Twigs and Branches

A web of present and past events

Nov. 29, 2020: Bird Feeding in the Park
Probably only a few people are still around who remember the origins of bird feeding in Theodore Wirth Park and in the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary, starting with a single bird feeding station in the area of the Hemlock grove of the Wildflower Garden, then by the back gate, then inside the back and front gate and of course in many places around the Garden office and shelter. That first station was started by one woman, Miss Lulu May Aler, when Eloise Butler was still alive.

Every day in winter she walked a mile from her home to put out the feed, donated by Garden clubs, Audubon members and other individuals. She missed on the day of the Armistice blizzard, but shoveled her way through the following day. People saved their squash, cantaloupe and sunflower seeds to contribute in the winter feeding.

She was active in the Minneapolis Audubon Society, was president of the Society in the 1940s, gave talks on birds to many groups, was an expert photographer of birds and as far as we know, she was the first person to give weekly morning bird walks in Wirth Park.

In her other life she was the superintendent of the Minneapolis Maternity Hospital at 2215 Glenwood Ave. from the 1920s into the late 1930s. She was close friends with Martha Crone who was curator of the Wild Flower Garden during this period, but after that we lose track of her, other than we believe she moved to Ohio and probably died there. More details here.

Below: The main bird feeding station in Wirth Park circa 1936. 1936 bird station

Nov. 15, 2020: The 2020 Garden Season
Looking back on the past season at Eloise Butler and the operational changes made by the Garden Staff, Curator Susan Wilkins and the MPRB due to COVID-19, the conclusion made is that despite restricted entrance and restricted Garden activities, people were able to enjoy the Garden in a year when, as Susan states, the plants were flourishing. The staff produced a number of weekly streaming videos of plant tours and children’s activities. The photo shows the front gate entrance set-up this past season.

garden front gate in 2020

Parts of the wetland have become too wet for certain species - the red maples and ash trees especially, but more small trees and shrubs that like that environment have been added in recent years. Care and maintenance of the Garden went on despite COVID-19. In addition to plants provided by the MPRB, the Friends funded the planting of 2,664 herbaceous plants, ferns and sedges. This group included 36 different species. You can see the entire list at this link. Unfortunately, we could not provide any bus transportation to K-12 students this Summer due to visiting restrictions, but we hope 2021 might be less restrictive.

The Friends want to thank all of the people who have managed during this period of uncertainty in economic and employment conditions to continue their support of the Friends mission. We have committed additional reserves to the Garden in 2021 as it is a resource of plant and bird habitat in the inner city that is unmatched for contemplation, viewing and education.

Nov. 1 2020 - Diversity on a small lot:
I arrived at my current abode on a 1/2 acre lot 9 years ago. Beside the improvements there was a semblance of a lawn, numerous trees and two wooded areas filled with buckthorn. In the first summer the buckthorn was eliminated. Since then the following list of wild flowering plants have appeared on the lot - a few were hidden within the buckthorn, the rest have simply shown up as the years went by - from seeds in the soil, bird droppings or the wind. This list has over 60 species, not counting various small weeds and excludes the 100+ native species that have been planted.

One must marvel at the local area variety of plant species for this to happen, and most people going on local walks or tending their carefully manicured yards, seem to be oblivious to all this diversity around them as native plant areas are very uncommon. Here’s the list with common names. Adding Latin names would simple inflate the length of this note. You can lookup full information sheets on all of these plants on this website by accessing the plant Common Name List.

The list: Anise hyssop, anise root, arrow-leaved aster, bird's-fool trefoil, black medick, black nightshade, bland sweet cicely, burdock, burnweed, canada violet, canadian horseweed, catmint, clearweed, cleavers, climbing nightshade, common blue violet, common milkweed, common plantain, curly dock, dames rocket, dandelion, downy yellow violet, early meadow rue, eastern wood sedge, enchanter's nightshade, false solomon's seal, fragrant bedstraw, grape woodbine, ground ivy, hooked crowfoot, jack-in-the-pulpit, kidney leaf buttercup, lawn prunella, motherwort, mouse-ear chickweed, night flowering catchfly, oxeye daisy, pale woodland sunflower, pennsylvania sedge, philadelphia fleabane, poison ivy, red elderberry rough cinquefoil, solomon's seal, spotted touch-me-not, sprengle's sedge, stellate sedge, stinging nettle, tall goldenrod, thyme leaf speedwell ,virginia stickseed, virginia waterleaf, white clover, white panicle aster, white sweet clover, white vervain, wild geranium, wild leak, willowherb, yarrow, yellow oxalis.

Hooked Crowfoot

Following Eloise Butler’s early dictate that every plant has a place all have been tolerated - some for only a season however, then controlled every year otherwise chaos reigns - one learns from experience just as Eloise and Martha Crone did. Martha had written in her 1951 history “The original plan of allowing plants to grow at will after they were once established, and without restraint, soon proved disastrous. Several easy-growing varieties spread very rapidly and soon shaded out some of the more desirable plants.”

A few are kept in small places - like stinging nettle - because as Martha wrote “it’s educational.”

I am showing two of these that were really a surprise - Aniseroot (below) and Hooked Crowfoot (above).
Gary Bebeau.


Oct. 17 2020 - work in the Maple Glen:
On this afternoon the Friends Invasive Plant Action Group (FIPAG) completed this seasons work the Maple Glen just Southeast of the front gate and parking lot of Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. In 2013 it was revealed that there was a hidden Maple Glen there - hidden by a dense thicket of buckthorn and garlic mustard. In 2014 FIPAG, co-chaired by Jim Proctor and Kari Christianson, began to clear the area, exposing the maple slopes of the glen which is a natural amphitheater with a seasonal pool at the bottom.

The photo with all the green shows the impenetrable thicket along the service road to the Garden in 2014 that obscured the site. The current 2 photos show the hillsides devoid of buckthorn that would still be green-leaved in October. Many young shrubs are now growing along with native forbs. One entire hillside is an ancient swath of Interrupted fern similar to a similar hillside in the Wildflower Garden. To stabilize the hillside after removal of the buckthorn roots grasses, sedges and pollinator plants have been added in a few spots. Work will continue next year. If you wish to volunteer you can sign-up for FIPAG work notices on our "Volunteer" page

The only historical record of this area in relation to the Wildflower Garden is a 1938 aerial photograph that clearly shows the area and then in 1942 when Martha Crone reported that Mr. Whitney Eastman discovered a “western tanager” south of upper gate just west of "deep hole" that hole being the maple glen.

More about the Maple Glen

2014 maple glen 2020 MapleGlen Maple Glen 2020

Sept. 30, 2020 - A Friends project 25th anniversary

2020 is the 25th anniversary year of several improvements added to the Wildflower Garden in 1995. There are 3 fountains in the Garden, constructed with limestone bases, and the newest one, being referred to here, is up on the prairie near the large White Oak. The dedication plaque is to Dr. Daniel Nordquist. The fountain was built by LaMere Concrete & Masonry and funded by the Friends via a memorial from Dr. Nordquist’s mother and father. They also funded as a memorial, the wood bookcase that sits by the volunteer’s desk in the Garden Shelter.

nordquist fountain
Nordquist Fountain

There was never any drinkable running water in the Garden until 1947. Eloise Butler and others to that date had to rely on the nearby springs, one of which was within the Garden area until 1944. The first of the three fountains came in 1971.
More on Garden springs

A more substantial improvement was the back gate - the one you enter in if you come from Wirth Beach - at least you could if Covid-19 protocols had not closed it for this season. This construction was designed by Brower and Associates, built by LaMere Concrete, and funded by the Friends for $9,089. The original design included four columns, just like the front gate, but the cost was too high, so only two columns were built. Then the iron work on the gate, the wrought iron fencing in the immediate area of the gate, plus the wrought iron fencing that is currently around the front gate (photo below) was installed by Able Fence Co. and funded by the Friends for $8,300.

The back gate and surrounding iron fencing

Back Gate

The back gate work continued into 1997 with the stone work retaining walls completed by the MPRB. Then in 2005 the Friends funded the continuation of the iron fencing from the back gate area to the back corners of the Garden. The first fence of significance in the Garden was Eloise Butler's 1924 fence, which only enclosed the most precious parts of her Garden. The cyclone fence of 1938 was the first to surround the entire Garden as it was then constituted.
More on Garden fences. More detail on 1995.

The front gate and the extended iron fencing.

Front gate fencing

All these 1995 improvements have held up well these 25 years.

Sept. 16, 2020 - Bird migration:
At Eloise Butler the migration of birds has always been recorded - first in the Garden Logs of Eloise Butler and Martha Crone and later in notes by the Garden Naturalists.

The understanding that many species of small birds seasonally migrate was not established fact until the 19th century. In the 18th century it was much in doubt as Gilbert White (photo) wrote in a letter on Nov. 4, 1767 to fellow naturalist Daines Barrington:
"As to the short-winged soft-billed birds, which come trooping in such numbers in the spring, I am at a loss even what to suspect about them. I watched them narrowly this year, and saw them abound till about Michaelmas, when they appeared no longer. Subsist they cannot openly among us, and yet elude the eyes of the inquisitive: and as to their hiding, no man pretends to have found any of them in a torpid state in the winter. But with regard to their migration, what difficulties attend that supposition! that such feeble bad fliers (who the summer long never flit but from hedge to hedge) should be able to traverse vast seas and continents in order to enjoy milder seasons amidst the regions of Africa!" from A Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White.

There was one individual in the 18th Century that did expouse migration - Dr. Edward Jenner. A century before Charles Darwin, he was formulating his own ideas about evolution but we don’t remember him for that, another achievement overshadows them all - he was the discoverer of vaccination. A century from now people will look back at the 21st century and ask why we were so unenlightened on some contemporary topic.

Sept. 8, 2020 - Spirals in nature.
When Leonardo of Pisa (1180-1250), important Italian mathematician, wanted to know how fast rabbits multiply he derived a sequence of numbers that unlocked in later years some secrets in the plant kingdom. You may have noticed that many plants exhibit arrangement of parts in an increasing sequence of numbers such as leaves around a stem, number of petals or number of florets in the disc of aster family plants. Many of these parts are arranged in spirals, frequently two sets of spirals, winding in opposite directions. He was known as Fibonacci (”son of Bonaccio”) thus his sequence is known as the Fibonacci Sequence and it goes 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89 etc and is arrived at by adding the two previous numbers to get the next number. The number of spirals in the disc of a coneflower or a sunflower is usually a Fibonacci number as are the number of florets in each spiral for those who like to count such things.

Grayheaded Coneflower

You can see the counter twining spirals in the photos of the coneflower, the spruce cone and the vervain. This all has to do with spacing - so that each element gets the amount of exposure needed. Other examples from plants are a sequence of species with ever-increasing number of petals. Lilies have 3 petals, most buttercups have 5, delphiniums eight, and so it goes. Incidentally, the rabbit question posed in his book, Liber Abaci, was “How many pairs of rabbits will be produced in a year, beginning with a single pair, if in every month each pair bears a new pair which becomes productive from the second month on?”

Hoary vervain Norway spruce cone

Aug. 22, 2020 - A sensitive charmer.
One of the most charming upland plants that blooms this time of year is the Partridge Pea, also known as the Sensitive Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata). It has a happy face with the bright red blotch at the base of 3 or 4 of the 5 petals and unusual in the Pea Family of plants (the Febaceae) in that it is an open face, rather than the reproductive parts being concealed within a pair of keel petals. You may notice that it resembles Wild Senna in whose genus (Senna) it was originally classified in Eloise Butler's day. It is an annual so it must scatter its seeds for regeneration which it does when the mature pod splits open with a twist, flinging seeds in all directions. As to the “sensitive” part of the name, Eloise Butler explains:
“The beauty of the large flower of clear, bright yellow is enhanced by a purplish brown eye formed by the stamens and the blotching of some of the petals. The delicate, fresh, green leaflets of the compound leaf close together when touched and also for protection from cold at night.”
She is correct on the night-time part as the leaves are sensitive to daylight and fold the leaflets toward each other with darkness. Sensitive to the touch is, shall we say, more touchy, as I have found it seldom works. It is known as Partridge Pea because the seeds are an important winter food for upland game birds. In earlier times it was considered the bane of pastures as it is strongly cathartic to browsing mammals, causing sickness, not only with fresh plants but with winter fodder that had Partridge Pea growing with it when harvested and stored. White-tailed deer however like it and are not affected.

Partridge Pea