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1. Coltsfoot Flowers

Some of our terrestrial wildflowers have started to open. I was real happy to find several coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) plants blossoming beside an old dirt road. Coltsfoot is one of our earliest blooming wildflowers and once I see them I know that things will happen fast from then on. Spring beauties, trout lilies, bluets and many others will follow in rapid succession now. I don’t think coltsfoot looks much like a dandelion but it does get mistaken for them.

2. Coltsfoot Stem

One look at the scaly stem of a coltsfoot should convince anyone that they’re not looking at a dandelion, which has a very smooth stems. I was hoping to find a dandelion so I could get a photo to use in comparison but what was once one of our earliest wild flowers now seems to be blooming later each year.

3. Single Daffodil

Getting a decent shot of a yellow flower in full sun is difficult to say the least but nothing says spring like a daffodil in the sunshine, so I had to try. We’ve had about a full week of good warm, sunny weather and the spring flowering bulbs are opening quickly now.

4. Striped Squill

One of the spring flowering bulbs I most look forward to seeing each spring is striped squill. The simple blue stripe down the middle of each white petal makes them very beautiful, in my opinion. The bulbs are very hard to find but they are out there. If you’d like some just Google Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica and I’m sure that you’ll find a nursery or two that carries them. They are much like the scilla (Scilla siberica) that most of us are familiar with in size and shape but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often and border on rare in this area. The example pictured here grows in a local park.

5. Skunk Cabbage Leaf

Skunk Cabbage leaves (Symplocarpus foetidus) are up and growing fast. It’s at this point that some of them really do resemble cabbage leaves.

 6. Male Alder Flowers

Male speckled alder (Alnus incana) catkins go from brown to purplish red to yellow as they open to release their pollen. It’s like someone has hung colorful ornaments from the branches during the night, because it seems like they appear that quickly.

7. Male Alder Flowers

Close up photos reveal brown and purple scales on alder catkins. These scales are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers usually covered in yellow pollen, but I’m not seeing a lot of pollen on this particular example.

8. Female Alder Flowers

When the male (staminate) alder catkins become more yellow than reddish brown then it’s time to start looking for the tiny female (pistillate) flowers. Since alders are monoecious both male and female flowers can be found on the same shrub. The female flowers often form at the very tips of the branches in groups of 3-5 and contain red stigmas that receive the male pollen. Once fertilized the female flowers will grow into the small, cone like seed pods that I think most of us a familiar with.

Nature uses this same color again and again on the female flowers of red maple, hazelnut, speckled alder, eastern larch and others but why, I wonder. All of those flowers are wind pollinated so the color isn’t used to attract insects. There must be something more to it that I’m missing.

 9. Frogs

One day I went to a small pond and there must have been hundreds of frogs of at least three different kinds peeping, croaking and quacking at once. It was the loudest frog concert that I’ve ever heard.

10. Garter Snake

Frogs aren’t the only ones that the warm days have stirred. I saw these two garter snakes warming themselves in the sun one day.

11. Garter Snake

I don’t know enough about snakes to know if one was a female and one a male but this is the other one.

12. Turtle

I’m not sure why this turtle was balancing itself on such a skinny little tree branch but it seemed content and was willing to pose.

13. Robin

I didn’t see it until I looked at the photo but this robin had a damaged a wing feather. It didn’t seem to hinder his flying ability at all so I think he was probably fine. I was surprised that he let me get so close.

14. Willows

My grandmother had a large weeping willow so willow trees always bring back fond memories. Right now they have taken on that golden haze that they show only in early spring and seeing them makes my winter weary spirit soar.

15. Willow Flowers

Down at eye level the gray, fuzzy willow catkins have turned to golden blossoms that light up the pond edges and river banks. They are a beautiful reminder of why spring has always been my favorite season and it’s such a joy to see them again.

Whenever I have found myself stuck in the ways I relate to things, I return to nature. It is my principal teacher, and I try to open my whole being to what it has to say.  ~Wynn Bullock

Thanks for stopping in.

 

1. Robin

I know what you’re probably thinking; since robins stay here all winter now they aren’t really a sign of spring anymore. I’d agree with you up to a point but this photo is here because I saw this bird yanking earthworms out of this lawn and that means the soil has thawed out, and that certainly is a sign of spring. Unfortunately getting a photo of him yanking earthworms out of the ground wasn’t going to happen. He was too quick for me.

2. Female Hazel Blossom

The female flowers of American hazelnut (Corylus Americana) have opened even though there is still snow on the ground. It could be because the temperature finally shot up to 70 degrees, but whatever caused it they’ve opened before the male catkins. It might be that the female flower’s opening signals the male flowers that it’s time to open. I’ve never paid close enough attention to know for sure. I looked back at last year’s blog photos and found that I first saw these flowers on exactly the same day in 2014, so apparently the severity of winter doesn’t affect their bloom time.

3. Female Hazel Blossom with Paper Clip

Female hazelnuts are among the smallest flowers that I know of. I understand that not everyone who reads this blog has seen a female hazel flower though, so this year I clipped a standard 1 inch paperclip to the branch to give you an idea of just how small these tiny beauties really are. You have to look very carefully to find them; I can just barely see them by eye.

4. Male Hazel Catkins

I was surprised to find the female hazelnut flowers open when the male flowers, shown here, hadn’t even started shedding pollen yet, but maybe this is the way it happens every year. I’ve got to pay a little closer attention.

5. Female Red Maple Flowers

Female red maple flowers (Acer rubrum) look a lot like female American hazelnut flowers, but they are much bigger and easier to see, thankfully. The female flowers mostly wait for the wind to blow some pollen their way, but bees occasionally visit them too.  Female flowers usually happen in clusters with each flower having 5 sepals, 5 petals, and 2 styles. Once pollinated they quickly become pairs of bright red, slightly hairy samaras.  I’ve read that you can find yellow or orange samaras, but I’ve only seen red.

6. Male Red Maple Flowers-2

Each male flower is about 1/8″ long with 5 sepals, and 5 petals like the female flower, but instead of styles has several stamens. The sepals and petals are usually red and difficult to tell apart. Anyone who understands flower parts should easily recognize the male red maple flower because of its stamens, which resemble the stamens of other flowers like lilies, daylilies, tradescantia and many others.

7. Maple Flowers

Each year I try to get a photo of a red maple tree flowering and usually don’t have any luck but this year the sun was in just the right spot to illuminate the flowers. There are many thousands of flowers on a single tree. This means that maple sugaring season has ended. Once the flower buds open the sap becomes bitter.

8. Crocus

I’m starting to see more and more crocus blossoms. The daffodils should bloom soon. They are budded now but not showing any color yet.

9. Bee in a Crocus

This blossom had what I think was a honey bee in it. Its pollen sacs were bulging but it was rolling all around inside the flower as if it had reached bee nirvana and was in an ecstatic frenzy.

10. Single Crocus

When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.  ~Georgia O’Keeffe

11. Scilla

The scilla (Scilla siberica) I planted a few years ago are showing some color. They are also starting to multiply a bit, I’m happy to see. As soon as I raked the winter’s fallen oak leaves off them every squirrel in the neighborhood started digging in the newly uncovered soil. At first I thought they were digging up the scilla bulbs, but they were just digging up the acorns they had buried last fall.

In the book Suburban Safari; a Year On The Lawn, author Hannah Holmes tells how scientists have found that squirrels eat white oak acorns immediately and bury red oak acorns to eat the following year. That’s because the squirrels somehow know that white oak acorns germinate in the same autumn that they fall from the tree and red oak acorns don’t germinate until the following year. The red oak acorns are good for storing but the white oak acorns aren’t, so the next time you see a squirrel burying an acorn it’s a safe bet that it’s from a red oak.

 12. Snow Ment

It’s great to see water instead of ice and snow in the woods.

13. Runoff

We had some rain last week and the soil is saturated so the water really can’t seep into the ground. Instead it runs downhill.

14. Pond Ice

The snow was plowed off this pond all winter to make a place to skate and you can see how the darker plowed ice is melting faster than that which wasn’t plowed, over on the right.  It’s a good lesson in how darker things absorb more heat from the sun. I always have to smile when I hear people complain about the dirty snowbanks in spring. They don’t seem to realize that they melt a lot faster than the clean ones.

Over the years many plow trucks have broken through this ice and ended up on the bottom of the pond. Luckily it wasn’t ever deep enough to harm the driver, but the trucks needed an overhaul and the driver a cup of good hot coffee.

15. Ashuelot

The banks of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey are almost snow free, but on this day you could still see some way down at the far end where it makes a turn. There is still plenty in the woods, too.

16. Canada Goose

Canada geese have returned to the river and are still staying just out of comfortable camera range.

 17. Ashuelot Wave

There is enough melt and rainwater flowing into the Ashuelot River to make some nice big waves again. I like to watch them but I also like trying to get photos of them. When you watch you can tune in to the rhythm of the river but only in a photo can you see all the color, movement and beauty that you missed when everything was happening so quickly.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

Thanks for coming by.

1. Trail

We haven’t had very many warm sunny days here this spring so when we do I try to make the best of them.  On one recent beautiful spring day I decided to climb Hewes Hill in Swanzey. A 40 ton glacial erratic sits on top of the hill along with some toadskin lichen friends that I like to visit occasionally.

2. Snowy Woods

The woods and the trail were snow covered by about 6 inches of snow but in the shade the crust was strong enough to walk on, so it was almost like walking on pavement.

3. Snow Melt

The snow had melted away from every tree trunk. I showed this in a post I did recently and several of us agreed that this must be caused by the sun heating up the tree bark which, if you really think about it, is pretty amazing.

4. Oak Leaf

This eastern hemlock caught an oak leaf and didn’t want to let go.

Hemlock Wound

According to the book Bark by Michael Wojtech, eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeastern U.S. that produces wound tissue (cork) in annual rings that can be counted like rings of wood. I counted about 21 years that it took this wound to heal. But my question has always been, how do trees out in the middle of nowhere, away from human activity, get these wounds in the first place?

6. Deer Print

Deer are smart animals. They let humans do the work of breaking trails through the snow and then packing it down, and then they just follow along.

7. Sign

Before too long you see the sign that “captain obvious” must have put up.

8. Tippin Rock

I say that because there aren’t many rocks this big in the immediate vicinity. In fact there aren’t any. For those new to the blog, this glacial erratic gets its name from the way it rocks (tips) back and forth if you push it in the right place. I’ve never been able to move it but I’ve talked with someone who saw a group of kids all stand on one end to make it move. If you look closely at the underside you can see that it comes down to a point like the keel of a boat.

When you think of all that had to happen for a glacier to set a 40 ton boulder down on the single flat piece of rock on a hilltop in New Hampshire so it would be perfectly balanced it becomes close to impossible to believe, but there it is.

9. Crack in Rock

Something I never noticed before was this large crack that runs from top to bottom of the rock on one side. It doesn’t go all the way through though, so I don’t think tippin rock is in any danger of cleaving itself in two.

10. Ledge Ice

There are some good views up here but you can’t see them from tippin rock. To get to the ledges where the views are you have to walk another 10 minutes or so through the woods past a lot of stone outcrops that still have a lot of ice on them. The trail itself was very icy on this section as well.

11. Rest Spot

There were some dry spots to sit and catch your breath or to just listen to the forest. The birds were singing happily this day.

12. View

Since the views look off to the south southwest, afternoon is not the time to come up here and take photos, but I always try anyway. There is something about this place; it’s peaceful energy maybe, which is different than all the other hills I climb. It makes me feel like just being here is what’s really important, and that the photos don’t really matter. Though I’ve never really gotten a good photo from up here, neither have I ever come away feeling disappointed.

13. View

It was so sunny and warm up here that it felt like summer and not spring was right around the corner. I could have sat here for days.

14. Toad Skin Lichen

Though the views are beautiful  they are really secondary to my real quest, which are the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) I’ve found them only on hilltops so being able to see them always comes with a price. This one was reddish orange, which is a color I’ve never seen among them. I thought that it could have come from an algae coating, which is common among some lichens, but the book Lichens of North America says that it is a pruinose coating similar to that on plums and grapes, but red instead of white.  I never knew a pruinose coating could be anything but white.

Toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, meaning they attach to the substrate at a single point, and that point can be clearly seen in the upper third of this example. This lichen was about as big as a penny, or about 3/4 of an inch.

15. Toad Skin Lichen

These toadskin lichens are pea green when they’re wet, and when they dry out turn ashy gray to almost white. This one was very dry and crisp but I chose this photo because the lichen’s fruiting bodies (apothecia) are so easily seen. They look like tiny black dots scattered over the surface. The bumps that look like the warts on a toad are called pustules, and they look like indentations from the underside.

16. Toad Skin Lichen

This close up shows a better view of the toadskin lichen’s apothecia, which are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just look a little closer.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan watts

Thanks for stopping in.

1. Crocus Blossoms on Easter

I finally saw some crocus blossoms on Easter morning. They bloom in what was once a flower bed by a now vacant print shop and I was very happy to see them. Passers by might have wondered what I was doing kneeling there in the leaf strewn soil beside a busy street rather than on a prie dieu on Easter morning, but what better way to show your appreciation of the artist than by losing yourself in the beauty of his art.

2. Witch Hazel Blooms

The spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis) in a local park have finally blossomed. I’ve been watching them for about two weeks and have noticed that they’ve been really shy about opening this year.

3. Feather on Cornelian Cherry

I went to see if the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) that lives near the witch hazels was blooming yet, but instead of flowers I got feathers. The bud scales have started opening though, so it won’t be long. This ancient plant is from Europe and is in the dogwood family and I look forward to seeing its small, bright yellow blossoms.

4. Alder Catkins

The brown and purple bud scales on the male catkins of speckled alders (Alnus incana) are opening wider to show the flowers beneath. These scales are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers covered in yellow pollen. If you watch them closely at this time of year you can see more of the yellow pollen appearing each day.

 5. Skunk Cabbage

The skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) seem to be doing really well this year. The clumps are larger with more plants and there are more clumps in this spot than I’ve seen in the past. The green shoots seen in front of the mottled spathes in this photo are future leaves which, for a short time as they begin to unfurl, will resemble cabbage leaves. You wouldn’t want to taste them though, even if you could get past the skunk like odor, because the plant contains calcium oxalate crystals which can cause a severe burning sensation of the mouth and tongue. Deer and black bears seem to be about the only ones immune to it. Another good reason to not eat skunk cabbage is because the very deadly false hellebore (Veratrum viride) often grows right beside it. Personally I don’t know why anyone would want to eat skunk cabbage but if you don’t know how to tell it from false hellebore it’s best to just leave both plants alone.

7. Skunk Cabbage Flowers

Like most arums, inside the spathe is the spadix, which in the case of skunk cabbage is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. Some describe the odor as rotting meat but it always smells skunky to me.

6. Yellow Skunk Cabbage

I’ve been seeing more yellow green skunk cabbage spathes this year than I ever have. I’m not sure what determines their color but the yellow ones appear right beside the darker red / maroon ones, so it doesn’t seem like it would be anything in the soil or water.

8. Muddy Road

Here in northern New England we have a fifth season that we call mud season, and it is now upon us. I heard on the news the other day that the mud is 12-16 inches deep in parts of the state, but I haven’t seen it that bad here yet except on logging roads. Quite often the mud gets bad enough to close unpaved roads and the logging industry virtually grinds to a halt until things dry out. When the frost is 3 or 4 deep in the ground and the top two feet of a road thaws the melt water is sitting on frozen ground and has nowhere to go, and this results in a car swallowing quagmire that acts almost like quicksand. Those who live on unpaved roads have quite a time of it every year at this time.

 9. Brittle Cinder Fungus

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) starts life as a beautiful soft gray crust fungus with white edges. As they age they blacken and look like burnt wood and become very brittle and are easily crushed. They grow on dead hardwoods and cause soft rot, which breaks down both cellulose and lignin. In short, this is one of the fungi that help turn wood into compost. Younger examples have a hard lumpy crust or skin, a piece of which can be seen in the upper left of the example in the photo.

10. Brittle Cinder fungus aka Kretzschmaria deusta

Here is a photo from last June which shows how beautiful the brittle crust fungus is when it’s young. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same fungus that’s in the previous photo.

11. Annulohypoxylon cohaerens Fungi

 Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to a purplish black color, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. They were one of the hardest things to identify that I’ve ever found in nature and I wondered what they could be for a few years. They have no common name that I can find.

12. Bigtooth Aspen Bud

Since I’m color blind I often confuse red and green so even though this aspen bud looked red to me by the time I got home I’d convinced myself that it had to have been green. Once I saw the photo it still looked red, so as usual I let my color finding software have the final say and it sees orange, brown and red. I never knew aspen buds were so colorful, and it seems that I just haven’t been paying attention. I think the tree was a bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata) which gets its common name from the sharply pointed teeth on its leaves.

13. April Great Blue Heron

I was surprised recently to see a great blue heron hunting last year’s cattails (Typha) in a small pond beside the road. I knew if I made a move he’d fly away, so I took this shot through my passenger window.  Most of the larger lakes and ponds are still ice covered, so I think he’s a little early. I’ve heard red winged blackbirds but no frogs yet, so he’ll probably have a fish diet for a while.

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. Trail

I agreed, back in February, to help a group of Pathfinders get some merit badges by helping them find mosses, lichens, and liverworts. Pathfinders range in age from 10 to 15 I think, and are kind of like scouts, at least when it comes to earning merit badges. Of course as soon as the plans were finalized it began to snow and it didn’t stop until nearly every living thing was buried under feet of it. We’ve had some warmth since though, so recently I decided to check out the old abandoned road near Beaver Brook in Keene to see if we could get in there without snow shoes.

2. Snow Melt

The snow had melted well on the hillsides along the sunny side of the road but the road itself still has as much as 6 inches of loose granular snow in places. Tough to walk in, but not impossible. Good, waterproof hiking boots will be best for this trip.

3. Snowy Hillside

The hillsides along the shady side of the brook still had quite a bit of snow on them.

4. Ledge

The last time I was here the wind had blown so much snow against the ledge faces, you wouldn’t have known they were there if you weren’t familiar with the place. Many of the mosses, lichens and liverworts that the Pathfinders want to find grow on these ledges so it would have been a waste of time.

5. Dog Lichen

Dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) is just one of many things that grow here that I rarely see anywhere else. Dog lichens aren’t fussy and will grow on soil, stone or bark but they do seem to like moist, sunny spots. They also always seem to grow near moss, probably because moss soaks up water like a sponge.

6. Stairstep Moss

Chances are the Pathfinders won’t realize how special what they’re seeing actually is, but I plan to tell them that this is the only place that I’ve ever seen this stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens.) It is also called glittering wood moss and grows on the side of a large boulder here. It could be that I rarely see it because it usually grows in the boreal forests of Canada, Europe and Russia. I’m not sure why this particular example is growing so far south. This moss was once used to plug gaps between the logs in log cabins. It has anti-bacterial qualities.

7. Rose Moss

Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is one of the most beautiful mosses in my opinion and like the stair step moss, this is the only place I’ve ever seen it. This moss gets its common name from the way the small rosettes of leaves resembled rose blossoms to the person who named it. The example that grows here is large and I think must be quite old. It grows on the flat top of a boulder. As the photo shows, the rosettes grow so dense that you can’t even see the stone.

8. Yellow Feather Moss

Yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) is another moss that’s rare in this area, at least in my experience. This small clump is the only one I know of. It’s looking a little bedraggled because of being covered by snow all winter, but at least the Pathfinders will be able to see it.

9. Stone

I don’t know too much about geology but I do know that there are some interesting things to see here among the ledges, including garnets, milky quartz crystals, and veins of feldspar. I also know that I could build a nice looking wall with the stones in this section.

10. Ice Free Brook

In places the ice that covered the brook all winter has completely melted and the silence of winter has been replaced by the chuckles and giggles of spring water moving over and around the stones. Be more like the brook, I remind myself. Laugh your way through life and just flow around any obstacles that might appear.

11. Icicles

Not all of the brook is ice free. There were still some impressive icicles to be seen.

12. Falls

The lower section of Beaver Brook Falls had shaken off its think coating of ice and was announcing spring with a roar. It’s amazing to come here in the dead of winter when even they are silent. Ice makes a very good sound insulation.

13. Greater Whipwort

Greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) will fulfil the Pathfinder’s one liverwort requirement. Their need for 5 each of lichens and mosses will easily be met here as well. This liverwort doesn’t grow everywhere but it isn’t really rare either. I always find it growing on stones near a brook or a stream. At a glance it might fool you into thinking it was a moss but a closer look reveals the three tiny lobes at the base of each leaf that give it the trilobata part of its scientific name. This liverwort is the host plant for the larva of a moth known as the gold cap moss eater (Epimartyria auricrinella.)

14. Blue Fibers on Tree Skirt Moss

A while ago I did a post about all of things that I found growing on a single tree, and in it I mentioned how I had been seeing a lot of long white fibers hung up on lichens especially. Well, now they’re getting hung up on moss too, and they’re blue. I found this little bundle on some dry tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates.) I wonder if a bird was collecting it for its nest and dropped it. I don’t see many humans where this particular moss grows.

 15. Line on Road

The snow had melted enough in one spot to see a little piece of the yellow line that still runs up the middle of this old road. Since the temperature reached into the 60s F yesterday I’m hoping to see a lot more of it next week when the Pathfinders are here.

If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. ~Rachel Carson

Thanks for stopping in.

1. Sap Buckets

If you could only take one photo to tell the rest of the world that it was spring in New England, it would have to be of sap buckets hung on a maple tree. In spite of 25 of 31 days in March being colder than  average the sap is flowing, but one syrup producer says that he has collected only about a third of the sap that he had last year at this time.

2. Red Maple Buds

The purple bud scales of red maple (Acer rubrum) have pulled back to reveal the tomato red buds within. Once the buds break and the tree starts to flower the sap becomes bitter, and maple syrup season ends. That usually happens in mid to late April. If you don’t want to look at a tree’s buds another sign is when the nights become warm enough to get the spring peepers peeping.

3. Budded Daffodils

Some of the daffodils are budded, but they have been for a while. They seem to be waiting for the weather to make up its mind before they’ll open. Either that or I’m just getting impatient.

4. Witch Hazel Petals

Hesitantly, like a child sticking a toe in the water to feel its temperature before wading in, the spring witch hazels have started to unfurl their strap like petals.  Last year they unfurled quite early and the cold turned them brown, so I think we’re seeing a “once bitten, twice shy” scenario here this year.  Though we do have a native vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), it doesn’t grow naturally this far north, and since this one is in a park I’m betting it’s one of the cultivated witch hazels. The other American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that is native to New England blooms in the fall and grows in the same park.

 5. Dwarf Raspberry Leaves

I did find some green leaves in the woods, but they were on the evergreen dwarf raspberry (Rubus pubescens.) This plant likes wet places and trails along the ground like a dewberry, but it has smooth stems and dewberries have prickly stems. Its fruit looks and tastes much like a raspberry, but good luck getting any of it. Birds and animals eat the berries as fast as they ripen.

6. Ledge Ice

There is still plenty of snow and ice to be seen as this photo shows. Still, this is a sign of spring because this ice is rotten and parts of it were falling as I was taking this photo. The opaque milky grayish-white color of this ice was a sure sign that it was rotten, so I didn’t get too close. When ice rots the bonds between the ice crystals weaken and water, air or dirt can get in between them and cause the ice to become honeycombed and lose its strength. It looks to be full of small bubbles and has a weak, dull sound when it is tapped on. It’s a good thing to stay away from when it gets to be taller than you are.

7. Box Elder Buds

A couple of posts ago I talked about pruinose lichens but they aren’t the only things that can be pruinose, as these box elder buds (Acer negundo) show. In case you’ve forgotten, pruinose means a surface that is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that seem to be able to reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits that we are all familiar with.

8. Common Split Gill Mushrooms

Split gill mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune) had their winter coats on, as usual. These are “winter” mushrooms that are usually about the size of a dime but can occasionally get bigger than that. They grow on every continent except Antarctica and because of that are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Their wooly coats make them very easy to identify.

9. Common Split Gill Mushroom

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its under surface that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released. These little mushrooms are very tough and leathery.

 10. Golden Foxtail Moss aka Brachythecium salebrosum

I think this golden foxtail moss (Brachythecium salebrosum) has to take the prize for the longest moss that I’ve seen; its branches must have been at least 2 inches long. It’s unusual because it likes dry places, and I found it growing on stone in a shaded spot under an overhang, where it must have seen very little direct rainfall. This moss has insect repellant qualities and was once used to stuff pillows and mattresses. Today it is a favorite in moss gardens and in India they use it to wrap fruit in.

11. Moss With Unknown Growth

White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) gets its common name from the way it turns a whitish color when it dries out. When wet though, it can be dark green as this photo shows. What this photo also shows are some fuzzy white growths on the moss that I’ve never seen before.

12. Moss With Unknown Growth

I don’t know if the fuzzy white things are mold that has grown due to the moss being covered by ice, or what they are. I’ve seen two different photos online of cushion moss with the same growths, but neither site explained what they were. If you’ve ever seen them and know what they are I’d like to hear from you.

 13. Whiskered Shadow Lichen aka Phaeophyscia hispidula

This is my first photo of a whiskered shadow lichen (Phaeophyscia adiastola.) It’s one of those easily ignored lichens that you think you see all the time but in reality when you look closely, you realize that you’ve never seen anything quite like it. This lichen grows on bark, stone or soil and gets its common name from its abundant root-like rhizines, which show here as a kind of black outline. I found it growing on a piece of ledge that dripping water splashed on, so it was very wet.

14. Whiskered Shadow Lichen closeup

This isn’t a very good photo but at least you can see the “whiskers” that give the whiskered shadow lichen its common name.  These rhizines help foliose lichens anchor themselves onto whatever they’re growing on, much like the roots of a vascular plant would.

 15. Inner Tree Bark

This is nothing but an old piece of bark that I found lying on the snow, but it was quite large and the photo shows what I saw when I turned it over. This is the side that would have been next to the wood of the tree, unseen. I thought the colors and patterns were amazing. If fungi would have caused this is a question that I can’t answer.

April is a promise that May is bound to keep. ~Hal Borland

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

1. Stream

Spring is coming slowly this year, mostly because of a temperature roller coaster that can have near zero wind chills one day and 50 degree warmth the next. Still, spring is happening, as the ice free stream in the above photo shows. It’s a stream I know well and it looked so inviting that I decided to follow it one sunny day. There was a lot of snow still in the woods but luckily it had formed a good crust and I could walk along on top of it.

2. Stream Ice

The stream wasn’t completely ice free though. In fact in shady places it still had a thin skim of ice bank to bank. Last fall I saw a brook trout here that was so big it made me gasp with surprise, but I didn’t see any this day.

3. Stream Bottom Growths

I did see some green something on the bed of the stream. I think it might be filamentous algae, but I don’t know for sure.

4. One-rowed water-cress aka Nasturtium microphyllum

Also growing on the stream bed was what I think is one-rowed watercress (Nasturtium microphyllum,) which is originally from Europe and Asia and which, as the all too familiar story goes, has escaped cultivation and found a home in the wild.  The plant is called one-rowed because the seed pods have their seeds in one row instead of the usual two rows found in common watercress (Nasturtium officinale.) I’ve read that it is an aquatic plant but I can’t seem to find out if it will actually grow under water as these do. I think the yellow color of its leaves comes from being under the ice of the stream all winter, which would have cut off light and effectively blanched them.

5. Indian Pipe Seed Pods

It looked like someone had carved tiny wooden flowers and stuck them in the snow for me to find, but of course they were just the seed pods of Indian pipes. Personally I find them much more beautiful in this state than when they’re flowering. They are one of those things that I could lose myself in, and sit and look at for hours.

6. Horsetails

I went to see what horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) looked like in the winter and found that they looked much the same as they do in summer, except that the snow had broken a few. They grow to about knee high here on the stream bank.

7. Horsetail

Horsetails produce spores in their cone shaped tips, but the examples in this spot rarely grow them. Another name for this plant is scouring rush because of all the silica they contain in their tissues. They make great pot scrubbers in a pinch when you’re camping and in Japan they are boiled and dried and then used to smooth wood. They are said to produce a finish superior to any sandpaper. The green, black and tan stripes always remind me of socks.

8. Horsetail

Horsetail stems are hollow and this example was dripping water like a faucet.

9. Droppings

You don’t realize how much stuff falls from evergreen trees until you walk through an evergreen forest in winter. There must be tons of it and I’m so glad that I don’t have to rake it all up.

 10. Alder Tongue Gall

Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni). The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds and streams.  These galls have a bright red phase in spring so I’ve got to remember to look for them this year. They blacken over time and the ones pictured are last year’s galls.

11. Grape Tendril

There are many wild grapes growing along this stream and most have reached considerable age. Few people ever come here so they are left to grow on their own. They produce an abundant crop almost every year and on warm days in the fall the woods smell just like grape jelly.

12. European Barberry

European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) both have clusters of 3 or more thorns but since American barberry doesn’t grow in New England this one has to be European barberry. Its red berries were once used medicinally and are rich in vitamin C. They were also used in cooking in much the same way that lemon peel is used today, and the bright yellow inner bark was used to make yellow dye. With so many uses it’s no wonder that early settlers brought it from home, but of course it immediately escaped cultivation and was found growing wild in New England as early as 1671. It’s still here but is nowhere near as invasive as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and in fact can be hard to find. I know of only two plants.

13. Bootstrap Fungus

There are a few dead trees along the stream and this might have something to do with it. Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

14. Woodpecker Hole

Woodpeckers seem to like it here along the stream, because there was plenty of evidence that they had been here. This hole was quite deep into the tree and I wondered if it was a nesting hole. I saw a pileated woodpecker land on a tree right outside my window one day but I don’t see a lot of their rectangular holes, so he might have been just passing through.

15. Engraver Beetle Damage

Bark beetles sometimes create such beautiful patterns in wood that it looks as if a calligrapher has taken up a chisel instead of a pen. When I think of things like this, created under the bark of a limb and never meant for me to see, that’s when I feel an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude, just for being alive and able to see beauty like this every day.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

Thanks for stopping in.

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