A journey into the eyes and mind of a naturalist.


Year in My Yard: July Blooms

In an effort to keep up with the flowers exploding on my property.  Here is a quick update of some blooms from July.


Pink Bellflower

July 3:  Pink Bellflower


Enchanters Nightshade.JPG

July 7:  Enchanter’s Nightshade


Day Lily

July 7:  Day Lily


Dame's rocket.JPG

July 7:  Dame’s Rocket


Day Lily2

July 7:  Day Lily



July 7:  Plantain


Purple Monkey Flower.JPG

July 11:  Purple Monkey Flower



July 13:  Clematis



July 14: Toadflax












Froggy Friends

Tis the season of love all around us.  Birds, insects, mammals and especially amphibians are all trying to pass on their genes to the next generation.  Male frogs call in the hopes of attracting a female to mate with, being selected based on the volume a frequency of his call.  Males will call almost continuously through the peak of the mating season, day and night.  I have seen dead frogs in ponds that, I can only assume, have literally called themselves to death.

Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens)

The Northern Leopard Frog is amongst the first frogs to begin calling in the spring.  They will call at he surface or just below making a call that is very difficult to describe in words.

Green Frog (Rana clamintans)

The green frog is a large frog, second only to the bull frog in Minnesota.  The green frog is a late season caller and wraps up the mating season for amphibians around my house.  Their call sounds like plucking an out of tune banjo.  Their tadpoles will spend the entire next year underwater before emerging as young adults the following summer.

Frogs, and other amphibians, are an important of the environment, serving as predator and prey for many other species.  Unfortunately their global populations are falling as human influences to environment continue to marginalized their habitats and other needs for life.  Amphibians are an indicator species of overall health of an ecosystem.  If global populations are decreasing what does that mean for the overall health of the planet??
Photos taken on my iPhone 4S.

A Year in My Yard: June Flowers

Here are some more blooms from my yard for the month of June.  No story or commentary, just pictures.

Prairie Primrose

June 12:  Prairie Primrose


June 12:  Bugleweed


June 12: Sage

Pink Spirea

June 12:  Pink Spirea (clearly a favorite of local bees)

Catulpa Tree

June 13:  Catalpa (tree)

Choke Cherry

June 13: Choke Cherry


June 13:  White Campion

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June 18:  Foxglove Beardtongue



June 18:  Hosta  (the deer didn’t eat them this year!!)



June 18:  Cattail



June 18:  Red Lily







Spring is waning and summer is fast approaching.  As I have been documenting the flowering plants on my property this year I have noticed the progression of flowers seems to come in spurts of new blooms followed by relative pauses followed by another transition to a new group of flowers.  These pauses could be explained by the amount of time each species blooms, is pollinated and then wilts.  This post contains the last of the spring flowers and starts some of the early summer flowers.


May 20:  Azalia

My lone azalia has been browsed by the deer upt ot about 5 feet.  The deer eat all the twigs and shoots in the winter leaving few flowers the following spring.

Strawberry 3

May 20: Strawberry

Strawberries are delicious for both humans and wildlife.  This flower had a surprise to offer, a springtail (the small black dot left of center).

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Springtails are amongst the smallest and most numerous insects on the planet.  They get their name from a tail like appendenge they use to “spring” away from danger.  They are so small they often go unnoticed despite their large populations in most areas.  Each spring when snow is still on the ground you can often find crowds of springtails in tree wells where the snow has melted and the sun is warm.




May 21:  Phlox

Phlox is another one of those plants of which I am not fond.  The attractive blooms are deceiving as the plants themselves will spread and quickly take over a given area.  These phlox are in several openings in the forest around my house.  If they ever get out of control I will keep the population in check!



Meadow Rue

May 25: Meadow Rue

We moved into our house 2 years ago.  The former owners were ambitious gardeners and we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into with all the gardens and flowers.  The first year was mostly about deer management.  Anything the deer wanted, they ate.  Many potential flowers ended up in the the bellies of our impressive local deer population.   This meadow rue is one of those that finally made it past the deer and bloomed.


Highbush Cranberry

May 25:  High Bush Cranberry

Pagoda Dogwood

May 25:  Pagoda Dogwood

Above are a couple of different varieties of iris I found this year.  The left is a native Blue Flag, the middle a mysterious yellow flag that I found blooming near the pond and the more domestic yellow iris on the right.



May 26:  Peonies

Peonies are huge.  I’ve been challeged to take pictures of some ridiculously small flowers this year.  Peonies are on the other end of that spectrum, they’re HUGE!



May 26:  Chives

The flower of the chive looks like a single flower at first glance.  A closer look reveals a composite mosaic of many smaller flowers.  This creates a one stop shop for passing pollinators.




May 28: Duckweed

So this isn’t a flower….I think.  Duckweed is the smallest flowering plant on the planet.  The flower is little more than two small pistels with some pollen.  No petals, not flare, just function.  Each duckweed plant consists of two small leaves and several roots, there isn’t any extra energy to be invested in luxurious flowers.



Russian Sage

May 28:  Russian Sage



May 28:  Spiderwort





A Year in my Yard has been successful and challenging thus far.  I have been challenged to be aware of the changes of each plant and to keep a keen eye for flowers that may not be as large or colorful as I would expect.  This first flower I spotted while mowing the lawn.  I mowed around it and came back to identify and photograph the tiny flower that almost met my mower blade.


Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Veronica serpyllifolia

May 15:  Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Veronica serpyllifolia


This is amongst the most diminuative and modest flowers I have found this year.  Dispite their small size and unassuming color the flowers are quite attractive.  Each bloom is about 3mm wide and can easily dissappear in the lawn.


This next flower is still small but a bit more showy.



May 16:  Anenome

This is a true wildflower native to my yard.  Off the manicured lawn I have a small parcel of oaks and aspens.  There are several oaks that are easily 150+ years old.  This tells me that this land has not been plowed and the soil has been relativlely undisturbed since European settlement. This small flower is the decendent of the same flowers that bloomed when the oaks were saplings, when native Americans inhabited the area and followed the oaks north, chasing the retreating glaciers.  Today these wildflowers struggle to keep up in the ever changing ecosystem with human disturbance and invasive species.  This individual has held on.


May 19: Dwarf Crested Iris

Another small but showy flower on my property has a unique method of propagation.  It grows in a slowly increasing ring year after year.  This particular ring is about 4 feet in diameter bloom sychronously creating a purple flare in my front yard.


Ohio Buckeye

May 19:  Ohio Buckeye

The Ohio Buckeye is not a native tree to Minnesota but it has adapted to the climate.  I have several buckeys around my property most likely all related to largest and oldest tree in my front yard.  Trees have a problem with reproducing.  If thier offspring grow too close to the them they may be inadvertently shaded and killed.  To overcome this setback many trees produce fruits, nuts or other modes of transporting thier seeds away from the parent.  In the case of the buckey it produces large nuts that serve as a food source for animals of all kinds.  Inevitably a squirrel will bury a nut and forget about it.  Those forgotten stashed become new trees and the population spreads.


Wild Geranium

May 19: Wild Geranium

Survival doesn’t always involve playing by the convential rules.  As the name suggests the wild geranium is a relative to the domesticated geraniums we see in a greenhouses and flower gardens.  Despite the differences between the wild and domestic flowers they share many characteristics physical and genetic.  In a way the wild gerenium has survived by being domesticated.  It’s genetic legacy lives on through gardens and greenhouses.



May 19:  Columbine

The columbine is a delicate flower that is one of my favorites.  I have found it very difficult to photograph due to its unique shape and structure.  I found an angle that worked with this picture and I think it captures the flower’s personality well.


Mustard Family

May 19:  Mustard Family?

Here is a flower that I’m not exactly sure of.  I think it is a member of the mustard family but I’m not entirely sure.  This flower could have come from a wayward seed from my bird feeder or my vegetable garden.  Wherever it came it from it eeked out a niche in one of my gardens.  I let it go through its lifecycle to reproduce more seeds to explore the reaches of my yard.






May Flowers

April showers really do bring May flowers.  The early blooming flowers have come and gone.  The spring ephemerals of March and April have taken advantage of the leafless trees and lack of competition from pollinators.  May brings a new approach.  The plants flaunt their nectar with colors, smells and profuse sprays of blooms.  Competition is high and each species attracts their own target group of pollinators.



April 30:  Apple Tree

I have four apple trees on my property.  We canned 14 quarts of apple pie filling, apple-sauce, and apple butter last year.  It is difficult to believe that those apples all start with a single pollen and ovum coming together.  This flower will be a ripe apple in just a couple of months.

I have had the most difficulty in identifying the cultivated varieties of plant.  I am much more comfortable with the wildflowers and trees that have limited variation.  Through the process of artificial selection, humans have taken that variation and contorted and modified the wild stock to create flowers that may look very different than their wild ancestors.  Just as a chihuahua looks nothing like its wild wolf ancestors domestic flowers have been altered in shape and size.  Above there is an ajuga, crab apple, and stilbe.


Jack in the Pulpit

May 6: Jack-In-The-Pulpit

Here is one flower that I look forward to seeing every spring.  The Jack-in-the-Pulpit is named for the flower’s stamen hidden beneath leafy pulpit.  This unusual shape facilitates pollination.

Lilacs are a springtime favorite for their color and fragrant scent.  Lilacs illustrate a multifaceted approach toward pollination.  The color and scent are the obvious attractants the third is a multitude of flowers.  Looking closely at the lilac it is composed of dozens of smaller flowers next to each other.  This approach increases the chances of at least one flower achieving pollination by minimizing effort on behalf of the pollinator.  Instead of trying to find each flower individually the pollinator has to find one group and set up shop.



Honey Suckle

May 8:  Honey Suckle

Flower shape is directly related to pollinator needs.  In this case, the plant creates a landing pad for the pollinator with an elongated petal leading to a nectar reward after passing through the pollen.




May 8:  Dogwood

The dogwood above is another example of a compound flower with the bloom composed of many smaller flowers.  In the picture above the effectiveness of the approach is illustrated as a flower beetle is clearly visible and covered in pollen!


Crab Apple2

May 8:  Crab Apple

Although not edible for human consumption the crab apple trees in my yard are an invaluable source of energy for many migrating and resident birds in the fall and winter.  These flowers will bear fruits that will ultimately drive the migration of a bird hundreds of miles.  The energy of the sun converted in the feathers and wind driving south.



May 15:  Iris

Of all the cultivated flowers in my yard the many varieties of iris still maintain the relative shape of their wild counterparts.


Yellow Lady Slipper

May 15:  Yellow Lady Slipper

The pink and white lady slipper is the official state flower of Minnesota.  This yellow lady slipper is a close relative.  This year the plant had 28 delicate flowers.  Lady slippers are members of the orchid family with a very different shape and approach toward pollination than other flowers.


Lily of the Valley

May 15: Lily of the Valley

A weed is simply defined as a plant where you don’t want it.  Many plants we consider weeds today have had a much more accepted past.  Lily of the Valley is socially defined as a desirable flower but anyone who has had a garden with it knows it can be anything but desirable.  Lily of the Valley spreads like wildfire and is nearly impossible to remove.  It spreads through roots and shoots up new growth as prolific as ground ivy, a common weed.  For now, the Lily of the Valley has a stay of execution in a couple spots in my yard.

Up Next:  More May Flowers!  OR   Insect Sex!






A Year in My Yard: Strength in Diversity

When we look at each other we can very quickly pick out the subtle differences between individuals, our brains are hard-wired to identify faces and pick up on the minuscule changes in facial muscles.  We can apply this ability to detect differences in individuals in other familiar species like dogs, cats and horse as well.  However; our ability to detect those same differences between two individual plants does not exist.  A white oak is a white oak and we don’t see the individual traits that make it an individual.  We group plants into a single label when, like us, each individual has their own traits and variation in their genetic code.   One way to see these traits is in the visible differences in the color of their flowers.

However; our ability to detect those same differences between two individual plants does not exist.  A white oak is a white oak and we don’t see the individual traits that make it an individual.  We group plants into a single label when, like us, each individual has their own traits and variation in their genetic code.   One way to see these traits is in the visible differences in the color of their flowers.

Look at the following pictures of two individual daffodils from April 17, 2016.  They share the same structure and shape but are very different in color.  This is equivalent to a blonde and a brunette hair color in humans.


So why all the variation?  The more diversity in the individuals the more resilient the species is for survival.  If a disease or predator targets a specific trait the other will still survive.  This is the foundation of the principle of natural selection; those individuals who have the most advantageous traits live to produce the most offspring.

Humans have taken advantage of this variation to produce the myriad of “breeds” of flowers, animals and other plants that we call domesticated.  We have exploited that variation for our own needs and have transformed the world around us as a result.

Here are some updates of other flowers blooming in my yard:

April 16, 2016



Little Leaf Buttercup:  It looks like a weed but has beautiful little flowers before the grass is green



White Trout Lily:  For a very brief moment I thought I had a rare variety of trout lily but alas I have the “common” variety.  Although looking at this tiny flower is anything but common.






April 17, 2016



Periwinkle:  This spread like fire and is used for ground cover in the landscaping in my front yard.



White Hyacinth:  In my never ending battle against deer and rabbits I have to spray my new shoots with a mix of egg and water.  This one got nipped before I got out there.  You can see the snipped leaves, thankfully it didn’t snip the flower buds!




Brunnera:  This delicate little flower is right outside my front door and adds a little splash of color to the browns and grays of spring. 




Final thought:  Looking at the diversity of all the different shapes, shades and sizes of flowers present in my own yard I cannot help but see them all as variation within one common ancestral flower that bloomed millions of years ago.  The diversity found within that species lives on in each new bloom.

Up Next:  Why flowers?


Spring fever is not limited to the human species.  Animals, plants, fungi and all the other forms of life that have been laying dormant, hibernating, or just laying low conserving energy in a torpor are also eager to get up and move around when the warm weather returns.  Among the first aquatic animals to

Among the first aquatic animals to get “spring fever” are the frogs and turtles.  Wood frogs and chorus frogs can often be heard calling while there is still ice on parts of the pond.  Painted turtles have even been observed swimming UNDER the ice.


How do these turtles do it?  Western Painted Turtles, Chrysemys picta, is a small turtle common throughout Minnesota.  They spend the winter buried in the mud of pond where they absorb oxygen through their skin and mouth.  Some turtle species even have an oxygen transferring membrane in their cloaca (the rear end).

While I was taking a break from yard work at my sit spot one afternoon I heard some crunching leaves but couldn’t see who, or what was making the sound.  Instead of investigating I just waited it out.  The crunches got closer until a small male painted turtle came trudging over a log.  Because I didn’t move he didn’t pause and walked right over my left foot and then right under my right leg.  To him I just another obstacle between his pond of departure and his next watering hole.


I helped him over the hill to the pond on the other side of our property in exchange for a couple of quick photos.   This time of year turtles are on the move looking to expand the gene pool and lay eggs.  All too often their journeys bring them onto roadways where they meet and untimely end.  I have stopped many, many times to escort all shapes and sizes of turtles across the road.


Turtles are truly ancient beings they have outlived the dinosaurs and have seen tremendous change  on this planet.  They have mastered the niche that crosses both land and water.



Up Next:  More flowers in my yard!

A Year in My Yard: Lessons in Gambling

I have challenged myself to document and report all of the flowering plants on my property for they year.  I will be sharing my findings as they happen throughout the flowering season.

Spring in Minnesota is full of extremes as the weather seems to go through mood swings, personalities and extremes all within several weeks.   This spring started very early with nearly a week of very above normal temperatures.  But in true spring fashion, the warmth was short=lived and the cold returned for several weeks.   For us humans this is not a big deal as we just have to put on the winter jacket again and wait out the cold.  But plants have much more at stake.

Each spring plants play the odds for when to withdraw from their energy reserves and begin to produce leaves and flowers.  Those who bud out too soon risk losing their investment with late frosts.  Those who bud out too late miss out on valuable solar energy to capture.

Plants also risk missing their pollinators if they bloom at the wrong time.  Many plants rely on insects to transfer pollen from one flower to another increasing genetic diversity within the population and producing the next generation of the species.  Because of climate change we are now witnessing an upset in some of these relationships.  Some species of plants are blooming before their pollinators are present.  This may not seem like a big deal but the very survival of some species is on the line.

And now here are some of those early gamblers:

April 2, 2016

Slippery Elm, Ulmus rubra

Slippery Elm

These small flowers have been nipped by the frost.  Notice the wilting on the stamen and the damage to the bud scales.  This tree took a hit but I think the gamble ultimately paid off.   This is a tree species that I did not realize I had on my property and was a new one to identify as well!


April 14, 2016

Crocus, Crocus sativus



April 16, 2016

Pussy Willow, Salix discolor

Here is an example of how one species prevents self-fertilization. The first picture is the flower bud taken on March 26, 2016.  The second and third pictures are from two different trees.  The second picture is the male stage of the flower with the flamboyant male stamen  spreading their pollen.  In the third picture, the stamen have wilted and the female stigma has matured to receive pollen from another tree.



Flower bud 




Male flowers.  Not the long stamen with pollen heads on the end.



Female flower.  Note the yellow stigma on the ends.




BoxelderAcer negundo 

Boxelder trees are short lived, water loving members of the maple family.  They produce samaras (the helicopter seeds) like other maples.  Growing up my favorite climbing tree was a boxelder.



Boxelder flower



Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides

I have a love-hate relationship with cottonwoods.  Their rapid and impressive growth make 50-year-old cottonwoods look like giants compared to other species 3 times their age.  Because they are a member of the Poplar family they have very soft wood and will often drop branches or limbs during storms.  As the name suggests they also produce cotton that will infiltrate every crack and crevice around the house, cars,and your own body.  The yellow bud scales that protected the flower before it bloomed are quite sticky and will readily be tracked through the house on my feet, socks and shoes.  I always seem to find them stuck in places well after the flowers have finished blooming.

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Siberian Squill, Scilla siberica

Siberian Squill


Ground IvyGlechoma hederacea

Ground Ivy, commonly called Creeping Charlie, is a very common weed in many yards and lawns.  Despite its negative reputation as a weed, this plant serves as an important early spring food source for many insects.  The trumpet-shaped flowers are a product of coevolution with the insects that pollinate them.  The shape forces the insect to enter the flower to access the nectar deep in the trumpet.  In doing so the insect becomes covered with pollen, which is then transferred to another flower.  Flowers are, for all intents and purposes, billboards for insects.  They are advertisements that have evolved in response to pollinators.  Each flower is adapted to a specific set of pollinators and each pollinator is adapted to a specific set of flowers.  Which bears the question which came first?

The gamble of making energy demanding flowers is the dependence on the pollinator to complete the act of pollination.  Without the pollinators, the plants would not be able to reproduce.  This subtle relationship is often taken for granted but our very existence depends on it.



I have two more flowers I have yet to identify.  New post coming soon!

A Year in My Yard

It has been a very long time since I last posted.  Raising children, moving jobs and houses is demanding in its own right.   Last summer, in a moment of humility, I realized I there were plants on my property that I couldn’t name or even identify.   In this moment I gave myself a challenge to photograph and document every flowering plant on my modest 4 acres.  This challenge will give me an opportunity to better understand and connect with the land and improve my understanding of the plants in the place I call home.

SO here we go.  I’m going to post as the flowers pop and try to keep up!

March 22, 2016

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

The Silver Maple is a very common tree in southern Minnesota.  It is native to the floodplains and basins of the great rivers where it thrives in the sandy moist soil.  It’s rapid growth rate made it an ideal tree for yards and developments and today we see them in many more places than their native habitat.

The photo below is the the female flowers of the Silver Maple tree.  The long red protrusions are the stigma of the flower each awaiting a single grain of pollen.   Once the stigma absorbs a pollen grain from a male flower it will develop into a seed.  Come summer each of these seeds will come whirling down as a samara or as my daughter calls them “helicopters”


The male flowers illustrated below have long pollen covered stamen that allow any passing breeze to release the pollen in the hopes of connecting with a stigma of another Silver Maple.


In many species of plants the flowers will start off in one sex and then morph to the other to prevent self fertilization.  This adaptation maximizes the chances of cross pollination between individuals and thus adding genetic variation to the population.


Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

My property has many many aspen trees.  These soft wooded trees can reproduce in several ways.  They have the traditional sexual reproduction using flowers, called catkins, pollinated by the wind but they can also clone themselves.   Cloning occurs when the roots from an adult tree spread to a neighboring area and sprout as a tree.  In the mountains of Colorado there are vast forests of aspen trees comprised of only a few individual actual trees, making them one of the largest single living organisms all connected through a maze of roots.

My students often find these “caterpillars” on the ground in the spring.  What they have actually found is the reproductive organs of the aspen, a catkin.  These unique looking flowers are often one of the first signs of spring.  Their fuzzy appearance helps catch the slightest breeze sending a load of pollen to the sky.


Note the yellow pollen on my hand in the picture below.



Snow Drop (Galanthus sp.)

This is the first non-tree flower of the year.  As the common name suggests the Snow Drop can often be in full bloom even with snow still on the ground.  The day after I took the picture below we had several inches of snow.  These and other flowers are an important early season pollen resource for bees and other pollinators.  The Snow Drop lays dormant for nearly 10 months a year as a bulb.  The bulb stores all the energy the plant needs to push through the soil, produce leaves, and flower.  After a short month or so above ground the plant will once again retreat below ground to wait for the following spring.


That’s all for now.  I’m anxiously waiting for the boxelder, cottonwood, and a tree that I’m not sure of to pop!  I also have tulips, daffodils and iris poking through the soil, not to mention the ground ivy or creeping Charlie that will be flowering soon too!!