Earlier this fall the milkweed pods were still standing full in the meadows and fields. All seeds have to have a way to find new place to be planted. Some get eaten and digested and left behind in new areas by whichever animal or bird ate them, some hitchhike on fur or hair and some blow away on the wind like tiny parachutes, landing wherever the wind may take them.These milkweed seeds are about to begin their journey. Where will they go? When will they get there? For like most journeys, the journeys of the milkweed seeds might be short and sweet or long and laborious. Some will float away on a gentle breeze and get caught on a branch or in some bushes somewhere. A wilder wind might come along and lift them again and carry them out over the marsh where they might fall in the water. Some might wash ashore onto the sand where they will stick to the bottom of someone’s shoe and get carried to a spot of dirt just right for milkweed planting. There is such wonderful randomness in the faith of plants putting forth seeds. They are launched with no idea of where they end up and yet off they go into the breezes and seem to enjoy the ride.
Rosa rugosa is best known as our common beach rose. It is found along salt marsh edges, around the feet of dunes and on the side of many beaches. It isn’t native, though it is so pervasive it might seem to be. It originated in Asia and was brought here some time in the 1800′s. There are many stories and speculations as to how it got here. Some say seeds were floating in dirty bilge water that was drained here. Others say a romantic sea captain brought a plant back for his wife who loved roses. Frankly, I’m sticking with the latter…In any case, the fruits that grow after the flowers have died off are known as rose hips and the hips of the rosa rugosa are fat and juicy and full of vitamin C. Many people collect them and either make jelly with the ripe fruits or dry them to use in teas, etc. Many birds and animals also eat them. Sometimes confused with beach plums, rose hips are fat and red and beach plums are oblong and purplish.
If you are out walking in local woodlands you might be lucky enough to come across what looks like an area of tiny pine trees. Called Princess pine by most locals this little plant isn’t really a pine at all but a club moss. It is found in clumps, sometimes very large clumps, because it grows by spreading rhyzomes, rootlike structures, under the ground.Lycopodium obscurum is the scientific name of this little plant that goes back in time to when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Like many things of that time it was much larger then. Today it is not as common on the Cape as it once was and even though it looks like it might be fun to grow in your own yard it does not like to be moved or transplanted.This plant is showing the cones that are put out each fall. They look like little yellow candles. The best place to find Princess pine is around a good fresh water source like a pond or a lake. These were photographed in East Sandwich but many conservation areas in Barnstable, Bourne, Falmouth and other towns are also good places to find this lovely plant. Like the pines it is named for it is ever green and can be found throughout the year.
A familiar sight in our autumn marshes is this tall lone bird standing silently….Even most of the kids here on the Cape recognize these iconic birds as great blue herons. In the early fall we have so many of these birds feeding in area marshes that you can often see a dozen or so at the same time. By now, though, most have moved on, flying south where the weather is warmer and the fishing more sure….Every year some herons stay behind, however. Often one will seem to claim a marsh area as their own. Some will make it through the cold winter and some won’t. A lot depends on the severity of the storms and the amount and longevity of ice that blocks their feeding. They also fall prey to predators such as coyotes and hawks. They might seem like a big target for a smallish hawk and they are probably somewhat rare but such attacks have been witnessed here.
One of my favorite spots to look out over the Cape landscape is at Pilgrim Heights in Truro. Part of the National Seashore it has spectacular views of the Pamet River, the dunes and the ocean beyond. It is also a great place to see kinglets and hawks. The hawks have mostly passed by but the bushes are full of ruby crowned kinglets right now. Their ruby crowns are almost invisible at this time of year but if they were showing they would go well with all the winterberry that is giving such a lovely burst of color to the late autumn landscape.
Winterberry is a deciduous holly, meaning it loses its leaves. The bright red berries are not just beautiful to look at but are a favorite food of many migrating and wintering birds. In some areas these lovely berries will be wiped out by birds long before the first snow flies.
One of my favorite places to walk at this time of year on the Cape is the beech forest in East Sandwich. It is part of the Sandwich conservation land that abuts the Green Briar Nature Center and is an easy and lovely walk at any time of year. While the beeches and hickories change from yellow to gold may be one of the highlights of the year here in my humble opinion.
I made big puppets for my Animals of Halloween presentations and you can see two of them in these pictures. The top one is my anatomically correct spider. Using puppets helps little kids past the fear factor but also allows me to use something large enough to point out certain aspects of the animal. I also use pictures and in my classroom activities have lots of hands on elements.Here I am with the owl I made. You’ll have to excuse my goofy faces…..This presentation was at the Woods Hole Library and after it was over I let the kids come up and play with the puppets.