Your Royal Iris

Since the first iris of this year bloomed on the anniversary of my mother’s birthday at the end of May, I’ve been honoring the elegant flowers in our gardens.

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The first bloomer was a German bearded variety, apropos for Mom since her mother was a German immigrant.

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Today I decided to take a closer look. I hope you’ll be as wowed as I was.

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This eye-catching bloom has been revered forever and shows up throughout history. The Goddess of the Rainbow was named Iris and it was the inspiration for the fleur-de-lys that once appeared on the French flag and still adorns Canada’s Providence of Quebec flag. Royalty have been known to use the pattern in their special attire. It’s no wonder.

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I’m thinking that it might also be called the trinity flower because its parts appear in multiples of three. Beginning from the bottom up, there are three bearded sepals that look like petals. Next are the three stemmed true petals that remind me of a queen’s ruffles.

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The three theme continues with petal-like stigmas that receive the pollen and send it down the stalk of the pistil known as the style to the ovary.

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And tucked under each stigma is a stamen with pollen-bearing anthers. You have to lift a stigma in order to see one.

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Since the stamen are hidden, how can a pollinator possibly find them? With ease if it follows the dramatic runway aglow with light.

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We’ve also been blessed with two beardless varieties including this white species that was wrapped with grace two days ago.

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Within an hour it began to unfurl.

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The three showy sepals were the first to open.

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This morning, raindrops further enhanced its delicate beauty.

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As I smiled at it, I’m sure it returned the favor.

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And then there’s the second beardless–the blue flag iris.

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Like its white kin, this species prefers moist areas–such is our yard.

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The runway veins reminded me of the tree of life spreading forth joy and hope.

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The three true petals stood upright on this particular flower, while the three stigmas covered the three pistils.

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Not only am I in awe of the hidden pistil, but the fringed edge of the stigma also amazes me.

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Before today, I never looked this closely at an iris.

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I wasn’t the only one, though he does seem to be a bit off course.

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Maybe he was letting the raindrops dry before following the runway.

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Thank you to the iris for providing today’s wonder and may you be known forevermore as “Your Royal Iris.”

 

The Main(e) Exotics

If you’ve traveled with me before, you know that I often frequent the same trails. And so it was today. Oh, there was a change-up in the early morning hours when I joined a couple of members of the Lakes Environmental staff to oversee a volunteer project by the Rotary Club. Rotary members from around the state and beyond (think Argentina) spent four hours clearing a new trail we’d laid out at LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center. They provided humor and hardwork hand-in-hand.

And then a friend and I drove to LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve where everything was in exotic mode.

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One of our first finds was an apple oak gall about the size of a golf ball. So, the apple oak gall female wasp (yes, there is such a species) crawled up the tree trunk of a Northern red oak in early spring and injected an egg into the center vein of a newly emerged leaf. As the larvae grew, it caused a chemical reaction and mutated the leaf to form a gall around it that provided sustenance.

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Recently, the wasp drilled its way out and probably found a mate.

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All that remained–wispy fibers.

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Along the first boardwalk in the red maple swamp we found Northern blue flag iris in bloom. Flag irises are wild irises that tend to grow in boggy areas. Unlike the irises that grow in our gardens, they don’t have beards. The venation of the gracefully downturned sepals was intense–the better to attract pollinators.

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We moved from the swamp to the first hemlock hummock and chatted about natural communities when suddenly we realize we were being hissed at.

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Its coloration threw us off and beautiful though it was, the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end. Apparently we made it feel likewise. And so we retreated. We retraced our steps and decided to complete the same loop in the opposite direction. When I got home, I looked it up and realized that it was a common garter, but really, there didn’t seem anything common about it in the moment.

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Because we backtracked, we were treated to fresh and older hemlock varnish shelf fungi that  we may not have seen otherwise.

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We know where they’re located. F0r big $$ we might (MIGHT) show you.

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Later on, as we left, we recognized a friend’s vehicle in the parking lot. Our question–did he see what we saw?

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Throughout the preserve we found one of our favorite plants that in my book is the most exotic of them all.

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The carnivorous pitcher plant obtains nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Its oddly shaped leaf forms a unique pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by its red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: An insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chance for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Oh my.

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The pitcher plant isn’t the only carnivorous plant that thrives here. Check out the glistening tentacles of the sundew intended to capture small insects like a mosquito. Should one land on the tiny leaf, its feet become ensnared in the sticky secretion and the end is eminent. YES! Within mere minutes the tentacles curl around the victim and suck the nutrients out of it. Go sundews. Go pitcher plants.

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Only beginning to bloom was sheep laurel with its deep crimson-pink flowers. Located below the newly emerged leaves, each flower has five sepals, with a corolla of five fused petals and ten stamens fused to the corolla. Beauty and danger are also encompassed here–it contains a chemical that is poisonous to wild animals, thus one of its common names is lamb kill.

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Because we were beside the pond, we thought to look for dragonfly exoskeletons and weren’t disappointed.

broad-tailed shadow dragonfly

And the dragonflies themselves were worth our attention. I’m not sure my ID is correct, so help me out if you know better, but I think this is a broad-tailed shadowdragon and if that’s true it is one that Maine is paying attention to because it only occurs in one or two states.

beaverpond clubtail dragonfly

Another that I name without certainty–beaverpond club tail.

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I’m much more confident about my ID of this ebony jewelwing damselfly.

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We found a double-decker Indian cucumber root that displayed flowers in varying stages. The yellow or green-yellow flowers drooped below the upper leaf whorl and as is their custom, were slightly hidden. Each flower had three long, brown styles in the center that curved outward and the stamens were magenta.

LEA boats

Among the unnatural offerings, a few boats to explore the river and pond. Though we noted a couple of paddles and one pfd, we highly recommend you bring your own.

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Some extra duck tape is also a good choice just in case. 😉

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Like the ever-changing reflection, life changes constantly at Holt Pond. The more I look, the more I realize how exotic life is in Maine. Who knew?

Not All Who Wander Are Lost :-)

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Today, I wandered along the boardwalks at  Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton with Adam Perron, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and Amy Kireta, a PhD student from UMaine. Amy plans to help Adam develop climate change curriculum for LEA. Exciting stuff.

We chatted as we walked, but frequently stopped to look and listen. Check out our finds.

blue flag iris

Blue Flag Iris is beardless (no hairs on its petals), unlike the irises that grow in my garden.

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The Sheep Laurel beginning to bloom. This is an interesting and beautiful plant, with its flowers blooming below the new leaves. I love how the leaves droop.

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Another new bloom–the ball-shaped flower of Spatterdock.

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Though our eyes were immediately drawn to the leaves of Fragrant Water Lilies with their pie-shaped notch, we could see a submerged blatterwort–one of the carnivorous plants of the preserve. They feature small blatters that act as vacuums and suck up tiny aquatic animals in order to take advantage of their nutrients.

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Speaking of carnivorous plants . . . the Pitcher Plants are flowering.

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The colors are enough to suck me in.

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While the Pitcher Plants make themselves known in any season, another carnivorous plant barely announces its presence on the quaking bog.

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The Round-leaf Sundew. Preferring the acidity of the spaghnum moss, the hairlike tentacles  on each leaf are tipped with glistening droplets that shout a welcome message to passing insects. Those droplets are actually quite sticky and when the tendrils of hair detect that a prey has stopped by, they curl inward and wrap around the insect–then digest its nutrients.

There aren’t many nutrients in a spaghnum bog, so these plants have figured out how to meet their own needs–another reason to be in awe.

It’s stuff like this that makes me think J.R.R. Tolkien could have found inspiration right here.

Though we didn’t stray off the beaten path today, that is one of my favorite things to do. But I’m glad we backtracked rather than taking Amy back to the parking area via a different route because . . . we encountered another hiker who stopped to ask us some questions. As she talked, some things she said made me wonder if she was someone who recently commented on one of my blog posts. A friend in Connecticut has said since high school that I can be blunt (that’s you, C.W.N.) and I probably was today when I blurted out this woman’s name. I’m so glad I did. I was right–it was her. And I hope we can make a connection to wander together some time because it sounds like we have walked in each other’s tracks more than once.

Not all who wander are lost

I knew your car when I saw this, E.

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Years ago, I paraphrased it. Wander and wonder. You never know what or who you might stumble upon.