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)

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine

This is one of the first wildflowers to appear here after Skunk Cabbage leads the way. (Photo from April 22.) It’s Lesser Celandine to distinguish from Celandine, a larger wild poppy. It follows the sun during the day and closes in cloudy or cold weather. The name Celandine is derived from the Greek word for swallow (chelidon), because the early flowering time was also when the swallows arrived (and the flowers faded when they left). It is not native, found throughout Europe and west Asia. Don’t eat it: “Unsafe in any quantity.” Buttercup family.

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

Destroying Angel

Destroying Angel

I’m new to identifying mushrooms, but apparently this is a poisonous mushroom that causes death by liver failure from eating just one. Identifying features: has a smooth white cap (sometimes with a tan tint in the center, like this one), gills, and a drapy skirt-like ring near the cap. The first stage of poisoning is called the incubation stage: 6-12 hours with no symptoms while it takes over without you noticing. Don’t eat white mushrooms!

Eastern North American Destroying Angel, Deadly Amanita, White Death Cap, Angel of Death (Amanita bisporigera)

Jack in the Pulpit (fruiting)

Jack in the Pulpit fruitAs 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…

Jack in the Pulpit

Water Hemlock


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)

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle

This is not a pretty picture, but at least you can get the idea of what Stinging Nettle looks like — the greenish flowers are on long droopy spikes (racemes) coming out of the axils (where the leaves are attached). Leaves are opposite and coarsely toothed. The stem and the undersides of the leaves have bristly hairs which cause painful stings if they touch your skin. It feels similar to a bee sting and is caused by an acid that covers the hairs. Stinging Nettle has also been used medicinally for thousands of years — stems, leaves, and root. Native, but also common around the world. (Photo taken June 25, 2013)

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Poison Ivy

I never got a good shot of the poison ivy when it was in bloom. But now it’s really drawing attention to itself with color. Many songbirds eat the seeds and fruit. Bears, rabbits and deer eat the foliage with apparent immunity–in fact only hamsters and primates are known to have allergic reactions to it! Of course, it is identifiable by its three leaves, regardless of other variables– it can be a shrub, a trailing or a climbing vine. The poison is urushiol, a compound found in the sap. Urushiol oil can still be active for years after the plant is dead, so an old vine is still poisonous. Also, mangoes are in the same family, and people who are sensitive to poison ivy can have a similar reaction to mangoes. Jewelweed is a natural remedy for poison ivy. Native. Virtually unknown in Europe. Anacardiaceae family.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

Grass Spider Webs

It looked like someone had too many diamond-studded hairnets, so they had just tossed them all over the grass. Here’s one in sun and one in shade. In the sun one, you can see the sky reflected in the dew. In the shade one, you can see the dark funnel-shaped hole that the spider hides in. Evidently these webs are not sticky, so if anyone (very small) happens on to it, the spider is just very speedy zipping out to grab it. Their bite paralyzes their prey, but their chompers are too small to pierce human skin. Genus Agelenopsis.

Grass Spider

Horse Nettle (fruit)

Autumn can’t take you by surprise if you’re paying attention to the wildflowers; the passage of time is well-measured by their progress. They’re moving into fruiting and seeding overdrive… at Charles River Peninsula, the milkweeds have developed their giant seedpods, and the horse nettle has set on its tomato-like fruits. These are toxic to humans, but many other creatures eat them. Nightshade family. Native.

Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense)

Swamp Milkweed

I need enhanced macro power! Anyway, thanks to A.F. Donna for suggesting I check out Longfellow Pond. There are several new finds there. This is swamp milkweed—the flower clusters are not as spherical as common milkweed, and the color is brighter. Has specialized roots for swamp living. Attracts Monarch butterflies.

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)