Star flower PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Star flowers blooming



This island is green in June, and colorful plants coming up and blooming everywhere make it a colorful world as well. As James Russell Lowell once wrote, “What is so rare as a day in June, then, if ever, come perfect days, and heaven tries earth, if it be in tune, and over it softly her warm ear lays … .” I often think of these words as I am tuning my violin. June is my favorite month!

The forest floor along my driveway is covered with blossoming star flowers now. This plant is not a big one, and it looks quite delicate scattered in the shaded areas in local woodlands. As it comes into bloom, the two small star-like flowers seem as if they are looking up at you from the forest floor. Five to 10 leaves are crowded into a whorl at the summit of the stem, and the seven-petaled star-like flower rises above this at the end of a thin, wiry stalk. These small, white flowers possess one extremely interesting characteristic; the parts of the flower tend to appear in sevens. As a rule, flower parts appear in multiples of five or three; rarely in sevens.

Star flower has a dainty and fragile appearance and is usually abundant in the cool woods, high northern mountain slopes and mist shade of the cool coniferous woods and thickets that we enjoy here. The flowers have no nectar and are visited only by bees and flies.

Look for the flowers of Labrador tea now. My first contact with Labrador tea was years ago when I was a Girl Scout and made tea from this evergreen shrub found in wet bogs, moist thickets and peaty soil. I thought of this a couple of years ago when I finally found myself walking about in Labrador. It was like finding an old friend in a new place. Labrador tea is from 1-3 feet tall and is a member of the heath family.

Labrador tea flowers are small and white in handsome, quite noticeable umbrella-like clusters; the leaves are oblong, alternate, leathery, dark green above and rust-woolly below. This plant is adapted to hold its own in a cold climate, for it carries a thick, woolly coat over the stem and the undersides of the leaves. This lessens the water loss through its leaves. In some areas of the country, moose and deer eat Labrador tea. The deer in my neighborhood in Bass Harbor seem to prefer lady slippers, for this year, I have only found one lady slipper, where in other years, I have had as many as 40 or 50 plants.

Every day as I step off my porch, I hear an interesting bird call. With the help of the internet, I figured out what it was, and I now know that a palm warbler is nesting not far from my screened porch. If I had my life to live over and was starting my birding education again, I would pay more attention to bird calls and Latin names.

The palm warbler is one of the many warblers coming to this island to nest each year. Of all the areas along the east coast, Mount Desert Island is considered the best for seeing warblers. That’s why you often see cars parked along the road and people with binoculars from all over the country looking for warblers. The Big Heath along the Seawall Road is an especially good area. In New York City, Central Park is a prime location for birds. It’s like an oasis for migrant birds in the maze of buildings and pavement.

The palm warbler has a chestnut cap and a yellow belly. It has a noticeable habit of wagging its tail. The palm warbler spends most of its time on the ground, and its tail wagging habit is a good point to remember for identification.

If you are exploring around any of our local ponds and lakes, watch for green frogs sitting in among the profusely blooming white violets. Listen for this green frog at night as the warmer days and nights come along. The green frog’s calling reminds me of a plunking banjo. It’s quite noticeable on a spring and summer’s night. Bull frogs have a very low bass “jug-o-rum” call. It’s too early for them yet. Cranberries, blueberries and wild strawberry flowers blooming promise a good supply later of delicious fruit “for man and beasts.”

Lupine, of course, is blooming and making fields very beautiful. This is not a native plant, but it is here to stay. Like lavender blue waves, these colorful flowers “wash” over fields and in gardens, bringing a spectacular beauty to this island. The flowering spikes can be pink, white, lavender or blue. The showy flowers bloom from the bottom up on the spike. The flowers are pea-like and the leaves narrow.

Lupine, like many members of the pea family, draws nitrogen from the air for its own use wherever it grows. The seeds are poisonous. The plant is fertilized by bees. The blue bonnet, state flower of Texas, also is a lupine. In North America, there are over 150 species of lupine, mostly growing in the west.

Listen for the many bird calls now that the migrants are here. Watch for all the plants in bloom. Walk or spend time outdoors and take in the beauty of this island in all its forms! Enjoy all that the season offers in the wildlife scene. The season is all too short.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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