Southern Ground-cedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum) is another spore-bearing evergreen clubmoss who grows on forest floors. The plants are only a few inches tall and are connected by horizontal above-ground stems to form groups, though the plants are not always found in neat rows like in the above photo.
The shiny, flattened branches are arranged in fan-like sprays. The spore-bearing reproductive parts -- called strobili -- grow on thin, branched stalks that extend well above the leaves.
Like true ferns, fern allies are vascular plants who produce spores rather than flowers and seeds. One of the more common types in New England is Flat-branched Tree-clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium obscurum), referred to by many as Princess-pine or Ground-pine. This plant grows rather slowly, so while you might be tempted to gather a bunch to use as handsome holiday decorations, I recommend allowing them to retain their evergreen, ankle-high niche on the forest floor. There you can enjoy them year-round.
Name the mammal pictured. (Photo taken 4/09 in Biddeford, Maine)
A. None of the following
B. Common Gray Fox
D. Red Fox
When you are ready, scroll down for the answer…
A is... incorrect. One of the following options is correct.
B is... incorrect. Common Gray Foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) typically have tails topped and tipped with black, along with orange ears.
C is... incorrect. Coyotes (Canis latrans) typically have tails tipped with black, not white.
D is... Correct! This Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) adult has a distinctive white-tipped tail (unique among all foxes), black legs and ears, and an overall reddish body.
From a distance, today's plant has a definite resemblance to that of Smooth Sumac, who I profiled back in August, when I lived in Massachusetts. Here in Maine, I more frequently encounter the fuzzy stemmed Staghorn Sumac (Rhus hirta). As I've described previously, the red fruit clusters of either species can be used to make a pleasant drink.
What I didn't share before is that both shrubs (or small trees) have known medicinal uses (including using branchlets as mouth-cleaning chew sticks), and both have wood that can be used to make friction fire sets. For more on these uses and others, check out Ancestral Plants by Arthur Haines (2010).
Atlantic Kombu (Laminaria digitata) is one of the species of seaweed who I routinely add to the pot when I make soup stock. I value the wide array of minerals and vitamins and the brininess that this ocean-growing entity lends to my meals. And I love her shape. The strong stalk of this algae connects to a central region from which numerous streamer-like straps radiate. These projections set Atlantic Kombu apart from other edible Kelps (Laminaria spp.) growing offshore of New England.
Note: Ironbound Island Seaweed sells kombu harvested off the coast of Maine. Read a kombu harvesting story on their website.