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Archive for May, 2006

Long Bike Ride

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

Out on the Minuteman trail as usual, to the Bedford train station and back. It is curious that I have yet to be bitten by a mosquito this year – I’m pretty sure that by this time last year I was being eaten alive. The ride was exceedingly pleasurable. A bit of rain, which felt liberating, and got me good and filthy. I recognized a killdeer’s call for the first time, and saw it flying far above.  Heard a very clear and close wood thrush, too.

  • pale hawkweed (Hieracium floribundum) (composite family) – this, and two other species, are all referred to as “king devil”. The differences are pretty subtle. This had hair on its stem, so it wasn’t smooth hawkweed, and the leaves didn’t seem hairy enough (they had a bloom to them) to be field hawkweed. I continue to be annoyed by the family compositae, which seems far too fixated on the one trait of composite flowers and groups a lot of very distinct plants. A good reason to learn more about systematics!
  • tower mustard (Arabis glabra) (mustard family) – I can’t believe I didn’t notice this last year – it’s everywhere. The first place I saw it was at the tick patch, but it’s to be found along the bike path pretty much all the way out. It is definitely glabrous, with a marked bloom to it. I’m not 100% positive on my ID here, since the leaves seemed entire to me, but I guess they are probably subtly toothed. The drawings in Newcomb’s look entire-leaved, anyways, and everything else matched. While I was at the tick patch, I noticed that the black locusts are starting to bloom. I’m very excited to see more of the pea family as the summer goes on.
  • black cherry (Prunus serotina) (rose family) – This is much like the chokecherry, but more of a tree, and with blunter teeth on the leaves. Once I’d caught its in-flower gestalt, I was able to see that it’s really extremely common by the tick patch and the railroad-path heading out from there. It’s pretty much the only tree around now with racemes of roselike flowers. I’m not sure what the “serotina” in the name is about – the only context I know “serotinous” in is that of pine cones which don’t drop seed immediately, e.g. those of the pitch pine, which want fire to do that trick.
  • rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa) (rose family) – This is a nice, big purple rose. Wicked spiny at the top of the stem. I suppose the “rugosa” refers to the leaves, which have sunken veins. The flowers smell lovely. I’d seen it a lot last year, but never got further in identifying it than calling it a rose. Which, being a rose, it is.
  • hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium) (honeysuckle family) – Again, not entirely sure about the ID here. I have not been having great luck distinguishing viburnums. This one had the ring of huge, sexless flowers around the flower cluster, but they were not symmetrical as hobblebush’s seem to be. I suppose this could have been a cultivated viburnum. The leaves are also sorta reminiscent of alder leaves, which suits the “alnifolium”.

In that general area, I also saw some members of the pink family starting to show their faces – white campion and bladder campion. I was surprised to see the latter, which I think of as later than the white. On the way out, I scratched my bike to a quick halt on the dirt path when I saw a large snake lying across it (and this but six feet or so from the Alewife parking garage!). It made no attempt to move, and I was getting out my camera when some jackass came barreling by on his bike. I thought he’d run the snake over, and was angry, but it slithered off seemingly OK. I think it was just a garter snake, about two feet long.

Out to Lexington…

  • bluets (Houstonia caerulea) (madder family) – These were forming a gorgeous cloud over a lawn. They’re also known, charmingly, as “Innocence” or “Quaker Ladies”.
  • wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) (geranium family) – These are also known as spotted cranesbill (the leaves are maculate and the seed pod looks like guess what). I first saw a single specimen of these near the bluets. It was small and irregular, and in a patch of poison ivy, so I wasn’t able to determine more than that it wasn’t likely a musk mallow, which is what I’d thought at first sight. Later on I found a nice patch right by the side of the bike trail. As I was trying to key them out, a guy rode past and yelled out “It’s an aster!”. Desi (hard of hearing lately): “What?”. Guy: “An aster!”. Desi (at the now distant biker’s back): “Too early!” He turned back and I keyed it out and finally found it. He asked which flower book I have, and said he liked it, but it was for all the wrong reasons – he said it had a good color key. He hated garlic mustard and invasive weeds.
  • cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) (mustard family) – This is a sloppy sort of sprawling plant. Also called “lady’s smock”. It was growing along an extremely wet trailside, along with some Gill-over-the-ground and
  • creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) (buttercup family) – I saw this one last year a lot. It’s the one with the mottled leaves.
  • ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) (pink family) – Also called “cuckooflower”, though “cuckoo’s flower” would probably be better. I love that I saw two flowers with this name in one day. This is a plant I saw last year, but only once. This year it seemed reasonably common along the bike path – I saw at least 20 of them.
  • birds-eye speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) (figwort family) – This is by far the most beautiful of the speedwells I’ve seen. The flowers are big, like almost 1/2 inch, and intensely blue.
  • large-leaved white violet (Viola incognita) (violet family) – the name pretty much says it all. I thought the top petals were a bit recurved, but they were by no means narrow, and in every other respect it matched the description in Newcomb perfectly.
  • one-flowered cancerroot (Orobanche uniflora) (broomrape family) – Also known as ghost pipe. This is apparently parasitic, and doesn’t bother developing chlorophyll.

bike ride after work

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

Arlington’s Great Meadows:

  • bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) (buttercup family) – The sepals were bent back against the stem. This was on the Minuteman trail, a ways before AGM.
  • brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) (mimidae) – Heard this one first. I was pretty sure of the sound, even though there were a lot of catbirds around making things confusing. Eventually it flew across the clearing I was in. It was pretty big, and very brown. I thought of it as “between a blue jay and a crow” in size.
  • northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) (picidae) – I flushed this one from the path when I came over a hill (apparently they eat ants in openings). It flew up into a tree, and I was able to inch closer. It wasn’t until I heard it sing that I figured out what it was.
  • american woodcock (Scolopax minor) (scolopacidae) – I flushed one while I was sneaking up on the flicker. Its beak was ridiculously long and its body gourdlike, and it flew clumsily, like a bumblebee. Two more flew away fifteen seconds later or so.

alewife tick-patch and on the way to work

Sunday, May 21st, 2006

I biked out to my favorite abandoned spot out behind Alewife station. Was very careful about ticks this time – still residually wigged out from the vast numbers of them that were crawling on me after I came out from near the buttonbush and oil-slick stink-river two weeks ago. I remember that I’ve seen a few homeless camps in the woods around here. With the ticks and the ubiquitous poison-ivy (not to mention the numerous and voracious mosquitoes – at least last year) this seems like a Bad Place to Live.

There wasn’t anything particularly interesting here, and so I headed on out the Minuteman path. After a few miles of pure celandine and garlic mustard, I got bored and hungry and headed back. But on the way, right by the pond where last year I saw all those great turtles hiding in garbage, and that tragically misplaced heart-leaved umbrellawort (a plant I’ve not seen again anywhere else) growing from the sidewalk, I caught a flash of purple, and

  • Narrow-leaved vetch (Vicia angustifolia) (pea family) – these are really quite beautiful. I find vetches particularly charismatic for some reason – I guess it’s my fondness for any member of the pea family, combined with their weird grabby leaf tendrils. I think this is the fourth kind of vetch I’ve run across. A catbird was running through some of its licks while I keyed this one out.

Afterwards, I remembered something I’d seen near work, and biked on over. For some reason the name “cranebill” had come into my head the other day, and I was disappointed when I looked it up and found something unlike the flower I’d seen. But with a key, turns out my friend here is

  • Storksbill (Erodarium cicutarium) (geranium family) – the seedpods are hilariously long, and don’t seem to have finished elongating.
  • Field pansy (Viola kitaibeliana) (violet family) – I thought perhaps this was a garden plant, since I couldn’t find it in Newcomb. But on a closer look the seemingly divided leaves were actually huge divided stipules, and the leaves were just lobed. It was a white flower with a yellow throat, and I could see blue on the more stemwards part of the flower.  I don’t know why this is called kitaibeliana by Newcomb and arvensis by other sources…

Sodus Bay

Saturday, May 20th, 2006

Last weekend was another interesting and profitable one, flower-wise. At or near the family cottage in NY state:

  • large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) (lily family) – I found my first trillium ever on the island, and when I told my mother about it she showed me a hillside near Chimney Bluffs which was crawling with them, including strange mutant varieties with green stripes.
  • wake-robin (Trillium erectum) (lily family) – also called “birthroot”. Presumably there’s some sort of medical connection, but I haven’t really found a good reference for tracking this down yet.
  • cursed crowfoot (Ranunculus sceleratus) (buttercup family) – not only buttercup family, as was obvious to me from the shiny petals and general shape, but buttercup genus. This one was growing down on the shore on the island. Purple deadnettle and hemp dogbane were growing nearby, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. I wonder what the “cursed” is all about – the Latin ‘sceleratus’ has a feeling of guilt or villainy to me. Pissed off farmers?
  • small-flowered crowfoot (Ranunculus abortivus) (buttercup family) – I saw about a billion of these growing along the island paths. Pretty straggly looking and the flowers aren’t much different from the cursed crowfoot, but it has round basal leaves while those of R. sceleratus are deeply lobed.
  • hooked crowfoot (Ranunculus recurvatus) (buttercup family) – only saw one of these, growing right next to the couple wooly blue violets I saw.
  • thyme-leaved speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia) (figwort family) – growing everywhere along the paths, in with the small-flowered crowfoot, but more inclined to the drier parts. I knew I’d seen this before, and when I got back home I remembered that it’s all over my backyard in Somerville. “Serpyllum” is Latin for thyme. Also when I got home, I made the flying leap of deduction to find the actual thyme growing in my landlords’ front garden. Spicy as hell!
  • wooly blue violet (Viola sororia) (violet family) – yet another violet! At first glance I thought it was a regular ol’ dooryard violet, but it’s paler and the flower is bigger. It is distinguished from the Northern blue violet by the lack of fuzz on its bottom petal, so I can only assume that its other parts are fuzzier than the Northern. I always feel a bit naughty when I’m distinguishing violets, since you really have to get all up in their shit.
  • jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema) (arum family) – Newcomb’s guide splits this into three species but claims that some authorities treat it as a single species. Just as well since I didn’t have a chance to key it out. Ever since I started wildflowers I’ve been on fire to see this, since it’s one of the wildflowers I remember my mother pointing out when we’d go canoeing on Hemlock lake long ago. I’m pretty sure that’s actually how I learned what a pulpit was – mother had to explain to heathen Desi. It’s an inconspicuous, hidey sort of character, which I saw on the hillside with the trilliums. Very neat to be with my mother when I finally came across this one.
  • false solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) (lily family) – easily distinguished from the real deal by the raceme: real solomon’s seal’s flowers dangle from the axils.
  • smooth yellow violet (Viola pennsylvanica) (violet family) – another violet! This was on the rich, rich trillium hill. I didn’t have time to key it out, but the downy yellow violet seems to prefer dry woods, and the halberd-leaved violet seems more southerly.

I also saw and heard a house wren for the first time (princeling of all birds at best), and heard what I could have sworn to be a northern flicker.

Time to switch to Qwest?

Thursday, May 11th, 2006


Middlesex Fells

Monday, May 8th, 2006

I went up to the Middlesex Fells reservation and saw many plants I hadn’t seen before. Some interesting ones I saw were:

  • Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) (mint family)- its leaves have a purple color, especially up top, and wilt so as to make the plant look dead. I’ve seen it before, but last year I had trouble telling it from henbit.
  • Corn Speedwell (Veronica arvensis) (figwort family) – a tiny little plant, often hidden in lawns. I think I must have seen this last year: it’s tiny but quite common and once your eyes are on the right scale you see it everywhere.
  • Smaller forget-me-not (Myosotis Laxa) (borage family) – this is a lot like regular forget-me-not. It grows in lawns. It’s extremely hairy and kind of nasty-looking – like a mean nephew of Viper’s Bugloss.
  • Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) (buttercup family) – I saw this last year at the Myles Standish state forest.
  • Hairy Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum pubescens) (lily family) – monocot with pairs of as-yet unopened long-calyxed green flowers hanging from the axils.
  • Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) (lily family) – a man passing by said he had seen lots of lily-of-the-valley but I didn’t realize that was the same plant as this.
  • Ovate-leaved Violet (Viola Fimbriatula) (violet family) – the fourth kind of violet I’ve seen; the name pretty much says it all with this one.
  • Bastard Toadflax (Comandra Umbellata) (sandalwood family) – Newcomb’s says it’s parasitic – apparently it taps into other plants’ roots. It was growing in among a patch of blueberries.
  • Early Low Blueberry (Vaccinium Angustifolium) (heath family) – I saw this last year at Myles Standish too.