Beautiful, Bountiful Bloodroot

May 4, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

When I drove south last week to Indiana, spring was tiptoeing into Minnesota, while down in northeastern Indiana it was tap-dancing away with springtime flowers and ephemerals blooming throughout all sorts of woodland patches along highways and streets. Many were familiar flower faces, but one, lovely red sessile trillium, was a new find, native to Indiana but not Minnesota.   

Coming back to Minnesota, I found that spring had made it here, too, in abundance, as Kelly had discovered when I was gone and was eager to show me.

We usually go down along Minnehaha creek the minute we think skunk cabbage, first of the wildflowers, might be melting its way up through the snow and ice. I had a memory of seeing some ephemerals and other early spring flowers along the creek years ago, but we had never gone looking for them once skunk cabbage had bloomed.

Now on a day of blue sky, warm breezes, birdsong and babbling creek water, we followed the trail below the falls that leads, eventually, to the Mississippi river. Skunk cabbage was still there, more than we could have imagined when we hunted for the earliest ones, their leaves now enormous and brilliant green with maroon flowers peeking out from underneath.  Trout lily leaves had popped up in many places, a few in bud, fewer yet blooming.  Clusters of Canadian wild ginger climbed the hillsides, hiding deep red flowers under their soft gray-green leaves. A congregation of large-flowered trillium was full of buds, promising future flowers.  So was cutleaf toothwort. Eastern false rue anemone had begun to bloom, and marsh marigold was just opening bright yellow flowers.

But the showstopper was bloodroot, so many more than we had ever seen, more than a person could count (and I am, at times, a flower-counter).  Their elegant, wide, white flowers climbed the hillsides by the hundreds, maybe thousands, a springtime spectacle.  The leaves of some still wrapped around the stems, but many leaves had unfurled like shawls framing the flowers.

Bloodroot belongs to the poppy family, a family whose flowers last briefly and then are done.  Wordsworth wrote his poem about daffodils filling his heart, but we had bloodroot to fill our hearts, and we wandered among them, grateful to see this bountiful blooming, a snowfall of flowers.

Please note- Red sessile trillium is not native to Minnesota, Phyllis saw it in Indiana where it is a native wildflower, but if you are interested you can see it at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary where they label it “Trillium- Toadshade.”

Into the Woods

April 23, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

All it takes to convince us that spring really has arrived is one warm 70-degree day, even if the weather is overcast, threatening rain, and wicked windy.  Saturday was that day, so we went looking at Townsend Woods Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) for early and ephemeral flowers. 

Townsend Woods SNA is a remnant of Big Woods, made up of oak, maple, bass, ironwood, and elm (before Dutch elm disease) and running diagonally from the southeast corner of the state up into the central part.  Now less than 2% of that original forest remains, and the Townsend Woods remnant is old growth, a reminder of the 1.3 million acres of Big Woods that covered much of Minnesota before European settlement.

The way into the SNA involves a half-mile walk along the edge of farm fields, the wind blustering us along as we hiked.  Once under the leafless canopy of trees growing on knobby hills the glacier left behind, we still heard the wind, but the air around us was peaceful.

It’s still early days for most wildflowers, even ephemerals, but we were delighted to find hepatica blooming, purple and pale blue and pink and white blossoms scattered through the brown leaves of last year’s forest.  Ferny leaves of Dutchman’s breeches, whose flowers resemble upside down pairs of pants on a line, promised a flowering so rich that no Dutchman should ever have to go breeches-less. Trout lilies leaves seemed to be everywhere, and a few two-leaved plants already had buds about to bloom.  (Like Mayapples, only two-leaved trout lily plants will have flowers.) 

Tiny plants with clusters of even tinier buds puzzled us until we realized they were likely cutleaf toothwort not yet ready to bloom.  A single fuzzy gray-green Canadian wild ginger leaf curled like an art deco vase, and ramps sprouted bright green.

Old growth forest has little underbrush, making our wandering easy except for fallen trees (another sign of old growth forest), many of them riddled with woodpecker holes. In places we came upon ephemeral pools, those come-and-go ponds that fill with water in springtime in low places on the forest floor and provide critical habitat for frogs and salamanders to lay their eggs. Because the ponds eventually dry up, they can’t support fish, making them a safe sort of nursery.

Occasional rain sprinkled down on us, the sun shone briefly, and birds and frogs called.  As we came out of the woods and figured out the way back to the car, three wild turkeys sped ahead of us, gobbling. 

On our way home we stopped to walk a trail we’d read about where a new-to-us snow trillium population bloomed brightly.  Even though we managed to get lost hiking back to the car on this straightforward trail, we found our way eventually. 

And so has spring.

Brisk and Breezy

April 18, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Each year we eagerly await the first native wildflowers to bloom (after skunk cabbage, the earliest of all): snow trillium in the Big Woods and pasqueflower on the prairie.  A month ago on a fleetingly warm day we found the first tiny brown furry buds of pasqueflower poking up as if to say, “Now?”

Pasque is an old French word for Easter, so why not look for pasqueflower blooming on the Monday after Easter?  Surely, we thought, those buds would be blooming by now, even though the past month has been cold and often snowy in the mornings.

Hopeful, but also bundled in full winter gear against the 36-degree temperature and 20-plus miles per hour winds, we set out for River Terrace Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) near Cannon Falls where year after year an exuberant display of the delicate purple flowers cover a gravelly hillside.

Pasqueflowers are softly hairy all over, which helps to hold in heat and provide a warm landing place for the earliest pollinators, including bumble bee queens just coming out of winter hibernation. Pasqueflowers also follow the sun across the sky throughout the day.  We knew these facts, we just didn’t realize that maybe, just maybe, the flowers wouldn’t open on cloudy days.

So yes, the pasqueflowers are up.  Yes, they are blooming. It’s just that on the cold and cloudy Monday after Easter the flowers were also mostly closed, waiting for sun.  Still, we were delighted to see them, and we’ll come back on the first sunny day to see them open in all their graceful glory.  

Flowerchasing on the edge of spring has its challenges, but the promise of pasqueflowers, year after year, warms our hearts. 

And so did the car heater on the drive home.

Even though spring feels slow to arrive this year, Minnesota wildflowers are having a “media moment.” Check out our article for Explore Minnesota which was picked up in part by Forbes and mentioned in a Fodor’s article. You can also listen to our first audio postcard from the field for Cathy Wurzer’s Morning Edition at MPR.

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