Tag Archives: nature in a minute

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: 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: Spring wildflowers

The Resplendent Windflower
Wood anemone – Anemone quinquefolia L.  Buttercup (Ranunculaceae)

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Look for Wood anemone on your woodland walks. The pure white flowers on 4-8 inch stalks above the whorl of leaves makes this an easy wildflower to spot in the spring. The scalloped leaves are divided in 3 to 5 leaflets. 

The delicate flowers sway easily even in a soft breeze. This trait gives the plant its Latin name Anemone meaning windflower. The second part of the Latin name is quinquefolia, translating as five leaves. 

The root of Wood anemone is horizontal, with many flowers and leaves growing from a common root system. Because of this root system wood anemone can form a carpet of plants.                                                  

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: First flowers of spring – Goldthread

One of the first flowers you’ll notice on your spring walks in the woods is the tiny Goldthread.  The small, three-part leaf of Goldthread hugs the ground. The delicate white flower blooms about three inches above the leaf on a delicate stem.  Coptis trifolia is the Latin name for Goldthread. Coptis comes from the Greek word “to cut”, a reference to the divided leaf. Trifolia means “having three leaves”.

The common name Goldthread is derived from the color of the root.  Scratch down below the leaf to uncover the yellow root.  This is a small section of root I pulled up  and placed on a rock for a better photo.

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 Mystery Plants are Revealed: Mystery Plant B

Bush clover (Lespedeza capitate)  
Fabaceae (Pea or Legume Family)

The flower head of bush clover has many hairy bracts surrounding the small white flowers. After blooming the flower heads gradually turn brown.  The Legume family of plants has super powers. 

I grew up on a farm. My grandfather planted Lespedeza in the farm fields on a rotating basis. I learned as a kid that Lespedeza “fixes nitrogen”. Of course, I had no idea then why that was important but I loved to see the fields of clover and thought the name “lespedeza” was just a cool word to say and to write because it had a “z” in it. 

Now I know why a plant that “fixes nitrogen” is so important.  Inorganic nitrogen compounds are required for biosynthesis. Legumes convert nitrogen molecules in the air into chemical compounds such as amino acids and transfer them to the soil. Without this soil enrichment of Lespedeza food crops like tomatoes, beans and carrots would not grow well.

Lespedeza is also useful in Scrabble, because of that ‘Z”.

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 Mystery Plants are Revealed: Mystery Plant A

Common mullein   (Verbascum thapsus)

This is the answer to our Nature in a Minute: Mystery Plant Challenge. Click here to see the first post. Common Mullein is easily recognized in summer.  The tall stalk with yellow flowers is distinctive along roadsides and in open areas.  The leaves are large and fuzzy to the touch.


Common mullein is just as easy to spot in winter. The tall stalk is topped with dried brown seed capsules. 

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: Mystery Plant Challenge

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Plant ID challenge

Test your skill at identifying plants in winter without the help of colorful flowers and leaves.  Answers will be posted on April 23.

Plant A  

 Plant A seed capsule

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: Marsh Marigolds

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The marsh marigolds are blooming! These early spring wildflowers come up in wet places and along brooks.  Look for them when you are walking near shallow streams in the woods.  The showy, bright yellow flowers, surrounded by green leaves, are easy to spot at this time of year.

Marsh marigolds are in the buttercup family (Ranunculacea).  They look much more like buttercups than marigolds.  The Latin name is Catha palustris.  “Cup of the marsh” is the translation.  The big, early flowers attract bees and insects to Marsh marigold aiding in pollination. 

Enjoy this post by Barry Van Dusen about his visit to High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary, Shelburne on May 21, 2015 during his artist in residency at MABA, where he encountered Marsh Marigolds and other spring flowering plants.

Painted Trillium, High Ledges. Barry Van Dusen

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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: Birches

Birch is plentiful in the northern United States and Canada. Birch trees have distinctive bark making it easy to identify different species.  Two birches common in our area are Gray birch and Yellow birch. Look for these trees on your walks in the woods.

Gray birch  (Betula populifolia)

Gray birches have chalky white bark with black triangular patches on the trunk.  As a gray birch gets older the black chevrons become more distinct. The bark is smooth and tough. Native American people used the flexible, highly waterproof sheets of bark for canoes and shelters.

Gray Birch Bark

Often several trunks will grow from one root source. Gray birches are easy to spot in the woods as they are the only trees in our area with a white bark. 

Yellow birch   (Betula alleghaniensis)

Yellow birch is one of the largest hardwood trees in the northeastern United States. The bark is yellowish and slightly shiny. The outer layers of the bark peel horizontally in thin, curly strips. 

The wood of Yellow birch is strong and even-textured. It is an excellent building material for cabinets, and interior woodwork. 

I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,

And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk

Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,

But dipped its top and set me down again.

That would be good both going and coming back.

One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

         From Birches by Robert Frost

Birds in Blue and Gray from Barry Van Dusen

Enjoy Barry Van Dusen’s post from Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, Holden, MA on May 11, 2015 and warblers foraging in birch trees.

Nature in a Minute – Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Catching its breath in between catching gnats this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher catches a few rays from the sun. Migrants are returning to Massachusetts. This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was photographed in Easton on April 6, 2020.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers spend most of their time in broadleaf and mixed forests with a healthy understory, especially those with streams and wetlands. They eat small insects, arthropods, spiders, and other small invertebrates. Check out their nests in the video below, amazing to see how it is camouflaged with lichens and built so naturally right on the branch.

A nesting Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Barry Van Dusen spends some time with Blue-gray Gnatcatchers

Enjoy Barry Van Dusen’s blog post about Blue-gray Gnatcatchers when he visited Mass Audubon’s Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, Holden, MA on May 11, 2015 during his residency at MABA.

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