Summer Unwinding

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We are closing in on the end of September, close to the end of wildflower searching season, but the prairie is far from done.  On a glorious afternoon we headed down to Hyland Lake Park Reserve to see what was still in bloom from a visit a few weeks ago and found a brilliance of asters–pink, purple, white, blue all abuzz with bees. Goldenrod, too, some plumes with a dozen or more pollinators on them:  bumblebees, honeybees, butterflies.

Along the path through the prairie Indian grass and big bluestem waved golden in the prairie breeze, a cloud of dragonflies rose up in front of us, and down in the grasses we discovered both  bottle gentians and also yellow gentians, almost done blooming. Although we didn’t see any bumblebees fighting their way into these gentians, the bees are these flowers’  primary pollinators:  no other bees are big enough to pry their way in and out of the closed blossoms.

The flowers we’d seen blooming a few weeks before—monarda, coneflower, spotted Joe-pye weed, prairie onion, butterfly-weed, great blue lobelia, round-headed bush clover– were mostly gone to seed. Fall is ahead, and winter follows, but there are still plenty of days worth of wildflower watching to do.  The bees and butterflies appreciate the late-season blooms.

And so do we.


Under Umbrellas

September 1, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We couldn’t stand not to do more wildflower searching on this long holiday weekend, and a chance encounter with an I–naturalist posting led us to Hyland Lake Park Reserve in search of yellow gentian.  We hoped to beat the rain that threatened, but we and the rain arrived at the park at the same time.  Undeterred and under umbrellas, we hunted for the gentian and found it exactly where I-naturalist had marked it.

The rain came down harder, but Kelly had rain gear in her car, including rubber boots and an extra coat for me (who had forgotten everything in my excitement to go find another new-to-us flower), and we followed a trail into the restored prairie area where we saw aster, monarda, goldenrod,  spotted Joe-pye weed, black-eyed Susan, big bluestem, blazing star (one sheltering a monarch waiting out the rain), prairie onion, butterfly-weed, and round-headed bush clover. Making our way back through the tall grass (my pants soaked to my knees and beyond), we came across another yellow gentian, then another, and another and another—maybe fifty different plants in all.  Among plants around the nature center we saw ironweed, obedient plant, and turtlehead, and under a thistle blossom a cluster of three bumblebees waited for drier weather.

Soaked but beaming, we headed toward home in search of dry clothes and coffee just as the rain stopped.



New Places, New Plants

August 31, 2019

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We left before sunrise and reached Blaine Wetlands Sanctuary just as a spectacular red sunrise lit up the sky and turned ridges of clouds a deep, glowing rose. As the day lightened, we followed a boardwalk into the sanctuary past vervain, goldenrod, boneset, jewelweed, fleabane, aster, and the rich, subtle colors of fall grasses.  We were in search of a spot that a wildflower expert had told us about where we hoped to see some rare plants, and a trail away from the boardwalk led us in the right direction.  The ground underneath our feet felt spongy and soft, covered in places with moss. Overhead two sandhill cranes flapped and glided, conversing in clacking calls.

Kelly spotted a deer, I saw a frog, we both spied a snake.  Tiny bugs buzzed, and grasshoppers flung themselves through the air. When we came to our destination, we found pink blossoms of field milkwort among grass-leaved goldenrod, aster, meadowsweet, spotted Joe-pye weed, and blue vervain, along with other flowers we have yet to identify. (More information on the Blaine Wetlands Sanctuary)

Our next stop (recommended by the same expert) was Wollans Park, a restored wetland where sandhill cranes glided down to disappear in the grasses.  What had once been mostly reed canary grass and buckthorn was now a rich mix of  boneset, spotted Joe-pye weed, goldenrod, hoary vervain, blue vervain, grass-leaved goldenrod, meadowsweet, arrowhead, and aster as well as purple false foxglove and slender-leaved false foxglove, two new-to-us species. Many narrow leaves hinted at an abundance of lance-leaved violets, a state threatened species, and when spring comes again we’ll come back to see them in bloom.  Many thanks to the people who brought back this wetland rich in native plants and sandhill cranes.

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