Fields of gold

Prairie parkland landscapes are at their peak golden color now. The fall landscape is transforming daily, and with the nice fall weather lately, it’s a glorious time to be out walking around. I’ve given up trying to find the migrating birds at this points and am just enjoying the golden colors everywhere.

The prairie at Tamarack park in White Bear Lake looks golden with stems drying Big Blue Stem and Indian grass, as well as a healthy crop of Showy Goldenrod. Leaves of a few of the maples and ashes have begun to change color also.
There is a similar scene in the restored prairie at Reservoir Woods in St. Paul where the low vegetation is a solid mass of several species of Goldenrod, with a few purple and blue asters and the stems of Indian Grass mixed in.
Bright yellow plumes of Showy Goldenrod rise above the rest of the vegetation in this landscape. And the flowers are a major attraction for honeybees and bumblebees by the dozens.
I don’t think I’ve seen this many honeybees in a native landscape for quite some time. Goldenrod and Asters are the late blooming plants in the fall that bees depend on to stock their larders with pollen over the winter.
Stiff Goldenrod with its erect, rigid stems and fat, almost succulent looking leaves is also in full flower not, but is not nearly as attractive to the bees as the Showy Goldenrod.
Stiff Goldenrod flowers seem larger and more attractive to my eyes, but not to the bees.
Canada Goldenrod has already bloomed and is putting out seeds that the migrating sparrows and finches will appreciate.
Earlier in the fall the American Goldfinches began harvesting the seedheads of the Meadow Blazingstar and led their newly fledged offspring over to the seedheads of the Canada Goldenrod.
What new things will I see on tomorrow’s walk?

Fall reminiscence

After four days of the white stuff raining down on us, I need a shot of color from the brilliant hues of this past Fall season.  

Late in the summer and early fall, the dominant color in the prairie garden changes to yellow as several species of Goldenrod bloom. The yellow blooms and rust-brown grasses of this prairie are accented by the flowers of several aster species in shades of blue to purple.
Here is a feast of nectar and pollen for bees, and the flowers blooming this late in the summer and fall have their undivided attention.
Five-foot tall Maximillion sunflowers are just one of many sunflower species that bloom in the fall.
A New England Aster blooming along the sidewalk to my front door was a magnet for bumblebees, honeybees, and at least two species of syrphid (hover) flies.

One way to ensure seed set in a plant is to capture as many pollinators as possible, and this seems to be the strategy influencing the flowering times of Goldenrod and Aster species. By blooming so late in the summer and early fall, they are pretty much the only pollen and nectar sources around.

And to ensure that bees do visit their copious numbers of flowers, the plants need to advertise themselves with the colors that are most attractive to bee eyes — yellow-green and blue-purple. Bees also key in on light that is a combination of yellow and ultra-violet, something humans can’t detect, but probably marks landing platforms or serves as nectar guides on flowers.

Summer’s brilliant colors fade in the fall as the landscape transforms. It will be another 8-10 months before I can enjoy scenes like this again.

the Fen

You might wonder, what’s a fen?  It is a type of wetland, but different from most because it is fed by mineral-rich ground water, which makes the soil pH mostly neutral to alkaline, compared to the acidity of bogs.  Seasonal changes in water levels and peat build-up mean that plant (and animal) distributions can be quite clumped, depending on soil moisture and nutrients.

Prairie Blazing Star occurs in dry prairies, too, but it must not be too fussy because this soil was quite damp.

Prairie Blazing Star (Liastris pycnostachya) occurs in dry prairies, too, but it must not be too fussy because this soil was quite damp.

Fens can be dominated by marshy meadows of grasses with clumps of perennial forbs scattered about,

Pink flowered Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) in a grassy part of the fen.

Pink flowered Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) in a grassy part of the fen.

but prone to invasion of woody vegetation, especially where the soil is drier.

Willow and Aspen were the dominant trees in this fen shrub-meadow.

Willow and Aspen were the dominant trees in this fen shrub-meadow.  The vegetation is so dense it is difficult to walk through.  Joe Pye weed (pink) and Meadowsweet (white) compete for space with Goldenrod (faint yellow) here.

With so much plant diversity in this area, there were quite a few pollinators out.  I saw more butterflies and bees than any other place I have been this summer.

Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) with bumblebee and yellow jacket pollinators.

Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) with bumblebee and wasp pollinators.

A Bog Fritillary on an early blooming Goldenrod

A Bog Fritillary on an early blooming Goldenrod

An Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly warmed up in the sun.

An Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido comyntas) butterfly warmed up in the sun.

This Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) sat in the middle of the trail until I practically walked on it.

This Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) sat in the middle of the trail until I practically walked on it.

This little acreage in the middle of the Blaine, MN suburbia is definitely worth a second (or third) visit.  It has just recently been acquired by the state Department of Natural Resources and designated a Scientific and Natural Area (SNA).