(Our guest writer today is Carol Rustad. Carol tries to spend the peak time of year for wildflowers (April 15 to May 15) in Minnesota, guiding wildflower tours through the countryside.           Carol has a Master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has traveled around the world (Ecuador, Tanzania, and Norway) to see wildflowers in their natural habitat.

          Back home, Carol is drawn to shady native plants in her own heavily shaded yard, except for a sunny berm in the front that was teeming with tulips this spring and other perennials that thrive in the heat. She is a Master Gardener and does preservation volunteer work with the Wachiska-Audubon Conservation committee. Her mixed media painting of the prairie spiderwort plant (Tradescantia occidentalis) won the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum’s botanical illustration contest for 2005.)

           My first spring thoughts are of wildflowers when I dream about the woods in southeastern Minnesota where I lived as a child.  Lanesboro, MN, my hometown, is located in bluff country approximately 45 miles southeast of Rochester and near the Wisconsin and Iowa borders.

          The glacier did not pass through this area therefore the hills and valleys are filled with both pre and post glacial flowers.  Each spring I lead wildflower tours on the seven acres I own in the area.  They became mine when efforts to halt logging the woods failed. I paid prime farm prices for bluffs and ravines, worthless agriculturally, but priceless as a wildflower habitat.

          Walk with me on a typical tour through the woods gradually making our way to the top of a high bluff.  The valley floor is carpeted with false rue anemone.  Some locals call them “May flowers”.  As a child my May baskets were filled with them.  You can’t take one step without crushing them.  So we follow a deer path on the edge of a ravine.  Jack in the pulpits are standing guard.  May apples spread their wide leaves.  Close examination will reveal fragile spring beauty with its five pink petals veined in deep scarlet.  The three liver-like pointed lobes of hepatica leaves and the graceful swirl of maidenhair fern catch our eye.  Wild ginger with its secret single flower hidden at the base of its leaves and wild onions spade-like leaves were used by the Indians for food flavoring.  Lacy dutchman’s breeches (yes, their flowers look like baggy pants) and Virginia bluebells are almost done blooming.   These ephemerals complete their yearly life cycle before the trees have fully leafed out and blocked the sun.  Their leaves will quickly disappear into the forest floor until next year.  We spread some juice from a bloodroot stem on the back of our hand.  It looks like mercurochrome and was used by the Indians for war paint and dye.  Blue cohash and meadow rue provide a taller contrast to break the rhythm of the low growing flowers.  If we are lucky we will find a yellow lady slipper enticing insects into its hollow cavern for pollination.

          As we enter the deep ravine we may slip a little.  We pick our way carefully from rock to rock and scramble up crude rock steps on the other side grasping small saplings for support.  Some trash has been thoughtlessly dumped over the edge of the minimum maintenance road above.  Tires, appliances, and debris tarnish the woodland sanctuary.

          The deer trail proceeds upward.  A new floral ecosystem has appeared.  The pink rue anemone flowers spoke from a top leaf juncture replacing the false rue anemone carpet.  Yellow violets, blue phlox and red columbine present their color wheel of blooms.

          Near the top of the hill we have a startling unexpected discovery.  Quietly nestled among the oak trees, the single spire of a long bracted orchid reigns.  Upon close observation of its light green alternate flowers, shades of yellow and lavender appear.  We are in awe.  What secret treasures our Creator has given us.

          We come to a clearing.  It is a rocky ledge overlooking the scenic Root River valley.  We spot our car far below and wonder how we were able to ascend such a height.  A third ecosystem yields wood anemone, prairie smoke, a sedge, blue-eyed grass, hoary puccoon, and numerous pasque flowers.  We now know why Buffalo Bill Cody and Dr. Powell held powwows with the Indians at this location each spring.  The early spring blooming pasque flower was an Indian sacred sign of rebirth and renewal.

          After lunch we drive to the Big Woods to experience the majestic amethyst shooting stars on the drip line of an east facing limestone ledge.  The huge yellow trout lilies dot the forest floor.  Our finale is the discovery of thirty showy orchis at the forest edge. We are exhausted and despite a few scratches from gooseberry thorns are overwhelmed with the experience of the day.  Truly “our cups overflow”.

My Favorite Wildflowers in Nebraska

·        During a moist April, a valley near the teepee camp at Platte River State Park is carpeted with Dutchman’s breeches.

·        In April, paths from the Pioneer Blvd. entrance to Wilderness Park are loaded with white trout lilies.

·        In July, Wachiska Audubon Dieken Prairie near Bennett has gorgeous multicolored prairie phlox.

·        In September, Wachiska Audubon Wulf Prairie near Eagle has downy gentian blooming.

  • Prairie fringed orchis are a rare reward in the virgin prairies around Lincoln.            

(Copyright June 11, 2005)