Spring! Spring! Spring!

May 7, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

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…

…squirrel corn!

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.

Beautiful, Bountiful Bloodroot

May 4, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

When I drove south last week to Indiana, spring was tiptoeing into Minnesota, while down in northeastern Indiana it was tap-dancing away with springtime flowers and ephemerals blooming throughout all sorts of woodland patches along highways and streets. Many were familiar flower faces, but one, lovely red sessile trillium, was a new find, native to Indiana but not Minnesota.   

Coming back to Minnesota, I found that spring had made it here, too, in abundance, as Kelly had discovered when I was gone and was eager to show me.

We usually go down along Minnehaha creek the minute we think skunk cabbage, first of the wildflowers, might be melting its way up through the snow and ice. I had a memory of seeing some ephemerals and other early spring flowers along the creek years ago, but we had never gone looking for them once skunk cabbage had bloomed.

Now on a day of blue sky, warm breezes, birdsong and babbling creek water, we followed the trail below the falls that leads, eventually, to the Mississippi river. Skunk cabbage was still there, more than we could have imagined when we hunted for the earliest ones, their leaves now enormous and brilliant green with maroon flowers peeking out from underneath.  Trout lily leaves had popped up in many places, a few in bud, fewer yet blooming.  Clusters of Canadian wild ginger climbed the hillsides, hiding deep red flowers under their soft gray-green leaves. A congregation of large-flowered trillium was full of buds, promising future flowers.  So was cutleaf toothwort. Eastern false rue anemone had begun to bloom, and marsh marigold was just opening bright yellow flowers.

But the showstopper was bloodroot, so many more than we had ever seen, more than a person could count (and I am, at times, a flower-counter).  Their elegant, wide, white flowers climbed the hillsides by the hundreds, maybe thousands, a springtime spectacle.  The leaves of some still wrapped around the stems, but many leaves had unfurled like shawls framing the flowers.

Bloodroot belongs to the poppy family, a family whose flowers last briefly and then are done.  Wordsworth wrote his poem about daffodils filling his heart, but we had bloodroot to fill our hearts, and we wandered among them, grateful to see this bountiful blooming, a snowfall of flowers.

Please note- Red sessile trillium is not native to Minnesota, Phyllis saw it in Indiana where it is a native wildflower, but if you are interested you can see it at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary where they label it “Trillium- Toadshade.”

Into the Woods

April 23, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

All it takes to convince us that spring really has arrived is one warm 70-degree day, even if the weather is overcast, threatening rain, and wicked windy.  Saturday was that day, so we went looking at Townsend Woods Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) for early and ephemeral flowers. 

Townsend Woods SNA is a remnant of Big Woods, made up of oak, maple, bass, ironwood, and elm (before Dutch elm disease) and running diagonally from the southeast corner of the state up into the central part.  Now less than 2% of that original forest remains, and the Townsend Woods remnant is old growth, a reminder of the 1.3 million acres of Big Woods that covered much of Minnesota before European settlement.

The way into the SNA involves a half-mile walk along the edge of farm fields, the wind blustering us along as we hiked.  Once under the leafless canopy of trees growing on knobby hills the glacier left behind, we still heard the wind, but the air around us was peaceful.

It’s still early days for most wildflowers, even ephemerals, but we were delighted to find hepatica blooming, purple and pale blue and pink and white blossoms scattered through the brown leaves of last year’s forest.  Ferny leaves of Dutchman’s breeches, whose flowers resemble upside down pairs of pants on a line, promised a flowering so rich that no Dutchman should ever have to go breeches-less. Trout lilies leaves seemed to be everywhere, and a few two-leaved plants already had buds about to bloom.  (Like Mayapples, only two-leaved trout lily plants will have flowers.) 

Tiny plants with clusters of even tinier buds puzzled us until we realized they were likely cutleaf toothwort not yet ready to bloom.  A single fuzzy gray-green Canadian wild ginger leaf curled like an art deco vase, and ramps sprouted bright green.

Old growth forest has little underbrush, making our wandering easy except for fallen trees (another sign of old growth forest), many of them riddled with woodpecker holes. In places we came upon ephemeral pools, those come-and-go ponds that fill with water in springtime in low places on the forest floor and provide critical habitat for frogs and salamanders to lay their eggs. Because the ponds eventually dry up, they can’t support fish, making them a safe sort of nursery.

Occasional rain sprinkled down on us, the sun shone briefly, and birds and frogs called.  As we came out of the woods and figured out the way back to the car, three wild turkeys sped ahead of us, gobbling. 

On our way home we stopped to walk a trail we’d read about where a new-to-us snow trillium population bloomed brightly.  Even though we managed to get lost hiking back to the car on this straightforward trail, we found our way eventually. 

And so has spring.

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