Each year at this time I start thinking that if I could just get up above the trees the colors would be better or brighter somehow, but they never seem to be and I’ve never been really happy with any photo that I’ve taken that way. But maybe this time would be different, I hoped. The weatherman told me that we were at the peak of our fall colors, so last Saturday I decided to climb Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard to try again.


I kept seeing dark spots on the fading, pale orange striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum) so I had to take a closer look. The quarter size spots were made up of many smaller specks.


I haven’t found a reference to anything similar so I can’t say what they are at this point. They looked like hardened drops of a liquid but I doubt the leaves would weep in such concentrated areas and not all over. If you know what they are I’d love to hear from you.


Something ate these little brown mushrooms and tore the stems when they did so. I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what animal would do it. There is everything from chipmunks to moose to bears in these woods so without tracks or other clues it’s hard to know. I do know that many kinds of little brown mushrooms can make a person very sick, and some can kill.


A pasture appears on the right side of the trail and I always stop here for a breather. The farm that owns this land raises Scottish highland cattle and my hopes of seeing them were raised by the regular snapping of an electric fence at just about knee and waist level, but the cattle never showed up. I had to pay attention so I didn’t get tangled in that fence with my metal monopod, so maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t.


The trail takes a sharp 90 degree left turn and parallels the pasture for a time. It also becomes quite rocky in this stretch. Not far after the turn, maybe a hundred feet or so, there is a break in the trees and brush to the right. If you follow this short path after just a few steps you come to a good view of Mount Monadnock on the right. And the electric fence in front of you.


The reason I chose Pitcher Mountain is because it has a full 360 degrees of viewing area on its summit. If the light is harsh in one direction as it was in this shot of Mount Monadnock from the trail, it often isn’t quite so harsh in a different direction. At least that’s what I was hoping. Finding correct exposure settings can be tough with some colors in such bright light.


Beech trees are starting to turn and they seem to be right on schedule. Though they are among the last to turn along with the oaks, most had turned fully by Halloween last year.


Before too long the fire tower glimpsed through the trees tells you that you’re very near the summit.


The old fire warden’s cabin might be in for a rough ride this winter if nature decides to make up the 15 inch rain deficit with snow. Though I’ve climbed up here in the winter several times if that happens I probably won’t be up here to see it.


You can turn and look back just above the warden’s cabin to see the pasture from above, along with Mount Monadnock in the background. The view from the summit to Monadnock would be almost directly south.


The fire tower is the second one to stand on this peak. Ironically the first wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940 in a fire which destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit. It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history. Stout cables keep this one from blowing off the mountain but there is still little to protect it from a large fire.


If you’re standing where I was in the previous photo looking at the tower and walk around to the left side of it, what I call the near hill seems to be close enough to touch. I don’t know its name or if it even has one.


It was hard to pay attention to far off colors when colors like this were so close by on the summit.


Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) added to the orange colors of fall. I was thinking one day about how we rarely see orange in nature for most of the year but then all of the sudden we are saturated with it in the fall. The orange pad like parts of this lichen are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) and the grayish, brain like part is the body (thallus.)


Black and white crater lichens seemed to stare back at me from the stones. I think they are Diploschistes scruposus, simply called crater lichen after their cup shaped black fruiting bodies (apothecia,) which are surrounded by a stark white or gray body (thallus.) They grow on exposed rock all over the earth, even in the Polar Regions.


Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries, and they turn a beautiful red in the fall. They supply most of the red that can be seen in the near distance in many of these photos.


There were a surprising amount of berries that the birds and pickers had missed, but they were shriveled.


As far as the eye could see the trees were turning. I’m surprised to see how many more deciduous trees than evergreens there are in this photo.


I’m not sure what the name of the mountain in the distance is but it seemed to be higher than the one I was standing on and it wasn’t Mount Monadnock. It was quite far away but unfortunately I didn’t pay any attention to what direction it was in.


This birch tree was almost leafless but its comrades more than made up for its lack of color. It seemed a kind of exclamation point, as if colors like these needed to be emphasized.


I think this photo is my personal favorite from that day because it has all of the colors I saw in it. It also shows the incredible beauty that can be found up here.


It seemed strange to see the natural birdbath full of water in the middle of a drought; it must have rained recently. I’m sure the many birds that I heard are very grateful.

I’m sorry that this post was so photo heavy but our autumn “season” is really very short and we’re lucky if we see three weeks of the kind of colors that I saw on this day, so I went a bit overboard. Though I don’t usually climb strictly for the views on this day that’s what I came for and they were very good, with little haze.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.
~Ron Akers

Thanks for stopping in.




Last week I decided to visit Indian Pond in Chesterfield. I’d heard about it but had never been so off I went. The trail I was to follow to the pond took me very near a place I know well, so I took a short detour to the ruins of Madame Sherri’s summer home, which is called the “castle.” Madame Sherri was a French costume designer who worked in New York City in the roaring twenties (1920s) and designed costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies and others. The chalet style castle was built of local stone found on the property, and I think what draws people to the site is what’s left of the arched outdoor stairway shown above. Two of the largest arches have come apart, so I fear this well-known local landmark won’t be standing much longer unless it is repaired.


This view shows the side entrance. Large windows were set in between stone pillars. I’m guessing that Madame Sherri had a lot of visitors from New York in the fall, because the colors were amazing. The place still gets plenty of visitors and a second parking lot had to be built to accommodate the overflow. They come in droves from all over the world, but especially in autumn.


This old photo shows the castle as it was before it was destroyed by fire on October 18, 1962; nearly 54 years ago to the day, which I didn’t know when I went there. Madame Sherri died penniless and a ward of the town of Brattleboro, Vermont in 1965 at the age of 84.


Back when I was a teenager I used to come here often and in those days you could sit here all day and not see a soul. One year an outdoor rock concert was held with the ruins of the castle as the stage and the popularity of the place has grown ever since until today, you’d have a hard time finding that you had the place to yourself. The last time I was here I had to avoid interrupting a professional photo shoot, costumed model and all. That day it was more like a circus than a nature walk.

The Ann Stokes that the sign refers to is the lady who bought the land and graciously donated it to the public. Indian Pond, it is said, was where Madame and her guests would swim in seclusion. I’m not sure why I never visited the pond years ago.


The first thing you come to is a beaver pond. I didn’t see any signs of recent activity so the beavers might have abandoned it. All the grass in the distance tells me it has silted up. Soon shrubs will start growing there and then the forest will eventually reclaim it.


New England asters bloomed along the edge of the pond.


I’ve searched for a nurse log for many years and finally found one here by the beaver pond. A nurse log is a log which has decayed enough to provide a fertile bed for tree seedlings, either of its own or another species. They aren’t common; this is the first one I’ve seen. I believe those are birch seedlings growing near the old root ball of the log.


Considering how dry it has been I was surprised to see a few mushrooms dotted here and there. I haven’t been able to identify these orange ones with small caps that seemed out of proportion to their long stems. I wondered if they were stunted due to the dryness.


I think these examples were Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus illudens,) which grow in clusters on wood. Some experts say that through a process called bioluminescence the gills of Jack O’ Lanterns glow green in the dark, but others say that they don’t. I don’t have time to shut myself in a closet with them to find out, so I don’t suppose I’ll ever know for sure. They are definitely poisonous but smell very good and that can tempt people into eating them. They shouldn’t be confused with chanterelles, which don’t grow in clusters and don’t grow on wood. Those pictured grew on a log.


The hike to Indian Pond is described as “an easy 45 minute round trip hike to a secluded, beautiful mountain lake.” Define easy, I muttered as I climbed up and up at a steep enough grade to have me stopping to catch my breath. But a twelve year old could have run up to the pond and back with ease, I’m sure. In fact I met quite a few people of that age on the trail and could sense them obviously itching to do just that. Did I have that much energy at twelve, I wondered?


There are a couple of bridges to help you negotiate a stream which on this day had dried up completely. I’ve seen an alarming number of streams and ponds dry up this year and there is still no rain in sight.


There were lots of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) blooming. They’re our latest blooming native understory shrub, so when you see these flowers you know winter is near.


I think a lot of people who come to New England in the fall believe that seeing the colorful foliage is the extent of it, but there’s much more to it than that. The crisp air, the rustle of the leaves as you walk through them, the soft whisper of acorns hitting the leaves as they fall and the earthy fragrance that surrounds you are all part of what we call autumn, and walking through a forest like this one is the only way to be completely immersed in the experience.


There are a few well-placed signs pointing you to where you want to go. I took a right turn at this one. From here it’s just a short walk to the pond.


The stunning foliage colors at the pond made the uphill hike worthwhile, and I sat an enjoyed them while I had the whole place to myself.


The pond really isn’t that big; I certainly wouldn’t call it a lake, but it is secluded. If I’d had more time I would have tried to find a trail around it.


Someone had a campfire, or maybe there have been many years of campfires here. A fire probably wouldn’t be a great idea right now considering how dry it is.


After a last look at the foliage I headed back down the hill, thinking of the photo of a yellow lady’s slipper that I had seen which was taken somewhere in these woods. I’ve never seen a yellow lady’s slipper so knowing they grow here will get me be back in the spring.


On my way back to the parking area I had to stop and admire the reflected colors in the beaver pond. The colors this year are truly amazing; better than I think anyone expected.

Explore often. Only then will you know how small you are and how big the world is.~ Pradeepa Pandiyan

Thanks for coming by.



I’ve seen the white of frost on rooftops a couple times but it was very light and from what I can see didn’t harm a single plant, so we’re still seeing a few flowers. Our average first frost date is September 15th, so we’re very lucky to be seeing them nearly a month later. I found this nice clump of what I think is purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) growing on the shore of a pond recently.


I’m seeing this aster everywhere right now. It has flowers that are quite small and grows at forest edges and other dry locations. I think it’s the late purple aster (Symphyotrichum patens.) It’s rough, hairy stems tell me that it isn’t the smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve.) Whatever its name is, it’s a beautiful small plant that’s loaded with blossoms.


I’m not sure why but as a gardener I never had much to do with globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) but I saw some recently in a town garden. It’s a native of Central and South America so it must have loved the warm weather we had this summer. I’ve read that blossoms can be purple, red, white, pink, or lilac.


This globe amaranth reminded me of red clover.


There was also a darker colored variety that I thought was pretty.


It can’t be fall without mums (Chrysanthemum) and this pink one was given to me by a friend many years ago. It has grown well all that time with no special treatment and it’s very cold hardy; it has survived -35 °F (-37 °C.) I’m hoping that it will never have to again.


I had to walk out to where the bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) grow in their moist, shaded spot along the banks of the Ashuelot River. I hoped to see plenty of them but just these 3 were left, so I’m guessing they’re done this year. I love their beautiful blue color but I wish they’d open like a fringed gentian. Bees have to pry them open to get inside. I’ve read that these plants won’t tolerate drought so we’ll have to see what next year brings.


I first saw this viburnum growing beside a box store a few years ago and have wondered its name ever since. It’s the latest blooming viburnum I’ve ever seen but since there are something like 150–175 species, I’m not surprised. I’m fairly sure after a few years of off and on research it must be a viburnum cultivar called “Dart’s Duke” (Viburnum x rhytidophylloides.)


Dart’s Duke is a big viburnum which can reach 8’ tall by 8’ wide in sun or shade.  It has large, showy white flower heads in May and can rebloom in the fall as I’ve seen it do for several years running.  The flowers are followed by bright red berries. The large, leathery leaves are said to be deer resistant.


I’m still seeing dandelions but only occasionally. The very hot and dry summer seems to have knocked the wind from their sails.


Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) sometimes has a second blooming period. Though the flowers are smaller and not as tall they can almost fool you into thinking that it’s summer again.  When freshly cut Queen Anne’s lace flowers will change color depending on the color of the water in which they are placed, so if you put a bouquet into purple water you’ll have purple Queen Anne’s lace.


I’m not seeing very many now but black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) still blooms here and there. It’s one of our longest blooming flowers, often blooming from June to our first hard freeze. I found this pair growing near a pond. Since the water is warmer than the air now the pond probably moderates the nighttime temperature. By October 19th the probability that we’ll have a hard freeze is around 90%.


Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is another plant that won’t be finished until we have a freeze but it doesn’t start blooming as early as black eyed Susans do. I finally remembered to crush a few blossoms and smell them, and they really do smell like maple syrup. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as this example shows. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.


The gazania blossom in my last flower post was a big hit so I went back to our local college to get more photos of other examples, but every blossom had closed up, so instead I got a shot of this ornamental Datura (Datura metel) blossom.  I’ve seen Datura many times, but never as beautiful as this. A little research leads me to believe that it is a black Datura hybrid called Datura metel Fastuosa “Double Purple Blackberry.” A native Datura found here is called Jimson weed, which is a corruption of the original Jamestown weed, signaling where it was first found. Each blossom opens in the evening and lasts until about noon the following day.


Bees were all over the Datura, but some were moving slowly and seemed confused. The blossoms are doubled with many ruffles and bees in the know crawled in from the side and then down into the trumpet, but a few like the one pictured just crawled around the outside looking for a way in. Datura contains several powerful toxic compounds and even the honey made from its flowers can sometimes lead to poisoning.


Another name for Datura is thorn apple because of the spiny seed pods that appear on some varieties.  The seeds and flowers are the most toxic parts of the plant, but they were used in sacred rituals for many thousands of years by Native American shamans and the plant is still called “Sacred Datura” by many. Native Americans knew the plant well though, and knew what dosages would and wouldn’t kill. Many with less experience have died trying to test the hallucinogenic effects of the plant.


The black Datura, Datura metal, has unusual seed pods but the seeds within are just as toxic as other varieties. If the plant wasn’t so toxic I’d hollow out a seed pod and dry it to see if it would hold its color and shape. It’s very unusual.


Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Its tiny flowers have an upper hood and a lower lip which are fused into a tube. Tucked up under the hood are the four stamens and forked pistil, placed perfectly so any visiting bees have to brush against them. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt.

There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of heal all; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.


In a recent post I said that witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) would bloom once the leaves fell off, but I should have said that the flowers would be easier to see once the leaves fell. The flowers are there now but most are surrounded by leaves and can be hard to see. Native Americans used the plant to treat skin irritation in the same way it is used to this day. The common English name witch hazel was given to it by early settlers after the Wych Elms (Ulmus glabra) that they knew in England. Wych means pliable or bendable.


Witch hazel flowers are our latest blooming native flower and are always worth looking for, starting in October. I can’t think of any others quite like them. It can be quite a surprise to come upon a whole grove of them on a cool day in November. I’ve seen them blooming as late as January in a warm winter.

A beautiful thing, though simple in its immediate presence, always gives us a sense of depth below depth, almost an innocent wild vertigo as one falls through its levels. ~Frederick Turner

Thanks for stopping in.


Fall continues to amaze. Especially amazing to me is how colorful everything is in spite of our drought, which seems to go on and on. Even old timers who have seen the colors come and go for years often stand agape at the current year’s brilliance, and some say it’s the best they’ve seen. But then, we say that almost every year, so you’ll have to judge for yourself.


The red maples (Acer rubrum) are really putting on a show this year and that surprises me because another name for them is “swamp maple,” which hints at how much water they like. As of right now many of our swamps, small ponds and streams have dried up, but since these trees grow right at the water’s edge I’m sure they aren’t suffering.


The yellow leaved vine in the foreground of this photo is oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus,) climbing high into the trees seeking more light. At all other times of year it bends into the green background but in the fall it turns bright yellow quite early, and that’s why this is the best time of year to try to eradicate it. It’s very invasive and very hard to get rid of once it becomes established.


Puffy white clouds would have done a lot for this shot of Mount Monadnock from Perkin’s Pond in Troy, but we don’t see too many clouds these days so I have to take what nature gives. This is the first time in the fall that I’ve had this spot all to myself. There are usually cars lined up along the road and painters and photographers vying for the best spot. Maybe they were waiting for clouds to appear.


More red maples, this time at the edge of the pond in the previous photo. Too bad they don’t stand in front of the mountain.


I drive by this red maple tree every day on my way to work and I’ve watched it get more colorful each day until finally I had to stop and take its photo. Red maples are among our most beautiful trees and fortunately our forests are full of them. This one grows right beside a stream and even though I see it each day its color seems almost surreal. It was all my camera’s sensor could do to capture its true brilliance.


I think the trees along this section of the Ashuelot River in Keene are turning a little more slowly than in other places, but it’s happening.


Mr. and Mrs. Mallard preened in the late afternoon sunlight. Are they oblivious to the incredible beauty that surrounds them or do they know that they’re part of it, I wonder?


Bright red bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny Roma tomatoes, but they’re very toxic and shouldn’t be eaten.


The leaves of the bittersweet nightshade were an amazing dark purple, almost black.


Even the mushrooms are dressed for fall.


Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) isn’t offered by nurseries but I’ve always though it should be. It’s a very low growing shrub; I think the tallest one I’ve seen might have reached 3 feet. It has white flowers at the branch ends in the spring but I’ve always thought that fall was when it was most beautiful because of the amazing range of colors in its leaves.


This is one example of the colors found in maple leaf viburnum leaves…


…and this is another, with the berries (drupes) included as a bonus. These fruits are about the size of raisins and I’ve heard that they don’t taste very good, but many birds and animals eat them. They disappear quickly and getting a shot of both fall colored leaves and fruit is difficult. In fact it’s something I’ve been trying to do for years.


I often walk along the Ashuelot River in the late afternoon in the fall, and this is one reason why. When the sun is right it looks like the trees are on fire, and it can sometimes be breathtaking. Many times I’ve come upon people who were frozen in place, just staring. I love seeing the beauty of nature take people outside of themselves, and this is a great place to see it happen. I know well how they feel, so I rarely leave without a smile on my face.


Though many of the photos in this post were taken near water this is the only one that showed a clear reflection of the trees. Catching reflections is often not as easy as it might seem.


The beautiful reds, oranges and purples of this small tree caught my eye.  I think it’s a young walnut. The colors are so bright it looks like I used a flash, but I didn’t.


The staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are showing good color this year. In the fall these small trees can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between.


I thought my color finding software was going to have a breakdown when I asked it to tell me what colors were in these sumac leaves. Most prevalent is something it calls “Indian red,” but it also sees tomato red, pale violet red, fire brick, coral, salmon pink, peach puff, rosy brown, burly wood, light yellow, and Peru, which is a shade of orange, and believe it or not, tan. That’s a dozen colors on a single branch. I see red, orange and a little yellow and I’m happy with that.


This was taken along the Branch River in Marlborough in full sun. I can never decide if full sun or an overcast sky is better for showing off the colors so I try to get some of both for these posts. This year though, overcast skies have been hard to come by.


On the television news one recent evening they were interviewing visitors from other lands who had come to see the fall foliage. Many said that photos couldn’t ever compare to the real thing, and I have to agree. I’ve tried my best to show what I’ve seen, but I hope one day everyone will get to see this beautiful yearly spectacle in person. It’s when nature pulls out all the stops and reminds us what the word beauty really means.

Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell–some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

Thanks for coming by.



As flowers start to fade and leaves begin to fall my thoughts often turn to lichens, mosses and all of the other beautiful things you can still find in nature in the winter. We’ve had two or three days of drizzle; nothing drought busting but enough to perk up the lichens. Lichens like plenty of moisture, and when it doesn’t rain they will simply dry up and wait. Many change color and shape when they dry out and this can cause problems with identification, so serious lichen hunters wait until after a soaking rain to find them. This is when they show their true color and form. The pink fruiting bodies of the pink earth lichen in the above photo for example, might have been shriveled and pale before the rain.


Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichen than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are very beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants.


Bright orange poplar sunburst (Xanthomendoza hasseana) is a beautiful lichen with its large disc shaped, sucker like fruiting bodies (apothecia) which are almost always showing. It’s found on tree bark and provides a lot of color in winter when there are no flowers to see.

Another sunburst lichen, the elegant sunburst (Xanthoria elegans) was exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for one and a half years and when it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened. Many believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as close to immortal as any earth based life form can be.


British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) like to grow on damp wood like rotted stumps and logs, but I’ve found them on buildings, fence posts, and built up forest litter on boulders. At this time of year I don’t pass too many mossy old tree stumps without having a glance for British soldiers.


Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) This one was growing on stone in full sun. It is about as big as a quarter now, but when I first met it years ago it was about the size of a penny.


Lichen identification can sometimes be tricky. Though it resembles scattered rock posy I think this is rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora.) It was growing on stone, but even though the book Lichens of North America says that it grows on tree bark a little further research on the website Images of British Lichens shows that it grows on tree bark or stone. Based on that information and the fact that I can’t find a similar saucer lichen that grows in New England, I’m going with rosy saucer lichen. Even though it has rosy in its name its apothecia can range from pink to orange, according to what I’ve read.


It didn’t work out very well but I put a nickel behind these pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) to give you an idea of how small they are. The photo came out looking like golf tees in front of a full moon. A nickel is .83 inches in diameter and the round cup of the golf tee shaped pixie cup might be .12 inches on a good day. You wouldn’t fit an average pea in the cup, but a BB from an air rifle might sit in one.


I had to really push my camera to get this shot so I could show you the inside of the cup of a pixie cup lichen. The nearly microscopic red dots on the rim of the cup are this lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) The tan colored scales are leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (Thallus,) and some lichens are squamulose, meaning they’re made up of small, leafy lobes. I’m not sure what the objects in the cup are, but they’re extremely small.


Powdery sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes) was growing on a stone. This foliose lichen is easy to see, even when it’s small, because of its bright orange yellow color. This lichen really likes moisture and is often found growing near channels that carry water on stone or bark. This one was about the size of an average aspirin. Lichens are a good indicator of air quality, so if you aren’t seeing them you might want to check into your local air quality.


Lichens like the common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) in the above photo are here year round for us to enjoy, and once the leaves fall many lichens become even easier to see. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.


As its name implies maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) grows on the bark of maple trees, but also on beech, oak, and basswood. One of the easiest ways to identify this lichen is to look for the white fringe around its perimeter. This is one of those lichens that I never saw until I stumbled across it one day, and now I see it everywhere. This example was about 3/4 of an inch in diameter, or about the size of a penny.


Cumberland rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia) likes to grow on boulders and that’s where I found this one. The body (Thallus) is described as being “yellow-green to sometimes bluish green” and the fruiting discs (Apothecia) are “cinnamon to dark brown.” The body of this lichen always looks like someone dripped candle wax on the stone to me.


This is a close up of the apothecia on a Cumberland rock shield lichen. Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for.


Beard lichens are common enough; they even fall from the trees on windy days, but this beard lichen is growing on stone and that’s very uncommon, in my experience. I think this example must be bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta,) which can grow on wood or stone, but I must see a hundred growing on wood for each one growing on stone.


There are many different kinds of beard lichens and the differences can be subtle, but the fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) stands apart because of its resemblance to the backbone of a fish. This lichen seems to prefer growing on spruce but I’ve seen it on other trees as well. Though it isn’t rare I don’t see it often. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.


There are places in these woods where reindeer lichens drift like snow, and in colder climates they lie under the snow for months. As their name implies they are an important food source for reindeer, and they paw through the snow to find and eat them. Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades for drifts like the one pictured to reappear. There are two types in this photo; the green star tipped reindeer lichen (Cladonia stellaris,) and the gray reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina.)


Gray reindeer lichen in this area is silver gray, almost white, with a main stem and branches much like a tiny tree. Each branch tip is a brownish color with a globe or pear shaped fruiting body called a pycnidium. The Native American Ojibwa tribe were known to bathe newborns in water in which this lichen had been boiled, and other tribes drank tea made from it. It has also been eaten, but if you plan on eating lichens correct preparation is everything, because some can cause serious stomach problems.


It’s easy to see how star tipped reindeer lichen comes by its common name; each branch tip ends in a star shaped cluster of four or five branches surrounding a center hole. This lichen seems to be a favorite of reindeer; they will often leave the gray reindeer lichen until last and eat this one first. In Europe this lichen is used in the pharmaceutical industry as an ingredient in antibiotic ointments.


One of the most beautiful lichens that I find growing on stone is the smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) with its blue apothecia. The blue color seen in the above photo is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies, which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. It’s as if pieces of the sky had been sprinkled on the stones when the light is right, but the apothecia can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from. The greenish-gold background color is the color of the body (thallus) of this crustose lichen.

I hope this post has shown how beautiful and interesting lichens are, and how easy they are to find. Lichens grow virtually everywhere including on building facades, sidewalks and rooftops, so they can even be found in cities. Many are quite small though, so you have to walk slowly and look closely to find them. Once you’ve seen a few you’ll start seeing them almost everywhere you go.

If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Thanks for stopping in.



Fall officially began two weeks ago but often the calendar doesn’t align with what we see, and fall colors are only just starting to appear.  We’re probably a week or two away from peak color but you can get glimpses, as this view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows. Water cools slower than the air and fog forms on lakes, ponds and rivers most mornings now.


While at the pond I took some photos of marsh St. John’s wort seed pods, which are an amazing shade of red. It’s particularly amazing to me because it is one of the few shades of red in nature that I can actually see. Colorblindness plays havoc with reds and blues for me.


Though the drive down this dirt road was mostly green there was quite a bit of yellow to be seen as well. Birches turn yellow and usually do so quite early.


This black birch (Betula lenta) was half green and half yellow. This tree’s bark looks like cherry bark but the twigs have an unmistakable taste of wintergreen, so nibbling on a twig is the easiest way to identify it. Black birch was once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen, and so many were taken that they can be very hard to find now. Most are found on private property rather than in the forest where they were harvested.


This witch hazel was also half green and half yellow, but in a very different way. Once this shrub loses all its leaves it will bloom. Witch hazel is our latest flower; I’ve seen them even in January.


At this time of year small black witch hats can be seen on some witch hazel leaves. They are actually the gall of the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis). These galls won’t hurt the plant, but they do look a little strange. They are called nipple galls or cone heads.


The yellow ribbons along the edges of the old road were made of ferns and wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis.) Native Americans used the root of this plant as emergency food and it was also once used to make root beer.


The ripe berries of autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) signal fall’s arrival. It’s a terribly invasive plant originally from Japan but also very fragrant in spring. Its wonderful fragrance overlaps that of lilacs and honeysuckle and smelling all 3 mingled together is a little slice of heaven that I look forward to each spring.


It looks like it’s going to be a good year for burning bushes (Euonymus alatus,) both in color and berries.


The color of burning bushes can vary considerably, from red to pink to magenta. These along the river have chosen vivid magenta this year. The many berries will ripen from greenish white to orangey red and the birds will eat them quickly, and that’s what makes this plant so invasive. Once they become established they can take over large areas of forest and create enough shade so native plants don’t have a chance.


Fall is the time when more colorful crust fungi appear. This orange one, which I believe is Stereum complicatum, is the first I’ve seen. This fungus is usually brown and I’m not sure if it changes color in the fall or if some of them decide they want to be orange.  Of course, I might also have the identification wrong, but it’s very pretty no matter its name and I like seeing it in the woods.


I don’t know if day length or cooler temperatures trigger the need to produce spores in jelly fungi, but I see more of the jelly like fruiting bodies in the fall and winter than I do at other times of year. So far I’ve never been able to find an explanation for why that is.


But I do know that it’s great to come across bright orange jelly fungi in the dead of winter, even if it is frozen solid.  I think this one’s name is orange witch’s butter (Dacrymyces palmatus,) which isn’t in the same family as yellow witches’ butter (Tremella mesenterica.)  It likes to grow on fallen pines and often looks like it is being squeezed out of voids in the bark, but that’s because it actually grows on the wood of the log and not the bark.


A huge old oak tree was a sea of green except for this one branch which had turned yellow. If this entire tree turns that color it’s really going to be something to see.


Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) continues its long, slow change from green to red. Though some trees and bushes seem to change color overnight, Virginia creeper won’t be rushed. This photo was taken on a rare rainy day so the leaves were shinier than they would normally be.


I visited one of my favorite cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) groves hoping to see them wearing orange but instead I saw mostly yellow and green. I don’t know if they’ll go from yellow to orange or not, but I’ll keep checking. Cinnamon ferns get their common name from their cinnamon brown fertile fronds that appear in spring.


This is what I was hoping to see in the cinnamon fern grove. Seeing that many ferns wearing this color is kind of amazing.


There is a spot on the Ashuelot River to the north of town where one tree turns color before all of the others. I can’t get close enough to it to know for sure but I think it’s a maple. It certainly is bright, whatever it is.


There is still more green than other colors along the river, but pink, yellow, and orange can be seen here and there. This is one of my favorite places to walk in the fall. Before too long the colors here will be astounding.


Since I started with a photo of Half Moon Pond I’ll end with one too, taken with my cell phone just 2 days ago in the early morning light. It shows the promise of things to come, I think. Everyone has been wondering what this extended drought would do to the fall colors but from what I’ve seen so far things look to be fairly normal.  One theory says that fall will be colorful but brief and that could prove to be true, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile I’ll enjoy being inside this beautiful kaleidoscope of colors.

An autumn forest is such a place that once entered, you never look for the exit. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.


We do love our asters here in New England and right now you’d be hard pressed to find a roadside where they weren’t blooming. As if thousands of native asters along our roads weren’t enough, we also grow cultivars in our parks and gardens. I found the example in the above photo in a local children’s park. I don’t know its name but it was a beautiful thing and very big; probably 5 feet across and covered with blue and purple flowers..


Annual fleabane (Erigeron annuus) is an easy flower to ignore and I’m often guilty of doing so, maybe because it’s so common and I see it everywhere all through the summer, from June to October.


At this time of year it would be easy to mistake annual fleabane for an aster if the fleabanes didn’t start blooming so much earlier.  There’s also the fact that they just don’t have the “aster look” when you see the entire plant. There can sometimes be 40-50 small, half inch flowers blooming at the same time.


In spite of the dryness bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) is having a good year, but I can’t find a single plant with a blue stem. That’s probably because a very thin wax coating is what makes the stems blue, and the wax can melt in hot weather. I’ve seen the same thing happen to blue gray hosta leaves, which are also covered with a wax coating.


Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) still blooms on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Its common name comes from the way the leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.


When I see a rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) I always think of my time spent as a gardener in Florida. I worked in the gardens of a large hotel and the job included trimming what seemed like miles of tropical hibiscus hedges (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and rose of Sharon is a kind of hardy hibiscus in the same family as the tropical hibiscus. The hardy version shown here has large trumpet shape blossoms in early fall.


Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) is still blooming but this year the blossoms are very light colored, while last year the plants in this spot had much darker blossoms. I wish I knew what determined what shade of a certain color a flower will be. Asters alone must come in every shade of purple known to man and knapweed appears to run a close second.


I saw this beautiful pink rose unfurling in a local park. It might have been the last rose of summer or the first rose of fall. I was disappointed by its lack of scent. Plant breeders often sacrifice scent in favor of color and / or size. After growing up with a yard full of heavenly scented Rosa rugosa it’s a practice that I’ve never been completely in favor of.


This daisy like flower also blooms in a local park and did so last year even when snow was falling. It looks like a Shasta daisy on steroids, growing two feet tall with tough leathery leaves that looked much like Shasta daisy leaves. After a little research I think it might be a Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum,) also called Nippon daisy, which tells me that it must be from Japan. Last year it was blooming beautifully after a 28 °F night, so it’s certainly cold hardy.


Nothing says fall quite like phlox, and I see a lot of them. Most of the plants I see are in gardens but I think the one pictured is Phlox paniculata, which is native to the eastern United States. Native Americans used many species of phlox medicinally and they were among the first wildflowers in the United States to be collected and exported back to Europe, where they became very popular.


I found this gazania at our local college. Gazanias are natives of South Africa and like heat and sunshine, which they’ve had plenty of here this summer. They are also drought tolerant, which was another plus this summer. I don’t know this one’s name but it was a bright, cheery plant.


 I don’t really know why but I always look for the darkest flower in a group. I suppose one reason might be because darker colors are often more intense, as this deep purple New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) shows. It’s very beautiful and for me, in the world of daisy like flowers, this one approaches perfection. It was very easy for me to lose myself in it for a while.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven? ~ A.J. Balfour

Thanks for stopping in.