Nature: Hard-to-discourage plant has some useful purposes 



Crisp fall days make climbing up a mountain a pleasure, and to see hawks on the mountaintop is a bonus pleasure. This is the time of the year to hike up Beech Mountain to watch the hawk migration for a few hours and then return through the woods back to the parking area. We surely will have some nice, sunny days and this is an island activity not to miss if you are able to do it. 

This activity reminds me of times when our family made a camping trip each year to Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania to watch the big hawk migration down there. The hawks and many other birds have a path they travel in their migration and if you know the special route they take, you can find a high spot and watch them go by. Sometimes at such places you see thousands of birds in a day, and this is not an unreal number. Some birds are very close; others are mere shapes high in the sky. 

Occasionally an individual stops to hunt for lunch nearby and you are in for a treat – no binoculars needed. The birds have to eat each day in order to fly the long distances to their winter homes.  

Hawk Mountain is a special mountain over which thousands of hawks have been flying for years. In days past, it was also a favorite shooting place for hunters, and thousands of birds were killed for sport. A number of years ago (read the history of this special place), the location was recognized as a place to save and to set aside for the birds. It is now a place to watch the birds and enjoy the spectacle.  

Our family was in on the project and spent many happy, exciting days and nights there camping in a designated campground. One of the exciting events was getting to know the pack rats. Actually, they look like squirrels, but they are very active after dark. If you forgot to put away your toothbrush, spoons, washcloth, watch or the like, those items were quite likely to disappear forever for the pack rats liked them in their nest! 

Pack rats, also called wood rats, do not live in Maine. Their range is from the Southeastern states and the Midwest and generally from Florida to southern New York. They have decreased in numbers through the years because of habitat disturbance. I always enjoyed them. 

Have you noticed any horsetail plants (Equisetum arvense) in your garden? I must admit they are interesting plants, but really not welcome ones in a garden. This plant is found through the temperate zone and Arctic areas growing in moist soil. It can reach great depths, and its ability to grow almost anywhere makes it hard to discourage in your garden. It is considered invasive in New Zealand. 

A cup of horsetail tea with fresh horsetail twigs. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Like ferns, it is not reproduced by pollen, but it does have spores that are born on the plant’s reproductive stems. In some cultures, ancient Roman and Chinese, for example, physicians used it to treat a lot of ailments. The stems were used for their abrasive properties, including using them to remove the rosin buildup from wheels used in a hurdy-gurdy – a most interesting and great-sounding musical instrument. I remember hearing one of these instruments in Amsterdam and it was hard NOT to go running and dancing behind it! 

When I was camping with friends years ago, we used horsetail plants to scrape the bottoms of our cooking pots, as one might use steel wool these days. The next time you pull it from your garden bed, think of its useful purpose. 

While doing a little bit of weeding one day, I had the feeling I was being watched. Sure enough, just a few feet away was a big black and yellow spider sitting in full view in the center of her web on a leafy spurge plant. She was a wicked-looking beauty marked with black and yellow, with her long legs banded with black, orange and yellow. She guarded her eggs well, having laid them in a large, round sac at the edge of her web. Although these eggs winter well, the spiders do not emerge until spring, when they make webs of their own. The male makes his much smaller web at the edge of the female’s web. Welcome them to your garden. They are very useful and interesting creatures. 

Watch these days for flickers feeding on ants along the roads. You’ll easily recognize them when you see that white tail patch as they fly up and away. Staghorn sumac is in the velvet. Monarch butterflies are migrating, and they have a long flight ahead of them. Huckleberries are ripe and delicious. Enjoy it all. 

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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