On Nantucket

Going to Nantucket is like going two weeks back into the past. Spring comes a little later there, even in this year of early spring. Although just a touch more north of us here in NYC, the island is thirty miles off-shore and surrounded by an ocean holding onto its cold. The Japanese Flowering Cherries that were finished here about two weeks ago were in full bloom there. I never knew there to be so many of these trees on the island. Of course, when surrounded by such shameless show-offs, I retire to the simple beauty of the crab apples. A month and a half after my last visit to Squam Swamp, the oaks were still unbloomed:although the understory was popping. Starflower (Trientalis borealis).Give me a shout-out if you know what these are. UPDATE: Julia in comments tells me these are Quaker Ladies, a white variation of the Bluet (Houstonia caerulea), which tends to be blue off-island.A fern unfolds. While most if not all of ferns have this fiddlehead-shaped emergence, most are not edible “fiddleheads.”Being so thoroughly damp, and having relatively clean air (and lots of it! the island is wind-swept, and if you’ve ever had your bare legs sand-blasted on a windy beach…) the island is full of lichen (at least 89 species according to this report), on wooden fences, relatively new roofs (?), and, of course trees.

A dead bumblebee allows closer examination. The order Hymenoptera are named for their “membrane winged” bodies. Also, they have four wings, (flies, Diptera, have two) usually very hard to see even if the insect is still. But here you can see the smaller underwing half exposed and just trace its outline through the larger upperwing. Another dead example:

I looked out the window and noticed a male Northern Cardinal quite close by to the house on a low bush. That seemed a little odd so near the house. I glanced down and saw what the bird may have been worrying about:A Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). This one looked big. My brother told me he had seen a snake in the yard earlier, and two days later I hear one, possibly the same, slither into the brush. Check out Sarah Oktay’s article about the first ever hibernaculum of Garter and Milk snakes found on the island this spring. The author, one of the lucky snake-finders, is the managing director of the UMass Nantucket Field Station, and has written extensively about many other aspects of the island’s natural history.

4 Responses to “On Nantucket”


  1. 1 Elizabeth White May 9, 2012 at 9:37 am

    The flower looks a lot like bunchberry, but the leaves don’t. How big was it?

  2. 2 mthew May 9, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Flowers are 1/2″ wide. While these “petals” do sort of look like bracts — Bunchberry is in the Dogwood family — there was no sign (yet?) of actual tiny flowers in the middle of them.

  3. 3 Julia Blyth May 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    The little flowers are Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) in most of the world and “Quaker Ladies” on Nantucket. Perhaps they get this name a few other places. Usually they’re blue with yellow centers; here on Nantucket most are white with yellow centers.

    • 4 mthew May 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      Thanks, Julia! Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide does note the Quaker Lady name, as well as “Innocence.” Probably a genetically interesting variation on the island.

      If memory serves, you used to work for the MMA. I was on some bird walks with you, you and Bob K, and, most memorably, a osprey banding adventure. Cheers!


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