New Places, New Plants

August 31, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We left before sunrise and reached Blaine Wetlands Sanctuary just as a spectacular red sunrise lit up the sky and turned ridges of clouds a deep, glowing rose. As the day lightened, we followed a boardwalk into the sanctuary past vervain, goldenrod, boneset, jewelweed, fleabane, aster, and the rich, subtle colors of fall grasses.  We were in search of a spot that a wildflower expert had told us about where we hoped to see some rare plants, and a trail away from the boardwalk led us in the right direction.  The ground underneath our feet felt spongy and soft, covered in places with moss. Overhead two sandhill cranes flapped and glided, conversing in clacking calls.

Kelly spotted a deer, I saw a frog, we both spied a snake.  Tiny bugs buzzed, and grasshoppers flung themselves through the air. When we came to our destination, we found pink blossoms of field milkwort among grass-leaved goldenrod, aster, meadowsweet, spotted Joe-pye weed, and blue vervain, along with other flowers we have yet to identify. (More information on the Blaine Wetlands Sanctuary)

Our next stop (recommended by the same expert) was Wollans Park, a restored wetland where sandhill cranes glided down to disappear in the grasses.  What had once been mostly reed canary grass and buckthorn was now a rich mix of  boneset, spotted Joe-pye weed, goldenrod, hoary vervain, blue vervain, grass-leaved goldenrod, meadowsweet, arrowhead, and aster as well as purple false foxglove and slender-leaved false foxglove, two new-to-us species. Many narrow leaves hinted at an abundance of lance-leaved violets, a state threatened species, and when spring comes again we’ll come back to see them in bloom.  Many thanks to the people who brought back this wetland rich in native plants and sandhill cranes.

Continue reading “New Places, New Plants”

A Day Well Spent

August 16, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

The day began with darkness and damp as we headed out at 5 a.m. for Seminary Fen Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) near Chaska, eager to catch the first daylight.  Fens are one of our rarest wetlands and we were eager to explore. The fen itself lay below a prairie area where goldenrod, monarda, and evening primrose bloomed, but try as we might, we couldn’t find a way down to the fen through the barrier of buckthorn trees.  Path after path ended in a tangle of branches and thorns, and by the time we finally broke through to the edge of the fen and crossed a creek into soggy, hummocky ground we had plenty of daylight but no flowers. It was a sweet morning anyway, fun to be up in the dark and searching for wildflowers, and we headed home knowing we’ll try again another time.

Fast forward an hour: Kelly calls me and says, “What about Falls Creek?  We could see if downy rattlesnake plantain is still blooming.”

“Great,” I say.  “I’ll see you at noon.”

Which is how we found ourselves leaving the sunny, hot prairie of Whispering Pines Park in Scandia behind us and wandering in the coolness under the tall trees of Falls Creek SNA.  We’ve been to Falls Creek many times before but seldom at this time of year—forests are usually for spring flowers, and once the canopy leafs out most flowers have finished their business.  We saw many leaves we could identify even though the plants were done blooming:  lily-leaved twayblade, prunella, starflower, bloodroot, Canada mayflower, hepatica, wild ginger. Some plants, like bluebead lily and Jack-in-the-pulpit, had distinctive seeds that helped identify them.

Along the path we also found several populations of downy rattlesnake plantain orchid that we’d never seen before, their distinctive green and white leaves vivid against the forest floor.  And finally, towards the end of the trail, we found a rattlesnake plantain orchid flower spike, then three more orchids blooming, then six more.  We felt rich in rattlesnake plantain.

We’ve hardly ever seen other people at the SNAs we visit, but a whole group of them came up the trail and turned out to be folks from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on a hike. Experts on flowers, rushes, sedges, butterflies, geology—we were awed by the knowledge among them. When we learned that some of them had been instrumental in preserving Falls Creek as an SNA, we were grateful beyond measure.

From darkness and damp to dappled sunlight and orchids, a day well spent.

Among the Islands

August 9, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Each summer for the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to go sailing with friends in Lake Superior. This year my friend Mary and I joined Mark, the sailboat-owning friend, at Rossport, Ontario, to sail on Lake Superior.  Wind, sun, sailing, hiking, rock hunting, swimming, wildflower searching, even a sauna—what better way to spend the days of summer?

On the way north to meet Mark, Mary and I stopped in Grand Marais where common butterwort’s yellow leaves crept over the rocks and tiny-flowered Hudson Bay eyebright bloomed. Both are arctic relicts or disjuncts, those plants that, thanks to the cold, wet, harsh climate of Superior’s shore, grow far from their main habitats farther north.

As we sailed we stopped to explore and hike among the scattered islands, where many of the flowers growing in woods and on rocks were familiar faces from Minnesota searches. It makes sense: flowers don’t stop at borders or even have to show their passports, and the forests and bedrock that make up Minnesota’s north shore don’t stop there, either.  We saw bunchberries, a few blooming but most already gone to red-berry seed; starflowers gone to seed; Canada mayflowers done blooming; the remnants of a lady’s-slipper orchid; bluebead lily with its blue beads of seed; one-flowered pyrola; wild sarsaparilla; Indian pipe; Labrador tea; alpine bistort; and blueberries (alas, not quite ripe yet but growing in abundance).

At CPR harbor we took a three-pitch hike with fixed ropes to the top of a bluff and passed at least fifty lesser rattlesnake plantain orchids blooming in the green, green moss. On a rocky projection in Woodbine Harbor we found three-toothed cinquefoil, shrubby cinquefoil, upland goldenrod, harebell, some new kind of saxifrage, and a beautiful purple vetch-like plant abuzz with bumblebees.  At Battle Island, our last stop before returning to Rossport, we came across black crowberry, Hudson Bay eyebright, and, on a rocky cliff slick with rain, encrusted saxifrage with its silvery-edged rosette of leaves—all arctic relicts.

I came for the sailing and the friendship (and the beaches rich with Lake Superior rocks), and I also found familiar flowering friends and new ones among the islands’ woods and rocky shores.



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