A woman smiling at the camera while holding garlic mustard, with burrs stuck on her shirt.
At a garlic mustard pulling event where I’ve managed to walk through some burdock.

In my three previous years of volunteering as a Minnesota Master Naturalist, I put in most of my hours in stewardship / restoration events.

While I still love those one-off, practically-no-commitment-needed events, this year I added a few new components, courtesy of my local Wild Ones Native Plants chapter, Big River Big Woods.

In the fall of 2018, just three days after completing my second master naturalist biome course (which I have yet to write about), I went to the monthly Big River Big Woods chapter event. Full of excitement about nature and eager to participate, I filled out their volunteer survey, checking off several boxes: help with the website, give a plant talk, bring snacks.

I was soon asked to give a short presentation on a wildflower — so, on January 24, full of fresh confidence after giving a couple of short species presentations in my class, I gave a 5-minute talk about pearly everlasting. I enjoyed sharing photos of the pretty flowers, of course — but the bigger goal of my presentation was to show how looks can be deceiving, and we should not be striving for perfection from a human perspective. The plants look terrible in early summer, when they are taken over to provide protective nests for American Lady butterfly caterpillars, but I think I convinced the crowd to be patient when this happens because the plants will be just fine and will still flower like they should, just a few weeks later.

A woman speaking in front of a monitor that shows pearly everlasting flowers.

I was also asked to help with a redesign of their website, since my day job for the past 20 years has been managing websites. So with the help of the board of directors, a friend and I reorganized the navigation, tightened up the content, and added big, beautiful photos to the brand-new Big River Big Woods website.

Screen shot of the Wild Ones Big River Big Woods website, with an image of wild geranium near the top.

Once that was done, I convinced the chapter to launch an Instagram account since native plants are so naturally visual. Most of the photos and descriptions were my own, though I love to get submissions from other chapter members. In 2019, I created 112 posts, which I recorded as volunteer hours at about 15 minutes apiece. (Follow along at @bigriverbigwoods.)

Screengrab of the Big River Big Woods Instagram feed during the summer, with photos of blooming flowers.

Those three activities alone — in the “education” category for master naturalist volunteers — accounted for more than the required 40 hours of volunteering! But I still love to help with volunteer events, so I didn’t stop there. Here’s how I recorded the rest of my volunteer time in 2019:

January 12, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (education): A couple dozen volunteers and I helped with the beginning stages of an art installation, Kaleidoscope, that would eventually be “flying” at the Mall of America to bring attention to the importance of pollinators. The mall commissioned an artist to create a 30-foot monarch butterfly sculpture with a flock of 300 monarchs (and a few Karner blues) fluttering below to hang from the north atrium of the mall. We started with plastic bags (because the display also talked about upcycling) to form the shape of the body.

Plastic bags wrapped with masking tape.

And a few months later, this is what the Kaleidoscope art exhibit looked like:

Looking up at dozens of monarch butterflies.

January 26, Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (citizen science): Took part in Cedar Creek’s largest wildlife tracking survey to date, with 27 trackers and naturalists on five teams who recorded the tracks and sign of at least 18 different species of mammals across the reserve, on a day that was double-digits below zero. We began with a discussion about tracking and learned from experienced wildlife trackers about how to distinguish tracks. (I counted this activity as 1 hour of training — since I’m new to this — and 5 hours of work.)

Small tracks in the snow, with possible tail marks.

March 15, City of Roseville (stewardship): Snow seeding (native prairie plants and grasses) in the area between the Roseville arboretum and ballfields.

A hand sprinkling seeds above snow.

April 16, City of Roseville (citizen science): Volunteers have been conducting frog and toad call surveys in select city parks for a few years. Frogs and toads are indicator species — they can tell us about habitat condition, water quality, and more. An important part of monitoring of frogs and toads is to gather data each year. This allows researchers to detect trends and help provide feedback about management work that is occurring in our parks. I first participated in an hour-long training session, then monitored calls on 3 nights during spring, early summer, and mid summer.

Dark image of plants next to a pond.

April, City Nature Challenge (citizen science): Hiked at three regional parks, taking photos of all of the species I could find, and then went to an “ID party” to help identify or confirm identifications of species reported by other local people. Parks visited:

  • Minnehaha Regional Park
  • Bald Eagle / Otter Lake Regional Park
  • Pine Point Regional Park

May 7, Saint Paul Natural Resources (stewardship): Gorgeous spring evening for a volunteer restoration event. Hauled pre-cut brush and dug out burdock plants at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary.

Large pile of brush.

May 9, Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area (citizen science): Helped other volunteers identify as many plant species as possible in the first BioBlitz at Wood-Rill SNA.

May 11, Three Rivers Park District (stewardship): Garlic mustard removal event at Silverwood Park.

Garlic mustard.

June 1, Friends of the Mississippi River (stewardship): Planted trees on a hillside of the new Heritage Park.

Saplings in a bucket.

June 10, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District (stewardship): Joint RWMWD / Wild Ones Big River Big Woods planting event to restore the shoreline of a large wetland at Snail Lake Regional Park. This is a two-year project restoring native habitat in a large county park interspersed with large woodland, prairie, and wetland areas.

Three four-packs of plants resting in woodchips.

June 15, City of Roseville (stewardship): Planted native plugs to restore shoreline at Lake Owasso. Cardinal flower, blue lobelia, grass-leaved goldenrod, prairie blazing star, blue flag iris, common rush, bottlebrush sedge, among others — 750 plants in all. With more than a dozen volunteers, it only took two hours.

A flat of assorted plants and a trowel next to a pond.

June 18, Friends of the Mississippi River (stewardship): FMR has been restoring a bluff prairie on the overlook slope at Indian Mounds Regional Park. We tended to the area around native plants at this site, removing burdock, crown vetch, grapevines, thistles, and more.

Green invasive plant.

June 27, Friends of the Mississippi River (stewardship): Removed hoary alyssum at Hastings Sand Coulee Scientific and Natural Area. This isn’t the worst weed, but it doesn’t belong in this high-quality site, so Friends of the Mississippi River and their volunteers are removing it.

Hand holding a bouquet of small white flowers.

August 4, Dakota County Parks (citizen science): Bumblebee survey. I wasn’t so successful personally, though my husband caught quite a few. (The bees are always released after being identified and marked.)

Hand holding a small gladware container with a bumblebee inside.

August 15, Mississippi National River & Recreation Area (stewardship): Coyote howling survey. We visited three separate stations more than 1.5 miles apart and played a pre-recorded coyote sound three times each followed by 90 seconds of listening. We heard coyotes before the survey began and after it ended.

Data sheet with observations written in pencil.

August 17, Minnesota Bee Atlas (citizen science): Bumblebee survey at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. There were so many other volunteers, and so many bumblebees, that I only collected one bee and spent the rest of the time helping the gatherers ID the flowers where they were found and then sorting the containers by flower. 112 bumblebees were collected, totalling 7 species, but no rusty-patched.

Four small gladware containers on the ground, next to flower names written on paper.

September 4, Carleton Arboretum (stewardship): Seed collecting in the prairie, followed by an observation of a monarch roost!

Four people collecting seeds in a tallgrass prairie at sundown.

Dozens and dozens of monarch butterflies roosting together on a tree branch.

September 5, Saint Paul Natural Resources (stewardship): Collected bottlebrush grass seed at Phalen Regional Park.

A hand holding light-brown grass seeds.

September 7, Three Rivers Parks (stewardship): Collected leadplant, Golden Alexanders, purple prairie clover, and gray-headed coneflower. Elm Creek Park Reserve has 40 acres of prairie, and Three Rivers Parks District is expanding that to 200! Awesome project. It was a gray and wet day on the prairie. Just look at all these purple prairie clover seedheads!

At least six dozen stems full of seeds.

September 17, National Park Service / Coldwater Spring (stewardship): Removed river grape vines. I only participated for half an hour, but a little is better than nothing!

A pile of mostly grapevines and some buckthorn.

September 21, City of Roseville (stewardship): Got to a volunteer event late enough that the plants were mostly planted already, so I spent my time pulling buckthorn seedlings — easy to do after a bunch of rain. Left them on logs so they won’t grow back into the ground!

A dozen small buckthorn seedlings draped over a downed log.

Selfie taken from a kayak, with two kayakers in the background.September 26, Settler’s Island in Cottage Grove (stewardship): Volunteer tree planting event with Friends of the Mississippi River that started by kayaking out to an island! Restoration event at an area that had recently been cleared of buckthorn and other undesirable trees. Planted white oak, Ohio buckeye, viburnum, highbush cranberry, dogwood red osier, and catalpa.

Two hands planting a small tree.

September 28, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (stewardship): U of M students and alumni and master naturalist volunteers participated in a Planting for Pollinators event on National Public Lands Day and National Urban Wildlife Refuge Day. We planted 4,500 native plugs! It was inspiring to see the transformation of this place that used to be gravel and buckthorn. Now it’s a place to play, rest, and enjoy nature. And next year it will be full of wildflowers.

Closeup of a small plant on a hill, with more plants and volunteers in the background.

In all

That all adds up to…

Service hours in 2019. 86.75 service hours, 12.5 travel hours, 3 prep hours, 796 miles. Total 102.25 hours.

…more than 100 hours! Whew!

See more of my 2019 volunteering photos

Selfie with a winter hat and a green safety vest.Previous volunteer recaps

A photo essay starting at the end and evolving backwards.

Clusters of berries that have been partially eaten, perhaps by birds that will spread the seeds to new areas:

Partially eaten jack-in-the-pulpit berries, with white spots where the berries were.

Beautiful ripe berries:

Ripe jack-in-the-pulpit berries.

Because there are berries, these two plants were female.

Mostly green berries that are just starting to turn red.

But get this: next year, both of these same plants will probably be male! Jack-in-the-pulpits change sex depending on how much energy they have stored. Producing berries takes a lot of energy, so usually the next year they’re male.

Dark green jack-in-the-pulpit berries.

Family photo of four blooming jacks under their tall, umbrella-like leaves. I assume the two plants on the right are male, though I didn’t know to check while they were blooming. Next year I will look more closely!

Four jack-in-the-pulpits under their tall leaves.

Stretching their leaves open:

Two jack-in-the-pulpit plants with their leaves still unfurling.


Three jack-in-the-pulpit plants that are just beginning to open.

Just getting started:

Two short pointed shoots coming out of the ground.

About this flower

I can’t resist spying on sleeping bumblebees.

bumblebee hanging under a monarda blossom, with its head tucked into the leaf

Their sleeping positions are sometimes peculiar.

bumblebee holding onto the right side of a gray-headed coneflower

bumblebee perched between two petals of a purple coneflower

A few rest on the top of flowers — like this bee that looks like it’s sleeping on a pink cloud.

bumblebee at the top of a large joe-pye weed blossom

But most of them hang upside-down from blossoms or under leaves.

bumblebee underneath the spike of a purple giant hyssop

Joe-pye weed was a particular favorite this year.

bumblebee under a light-pink flower with its head to the flower cluster

bumblebee in the same spot on a similar flower, but with its head to the outside

two bumblebees on a joe-pye weed cluster, one underneath on the left and one upright on the right

This has to be the funniest flower choice I’ve seen. The bees are bigger than the flowers!

two big bumblebees hanging onto small fleabane flowers that are pointing straight down under their weight

I try not to spend too much time looking at them, though, because they seem to get stressed out if I’m too close.

bumblebee hanging under the right side of a cluster of dozens of pearly everlasting flowers

It’s better to take a quick picture and then admire digitally.

bumblebee hanging upside-down in the six o'clock position of a cup plant blossom

bumblebee sleeping vertically on the right side of a blazingstar

big bumblebee underneath a goldenrod

More of my posts about bumblebees

With the late and wet start to the summer this year, there were lots of people wondering what happened to the bumblebees.

three blazingstar spikes, with a bumblebee at the bottom of the middle flower

I was one of them, but I knew that they don’t usually show up until the bee balm starts blooming, so I wasn’t too worried. Only a few showed up then, though.

bumblebee on the left side of a bee balm blossom

It wasn’t until the joe-pye weed, purple giant hyssop, and cup plant reached full bloom that the bumblebees arrived en masse.

closeup of a bumblebee face-down in joe-pye weed

two bumblebees on opposite sides of a purple giant hyssop spike

bumblebee in the center disk of a cup plant flower

And now, whenever it’s sunny, the front yard is in constant motion.

Bumblebees on cup plant, with a monarch flyby at the end:

Bumblebees on purple giant hyssop:

Not just bumblebees, but other bees too.

two bumblebees and another bee on a joe-pye weed cluster

five small, black bees on whorled milkweed

The only thing I haven’t seen much of this year is honeybees.

bee with yellow legs standing on top of a blue vervain spike

medium-sized bee upside-down on a culver's root spike

bumblebee covered in pollen on the right side of a gray-headed coneflower

Where are the bees? In my yard. Plant native flowers, and you’ll see bees, too.

looking up at a cluster of cup plant blossoms, with a bee on one flower and another flying past

bumblebee with pollen on its back, working on joe-pye weed

Right now, so many of the garden blooms are purple.

10-foot-wide section of a pollinator garden with purple coneflowers at top left, blazingstar at bottom left, bee balm in the center, and phlox at the right.


Two purple globe-shaped flowers.

Bee balm:

Two dozen spiky light-purple flowers.


Five spikes with lots of purple flowers blooming at the tops.


Three clusters of dark pink flowers.

(I’m choosing not to include the invasive creeping bellflower, though it is purple.)

But is this joe-pye weed pink or purple?

Large cluster of small, spiky flowers. A bumblebee is on the right side.
Color is indeed subjective. I would say these flowers are pink, but they’re called purple coneflowers:

Two dozen pink flowers with large, cone-shaped centers.

I would definitely call this one purple, but its name is blue vervain:

Tall spikes, each with tiny purple flowers in a ring.

And this is purple giant hyssop, but it looks less and less purple every year:

Flower spike with tiny white flowers.