For 10 years, friends Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo wandered Minnesota and searched for native wildflowers, taking notes and photos along the way. One day they realized there was a potential book in their shared hobby.
That book is “Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers,” published last year by the University of Minnesota Press. Root, the Minneapolis author of more than 40 children’s books, and Povo, a professional photographer who lives in St. Paul, have written a user-friendly guide that walks readers through the year, detailing where and when to look for certain plants and how to identify them.
Wildflower enthusiasts don’t have to go far. State parks in all corners of Minnesota are mentioned, and many of the wildflowers Root and Povo talk about can be found in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis’ Minnehaha Park, the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Golden Valley, Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington and Fort Snelling State Park are all good spots to look for wildflowers.
Organized by seasons, the book includes tips on how to identify flowers and information on Minnesota’s different ecological habitats. Plants are grouped by flower color to aid identification.
Root and Povo, who have a blog at mnnativewildflowers.com, began looking for wildflowers this spring while the snow was still on the ground but took time to answer questions about the best places to see flowers, the most elusive bloom, and the plants they’re still searching for:
Q: Where did your love of wildflowers come from?
Root: We’ve always loved being outdoors and hiking in wilder places. We began serious searching for native wildflowers in 2006 when I was working on a children’s book about Minnesota habitats. Even after the research for “One North Star” was finished, we continued our searching.
Povo: We both love road trips. I drive and take pictures; Phyllis makes notes. After a few years we looked at each other and said, “Maybe we have a wildflower book here.” As it turns out, we did.
Q: What made you decide to write the book?
Root: Writing this book was our way to share our love for wildflowers and also to inspire others to learn and love them, too. We are not naturalists or botanists, yet we realized that the more we learned about native wildflowers, the more we loved them. What’s not to love? They’re beautiful, have names that are fun to say — kittentails, shooting star, Dutchman’s breeches — and you never know where you will see them.
Povo: Once we began to learn about wildflowers, we started to recognize them in unexpected places — by convenience marts, by clinics and in people’s front yards. And we thought, if we can do this, so can other folks.
Q: Is Minnesota unusual in having so many different landscapes that are home to so many types of wildflowers? It sounds like we have more wildflower diversity than many states.
Root: We don’t know about wildflowers and biomes in other states, but we know that four major biomes — prairie, big woods, coniferous forest and tallgrass aspen parkland — meet in Minnesota, which makes the state rich in habitat and wildflowers.
Q: I knew we had native orchids, but we have so many!
Povo: We were amazed to learn that Minnesota has 49 species of native orchids, from showy lady’s slipper to tiny heart-leaved twayblade. So far we have seen 34, and we are still looking.
Root: Most of Minnesota’s orchids are woodland or wetland species, but three — small white lady’s slipper, western prairie fringed orchid and Great Plains ladies’ tresses — grow in the prairie.
Q: You write that native wildflowers grow everywhere, even in city parks, sidewalk cracks and along creeks and bike paths. But so often we miss them. Are we just too busy to pause and look?
Povo: Early woodland flowers are the flowers most people seem to miss because it is still cold, wet and perhaps muddy or even snowing outside while they are in bloom. But a mid-to-late May visit to the Lost 40 Scientific and Natural Area near Dora Lake in the Chippewa National Forest is an unknown treasure, full of wildflowers and virgin forest that the lumberjacks missed.
Q: What was your most elusive plant? You said it took years to find a dwarf trout lily in bloom, and you found another rare plant blooming in a ditch.
Root: Our “most elusive plant” changes every year. A few years ago, we were determined to see western prairie fringed orchid, and, with the help of a friendly naturalist, we eventually did. Last year we wanted to see common butterwort blooming, and we did.
Povo: This year, our elusive plants are squirrel corn, green dragon and ball cactus in bloom.
Q: If Twin Cities residents were going out now to look for native wildflowers, where would you send them?
Root: We encourage folks to look for native wildflowers from the end of April to mid-May at Nerstrand Woods State Park near Northfield. If you call ahead, you can find out if a naturalist will be on the trail to point out dwarf trout lilies, a flower that grows in three Minnesota counties and nowhere else in the world.
Povo: Even without a naturalist, you’ll see cutleaf toothwort, hepatica, spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, marsh marigold, anemones, trilliums and trout lilies.
Root: Once you start looking, it’s a wildflower extravaganza.
Mary Jane Smetanka is a Minneapolis freelance writer and Hennepin County Master Gardener.