The pointy-leaved tick trefoil

  • Far less attractive than the flower, the leaf of the pointed-leaved tick trefoil is instrumental in the plant's identification. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BILL DANIELSON

  • Small and delicate, the flowers of the pointed-leaved tick trefoil are gorgeous. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BILL DANIELSON

Published: 8/3/2020 10:56:47 AM

I’ll be the first to admit that I can get a little lazy from time to time. Especially when it comes to photography, there are fun activities and then there are chores. The fun part is taking the photos. Not quite as fun is sorting through the photos and deciding which ones to keep. Completely devoid of fun is the chore of logging all of the keepers into a database so I can find them again. This tedious activity is extremely important after accumulating photographs for 22 years.

I tend to let things pile up during the summer, which leaves me with an atrocious backlog that has to be dealt with on days when I can’t go out and take more photos. And then there is my annoying habit of avoiding certain collections because they are too much work. A form of cherry-picking, this process distills my photos into a collection of increasingly complicated images that require lots of time with field guides to come up with proper identifications of the species. This is a story born of one such collection.

On Aug. 20, 2019, I visited Slabsides; the woodland retreat of my favorite naturalist, John Burroughs. In a perfect world I would make this journey multiple times a year, but in reality it is a place that I only visit once in a great while. So, when I do find myself walking the trails through these dry woods of West Park, N.Y., I take photos of everything. Nothing at Slabsides is uninteresting and nothing is ignored. As a result, I accumulate a huge collection (1,000 photos or more) on any day that I visit.

It was early in my visit and I hadn’t even reached the actual building when I happened to notice a flower that was completely new to me. On a long stem as slender as coat hanger wire there were delicate, irregular flowers of the most beautiful shade of powder pink. I stopped in my tracks, set up my tripod, put the macro lens on my camera and went to work. I took at least two dozen photos of the flowers and then, thank Darwin, I took a photo of one of the leaves. This was key.

Later that day, back home in my office, I sorted through the photos and discarded the junk. Then, due to my tremendous laziness, the photos were ignored … until last week. The heat and humidity had me seeking shelter inside and I decided to finally deal with some of my photo backlog. I opened up the folder with the Slabsides photos, started the process of identifying the plants, mosses and mushrooms I had found (which took over 90 minutes) and had the joy of rediscovering this new mystery plant.

I broke out my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, started combing through the illustrations that matched the plant’s description, and eventually found a match: the pointed-leaved tick trefoil (Desmodium glutinosum). A member of the pea family, this plant grows in dry woods in the summer and is a common native plant throughout Massachusetts. There is no doubt where the common name for this species comes from and I was only able to accurately identify the species because of this one photo of the leaf. It turns out that there are many tick trefoils out there and the leaves are more dissimilar than the flowers.

These are stressful times, but they don’t have to be completely unhappy times. Nature is the perfect retreat for anyone looking to escape our self-imposed confinement. Visit a natural area with trails, stretch your legs and breathe in the air without the need for a mask. Most importantly, however, is the idea that you should keep your eyes open and give yourself permission to linger if you find something interesting. There is always a chance you will discover something new and add yet another plant or animal into your own personal catalog of Nature.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 23 years and he has been neglecting his deskwork for 22 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Massachusetts State Parks and currently teaches high school biology and physics. Visit for more information, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.

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