Pine Plans

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Bright sunbeams play hide-and-seek with me as I stroll through the woods. Blinding bright one second, and hiding the next, they peek between tree trunks in prisms and stars.

Sparkles in the blue-white snow light up and then dim in unending succession. Stripes of light and shadow form on the forest floor, moving with my every step and changing with each tree I pass.

Winter is the perfect time to appreciate tree shapes. Craggy oaks are easiest to identify with their bumping, twisting limbs. The lucky ones left uncrowded by other trees spread their branches far and low, seeming to reach out as if trying to touch passers-by.

A basswood tree stands in a smooth, symmetrical, rounded cone, its gracefully upturned branch tips reaching towards the sky. Today the outside of its silhouette is tinged with muted red, from the new growth twigs and buds sprouting…

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Wildflowers Blooming in March!

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The cheeky warble of an eastern bluebird greets me at the Arboretum today! Perched atop a tall tree at the entrance to Three Mile Drive, it announces to all that spring is here. A bank of forsythia is so thick with yellow flowers that I couldn’t see the cardinals calling from within. Magnolia perfume drifts on the breeze of this sunny, 67° Saturday afternoon, and honeybees are buzzing around its huge blooms.

Even the wildflowers give witness to the bluebird’s claim – but you need to look down. The tallest flowers are the six-inch snow trilliums, in full flower and scattered throughout the woodland gardens. Leafless, hairy stems topped with both blue and pink hepaticas glow in the forest light.

A few brave false rue anemones show their tiny white blooms; a single stem of Dutchman’s breeches waves five pantaloon-shaped flowers in the breeze like fairy…

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Ephemeral Dreams

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Why is spring so alluring? Do you love the relief from winter’s icy temperatures? Maybe you savor longer days, tree buds or other signs of new life? Do you look for migratory birds or nesting and baby animals? Or the fresh spring hues after months of drab?

At the Arboretum today, bright swaths of spring bulbs paint the landscape. There are hillsides of gold daffodils with orange or yellow throats. Tall tulips are blooming in masses of white, purple, deep pink, cherries and magentas, red and yellow. Even lilacs are starting to bloom.

But I pass them all without stopping on my way to the wildflower garden. Here I find flowers that will sprout, bud, bloom and die back to the ground over a few weeks – or even days. Soon there will be no visible evidence that they were even here at all! These are…

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Natural Wonders

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Rain-fresh air carries wisps of a scent too light to identify. The deluge of water from recent storms and rains fills the ponds and bogs and overflows into low areas. Barn swallows dip and play over the water.

In the open, branches have already shaken the rain from newly

Pastel Rainbow

opened leaves. A tree frog trills from an oak nearby, and tree swallows dip and cavort overhead. People are strolling everywhere. Like me, they are probably escaping from the springtime form of cabin fever induced by a series of rainy days.

The birds, too, enjoy a rest from rain. An eastern phoebe, American goldfinch, and many red-winged blackbirds call around Green Heron Pond. Delicate new purple pine cones and tufts of soft chartreuse needles sprout from tamarack branches that were rough, bare, dry and knobby just a few short weeks ago. Only the late Kentucky…

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Flooding a Wetland

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

An Eastern kingbird calls “tswee tswee” in quick, high repeated whistles at the entrance to wetland at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Just inside the fence, a sign declares, “Spring Peeper Meadow – A Wetland Restoration Experiment.”

I wonder how the wetland is faring after all the recent rains. Is it flooded? Are plants washed out? Did the frogs, birds and other wildlife survive the downpours?

Vegetation is only knee-high, making it easy to see down into the wet meadow. Cup plants are a mere foot tall. I catch the sweet scent of clover between windy puffs. A song sparrow hops along the mowed trail behind me, warbling between servings of worms and caterpillars.

Canada anemones hold their inch-wide flowers atop a stem that

Canada Anemone

sprouts right out of the middle of a round, lobed leaf. Golden alexanders bloom in bright yellow drifts at higher elevations…

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After the Storm

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Have you ever noticed how different thunder sounds when you’re away from the city? At home, I see a flash of lightning. Next I hear a bowling ball thunder down its alley and then fade away. The din lasts about 30 seconds.

Stormy Day

This afternoon at the Arboretum, I hear the thunder rumbling and groaning towards me for several minutes on end! Dry on a bench under the eaves, I watch the dark clouds roil overhead.

Goldfinches play daredevil tag in the rain, and a green heron rushes by, flying low to the ground.

Before the rain stops, a ruby-throated hummingbird surveys the area from its perch on a bare branch. I wonder how it can even fly with raindrops pelting it, pushing it towards the ground.

The Arb is a wonderful place after a storm. The world seems to wait as the rain slows…

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Summerscape

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

A red-eyed vireo calls from a thick clump of red-osier dogwood, “Here I am. Where are you? Over there.” I can’t see the little bird for the dense leaves, but its distinctive series of three-note songs gives it away.

Though the main gardens at the Arboretum are filled with Sunday visitors, the trail around Green Heron Pond is deliciously quiet. With the first week of summer, leaves are lush. Most plants are setting their buds. Many are in bloom.

Jewelweed flower

I find the first little jewelweed blossom of the season, with orange specks on its yellow spurred slipper. These translucent plant stems are nearing four feet tall already! Swamp milkweed, one of those important plants for monarch butterflies, have just started to bloom. I catch their heady scent in waves on the warm air.

Juvenile Red-winged blackbirds play tag through the cattails while their mother…

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Cabin Fever in July

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Driving to the nether ends of the Arboretum’s main parking lot, I realize many other people are suffering the same strain of summertime cabin fever that had befallen me during our 100-degree days.  With temperatures twenty degrees cooler today, people swarm like bees over lipstick-colored annuals.

The display and perennial gardens are filled with visitors. A bridal party poses in the Japanese garden. Photographers are everywhere, bending close to flower buds. The bright sunshine and storm-fresh air succeed in shooing my cabin fever the way the quick breezes shoo mosquitoes off my skin.

Wood Duck Trail

I escape down the cool calm of Wood Duck Trail, climbing the slope around a washout from the recent heavy rain. With each step, the clamor of people and traffic noise recedes. Soon the din is covered by birdsong. Dragonflies and damselflies dart and soar around me. An black-tipped turkey…

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Midsummer Daydream

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

A single cicada saws incessantly from a tree, and bees drone in and out of blooms. Birds are settled down to their afternoon naps. Even the geese have tucked their necks under-wing.

Dragonflies and damselflies dart lazily overhead. Monarchs and skippers flit from one clump of plants to another, never really landing at all. A Widow Skimmer Dragonfly stares back at me as I study its tattered wings.

Piquant waves of wild bergamot leaf scent the warm air. Its pale lavender petals are dwarfed by intense blue spikes of vervain. The motion of the insects, the perfumed air, the buzzing bees and cicada combine to lull me into deep relaxation.

The scene is like a Monet. Pastel shades of mauve Joe-Pye Weed and the cherry-pink two-tone of Swamp Milkweed are set off by bunches of white boneset. Behind them, brown nutlets tip the spikes of sedges…

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Once in a Blue Moon

Posted On September 18, 2017

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Nature Notes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Crickets whirr all around me as I enter the Spring Peeper Meadow. Frogs trill from the wetland. Swallows chatter as they sweep above the grassline.

The little parking lot is full. A couple strolls off slowly, fingers intertwined. A family sets up cameras – daughter Julia is having her senior picture taken. A trio of teens rest at the outlook.

Grasshopper

The bright sunshine, a warm breeze, and bees on the goldenrod speak of summer.  A gentlemanly grasshopper in his green and yellow suit with black stripes looks at me quizzically from his grasp on a flower stem.

But signs of an impending autumn already abound. The pastel shades of midsummer flowers have given way to gold, rust, tan and brown. Lush green cattails, sedges, iris and grasses form a background for bright yellow sunflowers and goldenrods. Shrubs are tinging shades of clay.  Sumac leaves sport…

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