Fells Happenings – Summer 2024

Ghost Pipe. Photo by Avi Dolgin.

by Ashley McCoy

The blooms of spring are behind us and we have officially settled into summer. There is a lot going on in the Fells this time of year, from ghost pipe popping up on the trails to milk snakes laying their eggs. Read on for a glimpse of what’s happening out in the park this season.

Ghost pipe is just beginning to emerge on the edges of trails. Ghost pipe is different from most plants because it is almost entirely white. It has no chlorophyll and doesn’t perform photosynthesis. Instead, it takes nutrients from surrounding plants by tapping into the mycorrhizal network. The mycorrhizal network is the underground fungal network that trees use to share nutrients and communicate with each other. Because it doesn’t need sunlight to undergo photosynthesis, you’ll often find ghost pipe in the forest understory.

Jewelweed. Photo by Derek Ramsey.

Sweet pepperbush is another plant you’ll see while out on the trails. It will produce white flowers in July and August. Later in the season, the flowers will produce brown capsules, which stay on the plant over winter. You can still see the capsules from last year on many of the plants today. The plant got its common name because these brown capsules look like peppercorns.

Some jewelweed flowers are starting to appear, and we will continue to see more as the summer goes on. The plant has beautiful red and orange flowers and a light green, watery stem. Sap from the stem is said to relieve any itch caused by poison ivy oil, and it is often found growing close to poison ivy. Later on in the summer, jewelweed will produce a fruit capsule that bursts open when touched. Watching the capsules burst is entertaining and it helps spread the plant’s seeds. Jewelweed’s other common name is spotted touch-me-not.

Milk snake. Photo by Peter Paplanus.

Milk snakes are largely nocturnal during the summer months, but you may see them slithering on the trails from time to time. They are light brown with darker brown spots along their backs. During the months of June and July, milk snakes lay clutches of six to 24 eggs. After an incubation period of about a month and a half, the eggs hatch around August.

While out for a walk this summer make sure to slow down and enjoy and appreciate all the species, big and small, that call this area home. Don’t forget to send us photos of what you see in the Fells at friends@fells.org!