A Pair of Parks 

May 26 and 27, 2023

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Springtime flowers are well underway in southern Minnesota, so we headed  out to see what was blooming farther north,  stopping along the way at Banning State Park. The forest floor along the road into Banning was abloom with large-flowered trillium, the first sign that we had turned back the wildflower calendar a week or so. The sun shone, the river ran noisily over rocks as we hiked along the Quarry trail, and a helpful breeze blew away most of the mosquitoes that had attacked us as soon as we got out of the car.    

But what are a few (well, a lot) of mosquitoes when there are wildflowers to be seen?  We passed mossy, massive rock walls where little spikes of Canada mayflower blossomed, a  few yellow large-flowered bellwort dangled, and wood anemone and starflower bloomed in constellations of white. Most of the Virginia spring beauty had already closed for the day, but several still showed their delicate pink and white flowers. And everywhere we looked we saw trillium upon trillium upon trillium stretching away through the trees.   

It was hard not to linger, but the day was getting late.  On our way out of the park we drove past even more trillium–a trillion of them, we were sure. Clearly spring had headed north.  And so did we, to our home for the night in a camper cabin at  Jay Cooke State Park.

The next day began briskly, beautiful and chilly.   An early morning hike took us across the Saint Louis River footbridge where the water roared quietly around rocks below and foamed into bubbles that sparkled in the sun. Here, too, spring was making an appearance with both large-flowered bellwort and sessile-leaf bellwort, nodding trillium, fly honeysuckle, serviceberry, yellow wood violets, and wild ginger flowers.  Among a crowd of trout lily leaves a few flowers still drooped gracefully.

Then we were off for what we thought would be a quick stop at Minnesota Point Pine Forest Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), located across the lift  bridge in Duluth on the longest fresh water sand  bar in the world. At the end of the road we crossed over to the lake side where waves lapped calmly, American beach grass grew in clumps, and large patches of bearberry spread across the sand.  A sand cherry bush alive with pollinating bees smelled sweet, and starry false Solomon’s seal leaves, a few with foamy flowers, grew everywhere.  Once in the shade of the SNA’s pines, we decided we’d just walk quickly to the end of the trail where we’d heard that another of Minnesota’s many berries grew.  After all, the SNA was only 18 acres.  How long could that take?  


Each time that we thought we might be nearing trail’s end, the trail stretched on.  Was the SNA one acre wide and eighteen acres long? One-half acre wide and thirty-six acres long?   But once headed for trail’s end we were determined, and at last we saw open water and Wisconsin on the other side.  We had set off for a quick walk, not bothering to bring water or snacks, and now we were thirsty and hungry.  Figuring that the walk back would go more quickly on the packed sand at the edge of the lake, we trudged along wondering which distant landmark might be where we had parked the car.  Finally the car came into sight, and we devoured sandwiches and long drinks of water, promising to remember to bring food and water with us every time, no matter how short we thought the hike might be.  (We’d promised this before, but this time we promised not to forget the promise.) 

Later a look at the map showed that the SNA covers only part of the point’s end–we had unknowingly walked well beyond those eighteen acres to get to the end of the trail.  We promised to look more closely at the map next time, but, well, promises, promises….

After a few short stops as we drove along the shore we turned inland to a place where we’d heard uncommon wildflowers grew.  We found the place but not the uncommon flowers.  Still violets, pussytoes, bilberry, bearberry,  and blueberry were in bloom, and a fat bumblebee buzzed from flower to flower.  We wandered along this richness of roadside until we came to a mossy, hummocky stretch of forest where Labrador tea grew and more leatherleaf that we’d ever seen bloomed with rows of dangling, bell-shaped white flowers.  We would have lingered longer and wandered deeper into the woods, but once again we had miles to go. Supper, beds, and family were all waiting at the end of a splendid wildflower searching day.

Spring had made it north, and so had we.

SEE MORE of what we are seeing now!

A Pair of Prairies

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

May 21, 2023

The haze from Canadian wildfires turned the sunrise vivid as we headed out for a day of wildflower chasing. First stop: Oronoco Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) where part  of the prairie had  been burned since our last visit, leaving the ground clear for thousands of rattlesnake master to make their pointy appearance. Grasses shimmered with dew, hoary puccoon bloomed yellow-orange,  prairie violet punctuated the new green, and lousewort spun its spirals of yellow petals.

We hiked past the burned-over hillside and across to the unburned side where we hoped to find a horse gentian we’d seen last fall. Could we find the plant again, we wondered.  Would it be blooming?

Minnesota has two kinds of horse gentian, early and late, that are actually members  of the honeysuckle family.  Both kinds grow two to four feet tall in similar habitats, both have pairs of opposite leaves, and both bloom in May and June with clusters of purplish brown flowers in the axils where leaf and stem meet. Early horse gentian’s flowers ripen into red fruit while late horse gentian’s fruit is yellow, but without fruit the best way we know to tell them apart is the leaves. Early horse gentian’s leaves connect to the stem but not to each other, while late horse gentian’s leaves join together to encircle the stem as though the stem is growing right through them.  

We found the plant we’d seen last fall easily, and a  look at the leaves told us it was late horse gentian. And yes, there were flowers, tiny bits of color tucked into the leaf axils, just opening their dark velvety petals. 

By the time we arrived at Kellogg Weaver Dunes SNA the sun burnt down, heat radiated up, and the ground crunched underfoot.  How, we wondered, could anything grow in such dryness?

But grow it did.   Bird’s foot violet bloomed, bunches of blue-eyed grass blossomed like little bouquets, more puccoon (hairy this time) shined yellow, and starry false Solomon’s seal’s feathery white flowers perched at the top of  gracefully opening leaves.

We had come to search for bearberry, a ground-hugging shrub with small pinkish flowers. We’d first seen bearberry up north in Badoura Jack Pine Woodland SNA last summer  and were doubtful we’d find it in southern Minnesota dunes, but we set off faithfully following coordinates we’d found of a sighting.  The farther we trekked up and down across sandy blowouts, though, the more we thought, “No way these coordinates are right.”  

And yet they were.

On the far side on a sandy blowout, nestled in among springtime-red poison ivy leaves, a population of bearberry hugged the ground, not  yet blooming but definitely in bud.  The bearberry wasn’t the only surprise:  we also came across two blowouts full of beach heather with a few tiny yellow flowers scattered among the small leaves. Near the road where we’d parked we found a plethora of Carolina anemone leaves and one white flower blooming.

What had looked at first like an almost barren landscape turned out to have an abundance of native wildflowers, some blooming, some already done blooming, and many more in bud with a promise of flowers to come. A place to delight sunburned wildflower chasers. 

In the wildlife management area across the road sandhill cranes called. 

It was time to head home.

Check out more of what we are seeing now HERE

A Green Day

May 13, 2023

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

The cool, overcast morning promised rain, but spring was in full swing at last, so we packed our boots and rain gear and drove down to southern Minnesota to see what was blooming. We’d already  seen  many of this year’s spring flowers and ephemerals, but we knew, too, that some rare and lovely flowers grew along wooded ravines and creek sides in the driftless area of the state where the last glaciers never reached. 

First stop, Olmstead county along the Root River. A stream of brightly blooming marsh marigolds led us through a forest rich in flowers to where groundwater percolates down through the bluffs and flows out into a seepage. We’d been here on a previous, naturalist-led trip and been enchanted by the green, moist woods and the plants that populated this tiny wetland. Now the tiny false mermaid plants we’d seen before were tiny no more, and in leaf axils, where leaf and stem meet, minute flowers bloomed. 

Leaves of jewelweed, leafcup, and trout lily grew scattered among the rocks along with shiny bunches of sharp-lobed hepatica’s new leaves. Nearby many glorious trilliums grew, and we discussed: drooping or nodding? Nodding, we decided, but elegantly beautiful whichever they were.  

Leaves that we’d puzzled over previously on our last visit–Dutchman’s breeches or squirrel corn, two plants so similar we can’t tell them apart until they bloom–now revealed their true identities. Strings of breeches hung in lines on arching stalks while squirrel corn’s heart-shaped flowers bloomed on more upright stalks. Mayapples budded, walking fern walked itself down the side of a mossy boulder, and the pleated striped leaves of puttyroot orchid made us promise a return trip to see them in bloom. 

Frogs chirred, birds sang, woodpeckers hammered, and the woods felt alive with spring.   

But we weren’t done yet. Not too far away in Winona County more wooded ravines held their own promises. A creekside path led us past the leaves of done-blooming bloodroot, cut-leaf toothwort, and trout lilies, while spring beauty, wood phlox, false rue anemone, wood anemone, jack in the pulpit, and bellwort still boomed. Up on a hillside we found  several healthy populations of twinleaf, flowers gone but still easy to recognize by the distinctive leaves. Also on the hillside –surprise!– our first orchid of the season, showy orchis, budding hopefully.

The forecast rain arrived, but only a gentle sprinkle. Light through the new-leafed trees along the sides of the ravine shone green, and our hearts, too, were green with springtime. And with hope.

See more photos of what we are seeing now!

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