When I take pictures for this blog I don’t usually have a “theme” in mind or any pre conceived notion of what the post will contain. I just take pictures of things that interest me, and that I think might interest you. In this post something different happened and many of the things photographed ended up having something in common. I wonder if you can guess what that is before you get to the end.
Birds like cardinals, bluebirds and robins will eat the berries (drupes) of smooth sumac, but these berries seem to be an emergency food because they can usually still be seen in spring. Smooth sumac berries are covered in small, fine hairs that make them very tart. Cleaned seeds can be ground and used as a spice in place of lemon seasoning, and Native American people used the berries to make a drink similar to lemonade. The dried wood of sumacs will fluoresce under a black light, which is an odd but reliable way to identify them.
The way to tell if you’re tapping a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is to look at the buds, which are pointed and sharp looking. The two lateral buds on either side of the terminal bud are always directly across from each other. If you have a good memory you can check the tree in the fall-sugar maple is the only native maple to be dropping seeds in late summer and fall. Above freezing daytime temperatures along with below freezing nights gets tree sap flowing. In New Hampshire this usually happens in February, but I haven’t seen any sap buckets yet.
Sap from other maples can be used to make maple syrup but the sugar content isn’t as high, so it means more boiling. Sugar maple has the longest period of sap flow before its buds break, so its sap output is greater than in other trees. The red maple buds (Acer rubrum) pictured are clearly very different than those of the sugar maple in the previous photo. Sap from red, black, and silver maples might cloud the finished syrup, but it is still perfectly edible.
I was surprised to see that the leaves of this American wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) had turned red. The leaves of this evergreen plant often get a purplish color in cold weather but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them quite this red. This plant is also called teaberry and was once used to make teaberry gum. It was also used as a pain killer in the same way aspirin is by Native Americans. If you know the taste of American wintergreen you can easily identify the black birch (Betula nigra,) because its young twigs taste the same.
I found a rose hip that the birds and animals missed. Rose hips are the fruit of the rose plant. Fresh hips are loaded with vitamin C and make great jams and jellies, and once dried they can be used in tea. The hips should be cut in half and cleaned well before they are dried because they contain seeds and small hairs that shouldn’t be eaten.
The inside of a rose hip shows the tiny hairs that should never be eaten. Not only do these hairs cause digestive irritation and upset, but they cause also cause something that Native Americans called “itchy bottom disease.” The French call them “scratch butt. “ I’m sure you get the idea.
Itching powder is made from the hairs in rose hips and when I was a boy you could find ads for it in the backs of comic books, right next to the sea monkeys and genuine monster kits. The ads used to encourage you to “Amuse your friends!” They probably should have said “Lose your friends!” because nobody likes having itching powder dumped down their shirt.
Rose hips are in the same family (Rosaceae) as crabapples and have the same tangy-sweet flavor. To be classified as a crab apple the fruit has to be less than 2 inches in diameter. Anything greater than 2 inches is considered an apple. The fruit pictured is less than half an inch in diameter and is the only fruit on my tree that the birds didn’t eat. It has been hanging there like this all winter. Crabapples are a little too sour to eat raw but they make an excellent jelly. Four species of crabapple are native to North America and have been used by Native Americans for thousands of years.
I stopped at the post office one day and found this amazing ice on a mud puddle there. I don’t know what caused the strange patterns on the ice but I’ve read that the clarity of ice is determined by how much oxygen was in the water when it froze. Oxygen means bubbles and more bubbles mean more imperfections, which in turn mean whiter ice. In fact, the secret to perfectly clear ice cubes involves boiling the water before freezing it, because boiling removes the oxygen. Clarity of ice I can understand, but I don’t know what would have caused all of the little “cells” that are in this puddle ice. I’ve never seen anything like them. I boosted the contrast on this shot so you could see them better.
The swelling catkins on this birch tree shout spring, in spite of the snow and cold. Birch catkins release their pollen before the leaves appear so the leaves don’t interfere with pollen dispersal. Leaves limit the distance that the wind can carry the pollen, reducing the chances of successful fertilization between trees. We might be getting blasted by snow and cold, but this tree tells me that spring is coming.
Were you able to guess what the accidental ‘theme” of this post was? It’s the color red! I didn’t realize until I put it together how much red can be found in the winter landscape. From sumac berries to crab apples to teaberry leaves to the blackberry cane shown in the above photo-they’re all different shades of red. My color finding software that I use to cheat color blindness sees dark red, fire brick red, and even plum in this small section of cane. I see a nice fat bud that is another sure sign of spring!
Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand. ~Neil Armstrong
Thanks for coming by.