Lady’s-Thumb: Gloucester Marine Railway

You never can tell what you’ll find in a parking lot.

I think I’ll just park my boat here for a minute while I run into the store…

Gloucester, Massachusetts. My beloved home town.

It’s a scenic spot on the rocky coast of Cape Ann, just north of Boston–lighthouses, fishing boats, etc. But I’ve always loved that it’s not a tourist trap, it’s a working fishing town, since 1623. Back in colonial days, the fish were so abundant the colonists just had to lean over the side of the boat and scoop them out of the water in baskets. Nowadays, there’s not so many fish, and not so many fishing boats.

But here at the Gloucester Marine Railway, there’s boats all over–tied up to the dock, cruising in the harbor, and balanced on land while they’re sanded, caulked, or painted.

This is a part of Gloucester I’ve never seen before, the railway yard. Not a locomotive sort of railway, but a railway for hauling ships in and out of the water on two parallel iron rails.

The marine railway lot is big and black-topped, with boats and trucks and heavy equipment. Noisy. Not very scenic, few tourists. Not much green around.

But I’ve found if I check the cracks where the pavement meets the buildings, there’s usually a line of green. Wind-blown seeds fly through the air till they hit a wall, tumble to the ground, and germinate if there’s any speck of soil or water. Sure enough, just behind the boat that’s doing its balancing act in the parking lot, there’s something green.

It’s a common non-native plant called Lady’s Thumb. In the middle of  each leaf there’s a dark red mark that looks remarkably like a fingerprint–a bloody one at that. Wonder why it’s specifically assumed to be a lady’s thumbprint…

The flowers are unremarkable–a cluster of dull pink bumps. Not very colorful, or aromatic, but surprisingly this is a rather good plant for butterflies. A few adult butterflies seek it out for nectar, but mostly it’s a host plant–one that caterpillars eat, and butterflies lay eggs on. Lady’s Thumb is a particularly good plant for two species of beautiful and absurdly named butterflies, the Purplish Copper, and the Gray Hairstreak. (You gotta love butterfly names, what with the Painted Ladies and the Question Marks.)

The Gloucester Marine Railway and Butterfly Garden.

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About unmowed

I'm a writer and a botanist who loves the weirdly weedy places of the world.
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