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Archive for September, 2012

The city of Keene, New Hampshire sits on an ancient lake bed surrounded by hills. One of these is west hill, which I climbed recently. In the late 1800s the Colony family of Keene owned several large parcels of land on west hill. Today the land, called the Horatio Colony Preserve, is open to the public.

The road seen here was laid out in 1763, long before the Colony family owned the land. In the 1800s when they owned the land the road was still used by horse drawn carriages but now it slowly dwindles down to a narrow, very steep foot path. I read a posting on line that said the path “meandered” to the top, and I guess it does-if you call an almost vertical climb a meander.

This cabin was built in 1937 by Horatio’s grandson, also named Horatio, as a place to write. Horatio the younger wrote several books, including books of poetry and essays. 

This sign mentions the tip top house at the top of the hill, which was my goal on this day. 

I hadn’t traveled far past the cabin when I saw that this large white pine had blown down. This root ball was huge-probably 12 feet across-but was also very shallow. It didn’t leave much of a depression when it fell like you would expect.  That’s most likely due to the very moist soil found on this hill. When soil is constantly moist a plant doesn’t have to send its roots too deep to search for moisture. White Pine trees (Pinus strobus) often have a tap root like a dandelion that can extend as much as 12 feet into the soil, but this one didn’t. 

It doesn’t take long for mushrooms to start growing on fallen trees.  I think these were oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus.) 

This toothed mushroom (Hericium americanum) was quite high up on this standing tree. 

These wolf fart puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme ) were the last fungi I saw for a while because the forest changed from relatively open canopy hardwood to more dense hemlock. For a while it was so dark that very little grew there. Though we think of mushrooms as lovers of darkness even they seem to need some light to grow. The name ‘wolf fart’ is from the Greek “lyco” which means “wolf” and “perdon” which means “to break wind.” The person who named them had a strange sense of humor, apparently. 

Higher up the hill the gloom began to subside and I saw some dog lichen (Peltigera canina) growing on mossy tree trunks. Dog lichen is a foliose or leaf-like lichen. It is called dog lichen because its fruiting bodies look like dog’s teeth. It was used to treat rabies in the middle ages for the same reason.  This looks a lot like some liverworts, but doesn’t have a vein (nerve) in the center of each “leaf.”

Just to the right and quite out of focus is a beech drop plant (Epifagus americana .) I saw many of these on this hill but didn’t get a decent picture of any of them.  Beech drops are parasitic on the roots of beech trees. 

I came to a huge granite outcropping that was covered with rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata,) which is another large foliose lichen. I’ve never seen so much rock tripe in one spot. Usually it grows on boulders near lakes and ponds but in this case the constant drip of water down the rock face makes this spot a good home for it and mosses. 

A closer look at some rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata.) 

This view is one reason to climb to the top of the hill. This looks to the north with Surry Mountain in the distance. Surry Mountain is known for its quartz crystals and once had a gold mine on its summit. West hill had a lead mine. 

Goldenrod grows in what’s left of Horatio the elder’s Tip Top House. The stone foundation and some cast iron pieces are about all that is left. 

Heather is the last thing I expected to see at the top of this hill, but it was in full bloom and was beautiful. I don’t know what variety this is but I know it is heather because heather blooms in the fall. Heaths bloom in the late winter or early spring. Heather is not native so someone must have carried this plant here.

Two kinds of reindeer lichen grow over the boulders in quite large colonies. I think this might be gray reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina.

I think this one is called woodland reindeer lichen (Cladonia arbuscula.) Its growth habit isn’t as tight and rounded as the previous lichen and it is much lighter in color. 

In my experience in the New Hampshire woods, this fern is rarely seen, though it is supposed to be abundant. I think this is Polypodium virginianum, called rock polypody. The polypody fern family includes about 1000 species but only two of them are native to the northeast-rock polypody and Appalachian polypody (Polypodium appalachianum.) This fern is evergreen and looks and feels much like the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides,)  but the odd way that the leaflets are aligned on either side of the stem quickly shows that it isn’t that fern.  There were very large colonies of this fern scattered here and there, mostly growing on boulders. Thoreau liked them and said that “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” 

Of course there were turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) because I see them wherever I go. Now that the underbrush is thinning again these are becoming much easier to see. Last year they were more blue / purple and this year they are mostly shades of brown. I want to watch them closely this fall and see if cold affects their color.

That’s it for this half day trip up one side of West Hill and down the other. I can’t wait to return next spring-I have a feeling that many hard to find wildflowers might grow here. Thanks for stopping in.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves ~John Muir

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Can’t Reply

Please note that as of this morning 9/27/12 I can’t reply to comments. I’m not sure what is going on but hopefully it will be fixed soon. Meanwhile, I’m not ignoring you!

Hmm..Just discovered I can reply to comments on my old desktop, but not on the new laptop. Time for some detective work.

All fixed now!

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If it seemed like all you ever saw on this blog were close-ups and macros, that’s because my used camera’s zoom function was broken. It’s a great camera as long as you don’t want to zoom, and a big step up from the cell phone camera I started this blog with. 

Semi-Retired

The problem was that I like to be able to do something other than macro shots with a camera, so I recently bought what you see below. It’s a Canon Power Shot SX40, called a bridge camera because it “bridges the gap” between point and shoot and digital single lens reflex cameras. The 35X zoom works great and the deal on it was too good to pass up.

Of course, there is always a learning curve when a new gadget joins the family and it’s probably a good thing that you weren’t able to hear what I’ve been saying to this camera since it came home.

Nevertheless we all get along fine now, though I’m still trying to get a macro shot as close as I got with the old Power Shot A590. Macro isn’t all I want to do but it is fun and I enjoy it, so there will still be a lot of macro shots seen here, especially of mushrooms, lichens, and slime molds. That’s not all that will be seen here though-I’ll leave you with a sampling of a few other things I’ve had in mind. A Great Blue Heron was waiting for the sun on a recent foggy morning. The instant it appeared over the hills, he was gone. 

Chip sat for his portrait on a fallen pine. I didn’t see Dale.

Looking out over a nearby bog.

Buying a camera doesn’t make you a photographer.  It makes you a camera owner ~Author Unknown    

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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My calendar says autumn begins today, but I’m not ready for it yet. We’ve had freeze warnings for the upper third of the state and two or three frost warnings for the central third but it hasn’t dropped much below 40 degrees here in the southwest corner. For now the late summer flowers are still blooming. Asters are still everywhere even though they started blooming early. The goldenrod blossoms are waning now though.This is a sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata) that I grow on my shed in the back yard. It’s covered with very fragrant, quarter size flowers from now until frost. This is often confused with our native virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana,) but it’s not the same plant. Sweet autumn clematis grows so fast that this one reached the roof of my shed the first year. Blue vervain (Verbena hastate) is such a perfect blue that I can’t pass it by without taking a picture. This plant loves wet places and is also called swamp verbena.Bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis) is still hanging on but the dryness over the summer did some damage to these plants. You can see how the plant in the photo died back and then came back to life when the rains returned. This plant is also called soapwort because its leaves contain a natural soap and will produce a lather.The purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea ) have also had a hard time because of the dryness and stopped blooming for a while, but then became loaded with blossoms again once the rains returned. The native pink turtlehead  (Chelone obliqua )in my garden bloomed very early this year. It is usually the last plant to bloom but this year it has had to share the stage with phlox, coneflowers and sweet autumn clematis.The blue of Hairy Vetch (Vicia vilosa) is easily seen among the fall colors overtaking the fields.  Hairy vetch is a native of Europe and Asia that has escaped and is now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire. It was originally imported to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage.Purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) flowers are smaller than those of the New England aster and the ray petals often look as if they were glued to the central disk by a kindergartener-sort of but not quite right. If a New England aster was quarter size, these would be nickel size, but identical in color. They have zig aged stems that may or may not always be purple. These plants are also called swamp asters because they like to grow in wet areas. I’m not sure why this sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is blooming in September, but I imagine it knows what it’s doing. The question of its being a sarsaparilla is an educated guess because this plant had only naked flower stalks and no leaves, just like it does in May, June, or July when it usually blooms.I had visions of a dry, desert like hillside-where only crabgrass will grow-transformed into an Eden by one of the toughest plants that I know-Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia.) Unfortunately, the Russian sage had other plans and refused to grow where I planted it. I saw a beautiful 4 foot high, gray leaved, shrub like perennial covered with arm loads of scented blue flowers in my mind, but I ended up with a spindly little twig that struggled all summer to produce a couple of sad looking flower spikes, one of which is seen here. It’s clearly time to move it to a more acceptable location and let the crabgrass have the hillside. I hope this puts to rest the rumor that professional gardeners don’t see failures in the garden. Beggar’s Ticks (Bidens) is a plant that teaches patience because it suddenly appears in late July and grows for several weeks before it flowers. There are nearly 200 species in the genus and many of them look nearly identical. In this part of the state this plant grows side by side with the nodding burr marigold (Bidens Cernua,) which is also called smooth beggar’s ticks and looks very similar. The plant gets its common name from the way its barbed seeds cling to clothing. Books say that it reaches 3 1/2 feet tall but I’ve seen some get close to six feet. The one in the photo is more typical of its often sprawling habit. I’ve also seen these plants growing in water at the edge of ponds.All summer long I’ve been trying to get a decent shot of a floating bladderwort flower (Utricularia inflata.) Most of the time they were floating too far off shore, but some of the problem was my over exposures when they were close enough to shoot. Finally everything came together and I was able to get this picture-probably the only decent picture of a floating bladderwort that you’ll see here this year. The inset shows how the plant floats on “pontoons” which are actually swollen, air filled leaf stems.

The love of flowers is really the best teacher of how to grow and understand them ~Max Schling

As always, I appreciate your taking time to stop and see what nature is up to in New Hampshire.

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Most slime molds aren’t really very slimy-or moldy-but they are interesting and can be quite beautiful. As I find more of them I become even more fascinated by the seemingly endless variety of colors and shapes. The only problem with slime molds is that light is their enemy. They grow in the darkest areas- under logs and behind rocks-and that can make photographing them a real challenge, so you’ll have to bear with me if these aren’t the sharpest photos you’ve seen.

The book Mushrooms of Northeast (no, not northeastern) North America-Midwest to New England by George Barron has quite a good section on slime molds and it starts off with one that closely resembles this one,  called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa. I believe that the photo above shows the cylindrical white fruiting bodies of Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa. These fruiting bodies are so fragile that one swipe of a finger can destroy hundreds of them.I think these are the fruiting bodies of the second variety of Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, called porioides. These objects that resemble geodesic domes are so small that I couldn’t see any of the detail until I zoomed in on the photo-then I cropped it so you could see it too. It’s not as sharp as I’d like, but it gives an idea of some of the incredible shapes found in nature. According to my mushroom book this slime mold is “very common and fruits in scattered clusters on well-rotted logs.”  That’s exactly where these grew.Another slime mold has fruiting bodies that are shaped and colored much like blackberries. It is called Metatrichia vesparium. I’m not positive that is what those in the photo are, but they are black and shaped very much like a blackberry. The problem is they should be very shiny. These seem to have dried out before they could complete the cycle and become a mass of fluffy threads, called Capillitium.Conditions have to be perfect, with the right temperature, moisture and light levels for a slime mold to fruit. If these conditions aren’t present the slime mold can go into a kind of suspended animation called Sclerotium. When it is in this state it becomes a hard crust that resists a finger poke. When conditions return to what the slime mold needs this resting, multicellular mass will germinate and produce hundreds, or even thousands of fruiting bodies. This mass was quite hard. All the separate amoeba-like entities that made up this yellow slime had come together and were preparing to fruit. One of them, way over on the left, was a slow poke.  I think this might be the “many headed slime” (Physarum polycephalum.)Not all slime molds that look like this are hardened and in suspended animation. Some, like Fuglio septica, form a “cake like mass that can be white, tan, yellowish, and red-brown.” My color finding software sees all of those colors in this one, along with lemon chiffon and blanched almonds. (Two shades of yellow.) This slime mold forms a “smooth, brittle crust which breaks easily to reveal a black spore mass.”  Fuglio septica can move as much as 3 feet and can climb onto stumps, logs, and living plants. Mucilago crustacean is another slime mold that forms a “cake like mass.” This species fruits on rotting leaves and wood, with an outside layer of “crystalline, chalky material that gives it a white, crusty texture.” The spore mass inside is black.  The slime mold in the photo seems to fit the description. I’m not sure if this is it, but another slime mold which lives in rotting logs and is often used in research is Physarum polycephalum. It has the appearance of a “web-work of yellow threads, up to a few feet in size.” This one wasn’t entirely yellow but it had yellow in it, as well as blue, gray, tan and green and it had just started forming webs.This one had plenty of yellow but it was hairy and wasn’t forming a web. I’m not sure what its name is, but I like its orange and cream colors. Blue is a color that is often hard to find in nature so I am always on the lookout for it. Usually though, due to color blindness, what I see as blue usually turns out to be purple. That’s exactly what I thought the outer edges of this slime mold were, but they’re blue. I’m not sure which species it is. I’ve found pictures of unidentified slime molds that look identical to these hairy white ones, but I haven’t found any information about them in a book.  I’m surprised that nobody seems to know what they are, because they are common-I see them regularly.I don’t like using a flash, but as I said at the beginning of this post-slime molds grow in dark places. This one was in the plasmodium stage, which is rarely seen, and I was determined to get a picture of it, flash or no. It was so dark that there was no other way.

Paraphrased from Mushroom Expert. Com : “Slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil at the rate of as much as an inch per hour, growing and eating.”

 “When the plasmodium stage runs out of food (or when light or moisture changes alter its environment), it converts itself into sporangia-globs or balls made up of spores. In some kinds of slime molds, the sporangia have stems; in others the stem is missing; in still others a large, single sporangium is developed.“

In the photo above the yellow sporangia sit at the top of hair-like stems. I found these growing on a log.

“Eventually, a single spore germinates, becomes amoeba-like and comes together with other amoeba-like bodies to become a zygote. A zygote then grows into a plasmodium and repeats the cycle.”

To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part ~ Aldo Leopold

I hope you find slime molds interesting, as I do-or if not interesting, at least fun to look at. Thanks for stopping by.

 

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I recently hiked around a local pond called Goose pond. It was cool that morning and mist was rising off the warm water. I didn’t see a single goose, but they will be here soon to wander through the cornfields looking for stray kernels. If you hike at a normal pace it takes about an hour to get around the pond, but it usually takes me 3 hours or more. I have to go slow if I want to see things like what I have posted here. This is usually quite a busy place with plenty of hikers, but not on this morning. I think it was too early. I saw quite a few lichens at the pond. This reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina) grows in areas that are quite sunny and dry. This is a fructicose lichen, meaning it is shrubby looking.  These lichens grow on the ground rather than on trees or stones and are slow growing. The small one pictured could be decades old. In parts of Europe these lichen are eaten by reindeer. This is another fructicose lichen called beard lichen (Usnea.) It grows on trees instead of on the ground and is very common in pines and hemlocks in our area. It’s sometimes called old man’s beard. Most lichens are very sensitive to air pollution and will not grow where the air isn’t clean. Fringed wrinkle lichens (Tuckermannopsis Americana) always remind me of leaf lettuce. This type of lichen is foliose, or leaf like. These are also quite common in this area-on conifers especially-and can be quite colorful. When a large pine or hemlock falls the upper branches are often covered with this type of lichen. Our rocks are very old here. I took a picture of this one because it looked like it had been folded before it had fully cooled however many millions of years ago. It was covered in moss and lichens. I’ve been watching this blue lichen for over a year now. When I showed it in this blog last year I said it was purple, but my color finding software has corrected that mistake. This type of lichen is known as a Crustose or crusty lichen because it forms a flat crust that can’t be lifted or peeled off of whatever it is growing on. In my experience blue lichens are quite rare.Rock Tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) is foliose lichen that likes to grow on boulders that are near water. I found several of these on this hike and they were all quite small. This one wasn’t much bigger than a dime. Rock tripe is edible and has saved the lives of people who were lost and starving in the past.This spot of yellow cructose lichen was also about the size of a dime and grew in full sun among mosses and other lichens. I think this might be a sulphur fire dot lichen (Caloplaca flavoirescens,) but I’m not 100% sure.  I don’t see too many yellow lichens.Orange is another color that I don’t see much of in the world of lichens, but I’m convinced that they can be just about any color we can imagine. The book Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski lists only two or three orange lichens and none look like this one. I’d have to call it an orange cructose lichen, even though up close it looks like somebody spilled some type of chemical on this stone. This cructose lichen is called tile lichen (Lecidea tesselata) and it grows on stone in full sun. It is described as a “chalky white or blue gray surface forming circular patches with sunken black disks.” The only thing about my identification that bothers me is that the black disks are not sunken, but actually stand proud of the surrounding surface. You have to zoom in quite close to see this. The chances of my finding a single stone for a second time are very slim unless it is a large boulder that is easy to remember. I took a picture of this stone because I liked its colors and grain patterns, but I didn’t see the small dark spot in the center until I looked at the photo.  As it turns out this dark spot is midnight blue, according to my color finding software. I don’t really know if this is a lichen or a mineral embedded in the stone but midnight blue is a rare color indeed. Azurite and malachite can be deep blue, so it is possible that it is a mineral and not a lichen. The trouble is I don’t remember where the stone is so I can take a second look with a magnifying glass. I’m fairly certain that this is an example of a liverwort rather than a lichen because it was growing in the wet, saturated sand at the water’s edge. A liverwort is a flowerless, spore producing plant. Liverworts like wet places but I haven’t seen too many lichens growing in wet sand.  A closer look shows a “vein” (nerve) running down the center of each leave and lichens don’t have this feature that I know of. Liverworts get their name from early herbalists who thought that some of these plants resembled a human liver.

The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask ~ Nancy Wynne Newhall

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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There are still flowers blooming now and some of them, like asters, goldenrods and an occasional Joe Pye weed are quite showy. Most of them though, are very small and not showy at all. In fact it’s easy to walk right by a lot of them without even seeing them. Here are a few of the showy and not so showy. The blue flowers crowded on one side of the long stem give away the identity of creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides.) This plant was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped to dry places that get full sun. This is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom.  It is an invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it has become established and will choke out weaker native plants.I didn’t need to crush a leaf and smell it to know this was wild mint (Mentha arvensis)-the flowers told me that-but I did anyway because I like the scent of fresh mint.  I found this plant growing in a semi shaded area in moist soil. I was surprised to find it in a nice, tidy clump instead of taking over the whole area. Mint is famous for spreading quickly, which is why it doesn’t make a good plant for the garden.Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) isn’t a close relative of pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) but the flowers look somewhat alike. That’s most likely because they are both in the Aster family. Sweet everlasting has flower buds that are much narrower than those on pearly everlasting. These flowers are slow to open-I waited for them for close to two weeks before giving up and snapping this picture. Everlastings get their name from the way they last a long time as a cut flower. These white plants are easy to see against the browning grasses of fall. European native butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris) bloomed for a while and then stopped, and now it’s blooming again. This yellow toadflax has a flower that is much larger and showier than any blue toadflax that I’ve seen. These flowers resemble snapdragons and last a long time as a cut flower. I think it’s one of the most beautiful weeds that I know of. Though books say they are common, I never saw a bicolor turtlehead flower (Chelone glabra) until I found this white one with a touch of plum colored blush on each flower. I grow one in my garden that is almost the same pinkish / lavender color, but over the entire flower. These plants like moist soil and will grow in sun or shade. This wild one gets a lot of hot afternoon sun and the plant I grow in my garden gets only an hour or two of morning sun. Both seem to do equally well.Carpet weed (Mollugo verticillata) is easy to recognize because of its whorled leaves, small white flowers, and ground hugging habit. This small weed grows very fast and in no time at all can cover quite a large piece of ground in a mat which has taken root at every leaf node. This plant originated in tropical America and is an annual, which means it grows new from seed each year.Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) was brought to Europe from Japan sometime around 1829. It was taken to Holland and grown in nurseries that sold it as an ornamental. From there it found its way across the Atlantic where we still do battle with it today. It is one of the most invasive weeds known and the only plant I have ever seen overtake it is purple loosestrife, which is also an invasive weed. Japanese knotweed is also a tough plant-the one shown in the photo was burned black right back to the ground last spring during an April frost and I thought for sure it was finished. As you can see, I was wrong. Nodding bur marigold (Bidens cernua) is unusually showy for a late summer /early fall wildflower. These native plants like to grow in wet soil and are common at the edges of rivers and ponds-I have even seen them growing in water. They really put on a show because there aren’t many other large yellow wildflowers blooming at this time. A nodding burr marigold (Bidens cernua) flower. This plant is also called beggar’s ticks because of the way its seeds stick to clothing. This plant is easily confused with Bidens laevis, the southern bur marigold. The late blooming period, serrated, hairless leaves and flowers that nod down toward the ground help with the identification of this plant.American water Horehound (Lycopus americanus) has clusters of tiny white flowers that ring the stem at the leaf axils. These small blooms never seem to all be open at the same time. This plant is easily confused with Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) and wild mint (Mentha arvensis) which both blossom at the same time. Crushing and smelling a leaf will easily confirm that it isn’t wild mint. Northern bugleweed doesn’t have lower leaves that are deeply lobed like those on American water horehound, so deeply lobed lower leaves that don’t smell like mint are what to look for when trying to find this plant. All three like to grow near water. The Ancient Greeks believed that the goddess of love Aphrodite created marjoram as a symbol of happiness. They made wreaths out of the mild herb for marriage and funeral ceremonies. Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is a native of Asia and is closely related to oregano (Origanum vulgare.) It is easily confused with oregano but has a much milder flavor. Its leaves are also grayer and slightly hairier than those of oregano. You can find both growing in the wild occasionally.

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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This post is part two of all the things I see that don’t seem to fit in other posts but are too interesting to disregard. This post is more about shapes, colors and textures than anything else.This looks more like a pineapple than a pinecone to me, but it is called a pinecone willow gall. This gall appears at the branch tips and is caused by a midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) laying eggs in them. Once the eggs hatch the larva burrow into the branch tip and the plant reacts by forming a gall around them. This gall was smaller than an egg, but still quite big. This oak gall was fairly fresh-they are a darker brown after they have aged. There are horned oak galls, gouty oak galls, artichoke oak galls, potato oak galls, and oak marble galls. The photo above is of a marble gall and it really is about the size of a marble. These marble galls are usually near perfect spheres but this one looked like it had been stretched a bit. Some galls form on the undersides of leaves, some on the tree’s roots and others, like the one shown, on the twigs and stems. All are caused by different wasps or mites which will only lay their eggs on the leaves, roots, or twigs of their favorite species of oak tree. Native blue cohosh fruit (Caulophyllum thalictroides) couldn’t be mistaken for anything else even though lack of rain dried the plant’s leaves up. You can also see a few of the unripe green fruit in this photo. I tried very hard to find this plant last spring and couldn’t, so this discovery means that I’ll see it next spring if I can get to it. The medicinal qualities of this plant have been known for hundreds if not thousands of years-it was used by Native Americans to ease childbirth. It has since been learned that, though the plant does indeed ease childbirth, it also damages the heart and all parts of it are considered toxic. This burl was on near a large pine tree that had fallen. You can clearly see all the gnarled, swirled grain patterns that burl is famous for and which make it so valuable. I thought it was a beautiful thing and because it was a small, detached piece I brought it home. If you look closely at the right hand edge of the burl you can see bits of blue lichens, which are rare. I wish I’d seen them when I was taking the picture.This burl I saw on a maple tree would most likely look every bit as nice as the previous one once it was taken from the tree, carved and turned on a lathe to create a bowl.Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers seem to turn into fruit so fast that you can almost see it happen as you stand there watching. Those in the photo will eventually become black, shiny, poisonous berries. Pokeberries have long been used as a source of ink-the United States Constitution was written in ink made from them. Native Americans used to make a red dye from the berries that they used to decorate their horses. I took this photo because of the vivid purple stems.Some parts of white cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) have no chlorophyll and this gives it a silvery- gray appearance. This moss, because of its shape and color, is one of the easiest to identify. It is very common in moist, shaded areas.I thought these prickly sow thistle seed heads (Sonchus asper) looked like they were worthy of having their picture taken. I have no doubt that the previous plant was a sow thistle (Sonchus asper,) but I can’t find an example in any book of a sow thistle with plum colored buds like these, which were on the same plant. This plant has been used as a potherb since ancient times. It is native to Europe and Asia. The black seed pods of blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) were once used as rattles by children. Not surprisingly, other common names include rattle weed and rattle bush. Native Americans made a blue dye that was a substitute for true indigo from this native plant.Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) was hit hard by our lack of rain but it can still make you itch, even at this stage.This puffball was about the size of a tennis ball. I can’t come up with an identical match for it, either in books or online, so I’m not really sure what it is.I’ve seen a lot of wild grapes this year. Since there are dozens of species it’s always hard to tell which one it is that you have, but I think these are fox grapes. The fox grape is as big as a nickel, deep purple in color, and said to be the most delicious wild grape in North America. Concord, Isabella, Catawba, Niagara, Chautauqua, and Worden grapes all come from the fox grape. Heavy with not quite ripe, speckled fruit is false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa.) I see large bunches of these berries everywhere I go, so it’s going to be a good year for birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters. When these berries are fully ripe they will be bright red, but I like them speckled too. Soil pH can affect fruit color. Native American’s used all parts of this plant. Its roots contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used.Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) seed heads are more interesting than the flowers, I think. This is our most common native clematis and can be seen on roadsides draped over shrubs or climbing high up in the trees. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings that are just beginning to show in this photo. Clematis can cause internal bleeding, so it should never be eaten.The fuzziness of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina,) on the right, is apparent even in its fruit while smooth sumac (Rhus glabra,) on the left, has smooth fruit. It isn’t just the fruit but the limbs and leaves which are smooth or hairy. Smooth sumac seems to have brighter red fruit. Its leaves are also darker green and shiny. Around here staghorn sumac gets much taller and forms larger colonies than smooth sumac. Smooth sumac trunks are usually much more crooked as well. The leaves of both plants turn brilliant red in the fall.This beech tree looked like it had gone through some tough times but didn’t have any dead branches or appear to be ailing. It looked like someone had wrinkled it up and then hadn’t quite straightened it out again. I couldn’t help wondering what its grain pattern would look like, but I’d bet that a sawyer would love to find out. This tree is on state land however, and will hopefully be protected for its lifetime.

Free your heart from your mind. Embrace wonder for one moment without the need to consider how that wonder came to be, without the need to justify if it be real or not. ~Charles de Lint

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I see different insects, spiders, and other things in the woods and fields but I never seem to be able to fit them into a post, so I decided to give them their own post. I was glad that these Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) were eating the jewel weed instead of plants in my garden. I like the shiny coppery / bronze finish that these two displayed. They almost look as if they had been plated. This millipede was crawling around in the forest litter one day and I wasn’t sure at first what it was because I don’t see many of them. It was quite big, and must have been 3 or 4 inches long. I think it is an American Giant Millipede (Narceus americanus.) It’s hard to see them in the photo but each body segment has a red band along one edge. Millipedes feed on decaying forest litter, much like mushrooms do. They, in turn, are a favorite snack of shrews. This little tree frog was hopping around in the forest litter. I was surprised how far he could hop but he sat still long enough for me to get a few pictures.  I was also surprised at how small he was-that’s a pine needle he’s balancing on. I went to a “Frogs of New Hampshire” web site by the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, but they didn’t show anything like this one. Since then a fellow blogger  told me that the only frog with suction cup toes in New Hampshire is the gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor.) They aren’t just gray though, because they have the ability to change the color of their skin like a chameleon. I like the camouflage he decided to wear for this picture. 

Update: it has been determined that this guy is actually a spring peeper!  (Pseudacris crucifer) See the cross on his back? That’s where the “crucifer” comes in.

This pond frog thought he was well hidden, but I watched him jump to this spot so I was able to see him.This pink / yellow / orange slug seemed drawn to these purple edged turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) I wonder if what they eat determines their color. This large caterpillar had a horn on his tail, and he moved very fast for a caterpillar. I think this might be a waved sphinx moth (Ceratomia undulosa) caterpillar. He looks a little wrinkled but that seems to be normal for these guys.This big black and yellow Argiope Orb Spider built her web right across the path I was using so I stopped and took some pictures before going around her. Looking for the zig zagged part of the web, usually near the center, is a good way to identify these spiders. I used to watch these spiders for hours when I was a boy. I don’t know why this box elder bug (boisea trivittata) was on this goldenrod, but he was in no hurry to leave. Box elder seed pods are this bug’s favorite food, but it will eat many other plants. It is thought that box elder bugs go through a “population explosion” every ten years. If there is a seed bearing female box elder in the vicinity of your home this bug is often found indoors too, like the ladybug.  This pearly crescent spot butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) landed on some deer tongue grass just in front of me and was kind enough to sit still so I could get some pictures. The “pearly crescent spot” this butterfly is named for is on the underside of the wing.

Update: After responding to a comment on this butterfly I did a little more digging and discovered that this is actually the northern crescent  (Phyciodes cocyta), which is closely related to the pearl crescent. The main difference seems to be the amount of white on the wing edges. There is also anothe one called the Tawny crescent  (Phyciodes batesii.)

This monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is one of only two or three that I’ve seen this year. I don’t know where they all are, but it isn’t in southwestern New Hampshire. This one stayed on this evening primrose plant for quite a while. One morning recently it was actually quite cool-probably 50 degrees-and this eastern red spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) was in a sunny spot on the path, trying to warm up. He didn’t move at all the entire time I was there so I’m assuming that he was really cold. These are also called red efts. Seeing him led me to discover that a newt is just a small salamander and that a siren is an aquatic salamander with no hind legs. It’s amazing what a walk in the woods can teach you! Sometimes you don’t have to see the critter to know it was there.

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home ~ Gary Snyder

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I spend a lot of my plant hunting time near ponds, streams and rivers because that’s where the wildflowers like to grow. This post is about the flowers I found on 2 or 3 recent visits to the Ashuelot (pronounced Ash-will-lot or Ash-wee-lot) river in both Keene and further south in Swanzey, New Hampshire. Because of a long stretch of dry weather the river is about as low as I’ve ever seen it.You can see by the dark areas on the stones how much lower the river is than is normal. You can also see that it isn’t taking long for plants to start colonizing those parts of the bank that are normally under water. False pimpernel (Lindernia dubia) was growing in the wet mud nearly at the water’s edge in a spot that would have normally been under water.  These flowers are quite small and I had to re-shoot them three or four times before I had pictures I could live with. This plant sheds all its flowers each evening so all you see is blue / purple flowers all over the ground around it, then the following morning more flower buds open with that day’s flowers. What is strange is that I can’t find any reference to this habit either in books or online, even though I witnessed it on several evenings.  False pimpernel is listed as endangered in New Hampshire. A side view of false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia.) Looking down the throat of a false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia.)  This flower has 4 stamens, 2 fertile and 2 infertile. Under its hood, 2 of its stamens curve down like cobra fangs, but no matter how many pictures I took from any angle in any light, I couldn’t really capture the curved stamens. I sure was covered with river mud from trying though! I wasn’t the only one who got muddy. The mud was so soft that even the raccoons were sinking into it. You have to be careful where you step because there are some spots on this river-mostly in still backwaters- that contain quicksand. I don’t know if there are any areas of quicksand near this backwater, but there sure was plenty of algae. It’s clear that the river hasn’t stirred here for a while. Dwarf St. John’s Wort (Hypericum mutilum) is another tiny flowered native plant that likes to grow at the water’s edge in sandy soil. Dwarf St. John’s Wort’s foliage usually looks untouched by insects or animals because it is slightly toxic. Each flower has 5 petals and 5 light green sepals and is maybe half the size of a pencil eraser. Be careful when identifying those bedstraws! Most have 4 petals but two of them, three petaled bedstraw (Galium trifidum) and stiff marsh bedstraw (Galium tinctorium) pictured here, have three petals. The flowers are very small-even smaller than those of the dwarf St. John’s wort described previously. Its whorled leaves usually appear in groups of 5 or 6. The odd fruits are pairs of tiny black spheres that each contains 1 tiny seed. This native stiff marsh bedstraw plant grew in moist sand very close to the water’s edge. Another common name for the plant is Clayton’s bedstraw.You don’t have to get much closer than this to our native nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) to know what it is. This is also called curly top smartweed-obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. Each flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. These plants are big-the picture shows just a small part of a colony that must have been 7-8 feet across and 3-4 feet tall and there were several colonies just like it dotting the river bank a foot or two from the water. There are other smartweeds that droop but their flower spikes aren’t as densely packed as these. Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum ) thickets grow along the top of the river bank and the weight of the berry clusters pulls the long branches down to hang out over the water. These bushes are big-most are 10 feet across-and are loaded with fruit. This plant has blue berries that start out white and because of that it might be confused with red osier dogwood, which has white berries that sometimes have a bluish blush. The easiest way to identify them is to remember that silky dogwood is named for the soft, downy hairs that cover the branches and red osier dogwoods have red branches. In fact, red osier dogwood is also called red twigged dogwood. Native Americans used dogwood branches to make fish traps and twisted the bark into rope. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum ) weren’t growing at the water’s edge but grew close enough so the spot will be under water in the spring. There was quite a large colony of 15-20 plants growing here. It’s interesting that Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide says that this is a “plant of dry soil, often found along railroad tracks.” I’ve never seen them along railroad tracks but they seem real happy here in this damp river sand. No matter where they grow I’m always happy to see them-I love the blue color and the crazily bent stamens. Fellow New Hampshire blogger jomegat took the best picture of this flower that I’ve seen. It can be seen by clicking hereNative panicled tick trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) also grows midway up the river bank. As wildflowers go, this one is quite easy to identify with its pinkish, pea like blossoms, hairy stems, flattish flower buds and flat, segmented seed pods. I chose this picture more for the flower buds than the flowers because tick trefoil buds don’t look quite like any other wildflower that I can think of, and the flattish buds are a help with identification. One day I walked through a colony of these plants without realizing it and got absolutely covered with its sticky seed pods. No amount of brushing will get them off-they have to be picked off, one by one.  Panicled tick trefoil starts blooming quite late in summer when other tick trefoils have just about finished. Another trefoil, bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) grows on the side of the river that gets the most sun. Lupines and chicory also grow here-it seems to be quite a fertile patch of ground, for legumes especially. This plant was imported from Europe for use as a forage plant, but it has escaped cultivation and is now found just about everywhere. Its common name came about because someone thought its seedpods looked like a bird’s foot.Partridge pea (Chamaechrista fasciculate) grows further up the river bank, above the normal water line where it is drier. The nickel size golden yellow flowers come right off the stem in the leaf axils. Every time I see one of these flowers it seems like it’s only three quarters of the way open-apparently that is just one of its habits. The many small leaflets that make up each leaf are a good way to identify this plant. Partridge pea is an annual and grows new from seeds each year. They are native plants that stand about a foot tall. Downy willow herb (Epilobium strictum) has at least 3 cousins that look much like it, so it can be hard to identify. I think downy willow herb is the only one that doesn’t have a stigma (sticky tip of the center pistil) that is 4 lobed. The hairy stems and knob shaped pistil also help identify this one. This plant is a native and can be found on river banks and other moist areas. It is related to fireweed and has lavender petals and anther filaments that are slightly darker than the petals. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) grows away from the water, but still on the river bank. This is one of my favorite wildflowers and I’m glad that it grows here where it is so easy to get to. I love it mostly because of its sky blue color. One thing I didn’t know about this plant is that the large, half dollar sized flowers shrink up to a small, dried out looking bud in the evening. In fact, the first time I looked at these recently I thought they were done blooming for this year, but then the following morning they were covered with flowers. This plant hails from Europe. It’s easy to see why it was brought to the U.S. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) goldenrod, evening primrose, pilewort and wild lettuce grow at the tree line, just before the bottomland becomes forest. This land farthest from the river might get to taste of its water once in a century, when the river floods badly. It is home to plants that can take the driest soil and it supports some of the largest, showiest wildflowers.  New England asters have large flowers that are bigger than a quarter and are densely packed with purple ray florets surrounding the central yellow disc. At this time of year they are everywhere you look. I like asters but I don’t like that they signal the end of summer.Common dodder (Cuscuta gronovii ) is a parasitic vine that starts life growing from a seed but then, once it attaches itself to a host plant loses all contact with the soil and gets everything it needs from its host. I found quite a large tangle of dodder growing on a stand of goldenrod at the forest edge and the dodder had killed nearly every goldenrod plant. Since it has no leaves and couldn’t photosynthesize, the dodder literally sucked the life out of them. When its host plant dies the dodder simply twines its way around another host. It is considered a noxious weed, and you don’t want this one in your garden. The vine pictured is growing on oriental bittersweet, which is also a noxious weed. The easiest way to identify the plant is by the bright orange-yellow, twining stems and the tiny white flowers.

I choose to listen to the river for a while, thinking river thoughts, before joining the night and the stars ~ Edward Abbey

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