From the Prairie to the Forest

April 18, 2021

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We have yet to see a spring or a creek at Spring Creek Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), but there is so much else to see there, even in mid-April when prairie flowers are just awakening.  To get to the prairie we followed a maze of street directions to the parking area of the SNA, then walked along a path under leafing trees until we came out under a sweep of sky overhead and a steep hillside stretching down, down, down.  At first glance the hillside seemed to hold only last year’s dried grasses.  Then we found a small prairie violet blooming and one small white petaled flower, then another, and another.  Was it Carolina whitlow-grass with its tiny basal leaves? But some plants had stem leaves as well.  Could it be lyre-leaved rock cress instead?  Or were we looking at both kinds of plant scattered over the gravelly, sandy hillside?  We definitely need another visit to verify which one we saw or whether both are blooming there together.

The path continued up toward a high bluff where pasqueflowers had bloomed and gone to seed with a few still blooming.  We passed prairie smoke budding along with a few budding bastard toadflax, a puccoon just opening its vivid yellow flowers, and the smallest pussytoes we’ve ever seen. From the top of the bluff with a spring breeze blowing under a wide sky, we felt as though we were on top of the world.

We’ll definitely be back, not only to verify our Carolina whitlow-grass/lyre-leaved rock cress question but to find out, too, what other flowers these hillsides hold as spring turns into summer. Who knows? We might even find a spring or a creek or both.  

Leaving prairie for another day, we drove to a rustic road in Wisconsin where ephemerals and other spring woodland flowers cover the hillsides. The hillsides themselves are posted with no trespassing signs, but luckily the flowers bloom all the way down to the road, so we could walk along the edge of the road and see them all. Virginia spring beauty sprinkled the hillsides, and patches of false rue anemone’s white flowers shimmered and shivered in the slightest breeze. Hepatica flowered joyfully, singly and in bunches like delicate bouquets.  Cutleaf toothwort, white and yellow trout lilies, and Dutchman’s breeches dotted the hills, trillium and large-flowered bellwort budded, and the elusive squirrel corn was almost in bloom.  Canadian wild ginger unfolded leaves, and a bright little conglomeration of yellow violet and buttercup brightened the base of a tree. 

So many more roadside wonders will be flowering in next few weeks until the trees fill in and block the sunlight.  Here, too, we’ll return when we can for the brief and glorious springtime woods.  

Prairie and forest—the land wakes up to spring, and in these difficult days we are so grateful for their awakening.

Author: Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo,

Phyllis Root is the author of fifty books for children and has won numerous awards. Kelly Povo, a professional photographer for over thirty years, has exhibited in galleries and art shows across the country. She and Phyllis Root have collaborated on several books. This is their first book on Minnesota's Native Wildflowers.

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