Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Spring abloom: Scouting for wildflowers in Minnesota's great outdoors (Wildflowers Series #1)

If you're scoping out Minnesota's woods, chances are good you'll run into
Dutchman's breeches this time of year. The flower gets its name because the
blossoms look like tiny breeches drying upside down on a line.





Our new book, Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers, is officially out this month—and we’ve already begun this year’s searching in the bursting springtime. Here are a few of the places we’ve already been and what we’ve seen there.



BY PHYLLIS ROOT AND KELLY POVO

Suddenly, spring, and all sorts of native wildflowers seem to be rushing at once to make up for lost time. We love looking for them in the wilder places, but it’s also great to visit a place with easy paths among the trees and flowers with name tags to help us be sure, for instance, that the tricky anemone flowers we’re looking at are truly Eastern false rue anemone.

On a quick trip to Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum (“the Arb”) we headed for the bog boardwalk. On a log in a pond, five turtles, from largest to smallest soaked up the sun. A woodpecker hammered, birds called, and the trees were already tinged with the light green of new leaves. A glorious day to wander and search.

And searching was easy. Under the trees along the path, woodland flowers climbed the hillside while along the boardwalk marsh marigolds budded and small signs promised later blooms, including the lesser purple-fringed orchid we’ve been yearning to see. Over in the wildflower garden, many of the same woodland flowers were either abloom or in bud, and, like the turtles in the sun, we basked in their presence.

Here’s a list of the native wildflowers we saw blooming in one afternoon at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum:
Bloodroot
Canadian wild ginger
Dutchman’s breeches
Skunk cabbage
Snow trillium
Hepatica
White trout lily
Eastern false rue anemone
Marsh marigold

And here are the ones that were almost in bloom:
Red columbine
Virginia bluebells
Large-flowered trillium
Mayapple
Nodding trillium
Dwarf trout lily

We love the wilder places, but we love, too, the wild native flowers wherever we find them. And we found them in abundance on an early May day at the Arb.


***

Bloodroot's white flowers open on sunny mornings
and close at evening, and on a cloudy day they might
not open at all.


Notes from early May: A Walk on the Wilder Side

With a whole Saturday ahead of us, we drove farther afield to see what other native wildflowers we might find. On a precipitous hillside in Hastings where we’ve only ever seen snow trilliums and hepatica in March or April, we now discovered a forest floor carpeted in green. Snow trilliums, taller now, still blossomed, but wild ginger with its dark red flowers hidden below velvety leaves also carpeted whole swaths of the floor along with Dutchman’s breeches where a fat bumblebee searched for nectar and pollen among arching stalks of white pantaloon-shaped flowers. A few large-flowered bellwort gracefully drooped soft yellow blossoms, and little star-shaped wood anemones bloomed in scattered places. Alone and in bunches, eight-petaled bloodroot blossoms looked like bright white flowers dropped from the sky. Same place, different time, a whole new world of flowers.

Our goal for the day was Frontenac State Park along the Mississippi River where we hoped to find rare squirrel corn, which looks much like Dutchman’s breeches but has a more rounded flower shape almost like butterfly wings. We haven’t seen squirrel corn yet, but we live in hope, and so we headed down the Lower Bluff Trail at the park into more Dutchman’s breeches than we’ve ever seen. We studied their flower shapes as we negotiated the steep, sometimes stairstepped, trail down and down and down toward the river, wondering at times if a slightly different flower silhouette signified squirrel corn. But all of the flowers we saw had the distinctive two petals spreading like the legs of a pair of pants.

What we did see:
Dutchman’s breeches, Dutchman’s breeches, and more Dutchman’s breeches
Large-flowered bellwort
Bloodroot
Wood anemone

Of squirrel corn nary a blossom that we could discern, but oh, what a day of sunshine and springtime and flowers!


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Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo spent ten years collaborating on Searching for Minnesota's Native Wildflowers: A Guide for Beginners, Botanists, and Everyone in Between. Root is author of more than forty books for children, including Plant a Pocket of Prairie and One North Star (both winners of the John Burroughs Riverby Award for excellent natural history books for young readers) and Big Belching Bog, all published by University of Minnesota Press. Povo, a professional photographer for thirty years, has exhibited in galleries and art shows across the country. Her cards, gift books, and calendars have been sold internationally. She and Phyllis have collaborated on several books.

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