Springtime Tour

May 14-15, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We’re always delighted to see a new-to-us flower (or its leaves or seeds if we can recognize them), and many of our recent searches have been focused on finding particular native plants.  This past weekend was more of a survey tour, visiting flowers in some of our favorite springtime sites and checking out two Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs). 

Saturday began with a brief (although not so brief as we thought it would be) stop at a rustic road in Wisconsin to check on twinleaf, a flower listed as growing in Minnesota but one we have yet to see here in the wild. A week ago when we drove down the road where twinleaf grows, a few plants had barely emerged, stems and still-folded leaves a soft purple red. Now, just a few days later, this fast-blooming plant had a cluster of unfolded leaves and several seed pods where the flowers had already come and gone.  Next year we are considering camping nearby and checking on the plants hourly in hope of actually seeing it flower. 

Even though we had missed the flowering, we lingered just to soak in the hillsides of blooming trillium, tall bishop’s cap, squirrel corn, hispid buttercup,and the sound of water burbling from a hillside spring where little minnows swam.

Our next planned stop was Wykoff Balsam Fir SNA, a site with several plants that are usually found much farther north but survive in this more southerly SNA where cold air seeps from the rocks even in summer. We couldn’t resist a stop along the way at Carley State Park, where blooming Virginia bluebells flowed across the land.  That same blue caught our eye as we drove on, and we stopped to marvel at an unnamed woods that could have been an SNA, so filled was it with Virginia bluebells, trillium, large-flowered bellwort, bishop’s cap, wood anemone, and Jack-in-the-pulpit.  Virginia bluebells, we deduced, like to grow along rivers, and as we drove, we passed other streams rimmed with blue in the midst of budding green

The part of Wykoff Balsam Fir SNA where we would most likely see rare plants was posted as a sanctuary, only enterable with a scientific research permit from the Department of Natural Resources. We are not scientists, so we were content to see what we thought was the sanctuary area from afar, rising in sheer cliffs crowned with pine trees. While we didn’t see the rare plants, we did see plenty of springtime flowers—spring beauty, Jack-in-the-pulpit, wood phlox, rue anemone and wood anemone, wood betony, rose twisted-stalk, large-flowered bellwort, and smooth Solomon’s seal. We also found a new-to-us population of rattlesnake plantain, thanks to the plant’s distinctive seed pods that make it possible to spot when its also-distinctive leaves are covered by tree litter on the forest floor.

It had already been a day full of flowers, but our way home took us close to Zumbro Falls Woods SNA where a short hike led us to an abundance of jeweled shooting star, gloriously blooming.

Explosions of trillium, of Virginia bluebell, of jeweled shooting star, and a hit parade of some of our favorite springtime blossoms–a flower-filled day in a long-awaited spring.

Sunday we opted for chasing flowers closer to home, heading up to Crystal Springs, a new (and new to us) SNA near Scandia.  Here the hills fell so steeply toward a ravine we could only peer over the edges in most places. A spur trail led partway down the slope with boulders on the uphill side of the trail leaning into us as if to push us over the edge. From the trail, which ended in a cliff, we could look down on declining trillium blooming.  A hiker had told us about the flowers, calling them declining trillium, and although we’ve always called them drooping trillium, we decided we like the name declining even better. Kelly had hoped to get closer for a photo but we declined to try, both for the sake of the fragile environment and for the sake of our fragile selves. We also saw rose twisted-stalk, lyre-leaved rock cress, rue anemone, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and sessile-leaf bellwort, and we and figured out the differences in the Solomon’s seals. Here, too, we found several new-to-us populations of rattlesnake plantain, always a delight.  

This year’s late spring seems determined to make up for lost time, and we don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Author: Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo, flowerchasers.com

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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