Joe-pye Weed

Perhaps my favorite fall flower is Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium spp.). There’s something about the color of the flowers and the color of the foliage that gets me, I don’t know why. I often have a strong emotional response to certain colors, and when sunlight catches the dull purple of Joe-pye Weed, I can feel it in my chest. I have no idea why this is so, I just know that it happens.

On a walk this afternoon, I came upon some Joe-pye Weed nest to a rushing stream in the Whitney-Thayer Woods in Cohasset. About a hundred feet of the trail, near one of the crossings of Brass Kettle Brook, was flooded from the torrential rains we had last week. I was teetering along on logs and stones that someone had conveniently placed alongside the trail, when there it was by the side of the trail: those dull purple buds almost ready to burst into bloom.

A capitulesence of Joe-pye Weed showing purple buds, but as yet no blossoms

I’ve been trying to figure out which species of Joe-pye weed this was. I think it’s Coastal Plain Joe-pye Weed (Eutrochium dubium), but I admit that I get confused by the online dichotomous key of the Native Plant Trust (—are the leaf blades triple-veined? —are the stems spotted or streaked with anthocyanin? —what exactly is the shape of the capitulescence?). Admittedly, I didn’t try as hard as I might to figure it out, since the dichotomous key tells me that E. dubium is “difficult to distinguish from related species.” Nor do I really need to know exactly which species of Joe-pye Weed it is — they all have similar flowers which evoke the same emotional response in me.

Coral fungus

I almost stepped on this small fungus — it was maybe two and a half inches tall — when I was out for a walk today. I’m not competent to identify it, but between my field guides and iNaturalist, I’m thinking it’s a coral fungus in genus Clavulinopsis. Not that I’m particularly anxious to learn what species it is. I’m more interested in its weird beauty: delicate little sculptural forms rising up out of the woodland litter.

Coral fungus, perhaps genus Clavulinopsis

Declaration of Independence reading

According to tradition, Rev. John Brown, the minister in Cohasset during the Revolutionary War period, gave a stirring reading of the Declaration of Independence from the pulpit of the meeting house to the gathered townspeople not long after July 4, 1776.

I haven’t been able to find out the exact date when Brown read the Declaration to the people of Cohasset. But the Boston Gazette and Country Journal printed the complete Declaration of Independence on July 22, 1776. John Brown had a copy of that printing, and his copy (with his signature) still exists; it was auctioned by Christie’s in 2003. Since Cohasset was a port town, it seems likely that Brown would have received the newspaper by Sunday, July 28. That may be the date on which John Brown read the Declaration of Independence to the town, when people gathered for Sunday worship.

We decided to commemorate the first reading of the Declaration of Independence to Cohasset townsfolk on Independence Day weekend. So we held our reading on July 2 — not historically accurate, but this wasn’t a re-enactment of the original. Instead of having one person read the whole Declaration, in true democratic fashion we had ten readers, beginning with a 12 year old from our Sunday school.

Fifty people showed up, many more than our usual 15-20 people for summer services. This was a true community event, and somewhere between a third and half of those present were not part of our congregation. Our 1747 Meeting House was originally built by the town, and we feel we hold it in trust for the whole town. So we made this a truly non-sectarian commemoration, with no over Unitarian Universalist content.

We had people across the political spectrum, all of whom gathered together to honor the highest ideals of American democracy. It was a surprisingly moving event. We plan to do it again next year.

Two people standing in front of the high pulpit of the Cohasset Meeting House, with others in pews in front of them, all singing.
Singing “This Land Is Your Land” before the reading of the Declaration. I’m standing at right. Faces have been blurred (except mine) to protect privacy

Tiny flower

Medeola virginiana, sometimes called Cucumber Root or Indian Cucumber-root, is in bloom in the woodlands around Cohasset right now. As the name implies, the small root is crunchy and white and tastes like cucumber — but you kill the plant when you dig it up for the root, so I stopped foraging for it many years ago.

The flower is tiny, maybe a centimeter or two across. It doesn’t look like much until you look at it through a magnifier:

Close up of a tiny flower, with a deep red pistil that terminates in three parts that are longer than the petals, and with greenish-yellow petals that curl back from the ovary.
Front view of Indian Cucumber-root flower through 10x hand lens
Same flower as previous photo, but a side view.
Side view of Indian Cucumber-root flower through 10s hand lens

Eco Fest

This afternoon, Eco Fest took place on Cohasset Common, right across the street from First Parish in Cohasset. Four of us — Ngoc, Matt, Carol, and I — staffed a table where kids could make seed bombs.

(What’s a seed bomb, you ask? Make a thin wafer, maybe two inches in diameter, out of some air-dry clay. Put a pinch of potting soil in the middle, add a dozen or so seeds, then fold the clay up around the seeds and soil to make a little ball. That’s a seed bomb. You can toss it anywhere. The clay holds in moisture, and the soil provides a medium so the seeds can begin sprouting.)

Our seed bombs were made with seeds from native plants. When older kids made seed bombs with us, we explained about the importance of native plants, and how native plants can attract a wider diversity of pollinators. Ngoc had a cool book with photos of 50 or so native pollinators, which I showed to kids, pointing out pictures of my favorite native pollinators — metallic green bees (genus Agapostemon).

We had a constant stream of kids coming to our booth, so I never even got to visit any other booths. But I could see there were some interesting groups present. In addition to commercial vendors, I saw booths staffed by the Cohasset High School Green Team, the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a group providing recycling information, the Cohasset Garden Club, and more. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Citizen science project

Another worthy citizen science project…. Here in New England, the Native Plant Trust trains people to be Plant Conservation Volunteers (PCVs) for the New England Plant Conservation Program (NEPCoP):

“PCVs support professional botanists and State Heritage Programs by gathering vital data in the field. Across the six states of New England, PCVs conduct field monitoring, seed collection, and habitat management. PCVs now number in the hundreds, but as native plant habitats face mounting stresses, we need even more passionate volunteers to help save New England’s native plants.”

Intestine seaweed

There’s a species of seaweed that grows along the coast here in Cohasset with the scientific name Ulva intestinalis; so named because it looks like intestines. A common English name for it is Gutweed, though I’d rather call it Intestine seaweed.

Anyway, it’s one of my favorite seaweeds. How could I not like something that looks like little green intestines?

Strands of green tubular seaweed lying on a rock.


Today while walking in the Attleboro Springs Audubon Sanctuary, I saw Jacks-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) in bloom. The dramatic striped spathe shelters a spadix on which the flowers are born. This is one of my favorite native flowers — we used to grow them when we lived in the rental share in Concord center — and seeing their blooms today prompted me to learn a little more about them.

According the Extension service of North Carolina State State University, individual Arisaema triphyllum plants can change between male and female from year to year: “This unique plant, which is pollinated by flies and gnats, has the ability to change gender.  A plant that starts out as male can spontaneously change to female the next year and vice versa. …”

Or, according to another source, first year plants only produce male flowers; then the plant becomes hermaphroditic, producing both male and female flowers. In any case, as is so often true, our stereotypical human norms around gender and biological sex being determined from birth do not apply to all organisms (the stereotypes don’t even always apply to human organisms).

A fascinating plant. Makes me want to start growing Arisaema triphyllum again.

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). Note the two trifoliate leaves, the striped spathe, and the pale green spadix inside the spathe.