The Prairie In Bloom

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Arb Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Stepping into the Prairie Garden, I am surrounded by walls of grasses and flowers that reach up to a patchwork sky of deep blue and cotton-ball clouds. This convenient garden is level with the parking lot and paved trail, allowing wheelchair and stroller access to tiers of tall prairie grasses swaying with the breeze and hundreds of bobbing flowers.

Cicadas drone their skill-saw song high in the trees above. Lavender monarda, purple coneflower, and white bouquets of flowering spurge poke up between prairie grasses and shrubs. And the yellows! Bright tiers of cup plant, several species of sunflowers, grey coneflower, sneezeweed, hawkweed and black-eyed Susans make me smile back at their cheerful faces.

Labels help me recall their names as well as learn new plants. The Prairie Garden is a quick way to view, smell and touch established plantings and to learn about grasses and forbs…

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Spring Peeper Meadow

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Arb Nature Notes

 By Mary Beth Pottratz

 It feels strange to be wearing clothes in layers on this first nippy morning of summer, and my feet rebel against the confinement of shoes. A deep blue sky is punctuated with large billows of cumulous clouds. The sun does little to warm the brisk breezes from the Morth. No bugs and no sweat–a perfect day for a hike to the Spring Peeper Meadow!

 The trailhead is just below Ordway Picnic Shelter. I follow its shaded edge where the woodland meets the bog that encircles Green Heron Pond. A gray catbird meows plaintively from a sumac perch, whose leaves are just starting to tip with red. Open water is not visible through tall grasses, sunflowers, cattails, banks of yellow-orange jewelweed and wild grape vines. Golden-yellow sunflowers, rudbeckia, sneezeweed, goldenrods and goat’s beard brighten the landscape in splashes.

 Suddenly a boardwalk juts to the right, and…

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Seeds of the Season

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Arb Nature Notes

By  Mary Beth Pottratz

Friday was the first day of fall, and geese are already honking overhead, practicing their V formations before heading south. Many birds have already migrated. Even the flowers are paying attention to the calendar.

Most of the coneflowers have lost their petals, flower heads are morphing to seedheads, and leaves are dry and often brittle. It’s time for the wildlife to enjoy their annual harvest festival!

I spot a goldfinch with its neck bent 180 degrees. It eyes me warily, all the while plucking its dinner from deep within a coneflower head. Chipping sparrows are picnicking beneath a canopy of sunflowers, nabbing the seeds just after they hit the ground.

Two chipmunks squeak merrily at each other as they play tag. They pause to gorge on a pile of seeds, then scamper off to the next buffet. Even the deer are enjoying the red spikes of…

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Paradox

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Arb Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

It is paradox time. It is sunny but chilly in the 50s. Winds gusted to 44 mph, ripping leaves from trees and shredding others. Yet the calm moments leave me toasty warm in the sunshine.

I stroll to the Johanna Frerichs Garden for Wildlife.  A bridge from the Prairie Garden crosses a narrow, steep ravine, with a brook cutting through a forest of tall trees. Sunlight filters easily through trunks and branches, now that most leaves carpet the floor in a vibrant patchwork. Bright orange, pipestone reds and pinks, green and burnished golds, with lowlights of taupe, charcoal and brown blanket the ground.

Underneath those leaves I imagine the millipedes, ants, sow bugs, grubs, worms and spiders that keep warm as they chew on leaves, bark, fungi and roots. These tiny denizens speed up decomposition before they become vole vittles or mouse mousse. In turn, the rodents…

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Early Morning Stroll

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Arb Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Gusty winds whip the 40-degree air into a chill-spiked blast on my face. The blush of morning against a stone-grey sky in the west fades away as the crimson-orange sun edges slowly over the horizon. Only partly up, the half-orb becomes as bright as hot August glare, but shares no warmth.

I descend the Wood Duck Trail for respite. A high ridge to the east blocks the raucous wind, and I find myself in a tall oak and maple woods. I can see completely through its leafless landscape to the ridge. Squirrel and bird nests are visible in branches high above. The hillsides around me are streaked with early morning sun streams.

Here the forest seems still and silent. I savor the crunch of leaves beneath my shoes. An occasional squirrel cavorts noisily from tree to ground and back. Single leaves float languidly, tranquilly, to the…

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Shades of Pale

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Arb Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz 

Grateful for my warm coat, I know an outdoor walk will be far more interesting than braving the mall on its busiest weekend. Maybe even too interesting!

The beautiful white oak just outside the rose garden holds tightly to its inner leaves. But with outer branches bare, I easily discern its crooked, craggy limbs and spreading shape. Branches bend low and beckon me to dally underneath for a while. A few tiny ice crystals dance around me as I decline the offer and head towards Green Heron Trail.

Fantastic forms and shapes of the trees are evident now without their leafy coats.  Behind bare sprays of red-osier dogwood clumps strung with wild cucumber pods, a thick willow tree rises up from the swamp. Its thick grey bark shows terra cotta streaks between its deep furrows. The bark curls and twists into weird shapes, like thumbprints – no…

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Savoring Late Fall

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Arb Nature Notes

By  Mary Beth Pottratz

At first study, it seems to be a dead landscape, devoid of the greenness I associate with life. Leafless branches, flowerless stalks, dry grasses and cattails under dull grey clouds leave me feeling listless and flat.

I’ve been anticipating today’s predicted snowfall with pleasure. It’s already mid-afternoon, and I can even smell that crispy-fresh scent of snow in the air. A few white dustings lie here and there from several days ago, but not the fluffy coating I yearn for. Will I be able to blog about something in this dearth of greenery?

But within only a few steps, I notice a group of milkweed. Its dried pods have long popped open. Wisps of sweet white silk are tipped with brown, horseshoe-shaped seedheads. These little soldiers have half marched out of their pods, tripping over themselves and catching their threads on the nubby pod casings. I…

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A Taste of Winter for the New Year

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Arb Nature Notes


By Mary Beth Pottratz

The Arboretum with snow! Temperatures in the mid-20s and a wind advisory warning of gusts up to 50 mph didn’t even slow me down. Toasty-warm in long johns and my old down coat, I stride down Three Mile Drive in anticipation.

Dabs of white frosting are frozen onto pine branches. Grasses and forbs bent under their snowy coats stand still in the high winds. Clouds are moving fast in many layers, all but covering the blue sky behind them. The landscape is brighter now. White snow reflects back the light, where yesterday gray leaves and brown trunks darkened the view.

Power-walkers are out, slowing to baby steps through a slick patch, then regaining long strides on the sanded walkways. A foursome heads out on Green Heron Trail; a couple holds hands underneath a bare trellis.

Tiny sprigs of yellow pop out of the landscape like neon…

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Stories in the Snow

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Arb Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

A hawk is soaring over Wood Duck pond. I blink away my winter tears and he’s gone. His sudden disappearance reminds me: It’s hunt or be hunted, eat or be eaten at this time of year. I find no birds flying about, and I am not surprised.

Oak leaves rustle in the wind. As I near a prairie, a soft brushing sound comes from the grasses that bend in the breezes. And when the wind stops, there is a quiet hush.

There is a shallow inch of snow on the ground, perfect for seeing what the animals have been up to. Coyote tracks lope boldly, confidently near footpaths through the woods, mixing in with joggers and Nordic walkers. Similar but smaller, fox prints slink along the edges of forest, wetland, and field.

The canine paths are criss-crossed by squirrel and mouse tracks. These show hurried escapes…

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Close Encounter

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Arb Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Only 30° F and the light breeze carries no sting so typical of Minnesota this time of year. The fog of early this week has lifted, but thick clouds still block the sunshine.

The warmth and sun have melted snow off all but the shadiest of open spaces. Traces of puddles, melted by day and refrozen by night, highlight pathways through the prairie and woods.

But the beautifully muted colors of the prairie call me to the moment. Oak trees scattered on the savanna display their wonderfully craggy branches and gnarled shapes in shades of gray. In the background, a stately row of pine trees and spruce help block the wind.

The prairie is like a crazy quilt. Soft swaths of mustard yellow prairie dropseed are accented with the pale peach of big and little bluestem. Chocolate ironweeds and multi-spiked vervains poke high above the melee…

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