Twinflowers hard to find

Pickerel weed, with its lovely blue flowers and arrowhead-like leaves, dominates local ponds now. This is a grand flowering season everywhere. I just returned from a journey farther to the north in Newfoundland. The wildflowers there were a delight to behold both along the roadsides and on walks in fields and woods. My most exciting find was a small purple fringed orchid, also called a butterfly orchid.

The famous Swedish botanist Linnaeus named this orchid for its fancied resemblance to a butterfly. The spike of the flower is cylindrical and either loosely few-flowered or densely crowded. The plants I saw were densely crowded. Flower clusters are less than two inches thick. This is the month to find them. Look closely for the three-part fringed lip on the individual flowers. The range of color is remarkable, and although it is usually a delicate lilac or mauve, you also find pale pink or rose red as I did and sometimes white.

Small purple fringed orchid is fond of beaver meadows and wet river thickets where it may or may not be easy to find even though it stands from 1-3 feet high. It is also found along roadside ditches and small streams where it is easier to see. I spotted the ones in Newfoundland from a trail that took me through a field next to a lighthouse on a high cliff. The lower leaves are large, and the upper leaves much smaller. Never pick it.

These plants are true orchids, but their tiny size makes it necessary for you to examine them closely in order to be awed by their beauty. Many are sweet-scented, as is this one. Butterflies and long-lipped bees feast on the colored blossoms, for the flowers give copious nectar.

Deeper in the woods, I was delighted to see large patches of twinflower in blossom. This is a flower found here on Mount Desert Island, but I haven’t seen it in such profusion recently. This little plant belongs to the honeysuckle family. This fragile, fragrant bell-shaped flower is very lovely to see. The small, round leaves are bright green and glossy and grow opposite each other on the plant’s slender stems. The actual stems trail along the ground growing up over fallen logs. Vertical, threadlike branches arise from the stem upon which the twin flowers are born. The pink flowers hang like little bells from the forked, slender, fragile stem end. It’s a beauty! Bees are attracted to it by the fragrance of the flowers and color. Twinflower is native to America, Europe and Asia. Watch for it on your walks.

Sometimes later in the season, we get to see gannets diving off the shore at Seawall and other such places. When in Newfoundland, we saw thousands of these large, white sea birds on their nesting cliffs on the east coast of that country. The cliffs are high, but there is a nice trail over the meadows and grassy terrain leading to a good observation site. We were separated by a rocky canyon many stories high but could easily see the thousands of gannets nesting. Birds are everywhere, and it was a noisy scene. The nearest gannet colony to MDI is on Bonaventure Island on the Gaspe. That is well worth the long drive to Pierce on the Gaspe. The cliffs are not as high as in Newfoundland, but the colony is very impressive.

Gannets are expert divers and very large birds. They are very exciting to watch, as they rise high in the air, prepare their wings and body for diving and then plunge headfirst into the water after a fish. They make a big splash as they hit the water and disappear and then appear shortly after holding a fish in their beak. When I know they’re in the area fishing, I’ll write about them.

Here at home, I received photos of a handsome, young pileated woodpecker a reader on MDI had coming to his feeder. This is a large woodpecker and not usually sitting on a feeder just outside your window. It is so amazing to me how adaptable this woodpecker has become, for it once was seen only in the deep woods and never near houses. For its own survival, I guess, it has accepted living in towns and villages and continuing to extract insects from our trees. Not all wild creatures can do that, but this handsome woodpecker, the largest on MDI, seems to have done it nicely. They are always exciting to see flying or taking insects from dead trees. Their rectangular holes in the trees are easy to see it you look for them. They are great tree surgeons!

Take time now to look at the small carnivorous plant called sundew growing in many places on this island. It is but one of the carnivorous plants living here. The others are pitcher plant and bladderwort. There are two sundews: the spatula-leafed and the round-leaf sundew. This is a tiny plant, just inches high, and one you will find easy to miss. Sundew catches insects in a special way, for its leaves are covered with reddish hairs, and the end of each hair is covered with sticky glue in which insects get caught. The glue looks like a drop of dew when seen in the sunlight. If an insect lands on the glue, it gets stuck, and the plant consumes it. Google this plant on your computer, and you will find a video showing you the plant consuming an insect. It’s quite fascinating.

Many wonderful things are going on in the natural world. Take time to enjoy the season.

Send any questions 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.
Ruth Grierson

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