Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers

Minnesota Wildflower Book available today!

A beautifully illustrated, family-friendly guide to Minnesota’s native wildflowers and how to find them.

Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo chronicle the ten years they spent exploring Minnesota’s woods, prairies, hillsides, lakes, and bogs for wildflowers, taking pictures and notes, gathering clues, mapping the way for fellow flower hunters. Featuring helpful tips, exquisite photographs, and the story of their own search as your guide, the authors place the waiting wonder of Minnesota’s wildflowers within easy reach. Published by University of Minnesota Press, May 2018.

Check out the book!

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Flower Chasers Heading Home

January 31, 2020

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Thursday is field trip day in our master naturalist class at Long Lake Conservation Center, and our whole group carpools to Jay Cooke State Park to learn more about the geology of the Saint Louis River and its watershed.  Not only do we learn about slate and graywacke, the two predominant rocks that make up the park, we also learn their origins and how to remember them, since even the rocks under our feet change over time.  Mud becomes shale becomes slate, and sand becomes sandstone becomes graywacke.  (Shale and slate both have five letters, while sandstone and graywacke both have nine—what’s not to love about memory tricks?) The Saint Louis River itself is partly frozen and runs in and out of ice formations as we cross the swinging bridge, rebuilt since the flood of 2012 destroyed the previous structure.

An added bonus:  among the informational displays at the park lodge we discover pictures of two native flowers we have yet to see, moschatel and wild chive (which grows only at Jay Cooke) and make plans to return during wild flower season to search for them.

After lunch we’re left to explore on our own, and we head a mile down the road to find Hemlock Ravine Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), where a quarter of all the eastern hemlock trees left in Minnesota grow—a grand total of 26 trees at the far western edge of their range.  We walk along the trail at the edge of the SNA surrounded by pine trees, snow, silence, and sunshine.  The shadows of trees roll peacefully over the undulating drifts, and we are both very happy.

Back at Long Lake we gather up the data from our tracking project and discover that we have not managed to capture any images of animals on our trail cameras.  But we’ve seen tracks we identify as fox, coyote, weasel, and (possibly) mink.  We are taking home a new appreciation for those who can read the tracks of animals in the snow, along with an understanding that there’s still so much to learn about our natural world.

At the end of the day our whole class plays a lively pub trivia game (minus the pub) about facts we’ve learned throughout the week. Luckily our team includes Jim, who knows all the answers, and we’re pretty sure that when the results are tallied, our team will be leaving with the grand prize of winter hats with built in lights.  Thanks, Jim.

Today (Friday) we present our completed projects, assess what we’ve learned, say good-bye to all the amazing folks we’ve met, and head out into the world as master naturalists. A week well spent.


Flower Chasers in the Snowy Bog

January 30, 2020

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Day 4

Today begins with snowshoeing to set a trail camera and place bait (really smelly beaver scent) to try to capture images of predators for the DNR.  As we search for a likely site we cross tracks that might be fox or another predator, although our identification is tentative because the tracks are already drifted in with snow.  Under the shelter of a red pine we find a deer bed with deer scat piled nearby.  Clearly there are animals roaming these woods, and we’re hopeful that when we check the camera tomorrow we’ll find both tracks and pictures.

Later in the morning we travel back in time to a voyageur’s winter camp to learn about Minnesota history, drink spruce tea–and realize that if we had to survive in the winter woods, we would not last long on our own.

After lunch we learn from a visiting master naturalist, Chris Tolman, about Minnesota’s predator species from dragonflies to apex predators and meet a great grey owl who had been injured and can’t be released back into the wild.

As the sun breaks through the overcast sky of the last few days we head outside again to snowshoe into the bog. Being bog lovers, we thought we knew a lot about the bog but discover how much more there is to learn, including examples of adaptation (tawny cotton grass holding on to its seeds for dispersal in snow), parasitism (dwarf mistletoe on black spruce trees), and asexual reproduction (Labrador tea spreading by rhizomes). Now that we know how much easier it is to walk in deep snow with snowshoes than without them, we won’t limit our bog visits to just the summertime.

We snowshoe back under a blue sky laced with clouds and lit with golden sun setting through tall red pines. Later still a crescent moon and Venus both shine bright in the night sky at the end of a glorious day.



Flower Chasers in the Winter Woods

January 29, 2020

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Day 3

This morning snow falls softly, so we take the long way to breakfast at the dining hall, marveling at how the large flakes cling to the bare tree branches.  Today in our master naturalist class we travel through time all the way back to the Precambrian era where we learn that what is now Minnesota was once situated just south of the equator.  From plate tectonics to Milankovitch cycles, we investigate events in our geologic history and discover that even though Minnesota’s glaciers are long gone, we are still in an ice age as long as there are glaciers anywhere on the planet.  We learn, too, from a master naturalist how agates form (who knew there were so many kinds of agates?) along with some of the best places in Minnesota to search for these distinctive rocks.

After lunch our whole class heads into the woods, the trees and snowy drifts serenely beautiful in the overcast light. Kevin Sheppard, forest manager and American bird conservancy officer, helps us identify winter birds, including several chickadees and a downy woodpecker, and tells us about forest succession. We’re surprised to learn that tamarack, now mainly a wetland tree, was once Minnesota’s most abundant tree, growing in the uplands as well as wetter areas—a fact revealed by the original notes of surveyors in the 1800s.

Being flower chasers we can’t resist also identifying a wintry milkweed stalk with pods and a goldenrod gone to seed.

Geology, history, forestry, wildlife—there’s so much more to becoming a master naturalist than we had realized. And so much more to learn about this world we all inhabit.



Flower Chasers on Snowshoes

January 28, 2020

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Day 2

It’s our first day of master naturalist classes at Long Lake Conservation Center, and after a morning of classroom exercises and learning we venture out into a beautiful Minnesota winter day.  We’ve been out briefly to walk to the dining lodge for breakfast, then for lunch.  But now, wearing snowshoes and warm gear, we head out and off trail to look for animal tracks, lichen, and other signs of winter life.  We follow squirrel trails from tree to tree, puzzle over holes in the snow and animal scat, and admire the sculptural effect of a woodpecker-hammered dead tree.  What sounds like a dog in the distance turns out to be a pileated woodpecker calling. In the quiet and snow-covered landscape we realize that even though winter locks down the land, life still goes on, following its own phenology of what happens when.

Our last task of the day is to take a twig and find the tree from which it came.  No leaves, not even buds to help us, but eventually we make our way to a quaking aspen and an alder.  We are learning to look closely, to pay attention to detail, to find other ways of identifying than we ones we are used to.

We are learning the language of winter.

John Latimer, host of “Phenology Show,” on KAXE-FM 91.7 public radio in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, defines phenology as “the study of the rhythmic nature of biological events as they relate to climate.”


Flower Chasers in Winter

January 27, 2020

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Minnesota Master Naturalist Course at Long Lake Conservation Center
Day 1

On our way to Long Lake Conservation Center in central Minnesota we drive past Lake Mille Lacs where a whole town of icehouse clusters populate the lake.  We’ve been to Long Lake Conservation Center before, but never in January.

The first time we came on a hot and humid day in June, 2017, when we walked along the bog boardwalk we’d read about online, hoping to find orchids. We didn’t see any, but on our way out of the center we ran into one of the camp counselors and asked about other places we might look for orchids. He told us about a trail that would bring us to the end of Long Lake and said we could use a canoe to get there.  We declined and set out along the grassy trail around the lake. Long Lake really is long, and the trail went on and on with no guarantee of orchids at the end. Periodically one of us would say, “Maybe we should turn back,” and the other would say, “Let’s keep going a little longer.”  We took turns encouraging each other until we came to the turnoff to Pine Point Spur Trail at the far end of the lake.

The ground grew boggier the nearer we got to the lake edge, but the surface under our feet felt firm—an old dock had been overgrown by the bog.  And there, in front of us, was a rose pogonia orchid, the first either of us had ever seen.  And another, and another.  And then a grass pink orchid, and another, and another.  A good lesson for us in not turning back.

We came back to Long Lake the next July and canoed around the edge of the lake, where we saw an amazing amount of rose pogonia, grass pink, bog rosemary, sundew, blue flag, swamp candle, and purple pitcher plants.

How could we not come back again the next year, where we were delighted by more dragon’s mouth orchids than we could have imagined?

Now it’s January, 2020, and we have come again to Long Lake Conservation Center, not in hope of orchids or other native wildflowers but to take a master naturalist class. Snow covers the ground, and we’ve brought lots of warm clothes to see us through the week.

We’re eager to learn more about this amazing place we inhabit together, even when wildflowers aren’t in bloom.

Long Lake Conservation Center provides hands-on educational programs that are nature-based and inquiry driven to develop lifelong stewardship of nature.

The Minnesota Master Naturalist Program promotes “awareness, understanding, and respect for Minnesota’s natural environment by developing a corps of well-informed citizens dedicated to conservation education and service within their communities.”