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Blue Vervain: species focus

Blue Vervain
Source: EOL

Blue Vervain
Verbena hastate

Description: Also known as simpler's joy and blue verbena, blue vervain is a native perennial plant found throughout New England and the United States. The entire plant grows 2 to 6 feet high, with multiple, small, blue-violet flowers emerging from spikes about five inches long. The tubular blossoms have five lobes that open 1/8 inch wide. The plant has a tall, square-edged stem with stalks that terminate into the spikes. The stalks may be green or reddish, and may be covered in fine white hairs. Narrow and rough serrated leaves, about 6 inches long and 1 inch across, grow in an opposite pattern up the stems, attached to the stalk by short petioles. The root system of the plant is fibrous. Blue vervain can be easily distinguished from other types of vervain because of its distinctive color.

Life History: Blue vervain is a perennial plant that grows each year from the root stock of the year before. It is also a biennial, so it does not begin to bloom until the second year of its life. The flowers bloom for about a month and a half from July to September. Four nutlets are produced from each flower. Blue vervain attracts a lot of wildlife: many different species of insects and bees, particularly bumblebees, collect nectar and pollen; cotton-tailed rabbits eat the young plants; and many birds, such as sparrows and cardinals, eat the seeds.

Habitat: Prefers moist habitats with full or partial sunlight. Because of this it is found in damp thickets, shores, roadsides, pastures, and other places near ponds and streams. This plant easily adapts to areas from degraded wetlands to high quality habitats.

Status: Very common plants in moist areas, some states even consider it a weed. Still, blue vervain is thought to be a medicinal cure-all in many cultures. The Latin name, verbena hastate, translates to "sacred plant."

Resources: ITIS Report 

Animals and Plants of the Northeast Region

"I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority."
~Elwyn Brooks White, Essays of E.B. White , 1977

The Northeast is home to many species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, and plants. They live in a diverse array of habitats with key ecosystems such as coastal islands, barrier beaches, coastal plains, freshwater and salt marshes, big rivers, Appalachian Mountains, and Atlantic northern forest. These areas of core habitat are vital to their continued survival, but their world is changing. Development in the Northeast, already one of the most developed regions in the country, is continuing and nature-human interactions are becoming more commonplace. Not only is the public becoming more aware of the joys of the outdoors, but some areas previously undisturbed are being negatively impacted by things happening far away.

Habitat Loss

Wilderness can be defined as "an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community." According to this definition, the wilderness of today is becoming a rare commodity, and many species are facing the loss of their habitat from external means as a consequence. Although some species may be more resilient than others, plants and animals need specific habitats in order to live and grow. Human development and disturbance have been restricting core habitat areas for hundreds of years. While this is not a new concept, it has been happening at an increasing rate in the past few decades due to climate change and its consequences.

Climate change is pushing some habitats from one region up into another. For example, increased temperatures in certain areas have resulted in species now being able to survive in places that they previously could not. This is leading to more non-native, and potentially invasive, species expanding their ranges and pushing out endemic species in some regions, particularly reptiles and amphibians. With the added pressures of climate change on delicate ecosystems we must become more aware of the results of our actions and the subsequent effects that we are having on the natural world.

Wildlife corridors

Many species, particularly animal species, need to travel long distances from one area to another in order to survive. If they cannot move freely from one region to another they may be cut off from vital food sources, potential mates, and other factors needed for species survival. Wildlife corridors help connect these areas and may increase the longevity of individuals and the species as a whole.

A number of species reside in protected areas such as parks, refuges, and reserves. While these protections are important, the connectivity between them is equally important and plays a crucial role in species persistence. Studies have shown that localized extinctions can be a result of the loss of connectivity between these protected areas. Residential development that results in habitat loss and fragmentation can negatively impact biodiversity and the effectiveness of nature reserves. Roadless areas experience higher levels of natural diversity and fewer outbreaks of invasive species. As development inevitably continues, core habitats will likely decrease in area and number, making it more difficult to conserve their natural states. The private holding of core habitats has been shown to improve the connectivity of habitat islands, reinforce the nation's reserve network, and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem integrity.

Despite the relatively low connectivity of some protected areas in this region, the federal holdings of the eastern United States consist of many unique and rare habitats found nowhere else in the country. But more could be done to preserve these ecosystems. Nearly 80% of temperate forests in the eastern United States remain unprotected. Loss of these ecosystems could result in further isolation of core habitat areas and localized species extinctions.


Some species have managed to incorporate themselves into heavily populated urban areas. For example, wild turkeys and coyotes have been observed in New York City's Central Park over the past couple of years. While people should take care to avoid direct contact, it is a testament to the resiliency and adaptive nature of these wild species that they are able to live so closely with human beings.

The Northeast has seen some remarkable achievements by partnering with multiple agencies to address issues from many directions. For example, the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture has helped to conserve more than 4.6 million acres of habitat used by migratory birds along the Atlantic Coast, nearly half of that in the Northeast Region. This wetland habitat is home to more than just seabirds, and many other plant and animal species also benefit from protecting these wild places.

Much is being done to help preserve the forests and wild places for future generations. For more information go to:
Northern Forest Futures Project

North American Waterfowl Management Plan

Atlantic Coast Joint Venture

Frogs at the NIN pond

Andres Gonzalez, NIN staff

A Northern Green Frog rests awhile at the edge of the pond on the Northeast Information Node's grounds.

Opossum: species focus

Source: EOL

Virginia Opossum
Didelphis virginiana

Description: The Virginia Opossum is a cat-sized, tree-climbing animal with a pale face, naked leaf-like ears, and pink, pointy nose. Their underfur is pale in color with a coarse, grizzled overcoat that makes the animal appear gray to brown to black. On the ground they move about with a slow, hobbling gait. The opossum is unlike any other animal in the United States: it has 50 teeth, a pouch in which it carries its young, a prehensile tail and opposable thumbs on its hind feet. Although they can be aggressive when threatened, when facing a larger opponent they often "play dead," entering into a state of catatonia in hopes they will be passed over. Their flexible tail is scaly and mostly hairless, and used for balance and gripping branches and objects making them agile climbers. They do not sleep hanging from their tails. The Virginia opossum has the distinction of being North America's only marsupial, sometimes considered a "pouched" mammal. This is an ancient species is more closely related to the koala and the kangaroo than it is to the rodents in the area. Opossums are mainly active during the night. During the day they sleep in opportunistic dens and nests of other animals or spaces under human structures. In New England, they may make more permanent nests during the winter to return to each day. Virginia opossum are opportunistic scavengers. Their diets include many kinds of bugs and insects, carrion, snails, mice and rats, and fallen fruit. They are useful in their environments as they will eat food other animals might not.

Life History: Infant opossums are born after a brief 11 to 13 day gestation period. Embryonic infants, about half an inch long, must then travel up the mother's body and into the pouch where they will latch onto a teat for the next two months. They venture outside the pouch at about 2 1/2 months and are weaned at approximately 3 months. When they become too big to fit inside the pouch they will cling to the hair on their mothers' back until they are about 4 1/2 to 5 months and big enough to fend for themselves. Opossums will begin breeding themselves a few months after this. Though most infants are born between February and June, breeding season lasts from December through October and a female opossum may have as many as three litters per year. Although as many as 20 young can be born per litter the average litter size is 8 or 9, mainly because on average there are only 13 teats in the mother's pouch and only the functional teats will support a growing infant. The average lifespan for opossums is one to two years due to the numerous predators they may encounter.

Habitat: They prefer wet, more swamp-like habitats and forest thickets, but will go wherever food is available. Opossums are constantly on the move, rarely staying in any one place for longer than three or four days especially during the summer.

Status: Although quite common in urban and suburban areas the opossum is no match for vehicular traffic. Its slow speed and poor daytime eyesight make it one of the most common types of roadkill found.

Resources: ITIS Report 

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