From spring into summer

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

June 1, 2019

Last week we headed north searching for spring, which was just making its wildflower way up the north shore.  This week we headed south on a hot and sunny day for what we thought would be the tail end of spring along the Mississippi River.

Many of the earliest  flowers were done blooming, but large-flowered trilliums were just turning pink under the leafed-out  trees, and drooping trilliums still showed white.  High on a hillside several showy orchis looked very showy.  Some May apples had already set seeds, but others were blooming brightly under their umbrellas of leaves.  White spikes of miterwort poked up everywhere.  Alongside the road Kelly found a new-to-us-in-the-wild plant, twinleaf, also already gone to seed.  Next year, we vowed, we’d come earlier to see its white-petaled flowers.

Friday night it rained, first distant lightning, then a rush of wind that bent the trees, then raindrops pattering on the rooftop. Driving home Saturday, we passed the same road we’d been down the day before and decided to take one last quick drive along it. Trees arched overhead, and the rain saturated everything so that even the air looked green. On a thickly wooded hillside we found another new-to-us flower, golden ragwort. Our quick drive turned into a slow one with many stops. When we turned down another road we’d never been on before, we found ourselves stopping again and again–a whole hillside of drooping trillium, a gigantic smooth Solomon’s seal, a slope of lousewort, and another new-to-us plant that looked like daisy fleabane with larger flowers that we identified as Robin’s plantain.

Even then, we didn’t make it home anywhere near our intended early hour.  We were passing so near Grey Clouds Dunes that one quick hike to check out this sand prairie seemed like a fine idea.  And it was.  Bright clusters of puccoon and fringed puccoon stood out against the sand, pussytoes lifted their gone-to-seed flowers on long stalks, and the leaves we had tentatively identified in a March visit as prairie smoke turned out to be exactly that, some still blooming, some gone to long seedy tendrils blowing gracefully in the breeze.  We found ground plum with hard little fruits, large-flowered penstemmon budding, blue eyed grass, spiderwort, and a whole scooped-out hillside of bird’s foot violet, now past their time but surely spectacular a few days before.

Our early morning planned arrival home had become a mid-afternoon return. In a single morning we had travelled from spring in the woods to summer claiming the prairie, and if we had passed another place to explore we would surely have stopped.  Who knows what else we might have seen?

Luckily we have a whole summer ahead of us to find out.

Magical Morning

May 25, 2019
Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

In life, as in wildflower searching, unlooked-for delights sometimes take us by surprise.  Friday night, after a day of searching along the North Shore, Kelly got a Google alert and discovered that our editor at the University of Minnesota Press had been on KARE 11 TV talking about several books they had published, including our wildflower book and a new picture book of Phyllis’s, The Lost Forest. What a treat!

Today we headed back to Gooseberry Falls State Park to give a wildflower talk and record an audio postcard for Minnesota Public Radio about arctic relicts growing along the north shore of Lake Superior.  Arctic relicts are plants that found a foothold in the cold, harsh, rocky shore as the last glaciers retreated. There they persist, far from other plants of their kind growing much farther north.

The morning was magical—mist on the lake, spider webs strung with luminous dots of moisture, the water in the rock pools along the shore silver in the morning light.  Chorus frogs croaked in their small pools, waves splashed on the rocks, and we felt incredibly lucky to be in this place at this moment.

After our talk at the visitor’s center and a short walk to see bird’s eye primrose and common butterwort with the folks who had come to the talk, we headed home, making one last stop at Jay Cooke State Park to check out what was blooming there.  We followed a trail up into a woods full of flowers: spring beauty, large-flowered bellwort, yellow trout lilies, more sessile-leaf bellwort than we’d ever seen in one place. We even found a new-to-us flower that we tentatively identified as dwarf wild ginseng (although we’ve made this identification of another plant once before and turned out to be mistaken).  Mistaken or not, it is always a thrill to see something we haven’t seen before.

And even though you might think people couldn’t get lost on the well-marked trails of a state park, we did.  We finally managed to find our muddy way back to the swinging bridge across the St. Louis River, which was in full, roaring flood. We headed home filled with four days of native wildflowers, an abundance of time spent in forests, a resolution to always take a trail map with us no matter what, and gratitude for all the signs of second spring we found in the north country.

The Edge of Spring

May 24, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We’ve fulfilled all of our commitments for our book until Saturday morning at Gooseberry Falls State Park, where we’ll give a wildflower talk and go on a wildflower walk.  Today is a day dedicated to more wildflower searching up the north shore, hopeful against the forecast of rain.

Marsh marigolds beam from roadside ditches and wet patches of ground, and Canada mayflower leaves dot the forest floor along the highway.  But the farther north we drive, the more we feel we have left the blooming edge of spring behind.  By the time we reach Tettegouche State Park where a naturalist assures us we’ll find wildflowers everywhere, it’s clear that while we find the leaves of bluebead lily, Canada mayflower, and last year’s bunchberry the flowers themselves are biding their time, perhaps waiting for the temperature to climb out of the low forties or for the sun to shine down on them.

Even though we don’t see flowers at Tettegouche, our hike up the Cascade trail takes us past the Baptism river in full flood, water rolling and roiling over rocks in foaming waves that even an expert kayaker might balk at. We hike back to the car and head for our Two Harbors hotel. Unable to resist, we make one last quick stop at Gooseberry Falls State Park to check on arctic relicts.

And there along the rocky shore in driving, bitterly cold rain we find bird’s eye primrose flowers, more than we’ve ever seen before.  It’s way too windy and wet for Kelly to bring out her camera, but she braves the piercing wind and rain to take a phone shot of these determined flowers. Not only do the bird’s-eye primrose not mind the weather, they seem to flourish in it while we lesser humans run for the car.

Tomorrow we hope for sunshine and more flowers, but for today, the tiny pink bird’s eye primrose blossoms gladden our hearts.




A Tale of Two Forests

May 23, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We wildflower searchers live in hope.  Perhaps this year we’ll find green dragon growing in the wild. Perhaps we see ball cactus blooming. Perhaps, even though it just snowed last week in Duluth, we’ll still find signs of spring on this trip north.

We’ve come north to do promotional events and talks about our book Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers. Yesterday was a day of travel, a television interview, and a talk at a Wild Ones chapter. (Watch our T.V. interview segment HERE starting at 3:38.) Yesterday we also found wildflowers in Banning State Park, and today we’re headed for two forests around Duluth.

As we drive toward Magney-Snively Natural Area, our first forest of the day, the sun breaks through the clouds and throws a rainbow across the sky.  We take it as a sign of good flowering things to come.  And we’re not disappointed—along the road to the trail we spot large-flowered trilliums, their blossoms still droopy with rain, and marsh marigolds brightening the roadside ditches. Along the trail itself we find Canada mayflower leaves with buds, wild sarsaparilla just emerging from the ground, ferns in every shape of unfurling, horsetail like tiny pine trees, and the soft pale yellow blooms of sessile-leaf bellwort.  A few Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers are scattered around, along with rue anemone and wood anemone.  A cluster of leaves puzzles us until we find one with a budding stalk and realize bluebead lilies will soon be blooming.  Another puzzling cluster of basal leaves with a raggedy bud in the center turns out to be swamp saxifrage. And along a side trail we find one panicled bluebell in bloom. Even the drive farther along the road reveals a waterfall of yellow large-flowered bellwort on the hillsides.

The second forest grows on Park Point, the Minnesota Point Pine Forest Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), 18 acres of old growth pine forest at the tip of a long sandbar. The walk to the SNA leads along the beach ridge with Lake Superior waves rolling toward shore on one side.  Entering the forest is like moving into a different world, one green with light through the tall red and white pines overhead, many of them up to 200 years old. Here we find Canada mayflower and trillium in bud, wild sarsaparilla just beginning to open its leaves and balls of blooms, lots of bluebead lily leaves and one flowering plant (confirming our identification earlier in the day).  On the hike back to the car we see many many clusters of leaves that we identify, with the help of a guidebook, as starry false Solomon’s seal.  Who knew it could thrive in sand?

For the record, we’ve still got time this year to look for green dragon.  We’ll keep an eye on the calendar to find ball cactus in bloom. And even after snowfall in late May Duluth, the wildflowers are thriving.

We live in hope.

A Rainy Day in Banning

May 22, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We had planned our trip to Duluth with the idea of seeing early wildflowers.  Unfortunately, weather had its own plans and didn’t check with us.  Instead of a day ripe with sunshine and wildflowers we drove north through cold rain and wicked wind. What flowers could possibly be blooming in this tail-end-of-winter weather?

And yet, as we got farther and farther north, we began to see glimpses of trilliums under the trees alongside the road, sometimes carpeting the ground.  Deciding it was worth a shot, we pulled into Banning state park where more and more trilliums, along with wood anemones, dotted the ground among the pines. Pussytoes raised their small white furry flowers into the air, and in the wet ditches marsh marigolds blossomed brilliantly.

Even though it was raining, we decided to go a short distance down a trail where last year we’d seen an explosion of wildflowers around this same time.  We parked, opened umbrellas, and promised ourselves we’d only go a few minutes down the partly flooded trail before we turned back.  But the sweet green trees, luminous in the rain, beckoned, and we found ourselves following along the Kettle River, spotting more and more trilliums, petals drooping in the rain but still bravely blooming. Canada mayflowers were in bud, ferns unfurled, wild ginger leaves unfolded, and false rue anemone and wild sarsaparilla were just beginning to bloom.

Just a little farther, we told each other as Kelly wandered down a series of stone steps while I followed a higher trail. Finally, full of springtime about to bloom, wild green light, and the sound of rapids raging, we made our way back to the car.  Who says you can’t go wildflower searching in the rain? Not us, not with umbrellas and a whole springtime waiting to unfold.

A River of Blue

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We came to Carley State Park for the Virginia bluebells, and we found them –some blooming, many about to bloom in glorious blue. But we found so much more than bluebells—a whole springtime’s worth of wildflowers.  On our way down the steps to the Wildflower Trail we saw trout lilies, mayapple in bud, hepatica, Virginia bluebells, Dutchman’s breeches, eastern false rue-anemone, Canadian wild ginger, large-flowered bellwort, and bishop’s cap.  At the bottom of the steps around mossy rocks and roots of a tree we found a whole little community of wildflowers all blooming together: eastern false rue anemone, Virginia bluebells, Dutchman’s breeches, Canadian wild ginger, and cutleaf toothwort, enough to make any wildflower lover fall in love all over again.

The trail led us along the river valley through more Virginia bluebells, eastern false rue anemone, trout lilies, large-flowered bellwort, and a few bloodroot still flowering.  On the hillside across the valley bluebells flowed down like another river, this one vividly and beautifully blue. Through it all the river ran, burbling in places, silent in others, while birdsong wove in and out of trees which were just beginning to leaf out in bright shades of yellow green.

When the tree canopy fills in, the spring wildflowers, ephemeral or not, will be almost done. This is their time of glory, and Carley State Park, on a cool bright morning in May was exactly the right place to be.

Carley State Park


Learn more: What is a spring ephemeral?
Flowers that grow in the Big Woods bloom early and quickly. They have only a few fleeting weeks to soak up sunshine before the leaf canopy of the trees gobbles up the sun and shades the ground. Some of these flowers are called spring ephemerals, which means they last only a short time and then disappear completely from sight until the next spring.

At least nine flowers in Minnesota are considered true ephemerals: snow trillium, bloodroot, cutlet toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, eastern false rue-anemone, dwarf trout lily, white trout lily, yellow trout lily, and Virginia spring beauty.

Excerpt from our book, Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers: A Guide for Beginners, Botanists, and Everyone in Between.

Heading South Searching for Spring

April 19, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We’ve seen a few spring wildflowers so far this year—a skunk cabbage here, a snow trillium there, a hillside of pasqueflowers in the snow from an April blizzard.  Impatient for more and tired of waiting for spring to come to us, on a morning when frost glittered on grass like cut glass we headed south to look for spring—all the way south to Beaver Creek Valley State Park.  Along the way we stopped at Frontenac State Park where we’ve seen thousands of Dutchman’s breeches in past years, but we were too early; the most we found were leaves and buds and a few opening flowers.

But Beaver Creek Valley!  On the steep hillsides hepatica and bloodroot bloomed, false rue anemone and Dutchman’s breeches were almost open, and plentiful leaves of trout lily, cutleaf toothwort, and Canadian wild ginger promised more flowers to come. Mayapples were just powering their pointed way out of the ground, and in the parking area of a campsite we came across a dusting of spring beauty in striped bloom. Here, at last, we were gloriously surrounded by springtime.

The return trip next day took us through Carley State Park in search of bluebells. Surrounded by river song, bird song, and sweet morning light we found leaves and buds but still no blossoms.  We’ll be back in a week or two to see the avalanche of bluebells and false rue anemone down the hillsides of this river valley park, but for now the most green we saw was a rampage of ramps all across the forest floor.

We’d been told of pasqueflowers at Whitewater State Park, but even though we climbed the many, many steps up to the oak savannah on Eagle Point where they were said to bloom, we saw neither blossom nor bud nor last year’s leaf.  Still, hepatica bloomed all the way along the steps, and the view from the top was spectacular.

We made a quick stop at Forestville State Park because we had read of a place where squirrel corn, a flower we’ve been pursuing for a few years now, was said to grow.  We found the general area, but since squirrel corn and Dutchman’s breeches are said to be so similar except for their flowers, and since none of the plants was helpfully flowering, we haven’t yet seen squirrel corn.  Is it there?  Will we find it?  Such questions keep us searching.

Happily satiated with hepatica, spring beauty, bloodroot, and all the imminent wildflowers we’d seen, we drove home knowing we’d found spring and that before long, it will find us, too.