North to Churchill, Day Two

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

July 2, 2018

Yesterday we were grateful for our bug shirts. Today we’re grateful for bug shirts and Kelly’s new Garmin GPS as we make our way into Iron Springs Bog, a place where it’s easy to get turned around and not know the way out again–something that happened to us once before. We’ve stopped here on our way up to Winnipeg in hopes of seeing orchids, and we’re  not disappointed. Within five minutes Kelly  has spotted a blooming round-leaved orchid and I’ve found an early coral root gone to seed.  A few minutes later we see tall northern bog orchid and northern green orchid, and not long after we find bunches of showy lady’s-slipper. Stemless lady’s-slipper has already gone to seed, and one small heart-leaved twayblade is bravely blooming in the moss. Tiny lesser rattlesnake plantain is almost hidden in the deep sphagnum moss next to even tinier one-sided pyrola.

When we’ve had our fill of orchids (along with gold thread, bog buckbean, and three leaved false Solomon ‘s seal gone to seed), we followed the GPS back to the car. Soon we leave peat lands behind for a wide prairie sky as we look for the western prairie fringed orchids that we’d seen last year in a ditch alongside a wildlife management area. We drive along the edge of the area peering deeply into ditches until finally we jubilantly spot three western prairie fringed orchids. While Kelly takes photos I wander up the other side of the ditch to discover a prairie full of the bright white blossoms of over fifty more orchids.

“When you’re done there you might want to come up here,” I call. “I think you’ll be happy you did.”

She does, and she is. While Kelly takes picture after picture of orchids from bud to full bloom I wander, grinning, among more western fringed prairie orchids than I’ve ever seen in my life.

Finally we head  farther north at the end of a day filled with orchids.

 

 

North to Churchill, Day One

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

July 1, 2018

We’ve headed out on a road trip to Winnipeg to catch a plane to Churchill, Manitoba, to take a class on sub-arctic wildflowers at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.  Our plane leaves on Thursday, but we’ve left a few days early to spend some time in the aspen tallgrass prairie parkland and places en route.   Rain hammers down as we leave town, but we’re hopeful we will drive through it.  Kelly assures me the forecast is for the rain to end at three.

We’ve packed, unpacked, repacked, shopped for essentials (including bug shirts, our new favorite thing) and packed some more.  Churchill’s weather will be cool and rainy, but Minnesota promises to be hot and sunny, a forecast that the cold rain pouring down clearly hasn’t heard.  We drive on in hope toward Long Lake Conservation Center, where last year we hiked through the woods to see several rose pogonia and grass pink orchids.  This time we’ve been offered a canoe to paddle down past floating bogs toward where we saw the orchids.   Rain still falls as we don our new bug shirts under raincoats and launch the canoe at 1:30, but within five minutes the rain no longer matters, because we’ve come to a gathering of blue flag, pitcher plant, and rose pogonia—not just one rose pogonia, but many. We paddle on, past more and more rose pogonia, the occasional grass pink, bog rosemary, water lilies, yellow pond lilies, water shield, bog cranberries, water arum, and sundew with tiny, tiny buds almost ready to bloom.

We paddle back through a richness of flowers we had never imagined when we hiked out to see orchids last year.  It all depends on your point of view, and the view from the water is spectacular.

And at three minutes after three, the rain stops.

 

 

 

 

A day full of prairie, June 2018

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We’ve been to the big woods to see the springtime flowers, we’ve been up north for a second spring (and even a bit of a third spring this past weekend near Duluth).  Now we’ve a hankering for the prairie flowers, so Sunday we headed out to McKnight Prairie, the closest undisturbed prairie we know of, located seven miles from Northfield  in the midst of a tree farm and corn fields.

As soon as we stepped onto the path that leads up the nearer of the two hills that make up McKnight Prairie, I was jotting names in my notebook while Kelly snapped pictures:  tall meadow rue, Canada milkvetch, golden Alexanders, Canada anemone, clammy ground cherry, and northern bedstraw  were all blooming, and scattered spires of prairie alumroot shot up above the grasses and flowers.  Prairie roses dotted the green with their bright pink petals, and along the hilltop we found the leaves of many pasque flowers, which must have made for a glorious early spring sight. Usually Kelly puts her camera back in her camera bag between pictures, but on this visit she just kept shooting flower after flower after flower.

Pussytoes, puccoon, blue-eyed grass, butterfly-weed already turning orange—everywhere we looked the prairie was awake with flowers.  On the second hillside the prickly pear cactuses were budding, larkspur bloomed, harebells danced and prairie smoke gone to seed rippled in the endless wind while several white camas bloomed brightly. Down the sweep of the hillside we recognized spiderwort and prairie sage.  The only worrying sight was the large-flowered beardtongue, which seemed blighted by spots on the leaves with only a few plants flowering, something we want to find out more about.

We took our time following the path back along the hills, soaking up the prairie and identifying one more new-to-us flower: green milkweed.  Back at the car I pulled ticks off my socks (white socks so the ticks show up), and we drove home on a perfect prairie day, filled up with wind and flowers and sky.

 

We also had a wonderful presentation and book signing at Content Books in Northfield, MN, tonight (June 13, 2018).  Life is good!

Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 11.49.43 PM

Oh, for Peat’s Sake; A bog and a book signing

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Heading up north to our first bookstore book signing in Park Rapids we detoured to the Lake Bemidji State Park bog boardwalk, one of our favorite places to visit.  The boardwalk leads out into a bog at the edge of a small, secluded lake.

Bogs are peatlands whose only water comes from precipitation; they are tough but fragile environments where footprints in the moss can leave a lasting mark, so we’re grateful for boardwalks that allow us a glimpse of these wild places.

Along the trail through the park to the boardwalk we saw signs of what we call second spring (the one we follow north after the first woodland flowers have already bloomed in southern Minnesota).  Wood anemone, Canada mayflower, sarsaparilla, pussytoes, and sessile-leaf bellwort all bloomed brightly under the trees.

We came to the bog while mist still drifted across the little lake where a lone loon called. Along the boardwalk we found Labrador tea’s white flowers, the small pink blooms of bog rosemary, purple pitcher plants deep in the moss, the small white flowers of goldthread (so called because of its thready yellow roots), bright buckbean, and the graceful buds of stemless lady’s-slipper about to open. Tamarack trees were already clothed in their soft green new needles, the tiniest of sundew plants were just beginning to show themselves in an island of moss, and blueberry bushes wore tiny pale bells of flowers.  A temperature gauge at the end of the boardwalk informed us that while the air temperature was 62 degrees Fahrenheit, ten inches below the surface the water in the bog was 36 degrees.

Later in the summer we’ll come back to look for tuberous grass-pink orchids, dragon’s-mouth, showy lady’s-slipper, more sundew, and whatever else we might see in this rich and amazing place. The plants that grow here may look fragile, but they are also tough survivors, able to tolerate higher acidity and colder water, and they delight us whenever we have a chance to see them.

Filled up with flower sightings and loon song, we drove from the wonder of the bog to the wonderful independent bookstore Beagle and Wolf Books and Bindery where we talked wildflowers with fellow flower seekers, signed books, read a lovely review of our book by bookstore owner Sally Wizik Wills, and had a splendid time. A day of bogs and bookstores.  What could be better?

BeagleandWolf

Spring Abloom, May 4 & 5, 2018

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Spring Abloom
May 4, 2018

Suddenly, spring, and all sorts of native wildflowers seem to be rushing at once to make up for lost time.  We love looking for them in the wilder places, but it’s also great to visit a place with easy paths among the trees and flowers with name tags to help us be sure, for instance, that the tricky anemone flowers we’re looking at are truly Eastern false rue anemone.

On a quick trip to Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum (“the Arb”) we headed for the bog boardwalk.  On a log in a pond, five turtles, from largest to smallest soaked up the sun.  A woodpecker hammered, birds called, and the trees were already tinged with the light green of new leaves.  A glorious day to wander and search.

And searching was easy.  Under the trees along the path, woodland flowers climbed the hillside while along the boardwalk marsh marigolds budded and small signs promised later blooms, including the lesser purple-fringed orchid we’ve been yearning to see.  Over in the wildflower garden, many of the same woodland flowers were either abloom or in bud, and, like the turtles in the sun, we basked in their presence.

Here’s a list of the native wildflowers we saw blooming in one afternoon at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum:
Bloodroot
Canadian wild ginger
Dutchman’s breeches
Skunk cabbage
Snow trillium
Hepatica
White trout lily
Eastern false rue anemone
Marsh marigold

And here are the ones that were almost in bloom:
Red columbine
Virginia bluebells
Large-flowered trillium
Mayapple
Nodding trillium
Dwarf trout lily

We love the wilder places, but we love, too, the wild native flowers wherever we find them. And we found them in abundance on an early May day at the Arb.

A Walk on the Wilder Side
May 5, 2018

With a whole Saturday ahead of us, we drove farther afield to see what other native wildflowers we might find.  On a precipitous hillside in Hastings where we’ve only ever seen snow trilliums and hepatica in March or April, we now discovered a forest floor carpeted in green.  Snow trilliums, taller now, still blossomed, but wild ginger with its dark red flowers hidden below velvety leaves also carpeted whole swaths of the floor along with Dutchman’s breeches where a fat bumblebee searched for nectar and pollen among arching stalks of white pantaloon-shaped flowers. A few large-flowered bellwort gracefully drooped soft yellow blossoms, and little star-shaped wood anemones bloomed in scattered places.  Alone and in bunches, eight-petaled bloodroot blossoms looked like bright white flowers dropped from the sky.  Same place, different time, a whole new world of flowers.

Our goal for the day was Frontenac State Park along the Mississippi River where we hoped to find rare squirrel corn, which looks much like Dutchman’s breeches but has a more rounded flower shape almost like butterfly wings.  We haven’t seen squirrel corn yet, but we live in hope, and so we headed down the Lower Bluff Trail at the park into more Dutchman’s breeches than we’ve ever seen. We studied their flower shapes as we negotiated the steep, sometimes stairstepped, trail down and down and down toward the river, wondering at times if a slightly different flower silhouette signified squirrel corn. But all of the flowers we saw had the distinctive two petals spreading like the legs of a pair of pants.

What we did see:
Dutchman’s breeches, Dutchman’s breeches, and more Dutchman’s breeches
Large-flowered bellwort
Bloodroot
Wood anemone

Of squirrel corn nary a blossom that we could discern, but oh, what a day of sunshine and springtime and flowers!

Finally—flowers!

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Pasqueflowers, April 22, 2018

The great Minnesota melt of 2018 has finally arrived. On Earth Day, the second day of temperatures in the high fifties that are rapidly making the piles of snow seem like a winter dream, we head out to look for the earliest bloomers. We’ve already seen skunk cabbage several weeks ago down by Minnehaha Creek while the snow still buried the ground.  Now on a steep gravelly hillside near Cannon Falls we find the first pasque flowers as well—many furry buds about to open and a scattering of pale purples flowers already blooming.  In the next few days, more pasque flowers will open, and in a week or two kittentails and pussytoes and prairie smoke (whose leaves are already greening) will begin to flower as well, but the pasque flowers are the ones that make us shout with delight.

Once we see pasque flowers, we can usually be sure that snow trilliums will be blooming, too, on a different hillside, a steeply wooded one near Hastings. Could we really be lucky enough to see both pasque flowers and snow trilliums in a single outing?  At Hastings the hillside is still frozen in places, but almost all of the snow cover has melted. Hepatica leaves are greening in the brown leaf cover of last year’s oak leaves, and in a corner of a cliff we find the tiniest snow trilliums I’ve ever seen, their leaves still upright enclosing a minuscule white bud not much bigger than a grain of rice.  These flowers, too, will open quickly now that spring is here, and hepatica will blossom blue and purple, while Dutchman’s breeches hangs its laundry out to dry.

Snow trilliums and pasque flowers in a single sunny afternoon—our long-awaited spring is finally here.  And our hearts are glad.

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo