I’m at the end of my second year as a master naturalist, and this time I had an entire year to get my 40 hours of volunteering in. Once again I concentrated on stewardship activities, with just one event that was another volunteering category (citizen science).

There were lots and lots of events to remove invasive species, but this year it went well beyond buckthorn — mostly to garlic mustard, but also several others. On the other side of the spectrum, I got to plant native plants on several occasions. The fall once again brought some seed collection events, my favorite activity of all, though I was pretty disappointed that two long sessions were rained out.

In addition to those familiar activities, I got to try several new-to-me opportunities this year: my first BioBlitz, a super-fun bumblebee survey, a creekside live-staking planting, collecting acorns, and not just seed planting but also tending (inside my own home). One thing I missed doing this year: tagging monarchs.

My volunteer events

2/4 Allemansrätt Wilderness Park (Lindstrom) for Great River Greening, 3 hours: Back at Allemansratt Park to volunteer for the third time in five months, this time for a buckthorn burn. Not surprisingly, I wiped out with an armful of brush because we were walking on snow-covered ice – or maybe the surprise is that it only happened once. 82 volunteers cleared 5 tons of buckthorn from 1.5 acres.

pile of sticks on snow, the top left on fire

2/16 Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and Park Connection, 1 hour: Planted seeds into 144 native wildflower plugs (sky-blue aster, prairie onion, and rosinweed). Then I took them to my house to tend them until they were ready to be planted at Coldwater Spring in June.

plastic flat with dirt-filled cups and 2 or 3 large, light-brown seeds in each spot, a wooden marker reading rosin weed

3/18 City of Roseville, 1 hour: Hauled pre-cut buckthorn and other brush into piles for Stantec to remove and chip later.

a series of piles of sticks and logs in a wooded area

3/25 Lost Valley Prairie SNA, 2 hours: Raked pre-cut buckthorn, sumac, honeysuckle, grapevines, and dogwood, none of which belongs in a prairie. Made three giant brush piles that will be burned next winter.

closeup of a pile of very straight sticks, with a garden rake resting in front

5/2 Coldwater Spring at Minnesota National River & Recreation Area, 1 hour: My first time pulling garlic mustard. It rained a lot over the last couple days, so the picking was pretty easy.

gloved hand holding a bouquet of garlic mustard leaves

5/4 Lebanon Hills Regional Park, .5 hour: Showed up just 10 minutes late, but I couldn’t find the crew and “had” to take a hike through the woods instead. By the time I found them, there was only half an hour left in the session. But every little bit counts! (I need to be more creative with the photos since this is almost the same as the previous one.)

almost the same image, a gloved hand holding a bouquet of garlic mustard leaves, with a walking path in the background

5/13 Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, .75 hour: Brought my husband and we picked a big bag full of garlic mustard in a “maple bowl” outside the wildflower garden. The group had been there a week before, and now this area is essentially all clear of second-year garlic mustard. (There are a lot of first-year plants sprouting up, though.)

tall red cylinder lined with a clear plastic bag, nearly full of wilting  greens

5/27 Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail, 1 hour: Garlic mustard pull. Plants were past flowering, so it was not easy to find them. This area was pulled last year, and that must have been effective, because we found very few plants.

one green plant with no flowers but long seed spikes instead, lying on a paved path

5/30 Ole Olson Park for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.5 hours: Dug and pulled weeds (Canadian horseweed and absinthe wormwood, but mostly dandelions) from the demonstration prairie on the west bank of the Mississippi River, just north of downtown Minneapolis.

white tub sitting on the ground, full of small plants of various shades of green

5/31 Tamarack Nature Center, .5 hours: Joined a garlic mustard removal crew already in progress.

the ground covered in small, round, scalloped green leaves

6/6 Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, 1.5 hours: My first time pulling leafy spurge. Most of this was in a thistle patch, unfortunately. Then we got to plant some flowers and grasses — which were grown from seed that I helped collect last fall. Very exciting to see that work pay off already!

a pile of yellow-flowered plants between full plastic bags on the edge of a gravel path

a hand holding three plastic tubes with small green plants

6/13 Coldwater Spring at Minnesota National River & Recreation Area, 1 hour: Planted the surviving plugs from the MNRRA seed-planting event in February. A handful of scrawny prairie onions were the only visible plants; none of the rosinweed sprouted; and several sky-blue asters sprouted but faded. Scattered the remaining dirt, too, in hopes that there are still viable seeds that will germinate in the future.

a black plastic flat with lots of small dirt cups, just a few thin green plants visible

6/22 Hastings Sand Coulee SNA for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.5 hours: Dug cow vetch from the dry prairie, while fighting the rain — until lightning drove us away. Lots of interesting plants, and lots of poison ivy.

yellow plastic bag with greens and purple flowers on the ground next to yellow gloves and a small shovel

6/27 Grey Cloud Dunes SNA for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1 hour: Lopped sumac, which is native but forms dense colonies and crowds out other plants in this fragile prairie, in two areas. Toured the area that was cleared last year and saw so many plants thriving, which was a rewarding sight.

a pile of sumac branches on the ground with a loppers resting on top

7/8 Blanket Flower Prairie SNA, 2 hours: PlantBlitz in which my husband and I were the only members of the public to show up despite beautiful weather. The naturalist and site steward decided to carry on, anyway. We found blanket flowers that had already lost their petals, special-concern hill’s thistle, bright orange wood lilies, purple and white prairie clovers, and several grasses (I am no help with identification of those). I’ve unfortunately already forgotten dozens of other flowers we identified — some familiar names, most unfamiliar; total number of species TBA. We got back to the parking lot covered in porcupine grass seeds.

one stem with a yellow globe with red highlights - a blanket flower without its petals

7/11 Indian Mounds Regional Park for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.5 hours: Invasive species removal on a muggy evening. My group pulled crown vetch. Others dug burdock, wormwood, and knapweed.

a lot of light purple flowers in a mass of green, with one flower in focus at the bottom left and a green seedhead that looks like a hand with many slender fingers

8/25 Xerces Society, 1.5 hours: Back to volunteering after an unintentional hiatus that was simply due to the busy-ness of summer. Helped Great River Greening and the Xerces Society with a bumble bee survey, collecting bees in the final summer of a three-year monitoring project. The team caught (and released) 50 bees despite a slow start when rain struck briefly at the kickoff. All were just three species — brown-belted (Bombus griseocollis), common eastern (B. impatiens), and black and gold (B. auricomus) – and most were found on Canada goldenrod or a native thistle.

a hand holding two upside-down plastic containers, each with a bee visible, against a background of goldenrod

8/29 Indian Mounds Regional Park for City of St. Paul, 1.5 hours: Kicked off my favorite volunteering season, seed collecting, with Saint Paul Parks & Recreation. Collected Golden Alexanders (super easy, but came with lots of little round beetles), yellow coneflower (relatively easy), and bee balm (required a fair amount of patience).

sunny image with many plants in the background, and slender maroon umbels in the foreground

9/15 Lebanon Hills Regional Park, 1 hour: Collected acorns for a planting project to take place on National Public Lands Day. This was a particular challenge for me because trees are not my strong suit, but I tried my best. We were to collect acorns from bur oaks or white oaks but NOT from red oaks or pin oaks. More than once I found myself accidentally under one of the wrong trees, but I’m fairly confident I ended up with all white oak acorns.

a hand holding about a dozen acorns, only one with a cap

9/16 Crow-Hassan Park Reserve for Three Rivers Park District, 2.5 hours: Collected seeds from a number of wildflowers: purple prairie clover, white prairie clover, cinquefoil, anise hyssop, tick-trefoil, black-eyed susan, common milkweed, and butterfly weed. We cleaned the milkweed seeds, too. Rain threatened all morning but held off.

purple prairie clover seedhead tilting to the left, on the right sidea mostly red caterpillar with a yellow stripe near its feet

9/19 Coldwater Spring at Minnesota National River & Recreation Area, 1.5 hours: Invasive species control: burdock, curly dock, mullein, buckthorn, crown vetch, all over the park. We didn’t find much — only one garbage bag among nine of us.

blurry image of six spiky burdock seedheads

9/20 Spring Lake Park Reserve / Schaar’s Bluff for Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, 1.5 hours: Collected hoary vervain seeds from a remnant prairie, and yellow coneflower seeds from a restored prairie.

a hand holding three long, brown seed spikes

9/21 Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, 1.5 hours: Pulled weedy absinthe from a triangle-shaped patch, then planted several types of native flowers and grasses. Quite muggy on the last day of summer.

a tall pile of light-green plants that have been ripped out, their long roots visible

10/3 Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, 1.5 hours: Seed collection: one hour of purple prairie clover, a half-hour of big bluestem. Gorgeous early-autumn evening after rain all day, though the sun set before the end — at just 7 pm.

about 10 short, dark prairie clover seedheads, with two big grasshoppers

10/14 Phalen Regional Park for City of St. Paul, 1.25 hours: Collected seeds from partridge pea (a new one for me) as well as little bluestem.

a plant with dark brown seedpods that have curled open, with another plant with straight, unopened seedpods in the background

10/22 Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, .75 hours: Removed buckthorn. In my area the soil was so loose, and most of the plants so small, that most could be pulled by hand; the rest were dealt with via weed wrenches.

an orange weed wrench clenched around a small woody plant, with roots coming out of the dirt on the right

11/4 Grey Cloud Dunes SNA for Friends of the Mississippi River, 2 hours: Cleared an entire field of staghorn sumac, and started on the invasive honeysuckle. We got to leave the debris in place because the area will be burned next spring.

long view of a grassy field littered with small cut branches

11/18 Middle Creek at Meadowview School for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.75 hours: Planted dogwood live-stakes on the banks of Middle Creek, part of the Vermillion River Watershed, on a chilly morning. Friends of the Mississippi River is hoping that 50% of these stakes will “take” next year and eventually provide stabilization and habitat. This creek has been recently re-meandered (my favorite new term) to a more natural and healthy curved shape that supports plant and animal diversity, and today’s project will continue the restoration. This project was a last-minute addition for me (I had already planned to do another event later that morning) but I was so curious about the live-staking process that I had to add this one too.

light-brown grasses to the right of a brownish creek, with two bright red sticks poking out of the grass and one poking out of the water

11/18 Lost Valley Prairie SNA, 2 hours: Hauled precut brush such as sumac and honeysuckle and maybe some sumac into giant piles that will be burned when there’s snow, followed by treating the stumps to try to prevent them from growing back.

a hand touching a dauber to freshly cut small stumps

12/16 Central Park Arboretum for City of Roseville, 1 hour: Cut, hauled, and treated buckthorn and honeysuckle.

snow scene with two medium-sized stumps, two small stumps, and lots of small broken branches and leaves

Other volunteer hours I’m not reporting:

  • White Bear Lake Seed Library: packaged seeds twice, but I worked on mostly tomatoes and not native plants
  • Pulling garlic mustard at a middle school softball game
  • Friends School Plant Sale: inventory three nights/afternoons, about five hours
  • Collecting and processing milkweed seeds from my own yard (even though I donated them)

Final tally

  • Friends of the Mississippi River: 6 events
  • Coldwater Spring / MNRRA: 4
  • Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary: 3
  • Dakota County Parks: 3
  • Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden: 2
  • Great River Greening: 2
  • Lost Valley Prairie SNA: 2
  • City of Roseville: 2
  • City of St. Paul: 2
  • Other: 4
  • Total: 30 events

New Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) visited

  • Grey Cloud Dunes SNA, Cottage Grove
  • Hastings Sand Coulee SNA, Hastings
  • Blanket Flower Prairie SNA
  • Lost 40 SNA (though that was just for fun, not volunteering)

Invasive species removed

  • Absinthe wormwood
  • Buckthorn
  • Burdock
  • Canadian horseweed
  • Cow vetch
  • Crown vetch
  • Curly dock
  • Dandelion
  • Garlic mustard
  • Leafy spurge
  • Mullein
  • Sumac

Seeds collected

  • Anise hyssop
  • Bee balm
  • Big bluestem
  • Black-eyed susan
  • Butterfly weed
  • Cinquefoil
  • Common milkweed
  • Golden Alexanders
  • Hoary vervain
  • Oak
  • Partridge pea
  • Purple prairie clover
  • Tick-trefoil
  • White prairie clover
  • Yellow coneflower

2017 service hours: 42.50. Travel: 14.25. Preparation: 0.00. Miles: 730.

2016 volunteer service

Late this summer I decided to participate in a million milkweed challenge. A local environmental restoration organization asked volunteers to collect seeds from common milkweed, whorled milkweed, and butterfly weed, which will be used to grow plants and also used in seed mixes. Milkweed is vitally important because it’s the only thing that monarch caterpillars eat, and its flowers also attract other pollinators.

At one point in June, just one small section of our front yard looked like this, so in late autumn there were plenty of common milkweed pods to be found:

about 20 tightly packed common milkweed plants, all budding and blooming

Here are some

four brown milkweed pods pointing in three directions off one stem

and here are some

three brown milkweed pods, one pointing to the left and two stacked and pointing to the right

…though I decided to just leave this pod.

one green milkweed pod covered with mostly adult large milkweed bugs and a few larvae

I didn’t collect every last pod, especially leaving the ones that had already opened so the seeds were starting to fly, so there is plenty of seed left over in the yard to regenerate next year. I still ended up with a table full of ripe pods:

a round wire table, viewed from above, covered with about 175 milkweed pods

I decided to remove the seeds myself, rather than turn in pods, and that meant I had a lot of work to do. Since the collection process had taken place over several weeks, by the time I began working, not all the pods were in good shape anymore. Some had already opened and started to separate

closeup of several of the pods on the table, four of which are open to show brown seeds, and two that have seeds that have started to fly away

and some of the pods had gotten a little damp due to weather, so I found a few pods like this:

closeup of one open milkweed pod with white lines and three green spots within the brown seeds

Those squiggly lines aren’t worms, they are sprouts!

a similar pod from the side, taken apart with two seeds removed below to show that they have sprouted green growth

(I discarded pods like this and only included fresh seeds.)

To remove the seeds, I held on tightly to the “fluff” end of the pod, then scraped downward across the seeds to loosen them into the container.

a thumb pressing down on the end of a seed pod, above a container with seeds

This pod is going smoothly.

the same pod with a section of seeds removed to show white beneath

This one ended perfectly: all the seeds came off easily.

a hand holding a different pod, all the seeds removed so only the white strands are showing, neatly folded

But sometimes, no matter how tightly I held on, the seeds didn’t cooperate — and with not a lot of patience for picking up seeds one by one, when that happened, I set that pod, fluff, and seed aside.

a thumb holding a mess of fluff with seeds still attached

Wayward seeds still attached to their “parachutes” floated all over

a dozen white fluff balls scattered among fallen tree leaves on the ground

two milkweed seeds caught on zinnias

and once I realized just how many seeds were falling through the wire table down to the patio stones, I put on a tablecloth and caught quite a few that were missing the container.

another photo of tree leaves on the ground, but moved over to see patio stones covered in milkweed seeds

About three hours and 159 usable pods later, I had one gelato container filled to the brim:

side view of a clear plastic container completely full of brown seeds

And what I’m left with now is a bag half-full of fluff.

looking down into a brown paper bag with lots of milkweed fluff in the bottom, with more caught on the edges

I recently heard that a Canadian company is starting to make jackets using this for stuffing instead of down or synthetics. Maybe I could go into business! (Though at about one coat or pillow a year, it wouldn’t be a very lucrative business.) The fluff is super-soft.

I’m several weeks behind on posting these photos of the garden. Most of these photos were taken October 20 and 25.

The last turtlehead held out until the 20th:

a tall spike of green seedheads, with one pink flower sticking out the top

The new native false indigo turned yellow:

eight stems in the sunlight facing downward somewhat like an open umbrella, each with up to 20 yellow oval leaves

So did the whorled milkweed:

narrow stem with narrow yellow leaves, hard to distinguish against a backdrop of maple leaves on the ground

Lots of pretty goldenrods:

one goldenrod stem with white seeds in focus in the front, with several more out-of-focus behind

A gathering of large milkweed bugs on bee balm:

six black-and-orange bugs with their heads together in a circle off-center on the right of the seedhead

Butterfly weed seed pods popped open:

a cluster of more than a dozen skinny, brown pods with many white seed fluff balls all around

Culver’s root:

three levels of leaf whorls, yellow and starting to curl

Stiff goldenrod:

unsymmetrical fluffy seeds on one stem

Beautiful red stems of giant purple hyssop:

one short stem with lots of lime-green leaves in front, with dozens of tall, skinny red stems throughout the background

The spiderwort cultivar resprouting:

about two dozen very short leaf clusters

Hepatica leaves visible, though I didn’t see flowers reblooming like many other people did:

two hepatica leaves poking up out of tree leaf litter

A squash, unexpectedly growing in the flower garden:

short green vine with one yellow flower blooming and two buds

Part of a paper wasp nest, probably carried in by wind:

small gray section of the outer layer of a nest

Milkweed fluff stuck on bee balm:

one seed barely visible through all the fluff, perched on the right side of a seedhead

I could watch bees crawl in and out of turtlehead flowers all day. Mostly it’s just bumblebees and honeybees that do this, because they’re big enough to open the flowers. And I see more bumblebees than honeybees here.

bumblebee that is almost all the way out of a dark-pink flower, viewing almost straight into the flower's opening

They force their way into the “mouth” of the “turtle” and rustle around inside for quite awhile, then exit and find another flower to repeat the process.

Video of a bumblebee from a few years ago:

Sometimes they need to stop and regroup after they exit, brushing the pollen off their antennae or eyes, I assume.

bumblebee with a small yellow pollen basket, holding on to a light-pink flower with a leg up near its eyes, viewed from the side

This flower has a honeybee inside, barely visible.

looking straight into the 'mouth' of a dark-pink flower, the bee is not distinguishable but the back of the flower is dark

This year, at first, I thought I had noticed a difference – bumblebees climb out backwards, while honeybees turn around and climb out face-first – but then I saw a bumblebee turn around, too. (And the video above shows a bumblebee that turns around, so I had seen that before.) In fact, I don’t seem to have any photos of bumblebees backing out. So much for that theory.

just the head of a bumblebee emerging from a light-pink flower

same bee a fraction of a second later, with its front two legs and its body visible to the thorax

This one is my favorite: looks like it was quite the effort to squeeze out of this blossom.

three light-pink blossoms, with a honeybee emerging from the lower right flower horizontally and tilted, looks like it's pulling itself out with its front two legs

Only a little hint of the insect inside.

one bumblebee leg sticking out of a light-pink blossom

Every autumn I seem to find a surprise or two in the yard, usually spring flowers that should be long-gone. Four years ago it was an iris. I’ve also found late-blooming snowdrop anemone more than once.

This afternoon, while checking up on the status of the yard, I spotted this single wood violet.

one purple violet in the grass and creeping charlie

The vegetable garden is also a good spot to find late bloomers, usually plants that just didn’t quite get enough time to finish before the first frost. But today I spotted beans that are making their first appearance of the year. There are two plants, each completely tangled up in thistles. (When they didn’t appear on time, I didn’t bother weeding the garden.) Strange time to be starting!

two bean flowers, the background nearly all poky thistles

Black-eyed susans that are opening look like they’re sleepy and having a hard time waking up.

bright yellow flower just starting to open, the petals somewhat swirled to the right, in bright sunlight

My hair is a bit wild in the morning, too.

another flower farther along, the petals on the left sticking straight up, and the petals on the right starting to fall into place

One last stretch, and then this one will be ready.

closeup on a nearly-open flower with 13 petals flat, while 2 on the left and 5 in the back are sticking up, with several other flowers blurred in the background

At the end of the day, this one looks like it’s ready for sleep.

stem hanging down with a reddish rudbeckia just starting to unfurl

All tucked in for the night. This doesn’t look comfy to me, but what do I know? I’m not a bee.

completely open flower that is just starting to fade, with a long-horned bee holding onto the top of a petal with two legs while its body hangs underneath

If I were giving out an award for the most social flower of the year, black-eyed susan would win. One fun day, I spent the morning checking and rechecking on them, noticing and admiring the diversity of insects that were attracted to the blossoms. About two-thirds of these photos are from that one day alone.

Bees:

likely a bumblebee on the right side of the center disk, facing downward

metallic green been in the same position

unidentified smaller bee on the left of the center disk, curled and facing downward

possibly a megachile, on top of the center disk, with legs full of orange pollen

Flies:

really big fly with hairs, possibly a tachinid, on top of the center disk

long-legged fly standing out on one of the petals

Flies that look like bees:

bee mimic with a wide abdomen

much smaller bee mimic, or hoverfly, hovering to the left of the center disk

Butterflies:

tattered monarch sitting on the right side of the flower

Eastern tiger swallowtail with wings outstretched, tilted toward the camera, on the right side of the flower

Bees and butterflies:

gray butterfly, possibly a hairstreak, on the left side, and a long-horned bee on the right, their antennae crossing in the middle

Lacewing:

sitting on a petal in the front of the picture, facing downward

Aphids:

a blurred stem with two large red aphids and several smaller red aphids, in front of a black-eyed susan

Beetle:

beetle perpendicular to a tall center disk, with a dark red body and wing shells that blend in with the flower disk

Japanese beetle doing the splits:

beetle on the petals facing up

Leafhopper:

small green insect tucked into the fold where the petal meets the flower's center

I don’t know what this is:

patterned brown insect with long antennae, climbing up a tall center disk

Inchworm:

skinny green caterpillar holding onto a petal with its head hidden behind the center disk

And my favorite find, a camouflaged looper inchworm:

curved brown caterpillar hanging off the right side of the center disk

(More about this camouflaged looper caterpillar.)

There was also this gruesome find — one dead bee on a petal, with two dead bees and one dead fly suspended below — but then again, a spider’s gotta eat, too. (I assume that’s what created this scene.)

tall image of a flower with four dead insects, three hanging below the flower but no visible spiderwebs

With so many dozens of black-eyed susans in our garden, we were bound to spot some flowers that didn’t grow quite perfectly. Here are some examples.

One petal that remained fused:

black-eyed susan in bright sunlight, the petal at the 3 o'clock position looks a bit like a cornucopia

Irregular center disks:

the brown center has eight growths, some pointed and some flat, around the circle, and a thin, curvy yellow growth out the middle

cone-shaped center disk, with a smaller one pointing to the left growing out of the left side

two cone-shaped centers on one flower, mostly connected but separated near the top

Another type of irregular center, a condition called fasciation that causes elongated growth that’s usually in the stem, which causes the flower to be elongated too:

a really large roundish center that's about double the normal width, with petals hanging below and a couple petals strangely growing out the top right

(I left this flower in the garden, since fasciation is not contagious.)

Aster yellows, an incurable condition caused by a bacteria that’s spread by leafhoppers:

black-eyed susan with narrow petals that are light green instead of yellow

six brown centers without any petals

(These affected sections of flowers were removed, because aster yellows is contagious.)

Curled petals that seem to be caused by the tear / hole near the tips:

yellow flower with some narrow red in the center of the petals, all but three of the petals curled under, viewed from above

It’s a pretty effect, but it happened to many flowers, so I’m curious whether it’s something to be concerned about. I haven’t been able to find any information about this yet.

mostly red flower with orange-ish tips, most of the petals curled under, viewed from the side so the flower looks flat

For further reading

Long petals, short petals. Skinny petals, wide petals. Single color, bicolor. You name it, we saw it somewhere in the garden this year.

The red ones likely came from a seed mix a few years ago. They started in a flower box and are now spreading on their own and may be intermingling with the native, solid-yellow, rudbeckia hirta. I think they’re called “gloriosa daisy” though which specific variety, I’m not sure; perhaps there are more than one, which is why there’s such variation.