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. 


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.


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
Bishop’s cap
Large-flowered trillium
Large-flowered bellwort
Red columbine


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.

Prairie shooting star
Spreading Jacob’s ladder
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
Prairie smoke


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
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.

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