Nature: A flower’s life is not as peaceful as you think



Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant of the aster family, native to temperate Europe and Asia.
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Tall colorful tansy plants take center stage this month along roadsides! Their yellow coloring is intense and the plants are tall and beautiful, so you can’t miss it. The colonists brought it with them for they did not want to be without their tansy tea.

In medieval times, tansy was strewn on the floors to give a fresh scent to poorly ventilated rooms. As well as having a strong, pleasant, spicy scent, tansy repels fleas and lice, generally acting as an insecticide.

Tansy is a hardy plant. A single flower head is actually a collection of many flowers. Tansy leaves are fernlike. Pick some leaves and take a whiff of this interesting plant blooming profusely all over the island right now. The aroma is a pleasant one!

A pearly everlasting plant caught my eye this week and sent me to my books for more information. Even at my advanced age, there is always more to learn, and it is a pleasure to do so.

Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis triplinervis).
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This plant blooms in August and September. The flowers look like tiny heads growing in a cluster grouped together at the tip of each leafy white stem. As the flowers mature, they become white and fuzzy; the leaves are long, narrow and woolly. The plant has the appearance of a stiff, dried flower in a dried flower arrangement. It can easily be missed even though it grows to about knee level.

This plant is fertilized by moths and butterflies although many other insects are common visitors as well. Bees transfer pollen, while others, like ants, are searching for nectar, but they get killed by the sticky cottony stem. All is not always as peaceful as you might expect in a flower’s life. See if you can find pearly everlasting this week.

The call of loons on a Maine lake is magical to many of us. I always love to hear it. Being able to imitate the hoot of a barred owl can get you into an interesting conversation with one of them. They are quite vocal. Although the great horned owl calls as well, it is not as talkative or as easy to imitate to engage in a conversation.

Be careful when imitating a bird’s call for you might be surprised by an angry reply to something you innocently said, especially around a nest. My late husband almost got scalped by a goshawk once when he was taking photographs of the bird’s nest. Fortunately, my husband had a cap on his bald head!

Female belted kingfisher with catch of the day.
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Kingfishers are my favorite birds, I think, and first charmed me with their lives and beauty when I first was introduced to birds by my mother many years ago. Their raucous call to announce success in getting a fish, their crazy hairdos and energetic flights out across a pond in hopes of catching a fish all interested me. For years, our small pond attracted them. They built their nest in a sand bank nearby, so we saw them frequently.

One year, a friend of ours who worked with a big machine digging holes in banks came to us with a problem. In his digging that day, he had accidentally disturbed a kingfisher’s nest and wanted to do something to help the frantic pair of kingfishers. As it turned out, we did reestablish the nest with the help of his large machine, skillfully manipulated. We replaced the baby kingfishers, well fed with fish, and waited to see what would happen. The parent birds watched the process from nearby. As soon as we were away from the spot, they returned. All was well. The whole event made an interesting story and was printed in National Audubon magazine.

There are many kingfishers in the world and there never is a doubt about a bird being a kingfisher, no matter where you are. Their mannerisms are very similar and you just know when a new bird in some other country is some kind of a kingfisher!

I haven’t seen any yet, but it is quite possible to see a chimney swift this month. They have the reputation of looking like a ‘cigar with wings.’ Look for them late in the day flying about the island.

Nighthawks are on the move – a sure sign that fall is on the way.  This bird is not a hawk at all but is really a bug-eating cousin of the whippoorwill. In spite of its name, it is active in the late afternoon and evening when flying insects abound. This bird’s mouth is enormous. It opens up to behind the ears! The bird flies around with its big mouth open so it can catch big moths. This bird’s wings are close to 2 feet in length. On each wing you can often spot a white patch which, when viewed against a night sky, looks like a small window in the wings.

Getting out on the salt water these days certainly puts you in a position to find sea birds and maybe whales. Wherever you go, watch for all the interesting natural events around you on this island. This is prime time!

Send any questions or observations to [email protected].

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

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