The soft pink spires of steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) decorate Mount Desert Island as August unfolds. This is a very handsome plant!
It is well named for steeple-like flower clusters rise high above other plants. The colorful flowers bloom in succession slowly downward, so often the top of the spike is half withered, while the lower part is exquisite with colorful blooms. These flower spikes keep their beauty for a long time and, when dry and devoid of leaves, make attractive flower arrangements. Countless flies, beetles and bees visit the lovely steeplebush, which yields little or no nectar but does yield an abundance of pollen. If insects fail in their service to the plants, steeplebush can cross-fertilize like most of the rose family.
The undersides of the steeplebush are very woolly, so the plant is protected from perspiring too freely. The woolly hairs act as an absorbent layer to protect their pores from clogging with the vapors that rise from the damp ground in which the plant grows. If these pores were filled with moisture they would be unable to throw off the waste of the plant.
All plants are largely dependent upon free perspiration for normal growth, but those whose roots are stuck in wet ground are constantly sending up moisture through the stems and leaves. The blooming period lasts about from one to two months. Take a good look at this flower and feel its softness. Moths are particularly attracted to this plant.
A tiny little toad hopped across my foot one day and I had to stop and take a good look at this fascinating little creature. It was quite tiny and could have sat comfortably on my thumbnail. I identified it as toad for it had shorter legs that are very good for hopping. Frogs have long and powerful legs for jumping. Toads also keep mostly on land as opposed to frogs that keep mostly in the water.
Both amphibians have similar diets. They feed on insects, worms, small fish, algae and other swamp creatures. I saw a big bullfrog one day catch a red-winged blackbird for lunch.
It always surprised me that frogs and toads can live quite a long time. The average life of a toad or frog is from seven to 14 years but it is possible for some of them to live 40 years! Both amphibians have been used in folk tales and children’s stories and they are then mostly pictured as being very wise.
A friend of mine who is a fine guitarist told me once that he liked to go down to the edge of the pond near his home and play music for he always was joined by several bullfrogs and green frogs who came up along the bank nearby and listened to him. My dogs have always joined me when I played, except for when a quartet I belonged to played Shostakovich or Bartok! The minute we started to play that music all dogs would leave and asked to go out! It was very funny!
The American toad is not common on this island but it does live here. It is not a woodland creature really. I usually see one near my house or small garden. Dale Rex Codman, distinguished park naturalist here several years ago says in his publication on the subject that toads seem to be somewhat more common on the western side of the island. The fire of 1947 may have had a large effect on the population. I have lived on this island since 1972 and have only seen and heard a few toads. The tiny one I saw recently gives me encouragement that they are still my neighbors.
A toad is quite impressive to see and does have a “wise” look. In some parts of the worlds they are very large. A group of toads is called an aggregation.
Be sure to take time now to wander along the shores of this island. There are so many things to see and discover. I especially like to look at the glasswort or saltwort, also known as “chicken-toes” because of the shape. At this time of year sapphire, its real name, is noticeable since the normally greenish color changes to a lovely reddish color … It is quite easy to find at Wonderland. It is often covered with water when the tide is in. It is a typical plant of coastal marshes and tidal flats. As a succulent it has a high water translucent look, which is the reason it’s called glasswort.
Scarlet tanagers are such colorful birds you do not forget a sighting. A bright red bird with black wings stands out, especially in Maine.
Birds from the tropics coming here to nest bring their exotic colors to our landscape. A number of these birds have been living and nesting here this season. When winter ended and many tropical birds headed north to nest I received many reports of this bird arriving locally. The female is more subdued in color as is often the case for she has to sit on the eggs and be inconspicuous.
Scarlet tanagers are real warm weather birds so they should have been happy this summer! Even though they are very colorful they can be around and not seen so easily, for they spend most of their time high up in the trees. As a father of his brood, though, the male scarlet tanager rates very highly! Both parents raise the young ones. By early October the scarlet tanagers will be on their way back to the tropics.
This is a lovely time of year. Enjoy it all.
Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.