Flowers are beautiful and people enjoy seeing them but there is much, much more to nature than just flowers. Today’s post has a few flowers in it but also has other bits of nature that many may not see regularly, like a larch tree cone or iron ore in the form of hematite. To me these things can be every bit as beautiful as flowers, but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often. I hope others will see the beauty in them as much as I do.Accidently backing into the thorns of a Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) will get the blood flowing quickly on a cool spring morning. These odd but beautiful thorns always look as if they have been polished to me. They can grow to 4 inches or more in length and Civil War soldiers were said to have used them as pins to hold their uniforms together. Since the sweet, edible pulp on the insides of the seed pods is prized by animals, it is believed that the tree developed thorns to keep browsers away. Thorns aren’t very desirable in most home landscaping situations so nurserymen have developed many thornless varieties which make excellent shade trees. Honey locusts can live for over 100 years and prefer moist soil. Groups of wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) are easy to see from quite far away due to the lack of foliage on the underbrush at this time of year. These are also called ramps, which is a name that comes from the very old English. At this stage the plant reminds me of lily of the valley, which is toxic. False hellebore, which is very poisonous and grows at the same time of year, has been mistaken for wild leeks. The plant is in the onion family and is edible, but positive identification is important before eating any unknown plant. One of the obvious aids in identification is their strong fragrance, which to me resembles garlic more than onions. Other aids are the occasional purple or burgundy color of the lower stems and the small underground bulbs. The leaves will disappear before small white flowers appear at the end of a long, leafless stalk. These plants are so prized in some areas of the world that wild leek festivals are held every spring. These have to be among some of the stranger fungi that I’ve seen. They’re very fuzzy on the upper white part and “toothy” on the lower parts. Not surprisingly, I haven’t been able to identify them. In fact even after several hours of searching mushroom books and websites, I haven’t seen anything that even comes close to looking like these. Thanks to the book Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski, I’m quite confident that these lichens are concentric boulder lichens (Porpidia crustulata). They grew on a boulder in full sun and formed somewhat concentric rings. There was also a lot of rust on this stone. Ferrous iron in stones, when combined with oxygen and water, can produce rust in the form of iron oxide. Speaking of iron in stones, Hematite is an iron ore that often forms nodules that look to be shiny black bubbles on the surface of the stone in the photo. When broken open hematite is blood red inside so it’s also known as blood stone. The name comes from the Greek “ema” which means blood. Extensive hematite deposits can be found on a roadside leading north to Walpole, New Hampshire. Large drifts of bloodroot grew next to the wild leeks. I think I’ve seen more bloodroot this spring than I ever have, so maybe that’s a sign that it is coming back after being collected to near extinction. Sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine) isn’t a well-known plant because it isn’t at all showy. Sweet fern prefers very dry, sandy soil and often grows on road sides. It isn’t a fern at all but a deciduous shrub that grows to about 3 feet high. Its name comes from its fern like foliage which many describe as having a spicy or soapy fragrance. The shrub has both male and female flowers, which are seen here. The longer, cylindrical male flowers are in the form of catkins at the branch tips. The female flower always grows lower on the branch and is the smaller oval shaped, reddish catkin to the right. The tiny red pistils of the female flower are seen a little more clearly in the inset photo at the upper right. Pistils at this stage are ready to receive pollen, which the male flowers produce in large amounts. After pollination a burr like fruit with 4 seeds will form in place of the female blossom. Rub a few leaves between your palms and you’ll never forget sweet fern. Tracy over at the blog called Season’s Flow likes lichens and fungi, so here is a beard lichen for Tracy and all of the others, including myself, who like seeing them. If you’re curious about what is growing in Ohio Tracy’s blog is a great place to find out. Their wildflowers open before ours and their weather almost always comes this way, so seeing what is happening there is a little like seeing into the future. Right now they have violets blooming everywhere.I finally realized what these fringed wrinkle lichens remind me of-leaf lettuce! No wonder I can’t stop taking pictures of them. This one at eye level on a branch seemed to say “Hey, look at me.” I’m glad I did because it was a real beauty.
This is a cone from a larch tree (Larix.) Native larch trees grow in wet places like swamps and wetlands and are the only conifers that lose their needles. They grow very straight and tall and have soft, light green, needle-like leaves that turn bright yellow before dropping in the fall. The unusual and impressive cones often stay on the tree for several years before they fall. Larch trees can live for more than 200 years.I like wood. I like all of the fascinating things that nature does with it to make it so beautiful. I also like to read it to see if I can understand how it grew. All the little bumps and swirls on this piece tell me that it is burl and would probably make a beautiful bowl if it wasn’t so small. Woodworkers call these swirls and bumps eyes, and the more eyes a piece of burl has the more valuable it can be. Nobody really knows what causes burl figuring in trees but it is thought that a virus, fungus, or injury is the cause.
I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the forest beauty that is easily missed and often passed by without a second glance. Thanks for stopping in.