May 7, 2022
Native wildflowers have been making up for lost time these last few warm and sunny days. Deciding we needed to catch up, too, we planned a one-day trip to check out five different sites and see what was blooming in this sudden spring.
First stop was a quick check on Magelssen Bluff Park in Rushford, Minnesota, where jeweled shooting star will soon be blooming out of the rocky hillside. Wood betony has appeared in swirls of red, and the leaves of robin’s plantain have also cropped up, a flower we’ve seen only once, and we plan to be back later to see it blooming.
Our main goal, though, was to visit a 1600 acre Wildlife Management Area (WMA), in Fillmore County. For years we’d been in search of squirrel corn, scouring places it was said to occur in Minnesota without any luck, finally finding it across the border on a Wisconsin rustic road. Still, because squirrel corn is listed as a Minnesota flower of special concern, and because we are mainly Minnesota flowerchasers, we hankered to see it here.
A knowledgeable friend told us of a population along the base of a north-facing bluff beside the Root River, so we found a likely place to park by the river and set off. After tromping through a floodplain field of old grasses toward the nearby bluff, we discovered that the river ran right along the base of the bluff, making it impossible to hike there. The only direction to go was up, so we scrambled through briar bushes and plants we were pretty sure weren’t native, higher and higher up the hill. Gradually as we climbed, a few native flowers appeared.
Things didn’t look promising, though, until we crossed a small ravine near the top of the bluff and came into a different world. Trees grew farther apart with little undergrowth, and we wandered blissfully among Dutchman’s breeches, Canadian wild ginger, bloodroot, sharp-lobed hepatica, spring beauty, trout lilies, and cutleaf toothwort—a plethora of wildflowers. Because squirrel corn and Dutchman’s breeches have almost the same leaves, bloom at almost the same time, and grow in the same habitat, we scrutinized the area around every Dutchman’s breeches plant that we saw. Finally, under a fallen log, and at the same instant, we both saw…
The plant was budding, the buds already distinct from Dutchman’s breeches bloomer-shaped blossoms. If we had found one squirrel corn, we reasoned, there must be more. And there were, scattered nearby and down the hillside. We followed a trail to the bottom of the bluff where the river swerved away for a stretch, and there we finally found squirrel corn growing at the base of a north-facing bluff as promised. The river, however, soon curved back to intersect the bluff, and our only choices for returning to the car were to swim or to reclimb the hill. We chose the hill, no longer minding the briars that snatched at us, delighted that squirrel corn did, indeed, still grow in Minnesota, and that we had seen it.
Our next stop was along a state forest road where, a couple of weeks back, we’d seen emerging leaves that we thought might be showy orchis. We’d seen only a few of those leaves, but this time as we walked along the road, we saw what must be hundreds of them, still not blooming. When they do bloom in a week or two, they will be spectacular.
Along the same road large-flowered bellwort was coming into bloom, an abundance of yellow everywhere we looked. Hepatica and bloodroot both still flowered, and we not only saw the rattlesnake plantain leaves we’d seen on our last visit but also a few more new-to-us populations of the plant’s striking leaves.
Could the day get any better?
Another meant-to-be-brief stop along the edge of Kellogg Weaver Dunes, where we had read that Carolina anemone might be blooming, turned out to be a fine place to practice Jim Walewski’s advice for naturalists, heard in a recent zoom presentation: go slowly, look closely, take notes, and share information. Because full-blown spring comes later to the prairie than the forest, most plants were still quite small, and we did indeed go slowly and look closely at them. We didn’t find Carolina anemone, but we did see Carolina whitlow grass, lyre-leaved rock cress, a few bird’s foot violets, some prickly pear cactus, several pasqueflowers past their prime, one prairie smoke ready to burst into bloom, and many leaves of plants we have yet to learn.
Anytime we are in the vicinity of the Wisconsin rustic road where we first saw squirrel corn and the only place we’ve seen twinleaf in the wild, we can’t resist a stop. The road didn’t disappoint. Twinleaf was up but not yet blooming with leaves still folded together, squirrel corn was just budding with a few plants already in flower, and spring beauty, eastern false rue anemone, large-flowered bellwort, Dutchman’s breeches, yellow trout lily, hepatica, bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, mayapple, white trout lily, and Canadian wild ginger were all in bloom or about to be—a roll call of almost all our spring wildflowers along a single stretch of road.
A little sun-burned and wind-burned, hearts full of flowers, we headed home on a day bursting with springtime.