Where the Wild Things Are- Magic of Milkweed

If you walk anywhere in the village these days, where milkweed happens to bloom, you will notice the beautiful fragrance. The common milkweed, besides being a host plant for Monarch butterflies, is one of the most varied of the species. It can have blooms from dark magenta to white. It can be a foot tall or 4 feet tall. If you stop to stare at the blossoms for long, you will see a multitude of amazing creatures, gathering nectar and eating or laying eggs on it's broad leaves. Common milkweed is not the only of it's family to reside in the village lands. In the wetter areas, also blooming now, is the swamp milkweed. Tall enough to rise above the grasses and reeds, you will see it's red purple flowers waving. If you get close enough you will see that the leaves are much thinner and pointed.

Other family member include the dogbane family. There are two of them on the land. Spreading Dogbane is in bloom in some of the south pastures, and along the field road you will see Indian hemp. Tiny white blossoms on the tops of the stalks, the smaller version of the rounded leaves of the common milkweed climbing tightly upward. 

The most exciting thing of my weekly walks was the discovery of a fifth member of the milkweed family. Whorled Milkweed! I didn't even suspect it of being a milkweed when I first spotted it. I dutifully photographed it, noting it's location. When I was at home I realized what it was. This is the first time I have seen this plant. And it is not previously recorded in Todd County, so I went back and collected a sample to submit to the Bell Museum Herbarium! That is two species in two weeks to add to the science of the world! The whorled milkweed has the same flower type as the common and swamp, but much smaller and white. The leaves are thin grass like blades that whorl around the stem in sets of 6. If you wanted to see them, walk out on the field road south of farmhouse, go east of the pine trees and follow them to where the lane opens up to the pastures at the south end. There, on the ground by the pine trees is a healthy population. 

 Whorled Milkweed

Whorled Milkweed

 Common milkweed showing the white and purple varieties growing side by side.

Common milkweed showing the white and purple varieties growing side by side.

Where the Wild Things Are- Heat and Rain

Heat and rain. It seems like that is all we have for weather these days. Spending time outdoors is more challenging as the temp climbs. Even with the adverse conditions, we managed to get out there two weeks ago for a nature walk. The vernal pool was observed and differences noted between it and the "swamp" only feet away. We dipped a net in the still open water and captured water boatmen. They paddled around our holding pond as we took turns with magnifying glasses. 

We swung the net at butterflies, but they proved faster than us! We saw Cabbage Whites and Clouded Sulphers hovering in the puddles on the road. Summer Azures and Common Wood Nymphs fluttered through the pasture grasses. A Monarch floated overhead. Could it have been one of the two we released the day before? Jeff thought it could be! 

Moths scattered as we hurried through the pines, pushed by persistent mosquitos, pausing only to see the ferns for a moment.

The swamp was covered in vegetation and we took a good look at Arrowhead leaves, finding tiny holes where some insect had eaten its lunch. Cattails and reeds stood head high. Field horsetail was abundant and we took a moment to look close at the joints that pull apart like legos. 

Come out and walk with us, or just with me, or on your own. Nature is waiting.

    One of the two released Monarchs.This is the female that choose to hang around for a while.

 

One of the two released Monarchs.This is the female that choose to hang around for a while.

Where the Wild Things Are- Vast Landscapes

One of the things I most enjoy about wandering around Camphill is the variety of landscapes. When I posted some photos online from one of my latest walks, some one commented that they hoped I didn't touch the sumac. We don't have poison sumac around this part of Minnesota, but because the rest of my post was photos of boggy ground plants he assumed that it must be what he was familiar with. He didn't know that to get to the boggy ground I walked through agricultural land, a wooded road, a pine forest, an overgrown abandoned pastureland, old growth oak woods and finally to the tamarack bogs. The other night I walked through a freshly cut hay field, native prairie plantings, pine woods, tamarack bog, springfed cattail marsh and oak woodlands. 

There are not many places that this can happen anymore! And all within half hours stroll. Of course the half hour doesn't include time spend observing. 

Really slowing down and looking at things takes perseverance. It is easy to get lost in your thoughts and just keep walking without noticing anything around you. When I find myself doing this I stop. I just stand there and look around me. What am I hearing? What do I see? What do I smell? This reconnects me to what I am doing, and why. I seek a deeper connection to the earth around me. I want to see and appreciate each new plant or bring that crosses paths with me. I want to understand it's place in this world and how it connects to me and all other living things. 

Sometimes I just sit down. A change of perspective can bring to light all sorts of things you never would notice towering above them. 

Sometimes I lay down to get a good shot of a plant. This brings an even better understanding of how much we miss when striding by, lost in our thoughts. 

So next time you go out for a walk, maybe take sometime to just slow down, or even sit down. You might be surprised what shows itself to you!

 Showy Ladyslipper- our state flower!

Showy Ladyslipper- our state flower!

Where the Wild Things Are- Busting out

June is busting out all over! It is not just the lyrics to an old song. If you walk down past the farmyard and follow the field road to the south, you will see lots of things growing. If you walk between the pines and the river, in the prairie pasture, all the way to the southwest corner, you will find the iris in bloom! They should be blooming for a week or so, in case you need to wait until the rain has stopped. If you look in among the pines as you walk, tiny white mushrooms have been popping up under the canopy. The other side of the pines is full of dragon flies in the morning sunlight. Chalk fronted corporals, twelve spotted skimmers, Common whitetails, to name a few.

If you walk by the bridge in the middle of the village you will see Ebony Jewelwing and River Jewelwing damselflies! (See photo attached!) The Canadian Honewort is blooming all along the trail, tiny white flowers floating over a sea of green. 

Keep an eye on the milkweed for leaves that have been munched upon and you may find the black,white and yellow stripes of the Monarch butterfly caterpillars. I have two I rescued that have now turned into chrysalises. By the time I do the next nature walk they should be butterflies! If the timing works out maybe we will get to release them! 

The Showy Ladyslippers are blooming by the woodshed, just look along the south side of the road. We will be meeting at the woodshed for our next nature walk, a week from Sunday, and hopefully exploring a vernal pond! 

Please be respectful of the Tree swallows that have been divebombing walkers on the road. They are only trying to protect their nests and babies! Soon the babies will be flying and gone.

So bust out of your routine and spend some time in nature...

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Where the Wild Things Are- Butterflies and Turtles

I was going to write about butterflies. I still will, but first I have to talk about turtles! Do you know how many different turtles make their home in our area? We all can name the snapping turtle. And then there is the "mud" turtle that we are all familiar with, hanging out on logs in every pond and stream. Only there is no turtle named Mud. It is really the Western Painted Turtle that we are seeing. Then there is the Blandings turtle. The Blandings is endangered and I don't think one has been seen in Todd County for years, so you probably are not seeing those. If you do, please let me know!

The other species that lives around us is the Spiny softshell turtle. You can live here your whole life and not see one. They aren't that rare, but they live in the rivers and only come out to lay eggs in the gravel. I see one every year, on the road where the Sauk River crosses it right by the village. She comes up and lays her eggs, usually on the shoulder of the road. This year she was three feet out into the middle of the road. I watched her for a half an hour, laying egg after egg. She then spooked and ran back to the river. I covered the eggs, hoping for the best. Most eggs won't survive. Raccoons love them, and for the first few days after being laid the scent left by the turtle is enough to attract them. They will dig up the whole nest and have a buffet.

I was able to get a tape measure near her (without spooking her) and she was at the largest measurement for softshell turtles...18 inches! Hopefully she will continue to show up for many years to come.

Now to get to butterflies. We all know the Monarch butterfly. Bright orange and hard to miss. But it's slightly smaller cousin, the Viceroy, also frequents the village land. So the next time you see a "Monarch" take a second look. If it is a Viceroy it will be slightly smaller and there is a line that goes across the back wings as seen in the attached photo.

If you think you will never see the kinds of thing I see out there, come along on a nature hike!

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Where the Wild Things Are- Hogwarts/ Where's Waldo Challenge

It is a Hogwarts/Where's Waldo challenge. The woods changes so much at this time of year that from week to week nothing looks the same. I swear that what I saw last week must be right here! Plants don't just pick up their roots and walk away! And then, after peering at the ground for minutes at a time, I look up and have no idea where I am. It is not the wilderness, I can quickly orientate myself in the world, but I swear that things move just like the stairs in Hogwarts!

This has happened to me several times in the last week. I went looking for the Small Yellow Ladyslippers. I know what patch of land they are on. I know they are near the west edge. It is only about an acre of swampy land. I looked for an hour. Then I saw the faded yellow tape that I had placed on a branch above them last year. If I hadn't seen that I never would have found them again! Then, just a day later, while trying to show them to someone, I walked right by them again. I had to stop and look all around, and there they were, behind us! The blossoms are less than an inch long and a few inches off the ground.

The other hard to find flower I went looking for was the Early Yellow Coralroot. I knew where I had found them last year. So I went, step by step, between the steep hillside and the tamarack bog. I had to look where each foot landed, for fear that I would step on them. They grow on a thin pencil like stalk, about 5 inches tall. Each blossom of this orchid is less than 1/4-inch tall, with several of them stacked on the stem. I finally found one! I took numerous photos, being careful that my gigantic self didn't smash others in my enthusiasm. Then I took note of the surroundings, even snapping photos of what was on both sides of me. I wasn't going to lose these flowers! Then I continued about 20 feet along and found another stalk! After more photos, I turned back as the way was becoming harder to push through and I didn't want to cause damage to other plants in the area. I looked for the first one again. Nope. It was gone. I even put my feet in my tracks so I knew I was in the right area. Still no orchids. The next orchids I will see blooming are the Showy Lady Slippers. Huge and pink, really hard to miss. But I am sure I will walk right by a bunch of those too!

Where the Wild Things Are- The Air is Alive

The heat has come with an intensity that echoes the cold of the winter. We are left second guessing our activities. Will it be okay to plan something? Should we wait until later to plan? At some point we just shrug and get on with life. The plants are left doing the same thing. It is mid May and we are seeing flowers that normally are out in April. Right by their side are the May blooms. Trees are filling in fast, shading out the forest floor, cutting the time for early flowers. This month will go fast, the bloodroots and wood anemone will come and go, Jack in the Pulpit have sprung up. Violets and strawberries cover the ground.

The ferns are uncurling as we speak. There are Oak, Wood and Marsh fern are showing up in the leaf litter, fiddleheads almost invisible. The sturdy fiddle heads of the ostrich fern, pale green clumps, ready to eat for those so inclined.

The butterflies hover over the field, white and yellow. A quick flash of blue reveals the presence of a Blue Azure darting over the stream. Mourning Cloaks float through the branches looking for mates. Soon the Monarchs will return, ready to create the next generation.

 Speaking of new arrivals, the Cliff Swallows have returned! Nesting in the shed at the south end of the farm yard, they can be annoying for those with machinery covered in droppings, but these birds fly thousands of miles to come here. To the place they were hatched. To spend the summer eating more mosquitos and flies than you knew existed. To then make the return journey with new family members in two. They join the 4 other species of swallow that nest around the village. Tree, Cliff, Northern Rough Winged, Barn and Bank. The air is alive, morning noon and night over the fields and woods.

Where the Wild Things Are- So Much To See!

Rain falls in gentle waves, soaking the ground. The thirsty plants drink it up and spring back to life as we watch. I found a pasque flower in the village, in the prairie east of Brome! The leatherwood is blooming, along with many sedges. I have found hepatica blooming on the hillsides, first seeing the leaves which winter over, then picking out the small blossoms among the ground litter. The other blossoms I have seen were the Prairie smoke (thank you Angela!) on the prairie by St. Martins.

Soon to be blooming, with leaves unfurling, will be the violets, mayflowers, dandelions and strawberries! Leeks are making their yearly appearance.

Down in the wetlands the Naked Miterwort and Pyrola are small round leaves, soon to cover the feet of the tamaracks. The aspens have turned green, seemingly overnight, with other trees not far behind. Ferns are just starting, fiddleheads still tight to the ground.
The hummingbirds and orioles have come back, next will be the rose breasted grosbeaks and the swallows. It is getting to the point where I get whiplash trying to look around and see everything at once! Soon I will have to concentrate on one thing at a time, the plants on the forest floor, or the birds. Such a wonderful problem to have!

 Pyrola Leaves

Pyrola Leaves

 Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

 

 

Where the Wild Things Are- Flirting Warblers

Finally spring is upon us. The sun is warm on our faces, the grass green and growing. I was still able to walk the wet, swampy areas this week. It is soft on the surface, but still frozen underneath. Warblers are flitting through the trees, the mosses green and dense, the water flowing freely under the tamarack roots.

I have been looking for blossoms. If you count the willows and other trees, there are many things blooming. If you only consider flower blossoms...not so much. In April and May there are roughly 150 species of flowers that bloom in Todd County. That means that in the next three weeks we should see carpets of white in the woods. The blood roots and Mayflowers should be up, Hepatica and violets not far behind. Then the orchids. It cannot hold back for long.

In the meantime, I have traveled south (less than an hour and saw the Crocus blooming on the prairies. If you look out on the prairies in the village you may find them there too. As you walk in the woods and fields keep your eyes open for bits of color. It is time for life to return.
 

 Crocus

Crocus

 
 Wood Betony Growing on Moss

Wood Betony Growing on Moss

Where the Wild Things Are- Fast and Furious

Finally. There is hope!!! Looking back on last year’s records, the woods should soon be full of violets, trilliums, jack in the pulpits. The Lousewort should be several inches tall and the Leatherwood in full bloom. So, this year? The pussy willows came on time, but that is about all. The ground is still frozen, limiting what can start searching for the sunlight and warmth.

I expect that once things start, it will be fast and furious. The spring ephemerals will have a short opportunity for life before the leaves pop out and fill in. I will be out lotheoking for fiddleheads to be pushing through the leaves, sedges and bellworts not far behind. Then the violets and currents will bloom.
The warblers will make a big push through in the middle of May, filling the forest with song and movement. Hopefully the temps will stay up and the insects that they rely on for food will come out of hiding. Speaking of pests, we would rather be without...the wood ticks are out. Get out and enjoy the warmth, we will need every second of it after a winter like this!