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.

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.

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.


Over the past year and a half, I’ve slowly been learning a little about botany. One of the most amazing things I’ve learned is that somewhere around one third of all plants in the wild are not native where I live here in Massachusetts. And along suburban streets, most of the plants I see are not only non-natives, they are cultivated by humans. The problem with non-native plants is that they do not fit into the existing ecosystem — they may not support native pollinators, or feed native birds, or provide food or shelter for mammals and other animals. The suburbs may look like a green landscape, but in many ways it’s a sterile green landscape.

So I was pleased to discover the “Grow Native Massachusetts” website, which provides resources for people who want to grow native plants. The tag line of the website sums it up: “Every landscape counts.” If you plant your tiny little 1/8 acre yard with native plants, you’ll be helping pollinators and birds. Heck, if you plant a container garden with native plants on the balcony of your apartment, you’ll be helping native pollinators.

Sign of spring

I went for a walk at the Norris Reservation in Norwell, Mass., today. Walking around Gordon’s Pond, I saw Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) beginning to sprout. Perhaps two dozen tightly curled green and purple spathes dotted the ground on either side of the boardwalk. One of the spathes had opened, revealing the spadix inside, with tiny little flowers blooming on it. This is the first native flower I’ve seen since the Witch Hazel bloomed in December.

A close-up of a Skink Cabbage inflorescence inside its purple-and-green spathe.


Today’s walk took me a little further than intended, and dusk was settling in before I started heading home. Though I was hurrying a little, I stopped to admire a large rock outcropping that rose about twenty feet above a small artificial pond. Although the face of the rock was only about ten degrees away from vertical, it was mostly covered with plants and lichens. The lichens ranged from crustose microlichens, to Rock Tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) the size of your hand growing in large colonies, the thallus of each lichen dangling from its umbilicus and showing bits of the dark lower surface. In addition to mosses growing in several large patches, there were a number of vascular plants, of which the most numerous were ferns, Rock Polypodys (Polypodium virginianum). But there were also two or three small trees that had rooted in the rock face, including a small Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) near the peak.

Rock outcropping with plant life clinging to it, reflected in a small artifical pond.

The different organisms growing on the rock created a patchwork of colors: greenish brown where the Rock Tripe grew, dark green for the Rock Polypody, and various shades of gree for the other kinds of lichen and the mosses. Here and there, the gray rock showed through the life growing on it.

It’s a trivial sight, something you see every day. I don’t know why it caught my eye today. I admired it for a minute or so, then hurried on my way.