Wood lilies are like flaming torches

The flowers of Mount Desert Island! How beautiful they are and so varied. Friends of mine hiking on local mountains this weekend found exquisite wood lilies in bud and in flower. No tropical bloom can rival this lily growing wild in our local landscape. I think it is the most beautiful lily of them all.

These lilies grow like flaming torches scattered on our landscape. This lily is not commonly found here, and I know of only a few places I might expect to find them on MDI.

The orange-red blossoms are 3-4 inches across and face upwards. They are yellow at the base and spotted purple inside. These spots guide bees to the nectar at the bottom of the flower. The leaves grow in whorls along the stem.

My memorable encounters with this special lily have been when I was out picking blueberries, for wood lilies are in bloom when blueberries are ripe.

The plant relies on strongly acid soil well equipped with organic matter. Companions of wood lilies are apt to be trailing arbutus and pink lady slippers, as well as both high- and low-bush blueberries. Usually, a single bright blossom sits atop each stem, but occasionally there may be several. Look for it in dry thickets and open woods from mid-July into August.

Another special flower was found recently as well, and it was the small, purple-fringed butterfly orchid, called by this name because the blossom looks a bit like a fanciful butterfly. The spike of the flower is cylindrical and either loosely few-flowered or densely crowded. Look closely for the three-part fringed lip of individual flowers. Color may range from a delicate lilac- mauve to pale pink or rose and sometimes even white.

You will find this lovely flower in beaver meadows and wet river thickets. It may or may not be easy to see, even though it stands from 1-3 feet high. Never pick it. Just take photos home with you.

This small purple-fringed orchid is nearly always found in elevations lower than those at which you will find the large purple-fringed orchid, an inhabitant of wet swamps, and grows best in dense shade.

You really have to examine these flowers closely to see their awesome orchid beauty. The large purple-fringed orchid possesses a strangely exotic and seductive fragrance not found in many New England flowers.

Butterflies and long-lipped bees feast on the lilac-colored blossoms. They are attracted to the blossoms by the color and fragrance as well as by the flower’s copious draughts of nectar. This island is filled with wonderful flowers and wildlife.

I haven’t had any reports about them, but often at this time of year, I am told about baby common mergansers being seen at Jordan Pond and red-breasted mergansers at Bubble Pond. If you are out walking in either location, keep watch for them. A mother and her young ones often get seen as they feed along the shoreline. They are great fun to watch.

These ducks nest on the ground in some well-concealed space under spruce trees, firs, willows and tree roots. A pile of drift wood might also suffice for a nesting place. The nest is lined with down from the mother’s breast. She also uses down and other items and bits of lake rubbish to cover her eggs when she leaves the nest. From 8-10 eggs are usually laid. When the eggs hatch, the young are active within an hour and able to wiggle about over the ground. Very soon, they are strong enough to climb on their mother’s back and ride there. This is a lovely sight to see. Although most drakes have nothing to do with the baby ducks, the red-breasted male does help care for his young ones along with the mother duck. The young red-breasted mergansers are carefully guarded and fed by both parents.

The common merganser, formerly called American merganser, nests either on the ground or in a tree depending on what’s available, and the female does all the incubating. It is a beautiful sight to see a mother common merganser floating along with a number of tiny down balls of “fluff” floating behind her. When they tire, they get on her back. If danger threatens, they even dive under water with her to escape. The babies are good at hiding in the vegetation along the shore as well.

This is the time to watch for Indian pipes coming up in the woods. This strange plant has a waxy, white appearance and contains no chlorophyll. It actually looks like a waxy, white pipe coming up out of the ground “upside down.”

Like ghostly fingers, the translucent white stems of this parasitic and saprophytic plant poke up from the forest floor in heavily shaded, moist woods in late July. Its strange, succulent flower produces numerous seeds, and where you find one, you usually find several. As the pipe ripens and the seeds are produced, the pipe straightens up and gradually turns black. It will also turn black if picked. The matted roots of the ghost flower prey on either the juices of living plants or the decaying matter of dead ones. I often find them on Beech and Western Mountain.

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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