A Pair of Parks 

May 26 and 27, 2023

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Springtime flowers are well underway in southern Minnesota, so we headed  out to see what was blooming farther north,  stopping along the way at Banning State Park. The forest floor along the road into Banning was abloom with large-flowered trillium, the first sign that we had turned back the wildflower calendar a week or so. The sun shone, the river ran noisily over rocks as we hiked along the Quarry trail, and a helpful breeze blew away most of the mosquitoes that had attacked us as soon as we got out of the car.    

But what are a few (well, a lot) of mosquitoes when there are wildflowers to be seen?  We passed mossy, massive rock walls where little spikes of Canada mayflower blossomed, a  few yellow large-flowered bellwort dangled, and wood anemone and starflower bloomed in constellations of white. Most of the Virginia spring beauty had already closed for the day, but several still showed their delicate pink and white flowers. And everywhere we looked we saw trillium upon trillium upon trillium stretching away through the trees.   

It was hard not to linger, but the day was getting late.  On our way out of the park we drove past even more trillium–a trillion of them, we were sure. Clearly spring had headed north.  And so did we, to our home for the night in a camper cabin at  Jay Cooke State Park.

The next day began briskly, beautiful and chilly.   An early morning hike took us across the Saint Louis River footbridge where the water roared quietly around rocks below and foamed into bubbles that sparkled in the sun. Here, too, spring was making an appearance with both large-flowered bellwort and sessile-leaf bellwort, nodding trillium, fly honeysuckle, serviceberry, yellow wood violets, and wild ginger flowers.  Among a crowd of trout lily leaves a few flowers still drooped gracefully.

Then we were off for what we thought would be a quick stop at Minnesota Point Pine Forest Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), located across the lift  bridge in Duluth on the longest fresh water sand  bar in the world. At the end of the road we crossed over to the lake side where waves lapped calmly, American beach grass grew in clumps, and large patches of bearberry spread across the sand.  A sand cherry bush alive with pollinating bees smelled sweet, and starry false Solomon’s seal leaves, a few with foamy flowers, grew everywhere.  Once in the shade of the SNA’s pines, we decided we’d just walk quickly to the end of the trail where we’d heard that another of Minnesota’s many berries grew.  After all, the SNA was only 18 acres.  How long could that take?  


Each time that we thought we might be nearing trail’s end, the trail stretched on.  Was the SNA one acre wide and eighteen acres long? One-half acre wide and thirty-six acres long?   But once headed for trail’s end we were determined, and at last we saw open water and Wisconsin on the other side.  We had set off for a quick walk, not bothering to bring water or snacks, and now we were thirsty and hungry.  Figuring that the walk back would go more quickly on the packed sand at the edge of the lake, we trudged along wondering which distant landmark might be where we had parked the car.  Finally the car came into sight, and we devoured sandwiches and long drinks of water, promising to remember to bring food and water with us every time, no matter how short we thought the hike might be.  (We’d promised this before, but this time we promised not to forget the promise.) 

Later a look at the map showed that the SNA covers only part of the point’s end–we had unknowingly walked well beyond those eighteen acres to get to the end of the trail.  We promised to look more closely at the map next time, but, well, promises, promises….

After a few short stops as we drove along the shore we turned inland to a place where we’d heard uncommon wildflowers grew.  We found the place but not the uncommon flowers.  Still violets, pussytoes, bilberry, bearberry,  and blueberry were in bloom, and a fat bumblebee buzzed from flower to flower.  We wandered along this richness of roadside until we came to a mossy, hummocky stretch of forest where Labrador tea grew and more leatherleaf that we’d ever seen bloomed with rows of dangling, bell-shaped white flowers.  We would have lingered longer and wandered deeper into the woods, but once again we had miles to go. Supper, beds, and family were all waiting at the end of a splendid wildflower searching day.

Spring had made it north, and so had we.

SEE MORE of what we are seeing now!

A Green Day

May 13, 2023

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

The cool, overcast morning promised rain, but spring was in full swing at last, so we packed our boots and rain gear and drove down to southern Minnesota to see what was blooming. We’d already  seen  many of this year’s spring flowers and ephemerals, but we knew, too, that some rare and lovely flowers grew along wooded ravines and creek sides in the driftless area of the state where the last glaciers never reached. 

First stop, Olmstead county along the Root River. A stream of brightly blooming marsh marigolds led us through a forest rich in flowers to where groundwater percolates down through the bluffs and flows out into a seepage. We’d been here on a previous, naturalist-led trip and been enchanted by the green, moist woods and the plants that populated this tiny wetland. Now the tiny false mermaid plants we’d seen before were tiny no more, and in leaf axils, where leaf and stem meet, minute flowers bloomed. 

Leaves of jewelweed, leafcup, and trout lily grew scattered among the rocks along with shiny bunches of sharp-lobed hepatica’s new leaves. Nearby many glorious trilliums grew, and we discussed: drooping or nodding? Nodding, we decided, but elegantly beautiful whichever they were.  

Leaves that we’d puzzled over previously on our last visit–Dutchman’s breeches or squirrel corn, two plants so similar we can’t tell them apart until they bloom–now revealed their true identities. Strings of breeches hung in lines on arching stalks while squirrel corn’s heart-shaped flowers bloomed on more upright stalks. Mayapples budded, walking fern walked itself down the side of a mossy boulder, and the pleated striped leaves of puttyroot orchid made us promise a return trip to see them in bloom. 

Frogs chirred, birds sang, woodpeckers hammered, and the woods felt alive with spring.   

But we weren’t done yet. Not too far away in Winona County more wooded ravines held their own promises. A creekside path led us past the leaves of done-blooming bloodroot, cut-leaf toothwort, and trout lilies, while spring beauty, wood phlox, false rue anemone, wood anemone, jack in the pulpit, and bellwort still boomed. Up on a hillside we found  several healthy populations of twinleaf, flowers gone but still easy to recognize by the distinctive leaves. Also on the hillside –surprise!– our first orchid of the season, showy orchis, budding hopefully.

The forecast rain arrived, but only a gentle sprinkle. Light through the new-leafed trees along the sides of the ravine shone green, and our hearts, too, were green with springtime. And with hope.

See more photos of what we are seeing now!

Budding Springtime

April 2, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Two weeks ago we saw the first tiny, furry brown bud of a single pasqueflower, one of our earliest prairie flowers, peeking out from its nest of last year’s dried leaves.  Surely that bud would be further along now, we reasoned, even though there has been plenty of cold, snowy weather in the ensuing weeks.  Maybe even almost blooming?  

Hungry for the sight of delicate pale purple petals opening to follow the sun, we set out on a mostly grey day for Grey Cloud Dunes Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), one of the sandy, gravelly habitats where pasqueflowers grow.  We found the same bud we’d seen before, still nestled deep in last year’s leaves, although now a second bud was poking up beside it. Two buds, no flowers. Progress.

Undaunted, we decided to drive farther south in the hope of pasqueflower blossoms.  Down by River Terrace Prairie SNA, a sand and gravel prairie near Cannon Falls, we climbed the hillside where brush and trees have been cleared away since our last visit. Here, too, we found soft, feathery brown buds emerging, so many we had to watch where we put our feet even on the well-worn path.  

Call it determination, call it delusion–convinced that spring and blooming pasqueflower were just a few miles farther south we drove on to Kellogg-Weaver Dunes SNA where two years ago we’d been surprised by a roadside ditch dotted with pasqueflower in bloom.  Surely here, two hours south of where we started, spring would be creeping north. 

Once again we found a few buds, but the prairie still lay covered in last year’s brown leaves, yellow grasses, and seed heads. Brown prairie, grey sky.

And then color surprised us. 

On the stumps of trees cut down to prevent their encroachment on the prairie, we found grey-green lichen with tiny red fruiting bodies at the tips of stalks.  Stump after stump, we marveled at the vivid red, guessing they might be British soldier lichen.  A quick check on our cell phones proved our guess was right.  (We’ve been wanting to learn more about lichens, and this brings our total of positive identification to two, along with elegant sunburst lichen which we love both for its rich gold color and also for its name.)

A quick detour to a wooded rustic road as we headed toward home showed us the emerging leaves of eastern false rue anemone, one of our earliest woodland flowers, and at another brief stop we found the tiniest shoots of snow trillium we’ve ever seen.  Even though we didn’t find pasqueflowers (or anything else) in bloom, we found woods and prairie waking up.  For now we are happy with the delight of lichen and the sure promise that soon, spring will arrive. 


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