Flower Chasers in the Winter Woods

January 29, 2020

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Day 3

This morning snow falls softly, so we take the long way to breakfast at the dining hall, marveling at how the large flakes cling to the bare tree branches.  Today in our master naturalist class we travel through time all the way back to the Precambrian era where we learn that what is now Minnesota was once situated just south of the equator.  From plate tectonics to Milankovitch cycles, we investigate events in our geologic history and discover that even though Minnesota’s glaciers are long gone, we are still in an ice age as long as there are glaciers anywhere on the planet.  We learn, too, from a master naturalist how agates form (who knew there were so many kinds of agates?) along with some of the best places in Minnesota to search for these distinctive rocks.

After lunch our whole class heads into the woods, the trees and snowy drifts serenely beautiful in the overcast light. Kevin Sheppard, forest manager and American bird conservancy officer, helps us identify winter birds, including several chickadees and a downy woodpecker, and tells us about forest succession. We’re surprised to learn that tamarack, now mainly a wetland tree, was once Minnesota’s most abundant tree, growing in the uplands as well as wetter areas—a fact revealed by the original notes of surveyors in the 1800s.

Being flower chasers we can’t resist also identifying a wintry milkweed stalk with pods and a goldenrod gone to seed.

Geology, history, forestry, wildlife—there’s so much more to becoming a master naturalist than we had realized. And so much more to learn about this world we all inhabit.



Flower Chasers on Snowshoes

January 28, 2020

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Day 2

It’s our first day of master naturalist classes at Long Lake Conservation Center, and after a morning of classroom exercises and learning we venture out into a beautiful Minnesota winter day.  We’ve been out briefly to walk to the dining lodge for breakfast, then for lunch.  But now, wearing snowshoes and warm gear, we head out and off trail to look for animal tracks, lichen, and other signs of winter life.  We follow squirrel trails from tree to tree, puzzle over holes in the snow and animal scat, and admire the sculptural effect of a woodpecker-hammered dead tree.  What sounds like a dog in the distance turns out to be a pileated woodpecker calling. In the quiet and snow-covered landscape we realize that even though winter locks down the land, life still goes on, following its own phenology of what happens when.

Our last task of the day is to take a twig and find the tree from which it came.  No leaves, not even buds to help us, but eventually we make our way to a quaking aspen and an alder.  We are learning to look closely, to pay attention to detail, to find other ways of identifying than we ones we are used to.

We are learning the language of winter.

John Latimer, host of “Phenology Show,” on KAXE-FM 91.7 public radio in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, defines phenology as “the study of the rhythmic nature of biological events as they relate to climate.”


Flower Chasers in Winter

January 27, 2020

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Minnesota Master Naturalist Course at Long Lake Conservation Center
Day 1

On our way to Long Lake Conservation Center in central Minnesota we drive past Lake Mille Lacs where a whole town of icehouse clusters populate the lake.  We’ve been to Long Lake Conservation Center before, but never in January.

The first time we came on a hot and humid day in June, 2017, when we walked along the bog boardwalk we’d read about online, hoping to find orchids. We didn’t see any, but on our way out of the center we ran into one of the camp counselors and asked about other places we might look for orchids. He told us about a trail that would bring us to the end of Long Lake and said we could use a canoe to get there.  We declined and set out along the grassy trail around the lake. Long Lake really is long, and the trail went on and on with no guarantee of orchids at the end. Periodically one of us would say, “Maybe we should turn back,” and the other would say, “Let’s keep going a little longer.”  We took turns encouraging each other until we came to the turnoff to Pine Point Spur Trail at the far end of the lake.

The ground grew boggier the nearer we got to the lake edge, but the surface under our feet felt firm—an old dock had been overgrown by the bog.  And there, in front of us, was a rose pogonia orchid, the first either of us had ever seen.  And another, and another.  And then a grass pink orchid, and another, and another.  A good lesson for us in not turning back.

We came back to Long Lake the next July and canoed around the edge of the lake, where we saw an amazing amount of rose pogonia, grass pink, bog rosemary, sundew, blue flag, swamp candle, and purple pitcher plants.

How could we not come back again the next year, where we were delighted by more dragon’s mouth orchids than we could have imagined?

Now it’s January, 2020, and we have come again to Long Lake Conservation Center, not in hope of orchids or other native wildflowers but to take a master naturalist class. Snow covers the ground, and we’ve brought lots of warm clothes to see us through the week.

We’re eager to learn more about this amazing place we inhabit together, even when wildflowers aren’t in bloom.

Long Lake Conservation Center provides hands-on educational programs that are nature-based and inquiry driven to develop lifelong stewardship of nature.

The Minnesota Master Naturalist Program promotes “awareness, understanding, and respect for Minnesota’s natural environment by developing a corps of well-informed citizens dedicated to conservation education and service within their communities.”



1871: Mary Hedges, botany professor, goes to the root of the matter!

December 16, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Some cultures have stories of the miraculous blooming of flowers in the snow at Christmas time, but Minnesota’s native flowers are locked up tight in the frozen ground. Snow trilliums, pasque flowers, and hepatica might bloom in early spring even through a late snowfall, but for now, all our native flowers are memories.

One of the earlier native wildflowers we’ll go hunting once spring thaw unlocks the ground is the dwarf trout lily, Minnesota’s one endemic wildflower, which only grows in three counties in Minnesota and nowhere else in the world and is listed as endangered both in Minnesota and federally.  Dwarf trout lily blooms for such a brief time and in so few known locations (as well as being really tiny—flowers are 1/3” across) that many years we miss it.

Continue reading “1871: Mary Hedges, botany professor, goes to the root of the matter!”



December 1, 2019

Snow has fallen and fallen again. Winter has arrived, and we’re thinking about what we’re grateful for in the past year.  Some of what we appreciate:

Searching for native wildflowers and sometimes even finding them

People who help protect native wildflowers and the places they grow

People who share their knowledge with us (you might not even know who you are, but thank you)

Being able to share our (non-botanist) knowledge with others

Talking about our wildflower adventures on Minnesota Public Radio

Seeing narrow-leaved milkweed for the first time

Discovering dragon’s mouth orchids all around the edge of Long Lake

Finding yellow gentianin a city park close to home

Being surprised by white turtlehead

Delighting in lots and lots and lots of whorled milkweed

Driving Wisconsin rustic roads and finding robin’s plantain

Scaling a goat prairie and finding cylindrical blazing star

Almost seeing ball cactus in bloom

Taking a class in Churchill (okay, that was last year, but we’re still grateful)

The chance to do it all again next year, as soon as the flowers start blooming!

Join us!
Annual Holiday Art Show!
December 6, 4-7 p.m.
December 7, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Meet Kelly and Phyllis in Kelly’s studio for her Annual Holiday Art Show! Books and photographs available. All are welcome!