Friends of the Wild Flower Garden


A web of present and past events

These short articles are written to highlight connections of the plants, history and lore of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden with different time frames or outside connections. A web of intersections.

This month we have another Garden change to announce and we revisit last months topic about plant saponins, but this time high-lighting some work of Dr. Lee Frelich at the University linking saponin to a treatment for jumping worms. We picture our largest woodpecker in Minnesota and our earliest spring flower.

This Month

Garden Improvements


Plant saponin and jumping worm control


The Pileated Woodpecker


A Harbinger of Spring


Improvements at the Garden

new upland fence
A section of the new fence incorporating a number of mature trees into the Garden. Photo Jennifer Olson.

During the winter months a new area was annexed into the Garden in the upland. The old fence that paralleled the entrance path to the upland has been removed and a new fence placed further south, incorporating a stand of mature trees into the Garden. This job was completed by MPRB during the early part of the winter before the heavy snows arrived.

The previous fence location marked the boundary of the 1944 addition of the upland savanna to the Garden. The fence was installed following the end of WWII and was in place by 1947. It has been undisturbed except for the one acre addition to the upland added in 1993. That addition sits just to the northeast of the new addition.

When you enter the upland this spring the fence will no longer be in view, which allows for a unobstructed transition between the plants of the upland and the area of mature woodland that is now within the boundary fence.

The photos below show the new view and the prior view plus an original view.

Below: The upland Garden entrance path with the fence now removed. Photo Jennifer Olson.

upland fence work

Below: The upland Garden entrance path on October 15, 1948, one year after the original fenceing was completed. Photo from a kodachrome by Martha Crone.

upland fence in 1948

Below: The upland Garden entrance path as it looked before the fence removal. Photo G D Bebeau.

Upland garden fence in 2010

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Plant saponin and jumping worm control

Last month in our article about plant saponins we promised this topic.

The research team at the University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology headed by Dr. Lee Frelich has been incorporating plant saponins into the research on control mechanisms for jumping worms. Saponin is a natural surfactant occurring in the plants we discussed last month.

Dr. Frelich describes the research saponin as “ a chemical compound found in tea and maple leaves. Saponin-based pesticides are favored by golf course keepers trying to keep worms off the green, as opposed to more toxic chemicals often used in backyards. Because it naturally occurs in plants, we hope saponin can control the worms without disrupting the ecosystem. There are a lot of poisons we could use, but they’d kill everything else, too.” (1)

Example: The mode of action is similar to that of mowrah meal, a mainstay for managing earthworms on golf courses a century ago. Tea seed meal has been formulated into an organic fertilizer (Early BirdTM 3-0-1) suitable for use on fairways and putting greens. However, as mentioned last month, saponins should never be applied near ponds or streams as they are toxic to fish.

Dr. Frelich has a video discussing Jumping worms and the research work being carried out at the Landscape Arboretum on worm control. In this video the first 26 minutes are about the worm itself and then the discussion of the research being done in controlled plots using saponin and several other treatments. The entire video is over an hour but the majority is Q & A after the first 37 minutes.(2)

Below: This chart from the video illustrates the research plots and various control mechanisms being tested. Chart ©Dr. Lee Frelich.

graphic on worm control plots

Other research of interest to wild flower gardens is that some native species seem to have more tolerance to the worm - Christmas Fern, Jack-in-pulpit and Troutlily. Unfortunately for our state flower, Lady-slippers appear to be adversely affected by them

Below: This chart provided by Dr. Frelich shows the initial results of this work at the Arboretum at measuring the effects on worm presence on native plants. Chart ©Dr. Lee Frelich.

chart of worm effect on plants.

(1). Audubon Jan 2020
(2). Video presentation to the Edina Garden Council

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The Pileated Woodpecker
Dryocopus pileatus

Audubon plate
Plate 111 from Birds of America by John James Audubon (1)

The sight of the largest woodpecker in Minnesota and third largest in the world, alway elicits an “on my” response due to their size and distinctive head coloration. We are fortunate they are year-round residents in the wooded part of our state as they brighten any winter day.

Sixteen to nineteen inches long with a span of 26 to 30 inches makes them a large woodpecker, but being birds they are light - 11 oz or less. Males and females look much alike except the male is a bit larger and has a red line from bill to throat, this line is black on the female and the female's red crest ends before reaching the bill. Both have a white leading edge on the wing, quite visible in flight. The young ones look much the same but lack the curve to the crest on top of the head.

The history of them being in and near the Wildflower Garden is varied. Minneapolis Bird Club member Mr. J. S. Futcher wrote for us in 1992 and said the “In those days (1940’s), if one wanted to see a Pileated Woodpecker, the Garden was the place to see it. That bird was not as common in the ‘40s and ‘50s as nowadays.”

Ken Avery was Gardener at Eloise Butler and worked there from 1954 until 1987. He wrote in 1976 “Two weeks ago I saw two Pileated Woodpeckers flying over Theodore Wirth Lake, This was a most welcome sight, When I first started at the Garden in 1954, the Pileated was a permanent resident and while not a year has passed without our seeing one, they have all been casual visitors for the last fifteen years. I hope that seeing two of them means that they are living here again.”

Fortunately for us, you can see and hear them every year now.

pair of young pileateds
A pair of young pileateds. Photo Paul Wieland.(2)
male pileated on ash tree
Male Pileated. Photo G D Bebeau

Below: A pair of young Pileateds approaching maturity - male and a female. Photo Andrew Brownsword. (3)

pair of young pileateds

(1)(3). These images are in the public domain
(2). This image is used under Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Harbinger of Spring
Anemone patens

Pasque flower

"The most admirable flower in the estimation of settlers in this part of the new world was the pasque-flower or wind-flower. It is the very first to appear in the spring, covering the cold gray-black ground with cheery blossoms. Before the axe or plough had touched the “oak openings” of Wisconsin, they were swept by running fires almost every autumn after the grass became dry. But whether burned in spring or fall, ashes and bits of charred twigs and grass stems made the whole country look dismal.

Then, before a single grass-blade had sprouted, a hopeful multitude of large hairy, silky buds about as thick as one’s thumb came to light, pushing up through the black and gray ashes and cinders, and before these buds were fairly free from the ground they opened wide and displayed purple blossoms about two inches in diameter, giving beauty for ashes in glorious abundance. Instead of remaining in the ground waiting for warm weather and companions, this admirable plant seemed to be in haste to rise and cheer the desolate landscape. Then at its leisure, after other plants had come to its help, it spread its leaves and grew up to a height of about two or three feet. The spreading leaves formed a whorl on the ground, and another about the middle of the stem as an involucre, and on the top of the stem the silky, hairy long-tailed seeds formed a head like a second flower.

A little church was established among the earlier settlers and the meetings at first were held in our house. After working hard all the week it was difficult for boys to sit still through long sermons without falling asleep, especially in warm weather. In this drowsy trouble the charming anemone came to our help. A pocketful of the pungent seeds industriously nibbled while the discourses were at their dullest kept us awake and filled our minds with flowers." John Muir: From The Story of my Boyhood and Youth

This early spring flower, the earliest of the upland wildflowers, is found in dry sandy hillsides, open woods, rocky outcrops in woods and undisturbed prairies. It grows from a woody caudex which can produce additional stems as the plant ages. It spreads also by reseeding. The plant is low to the ground at flowering time and is easily overlooked. When the seed plumes rise up and are quite visible, flowering time has passed by almost a month. Flower color of natives vary by location. John Muir wrote that those at his home were purple whereas the ones west in the dakotas are white.

In the history of the Butler Wildflower Garden, the plant first arrived in 1910 and was planted extensively for many years thereafter up until the 1950s. Habitat changes have made it difficult to survive in later decades.

Purple pasque flower pasque flower young growth

Pasque flower photos - G D Bebeau

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Previous articles

January 2023 - Garden Improvements - shed roof.

January 2023 - What are Saponins and are they good for you?

January 2023 - Eloise Butler's Buggy Accident and Hospital Stay

December 2022 - Origin of bird feeding at the Garden

December 2022 - Why Moosewood

December 2022 - Did you know: Bees can use tools

December 2022 - Svalbard Seed Vault

November 2022 - Friends activities: Fall Volunteer Events

November 2022 - Garden history bit: Plants from Isle Royal

November 2022 - Did you know: Bees have fun

November 2022 - An interesting Garden plant

October 2022 - Propagation of species by mechanical explosive tension.

October 2022 - Plant census of a small plot

October 2022 - Garden photos from late October.

October 2022 - Eloise Butler gives garden clean-up advice.

All selections published in 2022

Selections published in 2021

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