It MUST be spring.

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

April 7, 2019

It’s become an annual rite of spring:  going to look for native wildflowers when it’s still far too early for flowers to bloom. Over the years we’ve grown a little wiser –we no longer head hours north while snow is still piled deep on the ground here in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.  But inevitably, after a few nice days, I’m convinced the snow trilliums and pasqueflowers must be blooming, and so we head down to Hastings and Cannon Falls to see. Inevitably, too, we are far too early to see any blossoms, but that doesn’t stop us, even though year after year proves that just because the snow has melted doesn’t mean that the flowers are blossoming.  Two weeks ago, the pasqueflowers were the tiniest of buds on the hillside at River Terrace Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), and snow trilliums in Hastings were nowhere in sight.

This past Saturday we try again. At Grey Cloud Dunes SNA we see leaves of potential native wildflowers that we can’t identify, and a few, such as prairie smoke, that we can.  In Hastings, snow trillium leaves with tiny white buds are visible, and outside Cannon Falls some pasqueflowers are unfolding their furry leaves with a few petals turning purple.  Not spring yet, but enough of a promise to make us determined to come back in a few days, certain they’ll be in full bloom by then.

Really they will. We’re sure of it.

After all, it’s springtime, and we’re fools for wildflowers.

Imagining Spring

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

March 21, 2019

Since 2007 I’ve kept small notebooks listing the flowers I’ve seen (or my best guess at identifying those flowers).  In among the flower names are other observations: weather, wildlife, scents, sounds.

I’ve gathered up some of these images to imagine spring while we wait for the year’s first blooms:  skunk cabbage, snow trilliums, marsh marigolds, pasqueflowers.

Where spring begins:  the early woods

Pale sun lights up the wet leaves on the forest floor
Tiny scattered violets
False rue anemones like drifts of random snow
Gracefully falling soft yellow bellwort
A flood of Virginia bluebells abuzz with bees
A tree creaks
A bald eagle flies along the river silently
The river itself almost silent except where it rolls over stones
By a hillside spring marsh marigolds explode.
Each tree on the hillside wears a skirt of trout lily blooms

Sunlight through last year’s purple-red leaves of sharp-lobed hepatica
A colony of Mayapples in bud like commuters under umbrellas in the rain
By the edge of the ravine a small congregations of Jack-in-the-pulpit
Fern heads unfurling like a klatch of people, heads turned toward each other
Bright white bloodroot as though it has been dropped from the sky
A whole laundry line full of Dutchman’s breeches drying in the springtime breeze
A fat bumblebee diving deep into a blossom.

Tiny ephemeral pool among the roots of a plant
Clumps of frogs jumping
Geese calling, river running
A woodpecker rattles
A few gnawed bones

A day rich in dwarf trout lilies
their buds no bigger than the white part of my littlest fingernail
The green forest lit with flowers where before we saw only leaves
Spring this year breaks open my heart.

 

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Winter Blooms

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

February 15, 2019

February—a meager month for Minnesota native wildflower seekers. Even skunk cabbage is still buried in snow, waiting out the subzero temperatures.

So we go looking for flowers in indoor places, beginning with the relocated Bell Museum. The incredible dioramas from the old Bell museum whose backdrops were painted by Francis Lee Jaques have been reconstructed in the new building on Larpenteur, and we wander from display to display, exclaiming over the wildflowers “blooming” in the woods and wetlands and prairies, as excited as though we were outside and seeing them for the first time.

Look, Virginia bluebells! Dwarf trout lily! Bluebead lily! Calypso! Bunchberry! And…wait, wait, we know this one, um…uvularia…bellwort! Our identification skills may have grown a little rusty, but a field trip or two once spring arrives will remedy that.

The dioramas also display birds and fish and mammals, but we are focused on the flowers. Where else can we escape phenology and see so many different flowers from different habitats and different seasons, all blooming at the same time?

Our second stop is the Como Conservatory, which we love to visit every February. The flowers here aren’t Minnesota natives, but stepping inside the tropical exhibit is like wrapping up in a blanket of warmth and humidity and birdsong. Lucky sloth, who hangs in a tree all day, soaking in all this sensory delight.

In the fern room we can feel our desiccated selves drinking in the moisture and greenery. The sunken garden explodes with scent and color—azaleas, cyclamen, pansies, lilies, amaryllis all in vivid purples and reds and fuchsias and pinks. And a wander through the rest of the conservatory takes us past so many orchids we stop trying to count.

On a cold February day, we are drenched in spring for a few hours, enough to last us through the rest of the icy days until skunk cabbage melts the snow away and snow trilliums bloom among snowflakes and another native wildflower season unfolds.

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

January in Minnesota

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

January in Minnesota and not a flower in sight.  So Kelly flew five hours south to Costa Rica in search of sun, sea, and color. Although January is the early part of the dry season in Costa Rica, there were plenty of flowers and green to counteract the Minnesota white she left behind.  And she learned that, later in the year, 1300 different kinds of orchids will bloom in Costa Rica.  (Minnesota, by comparison, has 49 orchids.) Just as Minnesota’s state flower is an orchid, Costa Rica’s national flower is also an orchid.

In Minnesota coffee beans keep us warm and awake.  In Costa Rica in January Kelly saw the delicate blossoms that will become our precious beans, along with hibiscus, bird of paradise, red ginger, and so many more colorful flowers we have yet to identify.

Flowers are not the only beautiful things to see in Costa Rica.  You could easily mistake a colorful toucan for an elegant flower, and hummingbirds, like flying flowers, are everywhere—50 of the 338 known species of hummingbirds can be found in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica in January is balm for the Minnesota soul.  We are already scheming to take a trip to Costa Rica when we can go together and the orchids will be in bloom.

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

A Good Year for Wildflower Searching

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

2018 was a very good year for wildflower searching in many ways. Here are a few of the highlights:

We went to Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson Bay and saw 100 different native wildflowers in five days including two new orchids, a plethora of blooming butterwort, beluga whales, caribou, endless sunlight, and discovered our new, essential, beloved wardrobe item:  bug shirts.

We finally held our book, Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers, in our hands –and so did almost 3000 other folks.  The book was ten years in the making, we loved almost every minute of it, and we are still searching for more native wildflowers. We also did lots of bookstore, radio, and television interviews.

We discovered a Rustic Road near Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, along which we saw large flowered trillium, bellwort, Mayapple, cutleaf toothwort, yellow trout lily, Jack in the pulpit, wild ginger, Dutchman’s breeches, sarsaparilla, miterwort, more spring beauty than we’ve ever seen and, high on the hillside, three showy orchis just getting ready to bloom.  A one-stop site for spring wildflower viewing.

After many years of yearning and one hot day of searching on rock outcrops we finally saw ball cactus in western Minnesota (though not in bloom). This coming year we’ll go back to try to catch it blooming.

Thanks to a friend we met at a book signing, we saw purple fringed orchid and incredibly tiny Hudson Bay eyebright along the north shore.  Bonus:  spotted coral root, beach pea, and spurred gentian also in bloom at the same time and place.

So many more memorable moments:  our first trip to the aspen prairie parkland, the fruitless but lovely search for squirrel corn, more western prairie fringed orchid than we’ve ever seen before, several new-to-us orchids for a total (so far) of 32 Minnesota orchids, a floating bog full of grass pink and rose pogonia, sundew blooming, fragrant false indigo, rattlesnake plantain in bloom (!), Indian pipe, nodding ladies tresses blooming, and a gentian hat trick at Iron Horse SNA.

Our hope for the coming year:  that more and more people will learn to love and treasure what we love, Minnesota’s native wildflowers.

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Dream a little.

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

A few days ago the last of three green ash trees in my front yard had to be cut down.  We had gotten the saplings, slender as whips, years ago as a give-away from Plywood Minnesota. As it turned out, I planted them way too close, and even though they had not yet become infected with green ash borer, they still had to be cut down.  I will plant another, native, tree in their place, but it will take years to grow, and come this spring, my previously shaded front yard will feel the full sun.  All of the shade-tolerant native flowers I’ve planted over the years will need to be dug up and shared with family and friends.

It’s always sad when a tree comes down, but already I’m planning the prairie I’ll plant in place of the woodland. Snow covers the tree stumps where I’m imagining blanket flower, blazing star, Joe pye weed, rattlesnake master, aster, gentian, butterfly weed.  In my mind, signs will tell passers-by the names of the flowers and why they matter:  bees love penstemmon, Monarchs flock to rough blazing star, chickadees eat sunflower seeds, American painted lady butterflies (whose caterpillars devour my pussytoes) feed on narrow leaved coneflower.  Maybe I’ll build a little free library that offers books about prairie and native plants and also little packets of seeds so folks can start their own pockets of native flowers.

Both Kelly and I have shifted over the years from non-native plants to native plants in our yards.  Why not watch the abundance of bees and birds and butterflies that come calling?  When winter locks up the land with not a native flower in sight, why not dream of our own little prairies and woodlands as we wait for snow trilliums and pasque flowers to bloom again?

We do love winter, but we’ll also spend a bit of our snowy time planning how we can bring a few of those native flowers home to our yards and our gardens.  It’s a hope for our yards, for our cities, for our planet, and all of us, animal and plant and human, who share this earth.

Dream a little. And when spring comes again, plant a patch of native flowers.  You and the bees and the butterflies and birds will all be glad you did.

 

Author, Phyllis Root
Photographer, Kelly Povo

Searching for Blue

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

September 16, 2018

On a day when the sunrise lit the pillowed clouds on fire and the sky was turning autumn-blue, we went looking for blue on the ground.  Fall is a time for trees aflame, but the prairie flaunts its colors, too, in the reds and browns and golds of grasses, the whites and blues of asters, the cheery yellow of many kinds of goldenrods, the angular blue blossoms of great blue lobelia. Blue blooms underfoot as well, hidden in the grasses.  Gentians, blue flowers of fall.

Minnesota has several kinds of gentians, and we were looking for four of the more common ones, hoping for at least a hat trick of species:  bottle gentian, fringed, gentian, stiff gentian, downy gentian.  We started at Oronoco Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), where we’d seen the downy gentians a few years before on the undisturbed part of the prairie, hoping, too, that we might see the federally endangered prairie bush clover we’d read grows in this SNA site. We wandered through the grasses, through flowers still blooming and those gone to seed, soaking up the prairie colors and breezes, but we did not spot any prairie bush clover nor could we find where we had once seen gentians blooming.  Had the grass grown too tall, the goldenrod or sumac too thick?  We didn’t know, but, hungry for gentians, we drove on south to Iron Horse SNA, where we’d also seen gentians in the past.

And here in the low areas near the old railroad embankment we found blue:  bottle gentians still in bloom and some going to seed, stiff gentians pointing their multitude of blossoms at the sky, small fringed gentians most of which had yet to open.  Great Plains ladies’ tresses still held onto a few white blossoms, swamp lousewort had gone to seed, and the spiky seed heads of rattlesnake master dotted the landscape.

No downy gentian (we have a few weeks yet to search), but a day rich in prairie and a gentian hat trick–sun-soaked, satiated, happy, we drove north toward home.

 

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo