July 27, 2019
This summer has been busy with bookstore visits, work, and just general life, so Kelly and I have been doing some separate wildflower searching as each of our schedules allows. Today we finally had a chance to visit prairies together—three prairies, actually, and one sand barrens.
We started early and headed to Pin Oak Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) just outside of Chatfield on a morning sunny and cool and full of birdsong. We had come with directions to help us find clasping milkweed and wooly milkweed (both of which, we knew, were no longer in bloom and so were trickier to spot). We wandered through oak savannah, woods, and prairie until we found where our directions said these milkweeds grew. The sweet scent of common milkweed flowers filled the air, and a tiny frog sat on a milkweed leaf in almost perfect camouflage. We searched the hillside, which was awash with monarda, gray-headed coneflower, and whorled milkweed but no wooly milkweed or clasping milkweed could we find. No matter, we’ll come back earlier in the summer next year when the blooming plants might be easier to spot.
Our next prairie was in a ditch we spotted along the highway, rich with monarda, gray-head coneflower, rattlesnake master, culver’s root, and blazing star. Across the highway in another roadside ditch we found vervain, more monarda, leadplant, pale-spike lobelia, lots and lots of rattlesnake master, Sullivant’s milkweed, and a cluster of leaves and seed pods that we tentatively identified as small white lady’s-slipper gone to seed. Who knows what other wildflower wonders might grow in our roadside ditches and rights-of-way?
As a break from prairie in the heat of the day we stopped at Rushford Sand Barrens SNA and followed a trail that led straight up through the woods, down across a small prairie, and up through woods again until, looking up at how much more up was ahead, we turned around. We were still on the hunt for clasping milkweed, but what we found instead was the “other monarda,” spotted beebalm, growing in the dry and sandy prairie section of the SNA. Although many of the prairie and woodland flowers we saw had gone to seed, we also found lots of native lupine leaves and vowed to come back next spring to see the lupines in bloom.
Our third and last prairie of the day was Mound Prairie SNA, which is made up of three different goat prairies on separate hillsides. We climbed only one hillside, and if we thought that Rushford Sand Barrens went up and up, that was nothing compared to Mound Prairie. I used hands and feet to scramble up the steep hillside past partridge pea, flowering spurge, monarda, spotted beebalm, whorled milkweed, lead plant, false blue indigo, stiff goldenrod, and coreopsis. Dotted across the hillside was a new-to-us blazing star, cylindrical blazing star, blooming brilliantly fuchsia.
High up on the hill we discovered green milkweed and, finally, narrow leaf milkweed with a seed pod, a plant that Kelly had seen in bloom a few weeks before and which was now, without its flowers, almost indistinguishable from the prairie grasses around it.
The sun beat down, the steep hillside sloped away, and I perched blissfully next to narrow leaved milkweed in its only known place in Minnesota. Saturated with sun and searching, we headed off to organic pizza at Suncrest Gardens. A day well spent, splendid with wildflowers and friendship and laughter. A day rich in prairies rich in flowers.