It's an education to travel highways and country roads where either spraying or severe cutting hasn't destroyed the many roadside plants. In these areas, showy grasses and colorful blooming plants can be admired by those passing by. The plants also can be used by insects, birds and other wildlife as food sources, shelter and nesting sites.
Our family has a tradition of driving to Walker, Park Rapids and Itasca State Park from the Twin Cities area during the last part of July. We've had many opportunities to admire the flowering plants along the roads. Each trip we notice the birdsfoot trefoil, white sweet clover, big bluestem grass, tansy, swamp milkweed, black-eyed Susans and wild cucumber. Once we get near Walker, the fireweed and pearly everlasting are blooming nicely. All along the route we see both yellow and white water lily flowers in wetlands and along lakeshores.
While traveling by automobile, quick glimpses at passing plant life can add much enjoyment to a trip. Over the years I have learned to identify what some outdoor enthusiasts call "the 55 mile-per-hour plants." If you are just learning to identify and appreciate wildflowers, I would recommend pulling over to the side of the road and stopping in a safe place every once in a while to admire, at a closer distance, some of Minnesota's wildflowers. This will give you the chance to page through one of several well-illustrated wildflower manuals available to help identity any plants new to you.
Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.