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1. Trail Start

Recently our local newspaper showed a photo of a paving machine and told about a local section of rail trail that was being paved.  I thought that a paved rail trail would be a great place to ride a bike so I went to see it. The above photo shows what I found; a trail that had been graded and had some gravel added to it, but wasn’t paved. Paving by definition means a road or path has been covered by a hard surface like concrete, asphalt, stones, or bricks but this trail obviously hasn’t seen any of those, so I’m not sure what the reporter was thinking.

2. Construction Sign

This isn’t a sign that you expect to see on a rail trail. The Virginia creeper that is slowly covering it tells me that it has been here for a while.

3. Drainage Ditch

The trail had been widened and the original drainage ditches that were laid out by the railroad had been dug out and looked like they were working well.

4. Bike Riders

I saw a few bicyclists who weren’t having any trouble riding on the now well packed gravel but I spoke with some who said it was terrible at first; so soft and loose that it was difficult to even walk on.  Of course many of these rail trails are maintained by snowmobile clubs, paid for by donations, and in January it won’t matter how loose the gravel is to them. Since the rest of us benefit from their hard work and dedication it’s hard to complain about anything they do to improve the trails and keep them open.

5. Arch Street

When on a rail trail you often don’t realize how much higher or lower you are than the surrounding terrain, so it can be quite a surprise to find yourself 30 or 40 feet above a road you just drove on.

6. Arch Street Underpass

Railroads did all they could to keep the rail beds as level and straight as possible and if that meant filling in low spots with thousands of tons of soil, then so be it. In this photo the rail bed is way up above this tunnel that runs underneath it; just where I was standing in the previous photo. I think they built the tunnel for the road to run through first and then filled in around it to create the rail bed. It was a job well done; this tunnel has been here for well over a hundred years and not a stone has moved. Shortly after it was built the Old Chesterfield Road, laid out in the 1700s, was renamed Arch Street in honor of the beautiful stonework.

7. Stone Arch Culvert

You can find the same quality of workmanship out in the middle of nowhere. When a stream was in the way of a rail bed the railroad engineers just bridged it with what are sometimes beautiful stonework culverts. These men took pride in their work and did the best job they could do, not because someone was watching but because of the pride they had in their abilities and the self-respect that simply wouldn’t let them do shoddy work.

8. Pine

This white pine had been hit by something that peeled its bark about 8 feet up its trunk and left a gaping wound that will let fungi, insects, and diseases infiltrate it. If it were me I would have cut the tree down.

9. Pinesap Plants

Because I was on a bike I didn’t see much of interest in the way of plants but I did notice these pinesap plants (Monotropa hypopitys) when I took a break. Pinesap looks vaguely similar to Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) at a glance but a close look shows that they are more honey or amber colored and have multiple flowers on each stem instead of the single flower found on Indian pipes. Their common name comes from the way they like to grow under pine trees, but I find them under hardwoods too. Neither Indian pipes nor pinesap have chlorophyll and both get their nutrition in part from the mycelium of certain mushroom species.

10. Switch Box

I saw many other interesting things besides plants, like this old switchbox lying beside the trail. Fellow blogger Jim Corner from the Country Corners blog warned me last year when I did a post about this place that switch boxes like this one were often full of asbestos, so I look but don’t touch.

11. Switchbox Inside

This one looked pretty clean but those asbestos fibers are tiny and it could be full of them, ready for a good breeze to come along and blow them around. I don’t suppose that you ever really know for sure.

12. End of Rail Bed

Eventually you come to the end of what was the original rail bed. From this point on it becomes a “deep cut” through solid rock and is very wet, as if the drainage ditches have filled and failed. This is what all of our rail trails would look like without regular maintenance so I’ll say again that we who use them owe a debt of gratitude to the people who work so hard to keep them open. In my opinion a donation of a few dollars each year is money well spent.

13. Hill Bypass

The redirected trail goes up hill around the deep cut and you can see down into it from up here. The hill wasn’t much fun going up but it sure was fun flying down it on my bike. It was only afterwards that I realized that hitting a patch of soft gravel at this point probably would have sent me over the handlebars and into the woods.

14. Trail End

Rail trails go on and on and never seem to really end but the end of this improved section ends at Hurricane Road in Keene. From here if you cross the road and continue on you can see what the trail looked like before the improvements.

15. Trail Before Improvement

And here it is. The forest is closing in making it very narrow and rain has washed away parts of it here and there. In fact the entire trail has sunken below grade and is now in a U shape, and the drainage ditches have grown over and can no longer be seen. The condition of this section of trail is a good illustration of how important regular maintenance is.

16. Spike

I keep coming back to the rail trails because they are where my two favorite subjects, botany and history, come together in what are sometimes surprising ways. There’s really no telling what you might find on them; I’ve seen plants that I didn’t know existed in this area and by researching the railroads for posts like this one I’ve learned more about how they were built than I ever thought I’d need to know. If you’re looking to see parts of the landscape that you wouldn’t normally see, a good taste of local history, or just a pleasant stroll or bike ride, they can all be found on rail trails.

To wander is to be alive. ~Roman Payne

Thanks for coming by.

 

1. Black Eyed Susan

Few flowers say summer to me like the black eyed Susan, but they always whisper of summer’s passing too, and tell me that summer is fleeting, and I’d better get out there and enjoy it before the crisp winds of fall start to blow. Though it’s actually an early summer flower, I always think of it as a fall flower because of its very long blooming season. These flowers will often still be blooming when we see the first hard frost, several months after they’ve started.

2. Black Eyed Susan

A spider had built a web on this black eyed Susan. Nothing unusual about that but I wondered why it was yellow. Can the color somehow come off the petals, I wonder?

3. Campion

Red campion (Silene dioica) likes alkaline soil with a lot of lime and that’s why we rarely see it here. That’s also why I’m fairly sure that this plant is a white campion (Silene latifolia,) which can also be pink. Just to confuse the issue red campion flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa. It was pretty, whatever it was.

4. Tradescantia

I used to see spiderwort plants (Tradescantia) growing wild everywhere when I was a boy. I thought they were beautiful and used to dig them up from along the railroad tracks to plant at home. My father also saw them growing along the tracks and he called them weeds, so he couldn’t understand why I kept “dragging those damned old weeds home” and planting them in the yard. Now every single time I see the plant I think of him. I also understand how one man’s flower can be another man’s weed.

Apparently our early settlers thought tradescantia was beautiful too, because it was introduced into Europe as an ornamental in the 1600s. Since it can be a bit weedy I wonder if it has become an invasive there.

5. Purple Tradescantia

I didn’t realize until a couple of years ago that plant breeders had been working on tradescantia and had created a purple variety. Personally I prefer the blue that I grew up with, but the purple flowers seem do to attract more insects. At least they did on this day when I was watching the blue and purple flowers in a local park.

6. Elderberry

American elder (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis) was highly valued by Native Americans for its medicinal qualities and it has been found that their uses of the plant closely parallel the ways that Europeans used their elder (Sambucus nigra.) Both old and new world people used the plant for everything from an emetic to a treatment for headache. Hippocrates is said to have referred to the elderberry bush as his “medicine chest,” and it appears that modern medicine is finally catching up with him; the National Institutes of Health has given five universities a total of $37.5 million for a five-year study exploring possible medical benefits of elderberries, including its use in fighting prostate cancer. I don’t have much taste for alcohol these days but if I can find a bottle of good elderberry wine I might drink a small glassful each night before bed. It can’t hurt, as long as it was made from the berries and not the plant’s poisonous roots.

7. Vervain

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is also called swamp vervain because it likes water, and I find it either in wet meadows or along river and pond banks. It is also called simpler’s joy after the herb gatherers of the middle ages. They were called simplers because they gathered medicinal or “simple” herbs for mankind’s benefit and since vervain was one of the 9 sacred herbs, finding it brought great joy. It was thought to cure just about any ailment and Roman soldiers carried the dried plants into battle. Since blue is my favorite color finding it always brings me great joy as well.

8. Rattlesnake Weed

I can’t think of many plants that are rarer in this area than the native rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum.) I know of one plant and this is it. As you might suspect from its flowers it is in the hawkweed family, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Its flowers stand at the end of long wiry stems so it’s usually impossible to get both the flowers and leaves in one photo but this time I was able to do it. Its purple veined leaves don’t show that well but they are very unusual, as the following photo will show.

9. Rattlesnake Weed Foliage

One story says that because people thought its foliage resembled a snake’s skin, rattlesnake weed was a cure for snakebite. I’ve also heard other stories that say the name comes from the plant’s habit of growing in places where snakes were seen. It’s hard for me to believe that such a rare plant is considered an invasive weed in some places, but it is.

10. Bristly Sarsaparilla

Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) isn’t common but I know of two places where it grows in dry, sandy soil. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Every time I see its flowers they’re covered in ants but curiously this time they were absent. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter. Each small flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job. The USDA lists this native plant as endangered in Indiana, Ohio and Maryland.

11. St. Johnswort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known and used medicinally since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The brown / black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. The perforatum part of its scientific name refers to the many clear dots on its leaves that look like pin holes when its leaf is held up to the light. Originally from Europe, it was introduced in 1696 to Pennsylvania by a religious group who believed that it held magical properties. Today it can be found in all but 4 of the lower 48 states; Utah, Arizona, Alabama, and Florida. In all of the others it can be found in meadows and along roadsides growing in full sun.

12. Dwarf St. Johnswort

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that might get ankle high on a good day and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference apart from their smaller size is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. I find them growing at the edge of a local pond and soak my knees every time I try to take a photo of them. It’s worth it though because they’re beautiful little things.

13. Milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies visiting them yet. I was going to write about how complicated these flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated that I got lazy and instead will just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll just enjoy their beauty and their scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

14. Rose

Roses are adding their perfume to the sweet smell of summer and I smelled this bush full of tender pink blossoms before I saw it. I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

Thanks for stopping in.

1. Tachinid Fly

I saw a fly on a milkweed leaf and he was open to posing, so here he is. I think he’s a tachinid fly because of his bristly abdomen. Some of these flies can be very helpful in the garden, controlling squash bugs and stinkbugs. Others aren’t so helpful, and parasitize moths and butterflies, including monarchs. This one was a little lumpy up around the shoulders and looked like it had been parasitized too.

2. Female Red Winged Blackbird

As I seem to do every year I stumbled into a red winged blackbird nesting site recently. The female shown here flew off half way across a pond to sit on a cattail and wait for me to leave while the male hovered above my head screeching at me. The same thing happened last year so I’ve learned that male red winged blackbirds can get angry very quickly, and they don’t easily back down when you’re near a nest. I got out of there as quickly as I could after taking a couple of quick photos.

3. White Admiral Butterfly

I’m seeing more butterflies now but the only ones willing to pose are the white admirals. Even this one wasn’t that willing. It sat still for only a couple of quick shots and then flew off.

4. White Admiral Butterfly

It landed on another leaf and then turned so he could see me before settling down to give me a hard stare.

5. European Skipper Butterfly

I’m not very clever when it comes to insect identification but I think I should at least try before I bother the folks at bug guide, so I searched website after website and leafed through my insect guide before giving up on this one. It turns out the reason I couldn’t identify it is because I was looking for a moth and this is a butterfly. The good folks at bug guide.net tell me it’s a European skipper (Thymelicus lineola.) I didn’t even know that we had European butterflies here and its furry body had me convinced that it was a moth. It seemed very interested in flowering grasses.

6. Spider

The folks at bug guide tell me that this is a Tetragnatha spider, which is also known as a long jawed orb weaver. There are hundreds of species in the genus and I must have looked at more than half of them before giving up on ever being able to identify it. They are also called stretch spiders because of their long bodies. When threatened they stretch their legs out front and back and pull them close to their body so they look long and thin like a blade of grass.

7. Slime Mold

We’ve had very dry weather here this spring and are still considered in a drought but every now and then the humidity will creep up and we’ll get a thundershower, and that is perfect weather for slime molds. These pictured are the fruiting bodies of a slime mold called coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, var. porioides.) They are very geometric and so small I can’t think of anything to compare them to. This slime mold likes to grow on old, bark free, well-rotted logs.

8. Slime Mold 2

Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa slime mold has two varieties; the porioides we saw previously and this one called fruticulosa. The difference between the geometric shapes of porioides and the sausage like shapes of fruticulosa is remarkable.

The reason slime molds interest me is because they are very beautiful and also fascinating. Nobody really seems to know exactly how they move, but they do. When the microorganisms that they feed on become scarce, many of these single celled organisms meld together and move toward food as a single entity. Slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism.

9. Blue Slime Mold

I once followed a link that someone had used to link to this blog and found a discussion about a photo of a blue slime mold that I had posted. One person said that there was no such thing as blue slime molds so the photo must have been Photo Shopped, but since I don’t try to deceive people on this blog it wasn’t. There are indeed blue slime molds, but they’re rare enough so I might see one each year if I’m lucky. I found another one just the other day, and this photo of it hasn’t been Photo Shopped or enhanced in any way. Last year I saw one very similar in shape to this one and it was gray.

10. Hemlock Varnish Shelf Fungi

Mushrooms have been very scarce because of the dry weather but my daughter sent me this photo of a hemlock tree loaded with hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) that she saw recently. I’ve never seen so many on one tree. You can tell that they’re young because of the white stripe on their outer edges. As they age they will lose the stripe and become deep red. This mushroom has been used medicinally in China for thousands of years.

11. Pine Cones

Several years ago I found purple cones on a pine in a local park. I’ve checked every year since and never saw them again until just recently. I’m not sure what kind of pine this is but I don’t think that it’s a native tree. I love the color of its cones, native or not.

12. Timothy

Timothy grass has just started to flower. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. Timothy makes an excellent hay crop and gets its common name from Timothy Hanson, a farmer who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720, a few years after its introduction into colonial America in 1711. It should be cut for hay before it reaches this stage but it’s quite beautiful when it blossoms.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

Thanks for coming by.

1. Catalpa

Imagine a tree 100 feet high and 50 wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba.

2. Catalpa Leaf

For those who have never seen a catalpa leaf, here is my camera sitting on one. I took this photo last fall.

3. Heal All

And since we’re thinking about orchids, here is our old friend heal all (Prunella lanceolata,) whose tiny hooded flowers also remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

4. Knapweed

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

5. Partridge Berry

The unusual twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the berries.

6. Mt. Laurel

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms. The pentagonal flowers are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. You can see flowers with relaxed anthers in the upper center and left parts of this photo. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them.

7. Mt. Laurel from Side

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

8. Hedge Bindweed

I saw a beautiful bicolor hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) flower one day. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds these bicolor ones have become more numerous over the last few years. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has arrowhead shaped triangular leaves.

9. Red Sandspurry

This is the first time that red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) has appeared on this blog, maybe because it is so small I’ve never noticed it. The tiny flowers aren’t much bigger than a BB that you would use in an air rifle, but grow in groups that are large enough to catch your eye. I find them growing in sand at the edge of roads and parking lots.

10. Red Sandspurry

The pretty little flowers of red sandspurry are pinkish lavender, so I’m not sure where the red in the common name comes from. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s. An odd fact about the plant is that it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.

11. Silky Dogwood

Silky dogwood has just started blooming. One way to tell that it’s a dogwood that you’re looking at is to count the flower petals. Dogwoods have 4 and viburnums have 5. What I like most about this shrub are its berries. They start off white and slowly turn deep blue, but for a while they are blue and white and remind me of Chinese porcelain. In fact I’ve always wondered if the Chinese got the idea for blue and white porcelain from these berries. This shrub is also called swamp dogwood. I usually find it growing on the banks of rivers and streams.

12. Columbine

I saw these beautiful wine red columbines in a friend’s garden. I think they probably started life as flashy bicolor hybrids and now the seedlings reverted back to one of the parents.

13. Sulfur Cinquefoil

Five pale yellow heart shaped petals surround a center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils in a sulfur cinquefoil blossom (Potentilla recta.) Close to the center each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I like seeing its pale yellow flowers among the purple maiden pinks and white ox-eye daisies.

14. Tulip Tree Blossom

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) gets its common name from the way its flowers resemble tulips, at least from the outside. As the photo shows, the inside looks very different. The fruit is cone shaped and made up of a number of thin, narrow scales which eventually become winged seeds. Another name for this tree is yellow poplar. It is the tallest hardwood tree known in North America, sometimes reaching 200 feet. Native Americans made dugout canoes from tulip tree trunks.

15. Crown Vetch

I love all flowers but some seem to have a little extra spark of life that makes me want to kneel before them and get to know them a little better. One of those is the lowly crown vetch (Securigera varia.) I know it’s an invasive species that people seem to either despise or ignore but it’s also beautiful. In fact if I had to design a beautiful flower, I don’t think I could do better than this.

If you love it enough, anything will talk with you. ~George Washington Carver

Thanks for stopping in.

1. Trail Start

In 2010 Keene built a new middle school at the edge of a 500 acre wetland called Tenant Swamp. The building sits on a high terrace that overlooks the swamp. it can be seen to the left in this photo. Before the school could be built however an archaeological sensitivity assessment had to be done, and by the time the dig was completed it was found that Native Americans lived here at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,000-12,000 years ago. The dig also found that the Ashuelot River once ran through here; about a half mile east of where it now flows. Since the site evolved into a swamp it was never farmed or built on so it was valuable enough archeologically to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since then, after much hard work and fund raising, a path and boardwalk leading into the swamp itself has been completed. As a certifiable nature nut I couldn’t wait to get into this swamp, so I went to see it right after all the fanfare had died down. It’s the kind of place that people rarely get to experience so it is meant to be a kind of outdoor classroom for anyone who wants to learn more about nature.

2. Blackberries

The first thing I noticed were all the blackberries blooming along the hillside above the swamp. The bears will eat well this year.

3. Bridge

A sturdy bridge was built over a small seasonal stream.  The paths are well packed and plenty wide enough even for wheelchairs, and in fact I saw a man in a wheelchair here on my second visit. He looked very happy.

4. Stream

A small stream feeds this side of the swamp, but one of the things I found most surprising about this place was the lack of very much standing water. I’m not sure if it has to do with the drought we had in May or if it’s always this way.

5. Boardwalk

The 850 foot boardwalk is sturdy and well-built and about a foot or two off the ground. When it was being installed 9-12 feet of peat was discovered in some places. Two feet of peat takes about a thousand years to form so this peat has been here for a very long time. I’m tempted to call this a peat bog because of these discoveries but technically because it is forested, the correct term is swamp.

6. Bunchberries

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) grows well here. I wasn’t too surprised to see it because it likes cool, moist woods and will not grow where soil temperature exceeds 65 degrees F. According to Nature Magazine the tiny flowers have hinged flexible anthers that act like tiny catapults to eject their pollen to ten times the plant’s height so it can be carried by the wind. Once pollinated the flowers, which are actually in the center of the four white bracts, will become a bunch of red berries, and that’s how this pretty little creeping dogwood comes by its common name. Some Native American tribes preserved the berries in bear fat. They’re high in pectin and make excellent jelly.

7. Arrowheads

The roots of arrowhead plants (Sagittaria latifolia) look like small, purplish potatoes and were a very important food crop for Native Americans. They are said to taste like potatoes or chestnuts and can be sliced, dried and ground to make flour, or eaten in the same ways that potatoes are. This plant likes to grow in shallow water that has little or no current and can form very large colonies. Ducks love the seeds and beavers, muskrats and porcupines will eat the whole plant.

Note: Sara has pointed out that this plant is actually Halberd-leaved tearthumb (Polygonum arifolium.) I’m sorry for any confusion. That’s what comes from rushing!

8. Royal Fern

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) has a strong presence here, along with cinnamon and sensitive fern. There is a rumor that ostrich fern grows here as well but I didn’t see any. Royal fern is one of the most beautiful of our native ferns in my opinion, but often fools people by not really looking very fern like. Royal fern is in the family Osmundaceae, and fossils belonging to this family have been found in rocks of the Permian age, which was about 230 million years ago. There is also a European species of royal fern called Osmunda regalis.

9. Viewing Platform

There are viewing platforms meant for birders, painters, photographers, or anyone who just wants to sit and enjoy nature. They haven’t been installed yet but there will be many benches for people to sit on. I have a feeling that this will become a bird lover’s paradise because the amount of birdsong here is incredible. It’s really a wonderful experience that I hope all of the townspeople will enjoy at least once…

10. Swamp View

…but I hope they’ll stay on the boardwalk when they do. 500 acres of swamp boggles my mind and I know that if I hopped off the boardwalk and bush wacked my way into the swamp, I’d probably be lost in under an hour. Once you get turned around and start wandering in circles it’s all over, and in November of 1890 that’s exactly what happened to George McCurdy, who died of exposure. I’ve heard stories about another man who went into the swamp and was never found, so as much as I’d love to explore the entire area I think I’ll just stay on the boardwalk.

11. Beard Lichen

There are some fine examples of beard lichen growing on the spruce trees; I think this one is bristly beard (Usnea hirta.) That’s another thing I noticed as I entered the swamp; there are many spruce and balsam fir trees here, which is unusual because they like it cool and normally grow further north. You rarely see them growing naturally in this area so when you do you know that you’re in a special place.

Henry David Thoreau said “The most primitive places left with us are the swamps, where the spruce still grows shaggy with usnea,” and he was right.

12. White Admiral

A white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) landed on the boardwalk and said “Go ahead; take my picture,” so I did. I wish he’d landed in a somewhat shadier spot but you can’t have everything. I also saw a lot of dragonflies but of course they wouldn’t sit still. I was hoping to see some of the rare salamanders that the schoolkids have found but so far I haven’t seen a one.

13. Red Squirrel

I’m not sure what this red squirrel was doing but he stayed just like that for a while and seemed to want his picture taken too so I obliged, even though he was really out of comfortable camera range. As soon as I took a couple of steps toward him though he was off like a shot, running up one tree and jumping into the crown of another. Two or three red squirrels followed me all through the swamp on this day and even climbed the hill as I was leaving, making sure to stay just out of camera range the entire time. That was really odd because I rarely see red squirrels; gray squirrels are much more common here. I’m not sure the reds know what to make of this sudden increase in human activity; they seem very curious.

14. Phragmities

I wasn’t happy to see this invasive reed called Phragmities australis here but I had a feeling that it would be. Tenant swamp is bisected by a highway (Rte. 12 N.) and you can see large colonies of it from the road. This reed came from Europe and forms large monocultures that even burning can’t control unless it is done 2 or 3 times. Not only does a thick matted root system choke out other plants, but decaying reeds also release gallic acid, which ultraviolet light turns into mesoxalic acid and which means that seedlings of other plants that try to grow near the reed have very little hope of survival.

15. Phragmities

This is a glimpse of a monoculture known as a reed bed. Some have been known to reach nearly a square kilometer in size. There are no other plants to be seen among the reeds in this photo.

16. Winterberry

I met a lady who works at the middle school and who was instrumental in getting the boardwalk project up and running. Unfortunately I never got her name but she said the boardwalk was going to be open in the winter. I was hoping it would be because there are more winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) here than I’ve ever seen in one place, and the red berries against the white snow are really beautiful. This photo shows what the flower buds look like. Each one will open to a tiny white flower and then become a red berry.

17. Sphagnum Moss

I always thought that peat bogs or swamps were made up almost entirely of sphagnum mosses but I found by researching this post that mosses are just one component. Many other plants contribute to the overall mass.  Not only do plants fall into the mix but so does their pollen, and scientists can look back at thousands of years of plant growth and the environment they grew in by studying it.

18. Unknown Tree

You can’t have a swamp without a little mystery to go with it, and here it is. I think this tree is some type of sumac, but it isn’t staghorn (Rhus typhina) or smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) Those are the two most common sumacs in these parts but their flower buds look nothing like those pictured here. It isn’t winged (or shiny) sumac (Rhus copallinum) because there are no wings on the branches and the leaves aren’t shiny. I wondered if it was Chinese sumac (Ailanthus altissima), an invasive also called tree of heaven, but another name for that tree is stinking sumac and this small tree doesn’t really stink. I found that out by crushing a leaf and holding it up to my nose, and that’s when I remembered that poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) grows in swamps in this area. But that doesn’t fit either because it’s been a week since I crushed that leaf and I haven’t gotten a rash on my hand or nose, so I’ve run out of likely choices. If you know what it is or even want to guess I’d love to hear from you.

19. Unknown Tree Flower

This tree’s flowers are very small; no bigger than a BB that you’d put in an air rifle. If they turn into white berries I’ll know that this is poison sumac, and I’ll wonder why I’m not itching.

If you’d like to visit the middle school’s website and see photos of the boardwalk being built, trail maps and many other interesting things, just click on the word here. This boardwalk was built for the people of Keene as well as the school children, and I think we all owe the school and all of the donors a real big thank you. Being able to visit a place like this is a very rare opportunity.

To love a swamp is to love what is muted and marginal, what exists in the shadows, what shoulders its way out of mud and scurries along the damp edges of what is most commonly praised. And sometimes its invisibility is a blessing. Swamps and bogs are places of transition and wild growth, breeding grounds, experimental labs where organisms and ideas have the luxury of being out of the spotlight, where the imagination can mutate and mate, send tendrils into and out of the water. ~Barbara Hurd

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1. Lupine Hillside

I saw a hillside covered in lupines recently. They aren’t our native sundial lupines (Lupinus perennis) but they’re still very beautiful when massed like this.

2. Blue Flags

At the bottom of the hill that the lupines were growing on many native blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) grew in a wet area.  The lupines trickling down the hillside and the blue flags pooling at the bottom made a breathtakingly beautiful sight but unfortunately I couldn’t get in all in one photo.

3. Blue Flag

Gosh these are beautiful flowers; another one of those flowers that I can just sit beside and lose myself in. The name flag is from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the cattail like leaves. Though Native Americans used this plant medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic.

4. Hawkweed

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower and each forms its own seed. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval, overlapping leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk. It is an introduced invasive and names like “yellow devil” and “devil’s paintbrush” show what ranchers think of it.

5. Maple Leaf Viburnum

Native maple leaf viburnum blossoms (Viburnum acerifolium) had just about gone by before I remembered to look for them.  Each flattish flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

6. Bird's Foot Trefoil

The puffy little yellow blossoms of bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) are a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. It is in the pea family and grows about a foot tall. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives. It does very well among the ox eye daisies and lupines growing along the banks of the Ashuelot River.

7. Blue Eyed Grass

I found a spot where more blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) grew than I’ve ever seen in one spot. They were growing in soil that was on the sandy side in full sun along the side of a road, and obviously were happy there. Wild turkeys love the seeds so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a flock of them here this fall.

8. Blue Eyed Grass

I’ve already featured blue eyed grass once this spring but something this beautiful deserves a second showing. This little flower is in the iris family and is said to have the same features. All of the iris family is usually thought of as very poisonous but Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant.

9. Red Clover

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) always seems to glow as if it had its own inner light, and maybe it does.  The rounded heads of tiny tubular flowers are beautiful things to see when you take the time to give them a closer look. Though it was brought to this country from Europe and is invasive, I can’t remember ever hearing anyone complain about it. It is a very old medicinal herb that has been used for centuries and now various published studies say that compounds found in the plant show some promise in fighting cancer. Just imagine all the healing power that might be in these plants that hardly get a second look.

10. Multiflora Rose

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) has beautiful small white (rarely pink) flowers that are about an inch across but unfortunately it is very invasive and forms prickly thickets that nobody I know would dare to try and get through. It is from Japan and Korea and grows to huge proportions, arching up over shrubs and sometimes growing 20-30 feet up into trees. A large plant bearing hundreds of blossoms is a truly beautiful thing but its thorny thickets prevent all but the smallest animals from getting where they want to go. Its sale is banned in New Hampshire but since each plant can easily produce half a million seeds I think it’s here to stay.

11. Wild Radish

I always find wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) growing at the edges of corn fields at this time of year, not because it likes growing with corn but because it likes to grow in disturbed soil. Wild radish is in the mustard family and is sometimes confused with wild mustard (Brassica kaber,) but that plant doesn’t have hairy stems like wild radish. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here. The flowers can be pale yellow, pink, or white and honey bees seem to love them no matter what color they are.

12. Grape Flowers

I am always reminded each spring that one of the great delights of wandering in the New Hampshire woods is the amazing fragrance of wild grape flowers that wafts on the breeze. Their perfume can be detected from quite a distance so I usually let my nose lead me to them.

13. Grape Flowers

I’m always surprised that such a big scent comes from such tiny flowers, each no bigger than the head of a match. Each will become a grape when pollinated. We have a few varieties of wild grape here in New Hampshire including fox grapes (Vitis  fruitlabrusca), and frost or river grapes (Vitis riparia.) The fruit is an important food source for everything from birds to bears.

14. Smooth Arrowwood

Smooth arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and is blooming along stream banks and drainage ditches right now. Red twig dogwoods are also beginning to bloom, but they have four petals and the viburnums have five. Dogwood flower clusters also tend to be much flatter on top and seem to hover just above the branch. Smooth arrowwood viburnum has a much more rounded flowering habit. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

15. Star Chickweed

Star chickweed (Stellaria pubera) has 5 white petals so deeply notched they look like 10. At one half inch across they are bigger and showier than other chickweeds, but still quite small. Even so, other common names include giant chickweed and great chickweed. It is an introduced plant, most likely brought from Europe where it has been used medicinally since ancient times. Legend says that if its blossoms are open there will be at least 4 more hours without rain. If the blossoms close, rain is coming. I’m hoping to see open chickweed blossoms this morning.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~ Lydia M. Child

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1. Chalk Fronted Corporal Dragonfly

I don’t know much about dragonflies but I think this one might be a male chalk-fronted corporal (Ladona julia) dragonfly. From what I’ve read he is a skimmer and gets his name from the two chalky “Corporal’s bars” behind his head, which actually are a Captain’s insignia, not a Corporals. Anyhow, he was sunning himself on a dead cattail leaf near a pond when I met him. I noticed that he had a very hairy back, which I’ve never seen on a dragonfly before. He wouldn’t let me get very close so I had to use the bigger Canon SX-40 with its zoom lens.

2. Pale Beauty Moth aka Campaea perlata

I was looking for cones on a northern white cedar one evening and found this beautiful white moth on one of the branches. It was getting late and the light was poor but I was able to get enough detail to make an identification. I’m fairly certain that it’s a pale beauty moth (campaea perlata) but if I’m wrong I hope someone will let me know.  Whatever its name it was a beautiful thing.

3. Northern White Cedar

I remembered that I wasn’t checking the white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) for moths; I came for the cones, each of which has dark, indigo blue tips when they’re young.

4. Northern White Cedar Cones

Here is a closer look at the pencil eraser size cedar cones with their blue tips. Whenever I see something like this I’m always curious why the plant would expend so much extra energy turning part of itself blue. Doing so must benefit the tree in some way. Or maybe it doesn’t take a lot of extra energy.

This tree has an interesting history; Native Americans showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of it and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He also had trees with him when he returned to Europe, so Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

5. English Plantain

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is blooming. The shape of the flower head is called ovoid. Each tiny (4mm) flower has a yellowish, pointed bract that is a little hard to see and will produce 2 seeds if pollinated. It is also called ribwort and narrow leaf plantain because of its basal growth of narrow, ribbed leaves. It is found in England and Europe and was brought over by early settlers because of its many medicinal uses.  Native Americans called it “White man’s foot” because it grew along foot paths used by the settlers. It is considered an invasive weed these days but I like its unusual flower heads so I don’t mind seeing it blooming in my lawn. This one had a little blue on it, which I’ve never seen before.

6. Flowering Grass

Grasses are flowering too, and it’s a splendid show that many people miss. I think this one is orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata,) which is a cool season, high quality pasture grass with good drought tolerance. It comes from western and central Europe and has been grown in the US for over 200 years.

7. Flowering Grass Closeup

Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

8. Porcupine Sedge

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is also flowering. The tiny wispy white bits at the ends of the pointy “prickles” are its flowers. It’s easy to see how this sedge got its common name. Another is bottlebrush sedge, which also fits. This plant loves to grow near water and that’s where I always find it. Waterfowl, game birds and songbirds feed on sedge seeds and the sedge wren builds its nest and hunts for insects in wetlands that are dominated by sedges.

9. Turtle Laying

I was kneeling to take a photo of a toadflax blossom and looked over my shoulder to see this turtle laying eggs in a mown grassy area. I’m not great with reptile identification but I think she’s an eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta.) She was quite far from water and it didn’t seem to me like she had made a very good choice in nest sites what with lawn mowers running over it weekly, but the soil was sandy and easy to dig in and I’m sure she knows more about egg placement than I do.

10. Turtle

She didn’t care for posing and was tucked up into her shell as far as it would allow, so I took a couple of quick shots and let her be. Nest preparation can be exhausting work for a turtle.

11. Turtle Shell Growth

She had a strange wart like growth on the rear of her shell. Many of the turtles I see seem to have something wrong with their shells.

12. Unknown Insect

What the good folks at bug guide.net think might be a Muscoidea fly in the genus Anthomyia stopped in to see what I was doing one day. He was very hairy and I told him so. I don’t think he cared much for my opinion though, because he flew away. These flies can cause significant damage to crops because of the way their larva invade the stems and roots of some plants like onions. They are not at all garden friendly.

13. Unknown Insect 2

The folks at Bug guide.net tell me that this is a soldier beetle called Rhaxonycha Carolina or Atalantycha neglecta. They can’t tell which because of the poor quality of the photo, I presume. Both beetles have what looks like a fur collar. He was on my windshield and the “sun” he is crawling toward is the reflection of the camera’s flash. Soldier beetle larvae feed on the eggs and larvae of beetles, grasshoppers, moths and other insects, and adult soldier beetles feed on aphids and other soft-bodied insects, so they’re a good insect to have in the garden. They are attracted to plants like marigold and goldenrod.

14. Spittlebug Foam

Seeing this foamy “snake spit” on plants immediately takes me back to my childhood, because that’s what we called it when I was a boy. Of course it’s really the protective foam used by spittle bug nymphs and has nothing to do with snakes. The nymphs use it to make themselves invisible to predators and to keep themselves from drying out. They make the foamy mass by dining on plant sap and secreting a watery liquid which they whip up with air to create the froth. This example was on a yarrow stem.

15. Unknown Blue Damselfly

Since I started with a dragonfly I’ll end with what I thought was a common blue damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) until I found out that they live in Europe. Now I’m not sure what it is, other than a blue damselfly. I wish the background was less busy so you could see its wings better, but beggars can’t be choosers and I was lucky to have it pose at all. If you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

One should pay attention to even the smallest crawling creature for these too may have a valuable lesson to teach us.  Black Elk

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