Nature: Woodchucks part of squirrel family

June is a month filled with new wildflower blossoms and you often find them in unusual places.

On a road on the west side of this island I saw a spectacular display of cowslip or marsh marigold plants in a wet roadside ditch this past week. The yellow blossoms were very beautiful!

Normally you expect to find this plant in swampy areas near a woodland stream.

One location I can always see it easily is in the Wild Gardens of Acadia at Sieur de Monts Spring. Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) definitely likes its “feet” wet and will usually be found growing in places such as swamps, marshes, wet meadows muddy water, streams and wet ditches. Its flowers are yellow and look like over sized buttercups on the top of its stems coming up out of the water.

The waxy-looking flowers are fully an inch broad. The waxy leaves are heart shaped and shiny. It’s worth looking for!

Marsh marigolds depend mainly on small bees and flies for fertilization. Nectar secreted on the sides of each of the many carpels lures a conscientious bee all around the center.

Bumblebees, honey bees, miner bees and flies also feast on this early blooming beauty. The Wild Gardens of Acadia are well worth visiting. This garden is like a living wildflower guide for this island.

As you drive south in the spring on the big highways you can often spot marsh marigold’s bright yellow blossoms in streams and wet areas along the turnpike. Large patches of them are very beautiful.

You also see fat woodchucks feasting on the green grass planted along these highways. Woodchucks get themselves into trouble when they choose your garden for their meals but aside from that they are interesting mammals. They are the largest member of the squirrel family in New England. Often they are seen in a grassy area near brushy woodlands and in rolling fields. They are ground dwellers and live in burrows that they dig.

Each burrow may go down six feet or more and could be more than 20 feet long. It even has separate compartments for various functions.

Woodchucks are quite often solitary, but you may see several in a grassy area. They are not particularly smart, according to the experts, but they are clean mammals.

They also always have a weight problem. For about six months of the year they are trying to gain weight and then about six months of the year they lose it as they alternate between being in hibernation and their active periods.

They breed in the spring and summer. In the wild they live 3-4 years. I always enjoy watching them. Even though they are ground mammals they can climb about 15 feet up in a tree.

What looks like a patch of snow now on a green lawn or in a field is a tiny flower called bluets or Quaker ladies in bloom. Local golf courses are especially good places to see these delicate, pale bluish-white flowers with yellow centers.

Bluets are very sensitive to atmospheric conditions at night and in rainy weather the flowers bend down; but when the sun comes out they become erect again. Many insects visit bluets, but they are mostly pollinated by flies, bees and smaller butterflies such as the clouded sulphur, meadow fritillary and the painted lady.

If you have lived on this island for a few years you begin to realize that the flowers and shrubs bloom earlier on the east side. Lilacs will be full bloom in Bar Harbor but just budding in Tremont and Southwest Harbor.

More and more tropical birds are still arriving to the delight of feeder watchers and anyone birding in our woods and fields. It is prime time to watch birds in their best breeding feathers.

Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is coming into flower all over the island and is not to be missed.

The pink flowers of this stiff woody shrub come out first just before the leaves and brighten our roadsides for many weeks. The leaves are slightly hairy, light green, oval or oblong and blunt or rounded at the end. Rhodora loves wet places.

The famous poet Emerson wrote a favorite poem of mine that says “Rhodora needs no other excuse for being than its beauty.”

Enjoy it these June days as you travel around the island or walk along our island roads.

Ferns are unfolding everywhere, and even in that curled-up stage they can be beautiful. Many years ago I knew a fern expert named Farida Wiley. She introduced ferns to my mother and to me, and became a close friend.

At each stage of a fern’s life its appearance can be quite different, so identification is not always easy but can be a rewarding challenge.

Test your skills with ferns as you walk no in the spring woods and fields. Take photos or make drawings of what you find to help figure out what you are seeing. Send me a photo and I’ll help with identification. The internet can also be very helpful with this.

Enjoy all that spring brings to our island.

Send any questions, photos 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.

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