|As usual, the floral season here begins with
Trillium nivale, the snow trillium. This year I caught a
pollinator in the act. I'm not sure what the insect is, but
I think it's a small native carpenter bee(?). Recently emerged
bumblebee queens, if any are about, are too busy looking for a nesting
site to be interested in these very early trilliums. Photo date: April 7, 2020.
|Pasqueflower, Pulsatilla patens, or its synonym Anemone patens, sometimes called "prairie crocus," is one of the first spring flowers to bloom in Minnesota prairies.
My property has no natural prairie, and the only prairie-like habitat
here is the mound of our septic system, which must be kept free of
brush and other woody vegetation. I grew these septic mound plants from seed I
received from a friend in Martin County, Minnesota, where the species
is native, but seed is also available online. Photo taken May 1.
Pasqueflower has turned out to be a high maintenance species. While the plant is quite drought tolerant, it can't compete with taller vegetation. I've found I have to pull even high value species like brown-eyed Susans and wild bergamot when they encroach on pasqueflower.
oldest patch of bloodroot in my yard as it was at the beginning of May.
This colony was started about 20 years ago as a single plant.
Over the years this patch has
provided many seeds and plants for establishing new patches elsewhere
in the yard and woods.
|Non-native alert! You won't find
these in the woodlands of Minnesota or the eastern U.S. I have
long admired the stunning blue color of some of the cultivars of
Chinese Corydalis widely available from U.S. nurseries but impossible
to grow in northern U.S. states. Fortunately there are Siberian
species with just as great color that are hardy in Minnesota. I
was able to purchase plants of three such Siberian species from a
German nursery with the help of my late German friend Gerhard.
The plants shown here are Corydalis fumariifolia ssp. azurea. All three of these species are true spring ephemerals and are gone within a couple weeks of blooming.
|By May 5 there's a lot more action. Claytonia virginica (left) is blooming, and Cypripedium pubescens, one of the earliest spring orchids here, is starting to poke up. The plant at right is my largest C. pubescens clump. After the plant reached 50 flowers, I stopped counting them.
|By mid-May most spring ephemerals are
blooming including Dutchman's breeches at left and yellow trout lily at
right. Note that bloodroot, in the lower right corner at right, is
already finished blooming.
|Amethyst shooting star, Primula fassettii (formerly Dodecatheon amethystinum), seedlings the first season after planting out from pots.
For me, the hardest thing about growing shooting stars from seed is
that the leaves of the small plants resemble those of several common
weeds whose seeds invariably get blown into shooting star flats or
pots thus making weeding very difficult. To appreciate the growth of the plants in this little
patch, check out the subsequent photos in the 2021 and 2022 archives.
|Native to Iowa and Wisconsin but not Minnesota, Collinsia verna, spring blue-eyed Mary, is truly a spring ephemeral as it blooms in spring and is
Blue-eyed Mary is not just a pretty face. Bumblebees have a field day visiting the densely packed blooms in a large patch of the plants.
Notice the pink petals on a few of the flowers. That is a very rare form. I am indeed lucky that the genes for this coloration are present in the seed my friend Dan in Virginia sent me from his yard.
|This is a close-up of one of the pink flowered Collinsia.
|Trillium flexipes, left, should not be confused with Trillium grandiflorum, right.
|Clematis occidentalis, purple
clematis, is an uncommon native of northern Minnesota. As vines
go, the species is fairly inept as a climber because it lacks the
tendrils that enable other climbers such as Virginia creeper to ascend
to great heights. Purple clematis struggles to climb by twining
around branches of surrounding vegetation or any other suitable
structures the vine can find. One time in an Itasca County
woodland I was pleasantly surprised after I stooped to examine yellow
lady's-slipper shoots newly poking up from the forest floor. Upon
restanding, I was hit in the head gently by a dangling flower-laden clematis vine that was swinging around in a gentle breeze. The vine seldom reaches heights of more than 10 or 12 feet.
The vine shown here is one of several that I purchased in pots from Nordic Natives, which propagated the plants from cuttings. The purple flowers produce heads of seeds with large feathery tails as a mechanism for wind dispersal. Many of the seed heads remain on the plant all winter and thus provide "winter interest" in the garden. The individual in the photo is climbing a paper birch tree by way of broken tree branches hanging down from above. Because the plant is such an ineffective climber, it could not ascend the tree by simply clinging to the bark of the trunk without the aid of these branches. I learned this the hard way by placing plants at the base of a couple trees without any nearby potential support structures for the clematis.
In fall 2021 I collected some seeds from this plant, cold stratified them over the winter, and obtained excellent, though slow, germination by early summer of 2022. As of this writing (2023), I have plans to place some of the plants now wintering in my slightly heated barn in suitable locations in my woods.
The next photo below shows how the vine in this photo twines around intact tree branches roughly 10 feet above the ground.
|Left: Primula meadia, formerly Dodecatheon meadia, prairie shooting star that I purchased from a nursery in Virginia.
Right: Galearis spectabilis, showy orchis, purchased from Gardens of the Blue Ridge.
|Showy orchis is one of my favorite
plants. It is the first native orchid I ever identified in the
wild when I was a kid in northeastern Indiana. One May morning when I was
in sixth grade, I lay in bed reading an article about native orchids in
my Junior Natural History magazine. There were no photos in the
article, but the drawings were pretty good. Later that morning I
went hiking with a friend in a nearby woods, and we practically
stumbled over a small group of showy orchis. From the drawing in
the magazine, I immediately knew what the plant was. I carefully
picked one of the flowers, admired its fragrance, and carried it around
with me in a little vial of water for the next week. All through
school and on into college, I used to return to view that population
nearly every spring.
Then one year when I was in grad school, I returned to visit the orchids and was shocked to find not only the plants, but the whole woods gone! It had been bulldozed to make a college golf course. That was the start of my intense interest in conservation in general and especially in orchid conservation. I've not had much use for the game of golf ever since.
|Alas, my success with lab propagation of Cypripedium
orchids has not extended to the showy orchis. I have spent well
over a decade in the lab trying every trick I can think of that works for
propagating Cyps and also many other ideas and propagation media and have
had no more than half a dozen seeds germinate in the course of these
efforts. No doubt those few seeds that did germinate did so
because of some rare mutation. None of those resulting protocorms
grew into healthy looking seedlings, and all eventually perished after
an extended period of very slow growth.
Currently the only way to propagate showy orchis successfully is by division. Several years ago Gardens of the Blue Ridge, in their Fall Newsletter 2012, published a paragraph and diagram demonstrating their method for dividing the plant. For years I've thought about trying this with one of my bigger clumps, but I've always chickened out. Instead I've been content to let the small plants, either purchased or given to me by friends, grow into big clumps like this in the hope that the resulting prolific seed production will result in volunteer seedlings appearing nearby. So far, however, no such volunteers have shown up.
|Galearis isn't the only orchid blooming at the end of May. Here is the large-flowered yellow lady's-slipper, Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. While I haven't been able to grow Galearis from seed, I can and do grow lots of Cyps from seedlings produced in the lab.
Notice that pesky white-flowered Canada violet in the background. The species colonizes rapidly both by seeds and by a long snaky white rhizome that creeps around underground. I keep pulling the plants when they encroach on more favored plants such as the orchid here, but invariably I miss a bit of rhizome and the violets soon reappear. Friends in other areas tell me that their Canada violets are well behaved and that there are both aggressive and mannerly forms of this species. The form native to my area is clearly the aggressive one.
|Another Cypripedium pubescens.
I'm really fond of some of our northern plants like this because of the
deep maroon coloration of the dorsal sepals and twisted lateral petals.
|While I've said that all the lady's-slippers
I've been planting in my yard are from seedlings I've produced through
micropropagation in the lab, that may soon no longer be the case.
The photo at left shows quite a few volunteer large yellow slipper
seedlings appearing at the end of our driveway. The driveway
consists of a commercially available aggregate known as "Class 5" that
is a mix of mostly sand and gravel and is a substrate which promotes
Every year we have about seven cords of hardwood firewood delivered to our driveway and dumped at this spot, and the firewood remains there until either being burned or stacked in the woodshed. By spring all the wood from the pile is gone leaving nearly bare ground. As you can see in this photo, the ground is not quite bare because it is littered with a great deal of wood and bark fragments. This spot is only 10 or 20 feet from a large patch of Cypripedium pubescens. That so many seedlings appear here strongly suggests that seeds are blowing into this spot, getting buried, and stimulated to germinate symbiotically by a fungal partner that decomposes wood and/or bark.
Because these seedlings would be crushed, shaded, and smothered by new loads of wood delivered during the summer, I transplanted most of them to other spots in my yard. Two of these plants bloomed in 2022.
|And now we return to my beloved
bog. This treasure is one of the main reasons I selected this
homestead. On June 6 here Cypripedium acaule,
the stemless lady's-slipper or pink moccasin flower is in full
bloom. The little spikes of tiny white flowers scattered here and
there and in background are Canada mayflower, Maianthemum canadense. Several more photos of the the orchids follow.
|In the photo at left, you can see see
bunchberry leaves. This dwarf dogwood is one of the many plants
competing with and threatening the orchids. In dry years the
dogwood flourishes and can overrun patches of the lady's-slippers, but
wet years favor the orchids.
photo at left shows sphagnum moss in the foreground and the white
flowers of Labrador tea in the background. Taxonomists have
recently moved what I previously learned as Ledum groenlandicum to the genus Rhododendron. Thus now we northerns have our very own native Rhododendron. Just as with bunchberry, drier years favor the Labrador tea to encroach on orchid habitat.
|While native to much of the eastern and midwestern U.S., Iris cristata,
dwarf wild iris, does not make it into Minnesota. Nevertheless it
thrives here even after winters when extremely cold weather arrives before
there is much snow cover. The yellow flowers are our native Viola pubescens.
|Our Minnesota native northern bluebells, Mertensia paniculata, bloom later than Virginia bluebells and remain in bloom until mid-June.
An advantage our bluebells have over the latter species is that the
luxuriant foliage of northern bluebells remains for nearly the whole
|In mid-June wild calla, Calla palustris, is blooming in the artificial pond by the barn. Here the plant is accompanied by arrowhead and duckweed. This
pond is so shallow that it freezes solid most winters and thus is not a
good place for frogs and turtles to winter. Nevertheless turtles
often find their way to the pond in early summer and spend quite a bit
of time sunning themselves on a fallen log. One year we even had
a muskrat spend his summer here, but he got eaten by an itinerant mink
in early fall. I didn't witness the actual event but did see the
mink cleaning up at the edge of the pond after his meal before being on
|By mid-June Cypripedium reginae begins to bloom. The
color of the flowers varies considerably among plants; blooms of
plants receiving a lot of sun are generally much paler than those of
plants that have more shade. Even among plants in the same light
conditions, however, there is variation in color, probably of genetic
origin. At left, the plant in front has the deepest pink lip of
all my showy lady's-slippers.
|In early July grass pink orchids, Calopogon tuberosus, begin to bloom at the edge our bog. About two miles south of us there
is a lakeside fen where the grass pinks bloom a week or two earlier
that here because those plants get full sun all day long. The
grass pinks in our bog are on the west side of a dense stand of
tamarack and black spruce trees, and thus our grass pinks get little
sun before noon.
Notice the abundance of Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, poking up through the sphagnum moss in the background.
|At left is a closer view of the Indian pipe as it pokes up through the sphagnum. The moss is looking pretty dry.
More grass pinks at right with purple pitcher plants, Sarracenia purpurea, at their base and in the background.
|Pitcher plants are not the only carnivorous plants in our bog. At left is a roundleaf sundew, Drosera rotundifolia, nearly hidden by sedge leaves. Indeed
sedges and other vegetation often choke out the little sundews, so
occasionally I spread a bit of sundew seed in more open spots.
Meanwhile back in our upland yard, Michigan lilies also bloom in a damp spot mid-July.
|By the beginning of September both white turtleheads, Chelone glabra, and rose turtleheads, Chelone obliqua, begin to bloom. White
turtlehead is native to northern Minnesota, and there is a nice
natural population in a moist depression on our land. The
Minnesota DNR claims that C. obliqua is native to Minnesota, but I have my doubts. The
species is native to Iowa to our south, but there seem to be no
existing wild populations in Minnesota or even any herbarium specimens
from Minnesota. The only possible evidence I can find that C. obliqua
is native to Minnesota is that Eloise Butler planted it in her
wildflower garden, and she planted Minnesota natives, so perhaps she
thought the species was native here.
|A closer view of rose turtlehead
flowers. Seeds of this species never ripen here in our short season, whereas those of
our native white turtlehead do.
|By mid-September signs of fall are everywhere. Here bottle gentian, Gentiana andrewsii, and white turtleheads are blooming and showy lady's-slipper leaves are yellowing.