

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Despite the official start of summer, temperatures in the 60’s and a stiff breeze dry the leaves and keep mosquitoes away. Perfect day for the prairie! I quickly head out the mowed trail where grasses and shrubs are waist-high and the rain-fresh air is sweet.

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Deep blue spiderwort is opening its first buds. Purple prairie clover, wild rose and spicy-scented phlox add jewel tones to the landscape. Foxglove beardtongue sports white trumpets with black-tipped stamen inside.

White wild indigo flowers are ending their season. Flowers adorn the top of the stalk, while green-black fruit swells along the bottom to form its black seed pods. A bumblebee pushes the petals apart to reach his nectar reward.

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Now that its petals have dropped, thimbleweed has tall cones atop each stalk. A metallic green sweat bee nectars on prairie fleabane. White clusters of New Jersey tea have fresh buds of green changing to white.

I hear the indigo bunting’s repeated syllables before spotting its bright blue. Common yellowthroats and red-eyed vireos call from the woods.

Honeybees and pollinating flies nectar on newly-blossomed common milkweed. I see butterfly frass on the leaves – possible evidence of a monarch larva. Too windy for butterflies today, though!

DSC_0618 Pale purple coneflower

Pale purple coneflowers wear slender purple petals.Compass plants, a few feet tall, face north. Smooth oxeye dots the prairie with its golden yellow.Pink and white veiny pea flowers wink at me in the stiff breeze.

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An eastern kingbird waits silently on a tree branch for dinner to fly past. Leadplants are in bud! They have silvery green foliage with pink-gray flower buds on top. A song sparrow warbles its lovely tune, and a swamp sparrow trills in monotone.

White sage plants glow against the deeper greens, and white blossoms of northern bedstraw glow. Green bulrushes sport clumps of brown spikelets at the tips in the wetter meadow. Stalks of deep purple American vetch add depth to the tangle of greens.

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A pair of eastern bluebirds are busy feeding their chicks in a bluebird box. A goldfinch flits nearby, as though it wants Mom and Dad to feed him, too.

An agitated male red-winged blackbird calls a raucous “konklaree!” as I follow the trail. He puffs up his red and yellow epaulets and flies from one side of the trail to the other in front of me. Soon a female joins him, making alarm calls. Clearly their nest is nearby, so I hurry by. She disappears back into the brush, and he returns to his sentry post, barking at me.

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Dragonflies dart ahead of me, almost invisible against the grassy trail. A brown and yellow dragonfly stops to pose. Its wings are tipped black, with black mottling along the top wing edges. A powder-blue common pondhawk rests on a grass seedhead, eyeing me warily as the prairie grows around us.

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

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Abundant Diversity in a Single Stride

By Sydney Chandler

Choosing to cover minimal distance this week provided the opportunity to observe extraordinary variety at the Dwarf Conifers garden. The distinct scent of conifers wafts across the path, the waterfall’s din covers any rustling of needles, and walking too closely to the edge of the path results in scruffy ankle-high tickles.

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Dwarf Conifers Diversity

Variety among the Dwarf Conifers comes in many categories. Color varieties include green, yellow, and even silver needles. In particular, the Common Juniper and Tamarack exhibit multiple shades on a single stem. Several plants are embellished with cones. Some cones are green and resemble the tight elongated shape of a caterpillar chrysalis while others are brown with each scale pealing outward.

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‘Petite’ Common Juniper

Stems have contrasting needle patterns: radial growth or a much flatter shape. Up close, needles mimic both organic and in-organic textures: feathers, plastic Lego trees, sturdy grasses, and worn-out felt. Stepping back, the plants’ shapes range from ground creepers to bushes to trees. Comically, a few varieties (such as the Jack Pine) appear to be tree-wannabe’s but are too exhausted to grow vertically.

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‘Pusch’ Norway Spruce

For tired legs, the Dwarf Conifers spark curiosity and provide ample variety with minimal walking. Where else in the Arboretum is there so much diversity in a single stride?

Sydney Chandler is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Heat, Wind, Dark, … and Stormy?

By Greg Lecker

Since showy lady’s slipper is blooming, I head directly to the boardwalk of Green Heron Pond.  Though some orchids can be found in the woodland, this corner of the bog is where the plants are most plentiful.  I’m not disappointed – and you won’t either if you hurry.  Sunday storms may affect the blooms I see (and paint).

Showy Lady’s Slipper

The Minnesota state flower features one or two showy flowers per stem, 1” to 1-1/2” long, white with pink or purple stripes cascading over the pouch.   Three white sepals add the finishing design touches to a slipper fit for a princess!

Though long-lived, the plant requires 15 years from seed germination to flowering.  Sawdust-sized seeds germinate into a swollen corm-like structure, then develop further only if a certain type of fungus is present. Only in symbiotic concert with this fungus will this orchid mature, for the flower’s spaghetti-like roots have forgone the usual root hairs that are necessary to absorb soil nutrients.   The flower’s tenuous grip in our landscape, if not the laws prohibiting the plant’s harvest and transplant, is reason enough to rely on reputable growers if one feels one must try growing this orchid in one’s home landscape.

I seek refuge from the heat and wind in Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden.  The woodland is very dark.  The garden is densely forested now and lush – the result of more than plentiful spring rains.  Wild ginger and Mayapple have formed spread drifts of softly rounded foliage.  Under the spreading palms of the latter, the miniature green apple-like fruit is forming.

All shades of green are present today:  the deep blue green of the maple woodland a well as distant violet-greens in the long open views where the heavy atmosphere holds diffusing moisture.  And, I glimpse yellow and reddish greens in the prairie beyond the trees.  Between the woodland and the prairie, golden Alexanders are still blooming, though in decline.  One of the longer lasting flowers, it bridges the gap between spring ephemerals and prairie profusion.

Golden Alexanders

The prairie is in that odd adolescent stage where there is much potential; though the fruits of labor are not displayed yet. Lead plant unfurls its leaves; we await its spikes of dusty violet accented with orange.

Lead Plant Unfurls

On the roadside edge of the Bennett Johnson Prairie, two standout flowers are false white indigo and spiderwort.

Spiderwort

The heat and wind have tired both the landscape and me.  Sunday’s forecast storms will bring needed moisture and, hopefully not damage.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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