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Pheasant Hill Park protects endangered flowers

Unlike the lady slippers, these signs were both highly visible and numerous.

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Have you ever seen an endangered species of either plant or animal life in the wild?

Before you answer, know that despite what your older siblings or parents told you, the praying mantis is not endangered.

If you’re being honest, you probably haven’t. I haven’t, but it was never something I cared about until I went to Pheasant Hill Park.

I had been to the park before, looking to write a piece on Westwood’s playgrounds reopening after being shut down due to COVID-19. But when I went last time, the small park still had police tape on it and I never got to explore it. On Sunday afternoon, September 13, I went to see if it was in use, and if so, to see what I had missed.

What I found was an empty playground. That wasn’t shocking, considering the Patriots were pretty close to kicking off their season, but the one person who was there told me there were some trails in the woods, so I took the nearest one I could find.

While I didn’t see any lady slippers, I encountered the extremely rare and highly endangered North American chocolate lab.

Immediately, I encountered a sign nailed to a tree that read “A friendly reminder: please do not pick or destroy lady slippers. They are endangered and protected plant species. Enjoy your walk. Thank you.”

The lady slipper is obviously not a giant panda or black rhino, but most endangered species aren’t all that impressive. Maybe you’ve never seen a dusky gopher frog, but if you did, you definitely wouldn’t think it was all that different from every other frog. Still, I found it pretty amazing there was an endangered plant species living behind a tiny park in Westwood. I wanted to get a photo of one, and maybe raise awareness of the fact that they’re in the town.

For a path with no trail markers or signs, it was very well maintained.

But I never saw one.

Which would not have been a huge deal if I hadn’t seen so many of the “A friendly reminder” signs. At some point, it felt like I was being mocked by the sheer prevalence of the signs, continually being told not to pick the flowers I was having zero success in finding.

The path to another nearly ubiquitous sign.

The sign isn’t lying, though. There is a 1935 law in Massachusetts (116A) that makes it illegal to pick (among other flowers) lady slippers, although various internet sources say the fine you have to pay is extremely small. The same sources note that I probably missed the bloom by a couple of months, which explains my failure.

Still, I suppose it’s better to have the sign to remind people not to pick them in the off chance they stumble upon one of the flowers - even if can make hiking the trails frustrating to those who don’t.   

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