Here are a few more of those out of the ordinary things that I stumble across in my travels.
Like the bones of a prehistoric reptile or the ruins of an ancient castle, beard lichens (Usnea) always remind me of the great age and great mysteries of this earth. This one has become an old friend and I visit it often. Most lichens refuse to grow where there is air pollution, so seeing them is always a good sign.
Ground dwelling lichens like this bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum) will become covered with leaves and harder to see before too long. This lichen gets its common name from the bubble gum pink fruiting bodies.
Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) grows on stones in full sun, so it will be visible all winter long. This is one of my favorite lichens and one of the most beautiful, in my opinion.
Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) are dropping their ripe nuts now and I saw a few places last week where the forest floor was littered with them. The chipmunks and squirrels have been busy though, so you find more empty husks than anything else.
If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open like the one in the photo, and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards. Since most of the kernels I opened were empty I have to assume that this isn’t a mast year.
The black, shiny wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) berries are ripening. This year has been amazing as far as the bounty of nuts, fruits, and berries I’ve seen. I think the birds and animals will have a good winter with plenty to eat.
Now is the time to turn over the leaves of the common polypody fern (Polypodium virginanum ) to see the naked spore capsules, which are called sori. Most ferns have a flap like structure called an indusium that protects their spores, so being able to see them exposed like this is unusual. They always remind me of tiny round baskets full of flowers. The Druids though this fern had special powers because of its habit of growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbal and botanical texts.
Common cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows in every state except Alaska and throughout most of Canada. The spiny parts of the plant in the photo hide its tiny female flowers parts. Male flowers can be seen in the upper part of the photo, just to the right of center. I find cocklebur growing on riverbanks but it can also grow in agricultural areas. Since it can be toxic to livestock it isn’t a favorite of farmers and ranchers. Historically it has been used medicinally by Native Americans and was once used to make yellow dye.
Young boys just need something to throw at each other (and rarely at young girls if they’re trying to get their attention) and it’s as if wild cucumber seed pods (Echinocystis lobata) were specifically designed for that purpose. The spines are scary looking but in reality are soft and aren’t really prickly until they are dried. This one reminded me of a small spiny watermelon.
It’s not hard to see where green foxtail grass (Setaria viridis) gets its common name. This grass is a native annual that grows in clumps. Each bristle, called an awn, comes from a single grass flower and through natural rain and frost action burrows into the ground with the seed once it falls from the seed head. These plants are very dangerous to dogs and other animals because the awns, driven by the animal’s normal muscle movements, can burrow into their skin and cause infection and even death if not treated. Dog owners would be wise to rid their yards of any kind of foxtail grass.
This colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb was quite large. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.
I watched the sun come up over a local pond recently and it was at the perfect angle for lighting up water lily stems. Since this isn’t something I often see I thought I’d show them here. These leaf stalks are flexible and coil somewhat to allow for fluctuations in water depth.
I visited a different section of the Ashuelot River one day and found that someone had been stacking rocks. Some Native American tribes believed that stacked rocks were a spiritual method of protecting sacred spaces. They were often built near powerful energy sources like springs or places with high numbers of lightning strikes. Piles and stacks had many different shapes and sizes and each meant something different.
This large red oak stood next to a trail I was following one day. It isn’t the biggest I’ve seen but it was big. I leaned my monopod against it to give an idea of its size. A small sign nearby said that its age is estimated to be 300 years, and that it probably was never cut because it grew on a stone wall. Stone walls are boundary markers here in New Hampshire and it is illegal to remove stones from them or alter them in any way unless they are on your land. I can picture the farmers on either side of the wall not cutting the tree because their neighbor might have claimed ownership. That’s the way we do things here-not wanting to bother our neighbor, instead of asking we wait and see, sometimes for 300 years.
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. ~Carl Sagan
Thanks for coming by.