The small boggy wetland in the center of the Woodland Garden, while less than 2 acres, gives visitors a glimpse of a unique community. Many similar bogs and wetlands occurred throughout the Bryn Mawr and nearby Golden Valley neighborhoods, but none survived development. All were either drained and filled for housing or dredged to create the myriad of pastoral ponds so prevalent in Golden Valley. Because it is the sole survivor (along with the Quaking Bog across Wirth Parkway), and a habitat virtually impossible to recreate, special care is given to assure its survival.
Eloise Butler wrote in 1915: "The site of the Wild Garden was chosen particularly on account of the tamarack swamp and adjacent meadows which contained several interesting or beautiful plants that were not to be found elsewhere in the vicinity of Minneapolis." (Article)
On the plan map at the right (click on image for enlargement) one can see the wetland area at or below the 840 foot contour level, significantly below the 906 foot contour level at the south end of the Woodland Garden, and even further below the 921 foot high point in the Upland Garden. In Eloise Butler's time the path through the center did not exist, instead she created several short side paths that penetrated select areas of the wetland where she had found or planted significant wetland plants. The current path was created in 1946 as explained further below. At the north end (top in the image) one sees the blue of open water which is today's remnant of the original "Mallard Pool." This was the last creation of Eloise Butler. Prior to dredging out this pool, there was only one small pool of open water in the wetland. Not large enough for the plant community she envisioned.
In the photo below, we see Eloise crossing the rustic bridge at the head of the Mallard Pool. The year is 1932. She has physically weakened due in part to neuritis and from burns received in 1929 when a heating pad caught fire while she was sleeping.
Mallard Pool: The development of this pool was long on gestation and short on actual building. She had dreamed for many years of creating an aquatic pool for special plants and the site at the north end of the Garden where the wetland drains out was the best site in the Garden. Back in 1917 she had a concrete dam placed at that site where the water left the Garden. However, she could not move the idea to reality until 1932 when the pool was quickly constructed by an unemployed man and another was employed to build a rustic bridge of tamarack poles to span the small stream from the bog that flowed into the pool. When a mallard was soon seen in it, it became the “mallard pool.”
Eloise's Mallard Pool extended northward beyond the current Garden fence line. In later years the Garden boundary was moved southward. The area of the pool still within the Garden was renovated some years ago and is under consideration for restoration again today, as the progress of time and changes in the environment have worked their ways on the area and the amount of open water continually decreases. Eloise had planned extensive plantings around the pool but these were uncompleted at the close of 1932 and she passed away the following spring before more planting could be done. It was up to Martha Crone to complete the work which she did in 1933.
Eloise wrote in late 1932: "Ever since the Native Plant Preserve was started I have wished to have a pool constructed where two small streams converge in an open meadow, the only pool in the Preserve being too shady for aquatics. The hard times gave this joy to me, for a jobless expert did the work for a sum that could be afforded by the Park Commissioners. The pool is about 75 feet long, several feet narrower, and of irregular outline. Indeed, the contour is beautiful. The excavation was made in a dense growth of cat-tails. While digging, the workman saw a mallard duck wending its way through the meadow with a train of four little ones. Hence the name of the pool, as this duck had never been listed before in the garden."
She then lists an extensive group of almost 100 different plants to be planted and explains - "This may seem too large a number of plants for a border, but the border is of indefinite width. It comprises nearly an acre and extends across the sunlit area of the marsh. I shall probably think of more (such) desirable plants!"
There is much trouble immediately with muskrats eating the plants. Her "adviser" thought wire netting top and bottom would keep them out but it did not. So they encircled the pool with netting, sinking it down two feet, but they had the uneasy feeling that muskrats may still burrow under it. [Her complete essay]
In 1907 when the Garden was formed, it was a true swamp with some open water and a large number of Tamarack Trees. Over the years, the decrease in water flow, the decrease in the number of Tamarack and the encroachment of shade tolerant shrubs has resulted in the transformation of the area into a shrubby wetland. To maintain a certain amount of water in the swampy area various dams were constructed. The first was by Eloise Butler in 1917, which was seriously degraded by 1954, and the latest is a rock dam installed in 1992.
The trail through the center of the wetland was added in 1946 by Garden Curator Martha Crone, in order to give visitors a better view of the area. At the time there was a small open pool and Martha wanted visitors to have a close-up view of aquatic plants that were in and by the pool. In 1939 a spring had been tapped on the west shore of that open pool and it supplied a good flow of water. (Details in 1939 history). Another stream bed was dug at the same time to assure water movement during exceptionally rainy years. A stream bed exists today and occasionally has to be dug out due to silting.
Saratoga Springs was the original name of area where Wirth Park is today and, as the name suggests, there was a time when the area’s water table was much higher and springs and seeps were everywhere.
Friends' member J. S. Futcher remembers that when he was a kid in the 1940s there were three main springs in the area of Garden - the Great Medicine Spring, considered the main one; another on the northwest corner of Glenwood and Theodore Wirth Parkway; and one to the east of the back gate of the Garden. Wirth Lake is fed by springs and he remembers swimming there and feeling the cold spring water coming up from the sandy lake bottom in certain spots. He further states his belief the the 1962 addition to the Wirth Park Par 3 Golf Course had some effect on the drying up of the springs as the course was built on top of what was a marsh. (Read more of Futcher). Also, this article has more detail on all the springs.
Gardener Ken Avery kept track of many of the springs in the Garden area and their rise and fall with changes in ground water level. In the 1970s many began to dry up but sometimes springs he counted as dead, might return to life a year later but he remembered that 1959 was the last year than any spring ran continuously. Still, as the area continues to become drier, and as the wetland gradually loses its acidity because of natural processes and the use of supplemental city water, much of the original community remains.
City Water: A city water supply was added to the Upland Garden in 1947 to supplement rainfall in that drier area of the Garden. It would be years before the supply was extended to the lower garden area. In 1961 Ken Avery specifically requested that the water lines be run to the Woodland Garden to avoid having to lug hoses around and run them from the water source in the Upland Garden. in 1964 Ken's suggestion of running plastic hose was approved and the lines were run.
As a result of the dryness that could seriously affect the wetland area in certain years, Martha Crone had several more pools dug out in 1947. There were three in total and one may have been the original pool of Eloise Butler's time. In 1948 she had them enlarged. These pools in the wetland subsequently silted in and had to excavated several times. Gardener Ken Avery and assistant Ed Bruckelmeyer did the first excavation in 1961, removing swamp grass and digging out to a depth of 18 inches. The pools were not connected and if rainfall was not sufficient, the pools would be filled with a hose run from the city water supply in the Upland Garden, one pool at a time. So when Ken and Ed dug out the pools they created a channel from one to the other so that filling one would cause the others to fill also. By 1965 the pools were only 6 inches deep so Ken dug them out again, this time to a depth of two feet. By 1979 the pool channel was silted in and had to be dug out once more.
Eventually, the pools and channel were left silted in and today, while there can be standing water in the wetland, there is not the large open pool that existed from the 1930s to the mid 1970s. The small steam in the wetland still flows when rainfall is adequate. A hazard of the drier periods of today is that it is easy to start a peat fire in the wetland. This has happened several times when Garden cleanup debris is burned.
Below: A view of the wetland on May 27, 1950 showing some of open water. Photo from a Kodachrome taken by Martha Crone.
Wetland plants are generally classified in three categories: Submerged (e.g. milfoils, pond weeds, wild celery), floating (e.g. water lilies, duckweed) and emergent (cattails, bulrushes, purple loosestrife).
Another broader group of plants prefers moist conditions, though not necessarily acidic or bog habitats. This group included Jewelweed, Forget-me-nots, Turtlehead, queen-of-the-meadow and cow parsnip to name just a few (more are detailed below).
Here is some detail on three plants of the wetland: Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis Meerb and I. pallida Nutt., Broadleaf Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) and Pink Turtlehead (Chelone lyoni).
Jewelweed, both Pale Jewelweed (Pale touch-me-not) and the Spotted Jewelweed, are two of the relatively few wildflowers that are true annuals. Because of this their abundance varies from year to year - and they are found only in moist areas of the Garden during drier years. "Touch-me-not" is the common name given to Jewelweed because when ripe, the seed pods explode with just the gentlest “touch”. Also the crushed leaves make an excellent poultice for soothing poison ivy rashes. Jewelweed can be quite aggressive and cover large areas, preventing the growth of less aggressive plants. The photo above shows a good swath of Spotted Jewelweed in the bog on Aug. 27, 2009.
This is a good spot to insert a story about the aggressiveness of Jewelweed. In 1976, Clinton Odell’s daughter Moana Odell Beim (who was president of The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden at the time) wrote in the Friends Newsletter, the Fringed Gentian™ about an argument her father had with Eloise Butler about planting Jewelweed. At the time Odell (the future founder of The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden) was a student of Butler’s and a frequent Garden visitor and helper. Eloise believed everything wild had a place in the Garden. She believed that what were called “weeds” should not be so called. The argument was whether Jewelweed should be maintained and planted when necessary. She won.
Odell reported in his journal “The first year Jewelweed marched through the bog . . . the second year it started up the hill. The third year it went up and over the hill and something is darn well going to be done!” Workers were brought in and they pulled Jewelweed for days. Moana Odell Beim remembered many hours spent with her dad in later years pulling Jewelweed, particularly in 1945 when Curator Martha Crone reported another major effort to reduce the quantity of the plant. Martha had written a year earlier "The later flowers [of the season] found difficult competition in the abundant growth of Jewelweed and nettle. The seedlings of the Jewelweed appearing in such great numbers as to take complete possession of the garden. The program of their removal will greatly aid the establishment of desirable plants."
Red Turtlehead flowers in late summer. Located at he intersection of the wetland trails adjacent to the boardwalk, it draws a lot of attention from both visitors and bees. The pink Turtlehead (Chelone lyoni Pursh) is often identified incorrectly as the native Red Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua). The Turtlehead in the wetland is thought to be a cross between the pink Turtlehead - a garden escapee that is native to southern states and the native Red Turtlehead. It has been kept both for the pure pleasure of its floriferousness and the desirability of keeping one of Eloise Butler’s naturalized plantings. These plants came from policeman Mr. Rohl's garden in Minneapolis, 1931, to replace a stolen clump. Martha Crone planted in in 1946, '47, '48 and '57, and has presumably been in the Garden continuously. The Red Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua L.) is considered native to Minnesota but distribution in the state is not well documented. It (Red Turtlehead) is on the threatened or endangered list is several states, Michigan, being the closest to us in Minnesota.
Broadleaf Arrowhead or "Duck Potato" is a true aquatic plant growing best in 6 to 12 inches of water, and it would be a mistake to try to grow it in a a home garden. The Garden species (Sagittaria latifolia Willd.) is one of 15 arrowheads found in the region. It is a a striking plant with a raceme sporting three-petal white flowers that emerge in late summer. Tending to colonize when conditions are right, its effect - standing erect - above the water, is quite dramatic. Plants can be 2 to 3 feet tall. As the common name infers, the seeds and tubers provide food for waterfowl, wading birds, muskrats and beaver. While it is growing the plant extracts large amounts of nutrients and metals from the water, while reducing turbidity.
The plant has a range from New Brunswick to British Columbia and south throughout the United States to Mexico with only Nevada reporting no population. In Minnesota it is reported in all counties in the eastern part of the state and the majority of counties in the western part.
The section below lists a number of plants that grow in the wetland area of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.
These are all located close to the pathways so the visitor may easily get a look at them. Flowering time is given. Go to additional information and photos by clicking the link on the plant name.