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Phenology Report, September 6th 2022

A small sparrow with a white throat, white and black streaks on the head, a yellow patch near the eye, and brown and tan banding on the wing.

John Latimer:
It's time for the phenology show. Phenology is the rhythmic biological nature of events as they relate to climate. And it is fall! If you're not convinced of that, you need only go out and look at the spreading dogbane. It is turning yellow wholesale, lots of little yellow leaves out there. If you're looking at a plant that's maybe two to three feet tall, it's got bright yellow leaves on it and bright red stems, it's probably spreading dogbane. If you go look at it closely, you'll see that it's got these rather long, narrow, gosh, it's like a peapod, but it is it's very long. It's only maybe 3/16ths or an eighth of an inch wide. It's very, very small, very narrow in its diameter, but quite long. And if you break open those pods and grab those seeds, you can have that growing in your yard. Spreading dogbane is a really nice plant, outside of the fact that it announces fall as early as any plant in Northern Minnesota. It provides some great nectaring opportunities for butterflies every year. I make sure that I have quite a large patch around my garage and on the edge of my lawn. And I let the butterflies have it. And boy, do they go after it! One day I counted 11 species of butterflies on this patch of spreading dogbane. And 11 different species of butterflies. And the numbers were probably in the 20 to 30 numbers of butterflies there. So, a very popular plant with butterflies, a good pollinator plant, and one that you might want to encourage in your yard right now, Leaves are yellow. Stems are bright red. And there are long narrow peapods that can be harvested. And you can move that stuff into your yard if you have a notion.

I was about to tell you about the tall sunflowers, the bright yellow sunflowers that you see out there, maybe 3-3.5 inches in diameter. The leaf is rough, very much like sandpaper on the upper surface. If you look at the leaves, they start off down low where they're opposite. And as you go up the plant, they become more alternate. These things can get to be eight or nine feet tall: in some places they're not all that tall, but they can be. So, look for them, bright yellow flowers.

The other bright yellow flowers that are out there right now... Thanks to Dick Doyne, I have some cup plant, which is a prairie plant, but grows well enough here. And the cup plant has a similar flower, bright yellow, but the leaves of the cup plant are joined at the base so they form a cup right on the stem. And, oftentimes after a rain, if I go out and look at my cup plant, I will see that there's water caught in those cups. So, cup plant is another tall, bright yellow-flowered plant.

And the third one, the one that is just beginning to bloom is the Jerusalem artichoke. And oddly enough, early September is when it blooms. Jerusalem artichoke: how do I differentiate it from the wild tall sunflower or the cup plant? Well, the Jerusalem artichoke leaves are opposite all the way up the plant. They're heavily toothed. They're broader than the leaves of the tall sunflower, and they don't join at the base like the leaves of the cup plant. So, the flower is very much the same: a bright yellow three-inch disc. And my Jerusalem artichokes have just begun to bloom. I saw my first flowers there yesterday.

So, while I was moseying about yesterday, I ran into a few tall blue lettuce, and this is an interesting plant. It has a leaf, a bit like a thistle, heavily toothed: think maybe a dandelion or something. Lots of teeth, some points on it, but not prickly like a thistle, there's not enough lignin in there to make it stiff. So, they're just these sort of fake thistle leaves. And the flower itself is about, oh, maybe a quarter inch, maybe three eighths of an inch across, with many rays, probably 15 to 30 rays around the flower disc. These that I saw were shorter: They were only about four feet tall, but the plant can get to be nine or 10 feet tall. And some of the earlier blooming ones are, are well past seed stage. At this point, they've gone ahead and spread their seeds.

While I was walking around in the woods, I was checking out the ferns and in the deep woods, in the shaded part of the woods, I found ostrich fern, interrupted fern, lady fern, and cinnamon fern, all of them nice and green and their sporophytes, their sori, their spore-producing bodies were all well developed or completely done developing. On the interrupted fern, the little sporophytes were just crusty, but the ferns were all green in the forest. When I got out of the forest and into the edges of the forest along my trails and roads, those ferns that had a bit more sunlight on them had begun to turn brown, especially the interrupted ferns and the cinnamon ferns. And the bracken fern is definitely turning brown as well.

So, we talked a bit about bright yellow flowers. The black-eyed Susans are still blooming very nicely at my house, and they're bright yellow on the rays, but the center of course, is that deep brown center. And they're doing very well. Common tansy: I think of it as a sort of a blight, it's an invasive species. It seems to conquer just about everything wherever it grows. That plant has a bright yellow flower about the size and shape of an aspirin tablet. There's the little round disc of a flower, maybe somewhere between 5/16ths-3/8ths of an inch across: about a centimeter. Anyway, these little discs are sort of shifting from bright yellow to more of a muted yellow, and eventually they'll get quite brown (kind of coffee brown). And that's common Tansy. They're going to be slipping and sliding away from us. There will be some common Tansy still in bloom when the first snow flies they have that way of sort of lasting into the fall.

And speaking of lasting too long, <laugh> the last couple of days I've been sort of out there thinking, dang, it's September and the deer flies should be gone. Well, I am here to tell you that they are not. And I am anxious for them to disappear, but so far they haven't gotten the message. I've been, I won't say I've been ignoring them. I've been killing all of them that I can, but they are still out there and still buzzing around my head when I'm out in the woods. So the deer flies haven't quit yet, but any day now <laugh> be a good time for them to start.

Of the asters, there are still a lot of asters in bloom. There is the Northern heart-leaved aster, which is kind of a beautiful deep blue to purple aster. There's the large-leafed aster, which is pale blue and has incomplete rays. So if you're looking at a large-leafed aster, if you just follow the plant down to the ground, you'll find these very, very large leaves. The Northern heart-leafed aster has a similar leaf, but it doesn't get as big. And the Northern heart-leafed aster has a wing along the petiole. So the petiole, the stem that connects the leaf to the plant has a wing vegetative wing, a bit like a very narrow leaf, right along that petiole, leading to the plant. The large-leafed aster doesn't have that wing. The large-leafed aster also has an incomplete flower. So the rays of the large-leafed aster looks like somebody has been in there and plucked a few out. There's some gaps in there.

The Northern or the panicled aster is blooming very well. And that is a smaller, whiter flower. And it can run from, from white to pink, to maybe a little bit on the blue side. The panicled aster is quite obvious once you get an idea, it's got a long leaf that kind of semi clasps the stem. The leaf itself has some very insignificant or very small teeth along the way. And you can check those out.

Asters, they're fun, but they're a challenge. And you need to just be patient with asters and just maybe learn one or two each year. And, if you're gonna learn one or two, one would be the flat-topped aster, which is a big white cluster of flowers at the top of a fairly tall plant. And they are still blooming very nicely. They have this flat top appearance, not a perfect flat top. It's sort of a rounded mass of these flowers, all at the top of the plant. Flat-topped aster. Large-leafed aster is another one. That's pretty easy to identify because of the large leaf. And of course the Northern heart-leafed aster is another one that you can pretty readily identify, just look for that wing on the petiole and look at the leaf. The leaf is fairly large, fairly broad, and toothed. And so couple of asters you can pick up on pretty easily and the others will come along each year. You'll learn a couple more and pretty soon you'll be telling me which asters are blooming at your house. <laugh>.

The white spruce cones are definitely getting ripe. If you've been watching white spruce, they are freighted with cones this year. They're just having an unbelievable year of cone production for the white spruce. And the squirrels that live in my neighborhood are cutting those cones. In my garage where I've spent the last couple of days, kind of putzing around with some projects and making enough room in there to park cars in there when winter finally gets here, the squirrels are cutting these cones and they're bouncing off the roof. So, it's a steady banging inside my garage as the squirrels cut the white spruce cones, preparatory to storing them for the winter. The wild bergamot, the Monarda is just about done flowering for the year at my house. Canada golden rod is getting done. Boneset is still blooming pretty well. And so is Joe pyeweed, but they are definitely past their peak.

John the white-bearded sparrow

I was out on September 1st taking a hike, and in my front yard, I could hear two white throated sparrows and their song goes, "Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada." And one of the sparrows was singing "O sweet." And the other was singing "Canada, Canada, Canada." <laugh>. So they, they had a little duet going. I've heard it before, and I'm not sure if it's like, "we're learning how to do this," or what exactly. But, yeah, there were a couple of cool moments there. My friend Dave Lorenz has an oriole feeder out. He was feeding orioles all summer, which was quite a blessing. I have had a couple of years where that happens, but not recently. And he told me that on August 30th, he saw his last orioles. Or the two orioles that were coming regularly to his feeder up to that point had disappeared as of the September 1st or August 30th. So, Baltimore orioles have moved on. The rose-breasted grosbeaks are moving on. The hummingbirds are decreasing in numbers and probably will be gone by the middle of this month. I haven't seen a male since two weeks ago, and so they're gone.

Monarch butterflies: I saw a bunch of monarch butterflies this past week, and they are still in the area and still migrating. I have dates that run into October for the last monarchs. So, there're always a couple that are just not quite ready to go or haven't hatched out yet. And when they do, they're like, "oh, oh, got to go south now!" So, the monarchs are on the move. I have seen Comptons tortoiseshell, and my friend Dallas Hudson reported two Comptons yesterday. The Comptons and the mourning cloaks (which I have not seen) are butterflies that will soon be finding a hibernation spot and will be spending the winter as adults and will be among the first that we will see. Let's hope we see them in late March. I have seen them in late March, but generally it's April. This past year, I think it was in the twenties of April because it was such a cold spring. But we will see those butterflies again in the spring as they emerge from their hibernation.

And beyond that, I think that we have just about covered everything. Oh, I had a nice experience the other morning leaving my house pretty early in the morning and driving out across the fields by my neighbor Marvin's. There were three sandhill cranes standing together in the field, two adults and a colt. And they were roughly the same size at this point. It was kind of hard to tell one from another, but they must have gone through a molt because they are gray now, and not that red color of the summer: where they put that iron oxide into their feathers and get really red looking this time of year. These guys were pretty gray. So that's the phenology show for this week. As always, if you have observations to share, please send them along. We'd love to hear from you!

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 is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.
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?).