A tree frog hangs out on a mushroom. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Nature: Familiar voice gets the last word 



Hardhack steeplebush with colorful flowers in bloom. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Steeplebush is the plant to look for right now. This plant is well named, for the rosy-pink flowers are arranged in the shape of an old-fashioned steeple. The colorful blossoms bloom in a succession slowly downward. Soon, often the top of the spike is half withered while the lower part is exquisite with colorful blooms. These flower spikes keep their beauty for a long time and are attractive in flower arrangements when dry and devoid of leaves. 

Countless fliesbeetles and bees visit the lovely steeplebush that yields little or no nectar but does yield an abundance of pollen. If insects fail in their service to the plants, steeplebush can cross fertilize like most of the rose family. 

The undersides of the steeplebush are very woolly so the plant is protected from perspiring too freely. The woolly hairs act as an absorbent layer to protect their pores from clogging with the vapors that rise from the damp ground in which the plant grows. If these pores were filled with moisture, they would be unable to throw off the plant’s waste. All plants are largely dependent upon free perspiration for normal growth. Those whose roots are stuck in wet ground are constantly sending up moisture through stems and leaves. The world around us is quite complicated when you get down to such details. Sometimes this plant is called hardhack. Look for it now especially along roadsides, in meadows and pastures. 

My small dog seemed especially interested in a spot of overgrown grass, so I stopped to investigate. It turned out to be a tiny dead shrew. These small mammals are rarely seen, for they are so small and they move fast through the grass, over the dirt on a driveway or in the woods. Some are nocturnal. They are easily missed unless your cat brings one in and you mistake it for a mouse. Cats do not do you a favor in keeping shrews out, for the shrew is a better mouse catcher! The pigmy shrew is the tiniest of the world’s mammals. Here on Mount Desert Island, it is possible to see a masked shrewnorthern water shrew, pigmy shrew and short-tailed shrew. To identify a shrew, look for a long, pointed snout, short legs and tiny eyes often hidden by velvety fur. There are only a few places, such as the polar regions, Australia, Greenland and southern South America, where they don’t live. With little provocation, shrews will attack and eat others of their own kind. 

Spindle coral in a reader’s yard.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ELLEN AKESON

This week I received a number of wonderful photographs of the many mushrooms to be found here on the island in the damp woods right now. Watch for the explosion of beautiful mushrooms! If I have a chance to live another life, I would like to know all about mushrooms. I find them fascinating – not to eat but just to enjoy their beauty and uniqueness.  

When you’ve walked along the shore, you no doubt have encountered what is commonly called sea foam. Sometimes the shoreline looks like it has soap suds everywhere. From the photos I’ve seen from far and near, the foam can be quite spectacular. Most sea foam is not dangerous to humans but certain algae blooms, like red tide, are quite dangerous to humans. When the wind agitates the water, it whips up dissolved organic matter, resulting in sea foam. Depending on where this is happening and what might be in the water, it could be a problem. Whether it is harmful to humans can vary by where, when, why and other conditions. It’s always wise to figure out why it is happening in a particular location. 

I was sitting by my pond this week looking at the pickerel weed blossoms in the water and the dragonflies flying all about when a lone wood frog let out its strange but familiar call. I didn’t see it, but its voice was familiar. They are usually silent now, but this one had one last comment to make. Sometimes even on a late warm day in the fall, a peeper will make its mating call one last time. 

Nature is full of wonderful things to see and discover now. Enjoy it all.  

Send any questions or comments to [email protected]. 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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