a patch of white flowers in the sun

Rue anemone or false rue anemone?

another patch of white flowers in the sun

The previous two pictures look really similar. (There’s even a log in each!) They’re white flowers, approximately the same size, with very similar leaves. But they’re different: all of the flowers in the first photo have five petals, but only some of the flowers in the second photo have five petals, and most have more than five.

I can always remember that there is a distinction in the petal numbers, but I haven’t been able to remember which is which without looking it up. Thank goodness for minnesotawildflowers.info.

yet another patch of white flowers, each with five petals

Color might help: if it’s pink, it’s rue anemone. But with such similar common names, what are the chances I’ll remember that? Slim.

closeup of four pinkish flowers, one with seven petals, two with six, and one with five

In addition, both can be white, so it’s not safe to rely on color. So it’s back to counting the petals. False rue anemone always has five petals; true rue anemone has between five and ten.

closeup of a white flower with eight petals and several smaller flowers drooping away

However, that rule has never stuck with me. I have to keep learning it and re-learning it. Even in my own garden — where I have one of these flowers but not the other…

six white flowers, two with five petals, one with six, one unknown, and two missing several petals

… the only way I know for sure is to look at the tag.

an out-of-focus white flower next to a plant tag that says rue anemone

This year, I posted this problem on Instagram and asked if anyone has a mnemonic to help. Within a couple hours, a new Instagram friend, Jenny Stratton, responded with this spur-of-the-moment suggestion:

Five is false, ten is true?

Let’s give it a try:

sunny shot that focuses on a couple flowers in the foreground, with many more blurred in the background
All of these flowers have five petals, so it’s false rue anemone


focus on one pinkish flower, with many more around it
All of these flowers have [up to] ten petals, so it’s [true] rue anemone
It works! And I’ve managed to remember this saying for two weeks.

closeup of one pinkish flower with seven petals

One problem is that five petals could mean either flower. But a patch of true rue anemone, as far as I have seen, never has all five-petal flowers. In fact, I usually don’t see any with five; it’s usually six or eight. As long as I am not in a hurry and look at the entire patch of flowers instead of just one individual, I’ll get it.

closeup of one white flower with five petals, with half a dozen more in the background

Learn more about these flowers

The first thing I noticed in the garden this afternoon was a butterfly flitting around the pearly everlasting.

blurry photo of a black-and-orange butterfly resting on a small, light green plant

When I got closer, I noticed that there was another one nearby – and then another and yet another. I managed to get a photo with two of them in one frame.

two of those butterflies close together among seedlings

Altogether, four American lady butterflies, possibly already laying eggs! I couldn’t wait to get inside and write a post about this.

But then I started seeing other new discoveries in the garden. I’m way behind on the phenology report and need to get recording!

Irises are showing purple.

about a dozen iris buds, some with dark purple tips

I hope these are first-year cup plant seedlings (because there are close to a dozen of these, so it would be nice if they’re a good plant).

plant with red, rhubarb-like stems and large but relatively narrow, toothed leaves

Peonies are already covered in ants.

one round bud in the foreground, two in the background, all covered in small ants

Ferns (not my favorite) are already huge.

at least six nearly fully-grown ferns

The invasive creeping bellflower is already out of control.

the entire frame covered in dozens of green, elongated heart-shaped leaves

The creeping charlie is everywhere, too, although that is at least somewhat manageable. Tonight I pulled this by hand for 30 minutes and actually made a large dent in the strawberry / vegetable garden.

the entire frame covered in short plants with lots of purple flowers

Back to the wanted plants: Canada violet, joining the wood violets that have been blooming for a couple weeks.

white violets in the foreground, light-purple violets in the background

Baby wild ginger leaves, next to the fading flowers.

two dark purple triangle-shaped flowers, to the left of one small, green, rounded leaf

With any luck, this will be the first time we’ve had more than one jack-in-the-pulpit! I spotted three shoots.

And the large-flowered trilliums are finally open.

a drooping three-petaled flower that is starting to open

I can’t decide if that was my favorite find, or if this is instead: common milkweed making an appearance. Monarch butterflies will be here any day now, looking for places to lay their eggs. Grow quickly, milkweed!

six or so tightly packed, short milkweed stems with new leaves standing straight up

The robins are back! One decided to set up shop in our front yard.

robin perched on a pine branch facing left

Last year, a pair of robins built a nest on the downspout and raised several babies, so I was excited that we might be able to observe that process again this year. But I haven’t seen that yet; instead, he has spent his time fighting an intruder in his territory. (I am assuming this robin is a male.)

robin in midair with its feet straight up and claws extended

Except the other robin is just his own reflection in our front windows.

silhouette with its head turned to the left and wings outstretched

For several days in a row, rain or shine, for hours on end beginning at 6 am, he would watch the reflection from his spot in the tree, then move in closer and perch on a stick close to the window, then go in for the attack.

Each incident lasted from 2 to 5 seconds, and then he’d fly back to the pine tree and pause for a minute or two, then look both ways, then look straight at the window and start again.

The tree shows evidence of his presence.

pine branch with many bird droppings

This wasn’t just playful; this was feet-up, claws-out wrestling — at least, as much as he can wrestle with a window.

silhouette with wings outstretched, tail down, feet up

Nothing we did to dissuade him worked for the long term. Not putting up more anti-bird-strike stickers, not putting up shiny metal tape, not hanging a screen, not shooing him away from the inside or outside.

silhouette from the side, mouth open, right wing up, left wing down

He just kept coming back and fighting and fighting

silhouette from the left side, wings back, right leg and claws visible

and buzzing by repeatedly.

flying to the right, wings down

flying to the left, wings down

Finally, one day the constant attacks stopped. I imagined he must have admitted to his rival, “You are a worthy opponent.” He’s still around, and every now and then he’ll attack the window-robin once, but that’s it. And on Sunday we saw (and heard) a real skirmish: a robin flew super-fast into the tree and apparently dislodged another bird; they wrestled and screeched in midair, and one flew away.

hovering in front of the window, wings back, feet down

But mostly now he just watches his territory without incident. So far, I haven’t seen a nest; maybe he hasn’t had time to find a mate, what with him being so busy patrolling and all.

back on the branch, facing right, looking left

Learn more about this behavior

After the warm spell in February, it returned to more seasonal weather and even snowed a bit. The snow didn’t last long, and then we were in a long stretch of the awkward time period when it was still cold but not quite winter and not yet spring. I was pretty jealous of all of my Instagram friends’ posts of early-spring blooms, when everything was still completely brown in my yard.

tall stem of blazingstar from last year, brown stem on a brown background

Then one night it rained, and suddenly there was a small patch of pearly everlasting and what I assume to be Canada goldenrods.

a few purplish-green plants and a few light green plants

(In the two weeks since, these have multiplied.)

many skinny green plants and many other stout green plants, much more similar in color this time

I traveled to the backyard and when brushing away the leaf layer, I found spring beauty leaves that were growing unnoticed.

several skinny grasslike leaves, some with bunches of tightly closed buds

And lots and lots of violets, which are taking over the woodland garden — proving once again that just because a flower is native, it doesn’t mean that it’s desired everywhere.

10 clumps of violet leaves growing close together with no other flowers visible

Since I’m still waiting on blooms in my own garden, I headed to Eloise Butler’s garden on April 8 to see some. Things seemed to be a week behind where they were last year. First, hepatica:

six-petal white leaves on skinny stems with no visible leaves

then snow trillium…

seven small trillium flowers and many leaves without flowers

…and skunk cabbage.

three purple skunk cabbages close together

When I got home, when I was still in the car in the driveway, I saw my first butterfly of the season, a red admiral. (But I scared it off before I could get close enough for a photo.) Later that evening, in the woodland garden, I saw one ant, three worms, and unfortunately, two mosquitoes. A full, 70-degree day.

Just three days later, it snowed, showing how fickle spring can be. Of course, it all melted within hours.

pointy iris leaves with water drops at the tips, poking out of wet snow

The plants that were emerging in February seem to be okay now, if not quite normal. They’re growing around last year’s stems, which are still in place. I won’t remove them until it gets a little warmer, just in case insects are still hibernating.

Here’s sedum; I think the smaller, purply leaves are the February ones that have been stunted, while the bigger ones are new. And the middle of this plant seems to be digging itself up.

two big green sedum leaves at the left, with a dozen smaller purplish leaves to the right, roots visible in a hole

The pink turtlehead is fine…

more than a dozen green, tall, skinny stems with purplish leaves standing straight up

and the white one is finally growing after taking awhile to get started, almost as if it were nervous to start growing in case the temperatures plummeted again.

a dozen very skinny two-inch stems with tightly bound leaves, and many more stems that are less than an inch

And the cup plant looks really good.

two dozen plants, each with several unfurling leaves

One night I saw a bat fluttering around in the twilight, swooping back-and-forth and up-and-down in front of my window for about 10 minutes until it got too dark for me to see it anymore. Birds have showed up, too, such as goldfinches and robins.

With all the rain this week and warm temperatures forecast for the weekend, we’re about to see an explosion of plant growth. Looks like hepatica might be the first one to bloom — and I’m thrilled to finally see so many of these buds, since in past years there were only one or two. (Spring beauty is getting close to opening, too.)

nine drooping white nearly-open buds on hairy stems but no leaves

I’ve wanted to create a list of all the plants in my garden for several years, and the time is now. I’m recording them as they appear this season.

There are many plant sales around the Twin Cities each year, but for me, the plant sale is the Friends School Plant Sale.

two rows of plants in front of a building highlighting state fair performers

It’s held on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Mother’s Day weekend every year at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. I was introduced to the sale in 2009 by a coworker who volunteers every year, and I now know several more volunteers. In my neighborhood, several people shop at this sale every year.

The sale is so big that it takes place both inside the grandstand…

people shopping in the perennials section

and outside the grandstand. Mornings are a very busy time, when wristbands are needed to control entry so it’s not too crowded, but afternoons and evenings have been manageable when we’ve gone.

native plants section in the front, then trees and shrubs, near a large ramp into the grandstand

Today we headed straight for the native plants section.

rose vervain and bird's foot violet for sale, with a sign that says Good For Bees

So this is what cardinal flower looks like. Definitely not what’s growing in our front yard.

many four-packs of small green plants

Darn, the bluebells were sold out (to be restocked on Saturday).

sign marking the Virginia bluebells section, 4-inch pot for $6, with a sticker that says Sold Out More On Saturday

One of our choices:

pots with plants and an Early Meadow Rue sign in the background

Our other purchases:

  • poke milkweed
  • hello yellow milkweed (have to admit I’ve never heard of this one)
  • whorled milkweed
  • showy milkweed
  • meadow blazing star
  • dotted blazing star
  • cream wild indigo
  • broccoli
  • several heirloom tomatoes

Now, how long will it take us to get these planted?

looking down at 13 plants in a cardboard flat in a cart