Since December 31, 2000, we’ve sat down together with notebooks to make a list of goals for the coming year. The following January, we get out the notebooks, look at which goals we’ve accomplished (or haven’t), and make a new list for the coming year. Last year’s list of 2021 goals for each of us began with HOPE, and this year’s goals for 2022 begin the same way: HOPE.
In a way, just making a list of goals, especially in hard times, is an act of hope. Some of this year’s goals involve working for racial justice, some involve our jobs, some involve family and other folks we love.
And many of our goals involve wildflowers.
Here, while cold grips our state and snow buries the ground, are our hopes for flower chasing this year:
We hope this is the year we see ball cactus in bloom. We hope to finally find bog adder’s mouth. We hope to go to the North Shore and see encrusted saxifrage and auricled twayblade. We hope to visit lots of bogs, including our favorite floating bog at Long Lake Conservation Center. We hope to see Great Lakes gentian and pleated gentian in bloom. We hope to see northern slender ladies’-tresses. We hope to see brittle prickly pear in bloom. We hope to see all the orchids we haven’t seen yet, (only four more to go) that are possible to see in Minnesota. We hope to keep chasing native wildflowers and spreading the word about them.
Barely half an hour west of the Twin Cities near Long Lake, Minnesota, lie 141 acres of woodland with trees up to 400 years old. Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) is a piece of the Big Woods which once covered 5000 square miles of Minnesota. Like many other Big Woods remnants, native wildflowers bloom here in spring, and on a chilly, overcast day we set out to find them.
Several paths wind up and over the hills of this SNA (most SNAs are pathless), and along one of the trails we came across an explosion of yellow: our first marsh marigolds of the year, blooming brightly in a wet area crossed by a wood plank. Not far away we found another first of the year: the first Jack-in-the-pulpit plants, from tiny shoots to ones where Jack had already appeared in the pulpit to ones where the leaves themselves, which follow the flowers and look very much like trillium leaves, were emerging. We wandered among so many Jack-in-the-pulpit it felt like we should put our feet in our pockets, as my grandma used to say when we walked across her freshly washed floors, so as not to step on any small ones.
Marsh marigold and Jack-in-the-pulpit— two firsts of the year—delighted us, but as we wandered the paths we saw more and more spring flowers. The prize for abundance went to bloodroot—many done blooming but others still opening their white-petaled flowers and shawl-like leaves, often blooming in bunches like flowered skirts around the bases of trees.
Both large-flowered Bellwort leaves and also sessile-leaved bellwort leaves were gracefully unfolding, and as the afternoon wore on and the sun claimed the sky several yellow large-flowered bellwort flowers drooped their blossoms down into the afternoon light. A few trilliums, both large-flowered and nodding, already had buds.
Red columbine budded, Canadian wild ginger’s dark red flowers hid under their unfolding fuzzy leaves, two rue anemone bloomed pink, and one downy yellow violet showed bright against last year’s forest leaves.
A barred owl called who cooks for you who cooks for you, a woodpecker made its rattling way up a tree, and the late sun lit the high canopy of lacy new leaves so that they shone with their own yellow-green radiance against blue sky. A day that began chilly, breezy, and overcast turned into a splendid spring walk in woods close to home that we are glad to have found.
We have yet to see a spring or a creek at Spring Creek Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), but there is so much else to see there, even in mid-April when prairie flowers are just awakening. To get to the prairie we followed a maze of street directions to the parking area of the SNA, then walked along a path under leafing trees until we came out under a sweep of sky overhead and a steep hillside stretching down, down, down. At first glance the hillside seemed to hold only last year’s dried grasses. Then we found a small prairie violet blooming and one small white petaled flower, then another, and another. Was it Carolina whitlow-grass with its tiny basal leaves? But some plants had stem leaves as well. Could it be lyre-leaved rock cress instead? Or were we looking at both kinds of plant scattered over the gravelly, sandy hillside? We definitely need another visit to verify which one we saw or whether both are blooming there together.
The path continued up toward a high bluff where pasqueflowers had bloomed and gone to seed with a few still blooming. We passed prairie smoke budding along with a few budding bastard toadflax, a puccoon just opening its vivid yellow flowers, and the smallest pussytoes we’ve ever seen. From the top of the bluff with a spring breeze blowing under a wide sky, we felt as though we were on top of the world.
We’ll definitely be back, not only to verify our Carolina whitlow-grass/lyre-leaved rock cress question but to find out, too, what other flowers these hillsides hold as spring turns into summer. Who knows? We might even find a spring or a creek or both.
Leaving prairie for another day, we drove to a rustic road in Wisconsin where ephemerals and other spring woodland flowers cover the hillsides. The hillsides themselves are posted with no trespassing signs, but luckily the flowers bloom all the way down to the road, so we could walk along the edge of the road and see them all. Virginia spring beauty sprinkled the hillsides, and patches of false rue anemone’s white flowers shimmered and shivered in the slightest breeze. Hepatica flowered joyfully, singly and in bunches like delicate bouquets. Cutleaf toothwort, white and yellow trout lilies, and Dutchman’s breeches dotted the hills, trillium and large-flowered bellwort budded, and the elusive squirrel corn was almost in bloom. Canadian wild ginger unfolded leaves, and a bright little conglomeration of yellow violet and buttercup brightened the base of a tree.
So many more roadside wonders will be flowering in next few weeks until the trees fill in and block the sunlight. Here, too, we’ll return when we can for the brief and glorious springtime woods.
Prairie and forest—the land wakes up to spring, and in these difficult days we are so grateful for their awakening.