Category Archives: Nature in a minute

Nature in a Minute: The Blues

Blue vervain  (Verbena hastata)

On walks last week I observed two of my favorite flowers, both having blue flowers. Though fairly common in this area, they are less showy and can easily be overlooked among grasses and taller plants that dominate in late summer.

Blue vervain commonly occurs in wet meadows, wet river bottomlands, and stream banks. It typically grows 2-4′ tall.  The candelabra-like growth form is distinctive. The tiny flowers are on erect, pencil-like spikes 2-6 inches long.  Flowers on each spike bloom bottom to top, a few at a time. Blue verbena flowers are 5-lobed and purplish-blue.

The leaves are lance-shaped and opposite on the stem. Blue vervain blooms from July – September. This handsome clump is growing along the Neponset River in East Milton. Bumblebees are among the important pollinators of Blue vervain.

Blue vervain.  Neponset River bank, Milton (August 16)

Blue vervain.  Neponset River bank, Milton (August 16)

Blue curls  (Trichostema dichotomum)

The charming Blue curls has delicate blue flowers with a distinctive structure.  The flowers are ½ to ¾ inch long, having five petals. The lower petal is tongue-like with prominent dark spots on white shading. The four upper petals are shorter and all blue. It’s the stamens and pistil, rising above the petals and curling toward the lower petal that give Blue curls their common name. To get a good photo, I held a piece of cardboard as a background for the flowers. 

The flowers are at the tips of opposite stems with a pair of leaves at the intersection with the main stem. Blue curls grow to 18-24 inches. Four to six pairs of flowers may extend from the main stem. It grows along wooded borders, in dry grasslands and sunny dry meadows. 

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: The Wood Lily

Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)

On a recent walk I was surprised to see these Wood lilies. About twenty were in bloom over a ten square foot area. A power line runs through the woods here so a swath about 20 feet wide is kept clear of woody plants. Wood lilies need sunlight so a clearing like this is ideal for them.  

The cup-shaped flowers are upright, a distinguishing feature of Wood lilies. All other wild lily species nod. The flowers have six purple-spotted petals. 

Wood lilies are 1-3 feet in height.  The leaves are long and narrow, arranged in a whorl around the stem.  They grow from a bulb and are perennial. Tiger swallowtail butterflies are the primary pollinator of the Wood lily.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: Beauty in Bogs

According to the dictionary, “A bog is a mire that accumulates peat, a deposit of dead plant material—often mosses, and in a majority of cases, Sphagnum moss. It is one of the four main types of wetlands.”  Bogs have wet, spongy ground that floats over a body of water.  

Flora found in bogs is showiest in mid-summer. On a recent visit to Black Pond Bog I was rewarded with these choice beauties.

Rose pogonia  Pogonia ophioglossoides

Nestled in a bed of Spagnum moss, this delicate orchid is a rare beauty. The fringed lip is a distinctive feature. Many species of Bumblebees pollinate Rose pogonia.

Purple Pitcherplant  Sarracenia purpurea

The Purple Pitcherplant is the only pitcherplant native to New England.  Having the unique capacity to derive nutrients from sources other than soil enable this plant to grow in poor conditions. Insects are drawn to the open “mouth” of a pitcherplant. Once inside they are blocked from leaving by downward pointing hairs. A sticky fluid breaks down the inset body and “feeds” the pitcherplant.

The genus name (Sarracenia) comes from Michael Sarrazin (1659 – 1734), who was the first botanist to suggest the pitcherplant devoured  insects.

Purple pitcherplant flower

Purple pitcherplant growing in Sphagnum moss

Swamp azalea  Rhododendron viscosum

Swamp azalea is a deciduous woody shrub that grows in bogs. It is upright, reaching a height of 5-8 feet. The flowers vary from white to pale pink in color. In mid-summer the flowers are fragrant giving off a spicy aroma. The leathery, dark green leaves appear before the flowers. In the fall the leaves turn a colorful yellow/orange.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: Bracken Fern

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) is easy to identify. It has one main stem with three triangular leaves branching from the stem. The leaves (fronds) radiate horizontally from the main stem.

Bracken fern grows to three feet in height.  It’s one of the earliest ferns to come up in the spring.  It grows in large colonies along roadsides and trails in dry woodlands.  The Latin name refers to the shape of the fronds that look like wings. Pteridium for pteron,  meaning wing. Aguilinum for aquila meaning eagle.  

Bracken fern grows in the drier, upland part of MABA’s main loop trail.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: New York Fern

New York ferns (Thelypteris noveboracensis) are one of the smallest ferns. They are only 18 inches in height. The frond of New York fern is tapered at both ends. Notice how the leaflets are very tiny at the bottom, get wider in the middle, then are smaller at the top.  

New York ferns grow in small clusters. They prefer a sunny spot in the woods or edges of moist meadows.  

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: Callahan State Park, Framingham, June 12, 2020 by Deborah Stone

This post is by Deborah Stone, a good friend of MABA.

Just as I came down a trail to the edge of Beebe Pond, a Great Blue Heron landed about 20 feet ahead of me. It froze in classic heron statue pose—until I spooked it by lifting my binoculars. Then it alighted for safer territory. Perfect timing. Whenever I see a heron, I can’t resist stopping to watch it catch dinner, and I was beyond ready for a break and lunch. I leaned my butt on a rock with an indent that felt custom made and found the heron farther out in the pond

Holding half a PB&J in my right hand and binocs in my left, I watched the heron stalk— slowly, deliberately, intently. I didn’t have its patience and took a large bite of my sandwich. It felt rude to eat before everyone had their dinner, so I willed my chewing to reach the heron as a kind of telepathic aid to success. Karma didn’t take long to work. The heron thrust its head down and came up with a large fish. Quite the morsel but how to get it down the gullet? The fish was crosswise in the heron’s beak, flapping its tail wildly, trying to escape. 

Five times the heron lowered its head behind some grasses, presumably to maneuver the fish into a better position. After the second, third and fourth time, when the heron lifted its head again, the fish was still crosswise, but after the fourth time, I could see that it was lifeless. After the fifth time, the beak came up with the fish still crosswise. The heron gave a little head toss and Bingo! Straight on, down the hatch. I thought I saw a bulge in the heron’s neck, something like the snake that swallowed a mouse in Le Petit Prince. I estimated it took a full minute from the time of capture to the time dinner was ready. 

I couldn’t see what culinary tricks the heron performed while it had its head down, but I can guess. At Hall’s Pond Sanctuary in Brookline, I once saw a heron make a catch far too large to fit down its throat. It flew to the pond’s edge and dropped the fish on the ground. There, it pecked at the fish to subdue it, then picked it up and carried it to another spot where there was a large flat rock. I watched the heron stab away at the fish, ripping a bite here and there. Eventually, the remaining piece of fish was down to a manageable size. 

Here at Beebe Pond, the water was shallow. I couldn’t see whether there was a hummock or a rock to serve as a butcher block, but I’m guessing the heron found a way to disable the fish without letting it loose in the water. Perhaps the heron held part of the fish on the pond bottom with one foot while using its beak as a pincers. I could try to find answers in a book or on YouTube, but I prefer trying to solve nature’s mysteries with wonder instead of science. 

I was only part way through my half sandwich when the heron caught its next fish. This one was somewhat smaller. This time, too, the heron had caught the fish crosswise in its beak. This time, though, the heron flipped the fish parallel to its beak and swallowed, all in about three seconds. Dessert always goes down easier, doesn’t it?

Note: Photos were not taken during these observations, but are illustrative of the events.

Nature in a Minute: Royal Fern

Royal Ferns (Osmunda regalis) are the largest ferns, growing to a height of 4-6 feet. The leaves are erect and branch-like. Because of its imposing size it’s Latin species name is regalis, royal.

These ferns love to have their roots wet. They grow along streams and in boggy areas all over New England.  This Royal Fern is growing right in Pequit Brook on the MABA sanctuary trail.

The fertile leaves of Royal Ferns are clustered in a dense bunch, taller than the other leaves. Millions of microscopic spores are released from these fertile leaves. The spores are green when they first appear and turn brown as they ripen. 

Nature in a Minute: Sensitive Fern

Sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) are medium to large size. The leaves are broad, almost triangular in shape. They are not as lacy as other ferns. When the first frost occurs in late fall, the Sensitive fern turns brown and withers quickly. That’s the reason for its sensitive name.

Sensitive ferns form a unique fertile fronds. In late summer a stalk appears with bead-like spore cases. These turn brown and persist all winter, long after the leaves are gone. In the spring millions of spores are released.

You can find Sensitive ferns on the MABA loop trail and in the wet meadow near the gallery.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: The Cinnamon Fern

Ferns are an ancient family of plants. They were growing on Earth 360 million years ago. They are older than land animals and even dinosaurs. You can find ferns growing on the trails at MABA and in damp woods near where you live. Ferns do not have flowers like other plants. They reproduce in a unique way, by tiny spores that are blown by the wind and carried by water. Ferns are at their peak in early summer when the part of the plant that produces the spores is most easy to see. This is the first in a series on recognizing ferns in the woods. 

Cinnamon Fern  (Osmunda cinnamomea)

Cinnamon ferns grow in a circular vase-like form. The leaves grow to three feet or taller. The fertile leaves that hold the spores are green at first, soon turning to cinnamon- brown. The brown fertile leaf resembles a stick of cinnamon, thus the name Cinnamon fern.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: What’s blooming on MABA trails – Starflower

Trails at the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton are open.  Come walk the Main Loop trail and look for these wildflowers.

Starflower   (Trientalis borealis)

The delicate white flowers grow on sturdy little stems above the whorl of leaves. The Latin name for Starflower refers to its size and location. Trientalis means one-third of a foot.  Starflowers grow low to the ground to a height of about 4 inches.  The species name borealis refers to north. Starflowers are abundant in the northern United States.

Starflowers form floral constellations on woodland trails in springtime. This cluster of three Starflowers reminds me of the constellation Orion which is easy to find by three bright stars that create Orion’s Belt. 

Starflower   (Trientalis borealis)

Orion  Constellation 

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.