Glasswort a tasty treat

We are just about to step over into September, when we start looking for a bit of color to appear in our native trees. The event brings many travelers to New England and especially this island.

Now is a good time to walk the shoreline of our island and take note of what is going on there. The fleshy glasswort (samphire) growing at the edge of the sea turns red in the fall and is a treat to see. You can easily find it in your stroll along the shore at Seawall and Wonderland. Wherever samphire is found, it will be wet underfoot, for it grows in a habitat lapped or covered by the tides. It is a typical plant of coastal marshes and muddy tidal flats.

As a succulent, it has high water content, which accounts for its slightly translucent look and gives it the descriptive name “glasswort.” To some people, it is known as “chicken toe” because of its shape. To others, it is called “saltwort.”

In summer, the stems are light green, but in the fall, they turn bright red and make a colorful display. The plant is edible. If you’re not in the park, you might want to take a taste of the glasswort stems. Just pinch off the upper, tender part and try it right on the beach. The taste is a bit salty, clean and juicy. This tender growth remains edible from the time it appears in the spring until the first hard freeze in late fall or early winter. Wild geese feed on the fleshy branches, and in the fall, ducks, such as the pintail, eat the seed-containing stem tips when they mature and turn reddish.

If you like to find edible plants on your walks, you might try looking for orach. It flowers from June through November. Orach leaves are shaped like a trowel or arrowhead with the lower “teeth” facing outward. Orach is commonly found in salt marshes and waste places. You may know it as an unwanted guest in your vegetable garden, but the orach’s tender leaves and tips are edible and, when served like spinach, are an acceptable vegetable. Orach is in the same family as spinach, beets and swiss chard. It actually needs no preparation, so if you are in an area that is pesticide free, you can nibble on the leaves where you find them. The edible young leaves can be gathered and eaten anytime from spring until late fall. I have a friend in Bernard who regularly serves these leaves in a salad.

A friend out for a nice walk near Valley Cove this past week got to see two peregrines actively hunting in the area and consequently had great views of these well-known and interesting hawks. Several pairs nest on Mount Desert Island each year, and as the young ones grow, we get to see them learning to hunt and to watch their parents grabbing prey wherever it presents itself. Peregrines are in the falcon group of hawks. They have pointed wings, fly very fast in a direct flight and do little gliding. They do not fly around in groups, but are seen individually or in pairs. The plump pigeons hanging around local docks often get eaten by falcons. The peregrine’s face is quite distinctive, for the bird has very dark sideburns.

Peregrines catch their prey, be it small birds or insects, on the wing. Small birds are instinctively afraid of them and know to hide when they are about. This hawk can fly at amazing speeds when in pursuit of its food. City dwellers sometimes have peregrines nesting on rooftops. Here on MDI, they nest on local cliffs. They are spectacular fliers and always interesting to see.

The large and beautiful luna moths hatch in August. This large moth is very exotic and resembles a ballet dancer in a beautiful green dancing costume. You might find a female luna moth clinging to a screen on a summer’s night and be surprised subsequently to find numerous male lunas coming to mate with her. She has sent out a special perfume which entices them from quite a distance. As an adult, the luna moth only lives one week; they do not eat or have mouth parts. They emerge as adults for only one week, and their sole purpose is to mate.

The life cycle in a “nutshell” would be eggs 12-14 days, larva 3-1/2 to 4 weeks, cocoon and pupa 2-3 weeks and as a moth 1 week. Considering this life, it is quite special to see one as an adult. My grandchildren and I once discovered two adults dead on a twig in my woods after their brief week had ended. The insecticides sprayed over New York State back in the ‘60s and ‘70s just about wiped out the lunas in Westchester county where we were living. Spraying was not done here in Maine, so we still have these special moths. Seeing one is a special occasion.

Garter snakes are now busy eating slugs. On wet, rainy nights, you might see eels crossing some island roads. Canada mayflower berries are forming in these small flowers that earlier had small lily-of-the-valley type blossoms in island woods. Enjoy all of nature on our island as summer winds down.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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