Behold the Pink Trillium

•May 24, 2012 • 6 Comments

A couple days ago my husband came home and announced that there were flowers in the woods by his construction job site that looked like trillium, but they were pink. Excitement mounted. I had heard of pink trillium, but had not yet seen one. The next morning I tagged along to the job site, and lo and behold, pink trillium everywhere, in the woods and roadside ditches.

Pink WildflowersI spent the next 2-3 hours crawling around in the woods trying to get the best shots and trying to remember to be on the lookout for poison ivy (also everywhere). Later I researched pink trillium, trying to find out why they are pink. Is it due to being a different species, or is it related to the soil where they grow? They certainly look like the same species as the white ones I have seen. Note the three large leaves (actually bracts)  on both.

White trillium wildflower

Several sources indicated that while there is a pink species, it is quite rare. A more likely reason for the pink color is that it is part of the life cycle of white trillium. Apparently a few days before white trillium wilt, they often turn pink. Another interesting tidbit is that trillium seeds are spread by ants who carry the seeds back to their nests. The seeds are thus situated slightly underground in well-worked soil, enabling them to germinate and grow.

pink wildflowerTrillium bloom for about two to three weeks in the spring. The fact that the ones I found were pink probably means they won’t be around much longer this year.  Trillium are very slow growing and best enjoyed where you find them. It is illegal to pick or transplant trillium from public lands in Minnesota without a permit.

Pink wildflowerThe perfect end to a morning of wildflower scouting was a find of yellow lady slippers growing in amongst the pink  trillium. Stay tuned for more on the yellow lady slippers.

Pink and yellow wildflowers

Yellow: Wildflower Theme of the Week

•May 11, 2012 • 5 Comments

Yellow everywhere, or so it seems this week. Yesterday, May 9th, on Lake Bemidji State Park’s Bog Walk, the marsh marigolds now have quite a presence, lighting up the boardwalk with their brilliant yellow gold blossoms.

Yellow wild flowers

Having planted marigolds in my flower garden for years, I wondered if garden variety marigolds are related to the Marsh Marigolds. A little web research later, and, now I know that the answer is “no”.  The Marsh Marigold is in the buttercup family, and the garden marigold is in the aster family. Apparently, the main thing they have in common is their beautiful yellow color.

yellow wild flower blossom

Today I hiked the Rocky Point Trail at Lake Bemidji State Park, a different habitat with different flowers. The somewhat shy, but oh so fluid in the wind Large-flowered Bellwort was the flower of the day. Clumps of the Large-flowered Bellwort lined the path and drifted off into the woods. It is beautiful in a delicate sort of way.

Yellow wildflower

Bees collect their pollen and find their nectar tasty. Deer are fond of their foliage.

Yellow wildflower

Last, but not least, of the yellow wildflowers that posed for me today is the Downy Yellow Violet. The “downy” part of its name comes from the long soft hairs on its stem and on the underside of its heart shaped leaves.

Yellow Wildflower

The yellow blossom is less than an inch with purple brown veins and five petals. Its two side petals are bearded. The Downy Yellow Violet has an above ground stem, unlike the Common Blue Violet which has an underground stem.

Yellow wildflower

Bloodroot (Where’s the Blood?)

•May 1, 2012 • 4 Comments

Bloodroot is a beautiful wildflower found in early spring. A hike yesterday on Lake Bemidji State Park’s Rocky Point Trail revealed large numbers of blooming bloodroot. Despite their name which conjures up images bathed in red, the bloodroot blossom is a beautiful white flower. The plant stands 6-10 inches tall, has 8 to 12 petals in its flowers, and has large lobed leaves.

Bloodroot WildflowerSo, where’s the blood? The name comes from the red juice in its leaves, stems, and roots. It was/is used as a natural red dye, especially by Native American artists. Bloodroot has also been used in assorted medicinal remedies over the years, including dental hygiene products, cancer treatments, and for wart removal. Gardeners enjoy cultivated versions as ornamental plants in their gardens.

White wildflower closing its bloomThe flower opens wide on sunny days, but on cloudy days or as evening draws nigh, it closes its petals.

Bloodroot leaf with spent flowerWhile bloodroot leaves continue to grow after the blossom is spent and can be found all summer, the time period for seeing them in bloom is a short stretch in early spring. They are at their peak right now (May 1st) – I recommend you get out there and check ‘um out. (Bring your cameras.)

White wildflower with lobed leaves

Loons: Summer and Fall

•September 29, 2011 • 4 Comments

A couple evenings ago, out on the lake in our pontoon, I noticed one loon in three different places. All three sightings appeared to me to be juvenile loons in their coloring. At the time I wasn’t sure if I was seeing the same loon 3 times or a different loon each time. The mystery was solved for me while out kayaking yesterday morning when I saw two loons together and realized the adult loon had taken on its winter coloring. The photos below show the baby loon developing into a juvenile loon as well as the adult loon developing winter colors.

The first photo was taken on July 26, 2011. It shows the “baby” loon at approximately 1 month of age.

One month old loon and adult loon

The second photo was taken September 8, 2011.  This shows how the baby has turned into a juvenile loon. Also notice that the adult’s colors are not as crisp and defined as the earlier photo.

Two loons, one with wings spread

The last photo was taken September 28, 2011. Note the winter coloring on the adult loon.

Adult and juvenile loons with winter colors

When researching what loons looked like in the winter, I came across a couple other facts related to their winter migration.  Loons migrate to warmer weather, wintering on the southern coasts in either brackish  or salt water. A loon can  exist in salt water,  because they have special glands above their eye that expel salt from their system. Apparently it drips out the salt taken in from drinking salt water and eating salt water fish. Since I also migrate to the southern Florida coast in the winter, I wondered why I had never heard a loon calling in Florida. Ted Gostomski, the LoonWatch Coordinator at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute in Ashland, Wisconsin stated in an Ask the Expert forum, “Though loons have been heard giving yodels and tremolos on the wintering grounds, it is not common. It probably is because the hormone levels in loons are not high enough (i.e., they don’t feel a need to defend a territory) to bring about calling. Besides that, loons spend more time in groups during the winter, so the long distance calls like yodels and wails are not needed. They can communicate with quiet hoots to one another.”

One other worthwhile site to check out is the Common Loon Movements and Migration site by the Midwest Environmental Sciences Center. Loons from the midwest have been tagged with geolocators. Scientists are tracking their migration south. You can follow loons across the country as they make their way to warmer weather. I will definitely be looking for them in Charlotte Bay this winter.

Indian Pipe – Why is it white?

•September 1, 2011 • 1 Comment

The peculiarities of the Indian Pipe wildflower as described in my wildflower field guides had intrigued me. To my surprise, I discovered several plants growing at the edge of our yard, under some pine trees. Indian Pipe, also known as ghost flower or corpse plant, is a strange looking plant. Its white, waxy appearance is due to a lack of chlorophyll. Indian Pipe does not use photosynthesis to make food. Rather, it obtains sustenance from decaying plant material. Indian Pipe is often found growing in clusters, but is also seen in pairs or as a single flower.
white stemmed wildflowerDuring the pollination process the flower head nods toward the ground, however, the flower head turns upright after the pollination process.

Two Indian Pipe wildflowers, one nodding and one upright

Usually the plant is white when it emerges from the ground, but then, it can turn pink (as the ones in our yard). Once the plant releases its seeds, it starts to turn black.

Overhead view of Indian PipeWhile Indian Pipe lacks the characteristics that many associate with beautiful flowers, I think mother nature has done her job well. Indian Pipe is beautiful in its own way. (The flowers below had been broken off the cluster. I gathered them from the ground to photograph. Since they turn black quickly, they do not make a good picked bouquet.)

three Indian Pipe flowers

The Mother (and Dad) Loon Story

•August 1, 2011 • 2 Comments

Sometimes it’s tough to be a mother (or dad too, but I do not have direct experience in that role). The saga of a loon family on our lake this summer exemplifies the trials and tribulations of being a parent. The story begins in May on one of my first kayak outings of the year. I was kayaking in one of my favorite areas on the lake, a secluded bay where there are no houses and the natural shoreline (full of grass, reeds, brush, trees, etc.) is relatively undisturbed. Cruising the shoreline I came upon a loon nest with two eggs. While excited to see the nest, I did notice that it seemed more exposed than most, susceptible to both predators and the elements as well as motor boats. My concern was founded. A few days later someone reported that the nest was flipped sideways and had no eggs in it.

Loon Nest withTwo EggsDuring the last week of June I was kayaking with a friend in a different area of the lake, but relatively close to where I spotted the nest. While peering through the reeds looking for anything interesting, I saw the distinctive colors and patterns of a loon. Looking closer I concluded I was seeing a dead loon. The loon’s body and head appeared limp and lifeless, lying flat on a clump of grass in the reeds. With my camera in my lap, I began a mental dialogue debating the photo ethics of shooting a dead loon for scientific interest or just letting it rest in peace and paddling away. I turned to my friend who was paddling close by and asked if she was seeing what I was seeing. She indeed had seen the loon, and began to lament about the loon’s demise. All of a sudden there was a rustling in the reeds, and the loon rose up and flapped her way into the water. My friend later commented that the loon’s entry into the water looked like that of an injured bird, an easy target for prey. We began to put two and two together, while the loon swam back and forth close by us. Looking at the spot where the loon had been, sure enough, there was a nest with eggs.  We apologized profusely to Mrs. Loon for our disturbance, and quickly paddled out of the area.

baby loon swimming

Fast forward to the middle of July, once again out kayaking in the same area, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a young loon out with her parents. (There were 2 eggs in the nest. I do not know the fate of the other.)

Two Loons looking for baby

I watched the family of loons for awhile, and I think I may have been observing a fishing lesson. The parents were making frequent dives, and I did see the little one make a couple quick dives in the close vicinity of her parents. Then I observed the little one go under, but did not see her surface. As I looked around for her, I got the sense that her parents were also wondering where she was.

Two Loons and BabyWhere’d she go? ……. Do you see her? …….. There she is.

Adult loon and baby loonI think she is getting scolded by her dad for going too far away and staying under too long, you know, worrying her parents.

two adult loons and baby loon swimming in a lineThe HAPPY family.