I visited the otter pond recently, trying to figure out how he would come and go. This small stream feeds into the pond but it’s too shallow and narrow for an otter to swim in. It had some beautiful patterns in its ice though.
The reason I wondered about the otter is because its pond is completely frozen over with no holes like there were the last time I saw it in December. Where do otters go when this happens, I wonder?
All of the thawing and re-freezing has left the ice as smooth as glass, but the warm weather has made it too thin to skate on. The two dark spots show little to no thickness and there were thin ice signs where people skate. I’m sure there are a few dozen frustrated skaters it town because of it.
I saw some burdocks and remembered how Swiss engineer George de Mestral got the idea for Velcro from the sticky burrs lodged in his dog’s coat. I wondered why I didn’t think of such things.
This is where the hook part of the “hook and loop” Velcro fasteners came from. I’ve never seen it happen but I’ve heard that small birds can get caught in burdocks and then can’t escape. That could be why there were no seeds missing from these examples; maybe the birds have learned to stay away. According to John Josselyn, a visitor from England in 1672, the burdock came to this country as burrs tangled in cow’s tails, but if that is true then how did Native Americans know the plant so well? They used the entire plant as food or medicine and made a candy-like treat from burdock roots by slicing them and boiling them in maple syrup. They stored much of it for winter.
Birds aren’t staying away from coneflower seeds. I always let coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) go to seed. Goldfinches, cardinal, blue jays and other birds love to eat them. I’ve never seen a bird on them but the seeds disappear and there is often a pair of blue jays in the yard. Many butterflies and bees also love its flowers, so if you’re looking to attract the birds and bees, this is one plant that will do it. The Echinacea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word echinos, which means hedgehog, and refers to the spiny seed head.
An old pine stump was red with British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella.) This lichen also grows on bark or soil and is often seen where people live because it is extremely tolerant of pollution. Because of that and its bright red color it is said to be the best known lichen in the eastern United States. I’ve even seen it growing on buildings.
The spore bearing apothecia of the British Soldier is very red with a matte rather than shiny surface. The biggest among this grouping could have easily hidden under a pea.
If you spend time walking along stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it. This is the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it.
A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was made up of mostly irregularly shaped fruiting bodies, so it was making plenty of spores. I think this is the first time I’ve seen it do so.
I had to visit my old friend the scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) that I’ve been watching grow for several years now. It has gone from penny to quarter size (0.75-0.95 in) and is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) I always find them growing on stone in full sun. This is a lichen that never seems to stop producing spores; its orange pad like apothecia are always there.
If you’re stuck in the winter doldrums and feel the need for some color, just find a blueberry bush; everything about them is red, except the berries. Part of the reason the earliest English settlers survived New England winters in Plymouth was because the Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe showed them how to dry blueberries for winter use. Natives used the dried berries in soups and stews and as a rub for meat. They also made tea from the dried leaves. More than 35 species of blueberries are native to the U.S.
Amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) have started to appear on downed trees and limbs. You can’t tell from this photo because these examples were frozen solid but this fungus has a shiny side and a matte finish side. The spores are produced on the shiny side and if I understand what I’ve read correctly, this is true of most jelly fungi. This one has the color of jellied cranberry sauce. Jelly fungi can absorb up to 60 times their weight in water, so if a weakened branch is covered with them as this oak limb was, it doesn’t take much of a wind to bring the heavily weighted branch and the jelly fungi to the ground. Jelly fungi are a signal that the tree’s health isn’t good.
Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) seed pods look like beautiful carved wooden flowers that have been stuck into the snow. Most have split open by now into 5 separate parts to release tens of thousands of seeds to the wind. Each individual seed is only ten cells thick. Indian pipes are parasitic on certain fungi, which in turn are often parasitic on the roots of trees so in a roundabout way they get their food from trees.
Tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius), also called horse hoof fungus, grew on a fallen log, but didn’t grow on the tree while it was standing. I know this because their spore bearing surfaces pointed towards the ground. If they had grown before the tree fell then their spore bearing surfaces would appear perpendicular rather than parallel to the ground. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that as many as 800 million can be produced in a single hour. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by none other than the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE).
I’ve searched and searched for the answer to why some trees twist when they grow and the short answer seems to be; nobody really knows. What is known is that the wood is often weaker and boards cut from spiral grained trees often twist as they dry, yet while the tree is standing it is more limber than a straight grained tree and is better able to withstand high winds. Scientists have also found that spiral growth can be left or right handed and both can sometimes appear on the same tree. Though spiral growth appears in the trunk, limbs and roots of some trees you often can’t see it until the bark comes off.
It’s easy to believe that a fallen tree is just an old dead thing that is slowly rotting away but as the icicles on this example show, there is life in it yet.
It’s always a pleasure to see the beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes in winter. The color is caused by a powdery wax which can protect the plant from sunburn, prevent moisture loss, or help shed excess water. In botanical terms, a plant part that looks like this is said to be glaucous, which describes the whitish blue color.
The blue of this blue jay feather rivaled that of the black raspberry cane. I don’t see many blue feathers so I was happy to see this one.
I was even happier when I looked a little closer. Seeing it up close revealed many things about blue jay feathers that I didn’t know. Chief among them was how very beautiful they are.
To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. ~ Oscar Wilde
Thanks for stopping in.