September 21, 2020
We would love to keep on wildflower-chasing until the last wildflower goes to seed, but this is our final morning of the trip. Yesterday’s wind has died down (perhaps the weather forecast meant 3 a.m. instead of 3 p.m.?), and we have two more prairies to check out on our way homeward.
At Blanketflower Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) we are looking for its namesake now that we know what to look for. The trees and hills burn with fall colors in the morning light, and we wade through more grasses, asters, goldenrods, and blazing star going to seed, scanning for blanketflower. Down one hill, halfway up another, and there they are gazing down at us, more dark, spiky seed heads than we can count. As we come over the top of this second hill, we look down on yet more blanketflower in seed. Definitely a place we will return to.
Time presses, so we stop briefly at Richard M. and Mathilde Rice Elliot SNA which,according to the DNR, is almost 500 acres of high quality native prairie remnant. We’re still hopeful for pleated gentian, which is listed as growing here, and we decide our best chance is to walk along the edge of the prairie next to a promising ditch. We find bottle gentian but no pleated gentian. We also discover, almost hidden in the grass, the dried leaves and stem and seed pod of a plant that is almost surely an orchid. The SNA list of wildflowers for this site includes small white lady’s-slipper, and even though the stem and leaves look large for a small white lady’s-slipper, we take a gps coordinate and add this spot to our list of next year’s must-return-to places.
Moss grows in part of the ditch we’re following, and here we look especially closely because this seems to us like some sort of micro-habitat. A tiny bright blue flower turns out to be a lesser fringed gentian, less than six inches tall, and closer searching reveals more lesser fringed gentian gone to seed. An even tinier blue flower we identify as a Kalm’s lobelia–two new to us flowers. We add this ditch to our list of rich ditches and other roadside wonders.
We both feel more and more despondent as we head homeward. We’ve been socially distant not only from people but also from news which grows more and more dire every day. It’s hard to leave prairie hopping in the rear view mirror, but there is other important work we need to do: our jobs are waiting, a crucial election looms, and there are protests for racial justice we need to go to.
We have had four splendid days among the wildflowers, and we’re grateful. It’s time for other work. We drive on home.