December 21, 2020
A friend has loaned us the use of her condo for a few days, so close to the edge of Lake Superior that the waves crashing in look to wash us away. What do you do on the shortest days of the year in northern Minnesota?
Look for wildflowers.
We had no idea when we went for a hike in nearby Cascade River State Park that we would be looking down at the ground instead of out at the river flowing under and over the ice or up in the trees hoping to spot a great grey owl. But the minute we recognized a dried up four-leaved plant as a bunchberry, we were hooked. Now every thin stem, crinkled leaf, or skeletal flower caught our attention.
Next we found ghost pipe, its black stems and shriveled flowers growing in a cluster. Then the ghostly remains of starflower, Canada mayflower, and bluebead lily. A single seed pod on a thin stem turned out to be one-flowered pyrola. We puzzled over a group of stems thick with downward-pointing seed pods and guessed it might be one of the coralroots. Back at the condo we tentatively identified the plants as western spotted coralroot, an orchid we have yet to see in bloom, and we’re excited to come back in the spring to see if we are right.
The final find of the day was a group of orchid leaves that almost certainly belong to stemless lady’s-slipper orchids. Footprints in the snow that headed off trail led us to the leaves, and we wondered who else could possibly be out searching for wildflowers in December.
The day was perfect for winter wildflower spotting, with a thin layer of snow on the ground through which last year’s wildflower remains poked. More snow sifted silently down around us, coating pine branches to look like waffles.
We marveled at how many plants gone to seed we could recognize. We marveled, too, at how we were still looking for wildflowers in the last weeks of December.
The year turns toward the light. May your days be filled with light.
And with many native wildflowers.