Thursday, August 6, 2009

Plants of Frye Island

There are many beech trees on Frye Island. Beneath them the forest floor is made up of leaf litter, small green plants, mushrooms, and many kinds of moss. Right now there are highbrush blueberry bushes in fruit everywhere along the roads and wet ditches, and in the sunnier locations, buttonbush is in bloom. I also saw wintergreen in bloom, if I am not mistaken; but I didn't get photos of any of those, sadly.

There was a lot of Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, in bloom on the island.

The abundent Indian pipe and beech trees got me to wondering if there were beech drops, Epifagus virginiana, on the island. Moments later, I found this. I'm not entirely sure it is beech drops, but if it isn't, then it must be another odd non-photosynthesizing plant. Beech drops are paracitic on beech trees. I have only seen them once before, at the Garden in the Woods.

I don't know what this tiny plant is, but I am smitten by those wee round leaves!

[update] This is most likely partridge berry, Mitchella repens, native to both Maine and Massachusetts.

I don't know what these are, either. They looked like some sort of tree seedling, but they were growing everywhere under the tree canopy, and they always topped out at about two feet. Each one has exactly three branches, each branch bearing five leaves.

[update] This is wild sarsaparilla, Aralia nudicaulis, also native to both Maine and here. This is what real rootbeer is made from.

One more unidentified plant. This grows along the roadsides in sunny areas.

[update] This is steeplebush, Spirea tomentosa, yet another native! I'm just giddy that these are all potentially plants that I could grow in my own yard.

Someday I will grow this in my own yard. It is sweetfern, Comptonia peregrina, a common native plant in Massachusetts.

I think I have identified this correctly as Indian cucumber root, Medeola virginiana, but if it is, then the second tier of leaves must fall off in this stage of its reproduction. Indian cucumber root has an edible root that tastes like cucumber, but it would take dozens to make even a small snack. I have been led to believe that this is a rare plant in most of the country, but it grows all over Frye Island.

I carefully dug a few from my great aunt's lawn to take home with me. I didn't taste one, however. I would be uncomfortable eating a rare plant that was collected from the wild. Also, strange plants are off the menu while I'm nursing.

[update] Boy was I wrong! This is Trientalis borealis, starflower. Yet another native that I've never seen in my area.

I had been told there were orchids growing on the island, but I wasn't expecting to come across one in the ditch right at the side of the road! I walked right by it and almost didn't see it, right there in front of my aunt's property.

I'm concerned for this plant growing so close to the road, and there is some construction due to happen along the road soon. My aunt knows some people who do plant rescues, so I suggested that she give them a call.

What a treat to see a native orchid in bloom! At least, I think it is native. I haven't been able to identify it so far.

[edit] It looks like this one isn't native after all.

It sounds like the Frye Island community is generally more aware and proctective of their native plants than a typical community. This next one really blew me away:

This is noddong pogonia, Triphora trianthrophora. Had I known how rare it was while taking my photos, I would have tread more softly. Only two colonies are known to exist in all of Canada, and a few dozen colonies can be found in New York. It was thought to be extinct in Connecticut until a colony was recently discovered. I don't know what it's status is in Massachusetts or elsewhere.

Identifying this plant is difficult, because it flowers so briefly. The buds above will likely open for just one day. I suspect that since itspends so much time underground, and grows in deep shade, that it has some sort of paracitic or symbiotic relationship either with beech trees or with a fungus. In fact, the Indian pipe and the beech trees pictured above was growing in the same yard. There was a lot of leaf duff there in the deep shade of the beech grove, and very little undergrowth.

This colony sprawls across the yard of a family friend, who invited me over to see when she heard that I was a plant nut. She is bemused by all of the botanists and photographers who came to visit when word spread that this plant grew on her property. By her own account, she isn't interested in "raking, or anything like that", which makes her potentially the perfect caretaker of these flowers. There are other homeowners on the island who have gardened heavily, or who have scraped off all leaf littler and brush, effectively making a moonscape of their property. (Fortunately, these compulsive yard-cleaners seem to be a minority on Frye island.)

While I didn't get to see the nodding pogonia in bloom, I am absolutely thrilled for the chance to have to have seen it growing. This is the grown-up plant-geek equivalent of having seen a unicorn.


new york city garden said...

I've seen that pinkish astilbe like flower many times....

What is it though?????

Anonymous said...

Re: Your first two unidentified plants - the one with the wee round leaves looks an awful lot like partridgeberry (Mitchella repens). And if you're describing them correctly, the "tree seedlings" with exactly three branches with five leaflets sound to be wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), which is no relation to the cultivated sarsaparilla.


Becky said...

I agree with anonymous on the first two. The pink one is steeplebush, a spirea. The one you think looks like wild cucumber looks like starflower to me. I always never eat a plant until you are positive what it is!

Michelle said...

Thanks for your comments everyone!

Ittiz said...

The small one that has a star leaf formation and you identified as "Indian Cucumber root" is a Star Flower "Trientalis borealis". The flower had fallen off in the pic you have.