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. 

Really.

Winter Wildflower Dreams

February 23, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Last year we went looking for wildflowers in the snow—and found some.  (To be accurate, on a winter hike we recognized leaves and stems as former and future wildflowers).  But winter is not high wildflower season, so until skunk cabbage pokes its pointy nose through the snow, we are busy thinking wildflower garden thoughts.

In the heart of winter we dream wildflower dreams. 

Both of us have been planting native wildflowers in our yards over the years.  Some flowers we plant for pollinators, especially the federally endangered rusty-patched bumblebee. Some we plant for their beauty. Some we plant with hope that never blooms (neither do the flowers).  Some plants do well, some don’t, and for some the verdict is still out. But still we plant.

Here are some of our successes, in shade and in sun, and some of the plants on our wish list for this year’s garden.

FLOWERS IN THE SHADE

Under the shade of leafing trees we plant spring ephemerals and other early flowers that bloom before the trees leaf out completely and block the sun.  Ephemerals disappear once they’ve flowered, while other spring bloomers keep their stems and leaves.  All of them brighten the time when we’re hungriest for color, and bumblebee queens are hungriest for nectar and pollen after their long winter. All of our garden flowers are from seeds, from native plant nurseries, or from generous friends’ gardens.   

Virginia bluebells
Spring beauty
Smooth Solomon’s seal
Wild ginger
Bloodwort
Bishop’s cap
Large-flowered trillium
Jack-in-the-pulpit
Mayapple
Large-flowered bellwort
Red columbine



FLOWERS IN THE SUN

If spring and shade mostly belong to the woodland flowers, summer belongs to the prairie.  A few prairie flowers are early bloomers—pasqueflower blossoms even in the snow, and prairie smoke is another early flower—but most of our prairie garden celebrates summer. Bees, butterflies, even hummingbirds appreciate these flowers, and so do we.   We’ve had to be firm with some of our favorite flowers that want to spread themselves everywhere, but even overachievers have a place in our pockets of prairie. Here are some of our better-behaved successes, some from native plant nurseries or friends, some from seeds.

Spiderwort
Prairie shooting star
Spreading Jacob’s ladder
Butterflyweed
Prairie blazing star
Rough blazing star
Narrow-leaved purple coneflower
Purple prairie clover
Bottle gentian
Rattlesnake master
Wild bergamot
Blue giant hyssop
Rough blazing star
Pasqueflower
Prairie smoke

FLOWERS FOR NEXT YEAR’S GARDENS

Every year we love our gardens, and every year we dream about next year’s gardens.  Here are some native wildflowers we hope to find a place for once winter has melted away. 

Dutchman’s breeches
Large-flowered penstemon    
Halberd-leaved rose mallow
Cardinal flower
Sharp-lobed hepatica
Yellow star grass
Prairie blue-eyed grass
Wild sweet William
Twinleaf
Squirrel corn
Wild lupine 
Goat’s rue

Come spring, we’ll eagerly watch this year’s gardens sprout and bloom. And we’ll eagerly be out searching for native flowers wherever we find them. We hope you will, too. Happy gardens and happy searching from two native wildflower chasers.

Happy International Bog Day!

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

International Bog Day, July 29, 2018

We love bogs.  From my first glimpse of the Big Bog up by Waskish, Minnesota, I fell in love with these wild and strange-to-me places—the mosses, the unusual plant inhabitants, the soft-needled tamarack trees, the great silence as though the deep peat soaks up sound.  Since then we’ve visited many bogs and many kinds of bogs, and we love them all.

Bogs are circumpolar, most of them occurring around the globe in the northern half of the earth.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources defines a bog as occurring “only on deep saturated peat… isolated from ground water and from water that flows from mineral soil…[which] makes bog water very low in mineral nutrients and very acidic so only very specialized plant species can survive these conditions.” Another way to think of a bog is as a bowl—water doesn’t really flow in or out.  Cold acidic water, harsh growing conditions:  bog plants are tough survivors.

This post is a tribute to some of the best bog visits we’ve had so far.

Lake Bemidji State Park Bog Boardwalk leads to the edge of a small lake and back.  Along the way signs point out some of the features.  With and without the help of signs we’ve seen, at various times, purple pitcher plant, Labrador tea, bog rosemary, stemless lady’s-slipper, grass pink orchid, buckbean, early coral root, three-leaf goldthread, and tiny insect-eating sundew.

At Long Lake bug shirts and raincoats were the fashion statement of the day. The lake is slowly filling in at the edges, a floating bog best seen from the water.  Canoeing around the edge of the lake we found many rose pogonia and grass pink orchids, along with sundew, bog cranberry, cottongrass, common bladderwort, and purple pitcher plant.  Even on a fallen log tiny little communities of plants grew.

Pennington Bog Scientific and Natural Area is an undisturbed forested bog so easily damaged that written permission from the Department of Natural Resources is needed to enter.  In the green light under white cedar, balsam fir, and black spruce trees calypso orchids (fittingly called fairy slippers) grow, along with lesser rattlesnake plantain, buckbean, gaywings, three-leaf goldthread, showy lady’s-slipper, and yellow lady’s-slipper.  A magically mysterious place.

Quaking Bog at Theodore Wirth Park in north Minneapolis is an urban remnant of a much larger bog, but even with a freeway nearby the atmosphere feels hushed. Here on various visits we’ve seen leatherleaf (the only place we’ve ever seen it blooming), buckbean, starflower, wild calla, Canada mayflower, and purple pitcher plant.

Iron Springs Bog Scientific and Natural Area up near Itasca State Park is a bog so big you’ll want a GPS to help you find your way back out again.  Here is where we first saw small round-leaved orchid, affectionately called (by us) polka-dotted orchid.   We also saw three-leaf goldthread, showy lady’s-slipper, Canada anemone, early coral root, purple pitcher plant, green bog orchid, sundew, Labrador tea, and tiny lesser rattlesnake plantain (although since finally seeing Hudson Bay eyebright we’ve redefined the meaning of “tiny”).

Minnesota has many more bogs and bog boardwalks—Sax Zim Bog, Hayes Lake State Park boardwalk–including one state park that once had a bog boardwalk until, the park ranger told us, “The bog ate it.” And even though we know that all landscapes change, that bogs at lake edges are slowly filling in, that bogs do eat boardwalks and that the bogs we know are only as old as the last ice age, we say long live bogs, big and small.  We love them all.

Happy International Bog Day!

Phyllis Root, Author
Kelly Povo, Photographer

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