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!