We Wade for Wildflowers

July 29, 2023

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

A few weeks back we were driving past a pond when we spotted large, floating flowers we thought might be American lotus. They were far enough out from a reed-rimmed shore that even in our rubber boots we couldn’t get close enough to make sure.

Back home, a little research revealed that they had been simply large water lilies, but we were hooked. We had to find American lotus, our state’s largest native wildflower bloom according to Minnesota Wildflowers.

A little more research led us to Pickerel Lake, a shallow lake in Saint Paul’s Lilydale Regional Park. This time we took a canoe in case the flowers were far off shore. Rain began to sprinkle down as we unloaded the canoe. Should we go ahead as planned? Wait for a dry day? We put on our raincoats, launched the canoe, and paddled (if struggling through a thicket of lily pads and flowers can be called paddling) toward what looked like it might be lotus at the far edge of the lake. After very little forward progress, more rain, and not knowing if lotus would even open in rain, we decided to return another day.

Before we could return to Lilydale, though, we saw a picture online of lotus in bloom down in Frontenac State Park in a backwater of the Mississippi River. Off we went to see for ourselves, early on an overcast day perfect for photography. By the time we navigated all the road construction and detours on Highway 61, the sun had unfortunately burned off any clouds. Sun or not, we were determined to see American lotus.

A trail at the park led through a floodplain forest, so tall and green and crowded with new growth that we were glad for a path to walk on. When we reached trail’s end and river’s edge, there they were–hundreds of American lotus spread out before us.

This time there was no mistaking them for large water lilies. Creamy yellow flowers six inches across stood on long stalks a foot or more above the water. Their unnotched leaves, as wide as twenty inches, stood up, too, like parasols. The nearest lotus flowers were only a few feet off shore–surely reaching them would be easy. We put on our water shoes, rolled up our shorts, and waded out.

The cool water felt welcome, but the river bottom sucked muckily at our feet. We aren’t squeamish, but neither of us wanted to topple into the water, especially not with camera equipment. Farther along, the shore looked sandy enough that we might have firm footing for at least a little way out, so we waded to where the river bottom felt more solid underfoot and sloshed far enough for Kelly to take a picture.

Photo accomplished we wandered up and down the shore, marveling at the wealth of elegant flowers and huge leaves. Blue darners zipped among the flowers, a monarch fluttered past, and we knew that never again would we mistake a water lily for a lotus.

Now we not only brake for wildflowers. We happily wade for them, too.

See more of what we saw that day!

Spotting Spotted Coralroot

July 23, 2023

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We’ve been chasing spotted coralroot this summer with no luck, so it was high on our list of what we hoped to see when we headed north this past weekend.  We even had coordinates for places where it had been seen blooming recently.  Surely this time we would find it. 

We’ve found several populations  of the similar-looking Western spotted coralroot.  And while they are different flowers, they are also close look-alikes, and telling them apart can be challenging.  We’ve finally learned to look closely at the lower lip of the tiny 1/2 inch flowers–western spotted coralroot’s lip flares out at the bottom while spotted coralroot’s lip is more rectangular, a difference that takes close examination. 

Stop after stop, as we drove up the north shore, our luck for finding flowers  on our want-to-see list ran strong: American beach grass on Point Pine Forest, berries on female Canada buffaloberry bushes farther north, lesser purple fringed orchid in a ditch farther north still.  A hike up to Bear and Bean Lake led us past our first-ever pinesap, and in Taconite harbor we found early saxifrage leaves that we’ll return to earlier next year to try to catch in flower. 

All along the way, as we drove down roads and hiked down trails, as we followed GPS coordinates to impossible-for-us-to-bushwhack-through thickets,  we searched for spotted coralroot  without luck.  We found several bunches of western spotted coralroot and one pale yellow coralroot that looked so much like autumn coralroot we checked to see if autumn coralroot grew that far north.  It doesn’t.  Perhaps this was a yellow version of western spotted coralroot? We didn’t know, we only knew it wasn’t the spotted coralroot we were searching for. More days, more miles, more stops, more flowers.  But no spotted coralroot. 

On our last morning we had one final stop to try. All we needed, we told ourselves, was one spotted coralroot in bloom. Just one. 

And one is what we found, blooming alongside a trail at Savanna Portage State Park. Close examination revealed that yes, the flower lip was square.  Yes, it was spotted coralroot.  Cheers (and photographs) ensued. 

Chasing wildflowers, we live in hope. After three days and 740 miles seeing even more native wildflowers than we could have imagined, including the elusive spotted coralroot, we drove happily, hopefully home.  

To see more of what we are seeing now CLICK HERE!


June 17, 2023

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Because we are in the midst of another book, our wildflower chasing trips this summer have been focused mostly on specific flowers we want to include in the new book. This means heading out to particular places at times we are able to go and hoping the plants we want to see will cooperate by blooming where we can find them. Alas, not always true, but even when we don’t have total flower chasing success, we sometimes find unlooked-for surprises.  

This past weekend we headed north with a laundry list of places to stop and plants we need to see, but as we made our way up the north shore we checked off stop after stop without checking off any flowers that we needed. 

Then we came to a section of Lake Superior shoreline where we’d been told we might see arctic relicts.  We made our way down the rocks, careful of where they dropped off steeply and of the slippery places where, even in this dry year, water seeped toward the lake. In one damp spot, a splendid surprise:  Canadian tiger swallowtail butterflies puddling on the rock, flitting down to the moisture, sipping, flying away to return for another drink. 

Butterflies weren’t the only surprise.  In cracks of the rocks and in places where the water pooled we found common butterwort (so much that we understood how it got its name, since we’ve only ever seen it uncommonly in Minnesota before), bird’s-eye primrose with some flowers still blooming, three-toothed cinquefoil flowering, and round-leaved sundew gleaming redly in the moss.  We wandered from tiny habitat to tiny habitat, marveling that high on these rocks a small relict world survived.

Then back to the road and more stops.  By the end of the day we had checked off a few finds:  western spotted coralroot, small false asphodel, Canada buffaloberry.  We’d found several places we hoped to return to again when flowers might be more cooperative. We’d found a sweet little habitat of plants thriving in their own world. And we had spent the day in the presence of Lake Superior.  

We counted the day a success.

Canadian tiger swallowtail

See MORE of what we are seeing now!

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