The toxic giant hogweed, found on Mount Desert Island, is easily confused with other plants, such as cow parsnip.

Toxic giant hogweed here on MDI



I saw the giant hogweed plant mentioned on Facebook this week. This is a plant that grows on Mount Desert Island. The plant is huge; it can grow to 14 feet high. It is quite attractive even though very toxic. Large clusters of white flowers are at the top of the plant in an umbrella cluster. The plant reminds me of a giant cow parsnip plant, which is not poisonous. Check in your flower book to see some plants that resemble giant hogweed so you know what is here. There is excellent information available on the internet and good photos of the plant.

A spectacular display of white water lilies is not to be missed now on the beaver pond close to the road near Eagle Lake Bridge. Pull off the road and walk the short path to the edge of the pond. It is best to go in the morning before the lilies close for the day.

There is something special about coming upon an island pond with white water lilies in bloom among their platter-sized leaves. If you get close enough, you will find that the handsome flowers resting on the surface are very fragrant. Although most of the blossoms are white, a few are tinged with pink.

Water lilies are leathery in texture and resist penetration by heavy rainfall. The upper surface bears a heavy, waxy water-repellant cell layer. The red coloring on the undersides of the leaf is believed to raise the temperature, thus speeding transpiration. Water lily stems have several air-filled, tubular passages running through them that give them buoyancy and a means by which the plant gets a change of air.

In order to see the beautiful blossoms at their best, you must time your visits carefully. As if in a flowering ballet, the flowers open in early morning after 6 a.m. to welcome their pollinators, the bees and flower flies. It closes around noontime or early afternoon. The flowers yield pollen only. Bees, beetles and aquatic insects fertilize water lilies. Each water lily pad is a microhabitat with many residents. This is indeed a fascinating plant in many ways. Enjoy seeing it right now.

A friend and her children are raising plants for each member of the family. Since the father is a smoker, one of the group decided on an ornamental tobacco plant, nicotiana. They have noticed that the ruby-throated hummingbirds prefer that plant above all others. The first birds coming to feed in the morning are the hummingbirds and they stay at the nicotine plants until they give no nectar. The tiny jewel-like birds go to all the other plants flowering nearby, but before moving off, they check the tobacco plant once again to be sure they got all the nectar, very interesting behavior.

A young friend I met one day told me about an interesting experience he had while he was exploring in the woods and along a local stream. He saw a baby otter floundering at the bottom of a little waterfall and decided to help it. Without any hand protection, he picked up the small mammal. As might be expected, the young animal didn’t appreciate this attention and bit him. I’m sure it hurt but was of no great harm since the otter was a healthy one and had just gotten itself in trouble.

If you find yourself wanting to help a wild mammal, do it with caution and much protection for your own body. Frightened creatures almost always will bite since they are scared. I found an interesting looking wasplike creature walking over the magazines of a local waiting room the other day and just got a paper cup and a sheet of paper, rescued it and released it outside. There was no trouble doing it safely. You just put the cup over top of the insect, slip an envelope or stiff piece of paper under it, carry it outside and let it go.

Otter are delightful mammals living on this island. It is the river otter that we have here. They are often seen in island ponds and streams as they forage along the seashore for fish, frogs, salamanders, earthworms, small snakes and even some plants. Their sleek, furry brown bodies are muscular and their short legs powerful. Seeing one up close is special, but as my young friend discovered, a baby otter in trouble was exciting to see and it was a temptation to want to help. Wildlife rehabilitators have to be very careful in handling injured wildlife, for the animal is frightened to begin with and it is equipped with sharp teeth, feet and maybe a long bill ending in a sharp beak. Gloves and proper procedure to ward off injury takes planning. If you suspect a wild animal is sick, do not touch it, but you can report it to the game warden or call the local rehabilitator. Leave unattended seals alone and don’t approach them.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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