Hemp Nettle

Hemp NettleStill discovering wildflowers in my familiar haunts that I haven’t identified. This one has tiny, snapdragon-like blossoms. The most distinctive thing is the dense spiky whorls of blossoms growing in the axils– between the leaves, all up and down the stem. This is an annual, dependent on seed production to flourish, native to Europe and Asia. In the Mint family.

Hemp Nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit)

Bonus picture: There is a gentleman in our neighborhood who has transformed his suburban property into a delightful farm, with fruit trees and bees and all kinds of berries and vegetables. We stopped and bought some peaches off his front porch, and he gave us a short tour, including these elderberries. Describing how he cooked with the white flowers, and all the delicious things you could make with the berries. He has a passion for his plants.


Great Blue Heron Nest

This 4th of July morning was gray with the clouds of an impending storm. We went to  check out a heron nest I saw a couple of weeks ago. And it was so great to look over there and see all these great tall birds perched in their aerie! At first they were bunched together so it was hard to see how many there were. DSC_0005

But then they wandered around a bit, revealing four.DSC_0007


I hope they come through this storm okay (remnants of Hurricane Arthur). Glad there is enough habitat here to support them. Imagine building that nest (with your mouth) — how do you get the first sticks to stay? Clever birds!


Great Blue Herons will eat just about anything they can catch, including fish, insects, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even birds. They can hunt during the day and night, because of good night vision. We’ve noticed new beaver dams in our favorite hiking areas, and this is a boon for herons because hunting is good in the swamps created by the dams.

From allaboutbirds.org:

Male Great Blue Herons collect much of the nest material, gathering sticks from the ground and nearby shrubs and trees, and from unguarded and abandoned nests, and presenting them to the female. She weaves a platform and a saucer-shaped nest cup, lining it with pine needles, moss, reeds, dry grass, mangrove leaves, or small twigs. Nest building can take from 3 days up to 2 weeks; the finished nest can range from a simple platform measuring 20 inches across to more elaborate structures used over multiple years, reaching 4 feet across and nearly 3.5 feet deep. Ground-nesting herons use vegetation such as salt grass to form the nest.

Great Blue Herons nest mainly in trees, but will also nest on the ground, on bushes, in mangroves, and on structures such as duck blinds, channel markers, or artificial nest platforms. Males arrive at the colony and settle on nest sites; from there, they court passing females. Colonies can consist of 500 or more individual nests, with multiple nests per tree built 100 or more feet off the ground.

— A clutch will have 2-6 eggs, which are about 2.5 to 3 inches long. They incubate for about a month, and the young stay in the nest 4 to 7 weeks. These ones must be about ready to strike out on their own. Pairs choose new breeding partners each year.

Wild Blue Phlox

DSC_0002I found this growing by a dusty country road outside Charleston, Illinois, but apparently it is native from western New England to Michigan south. Fragrant flowers, pollinated by bees with long tongues, like bumblebees.

Wild Blue Phlox, Wild Sweet William, Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Calico Aster

Calico Aster

Recently spent a weekend in Vermont, driving the supply car for my motorcycle gang (!) and hiking Mt. Abraham. This calico aster was near our cabin, but it’s also common in my usual territory.

Aster family. Native. The central disk starts out pale yellow but matures to brown or red-violet–- this color variety is evidently the source of the calico name. Rays can be white or lavender-tinged. Primarily a woodland species.

Calico Aster, Starved Aster (Aster Lateriflorus)

Bonus photo: Morning clouds down in the valley. Vermont is really charming and apparently hardly anyone lives there, or at least that’s the feeling you get once you get off the highway. No wonder leaf-peeping in Vermont is so popular.Vermont-morning1

Great Blue Heron

This morning we took a paddle on the Charles River. This bit borders Cutler Park and is about 20 miles upstream from Boston Harbor. I was trying to take a picture of an egret farther away when I realized we were really close to this well-camouflaged heron hiding in the pickerel weed!

GreatBlueHeronThe closest I’ve ever been to one — thrilling surprise! So tall — I feel like it was head-level with me in the canoe. Later we saw another one which had caught a fish…

HeronwithFishIt flew off and I was not ready with right camera settings… so here’s a terrible blur of a great sight:

HeroninFlightGreat Blue Herons are about 4 feet tall. They eat mainly fish, but also crabs, insects, frogs, small rodents, snakes, dragonflies… Their favorite breeding areas are beaver swamps, and their favorite nesting areas are in the branches of dead trees down in the water. They mostly migrate, and come back to use the same rookery every year.

Bonus picture of the whole scene. An usually wide place in the river. Felt lucky to have a canoe, a beautiful day, this amazing place, and a friend to go with! and a camera!


Common Blue Violet

White violets

The violets parade has begun! These were the first I saw, a drift of white violets on the edge of the woods. There are a lot of violet varieties … it appears that this is Common Blue Violet which is a variable species that can occur as white or as in this case, white smudged with lavender. They are native.

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

Snow blanket on the purple loosestrife

Blizz2013river_tonemappedloosestrifemallow1Alert Flowerophile Sybil inquired about when I would start posting again. I’m thinking it will be awhile before we see any wildflowers… but here’s a comparison view: a bend in the Charles River, Dover MA at sunset after our most recent giant blizzard (Feb. 9, 2013) and how it looked back on Aug. 6, 2012.

Bonus picture: deer out foraging on that same evening, after about a day and a half when all creatures just had to hunker down and wait for the weather to ease up.


Smooth Aster

Showier blossoms than some of the raggedy varieties that are more common. Up to 3 feet tall. It’s called smooth because the stems and foliage are not hairy or rough like most other asters. Another distinguishing characteristic is the way the leaves clasp the stem. (I don’t usually post the photos I take of the leaves because they’re not pretty, but this would be a more helpful identification tool if I did, because for many plants, leaf formation is the key to figuring out what it is…) Aster family. Native perennial.

Smooth Aster (Aster laevis)

Calico Aster

It’s like someone checked the calendar and then flipped the Autumn switch. Labor Day weekend was summery beautiful, then suddenly Tuesday was cool and rainy. Today plenty of yellow leaves are plastered to the wet black driveway. Now we just need some bright yellow school buses to rumble by to complete the portrait of September.

Aster family. Native. The central disk starts out pale yellow but matures to brown or red-violet– this color variety is evidently the source of the calico name. Rays can be white or purple-tinged.

Calico Aster, Starved Aster (Aster Lateriflorus)

Spotted Knapweed

Thanks to Alert Flowerspotter Aaron who snapped this for me while at an autocross event with his brother in Ayers, Massachusetts. Growing through the concrete at an old airfield. Considered a noxious weed in many western states. One of its invasive species skills is: “low palatability” —meaning no one wants to eat it AND it’s “allelopathic”, meaning its roots send out a toxin that stunts the growth of nearby plants! Wily! Native to Europe.

Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa)