Autumn/Winter 2019 VOL. 67 No. 3



Upland Garden

Above: The upper garden in Fall. Photo by Bob Ambler

Let Nature Be Your Teacher:

Summer School at the Garden

By: Kyla Sisson

There’s a season for everything in the Garden: trout lilies, tree frogs, warblers, and—most anticipated of all—summer school students. Visit in June, and you might catch sight of the Showy Lady's Slipper….but come in July, and you could witness 10-year-olds magically turning into birds, traveling 10,000 years into the past to melt glaciers, comparing bog acidity to the pH of their tongues, and learning to use binoculars for the first time.

Science Immersion

Every summer, hundreds of rising fourth and fifth graders from Minneapolis Public Schools visit the Garden for its summer school field trip program. Although most school groups visiting the Garden only stay for an hour, summer school students are immersed in nature for most of their school day. Aligned with science standards for their grade level, the program explores the concept of adaptations. Half the day focuses on birds, using games and hands-on play to investigate how birds have adapted to survive in their habitats. For many children, the highlight is the opportunity to see birds up close. It’s often the most wiggly students who become glued to their binoculars, sitting statue-still and hushing their peers as woodpeckers swoop onto the feeder. The other half of the day is a trek to the Quaking Bog. As the last bog in Hennepin County, this preserved ecosystem offers a unique opportunity for students to search for strange, specially adapted plants; to feel the soft needles of tamarack trees, touch sticky sundews, and bounce on the mat of sphagnum moss.

roundleaf sundew
Roundleaf Sundew, referenced in the article. Photo G D Bebeau

“There’s no wifi in the forest!”

For many students, it’s their first time in the woods, and they arrive worrying about snakes, bugs, bears, and even tigers. By the end of the day, most of them have held an American toad, learned to treat their mosquito bites with plantain leaves, and accidentally gotten their feet wet in the bog—which causes more grins of triumph than you might expect. Garden Naturalist Annelise Brandel-Tanis says, “I love summer school because I get to see kids being curious and investigating their surroundings. It’s a change for kids to learn that being outside isn’t scary. They get to say, ‘Woah, I successfully identified poison ivy!’ or ‘I identified an edible plant!’. I like to watch them using those skills as the day goes on.”


Quaking Bog
A view of Tamaracks in the Quaking Bog, referenced in the article. Photo G D Bebeau

Garden Naturalist Maia Campbell agrees, describing the benefit to children of just being in nature: “There was one group of all girls, and they had a lot of energy, so we spent a lot of time just running on the trails outside the Garden. It was a free-form experience. We’re not “teaching”—yes, we are introducing concepts—but it’s more about being out in nature and learning that that’s a fun thing.”

Continuing a Legacy

Eloise Butler grew up in a rural area, where she was able to roam the woods as a child. When she began teaching public school students in Minneapolis’ city center, she knew how important it was to introduce them to nature. Over 100 years later, the transportation grant funded by the Friends supports the work of staff to continue the story Eloise started, providing subsidized transportation for low-income youth to experience their park system. Thanks to this support, the Garden is made more accessible and continues to serve as a place where urban kids get to learn through their senses, explore their own questions, and develop relationships with plants and animals without leaving the city.

The summer school program with the Minneapolis Public School district at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary celebrated its 11th season this year. Garden staff continue to build connections with schools, youth groups and youth-focused programs to bring more kids into the wilds of Wirth Park. In fact, since the Garden Program Coordinator position was created in 2007, the number of visiting youth who have participated in programs led by Garden naturalists has grown by over 325%. This is in addition to a variety of new and reimagined public programs that serve several hundred children and their families. Garden Naturalists strive to open doors to a lifetime of connecting with nature. Kids agree that the first visit is just the beginning. The best part of summer school? Hearing kids say, “I can’t wait to come back!”

Kyla Sisson is a Naturalist with the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. This article appears courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

More information about the Transportation Grant Program

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Below: Staff member Mark Emmons planting which hazel for the Fern Glen. Photo by Kyla Sisson.

Planting Witch Haze

Letter from the President

Kathy Connelly presents the MPRB proposed plan for Garden improvements.

Read her letter here

Garden Curator's Notes

Susan Wilkins sums up the activities at the Garden in 2019.

Read her notes here

American Eden

A Book Review
By: Bruce Jarvis

American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic By Victoria Johnson

Have you ever wanted to see the musical “Hamilton” but never had the chance? Or perhaps you just like the music. Do you sometimes wonder if that scoundrel Burr could have had any friendships? It might surprise you to learn that the physician in reluctant attendance at that time of that infamous duel was actually a friend of both of them. He was also the founder of one of the first botanical gardens in America, an internationally known botanist who trained in both Edinburgh and London, and a teacher of the Linnaean taxonomic system in the US. He was even a neighbor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s great grandfather and much more. Surely, we must have heard of this luminary; but that is doubtful, unfortunately.

David Hosack
Engraving of David Hosack.

David Hosack, MD FRS was a tireless student, educator and promoter of botany, patron of the arts, and civic booster for the young New York City in the early to mid 1800s. His favorite flowering plant was the Boneset [Eupatorium perfoliatum], which was used to treat fevers, especially dengue, in an era before anyone understood the role of mosquitoes in carrying disease. At the time yellow fever, in particular, was rampant most summers in New York City. In fact, Hosack saved the life of one of Hamilton’s sons, Philip, by treating him with “Peruvian bark,” which was actually Cinchona, containing what we now know as quinine.

The only pills available in that era were made locally by apothecaries, who ground up parts of plants to make a desired medicine. Rather than depend upon an erratic supply of this Andean plant and numerous others in the pharmacopeia of early America, Hosack decided to obtain seeds or plants from his global network of contacts and then grow them in his Elgin Botanic Garden, which he funded entirely by himself.

That garden stood on the site of the present day Rockefeller Center and had a huge hot house [see figure below] equipped with a heating system in order to raise tropical plants. There, he trained medical students from Columbia College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons [that later merged] in medicinal botany.

Hosack [Hosackia] personally knew the contemporary botanists, whom we now recognize in the names of various genera of plants: Banks [Banksia], Curtis [Curtisia], and Kalm [Kalmia], to name a few. Others are cited by the plants they discovered and were named after them, for example, Bartram and Michaux [Michx]. Hosack also played a crucial role in the transition from colonial America to a functioning republic of these United States. He founded numerous cultural and scientific organizations in New York City. He was the first to propose a national network of gardens for horticultural research, a vision not realized until the late 1800s with the USDA Agricultural Research Service. In a very real sense, his generation was to the practical start of early American institutions what the World War II generation was to the flowering of global democratic institutions of the 20th century.

If you want to expand your awareness of the history of our Republic as well as its botany, medicine and the arts, this fascinating book by Victoria Johnson, a scholar at Hunter College, provides a great read. Name any one of our nation’s well-known founders, and that person undoubtedly, at some point, turned to David Hosack for botanical advice.

Bruce Jarvis is a Friends member.

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The Elgin Botanic Garden by an unknown painter.

Elgin Garden

Magic in the sky

by Diana Thottungal


This photo was taken on a cold day with lots of ice crystals high in the air. Like snow, ice crystals tend to have hexagonal shape, but, being composed of clear ice, act like prisms and break up the light. The reason they’re called “dogs” is because they’re paired, one on each side of the sun like a dog that follows his master.

Sundogs between Rochester and Twin Cities on December 18, 2010. By Diana Thottungal
Belt of Venus

Nothing to do with the planet Venus, this phrase refers to the pinkish glow just above the horizon. It shows up just a bit after sunset or before dawn, and, since it can be seen as a band, unlike a sunset cloud, it gets called a girdle. It’s pinker and stronger in the winter, which makes it a nice winter nature event for those of us who prefer dawn to be later in the day. In mythology, the girdle of Venus, who was also know by the ancients as Aphrodite, was considered magical and inspired love.

sky image
Belt of Venus. By Diana Thottungal
Red Moon

On the night of November 8-9 of 2003 there was a total eclipse of the moon. It’s no surprise that the bright full moon - it’s always a full moon when there’s an eclipse - gets darkened. The surprise it that it grows red. Wherever does that come from? The Earth in fact is responsible. During totality the only light reaching the moon has passed through the Earth’s atmosphere and gotten bent as happens with a prism. All that’s left to reach the moon is the red part.

red moon
Red Moon. By Diana Thottungal

Those are cirrus clouds (the very high, sort of wispy ones) covering the sun and they give that impression, but, if you look carefully, there are a handful of sunbeams radiating out from the sun in the lower half of the picture. And there’s even a tiny sundog - in the upper left. But the parallel white areas are those cirrus clouds aligned with the wind direction at their high altitude.

Glenwood and Wirth Parkway, October 8, 2010. By Diana Thottungal


This lovely rainbow was spotted over the Garden in May of 2006 by Garden Naturalist Jodi Gustafson. Rainbows are magical enough all by themselves, but look again…there are two! And the sky between the two is darker than the sky on either side. Even more…the colors are reversed in the second (dimmer) rainbow. What’s going on is that below the lower arc is where the sun is setting behind the person looking at the rainbow, so it makes sense that the sky is brighter. But what about between the bows? Where did that light go? Away!

The bright rainbow is water droplets acting like prisms. The darker area between gets its own name, Alexander’s band, and it is just that, the area where the light is escaping and not being reflected back to you as the viewer.

The reversal of colors in the dimmer rainbow is the result of the fact that the little raindrop prisms reflect the light twice, giving off a mirror effect. Another tidbit to think about is how much brighter the right side is than the center.

Rainbow photographed outside Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden May 13, 2006. By Jodi Gustafson

If you Google rainbow photographs, you can see that having one end brighter than the middle is not an infrequent occurrence. It may be the source of the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” legend, although that is usually attributed to the rainbow technically not having an end, since it is actually a circle cut off by the land.

Diana Thottungal is a retired Garden naturalist.

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Volunteering Growth

By Jim Proctor

As I write this I’m basking in the glow of one of the most rewarding, successful weeding events we’ve ever held. Over 20 volunteers came out to the woods of Wirth Park on a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon to pull and dig out buckthorn. I saw smiles everywhere on the faces of our regular volunteers and the family, friends, and out-of-town guests they brought with them.

The spot we chose on the upper edge of the valley we call the maple bowl, still has a lot of native shrubs and tree seedlings. Pagoda dogwood, grey dogwood, black cherry, choke cherry, and oak seedlings, all under a canopy of mature white oaks, will quickly fill the understory. We all enjoyed the enhanced view of this beautiful spot when we finished for the day. I’m so pleased that we have such good seed sources on site that will help naturally revegetate the lower slopes of the valley that are currently so bare due to recent buckthorn removal.

Together with the MPRB we began this project almost 15 years ago inside the Garden. Today we maintain a large area around the Garden, and we are expanding further into what we call the Volunteer Stewardship Area (VSA). If we continue to have such great participation, we hope to finish the initial clearing of buckthorn and garlic mustard in the maple bowl in two to three years. If we can recruit enough volunteers to adopt these cleared areas, perhaps we can even expand further.

There is great ecological value in creating a large contiguous area reserved for native plants. Greater planting area allows for more species, larger populations of those species, more room for them to shift as conditions change, and more chances for all the known and unknown interdependencies to occur that create rich habitat. This is our best bet to reverse some of the negative effects of habitat loss and fragmentation.

What began as an effort to protect a century of work and commitment to make Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary a haven for native species has grown into an attempt to create an even more significant landscape. If it had a name I would call the Garden and the VSA the "Greater Eloise Butler Nature Area." Official designation or not, we see the value of what we are doing every time we walk the Garden and its surroundings. With everyone’s support, we plan to protect and continue the progress we’ve made. Thanks to all who have participated this year in helping us to reach these goals!

Jim Proctor has volunteered at the Garden for almost 20 years. He started the Friends volunteer invasive species weeding program 14 years ago, and has served on the Friends board much of that time. He can be found at other buckthorn busting events from time to time around the Cities as well. He is also an artist whose work incorporates acorns, nutshells, winged seeds, roots, thorns, and other plant materials to create fictional life forms.

History of the Maple Bowl

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Below: FIPAC clearing buckthorn in October in the Maple Bowl area. FIPAG photo.

pulling buckthorn

Donations and Memorials Received

A listing of donors and memorials received between June and October 2019 and earlier in the year.

Review them here

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Fall volunteer event

Voluneteer appreciation evening, October 27, 2019. Garden Naturalists Maia Campbell and Kara Snow with Friends board member Lauren Husting (L to R) Photo by Maggie Tuff.