Once oak savanna, where prairie and forest meet, covered 10 per cent of Minnesota, about 5,000,000 acres. Now, because of agriculture, grazing, and the suppression of wildfires that keep out encroaching trees, only about 30,000 acres of oak savanna remain in scattered remnants. One of those remnants, Helen Allison Savanna Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), twenty miles north of the Twin Cities, is an eighty-acre patchwork of oak trees, sand blowouts, wet swales (low places), and dry prairie.
We’d been here before to the more forested parts of the SNA, dodging poison ivy as we entered among the trees, now, on an overcast morning, the air heavy with moisture we headed out to open prairie with only a few free-standing bur oak and northern pin oak trees. (Because of its thick, corky bark bur oak can withstand the fires that keep prairies and savannas healthy, and northern pin oak resprouts quickly after fire.) We walked in among abundant spotted beebalm, its odd-looking flowers each flower rising directly from the flower below in a stack of blossoms that made us think of Dr. Seuss.
This visit we came in hope of seeing fourpoint (also known as rhombic) evening primrose, a flower of special concern in Minnesota and similar to Cleland’s evening primrose, the only two evening primroses with pointed petals native to Minnesota. We quickly spotted a few likely candidates, their yellow flowers glowing in the saturated light, and compared them to pictures and notes we’d brought with us. Conclusion: we were seeing both kinds of plants, distinguished from each other in part by the stigmas and stamens.
What else did we see among many, many spotted beebalm plants? Round-headed bush clover, big bluestem, goldenrod, silky prairie clover, rough blazing star, cylindrical blazing star, dotted blazing star, sweet everlasting, and a few last spiderwort along with one prairie violet bravely blooming blue among the yellows, greens and whites of a late-summer prairie along with an abundance of grasses whose names we do not yet know.
A pair of sandhill cranes flew overhead, voicing their rattling call. Flowers bloomed, grasses waved, bees busily buzzed, and we’d found two new-to-us pointed-petal primroses. We couldn’t think of a better place to be on an August morning.