Category Archives: Wildflowers

Moths: Primrose Moth

Photo of Primrose Moth

Dawn (who blogs at Things with Wings) has planted a number of search images in my mind over the years, including several this summer of the Primrose Moth (Schinia florida). More than once she's reported finding these pink winged-ones on the (edible) flowers of Common Evening-primrose, where they often rest during the day. Last week, while on a walk in Falmouth, Maine, I scanned a few plants and noticed this moth attempting to go unseen. Thanks, Dawn, for widening my awareness, and perhaps, reader, this post will help to widen yours.

Photo of Primrose Moth

Orchids: Checkered Rattlesnake-plantain

Photo of Checkered Rattlesnake-plantain flowers

In late July, Jenny and I attended our first mushroom foray with the Maine Mycological Association. The event was held in a section of the Massabesic Experimental Forest in Alfred -- a large forest tract that we'd not visited before. After the foray, Jenny and I went off to explore another part of the forest where we ventured down a trail that offered views of a community of Atlantic White Cedars (Chamaecyparis thyoides).

Along the way, we noticed a type of Rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera sp.) starting to bloom. Initially, we suspected we'd found Downy Rattlesnake-plantain (G. pubescens), a plant we've seen in previous years, but a closer look made us think again. The leaves of pubescens have noticeably white mid-ribs and are darker green, and the flowers are more densely clustered. It turns out we'd located a new-to-us species called Checkered Rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera tesselata) who I later identified using Newcomb's Wildflower Guide and Go Botany's simple key to New England Orchids. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Poisonous Plants: Spotted Water-hemlock

Photo of Spotted Water-hemlock

I believe every plant has gifts to offer. Some plants are nourishing human foods or medicines, others provide habitat for spiders, pollen for pollinators, or forage for herbivores, while others provide gifts we may not yet recognize. I'd like to suggest that the notorious, native perennial Spotted Water-hemlock (Cicuta maculata) gifts foragers with the reminder to take proper identification seriously.

Spotted Water-hemlock is said to be New England's most toxic plant species. Lee Allen Peterson writes of C. maculata: "Warning: Our deadliest species. A single mouthful can kill."* A plant this toxic is surely worth getting to know, if only so we learn who not to forage. Spotted Water-hemlock has tiny, 5-petaled, white flowers in 2-4" wide double umbels, twice or thrice pinnately-compound leaves with coarsely toothed leaflets, and a multi-branched, smooth, purple stem.

The toxicity of this species and other members of the Carrot (Apiaceae) family requires foragers to exercise caution when collecting any of the edible members of this family. Care should also be taken not to confuse Spotted Water-hemlock with Black Elderberry, a shrub in an unrelated family (Adoxaceae). Though the two plants have many clear differences, their flowers from a distance may appear similar, and they may grow near each other in roadside ditches or on the edges of wetlands.

Powerfully toxic plants like this one are why I caution against "identifying" a plant based on a single field mark or an apparent photographic match, and instead stress the importance of learning to use a reliable field guide or trusted online resource to key out unfamiliar plants. Skipping this crucial step could result in more than just discomfort. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

*A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America (1977), p. 42.