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!

Unexpected Wonder

July 8, 2023

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We’ve been looking for specific flowers blooming in specific places when our two different schedules allow, which only works when the flowers cooperate.  This year when bloom times seem less predictable than usual, we’ve come to expect disappointments along with successes, so this past weekend in the absence of flowers to count we started counting disappointments.

Disappointment number 1:  The roadside where we’d seen showy milkweed blooming last summer shows no signs this year of showy, or of almost any other, milkweed.  Where did they go?  We don’t know.  We only know they aren’t where we’d seen them before. 

Disappointment number 2: The tessellated rattlesnake plantain leaves and last year’s flower stalks that we’d seen in Badoura Jack Pine Woodland Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) last fall are nowhere to be found, even though we scour the area around the GPS coordinates we’d recorded and brought with us.

Disappointment number 3:  We are almost at Iron Springs Bog SNA when the low tire pressure light comes on.  Do we change plans and drive forty miles to the nearest town large enough to have a tire store, or do we fill the  tire up with air and take a chance it will hold while we explore the SNA? We take a chance, inflate the tire, and head to Iron Springs Bog.  But we’re  barely down the rutted, slippery track into the SNA and beginning our search for an adder’s mouth orchid when the sky darkens, thunder threatens, and lightning crisscrosses the clouds.  

We run for the car and make it back up the treacherous track just as rain sluices down so hard we can barely see the road. We make it to town, where we look so forlorn that the manager at Tires Plus works us into his crowded schedule and patches our tire. We find our hotel, and settle in for the night. 

The next day is sunny and fresh-washed, and so are we.  Back at Iron Springs Bog, we search for an adder’s mouth along with other orchids we’ve seen there.  Hours pass without success, but the bog is rich and green after the rain, moss is soft underfoot, and the tall slender bog orchids platanthera aquilonis* and platanthera huronensis* are plentiful. We find one showy lady’s-slipper with a single flower and the leaves of several more plants, their blossoms nipped off by whatever eats these elegant flowers. Just as we are  about to drive on we find one more orchid with a few small flowers that we identify as a blunt-leaved orchid. Not seeing any sign of the orchids we came to find might count as disappointment number 4.  But on such a splendid morning, do we care?  We do not.  

Our next stop takes us to Larix Wildlife Management Area (WMA) where we’ve heard we might see some rare flowers. We park at the corner, begin to bushwhack in through the dense undergrowth and trees, and quickly realize how easily we could get very, very lost. Luckily we’ve brought plastic marking tape so we can boldly go where no one seems to have gone in a very long time, marking our way with orange strips tied to trees.  When we finally admit that we are only getting into more unpassable bushwhacking we backtrack, taking our orange ties with us. But we agree that not getting lost counterbalances the disappointment of not really getting anywhere at all. 

Across the road lies Gully Fen SNA, looking almost as densely impenetrable as the WMA we’ve just left, but we decide to at least drive around the edges.  About halfway around we come to a gate and a sign that says, “Stay on the Trail.” 

Trail?  We park and hike easily and gleefully into the SNA where we spy wood lilies, blue flag, shrubby cinquefoil, and pink shinleaf.  We’ve barely scratched the surface of Gully Fen’s 1600 acres before it’s time to start the long drive home, but we promise to come back with much more time to explore this amazing place. 

One last turn down a road along the edge of the SNA takes us past a roadside ditch with a small stretch abloom with  wood lilies, Joe Pye weed, swamp milkweed, goldenrod, yarrow, Kalm’s lobelia, and, amazingly, many platanthera aquilonis orchids.  We’ve looked hard in many places, but this gift of a ditch feels like the richest place we’ve seen all weekend. 

Flowers may not bloom when and where we expect them to, disappointments may occur,  but always we see unlooked-for wonders that make our hearts happy and grateful. 

What more could a flowerchaser want? 

*Note:  Usually we use common names for flowers, but the similar orchids platanthera aquilonis and platanthera huronensis share so many variations of the same common names (tall, northern, bog, green) that we decided we needed to learn their scientific names to keep them straight.

See more of what we are seeing now HERE!

%d bloggers like this: