From spring into summer

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

June 1, 2019

Last week we headed north searching for spring, which was just making its wildflower way up the north shore.  This week we headed south on a hot and sunny day for what we thought would be the tail end of spring along the Mississippi River.

Many of the earliest  flowers were done blooming, but large-flowered trilliums were just turning pink under the leafed-out  trees, and drooping trilliums still showed white.  High on a hillside several showy orchis looked very showy.  Some May apples had already set seeds, but others were blooming brightly under their umbrellas of leaves.  White spikes of miterwort poked up everywhere.  Alongside the road Kelly found a new-to-us-in-the-wild plant, twinleaf, also already gone to seed.  Next year, we vowed, we’d come earlier to see its white-petaled flowers.

Friday night it rained, first distant lightning, then a rush of wind that bent the trees, then raindrops pattering on the rooftop. Driving home Saturday, we passed the same road we’d been down the day before and decided to take one last quick drive along it. Trees arched overhead, and the rain saturated everything so that even the air looked green. On a thickly wooded hillside we found another new-to-us flower, golden ragwort. Our quick drive turned into a slow one with many stops. When we turned down another road we’d never been on before, we found ourselves stopping again and again–a whole hillside of drooping trillium, a gigantic smooth Solomon’s seal, a slope of lousewort, and another new-to-us plant that looked like daisy fleabane with larger flowers that we identified as Robin’s plantain.

Even then, we didn’t make it home anywhere near our intended early hour.  We were passing so near Grey Clouds Dunes that one quick hike to check out this sand prairie seemed like a fine idea.  And it was.  Bright clusters of puccoon and fringed puccoon stood out against the sand, pussytoes lifted their gone-to-seed flowers on long stalks, and the leaves we had tentatively identified in a March visit as prairie smoke turned out to be exactly that, some still blooming, some gone to long seedy tendrils blowing gracefully in the breeze.  We found ground plum with hard little fruits, large-flowered penstemmon budding, blue eyed grass, spiderwort, and a whole scooped-out hillside of bird’s foot violet, now past their time but surely spectacular a few days before.

Our early morning planned arrival home had become a mid-afternoon return. In a single morning we had travelled from spring in the woods to summer claiming the prairie, and if we had passed another place to explore we would surely have stopped.  Who knows what else we might have seen?

Luckily we have a whole summer ahead of us to find out.

Magical Morning

May 25, 2019
Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

In life, as in wildflower searching, unlooked-for delights sometimes take us by surprise.  Friday night, after a day of searching along the North Shore, Kelly got a Google alert and discovered that our editor at the University of Minnesota Press had been on KARE 11 TV talking about several books they had published, including our wildflower book and a new picture book of Phyllis’s, The Lost Forest. What a treat!

Today we headed back to Gooseberry Falls State Park to give a wildflower talk and record an audio postcard for Minnesota Public Radio about arctic relicts growing along the north shore of Lake Superior.  Arctic relicts are plants that found a foothold in the cold, harsh, rocky shore as the last glaciers retreated. There they persist, far from other plants of their kind growing much farther north.

The morning was magical—mist on the lake, spider webs strung with luminous dots of moisture, the water in the rock pools along the shore silver in the morning light.  Chorus frogs croaked in their small pools, waves splashed on the rocks, and we felt incredibly lucky to be in this place at this moment.

After our talk at the visitor’s center and a short walk to see bird’s eye primrose and common butterwort with the folks who had come to the talk, we headed home, making one last stop at Jay Cooke State Park to check out what was blooming there.  We followed a trail up into a woods full of flowers: spring beauty, large-flowered bellwort, yellow trout lilies, more sessile-leaf bellwort than we’d ever seen in one place. We even found a new-to-us flower that we tentatively identified as dwarf wild ginseng (although we’ve made this identification of another plant once before and turned out to be mistaken).  Mistaken or not, it is always a thrill to see something we haven’t seen before.

And even though you might think people couldn’t get lost on the well-marked trails of a state park, we did.  We finally managed to find our muddy way back to the swinging bridge across the St. Louis River, which was in full, roaring flood. We headed home filled with four days of native wildflowers, an abundance of time spent in forests, a resolution to always take a trail map with us no matter what, and gratitude for all the signs of second spring we found in the north country.

The Edge of Spring

May 24, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We’ve fulfilled all of our commitments for our book until Saturday morning at Gooseberry Falls State Park, where we’ll give a wildflower talk and go on a wildflower walk.  Today is a day dedicated to more wildflower searching up the north shore, hopeful against the forecast of rain.

Marsh marigolds beam from roadside ditches and wet patches of ground, and Canada mayflower leaves dot the forest floor along the highway.  But the farther north we drive, the more we feel we have left the blooming edge of spring behind.  By the time we reach Tettegouche State Park where a naturalist assures us we’ll find wildflowers everywhere, it’s clear that while we find the leaves of bluebead lily, Canada mayflower, and last year’s bunchberry the flowers themselves are biding their time, perhaps waiting for the temperature to climb out of the low forties or for the sun to shine down on them.

Even though we don’t see flowers at Tettegouche, our hike up the Cascade trail takes us past the Baptism river in full flood, water rolling and roiling over rocks in foaming waves that even an expert kayaker might balk at. We hike back to the car and head for our Two Harbors hotel. Unable to resist, we make one last quick stop at Gooseberry Falls State Park to check on arctic relicts.

And there along the rocky shore in driving, bitterly cold rain we find bird’s eye primrose flowers, more than we’ve ever seen before.  It’s way too windy and wet for Kelly to bring out her camera, but she braves the piercing wind and rain to take a phone shot of these determined flowers. Not only do the bird’s-eye primrose not mind the weather, they seem to flourish in it while we lesser humans run for the car.

Tomorrow we hope for sunshine and more flowers, but for today, the tiny pink bird’s eye primrose blossoms gladden our hearts.