Pickerel Frog

pickerel frog, Massachusetts frogI haven’t posted in a long time because I hadn’t seen anything that I hadn’t already photographed, here in my narrow stomping grounds; I really covered a lot of wildflowers in my original fury of documentation. But today I saw two new wildflowers and this beautiful frog! The pickerel frog has front toes that are not webbed, making it more able to live on land apparently (and you can see the toes in this pic).

In winter they hibernate under debris in the water and come out for action from April to October. To catch their chow (insects, spiders, larvae), they will search grassy areas near their watery homes — like this frog, which was right on the trail, near the Charles River.

This is the only poisonous frog native to the U.S.! If attacked, it emits toxic skin secretions! However this does not deter its main predators: other kinds of frogs and snakes.

Pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris)

After the snowstorm

South Street Bridge over Charles River, NeedhamWe had a snowstorm that took out power in our neighborhood, so suddenly we had to quit working and also couldn’t do all our various other projects that require computer-staring. So we hunkered down, made a fire, (cheated by going out for dinner)…. but after the storm was over, the sun came out for an orange sunset on the sticky snow. We drove to the South Street bridge and it was so gorgeous…

Charles River, Dover, Massachusetts, aftermath of blizzardsunset after blizzard in NeedhamThen the heat came back on during the night (yay!) and at dawn, we immediately went out to look for beautiful photographs. The sun comes over the ridge and touches the treetops first…

Dawn breaks over Charles River after a blizzardCharles River in Dover after a blizzardCharles River with glow from morning light, frozenSnowy day on the Charles River, Dover CharlesRiver-ripples-WThis last scene had a glassy surface, but my boot slipped into the river and made this rad ripple! A day of stunning sights. These are all of the Charles River as it divides Needham and Dover, MA… and all within five minutes of our house, which is so GREAT! And now, grateful for heat, light, and a way to upload my photos! Time to make some hot chocolate.

And if you’re wondering about the wildflower report: yes, skunk cabbage is up, blackened tops showing through the snow in some places, and plump and green in the swampy spring at Ridge Hill.

Frost’s Bolete

DSC_0027A very distinctive mushroom because the whole thing is dark red, it’s pretty big, and it has this internal-organ looking stem. In Mexico, the common name is panza agria, meaning “sour belly”.

Frost’s Bolete, Apple Bolete (Exsudoporus frostii)

Skunk Cabbage Leaves

SkunkCabbageLeavesThe first wildflower of the season is transitioning from flowers to leaves. The maroon flowers/spears come up through the snow. They’re kind of like mammals; they convert glucose to heat so they can emerge in the late winter months. Then the spadix and spathe wither away and these stout green leaves emerge. Native to the wetlands of eastern North America

Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus

Maple trees waking up

Tree-openingThis fancy little blossom is on a male Red Maple (I think). The blossoms on female Red Maples are not as showy and not loaded with pollen like this one.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red-osier dogwood

Red-osier DogwoodIn the gray and brown landscape of early spring, it’s heartening to see these clouds of red stems. They like wetlands, and these are in the wetland border along the Charles. The  bark responds to the increased light of spring by becoming brighter red. Native people used it for all kinds of things, like making dye from the inner bark and brushing teeth with peeled twigs. Native throughout northern and western North America.

Red-osier dogwood, red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea)


DSC_0015Lucy and I were walking at Charles River Peninsula and I was surprised to see a vining wildflower running rampant that hasn’t been there for the last two years, the years I’ve been paying attention. It’s a vine with showy pink clusters of flowers, growing in the moist edges of the meadow. Why did it appear this year?

It has edible tubers (similar to potatoes but apparently way more nutritious) and beans! The shoots and flowers are edible too. It was a staple food for Native Americans, who called it Hopniss, among other things… They prepared it boiled, peeled and dried, made into sweet preserves with maple syrup, or as seasoning… many ways! Apparently Europeans learned all about using groundnut as a food source from Native Americans and it was a major help for those early (1600s) colonists like the Pilgrims. It’s commercially farmed in Japan.


DSC_0013Thoreau: “In case of a famine, I should soon resort to these roots.” Maybe we’ll need to try them. The best time to harvest them (for sweetest flavor) is after a frost, but before the ground freezes. Native.

Groundnut, Wild Bean, Potato Bean, Indian Potato, Hodoimo, Hopniss (apios americana)

Cypress Spurge

Spurge in hand Spurge with treesSpurge A hardy groundcover — tolerates poor soil, dry conditions, deer, rabbits, pollution… Has a milky, poisonous sap that repels herbivores. Forms a dense fluffy blanket about a foot tall. Tiny flowers that start lime-green and yellow, and age to red. Has narrow-leaved foliage reminiscent of cypress trees, hence the name cypress spurge. (The common name “spurge”  comes from the Middle English/Old French word “epurge”, meaning “to purge”, because these plants were used as purgatives. (Poinsettias are spurges!) Native to Europe, introduced to North America in the 1860s as an ornamental, and is now a harmful invasive that has really colonized Charles River Peninsula.

Cypress Spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias)

Snappers head for the Charles

BabySnappersbyScottOn September 1, we were walking on a mowed trail at Charles River Peninsula. We noticed something round and black in the grass– it was a baby snapping turtle. Its shell was about 1.25 inches long, and the pointy tail was about that long again. In another yard or so, we saw another… and another… and another… we counted 23 (!)  little black turtle babies, all heading up over the hill, presumably going to the river to grow up. Why did their mama put the nest so far away? I hope they all made it. (Plenty of critters like to eat hatchlings. I know we have fishers, coyotes, foxes and hawks around here…)

The nests are dug in June or early July, with up to 75 eggs, but usually 20-30. The egg incubation period is 10-12 weeks. Apparently the temperature of the soil around the eggs determines the sex of the hatchlings. From October to April, they chill in mud at the bottom of ponds, slow areas of the river, etc.

It was rainy that day so I didn’t have a camera with me. This pic of a different snapper baby migration is by my talented brother-in-law Scott Robinson. Thanks!

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentine)

My new plan


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)