Summer is racing along, flowers are abundant, and wildlife is full of surprises everywhere. I got to see a lovely pileated woodpecker this week just a few steps from my screened porch. Apparently, it has been working away at a dead stump for a while, and I had just never seen it. This woodpecker is so large and wears a crimson red “headdress” that it is not to be missed. From the first time I ever saw one many years ago, it was only a bird of the deep forest. Not so anymore, for it has adapted to humans and their intrusion into its forest home, and now this handsome woodpecker as large as a crow is commonly seen in yards, gardens and any dead tree needing its attention right in towns as well as woods. Have no fear that it is killing a tree. Quite the contrary, this woodpecker is a “tree surgeon” removing any infestation. The tree will recover with the bird’s help, if it can. If you look at trees on your walk, you can find healed places on tree trunks where this bird has saved it from the insects. They have very loud voices.
Hikes on our mountains at this time reveal some beautiful flowers in bloom. On Sargent Mountain, you should look for wood lilies in bloom. This blossom is very handsome with its orange lily “faces” looking upwards to the sky. Other lilies hang over like a bell, but this one “looks” up. Don’t be tempted to pick it! Enjoy it where it grows and take only photos home.
This gorgeous flower blossoms from mid-July into August in dry thickets and open woods. It is considered the most beautiful wild lily of all. These lilies grow like flaming torches scattered on the landscape, and it is not commonly found. 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. Take a climb up Sargent Mountain and see if you can see it.
My memorable encounters with this exquisite flower have been when I have been out picking wild blueberries, for that is when they often bloom. The plant relies on strongly acid soil well supplied with organic matter. Usually a single blossom sits atop each stem, but occasionally there may be several.
When you are on our local mountains, look also for another beauty, this time the purple fringed orchis. The flowers are magenta-pink. It can’t help but attract your attention. Take only pictures home with you. Check in your flower book or look online to see what it looks like.
Surprisingly to many residents and visitors here, this island has a number of representatives of the orchis family growing on it. I think my favorite is fringed polygala, or as it sometimes called, “bird on the wing.” Two flaring pink-purple wings form the flower on this low-growing plant. It bloomed in May and June.
Butterflies are readily seen now, and whether or not you know which species is which, they are special to see and enjoy. Residents with open fields that have never been sprayed for any reason and where milkweed plants grow have many such visitors. One friend reported this week that he had fritillaries, painted ladies, coppers and blues. No doubt swallowtails and monarchs could be added to this list. Maine is a good state for butterfly enthusiasts. Check online for the various species that are regularly found here and some of the unusual ones.
A large bull thistle is blooming near my barn, and it was fun this week to watch three bumblebees vigorously feeding in the purple blossom. They “dove” face first into the colorful blossoms and vigorously engaged in getting what the flower offered. The more flowers you have blooming in your garden and on your property, the better it is for our precious bees.
Leave any common mullein plants to grow and winter over after the blossoms are gone, for these wonderful, tall wildflowers with soft fuzzy leaves are treasured in many ways by wildlife throughout the year. They now have small, yellow flowers showing. Feel the leaves for the real meaning of soft!
A couple of calls have come in to me about the giant hogweed I wrote about last week. Giant hogweed is a noxious plant to be avoided. It is sometimes called “giant cow parsnip.” A smaller plant, also called “cow parsnip,” is not poisonous and is commonly found here. Look in a good flower guide or go online for excellent photos of the two plants so you’ll recognize them.