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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.

1. The Tree

A few posts ago Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog and I were talking about how much there is to see on the bark of trees. Almost like an entire world in one square foot of tree bark, we agreed. Of course that got me thinking that it might be interesting to see what I could actually find on a square foot of tree bark, and the above photo is of the tree I chose. It’s nothing special; just a tree in a local shopping mall, but I’ve had trouble figuring out what it is. Landscape architects have hundreds if not thousands of trees to choose from these days, so it could be from virtually any place on earth. Its bark and shape look a lot like hop hornbeam, but I don’t think that’s what it is. Anyhow, this post isn’t about the tree.

2. Miniature Garden

This post is about the gardens that grow on trees, and this particular specimen had so much growing on it that you could hardly see its bark in places. To give you some idea of the scale of what we’re looking at, that little tuft of moss in the center of the photo is roughly the same diameter as a quarter, or slightly less than an inch (24.26 mm).

At this point I should say that, though many people think that lichens, mosses, and algae growing on a tree will harm the tree, that isn’t true. These growths are epiphytes and take nothing at all from the tree. They are simply looking for a convenient place to perch, much like a bird, and get everything they need from the sun, rain and air. However they do like high humidity and still air and their presence might be a sign that the tree should be in a drier place with better air circulation, but if a tree seems sick we shouldn’t automatically blame what’s growing on it. Instead we should call a certified arborist and find the true cause.

3. Moss

Trees have natural channels in their bark that channel rain water down to their roots, and mosses and lichens often take advantage of that. Both lichens and mosses like lots of water and can usually be found growing along these tiny streams. This photo is a closer look at the moss in the center of the above photo. I’m fairly certain that it’s called Lyell´s bristle-moss (Orthotrichum lyellii.) In this photo it was good and wet.

 4. Moss

It’s hard to believe that this is the same moss that’s in the previous photo, but it is. The difference is this photo shows what it looks like when it dries out. I took these photos over a few days so I could show you the changes that these plants go through between their wet and dry states. This is a good illustration of why serious moss and lichen hunters do so immediately after it rains.

5. Penny on Tree

I finally figured out how to make a penny defy gravity so we could get an even better idea of the scale of some of these lichens. For those of you not familiar with the size of a penny, they are 3/4 of an inch (19.05mm) in diameter. Unfortunately, though I can show you this lichen’s size I can’t tell you its name. There are a few poplar sunburst lichens in this area but I’ve never seen one as flat or as round as this one, so I’m not sure if that is what it is.

6. Unknown Yellow Shield Lichen

Whatever it is it was producing spores, as its tiny round fruiting bodies (apothecia) show. They’re the parts that look like tiny suction cups. For now I think I’ll just call it a yellow shield lichen. I know where it lives so I’ll watch it over time to see how it changes.

7. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

I have no doubt that this lichen is a poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthoria hasseana.) Its growth habit is much different than the flat, round example seen previously. Virtually every photo I’ve seen of this lichen shows the mounded, irregular shape seen here.

8. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

Poplar sunburst is a beautiful lichen and one of my favorites. It seems to never stop producing spores as the many fruiting bodies (apothecia) in this photo shows. You would think that such a prolific lichen would show up just about everywhere, but this is the only place I’ve ever seen it. That makes me wonder about the viability of its spores and how far they really travel on the wind.

9. Star Rosette Lichen

This lichen almost had me fooled into thinking that it was a black eyed rosette lichen (Physcia phaea) but the photo clearly shows that its “eyes” (apothecia) are more bluish gray than black. For that reason I believe that it’s a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris), which has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to a white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on blueberries, plums, and first year black raspberry canes. I’ve noticed by watching smoky eye boulder lichens, which also have pruinose apothecia, that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue.

10. Powder Edged Ruffle Lichen aka Parmotrema stuppem

The uniform pale gray color, broad rounded lobes with erect edges, and soralia on the lobe edges all point towards this being a powder edged ruffle lichen (Parmotrema stuppeum). In this example the soralia are white and granular and make the lichen look like its edges have been dipped in sugar.  Soralia are meant to fall or break off a lichen and are used as a vegetative means of propagation. Another feature used to identify this lichen is its black to brown undersides, which aren’t visible in this photo.

11. Rimelia Reticulata Lichen

Here is another example of soralia (aka soredia) on the lobe edges of a lichen but these are much larger and more noticeable than those in the previous photo, and it’s easier to imagine them breaking off when a chipmunk runs over them. I’m fairly certain that this is a netted rimelia lichen (Rimelia reticulata) because of its soralia, but also its black undersides and root like rhizines, which are hard to see in this photo but are there. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this lichen and the previous powder edged ruffle lichen, so I’ve learned a lot from that tree.

12. Hammered Shield Lichen

This lichen I have seen before but only once or twice. Because it looks like its lobes were hammered out of a sheet of steel it has the not so surprising name of hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata). I’m glad that I found so many different gray lichens. At a glance it’s easy to think ho hum, another gray shield lichen, but I hope this post might convince people that it really is worth taking a moment to get a closer look. Even gray lichens can be surprisingly beautiful.

 13. Unknown

Here is something that has had jerry and I scratching our heads and wondering about for over a month now. Jerry first noticed that his lichen photos showed some kind of white, thread like filaments on them and when I went back and looked at my photos I saw that some of the lichens showed the same thing. The fact that they were on moss in this instance almost fooled me, because the club shaped objects in the photo look much like the spore capsules on a moss called puckered tuft moss (Ulota coarctata) and for a short time I thought I had solved the puzzle.

14. Unknown Seed

This photo shows a single tiny club shaped object from the mass in the previous photo. It is so small that I can’t even think of anything to compare it to. Human hair might be best, but the club like end has a greater diameter. It can’t be a moss spore capsule because if it were there would be an opening in the end nearest us for the spores to escape through. Since there is no opening it must be something else. I think that the shiny, hair-like filaments at the far end show that it is a seed of some kind, and those shiny filaments are the seed’s crushed “parachute.” It’s very similar to a dandelion seed but I don’t know if that’s exactly it. There are many other plants with cottony seeds in the area including willows, asters, cattails, milkweed, yellow goat’s beard and others, but none of them are an exact match. If you are reading this and know what plant it came from I’d be very grateful if you filled me in. I’m sure that Jerry would thank you too.

15. 800px-Dandelion_seed_-_May_2012

This excellent photo by Wolfgang Arnold on Wikipedia Commons shows the “parachute” part of a dandelion seed looking like we would expect it to, but what would it look like after being stuck to a tree all winter?  And what happens when the brown seed falls off or degrades? Does it leave a white, club shaped end like we see in the previous photo? As often happens nature brings more questions than answers, but we can learn a lot by solving the riddles that are presented to us. I’m anxious to see dandelions bloom again.

 16. Bristly Beard Lichen aka Usnea hirta

There were some very healthy looking examples of bristly beard lichens (Usnea hirta) on this tree, and If you look closely at the lower right side of this one you’ll see how the white filaments catch on lichens and show up so clearly in photos.

I’m sorry that this post turned out to be so long but that’s what happens sometimes when you stop to look at a tree-whole new worlds open up unexpectedly and you see things that you’ve never seen before. I hope you’ll find that out for yourself one day soon.

Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve. ~Max Planck

Thanks for coming by.

1. Black Locust Thorns

I tugged on what I thought was a black locust twig (Robinia pseudoacacia) stuck in the snow but I quickly found out it that was still attached to the stump by dragging the side of my hand over its thorns. Yes, those thorns are every bit as sharp as they look. To be botanically accurate, they are actually stipules. A stipule is a growth that appears on either side of a leaf stalk (petiole.) In the case of the black locust these stipules have been modified into sharp spines, so that makes them stipular spines.

2. Black Locust Seed Pod

If the stipular spines don’t convince you that you’re looking at a black locust, the flat seed pods will. These dark brown pods stay attached to the tree and their color lightens during the winter. Finally as spring nears they begin to fall and, though they are light and can be blown long distances, many can be found under the tree on top of the snow, as the photo shows. The tiny brown seeds look like miniature beans. Their coating is very tough and black locust seeds can remain viable for many years.

3. Honey Locust Thorn

Another locust that I see regularly is the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), which in my opinion bears the king of all thorns. These thorns are big and as hard as iron. They can reach 6 inches in length and poke right out of the bark of the tree along its branches and sometimes even the main trunk. They are tough enough to puncture shoe soles and I always watch my step when I walk under one of these trees because thorns like these can cause a nasty wound. Confederate soldiers once used them to pin their uniforms together and survivalists still use them as fish hooks, spear heads, nails, sewing needles and even small game traps.

4. Round Holes in White Pine

I wondered what could have created these perfectly round holes on this dead white pine log (Pinus strobus). They weren’t in the usual neat rows that a sap sucker makes and anyway they were much larger than sapsucker holes. Each hole was about 3/8 inch in diameter and after some Googling I found that an invasive horntail called the Sirex woodwasp (Sirex noctilio) likes pine trees and makes exactly these kinds of holes. But it hasn’t been found in New Hampshire yet, so it was back to more Googling. The Asian long horned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) is another invasive species that makes holes just like this but it only attacks hardwoods, so again it was back to Google.  Finally I found that a native beetle called the white spotted pine sawyer (Monochamus scutellatus) makes holes in weak and damaged white pines but I couldn’t find a good example of its hole, so I really don’t have an answer.

5. Hole in White Pine

Being an engineer by trade these days I’m fascinated by any creature that could make such a perfectly round hole. Maybe I should have poked around in there. The photo makes it look like something might have been at home. If you know what makes holes like this I’d love to hear from you.

 6. Milk White Toothed Polypore

It might be spring but the “winter” mushrooms are still going strong. One of my favorites is the milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus,) which in my experience is hardly ever really milk white. Its teeth lean more towards tan or yellowish brown. The teeth start life as tubes or pores in the spore bearing surface, which breaks apart with age to become tooth like as the above photo shows. This crust fungus is common on fallen branches and rotting logs.

7. Maleberry Seed Pods

I found this native northern maleberrry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrub growing between two highbush blueberry shrubs on the river bank. Maleberry is sometimes called male blueberry because the flowers look much like blueberry flowers, but the fruit of the two bushes is very different. The fruit on this bush is a hard, woody, 5 part seed pod. Maleberry fruit is said to make a good insect repellant, but you have to get them before they become hard and woody. Native Americans used its straight young stems to make bows, so its wood must be quite strong, flexible, and elastic. It is said that the wood also makes good fence posts but I’ve never seen a maleberrry branch that was big enough in diameter to be used for one.

 8. Maleberry Seed Pod

Maleberrry is one of the easiest of all our native shrubs to identify in winter because its seed pods persist until spring. I just look for the star. There’s a very good chance when you find a maleberrry that there will be blueberries growing nearby.

 9. Winter Stonefly

The first insect I’ve seen since last fall was a winter stonefly. This one was living up to its name by resting on top of a granite post near the Ashuelot River. Its nymphs live beneath rocks and gravel on the bottom of streams and rivers. When the adults emerge they can be found along river and pond banks all winter long, so they are not a good indicator of spring. The adults feed on blue-green algae and the nymphs on aquatic plants. Hungry trout love to eat the nymphs and fishermen use them as live bait.

10. Willow

Willows have just started showing their furry gray catkins and if we hadn’t plunged back into another cold snap it wouldn’t have been too long before we saw their flowers. The cold we’re seeing now will hold them back for a while but it won’t hurt them any. Willows are a spring favorite that many of us enjoy seeing but they’re famous for clogging any type of piping with their moisture seeking roots, so they should never be planted close to a house. They’re great for planting along stream and pond banks because their extensive root systems help hold the soil in place.

11. Witch Hazel Bud

The spring blooming witch hazels in a local park that I visit have been slow to unfurl their strap shaped flower petals, but if you look closely you can see that the bud scales are opening enough to show the 4 bright yellow petals tucked up into the buds. Spring witch hazels often make the mistake of blooming too early and their flower petals turn brown because of damage from the cold, but not this year. Each bud in this photo is about as big as a small pea.

12. Alder Catkins

Speckled alder catkins are just showing signs of producing pollen, as the greenish smudges on the larger male catkins in this photo shows. Soon the bud scales will pull back and the flowers will open. Spring is happening but right now you have to look around a bit to see it.

 13. Skunk Cabbage Spathe

The one plant that tells me that spring is really here is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). It doesn’t waste time worrying that it might be too cold; it just raises its internal temperature and melts its way through the ice and snow and shouts that spring is finally here. I don’t know if the black bears are coming out of hibernation yet but if they are they’ll be happy to see skunk cabbages. It’s often the only food available to them in early spring.

14. Skunk Cabbage Flower

You can just see the rounded greenish yellow flower head through the opening in the red and yellow mottled spathe on this one. This plant is called skunk cabbage for a good reason, and it is thought that its odor attracts pollinators like flies, stoneflies and bees. Since skunk cabbage can raise its internal temperature by as much as 35º F above the surrounding air temperature, it is also thought that warmth might be another reason that insects visit them.

Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men.  ~Chinese Proverb

Thanks for stopping in and happy spring!

Note: Today marks the start of the fifth year of this blog. I’ll take this opportunity to say that I appreciate your continued interest and I thank you very much for taking the time to read about what I think is important, and for leaving such thoughtful and often very helpful comments.

Allen

 

1. Rail Trail

I decided to visit an old familiar place recently, just to see if it had changed any since my last visit. Now a rail trail, when I was a boy the big Boston and Maine diesels used to roll though here and I spent enough time walking the tracks to know the place as well as I knew my own yard. The view down the trail reminded me of learning how to draw perspective in art class and how easily the concept came to me. I walked here almost daily and the idea of a vanishing point was right there in front of me every time. Way down there where those two steel rails used to look like they came together; that was the vanishing point, and that was where I was going on this day.

 2. Broken Birch

The birches have had a tough time of it this year; that heavy foot of snow we had on Thanksgiving eve was more than some of them could bear. This one broke right in half about half way up its length, and some of the others still haven’t stood back up completely.

 3. Cherry Burl

I saw a burl as big as a soccer ball on a black cherry branch (Prunus serotina.) Seeing something like this would have gotten me excited when I was younger and I would have been off to the library to read all I could about it. If a place can give a gift, then curiosity is the gift that this place gave to me. The things in nature that I saw in here made me curious enough to want to learn about them, and that’s something that’s still with me today.

Burl, for those who don’t know, is an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. I find them more on black cherry than any other tree, and I know what they are because of this place.

4. Grafted Elm

Before it died of Dutch elm disease this American elm grafted itself together in two places, both above and below where you can see daylight through the trunks. Natural grafts can’t really be called rare, but this is the first double one I’ve ever seen. The wind blows the trees and they rub together enough to rub off their bark down to the cambium layer, which can then grow together if the two trees are the same species.

 5. Hawthorn Thorn

Years ago the hawthorn trees (Crataegus) I saw here made me want to know why some trees had thorns and others didn’t, so I got ahold of a used 1858 copy of Asa Gray’s How Plants Grow to see if he knew. Gray was a hero of mine but he sure did write some awfully dry books, and if I hadn’t been so interested in plants I don’t think I could have made it through many of them. I learned a lot about the various ways plants defend themselves from his books though, including using thorns, spines and prickles.

6. Snow Depth

Because snowmobiles pack it down so much it’s very hard to judge how deep the snow is along these trails, so I was surprised when I came to a slushy spot and saw that it wasn’t more than an inch deep. It’s still pretty tough getting into the woods but spring is coming.

7. Woods

What are woods here now used to be all cornfields when I was a boy and it seems strange knowing that I’m older than the trees. When I think about it though, I suppose even the youngsters among us are older than at least some of the trees. Maybe it’s getting to meet the trees that I know are younger than me that makes it feel so strange. I like the way these woods have grown up to have a light and airy, uncrowded feel. These trees are mostly red maple and they don’t mind the occasional spring floods that happen here.

8. Winged Euonymus

I was dismayed but not really surprised to see some very invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) growing here. These open woodlands are just the kind of place these shade tolerant shrubs love to grow in. Their shallow root systems and the shade they cast mean that native plants can’t get a start, so before long you have a monoculture made up of invasives. The plant is also called winged euonymus because, as the above photo shows, they have corky ridges or “wings” that grow along their stems.

9. Euonymus Pod

There were only 3 or 4 burning bushes here but they were big and had grown thousands of berries. Unfortunately the birds had eaten every single one of them and all that was left were the once purple pods.

10. Side Rails on Trestle

This old trestle marks the vanishing point that we saw in the first photo. Of course you can’t ever reach it because it moves with you (see-there is another one way down there) but it was a great thing for a young school boy to spend time thinking about. If you walk from vanishing point to vanishing point before you know it you’re in Swanzey with very tired feet, unless you cross country ski it like I used to. That’s another thing I learned how to do here.

11. Beard Lichen

Snowmobile clubs have put wooden safety railings all along these old trestles and there was a great example of a fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) growing on the weathered wood of this one. There are many lichens that prefer growing on wood, but it doesn’t always have to be in tree form.

12. Trestle Rivet

I’ve always wondered how these old steel trestles were built but I never have been able to find out. I don’t know if they were built in factories and shipped to the site to be assembled or if they were built right in place. Either way I’m sure there was an awful lot of rivet hammering going on. I do know that the stones for the granite abutments that these trestles rest on were taken from boulders and outcroppings in the immediate area, but I think they must have had to ship them from somewhere else in this case because there is little granite of any size to be found here.

13. Trestle Rivets

I’ve always been a lover of solitude and when I was young this is the place I came when I wanted to be alone, because back then you could sit on this old trestle all day without seeing another soul. It was a good place to just sit and think or watch the many birds and animals that came to drink from the river. I don’t come here very often these days because solitude is easier to come by now and the place seems to bring on an ache that’s hard to understand. Maybe it’s an ache for another shot at boyhood or maybe it’s just simple nostalgia, but it always seems to end with the feeling that there’s an empty place somewhere inside of me. Maybe that’s why I only visit about once each year.

 14. Brook View

Hurricane brook starts up in the northern part of Keene near a place called Stearns Hill. Then it becomes White Brook for a while before emptying into Black Brook. Black Brook in turn empties into Ash Swamp and the outflow from the swamp becomes Ash Swamp Brook. Finally it all meets the Ashuelot River right at this spot. Confused? Me too; it has taken me about 50 years to figure all of that out. Why so many name changes? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that the settlers in the northern part of Keene and the settlers here in the southern part didn’t realize that they were both looking at the same brook. I wonder if anyone has ever followed it from here to its source. It would be quite a hike.

15.Embankment

This bluff where the brook meets the river is where bank swallows used to nest. They are social birds and nest together in large colonies that sometimes number in the thousands. What I find fascinating is how the male birds dig nest holes using their feet, wings, and tiny beaks, and these holes can be 2 feet deep. They nest near water and eat insects, and that explains why there were never any mosquitos here. The swallows are a good example of how this place has taught me so much over the years; I didn’t know exactly what kind of birds they were and I had to look them up. After all these years I still learn something when I come here, and it could be that the most important lesson I’ve learned is, as author Thomas Wolfe said, that you can’t go home again.

The past is for learning from and letting go. You can’t revisit it. It vanishes. ~Adele Parks

Thanks for coming by.

 

1. Stone Wall

We’ve had some warm weather here and that means that the snow is melting away from the stone walls. Since there are many miniature gardens growing on these old walls I thought I’d have a look.

2. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Right off I was drawn to a boulder with patches of bright orange all over it. They turned out to be scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans); more than I had ever seen in a single grouping. The white pine needles in this shot will give you an idea of just how small these lichens are.

Observing the small size of lichens is a good way to get used to seeing the small and beautiful things in nature. If you want to see the magic in nature sometimes you have to stretch some, and that includes your eyes, so each year at about this time I start looking closely at lichens to get my eyes and mind back into “small mode.” I practice on lichens in the early spring so I don’t miss the tiny flowers, insects, fungi, slime molds, and other fascinating things that will come later on.

3. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

The fruiting bodies (apothecia) of these scattered rock posy lichens surprised me by looking like a mass of orange sausages.  Usually they are flat and disc shaped like the one in the upper left corner of this photo, and I’m assuming that this is what they look like before they take on the disc shape. Each disc shaped apothecia is about .04 inches (1mm) across.

If you’re interested in seeing small things in nature and have a ruler handy, you might want to look at it now so you can become familiar with just how small 1 millimeter really is. Finding things that size on a rock or tree can be a challenge, and that’s why I have to retrain my eyes to see them each spring. It isn’t just the eyes though; it’s also knowing where to look and knowing how to “think small,” but they come with experience.

4. Rosy Saucer Lichen aka Ochrolechia trochophora

Lichen identification can be tricky. I found what I believe is a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) growing on stone but the book Lichens of North America says that this lichen 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.

5. Cumberland Rock Shield Fruiting

I’m not sure how fast Cumberland rock shield lichens (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia) grow but any lichen this big has to be very old. It must have been 10 inches across and there were several others that big nearby, so I think it’s safe to assume that these stones haven’t been disturbed in quite a long time. They were fruiting so they must be happy here.

Note: Canadian biologist Arold Lavoie has identified this lichen as a peppered rock shield (Xanthoparmelia conspersa). Arold pointed out that Cumberland rock shield doesn’t have any of the granular vegetative reproductive structures called isidium that can be seen on this lichen. Thanks very much for the help Arold.

6. Cumberland Rock Shield Fruiting

This is a closer look at the fruiting bodies (apothecia) of the peppered rock shield lichen. They are fairly common and always seem to be folded or deformed looking. They are also always orangey-brown or dark brown in color.

7.  Crater lichen aka Diploschistes diacapsis

I used to just pass by things that looked like white or gray crust on stones, but I stop and look a little closer now after finding things like this crater lichen (Diploschistes diacapsis). The lighter parts of this lichen make up its thick body (thallus) and the dark spots are its fruiting bodies (apothecia). Its common name comes from the way the apothecia sink into the thallus and look like tiny craters. Crater lichens prefer growing on calcareous stone and are a good indicator of limestone in the area. If you’re trying to find orchids or other plants that like lime laced soil, finding this lichen on the stones in the area you’re searching might lead you to them. I’ll be watching for it later on when I search for hepatica and spicebush.

8. Mealy Firedot Lichen aka Caloplaca citrina

Mealy firedot lichen (Caloplaca citrina) is a pretty little yellow to yellow-orange crustose lichen that likes to grow on wood or stone. The book Lichens of North America says that it is a very common lichen that rarely produces spores but this example seemed to be fruiting happily. The mealy part of its common name comes from the numerous granular soralia, which are used as a vegetative means of reproduction. They are meant to break off and start new lichens.

9. Mealy Firedot Lichen aka Caloplaca citrina

It could be that because mealy firedot lichens reproduce vegetatively they don’t feel the need to use energy in spore production but as this closeup view shows, this example was doing both. The tiny round objects that look like the suckers on an octopus are its fruiting bodies (apothecia). The shiny background in these photos happened because the stone was wet, so this lichen was getting plenty of water.

10. Contorted rimmed lichen aka Aspicilia contorta  Lichen

This is another kind of ‘ho hum’ white crusty lichen that doesn’t look very interesting until you get out your loupe or train your macro lens on it.

11. Contorted rimmed lichen aka Aspicilia contorta  Lichen Fruiting

The ‘boring’ lichens have taught me that if something in nature doesn’t look worth bothering with it was only because I wasn’t really looking at it, because there isn’t a single piece of nature that isn’t beautiful or fascinating in some way. The fruiting bodies of this contorted rimmed lichen (Aspicilia contorta) were as tiny as a pencil dot on a piece of paper but they were there, and I’ve walked by them hundreds of times without stopping to see them. Finally noticing them wasn’t a life changing experience but such an alien landscape is very beautiful to me and I understand a little more about lichens than I did previously. Observing the beauty of nature and gaining knowledge are never a waste of time.

12. Gray and Yellow Crustose Lichen

It seems that every time I do a post on lichens I have one or two that have me completely stumped, and this is today’s winner. Beyond knowing that it is a gray and yellow crustose lichen that was growing on granite, I know nothing about it. It’s another beautiful thing though, and eventually I’ll come across something similar in a book or on line that will get me started on the (sometimes long) trail to its identity.

I should say for those new to this blog that I am strictly an amateur at lichen identification. I don’t have a microscope, chemicals, or any of the other tools that lichenologists use but neither do I guess at lichen identities. I use the tools that I do have and often spend many long hours trying to identify these little beauties. Though I’m fairly confident of a lichen’s identity before I put it into a post, you should be aware of my limitations and should not bet the farm on what I believe it is. If you happen to be reading this and know of any mistakes I’ve made I’d be happy to have you correct them. When that happens we all benefit.

For lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day. ~Evelyn Underhill

Thanks for stopping in.

1. American Bittersweet Berries

I don’t see many American bittersweet vines (Celastrus scandens), so I was happy to see this one. The invasive Oriental bittersweet is far more common in this area and is quickly outpacing the natives, mainly because its berries are more enticing to birds and its seeds germinate much faster. The easiest way to tell American bittersweet from Oriental is by the location of the berries on the vine; American bittersweet berries grow on the ends of the vines and Oriental bittersweet berries grow all along them. While both vines climb trees and shrubs, American bittersweet is less likely to strangle its host like Oriental bittersweet will.

 2. Black Eyed Rosette Lichen aka Physcia phaea

I’ve been seeing these very small lichens all over the trees and even though they all seem to be fruiting at the moment, I’ve struggled with their identity. With the help of the book Lichens of North America I think I can finally say that they are black eyed rosette lichens (Physcia phaea). At least with about 80% certainty. They are very common; in fact they are so common that they are one of those things that you see so much of, you stop paying attention. This winter I noticed that they all had fruiting bodies (Apothecia), which are the tiny black disks with gray margins, and that got me interested because I had never seen them produce spores. Why so many lichens do it in winter is still a mystery to me.

3. Boreal Oak Moss aka Evernia mesomorpha

This beard lichen and the dead tree it was on looked so ancient that I had to get a photo. ‘Methuselah’ was what I thought as I clicked the shutter. I think this is boreal oak moss (Evernia mesomorpha) because of its antler like shape and because of the way that it looks like it has been here since the dawn of time.

According to many scientists it might be possible, because many believe that lichens never really die. Even if you chop one to pieces the pieces just make more lichens. They have even survived 2 weeks in the vacuum of space and grew on like nothing had ever happened when they returned to earth. Some believe that lichens have the best chance of any earth bound life form of colonizing other planets.

4. Highbush Blueberry Buds

I took a few shots of these bright red highbush blueberry buds (Vaccinium corymbosum) and was surprised when I saw what the camera did to the shadows on the snow in the background. They came out looking like studio portraits, and very patriotic ones at that.

5. Hemlock Bark

I’ve been paying attention this winter to the way the cold can make some lichens change color and how white pine sap turns blue in the cold, but I’ve also noticed that cold also enhances some colors and makes them more vibrant than they are in the warmer months. I know this old eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) well since it grows near my house but, though most hemlocks have a red tint to their bark, I never noticed the deep red on this tree’s bark until this winter even though it must have always been there. Now I’ve got to remember to watch it and see if the color fades as we warm up.

6. Hemlock with Zig Zag Scar

I wanted to visit another eastern hemlock to see if its zig zag scar had changed any since last year. It hadn’t.  I never have been able to figure out for sure what would have caused this scar, but it comes right up out of the ground, travels for about 3 feet up the trunk and stops. It’s a very deep scar so the wound was made quite a while ago.

7. Hole in Pine Tree

I thought I saw a bird peeking out of this hole in an old white pine but it turned out to be just a clump of leaves and pine needles. But how did those leaves and pine needles get in there? Maybe it’s a woodpecker’s nest.

8. Wisteria

I don’t know if a bird or a human planted this old wisteria vine, but it has grown up into the crown of a tree just off the parking lot of an elementary school. It has been there for quite a while and flowers beautifully each year, full of very fragrant white and blue flowers that hang down from the tree and make it look as if the tree is flowering.

9. Wisteria in Fence

It has also grown through the school’s chain link fence; so much so that it’s hard to tell where the vine ends and the fence begins. Of course its new growth sprawls all over the place like wisterias will do, but since the vine isn’t technically on school property there is only so much that can be done. Each year the maintenance people at the school chop off everything they can reach but of course the wisteria just says ‘thank you very much’ to that treatment and grows even more vigorously. It’s hard to win when you’re doing battle with a well-established wisteria.

10. Wisteria Buds

I stopped to take a photo of the wisteria’s beautiful dark buds, which remind me of those of black ash.

 11. Snowmelt

This photo might not look like much to the uninitiated but to the winter weary it’s like a dream come true. Each spring, ever so slowly, the snowbanks begin to retreat back from the road edges and little strips of grass appear and start to green up quickly. Seeing it happen is akin to taking a good dose of spring tonic, and it gives us our second wind.

12. Sap Bucket

This is the newfangled way to tap maple trees; at least for smaller operations. The large maple syrup producers have the plastic tubing strung from tree to tree with vacuum pumps at the end that keep the sap moving and literally sucks it out of the trees. The sap should be running this week; it’s getting warm enough now.

13. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

I went to the place where skunk cabbages grow but the snow was still too deep to see any. Since they can raise their internal temperature above that of the surrounding air through a process called thermogenesis, I’m sure they are melting the snow around themselves as I write this. If the warm weather keeps up I might see them within a week or so.

 14. Daffodils in Snow

I’ve never heard of daffodils having thermogenic capabilities but there they were, coming up through the snow. Maybe they’re in as much of a hurry to see spring as the rest of us are.

 15. Daffodils

It sure is nice to be able to see and smell some dirt again. There are other signs of spring that I couldn’t show here, like the feel of the warm breezes out of the south or the sound of ice falling off the roof and the constant drip of what doesn’t fall. Skunks are just coming out of hibernation and the Boston Red Sox are back on TV playing spring training baseball games, so it really does seem like spring is finally on its way.

Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day. ~W. Earl Hall

Thanks for coming by.

 

1. Sign

Last Saturday was relatively warm and sunny so I decided to go for a climb. I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard because it is one of the few places in the area where you can find a place to park before you climb. Many haven’t been plowed.

2. Trail

I wasn’t sure if I’d make it without snowshoes but the trail looked to be good and packed down and even though the snow drifts were waist deep in places, I was able to get by with just gaiters and Yak Trax. It was slow going though and I had to stop frequently to catch my breath.

3. Deer Browsed Maple

I noticed that deer and other animals had been using the snow packed trail too, and deer had been browsing the bushes and trees along the sides as this young maple shows.  The buds of some maples look a lot like oak buds but oaks have alternate branching. Since this tree has opposite branching it must be a maple.

4. Rabbit Tracks

Rabbits were using the packed snow trail too even though they were light enough to hop on top of the snow without sinking in.

5. Staghorn Sumac

It looked like the rabbits had been eating the bark off all of the staghorn sumacs. I wonder if that means that they’re having trouble finding food.

6. Spruce

The snow was deep enough in places to make walking close to impossible if I had stepped off the packed trail. I decided that I didn’t want to wade through that much snow, so I stayed on it. I saw places where deer had stepped off the trail and sank into the soft snow probably up to their bellies. I felt bad for them-they must be having a very hard winter this year.  At least the snow isn’t crusty on top so it shouldn’t be cutting their legs all up.

7. Meadow

When I reached what I call the meadow I saw why there were snow drifts along the trail; the wind had scoured parts of these pastures almost down to bare grass, blowing it all toward the trail. I keep hoping that I’ll see the Scottish highland cattle that wander these pastures, but I never have. They probably don’t want to wade through the deep snow either.

8. Snow and Sky

In the book Country Editor’s Boy Hal Borland speaks of the high plains of Colorado, and how when he was a boy there was an unbroken view to the horizon in any direction. There wasn’t a tree or hill or building to add any interest, he said, and I wondered as I stopped and saw this view if this is what it was like. For someone like me who lives in a forest, seeing a view like this is like seeing the surface of another planet. I’m not sure how long I could stand it.

 9. Fire Tower

The fire tower hasn’t blown off the mountain yet. Since I learned that this tower was built as a replacement for the original 1915 wooden tower that burned down in April of 1940 in the most destructive forest fire that this area has ever seen, I see it as a kind of monument to irony.

10. Wind Rippled Snow

You could see that plenty of wind had blown through here but on this day there was only a slight breeze, so it wasn’t too bad. It could have been much worse.

11. Ranger Cabin

After all the snow we’ve had this year I thought the fire warden’s cabin would be either flattened or buried but it looked as if someone had shoveled it out and had been shoveling the roof as well. Now that’s a job that I wouldn’t want, no matter what it paid.

 12. Meadow from Above

For a change it wasn’t hazy at all and the views were good. Mount Monadnock was clearly visible over the meadow to the right.

13. Unknown Hill

I don’t know the name of this hill but I wish I did because it’s a beauty. Someday I’m going to have to get a topographical map of this area and earn the names of all of these hills.

 14. Lichens

The sun and wind had done their work on the many rocks found on the summit so there were plenty of lichens to see. The yellow orange ones are common gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) and the black and white ones are tile lichens tile lichens (Lecidea tessellate.)

15. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

The biggest surprise of the day was this scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans.) For years I knew of one nickel sized example and then last year I found another and then another, and now I seem to be seeing them everywhere.

16. Rolling Snow

The going was much slipperier and tougher on the way down than it had been on the way up and I wished that I could just curl into a ball and roll down the mountain side. By the time I reached the bottom I knew that I wasn’t going to be good for much of anything else that day, and I was glad that I had nothing left to do.

Perhaps there’s no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it’s a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal. All you have to do is take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, and refuse to turn back until you’ve given everything you have. ~Ken Ilgunas

Thanks for stopping in. Don’t forget to turn the clocks one hour ahead tonight!

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