August 31, 2019
We left before sunrise and reached Blaine Wetlands Sanctuary just as a spectacular red sunrise lit up the sky and turned ridges of clouds a deep, glowing rose. As the day lightened, we followed a boardwalk into the sanctuary past vervain, goldenrod, boneset, jewelweed, fleabane, aster, and the rich, subtle colors of fall grasses. We were in search of a spot that a wildflower expert had told us about where we hoped to see some rare plants, and a trail away from the boardwalk led us in the right direction. The ground underneath our feet felt spongy and soft, covered in places with moss. Overhead two sandhill cranes flapped and glided, conversing in clacking calls.
Kelly spotted a deer, I saw a frog, we both spied a snake. Tiny bugs buzzed, and grasshoppers flung themselves through the air. When we came to our destination, we found pink blossoms of field milkwort among grass-leaved goldenrod, aster, meadowsweet, spotted Joe-pye weed, and blue vervain, along with other flowers we have yet to identify. (More information on the Blaine Wetlands Sanctuary)
Our next stop (recommended by the same expert) was Wollans Park, a restored wetland where sandhill cranes glided down to disappear in the grasses. What had once been mostly reed canary grass and buckthorn was now a rich mix of boneset, spotted Joe-pye weed, goldenrod, hoary vervain, blue vervain, grass-leaved goldenrod, meadowsweet, arrowhead, and aster as well as purple false foxglove and slender-leaved false foxglove, two new-to-us species. Many narrow leaves hinted at an abundance of lance-leaved violets, a state threatened species, and when spring comes again we’ll come back to see them in bloom. Many thanks to the people who brought back this wetland rich in native plants and sandhill cranes.
We were close enough to Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area (WMA), another place we’d never been before, to do some drive-by wildflower searching. We were barely inside the border of the WMA when we stopped to admire whorled milkweed and exuberantly blooming round-headed bush clover, and every few minutes we stopped again to get out and look more closely at flowers we had spied. Dusty pink spotted Joe-pye weed raised its blossoms amid yellow goldenrod and white aster and boneset, a quilt of color, and we found white turtlehead and calico aster, two more new-to-us flowers. At a path where we stopped to stretch our legs, we stumbled on the small, spiraling flowers of ladies’-tresses orchids, either Great Plains ladies’-tresses or nodding ladies’-tresses. Great Plains ladies’-tresses smells like almond but has no leaves when it flowers, while nodding ladies’-tresses still has leaves when they flower; these flowers smelled almondy and had leaves. Whichever they were, we counted twenty-five of them along the grassy trail. One last surprise awaited us, a bottle gentian, its blue blossoms almost hidden at the side of the trail. And everywhere we saw bumblebees hard at work in the flowers.
This was our first visit to all three sites, but it won’t be our last. We drove home feeling rich and full after a splendid wildflower day as summer winds into fall.