August 16, 2019
The day began with darkness and damp as we headed out at 5 a.m. for Seminary Fen Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) near Chaska, eager to catch the first daylight. Fens are one of our rarest wetlands and we were eager to explore. The fen itself lay below a prairie area where goldenrod, monarda, and evening primrose bloomed, but try as we might, we couldn’t find a way down to the fen through the barrier of buckthorn trees. Path after path ended in a tangle of branches and thorns, and by the time we finally broke through to the edge of the fen and crossed a creek into soggy, hummocky ground we had plenty of daylight but no flowers. It was a sweet morning anyway, fun to be up in the dark and searching for wildflowers, and we headed home knowing we’ll try again another time.
Fast forward an hour: Kelly calls me and says, “What about Falls Creek? We could see if downy rattlesnake plantain is still blooming.”
“Great,” I say. “I’ll see you at noon.”
Which is how we found ourselves leaving the sunny, hot prairie of Whispering Pines Park in Scandia behind us and wandering in the coolness under the tall trees of Falls Creek SNA. We’ve been to Falls Creek many times before but seldom at this time of year—forests are usually for spring flowers, and once the canopy leafs out most flowers have finished their business. We saw many leaves we could identify even though the plants were done blooming: lily-leaved twayblade, prunella, starflower, bloodroot, Canada mayflower, hepatica, wild ginger. Some plants, like bluebead lily and Jack-in-the-pulpit, had distinctive seeds that helped identify them.
Along the path we also found several populations of downy rattlesnake plantain orchid that we’d never seen before, their distinctive green and white leaves vivid against the forest floor. And finally, towards the end of the trail, we found a rattlesnake plantain orchid flower spike, then three more orchids blooming, then six more. We felt rich in rattlesnake plantain.
We’ve hardly ever seen other people at the SNAs we visit, but a whole group of them came up the trail and turned out to be folks from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on a hike. Experts on flowers, rushes, sedges, butterflies, geology—we were awed by the knowledge among them. When we learned that some of them had been instrumental in preserving Falls Creek as an SNA, we were grateful beyond measure.
From darkness and damp to dappled sunlight and orchids, a day well spent.