Watch for woodland wildflowers

Bunchberry blossoms, like miniature dogwood flowers, look up at you everywhere now on this island. This plant is a year-round favorite .The little “dogwood blossoms,” starting in June, continue on even into September. Whether in flower or fruit, bunchberry graces the woods from spring through fall. It grows in with goldthread, partridgeberry and woodland ferns and often arranges itself artistically at the base of a big tree trunk in the woods of Mount Desert Island. For the most part, bunchberry is not of use to wildlife except for several woodland birds, such as vireos and veeries, who like the fruit, and the small Nashville warbler, who sometimes nests beneath it. The flowers, once they are pollinated by bees and small flies, grow into red berries, and this fruit, although edible for humans, has a rather insipid taste and is very seedy. The plants’ four to six whorled leaves are borne below the blooms and are quite lovely, and there is no doubt in your mind that the plant belongs in the dogwood family.

Along with bunchberry, you can also find star flower, and Canada mayflower in bloom everywhere in the woods. June is definitely a month for watching wildflowers.

The white water lily growing profusely in our island ponds is a very interesting plant as well as beautiful. If you can manage to get close enough to really look at the handsome flowers and leaves, you are in for a treat. The large white flowers are white and a few are tinged with pink. The leaves are large by comparison to most of our native plants. Some of the tropical leaves I have seen in South America would hold a nine-pound child, but the leaves in Maine are never that big. A frog or big beetle might be comfortable on local lily pads.

Water lily leaves are leathery in texture and resist penetration by heavy rain falls. The upper leaf surface bears a heavy, waxy, water-repellant cell layer. The red coloring on the leaf undersides is believed to raise the temperature slightly above the water temperature, thus speeding up transpiration. Water lily stems have several air-filled, tubular passages running through them which give them buoyancy and a means by which the plant gets an exchange of air. A lot is going on with this local water-loving plant seen on island ponds. Good places to see them are the Tarn on Route 3, Hamilton Pond on Route 3 near Salisbury Cove and on the Breakneck Ponds near Eagle Lake. Canoeists and kayakers get nice views of them in other places.

Time your visits to see water lilies for the morning hours, for water lilies open sometimes after 6 a.m. to welcome their chief pollinators, the bees and flower flies. Around noon or a little after, the beautiful blossoms close. The flowers yield pollen only, and many insects visit them. The long-horned leaf beetles spend their entire life cycle on water lilies.

Few creatures on this island need a “caution” sign on them, but the snapping turtles you come across now and then are turtles to approach with caution. The adult snapping turtles can be very large, and they tend to always be in a cranky mood. In spite of their size, they can lunge forward and try to bite with their very sharp beaks. If you meet a large snapper walking down the trail towards you, give it plenty of room and let it have its own way.

A snapping turtle looks very prehistoric with its long, jagged tail, stout legs and jacked up appearance. They are the largest and toughest of all our turtles, and when they walk on land, their shell is held high off the ground. In spite of their size, they can move quickly at times. Always be on guard.

Females lay many eggs, and it is when these females are out looking for a suitable spot to lay their eggs that the turtles are seen near roads. A female is looking for softer sandy soil in which to dig her nest and lay perhaps 50 white eggs the size and shape of ping-pong balls. She digs the hole with her powerful feet and legs, lays the eggs, covers them, moistens the nest, and with that ceremony, her experience with “motherhood” ends. The eggs may get eaten by skunks, foxes or raccoons, or many of them hatch and make their way to the nearest pond to live their lives. There is no turtle family life involved with the process. If all the eggs hatched and survived, other forms of wildlife would suffer, but usually a balance is maintained unless humans intervene in some way and throw off the balance. One disastrous effect of this cycle is an unusual number of skunks getting killed on highways. Skunks help keep snapping turtles in balance by eating many of their eggs. When there are too many snapping turtles in a pond, the number of water birds living there is reduced, as is the health of other turtles and amphibians. There is an endless connection in the chain of life that always needs our consideration.

If you find baby birds out of the nest, try to put them in a safe place, keep any dogs and cats inside or under your control and give the natural parents a good opportunity to solve their own problems. If you find a wild creature with a serious injury, you might then consider taking it to the rehabilitation center in Town Hill or call the game warden. Just because there is no parent creature around does not mean a young animal needs help. Resist the urge to intervene.

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


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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