Several luminous things

fallen oak flowers

As above, so below. The day that ended with less than one degree of apparent distance between the two brightest objects in the night sky began for me with the finding of several luminous things. It was a cool and cloudless morning, and in the woods, the spent flowers of the oaks rained down every time the wind blew, making an almost imperceptible patter.

rock oak leaves 1

Newly opened leaves already supplied food and shelter to a variety of insects. The first rays of sun caught one small caterpillar, the larva of a dull brown duskywing, still out gobbling on a bright green oak leaf. Perhaps it was concerned that its own green was still too dark to offer an effective camouflage. Its bedroll waited a couple of leaves away.

pink ladyslipper

A rose-breasted grosbeak let loose with its usual string of brilliant notes from a black birch tree at the edge of the woods. “Rose” doesn’t begin to describe the patch of color on its breast: an almost unnatural hue, like a punk chick’s hairdo. I tried and failed to get a good photo, but after it flew, I discovered a new lady’s-slipper orchid almost directly underneath its perch.

fly on Jack

Most of the trees are fully leafed out now, but a few canopy gaps always remain. Small patches of sun moved slowly across the forest floor, growing or shrinking as they moved. And since it was a cool morning, the flies moved with them. For half a minute, the roof of Jack’s pulpit sported a bug-eyed gargoyle.

deerfly on wild yam

I watched a small blowfly apparently pollinating a Solomon’s-seal, crawling up into one of the bell-shaped blossoms, then backing out and flying away before I could take its picture. Again, though, I was quickly compensated, this time with a perfectly motionless deerfly on a wild yam leaf.

cinnamon fern fiddleheads

A clump of cinnamon fern fiddleheads huddled in the middle of a crowd of mayapples. They were facing inward not out of antipathy toward their toxic neighbors, but in anticipation of the imminent rise of their leader, the brown, fertile frond whose resemblance to a cinnamon stick gives this fern its common name.

mayapple blossom

Hidden under their parasols, the mayapple blossoms remained thoroughly mysterious. They depend on insect pollination to produce fertile seeds, yet they offer no nectar in compensation. How do they do it? The eventual fruits, ripening in mid-June, are the only part of the plant that isn’t poisonous. In fact, they’re said to be very good. I’ve never had one, because the animals always get them first, but maybe this year I’ll be lucky. Would I deprive a chipmunk of its treat? I would.

10 Comments


  1. Wow, Dave, what a wonderful set of photos. That second one is one of your best, I think, especially if you’ve got a nature-as-abstract-expressionist category! And that glowing lady’s slipper…! I wish I’d been along on that walk.

    Try to get a mayapple before the chipmunks do. I’ve eaten them – they taste and smell pretty peculiar – but it’s worth searching just to have their unique scent and taste to remember.

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  2. Lovely photos Dave. My walk today produced only garlic mustard and more dame’s rocket (thanks for the id).

    I did find a Star of Bethlehem, which is one of my favorites, as common as it is.

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  3. Luminous images indeed, Dave, especially the nibbled oak leaf and the may apple blossom. Thanks.

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  4. The cabal of fiddleheads are awaiting their leader, who sounds like a spicy yet orthodox type–someone I would like to follow as well.

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  5. marja-leena – Thanks! I wouldn’t expect you to know them; I’m don’t think any of them grow in western Canada.

    beth – Thanks for the food review of mayapples. As for pink lady’s-slippers, come visit any time in the next week or two and I can show you plenty of them.

    The cool thing about that leaf photo is that it didn’t even need to be cropped. And the bluish tinge is what “auto levels” assigned. Sometimes less is more…

    Laura – I like star of bethelem too. It grows in one spot on our “lawn,” a patch that has neither grown nor shrunk in 36 years.

    Tall Girl – Glad you liked them. Thanks for stopping by.

    Brett – But they will of course not be waiting with bowed heads. They’ll be bending over backwards to stand tall – or something like that.

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  6. That leaf.

    Marvelous colors and shapes… The others are quite good, but that one is beyond. Although I really like the first one, despite being allured by the flowers.

    You definitely have an eye of love!

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  7. Wonderful photos. We have May apples in the back yard and my son calls them a forest. The birds seem to like landing on and under them.

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  8. Hi and welcome! Your son’s right. At least, I remember how strongly May apple “forests” appealed to me as a kid.

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