As we roll into the end of summer, flowers are turning to fruits and seed pods are popping. Those charming jacks in their pulpits transform into fat (poisonous!) red fruit clusters (which are eaten by some birds). Each berry has 1 to 5 seeds. Next spring, with luck, they’ll each produce a plant, which will need at least 3 years of growing before it’s big enough to flower. They can live to be 100 years old! Native.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Bog Onion, Brown Dragon, Indian Turnip (Arisaema triphyllum)
Below: the scene in spring…
Okay, I like wildflowers, but I have to admit, once you start paying attention to the fungi, they are pretty cool visually and they have interesting back stories. Look at this big fleshy thing living on the forest floor! I also confess that so many different-looking fungi are named Sulphur Shelf that I find it hard to be certain if I have this identification right. It’s not like flowers where you can count the petals and observe the leaf structure and you can (usually) get a clear-cut identification.
Sulphur Shelf, Chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
I saw this and wondered if somebody stuck their gum on there. But no, it’s slime mold! This is the young stage. As it ages, it becomes purplish and then brown and repulsive when mature. Inedible. (As if!) Slime molds don’t penetrate into the wood to draw nutrition. They are more like amoebas which move around on the surface of the wood engulfing bits of organic matter.
Red Raspberry Slime (Tubifera ferruginosa)
Sometimes there’s a non-wildflower item that demands notice! In our woods, there were several of these big ruffly fungi all growing around an old tree stump (my hand added for scale). I took these July 21; now they’ve pretty much withered, darkened and disappeared. I’m finding fungus identification difficult — there are many that look similar to me, and there can apparently be lots of variation within a species. That said, I think this is a Giant Polypore — can get to be 30 inches in diameter.
Giant Polypore, Black-staining Polypore (Meripilus giganteus)
I thought I had discovered a new kind of Indian Pipe; instead of ghostly white and nodding, they have upright heads and are pink and black — kind of a zombie form of normal Indian Pipe. But it turns out this is just regular Indian Pipe as it matures–they sometimes turn pink after fertilization. Then each flower turns into a big seed capsule that eventually splits open and releases seeds. Then the whole plant turns black. Indian Pipe family. Native.
Indian Pipe, Ghost Plant, Corpse Plant (Monotropa uniflora)
This is a case of a shockingly fast-moving invasive, Common Dodder. Last year, it was not in this location, and this year, suddenly it’s draping and strangling a fairly large area — very striking. It looks like a great load of angelhair pasta ladled out on the landscape. But if you look closely, it’s twined tightly around the stems of the host plants.
The first thing we noticed about it is that it has no leaves, and at first, no flowers — just a thin yellow vine. They’re annuals that grow from seeds every year. The seed germinates in the spring and must find a host. The seedlings find a host by slowly waving their stems in a clockwise direction until they feel a plant to grab! They twine on and have specialized “roots” that digest their way through the host’s stem and establish a vascular system between the two plants so that the dodder can suck its nutrition right out of the host (since dodder has basically no chlorophyll and no roots that go into the ground for feeding itself). When the connection with the host is established, the lower part of the dodder dies and there is no connection with the ground at all. And it grows and grabs other nearby plants, usually not killing them but weakening them.
In summer, they put on tiny white flowers and then fruits containing seeds which can lay dormant for up to 5 years, waiting for the right time to pop! The seeds in the ground appear to wait if a good host (they have preferences) is not nearby. (What!?) It’s on the USDA’s list of 10 most problematic weeds.
Alert Flowerophile Donna has contacted the trails commission to let them know (and I did too). We hope they come collect it out of there because it has made such inroads in only one year, I would hate to see the long-term effect on this field full of so many wildflower varieties. Destroy!
Dodder, Hellbind, Goldthread, Stranglevine, Angel’s Hair, Witch’s Shoelaces (Cuscuta gronovii)
This summer, sitting by a lake, I read this book about paying attention to sound in a natural environment. There’s the water and wind, and mainly, all the layers of creature sounds. The author is a musician and a guy who has recorded thousands of hours of natural environments. A lot of it is about how in untouched wild areas, the recordings are incredibly rich and full of variety, and these areas have shrunk so much in just the few decades of his career recording. And how much noise pollution drives out creatures from habitats. (Made me think of the over-the-top fireworks shows put on by private homes on the lake and wondering how this long session of tremendously loud explosions affected the loons and eagles that we’re so excited to glimpse…)
He mentioned that like a camera is a tool to help you learn how to see, headphones taught him how to listen. Since I read it, I’ve been more aware and more appreciative of the “biosymphony,” such as it is around here, always blended with distant car tires, leaf blowers, engines of all stripes. The birds, the timeless summer sound of cicadas.
Also last week, was out in a dark field around midnight watching for signs of the Perseid meteor shower. Thinking about how hard it is to find a little dark sky around here, and about the few times I’ve seen a truly black sky and how breathtaking that grand sweep of stars is… and about how some things that were a given of our existence for thousands of years have slipped away from us with very little notice.
Bernie Krause: The Great Animal Orchestra
My original plan for the blog was to photograph all the local wildflowers as they came into bloom and post them right away so that I would have a good record of the flowers with information about them and their blooming times. I was thinking I would do this multiple years and keep track of trends in the blooming time. That year we had a freakishly warm winter which really had me wondering how the plants would be affected. It was a big job; some days I’d barely walk out the door and I would see 10 new kind of things blooming. Plus I didn’t know what anything was and it took me a while to get efficient at identifying the flowers.
This spring I started out with the same plan, but I have been out of town so many weeks that I fell hopelessly far behind. So my new plan is to continue to photograph new discoveries and write about them, and when the growing season is over, I’ll create a good index to make this a more useful tool for Massachusetts wildflower identification. And post interesting flower photos when I have them. That’s the new plan.
Common Milkweed, Butterfly flower, Silkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
One of North America’s most poisonous plants, and it’s growing right on the corner by our house. You don’t even have to ingest it; it’s poisonous to taste. Many recorded deaths of people, and apparently it kills a lot of grazing livestock. Can grow to 8 feet tall. Parsley family. Native.
Water Hemlock, Cowbane, Poison Parsnip (Cicuta maculata)