February 10th pictures: Digging for color in an aggressively oatmeal-colored landscape.

I planned to go back to the riverbank and sandbar today to take more pictures of the plants that I am just beginning to identify with the help of the Minnesota Wildflowers project. I quickly became distracted though when I ran into this.


This thing made me bleed.

I got held up a moment as I tended to my pain — and took pictures of the offender — and then, instead of winding my way down to the bank, turned immediately to my right, into one of the ever-expanding gullies at the river’s edge, the product of erosion.

Most of the snow has melted (again) so the landscape is really as unrelentingly monocromatic as ever. From a distance. Up close — you know, like 99.8% of the pictures I take — tells a different story. I decided to look for as much color in this little gully as I could.


Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) buds.


Pin oak (Quercus palustris).



Mysterious purple leaf!

As ever, I found it impossible to ignore the lure of the finely-textureds’ siren song.


A skeletonized cottonwood leaf against the sun.



My lens got a little foggy at one point, but I think the effect is neat.


A different set of cottonwood buds -- look at them ooze! In one of my plant ID classes, we were encouraged to take and press leaf and bud samples of the plants we were memorizing. I took a twig from a cottonwood, buds and all. This was an ill-advised move. The ooze did a number on the pages the bud was pressed between.


And the ooze from the above buds -- I'm guessing that's what it was -- also left their mark on this leaf's margin.



Jack in the pulpit (Arum spp.) fruit -- the jackpot of color.




The leaves of Canadian or wood nettle (Laportea canadensis). They grow all over our woods and are unmistakable in the winter -- their leaves turn pale, shrivel, and hang shroud-like from their stalks.

Let me briefly sing the praises of Canadian nettle. In an introductory biology course in one of my first years of college, we had to design our own experiment. I decided to study the density of a certain plant in the undergrowth of our woods and see if there was any correlation between plant density and plant height or something. I dunno, it was kind of stupid and I don’t even remember the outcome, but I remember bundling up in November and going down to the woods and trying to introduce a little randomization into my sample-taking by picking a series of arbitrary points, then spinning in a circle, then throwing a ruler, and measuring the stand of nettle wherever the ruler landed. (There was so much nettle in the woods that there would almost inevitably be some wherever the ruler landed.)

This was an annoying, dizzying process, and it was cold, and Canadian nettle, while not as bad as the related stinging nettle, still has spines up and down its stem that were irritating to my bare hands (it was impossible to work in gloves), and yes, the whole thing was probably not quite up to snuff in terms of scientific rigor. But this was just about the time I started thinking about studying plants in college, and somehow learning all about Canadian nettle helped ignite that fire. It was like my gateway drug into horticulture.


A black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) cane -- reliably vibrant. I love its purple hue, which is made all the more interesting by the frosty, lighter-purple coloration on part of the stem. I believe this is referred to either as bloom or glaucousness.



The effect on this picture was an accident, but I like it.


I recently learned that this little flower (well, fruit now) that I've been taking a lot of pictures of lately is called rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium). Unless I'm very much mistaken.


I'm always fascinated at how adaptable trees can be, growing at an angle like this. This tree is a fixture (FOR NOW) on the edge of a little campsite we have in the woods.


Just for context -- the gully I took most of these pictures in. Dig all those exposed roots, old and new.


Cottonwood leaves

A veritable riot of varied roots to follow:




Mature root with a fluffy seed stuck to it; it was blowing wildly in the wind.





Looking up from the gully.

Edit: I forgot to mention it was absurdly cold when I took these pictures. So I’m mentioning it now: IT WAS ABSURDLY COLD.


40 thoughts on “February 10th pictures: Digging for color in an aggressively oatmeal-colored landscape.

    • Thanks! Here’s a little bit of Minnesota propaganda: you never have to look too hard for the beauty. Oh, and me and my little compact always rely on my shaky hand and the available light.

      • I’m from way up north. Grand Marais. I was born and raised there. Lived in Hawaii for 25 years and now live in Oregon. All of my family is still in MN. They’re in Rogers, Cold Spring, St. Cloud and Princeton. Plus various other relatives throughout the state.

  1. Wow, your pictures are fantastic! Love all the colors, even the oatmeal. 😉

    So, have you ever been to Walnut Grove? Was wondering about the Ingalls’ place. Loved the books and the tv series.

    • Thank you very much! And no I have not, unless just passing through long ago. Although my hometown of Mankato did get a shout-out or two throughout the series, if I remember correctly. (Don’t know if that counts for much!)

      • Yeah, I remember Mankato being mentioned quite frequently. That’s what made me ask about WG. Cool. Minnesota is truly a beautiful state. I’ve been through there a couple of times, via train and car – just passing through.

  2. I too enjoyed your perspective and artistic eye for nature’s beauty! Neutral tones appeal to me. Your thorny one caught my eye when I was sifting through today’s photo uploads with WordPress and I wound up seeing the whole lot. Thank you.

    • I’m willing to take a chance with the context. What interesting conjecture it could lead to!

      I’ve been scratching my head over the various twining plants we’ve got growing all over the place up here. I haven’t taken the time until now to examine them closely and now in winter I have fewer things to go off of, of course. But your pictures look very similar. Another mystery (likely) solved! Thanks for the tip!

  3. love how you found color in hidden places … guess you just have to be patient and willing to look a little deeper … especially loved the tree roots … great shots!

      • that shot you took from below, from inside the gully, kind of creeped me out a little, and yet it was so beautiful, (but I couldn’t help thinking that in order to get that shot, you had to be IN THE GULLY) … great photos … brave girl that you are, you even got the prickly ones

        • Thanks so much! Yeah, the pokiness of the weeds down in the woods is a little irritating but the real danger is someday I’ll lose my vigilance and poke my eye out on a twig. 🙂

  4. I love this post… the photographs are amazing and the title caught me. I moved to Alberta a few years ago and for most of the year it seems to be some shade of white, beige or grey. After last winter I painted the walls of my bedroom blue and green so that at least I had one place to go with colour. Wildflower season is one of my favourite because all of a sudden there’s colours galore available for photographing.

    • Painting your bedroom bright is a really good idea. That’s Minnesota too for about half of the year (kind of dull-colored), and then there’s, oh, a two-week transition and all of a sudden everything is verdant and muggy. I’m really excited for the wildflowers this year, too. For a few days the whole forest floor here is covered with trout lilies (and others). Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Pingback: February 22nd: a spring-y interlude before some more winter « Sarah takes pictures.

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