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1. Trail Start

Last Saturday I decided to see if the hobblebushes were in bloom, so I followed one of my favorite rail trails out into the forest to see them. It’s a six mile round trip along the Ashuelot River and there’s usually plenty to see, so I’ve been looking forward to it.

2. Coltsfoot

Before I had walked half a mile I saw coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) growing in a ditch by the side of the trail and I was surprised that they were still blooming now, on this last day of April. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot leaves appear just as the flowers finish their brief display and there were plenty of leaves to be seen, so this is probably the last photo of a coltsfoot blossom to appear on this blog until next spring. It’s hard to say that; it seems like spring has barely gotten started.

4. Dandelion

We won’t have to go without yellow flowers though, even when the coltsfoot flowers fade. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) as we have this year. We should really grow (and eat) even more dandelions; I was just reading a paper by the University of Maryland Medical Center that said dandelions are “chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc.” When I was a boy I ate the young spring leaves cooked just as spinach would have been. Like lettuce the leaves turn bitter with age, so you want to pick them young.  I’ve also roasted and ground the roots to use as a coffee substitute, and it wasn’t bad.

5. Trestle

Before long the rail trail crosses the Ashuelot River in Winchester. The old steel trestles still seem as strong as when they were built and are used by hikers, snowmobilers and bike riders. Other than snowmobiles in winter no motorized vehicles are allowed on rail trails, so it’s always a very peaceful hike.

6. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot was calm here on this day, but it isn’t always so. Lack of runoff from snow melt has kept it at summer levels and it will be interesting to see how it looks in August, which is usually when it reaches its lowest levels in this area. In some places you can walk across it and barely get your ankles wet in high summer, but it would be wise know the place well before you try it.

7. Maple Leaves

Spring was busting out all over along the trail.

8. Depot

Ashuelot is a town named after the river, (I think) and this is their old railroad depot. There was once an upper Ashuelot (Keene) and lower Ashuelot (Swanzey) and Ashuelot streets and roads are still found today. The word Ashuelot is pronounced ash-wee-lot by out of towners or ash-wil-ot by locals. The pronunciation is most likely a corruption of the original Native American word, which meant “place between” in the Native Pennacook or Natick languages. Between what remains a mystery. Hills maybe; we have plenty of those and the river does run between them before finally joining the Connecticut River.

9. Ashuelot Covered Bridge

The town of Ashuelot also has a beautiful covered bridge built in 1864, which is a strange time because the Civil War was still raging. I’ve read that it was originally built so wood could be carried across the river to wood burning locomotives, but I have no way to verify that. Anyhow, in spite of the fighting it was built in two spans and is 160 feet long. It’s a Town lattice truss style bridge, patented by architect Ithiel Town in 1820. The open lattice work sides were a big step away from the solid walled bridges that came before it. Now, instead of being dark like a cave covered bridges were filled with light and had better air circulation. They also often had covered walkways for pedestrian traffic, as can be seen on this bridge. I’ve crossed both styles and the difference is amazing. The change must have been a very welcome one to people of the 1800s.  At one time there were about 400 covered bridges in New Hampshire, and 70 of them were left at the end of the 20th century. The Ashuelot Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

10. Violets

Violets blossomed in great profusion along the trail and made me wonder about all the beautiful things the railroad workers must have seen along these rail beds when the trains ran through here.

11. Violets

I didn’t bother trying to identify which violets they were. I just enjoyed them.

12. Garlic Mustard

I didn’t have to try to identify the invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) that grew in several places; I know it well.  Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It’s really too bad that more restaurants don’t use this potherb, because people foraging for it might be a good way to control it.

13. Canada Mayflower

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe the Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive, but it does form monocultures much like garlic mustard and I’ve seen large swaths of forest floor with nothing but Canada mayflowers, as the above photo shows.  Woe befalls the gardener who finds it in their garden, because its fibrous root system is almost impossible to eradicate once it has become established. If you try to pull the plant the leaf stem just beaks away from the root system and it lives on. The speckled red berries are eaten by ruffed grouse, white footed mice, and chipmunks, all of which help spread it throughout the forest.

14. Trail

I stopped here and took this photo because this is where a hawk circled over me, just above the treetops as I walked along. It didn’t make a sound but its shadow crossing in front of me gave it away and I didn’t even have to look up to know that it was escorting me down the trail. But of course I did look up and knew it was a hawk by the beautiful stripes on the underside of its tail feathers.  Unfortunately many hawks seem to have like stripes, so I don’t know its name. I’ve had vultures circle me but never a hawk; for it to do so for a few minutes seemed like odd behavior and I wondered if I had stumbled into its nesting site.

While trying to find the identity of the hawk I read that some Native American tribes believed that a hawk showed itself to a person when the person needed to pay attention to the subtle messages found in the natural world around them. The hawk was also a messenger and was said to bring gifts that included clear sightedness, courage, wisdom, and illumination, the ability to see the bigger picture, creativity, truth, magic, and focus.

15. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot gets very rocky in this area, mostly because of the low water level, and picking your way through in a canoe or kayak seems like it would be very tiring. If the rafts I built as a boy had done their job I would have had to face getting through it.

16. Pine Tree in River

There are other obstacles to river travel as well. That’s a full grown white pine (Pinus strobus) that was stuck on the rocks. White pines are the largest trees in eastern North America, and often grow to 150 feet tall. In Colonial times they were said to grow to over 200 feet but later verifiable accounts measured them ae about 180 feet. It’s a tall tree in any event and seeing one lying in the river like that reminds you just how big this river can be.

17. Bliss

There are places of bliss and torment in this world and we can usually tell which is which by the way we feel attracted to or repelled by them. This spot always calls to me when I hike here but when I took this photo I was about 30-40 feet above the river, and there is no good way down to it. It reminds me of an island in the river that I used to visit when I was a boy, and if I was 12 years old again I’d be spending a lot of my time down there in that little piece of Eden because if I couldn’t have found a path I’d have made one. Sometimes you have to put up with a little torment before you reach your place of bliss.

18. Hobblebushes

If you’ve ever lost yourself inside a painting, a poem, or a piece of music then you know why I’ll happily walk 6 miles to see a hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in bloom. To see an entire riverbank full of them is beauty rare enough to see me walk twice as far. There really isn’t anything else quite like it in these spring woods, so you have to just stop and look.

19. Hobblebush

I had to get a fallen tree off this example before I could take a photo because it had squashed most of the blossoming branches down to ground level, and as a thank you for freeing it the bush didn’t trip me up. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker. The name is a good one; I’ve found myself sprawled on the forest floor beside it a few times. I was a little early in visiting them this time so some of the small fertile central flowers hadn’t fully opened, but the large outer sterile ones more than made up for it. If it wasn’t for the rail trail through here no one would ever see these beautiful shrubs or the wild azaleas and mountain laurels that will follow, and that would really be too bad.

Note: A viburnum with similar flowers called cranberry bush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) can be found at nurseries.

20. Bent Railroad Tie

Someone made a bench out of an old railroad tie. Normally there wouldn’t be anything noteworthy about that but this one is bent, and that’s very strange. It must be natural, maybe because of the weather; I don’t think mankind could find a way to bend one of these in that way unless steam was used. Surely it wasn’t done out here in the middle of the woods with only hand tools.

21. Box Culvert

Man can do some remarkable things out in the woods with only hand tools though, and I wonder how many of these box culverts were built along these Boston and Maine Railroad tracks back in the mid-1800s. There must be thousands of them. This one caught my interest because every other one I’ve seen was put up dry with no mortar, but this one had all its joints mortared. I’m guessing it was a repair that came later. You can see how the bottom left corner of the opening is kicked in towards the center a bit and instead of repairing it correctly someone must have tried to cement it back together. How the damage could have happened in the first place I don’t know, but since I usually have a pocket full of mysteries when I leave places like this, adding one more was no real burden.

22. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots asked that I remember all I had seen here today. I’m fairly certain that it’ll stay with me for quite a while.

Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams. ~Ashley Smith

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

1. Magnolia

The cold snap of two weeks ago has given way to relatively warm sunny weather and the magnolias have bloomed. The one in the above photo lives in a local park and is one of my favorites.

2. Magnolia

You can see just a little browning on the tips of this magnolia blossom’s petals due to the cold. It got well below freezing for two nights so we’re lucky to have any blossoms at all.

3. Shadbush

Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) gets its name from the shad fish. Shad live in the ocean but much like salmon return to freshwater rivers to spawn. Shad was a very important food source for Native Americans and for centuries they knew that the shad were running when the shadbush bloomed. In late June they harvested the very nutritious shad fruit, which was a favorite ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of dried meat, dried fruit, and animal fat.

4. Shadbush Flowers

Shadbush is our earliest native white flowered tall shrub, blooming along the edges of woods just before or sometimes with the cherries. Another name for it is serviceberry, which is said to refer to church services. One story says that its blooming coincided with the return of circuit preachers to settlements after winter’s end and the resumption of church services. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens.

5. Ginger Leaf

Exactly a week before this photo was taken wild ginger (Asarum canadense) was showing nothing but stems (Rhizomes) running along the soil surface under a collection of last year’s leaves. Scientists thought for years that wild ginger flowers were pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but several studies have shown that they are self-pollinated.

6. Ginger Blossom

A wild ginger flower has no petals; it is made up of 3 triangular shaped calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. You might think, because of its meat-like color, that flies would happily visit this flower and they do occasionally, but they have little to nothing to do with the plant’s pollination. It is thought they crawl into the flower simply to get warm. In this photo you can see that the flower was just starting to shed pollen.

The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage. Native Americans also used the plant medicinally for a large variety of ailments.

7. Hobblebush Flower Head

The hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is one of our most beautiful native viburnums .It hasn’t quite blossomed fully yet but I decided to show this photo because it shows the inner cluster of fertile flower buds which are still green, and the just opened outer sterile blossoms which are a yellowish green. Soon both fertile and infertile flowers will be pure white and will grow into flower heads as big as your hand. They grow at the edges of woods and large groups all blooming at once can be staggeringly beautiful. Native Americans ate its berries and used it medicinally.

8. Wild Strawberry

I have a small sunny embankment in my year that becomes covered with wild strawberry blossoms (Fragaria virginiana) each year at this time. The soil there is very sandy and dry so I’m always surprised to see such large amounts of blossoms. The fruits are very tasty but also very small so it takes quite a bit of picking for even a handful. My daughter and son used to love them when they were small.

9. Viola

I saw these pretty viola flowers while on a walk one day. I don’t know if they were pansies or large violets but since I loved their color and cheeriness I stopped to get a photo.

10. Grape Hyacinths

And I love this color too; nothing does blue better than grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum.)  In the wild grape hyacinth is naturally found in woods or meadows. They prefer well drained sandy soil that is acid to neutral and light on compost and/or manure.

11. Female Box Elder Flowers

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

12. Male Box Elder Flowers

The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from filaments. Each male flower has tan pollen-bearing stamens that are so small I can’t see them. The pollen is carried by the wind to female trees. Once they shed their pollen the male flowers dry up and drop from the tree. It’s common to see the ground covered with them under male trees.

13. Norway Maple Flowers

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) appear well after those of red maples. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. A few years ago I knew of only one tree but once I got to know it I started seeing them everywhere. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance.

14. Trout Lily

The last time I showed trout lilies I forgot to show the backs of the petals and sepals, which are my favorite parts. These flowers remind me of small versions of Canada lilies because except for their leaves, that’s just what they look like. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked their small bulbs or dried them for winter food.  Black bears also love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

15. Trout Lily Bud

I’m lucky to know of two places where trout lilies grow. In one spot they bloom later than the other by sometimes two weeks, so I can extend my enjoyment of them.

16. Spring Beauties

I couldn’t let early spring go by without paying another visit to the spring beauties I know of (Claytonia virginica). They’re in full bloom now and carpet the forest floor. Their scientific name is from the Colonial Virginia botanist John Clayton (1694–1773). They were used medicinally by the Iroquois tribe of Native Americans and other tribes used them as food.

17. Spring Beauties

Spring beauties are indeed very beautiful but with us for just a short time. If anything can stop me in my tracks it is this flower.

18. Trillium 3

One of our largest and most beautiful native wildflowers has just started blooming. Purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) are also called red trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent. “Benjamin,” according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word benjoin, which was an ingredient in perfume that came from a plant in Sumatra. They’re very beautiful and will be at their peak of bloom soon.  As they age each petal will turn a deeper purple.

There’s not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. ~John Calvin

Thanks for stopping in.

1. Striped Maple

Some of the most beautiful things that happen in a northeastern forest are happening right now, and I hope everyone living in the area will have a chance to witness them. Bud break, when a plant’s bud scales open to reveal the new leaves within, can be a very beautiful thing, as we see here in the velvety pink buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum.) The larger center bud’s scales have just opened and leaves will appear shortly. Bud break can go on for quite some time among various species; striped and sugar maples follow cherry, and birch and beech will follow them, and shagbark hickory will follow birch and beech. Oaks are usually one of the last to show leaves. That’s just a small sampling that doesn’t include shrubs like lilac and forest floor plants that also have buds breaking.

2. Horsetail

Even the lowly horsetails are breaking bud beautifully. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores.

3. Horsetail Closeup

The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by an infertile stem. Nature can seem very complicated at times but it always comes down to one simple thing: continuation of the species.

4. Horsetail Infertle Stem

More people are probably familiar with the infertile stems of horsetail, shown here. They grow from the same roots as the fertile spore bearing shoots in the previous two photos and they do all the photosynthesizing.  Horsetails spread quickly and can be very aggressive. If they ever appear in your garden you should remove them as soon as possible, because large colonies are nearly impossible to eradicate.

5. Bittersweet on Elm

Invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is an expert at continuation of its species; not only does it produce berries that birds love; it also strangles the tree it uses to reach the most abundant sunshine. That can be seen here as this bittersweet vine slowly strangles an American elm. The vine is like a steel cable that wraps around the tree’s trunk and since the tree can’t break it, it often slowly strangles.

6. Cattail Shoot

Cattails (Typha latifolia) have just started coming up. Cattails at the edge of pond can grow faster than fertilized corn in a field and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are also very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.  Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods.

7. Male Mallard

A mallard swam serenely in the pond near the cattail shoots, so intent on something he saw on the far side that he didn’t even hear me walking on the trail.

8. Male Mallard

Or so I thought anyway. He knew I was there but my presence didn’t seem to bother him and he just swam along beside me as I walked the trail. I think he was as curious of me as I was of him.

9. Unknown Shoots

If you looked at the root of the aquatic arrowhead plant (Sagittaria latifolia) you’d see a whitish, chestnut size tuber with a shoot coming out of its top center. The shore of a local pond was littered with many shoots and since I know arrowheads grow here I’m guessing that’s what they were from. Though arrowhead plants are also called duck potatoes mallards eat only the seeds but muskrats, painted turtles and snapping turtles all eat the tubers. I’ve never seen a muskrat in this pond but I’ve seen many of both kinds of turtles here, so they may be the culprits.

10. Turtle

All of the sudden I’m seeing turtles everywhere, as if someone flipped a switch. This painted turtle let me get one photo and then it was gone. Fossils show that painted turtle have been here for about 15 million years. They can be found from Canada to Mexico and Maine to California and can live for over 50 years. Native Americans listened for the turtle’s splash into the water and used it as an alarm and one native legend says that Painted Turtle put his paint on to entice a chief’s daughter into the water. I don’t know about that but they have certainly enticed many a child into the water, and I was one of them.

11. Bullfrog

I doubt that painted turtles bother bullfrogs but I’d bet that snapping turtles do, and there are some big ones in this pond. I wondered if that was why this male bullfrog was sitting in the trail instead of in the water. He didn’t flinch when I walked to within a foot from him, and he let me take as many photos as I wanted. Bullfrogs are big; the biggest frog in North America, and the males do sound a bit like a bull. I’ve seen bullfrogs in the Ashuelot river that were so big they wouldn’t have fit in the palms of both hands held together.

12. Bullfrog

He let me walk around him to take photos of his other side without moving. Since it was just the two of us it’s doubtful that he though I couldn’t see him. Male bullfrogs have very large tympanic membranes that cover their ears. They sit slightly below and behind their eyes and are always bigger than the eye. Females have tympanic membranes that are the same size as their eyes, even though female bullfrogs can be much bigger than males. In some Native American tribes frogs were considered medicine animals that had healing powers and brought rain. Some, like the Chippewa tribes, had frogs as their clan animal. Clan members take their clan animal as their emblem, but they don’t believe that their clan is descended from that animal.

13. Robin

This robin looked like it had been eating very well. I’ve never seen as many as we have lately; large flocks of them. In the past I’ve felt lucky to have seen a single bird in spring.

14. White Baneberry

I love the movement in the young spring shoots of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) and I look for it every spring. This example had what looked like a prehistoric hand holding its flower buds while the newly opened leaves gazed down from above, enraptured. I fell under its spell for a while myself; it was such a beautiful and interesting little thing. This entire plant is poisonous and its berries especially so. They are white with a single black dot that gives them the common name doll’s eyes. In summer the berries follow a raceme of white flowers that is taller than it is wide, and which will grow from the tiny buds seen in this photo.

15. Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be very beautiful as it spreads its new leaves to catch the sun. Unfortunately it’s also very invasive and almost impossible to control. I’ve seen Japanese knotweed shoots killed to the ground by cold in the past, and within 3 weeks they had come right back and grew on as if it had never happened. I’ve heard that the new shoots taste much like rhubarb but the plants grow into large, 4-5 foot tall shrub like masses that shade out natives.

16. Cinnamon Fern-2

Both cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted ferns (Osmunda claytoniana) have fuzzy shoots, called fiddleheads because of their resemblance to the head of a violin. Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) must be up as well, and fiddleheads from that fern are considered a delicacy in many restaurants. Last year I went with a professional fiddlehead forager and saw thousands upon thousands of ostrich fern fiddleheads. Cinnamon and interrupted fern fiddleheads are very bitter and mildly toxic. In fact many are toxic and shouldn’t be eaten unless you know them well or are buying them at a store or restaurant. .

17. White Ash Buds

The male flower buds of American white ash (Fraxinus americana) appear before the leaves and can sometimes be colorful and sometimes black as blackberries. The Wabanaki Indian tribes made their baskets from ash. Some tribes believed ash was poisonous to rattlesnakes and used ash canes to chase them away.

18. Sugar Maple Bud

The buds of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) have just broken on some trees and on others small leaves are already showing. The veins are prominent even on leaves that haven’t unfurled. Deer love to snack on sweet sugar maple buds and quite often you find only branch stubs and this time of year.

19. New Maple Leaves

Red maple (Acer rubrum) leaves live up to their name when they’re this young. The red color in spring leaves is caused by the same pigments that bring the reds of autumn, the anthocyanins. That covers the how but little is really known about the why. One theory says that it’s because deer and moose can’t see red and therefore won’t eat the new, tender leaves. Another says that the red color protects the leaves from cold temperatures and damaging ultraviolet rays, but nobody seems to know for sure. I like to think the colors are there just to make the world a more beautiful place.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

Thanks for coming by.

1. Fly Honeysuckle

The unusual joined flowers of the American fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) usually starts blooming during the last week of April, so it’s a little early this year. Its unusual paired flowers branch off from a single stem and if pollinated will become joined pairs of reddish orange fruit shaped much like a football, with pointed ends. Many songbirds love its fruit so this is a good shrub to plant when trying to attract them. I see it growing along the edges of the woods but it can be hard to find, especially when it isn’t blooming. This photo shows the buds, which were just opening.

2. Fly  Honeysuckle

The trumpet shaped blossoms of the fly honeysuckle usually dangle downward like bells but this plant had a single open flower that was parallel to the ground and so I was able to get my first photo looking into one.

3. Red Maple

Many maples missed the recent cold snap and are still flowering now. It’s impossible to know how many were hurt by the cold but at least the weather has improved since.

4. Hazel

I was surprised to see the hazelnuts (Corylus americana) still blooming. The fine strands of the female flowers looked a little darker than their normal bright crimson though, so I wondered if they had been frost bitten.

5. Dandelions

At the edge of the forest dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) bloomed profusely. After a two year near absence it’s good to see them again. Their disappearance coincided with two of the snowiest and coldest winters we’ve had in quite some time, but that could simply be a coincidence.

6. Mayflowers

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) have just started blooming. This shot is for those of you who have never seen it so you can see its oval, leathery, evergreen leaves in relation to its waxy flowers, which are small and are white or pink. The plant can form large ground hugging mats. Another common name for it is mayflower and that comes by way of its supposedly being the first flower the Pilgrims saw upon landing on the shores of the new world.

“God be praised!” the Pilgrim said,
Who saw the blossoms peer
Above the brown leaves, dry and dead
“Behold our Mayflower here!”

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that but I have to wonder if he ever saw the plant. I’ve never seen one with “brown leaves, dry and dead” because they usually stay green year round. And since the Pilgrims landed in September it’s doubtful that trailing arbutus would have been blooming. Several Native American tribes used the plant medicinally. It was thought to be particularly useful for breaking up kidney stones and was considered so valuable it was said to have divine origins.

7. Mayflowers

I’ll have to agree that the spicy fragrance of trailing arbutus is divine, but you have to be willing to get your chin on the ground to experience it, so low do they grow.  The fragrant blossoms were once so popular that the plant was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England, and in many states it is protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society.

8. Vinca

Vinca (Vinca minor) is another trailing plant and is also a slightly invasive one from Europe. It has been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship though. In the 1800s Vinca was a plant given by one neighbor to another, along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three still blooming beautifully near old cellar holes off in the middle of nowhere. But the word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the wiry stems do. They grow thickly together and form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through, and I know of large areas with nothing but vinca growing in them. But all in all it is nowhere near as aggressive as many non-natives so we enjoy its beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

9. Bloodroots

I was happy to see bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) just coming into bloom about the same time as last year.  I think it’s probably tender enough to have suffered in the cold, so I’m glad it waited. Bloodroot’s common name comes from the toxic blood red juice found in its roots. Native Americans once used this juice for war paint. I’d love to show it to you but I can never bear to dig one up.

10. Bloodroot

I always challenge my own camera skills by seeing if I can take a photo of bloodroot with the very faint veins in the petals visible. It isn’t easy unless the light is just right. On this day sunlight fell brightly on them but by shading them with my body I was able to get the petal’s veins in the shot.

11. Violet

They’re called broadleaf weeds and some people are less than happy when they find them in their lawn, but I welcome violets in mine and I’m always happy to see them.  In fact one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen was a large field of dandelions and violets blooming together and I’d love to have a “lawn” that looked like it did. Violets can be difficult to identify and, like the many small yellow flowers I see, I’ve given up trying. I just enjoy their beauty and notice that they have the same features as many other flowers. The deep purple lines on the petals guide insects into the flower’s throat while brushy bits above dust its back with pollen.

12. Violet

Some of my lawn violets are white, and shyer than the purple.  Native Americans had many medicinal and other uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers.

13. Spring Beauty

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) are so beautiful and seem like such perfect flowers that I just can’t think of anything else to wish for when I’m sitting with them. It’s very easy to sit with them for a very long time too, if you should happen to lose yourself in them. I’ve read that those that grow in the shade are the most colorful but I’ve also noticed that the new, partially opened flowers are also more colorful than those that are fully opened, so age must also play a part.

14. Spring Beauty

This spring beauty blossom was much less colorful than the one we saw previously, but it didn’t seem to be growing in a spot that was sunnier. I think there is also a lot of natural color variation among them just as there is with most flowers. They’re very small; a single blossom could easily hide behind a penny. This one had a visitor. A leaf hopper, I think.

15. Trout Lilies

The trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have just opened in the huge colony of them that grow in a narrow strip of woodland in Keene. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Each plant grows from a single bulb and can take 7-10 years to produce a flower, so if you see a large colony of flowering plants you know it has been there for a while. Young plants start with a single leaf and then grow a second when they are ready to bloom, so you see many more leaves than flowers. Out of the many thousands of plants in this colony I saw not even a quarter of them in bloom, so I think most of them in this section are relatively young.

16. Trout Lilies

Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow like these but quickly turn brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect stigmata will catch any pollen that visiting insects might bring. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and it attracts several kinds of bees. The plant will produce a light green, oval, three part seed capsule 6-8 weeks after blooming if pollination has been successful. The seeds of trout lilies are dispersed by ants, which eat their rich, fatty appendages and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs. On this day I saw bumblebees visiting them.

Flowers construct the most charming geometries: circles like the sun, ovals, cones, curlicues and a variety of triangular eccentricities, which when viewed with the eye of a magnifying glass seem a Lilliputian frieze of psychedelic silhouettes. ~Duane Michals

Thanks for stopping in.

1. Trail

Last Sunday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. This hill seems to be a single, huge piece of granite bedrock that was thrust up out of the earth unknown eons ago. As the above photo shows, the trail starts out bare granite with a little moss and some reindeer lichens growing on the sides. Exposed granite like that shown can be seen here and there all the way to top, but there must be pockets of soil in places because settlers once went to a lot of trouble to clear it.

2. Red Maple

A red maple tree (Acer rubrum) has blown over onto a stone wall and its roots have humped up part of the trail.

3. Target Canker

I know the tree is a red maple by the target canker on its trunk. This canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. As the tree ages the patterns disappear. If I understand what I’ve read correctly red maple is the only tree that does this.

4. Cut Forest

The blowdown was caused by the cutting of a large area of town owned forest, which was sold off a few years ago. A tree that has grown behind such a large windbreak all its life it doesn’t need very strong roots, but when the windbreak is removed its weak roots will let it fall. That’s why trees in a constant wind have much stronger roots than those that grow in sheltered locations. That’s also why people who have encountered hardship and adversity throughout their lives are much more able to bear the strain than those who have lived lives of sheltered ease.

5. Cut Boulder

The removal of the shade provided by the forest has revealed a lot of things I haven’t noticed before, like this large boulder that was cut by someone in the past. The short 3 inch deep lines around its edge are what’s left of the holes that were drilled so tools called feathers and wedges could be pounded in them to split the stone. The holes were most likely drilled by hand with a sledge hammer and star drill. One person would hold the drill while the other hit it with the hammer, and that says a lot about both skill and trust.

6. Trailing Arbutus

The cutting of the forest has also thrown sunlight on many shade loving plants, including this trailing arbutus. Its leaves should be deep green rather than the yellowish green seen here. There were a few flowers tucked under the leaves but the plants don’t look as healthy as many other examples I’ve seen.

7. Trail

The skidder used to haul the logs out of the forest turned the trail into a logging road and in places it’s so muddy that people have been forced to make a new narrow trail above the now 2 foot deep trench.  It works fine until you meet someone going the opposite way.  I doubt that it will ever be repaired until the trail becomes a stream and washes half the hill into the road that borders it. Parts of the trail are showing signs that this is already happening, and they look more like dry stream bed than trail. In a pouring rain the water must really rush through.

8. Stone Wall-2

When I was building dry stone walls I always thought of them as giant puzzles, because I knew that there was always a perfect stone that would fit in the space that I was trying to fill; all I had to do was find it. These days I just admire the work of others, and I thought that this part of an old wall looked particularly puzzle like. This isn’t a “thrown wall” where someone just tossed stones on top of each other in a long pile. This wall was thought about and a certain amount of care was taken when it was built.

9. Stone

Sometimes you see stones in walls that have a story to tell, like this one that I assume probably had the deep grooves worn into it by a glacier. I imagine the father and son, brother and brother, or master and slave had a lot to talk about as they cleared the fields of the many rocks they found. They were talking about glaciers and ice ages in Sweden in the 1700s, but whether or not any of that knowledge would have reached the residents of Swanzey is a question I can’t answer. I do know that Native Americans burnt the town to the ground in the mid-1700s, so the residents probably had other things on their minds than glaciers and ice ages.

10. Stone

Other stones, instead of being shaped by ice, show traces of the hot magma that formed them.

11. Turkey Tails

These young turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) grew on a piece of bark that had pulled away from the stump it grew on. They reminded me of the old song Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton, and I had it playing in my head for the rest of the hike.

12. Log

There is a very big old log lying beside the trail just before you reach the top and I usually stop here to catch my breath. When I did that this time I saw that the old log had become a nurse log, with a small cherry or black birch growing out of the hollow where a branch once grew. I should have tasted a twig; the taste of wintergreen would have meant it was a black birch (Betula lenta,) which is also called sweet birch, cherry birch, and mahogany birch. It’s an unusual place for a tree to grow and it’ll be interesting to watch.

13. View

I think, out of all the hills I climb, if I climbed them for the view I’d be disappointed about 80% of the time, but since I don’t really care what the view looks like I’m never disappointed. I climb more for the things I see along the trail than what I see from the top, and I see interesting things along the trail every single time I climb. Today’s view would have been among the 80% I’m afraid, with its harsh sunlight and flat blue sky. A deeper blue in the sky and some puffy white clouds would have made a beautiful view but you can’t have everything, and I need to stop and remind myself that I should be thankful that I can even make it up here. There was a time not that long ago when Mount Caesar might as well have been Mount Everest.

14. Monadnock

Mount Monadnock sat in a sun washed haze over in Jaffrey. The word Monadnock is thought to originate with the Native American Abenaki tribe and is said to mean “mountain that stands alone. “ At 3 165 feet Mount Monadnock is taller than any other feature in the region and is visible from nearly every surrounding town. It rises about 2203 feet higher than where I stood when I took this photo.

15. Turkey Vulture

A large bird soared above me on the thermals. I think it was a turkey vulture and I wondered for a moment if it thought I was a turkey. It seemed very interested and circled a couple of times before flying off.

16. Lean To

Someone built a lean-to near the summit sometime in the past. If they stayed up here at night I hope they had a good flashlight and an excellent sense of direction. The cliffs here are quite high and stumbling around up here in the dark would not be wise.

17. Erratic

There is a large glacial erratic that sits on top of Mount Caesar but for some reason I’ve never shown it in a blog post. It’s smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle but not by much. It sits on the granite bedrock where the glacier left it, simply too big and heavy to do anything with. It could have been drilled and split with feathers and wedges like the boulder we saw earlier in this post but that was a lot of work, and what would have been the point? Then you’d just have had to drag the resulting stone slabs all the way down the trail.

18. Mica

This erratic has a lot of mica and feldspar in it, which are minerals I’ve never seen anywhere else here on Mount Caesar. Maybe the glacier carried it from Gilsum to the north. There is plenty of both there. Of course the definition of a glacial erratic is “a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests” and this example seems to fit that definition perfectly.

19. Toadskin

I had to sit by my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) for a while and study them a bit, because the more I look the more I see. On this day they were very dry to the point of crispness, but were still beautiful. The smaller one on the right was pierced by a pine needle, so if you know the size of a pine needle that will tell you the size of the lichen. They aren’t very big; I think the biggest one I’ve seen was about the same diameter as a ping pong ball. I keep hoping to find them at lower elevations but so far the only place I’ve ever seen them is on hilltops. More sunshine? Cleaner air?  I don’t know what attracts them to only the high places.

20. Bluets

The only wildflowers I saw on this morning were bluets (Houstonia caerulea,) and that was okay. They’re beautiful little things but I’ve never seen such an even division in the white and blue on the petals. Usually they have more of one color or the other, and often the white makes a narrow band around the center and the blue colors most of the rest of the petal. I’d have to call these examples bicolor. They were a surprise, and a real treat to see.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.

~Edgar A. Guest

Thanks for coming by.

 

1. Frost bitten Daffodils

Our last bout of cold snowy weather finished off quite a few flowers that were blooming early because of being fooled by extreme warmth beforehand. The daffodils in the above photo for instance, bloomed a good month earlier than last year. Unfortunately the record cold won out and their stems turned to mush. The leaves didn’t though, and that’s all important. It’s the foliage photosynthesizing that will ensure a good crop of blossoms next year.

2. Daffodil 3

Many were damaged but there were more coming into bloom. Luckily most plants flower and leaf out at staggered times so it would be rare for all of a species to lose its flowers at once.

3. Hyacinth

Hyacinths were as beautiful this year as I’ve ever seen them but the cold also hurt their fragile stems and many were lying down and giving up the ghost by the time I got to see them.

4. Hyacinth

Some were still standing though, and the fragrance was still heavenly.

5. Magnolia

The pink magnolia didn’t fare well. Every bud that was showing color had been damaged and had some brown on it.

6. Red Maple Flowers

The hardest things to see were the many thousands of red maple (Acer rubrum) blossoms that died from the cold but again, I’m sure many of them bloomed after the cold snap. Many birds and animals eat the seeds and I hope there won’t be a shortage this year. These flowers should be tomato red.

7. Pink Tulips

These pink tulips were very short and small and also very early, but still late enough to miss the extreme cold. I saw some orange examples which weren’t so lucky.

8. Dandelions

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) don’t seem to have been bothered by the cold and they’re everywhere this year. I think I’ve already seen more than I have in the past two years. I wish I knew what it was that made them so scarce for that time. I love dandelions and formed an early relationship with them. My grandmother used to have me pick the new spring leaves so she could use them much like she did spinach when I was a boy.

9. Ground Ivy

In a ground ivy blossom (Glechoma hederacea) five petals are fused together to form a tube. The lowest and largest petal, which is actually two petals fused together, serves as a landing area for insects, complete with tiny hairs for them to hang onto. The darker spots are nectar guides for them to follow into the tube. The unseen pistil’s forked style is in a perfect position to brush the back of a hungry bee. This flower is all about continuation of the species, and judging by the many thousands that I see its method is perfection. It’s another invader, introduced into North America as an ornamental or medicinal plant as early as the 1800s. Many people don’t like ground ivy’s scent but I raked over a colony yesterday and I welcomed it.

10. Henbit

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. The plant is in the mint family and apparently chickens like it. The amplexicaule part of the scientific name means clasping and describes the way the hairy leaves clasp the stem. The plant is a very early bloomer and blooms throughout winter in warmer areas. Henbit is from Europe and Asia, but I can’t say that it’s invasive because I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

11. Henbit

I like the cartoon=like face on henbit’s flowers. It’s always about reproduction and I’m guessing the spots are nectar guides for honeybees, which love its nectar and pollen.

12. Hellebore

The green hellebores in a friend’s garden have bloomed later than the deep purple ones of two weeks ago. I think the purples are my favorites.

13. Grape Hyacinth

In this shot we’re in a flower forest and grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) are the trees. The tiny blossoms really resemble blueberry blossoms and they aren’t in the hyacinth family. They hail from Europe and Asia and the name Muscari comes from the Greek word for musk, and refers to the scent.

14. Scilla

Scilla (Scilla sibirica) shrugged off the cold and weren’t bothered by it at all. With a name like Siberian squill I shouldn’t have been surprised, but these small bulbs come from Western Russia and Eurasia and have nothing to do with Siberia. Immigrants brought the plant with them sometime around 1796 to use as an ornamental and of course they escaped the garden and started to be seen in the wild. In some places like Minnesota they are very invasive and people have been asked to stop planting them. Here in New Hampshire I’ve seen large colonies grow into lawns but I assume that was what those who planted them wanted them to do, because I’ve never heard anyone complain about them. Still, anyone who plants them should be aware that once they are planted they are almost impossible to eradicate, and they can be invasive.

15. Striped Squill

Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica) also came through the cold unscathed and I was very happy about that because they’re a personal favorite of mine. They’re tiny, much like Scilla, but well worth getting down on hands and knees to see. They’re another small thing that can suddenly become big enough to lose yourself in. Time stops and there you are.

16. Mayflower Buds

I’ve heard that trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is already blooming in Maine and New York but all I’ve seen here are buds so far. I’m hoping I’ll see some today and be able to show them in the next flower post. They were one of my grandmother’s favorites so I always look forward to seeing (and smelling) the pink and / or white blossoms. It is believed that trailing arbutus is an ancient plant that has existed since the last glacier period. It has become endangered in several states and is protected by law, so please don’t dig them up if you see them. It grows in a close relationship with a fungus present in the soil and is nearly impossible to successfully transplant.

17. Hobblebush Flower Bud

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) might be blooming this weekend too. As the above photo shows the buds are swelling up and beginning to open. When all of its hand size white flower heads are in bloom it’s one of our most beautiful native viburnums. Its common name comes from the way the low growing branches can trip up or “hobble” a horse.

18. Lilac Flower Buds

Lilac bud scales have pulled back to reveal the promise of spring. Many people here in New Hampshire think that lilacs are native to the state but they aren’t. They (Syringa vulgaris) were first imported from England to the garden of then Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower.

And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Thanks for stopping in.

1. Rhubarb

I saw a great example of bud break in this rhubarb plant. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” but there is often far more to it than that. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more crinkly leaf.

2. Gritty British Soldier Lichen

At first I thought these were British soldier lichens but something about them didn’t seem quite right. They seemed almost gritty, and that’s because they’re gritty British soldiers (Cladonia floerkeanna.) They like to grow on well-rotted wood or soil and I found this example on very old wood. The stems are covered with granules and squamules, which are lobed, scale like growths on the body of a lichen.

3. Birds Nest Fungus

Fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) grew in the mulch at a local park. The tiny funnel shaped nests are the spore producing fruiting bodies of this fungus and are called peridia. Their shape makes them splash cups and when a raindrop falls into one it splashes out the eggs (peridioles), which contain the spores. Unfortunately the eggs had already been splashed out of these examples, but I’m hoping they might produce another crop.

4. Birds Nest Fungus

This view of the bird’s nest fungus shows the funnel shape and inside flutes. The flutes on the inside and brown hairs on the outside are identifying features. Each one is about .39 inches (1 cm) tall. They are very hard to spot since they are so small and essentially the same color as the wood that they grow on, and this is only the second time that I’ve ever seen them. They felt quite tough and almost woody.

5. Great Blue Heron

Even though I was sitting in my truck taking photos through the windshield this great blue heron was determined to keep as many cattails between us as he could. Then just for a few seconds he stepped out into the open to catch a spring peeper and was caught in the above photo. The small pond is full of spring peepers and he was doing his best to clean it up. He caught a few while I watched but I couldn’t catch the action with the camera. The pond also has some big snapping turtles in it but I don’t know if they’d bother a bird this big.

6. Canada Geese

Along the Ashuelot river the Canada geese came as close to shore as I’ve ever seen. Normally they stay well out in the middle but on this day for some reason they had no fear. They were also very quiet and didn’t honk once the entire time I was there, which is also unusual. They’re usually quite loud.

7. Canada Goose

This one kept a wary eye on me as if wondering just what I was up to. Or it could have been that he was hoping for a few crumbs of bread, but I didn’t have any.

8. Striped Maple

The buds of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) have just started to break. These are among the most beautiful buds in the forest, covered in soft down which is sometimes orange and sometimes pink, and often both together. They are worth looking for, and now is the time. Soon two other beautiful leaf bids will open; beech and shagbark hickory. Those are events I never miss.

9. Woodpecker Tree

I’m guessing that this tree is a woodpecker’s equivalent to the corner convenience store. I’ve never seen a tree so full of holes, and they went all the way up the trunk. It must be full of insects.

10. Colonial Coin

You might think I’m straying far from the forest when you see this coin but since it was found in the forest I’m really not straying far. I show it here for the history buffs out there and because it’s a very important coin; the first official copper one cent piece ever minted in the Colonial United States. It was designed by Benjamin Franklin and is called the Fugio cent because of its image of the sun shining down on a sundial in the center with the word “Fugio” on the left. Fugio is Latin for “I flee / fly,” which when shown with the sundial reminds the bearer that time flies. On the right is the date 1787 and at the bottom are the words “Mind Your Business.” A coworker found it near an old cellar hole in the woods. To hold something over 200 years old that Benjamin Franklin had a hand in was a rare treat.

11. Colonial Coin Reverse

The reverse side of the coin has the words “We Are One” in the center, surrounded by the words “United States.” A chain with 13 links symbolizes the 13 original states. I wonder how much it must have hurt to lose this coin in 1787. At about the diameter of a Kennedy half dollar (1.2 inches) it is large for a cent.

12. Ramps

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

13. Ramp Bulbs

This is what the complete ramp looks like. I foolishly pulled these two plants three years ago before I knew they were being threatened. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

14. False Hellebore

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m really surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it does happen.

15. Willow

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a willow more colorful than this one was. A kind of orange red, I think.

16. Robin

This robin watched me watch him. He was only about two feet away and just sat quietly while I took his photo. I said thank you and told him that his photo would be seen all around the world. He didn’t seem at all impressed and went back to seeing what he could find to eat.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man. ~Luther Burbank

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

 

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