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Phenology Report, August 23 2022

A field of tall yellow flowers with yellow petals and yellow centers. The leaves of the plant are joined around the stem, forming a small cup.
A field of cup plants

It's time for another seasonal transition, so John's had a busy week keeping track of all the phenological events! Luckily, he's not alone: he ran into a family this week whose 9-year-old daughter had repeated John's description of phenology, "Phenology is the rhythmic biological nature of events as it relates to climate," to her class. John says, "Stick with it, kids! There's a chance somebody might ask one day."

John has already found yellow, purple, and red autumn leaves. They include several spreading dogbanes that have turned bright yellow, and the first milkweed leaves are joining them. Wild sarsaparilla turns purple, and black bindweed turns the color of "a good red wine!" John describes black bindweed as an undesirable plant for farmers. It has long vines, arrow-head-shaped leaves, and tiny, match-head-sized white flowers.

Jewelweed is still flowering, and some plants also have ripe seed pods. This amazing plant (one of my favorites!) has an orange flower that looks like a trumpet attached to a fishhook. The flower starts as a pollen-producing male flower. The 'fishhook' contains nectar, which is prized by hummingbirds. When a hummingbird flies up, inserts its beak, and bends its tongue through the 'fishhook' to get the nectar, it changes the shape of the flower and dabs pollen onto the forehead of the hummingbird. As the flower develops, it becomes an ovary-producing female flower. When a hummingbird comes along to drink nectar, the process is reversed, pollen is deposited on the flower, and voila! Pollination has occurred! Jewelweed is also called 'spotted touch-me-not' due to its exploding seed pods. As you examine the plant, you might notice small green banana-shaped seed pods on the plant. If you touch or brush past a ripe one, it will explode and shower seeds everywhere!

This is what John's observed in trees and shrubs:

  • Pagoda dogwood: Birds are chowing down on these dogwood berries! At John's house, he estimates that there were several hundred berries on a single plant, and the birds left behind only a dozen unripe or fouled berries. The structure that holds the berries, called a corymb, is quite noticeable! Dogwood corymbs are bright red and are shaped to hold the berries at a similar height to one another. Thanks to their vivid color, dogwood corymbs can be seen from a distance!
  • Nannyberry: These berries are still green.
  • Black chokeberry: This plant grows a deep, dark berry with a flower scar on the bottom. John says they taste sweet initially but have a less-enjoyable aftertaste; he thinks they could make for a decent jam, but probably not a pie.
  • Crabapples: John's ornamental crabapples are covered in apples! He predicts that in a month or so, the robins, sparrows, and ruffed grouses will be stuffing themselves with crabapples from his trees (and he'll enjoy watching them!).
  • Mountain maple: This shrub maple's samaras (seeds) turn a beautiful coral red in fall. John describes them as "absolutely stunning!" His mountain maples are just beginning to take a blush.
  • Mountain ash: These berries are beginning to turn orange but have not yet reached the bright, vibrant orange color of full ripeness.
  • Basswood: Looking at basswoods right now, you'll notice a big, heavy, pale green/yellow wing (samara) with several fruits or nuts hanging down. These nuts are "hard as a dickens!" according to John! Apparently, pine grosbeaks eat these nuts in the wintertime, but John says it seems like a long, laborious process to grind up something that hard. Good thing they've got those big, strong beaks!
  • Red oak: Acorns are reaching a visible size on these trees. Red oak acorns are less appetizing to squirrels, so many of them reach the ground intact! The deer will often eat them.
  • Bur oak: In contrast to the red oak, John reports that the bur oak acorns in his yard rarely reach the ground. The squirrels harvest them right from the tree, eating many and caching the rest!

John's critter observations include:

  • Gray treefrog: These frogs have a bird-like call and often call in the fall months. John often cues into them because, unlike birds, they'll call from the same location for hours and hours! You can hear his impression of one here:
  • John Latimer the treefrog
  • Garter snake: John dodged an intrepid garter snake crossing the road last week! Keep an eye out on your drives: I can often distinguish snake from stick by shape. Sticks will 'stick' up from the pavement at multiple points along their length, while snakes will only lift their head; the rest of the body is pressed flat against the pavement.
  • Rose-breasted grosbeak: Males and adult females have migrated south for the winter, but some juveniles are still visiting John's feeders.
  • Carolina grasshopper: These sandy-brown grasshoppers can be identified in flight by their black wings with white or cream-colored borders. They are everywhere right now! Males often hover about 3 feet off the ground and make a clicking sound to impress the females.
  • Nighthawk: John has gotten reports of nighthawks flying over Grand Rapids and Bemidji; look for their flocks at dusk! They will be gulping down flying insects as they fly south. The first time John saw one this season was on August 20th, just 1 day before his average sighting.

Additional sightings:

John's flower observations included:

  • Flat-topped aster: This is a big white aster with a flat top.
  • Purple-stemmed aster: This flower has blue rays and yellow centers. The stem has little hairs going up the stalk, especially near the top.
  • Large-leaf aster: These have a cluster of blue flowers that look like someone has plucked out a few of the rays. You'll find the namesake large leaves as you look down the stem.
  • Northern heart-leafed aster: The leaves on this plant are larger than the purple-stemmed aster but smaller than the large-leafed aster.
  • Sawtooth sunflower: in bloom
  • Gray goldenrod: This flower began blooming this week.
  • Tall goldenrod: This flower began blooming this week.
  • Canada goldenrod: This flower is almost done blooming.
  • Cup plant: These flowers look like a sunflower, but the leaves are very distinctive! The leaves on opposing sides of the stem are joined together at the base, forming a little cup. They're in bloom and host an abundance of flowers!
  • Wild bergamot: in bloom

Other plants:

  • Common reed is just beginning to flower
  • Miscanthus: This is an imported grass that grows quite tall; it is beginning to flower.
  • Tall blue lettuce: These plants grow 8-9 feet tall, with clusters of tiny blue flowers. Their seeds look like the plume of a dandelion, just on a tiny scale! Look for a half-inch ball of fluff with a dark center; 50-60 of them will be on top of the 8-9 foot stalks.
  • Sow thistle: These flowers resemble dandelions perched on a 5-6 foot tall stalk! On further examination, you might notice thistle-like leaves.
  • Canada hawkweed: Another dandelion lookalike, this one grows to 3.5-4 feet tall and has very narrow leaves.

See something noteworthy? We would love to hear from you! Get in touch with me (smitchell@kaxe.org) or John (jlatimer@kaxe.org), or text 'phenology' to 218-326-1234.

For more phenology content, subscribe to our Season Watch newsletter!

As a mail carrier in rural Grand Rapids, Minn., for 35 years, John Latimer put his own stamp on a career that delivered more than letters. Indeed, while driving the hundred-mile round-trip daily route, he passed the time by observing and recording seasonal changes in nature, learning everything he could about the area’s weather, plants and animals, and becoming the go-to guy who could answer customers’ questions about what they were seeing in the environment.
Heidi Holtan has worked at KAXE/KBXE for over 22 years. She currently helms the Morning Show as News and Public Affairs Director where she manages producers, hosts local interviews and programs, oversees and manages web stories and establishes focus areas of programming like phenology, clean energy, Indigenous voices, Strong Women, local foods, clean energy, economic development and more. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North. In 2018 Heidi received the “Building Bridges in Media” award from the Islamic Resource Group for her work on KAXE/KBXE hosting conversations about anti-Muslim movements in rural Minnesota. During the pandemic, Heidi hosted 14 months of a weekly statewide conversation on COVID-19 for the AMPERS network.
KAXE/KBXE Senior Correspondent
Sarah Mitchell (she/they) joined the KAXE team in February of 2022. Sarah creates the Season Watch Newsletter, writes segment summaries for the website, and coordinates our Engaging Minnesotans with Phenology project. With a background in wildlife biology, Sarah enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, aquatic invertebrates, or the short-tailed shrew (did you know they can echolocate?).