Lupine in bloom

Lupine brightens landscape

Waves of lupine wash over fields and roadsides all over the island these days, bringing a special beauty to Mount Desert Island. The showy blossoms bloom from the bottom of a thick spike. Sometimes these flowering spikes are pink or white, but most often, the colors are shades of lavender and blue. The flowers are pea-like, and the leaves narrow. Although very abundant here now, it is an introduced plant from Oregon and Washington. The proper name is Washington lupine.

Later in the season, hairy fruit pods encase the ripening seeds. This strikingly beautiful plant is pollinated by bees. Lupine, like many members of the pea or legume family, draws nitrogen from the air for its own use wherever it grows. The seeds are poisonous. Some but not all species of lupine hold toxic alkaloids throughout the entire plant and are a common cause of livestock poisoning.

The blue bonnet, state flower of Texas, also is a lupine. Over 150 species of lupine grow in North America, but most of them are in the West. Wherever you see them, whether on the plains, desert, moist streams or on MDI, you will easily recognize them. Last year when my daughter and I were traveling last summer in Newfoundland, we saw bountiful and spectacular displays of this lupine along the roadsides and right at the edge of the rocky shore.

My small dog and I walk on a favorite path near the shore, and it was nice this week to see bunchberry in full bloom everywhere. This small plant so profusely growing in our Maine woods resembles a dogwood blossom, for it is a member of the dogwood family. This little dogwood starts blooming in June, and you might even be able to find one blossoming in September. Whether in spring or fall, bunchberry dogwood graces our woods for many months. You’ll find it growing in very artistic settings around the base of large trees as well as spread out on the floor of the woods along with goldthread, partridge berry, twinflower and woodland ferns.

Bunchberry is pollinated by bees and small flies. After the red fruit is formed, the plant is still very attractive. These red berries are edible, but they have a rather insipid taste. They are, however, eaten by some woodland birds. Veeries seem to like the fruit, and Nashville warblers seem to like to nest beneath the plant. I found a white-throated sparrow nesting under the plant at Ship Harbor once. The bunchberry dogwood plant is abundant in Maine.

Patches of twinflowers are a special flower for me to see. Although not abundant here, this member of the honeysuckle family is really nice to see. The bell-shaped flowers are fragile, and fragrant and the pink blossoms hang like tiny bells from the forked, slender, fragile stems.

Bees are attracted to the fragrance of the flowers and the color. When the blossoming is done, a single red fruit is formed from the twinflowers. I find it one of my favorites as well.

I know it may not be important to everyone to know what the name of a flower is when you see it in the woods, but I personally like to know, and it gives me great pleasure finding them in blossom each flowering season. It’s like greeting old friends after a long absence.

A couple of friends have told me of recent fox sightings, especially mothers and kits. Foxes are very doglike in their actions. We only have the red fox on this island. In some areas of New England, both the red and grey are regularly seen. The only wild doglike mammals living on this island are the red fox and the coyote. Red foxes weigh about 8-10 pounds, and their hair is long and silky. The color may vary a bit, but it can be red, brown, gray or black, and the fox has a beautiful, bushy tail always tipped with white. They are handsome mammals.

If you live on this island, it is best not to feed them or try to make them tame around your house. Making them friendly with humans puts them in great danger. It makes the fox too trusting of humans and usually ends up in the death of the fox. If you meet one on the trail or see one along the road, don’t be tempted to share your sandwich or toss it something to eat. Enjoy watching them, take photos but do not feed them.

Even in subzero weather, a fox will sleep outside its den. The den is mostly for the pups. Foxes are fun to watch as they hunt for mice in a field. They can leap into the air as gracefully as any ballerina. In the Dorr Natural History Museum at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, you can see an excellent mounted exhibit of a fox doing just that. It’s well worth stopping in the museum some day to see their fine exhibits. There also is a fine exhibit of a snapping turtle swimming and mounted seals that give you an idea of how large these local sea creatures are. The museum is for all ages and well worth a visit.

Take time to be out-of-doors now. This is prime time to see wildlife and plants.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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