Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for March, 2013

Here are some of the things I’ve seen in woods, parks and yards this week.

 1. Skunk Cabbage in Snow

The skunk cabbage flowers (Symplocarpus foetidus) just shrugged off the recent snow and melted their way through it. These plants use cellular respiration to produce energy in the form of heat, and can raise the air temperature around themselves enough to melt snow and ice. The process is called thermogenesis, and very few plants have this ability. In spite of being able to fuel their own furnaces, these plants don’t seem to be in any hurry to grow leaves. You can see a small one just starting between the two flowers.

 2. Amber Jelly Fungus aka Exidia recisa

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) looks like cranberry jelly to me, but the software I use to cheat color blindness sees more brown than anything else. This fungus likes to grow on willow trees and is also called willow brain fungus. It also grows on alders and poplars, and that is where I usually find it.

3. Red Maple Buds

The plum colored bud scales of red maples (Acer rubrum) have opened enough to let the tomato red flower buds begin warming in the sun. It won’t be too much longer before we see the bright red blossoms dangling from this tree’s branches.

4. American Elm Buds

The oval, flat, pointy buds of American elm (Ulmus americana) also have plum colored scales, but what they hide inside is much browner than that of red maple. Before Dutch elm disease wiped out most of our elms in the 50s and 60s Keene, New Hampshire had so many huge old elms that it was called the Elm City. Many businesses in the area still use Elm City in their names, even though most of the trees are now gone. There are a few hardy survivors widely scattered about the region though, and I visited one of them to get this picture. Elm flowers are beautiful enough to warrant a return trip.

5. Shagbark hickory Bud

The buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovate) won’t win any beauty contests but they are slowly unfurling themselves, just as the earth is slowly warming and awakening to welcome spring.  There is no doubt that nature is turning to a new season, whether we are watching or not.

6. Scilla

Speaking of awakening-the scilla (scilla siberica) bulbs that I planted 2 years ago are just starting to show some color. It’ll be nice to see their cheery blue blossoms under the honeysuckles at the edge of the forest again. These bulbs are easily confused with glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) because the differences are so slight (flattened stamens) that even botanists have trouble telling them apart. It is for that reason that many botanists think the two plants should be classified as one.

 7. Cornelian Cherry Bud aka Cornus mas

We’re lucky to have a cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) in a local park and I was happy to see it showing some color. This very unusual, almost unknown shrub isn’t a cherry at all-it is a in the dogwood (Cornus) family and blooms very early in the spring before the leaves appear. It hails from Europe and Asia and has beautiful yellow, 4 petaled flowers that grow in large clusters. This is a rarely seen, under-used plant that would be welcome in any garden.

8. Box Flower Buds

Also getting ready to bloom was this boxwood shrub (Buxus sempervirens.)  Though the buds are white, soon small greenish yellow flowers will line each stem at the leaf axils. This shrub is very common and is often used for hedges.

9. Oak Rough Bullet Gall

Rough bullet galls on oaks are caused by the oak rough bullet gall wasp (Disholcaspis quercusmamma.) According to the Iowa State University Extension Service, in the fall the adult wasp chews its way out of the gall and lays its eggs in the dormant terminal buds of the oak host tree. In the spring when the egg hatches and the white, legless larvae feeds the oak tree will grow around it, completely enclosing it in a gall. The larva feeds on the inside of the gall, becomes an adult, and the cycle repeats itself. These galls are found only on bur oak, (Quercus macrocarpa,) and swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor.) The galls don’t hurt the tree, but they do excrete a sticky substance which attracts ants and bees.

 10. Opened Goldenrod Gall

 In this case the cycle didn’t get to repeat itself, because a bird pecked its way into this goldenrod gall and ate the fly larva it found inside. If the larva had escaped the gall on its own the evidence would be a tiny, round hole-not the large, ragged gash seen in the photo. Chickadees, woodpeckers, and even some beetles eat the larva of the goldenrod gall fly (Eurosta solidaginis.)

 11. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

I went back to visit the one scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) that I know of in this area to see what affect the recent cold and snow had on it. It doesn’t seemed to have changed at all since I saw it last month, except maybe for a few more flat, pale orange fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) It grows on granite in full sun.

Only with a leaf
can I talk of the forest.
~Visar Zhiti

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Last fall I climbed a local mountain named Mount Caesar, which was named for Caesar Freeman, a freed slave who farmed this land in the 1700s. Last Saturday I had the urge to climb it again so, in spite of several inches of snow, up I went.

1. Mt. Caesar Lower Trail

You can read about last fall’s hike and learn more about the history of this mountain by clicking here. This time the trail was more like a stream-very wet in several places. But at least it wasn’t icy!

 2. Lesser Plait Moss aka Hypnum pallescens

In several places along the trail the sun had melted the snow and lesser plait moss (Hypnum pallescens) grew on the stones in the weak, early spring sunshine. Like the brocade moss I showed in the last post, this moss looks like its leaves were braided along each stem.  The light green, curling leaf tips help to identify this one.

 3. Lichen 3 on Tree

The green shield lichens growing in the shape of a 3 are still on this tree, and I’m still not sure what it is they’re saying.

4. Beech Leaf on Snow

By far the worst part of this climb was the wind, which was bending the tops of the smaller trees and making the stoutest ones groan and creak. It was also stripping all of last year’s beech leaves from those trees, and I wouldn’t have taken this hike if the weatherman had warned of it. Instead he said that we would have a “breeze.’”  At what point, I have to wonder, is a breeze considered a wind-anything more than 50 miles per hour?

5. Mt. Caesar Upper Trail

But I had reached the point where the tree tops thin out and start to give way to blue sky. If I had made it this far without a tree falling on me I reasoned, I might as well go all the way.

 6. Bleeding Woodpecker Hole in Maple

This maple tree bleeding sap told me that a woodpecker had been here not too long ago. I didn’t hear his tapping over the crunch of the snow as I was climbing, so I don’t think he left because of me.

7. Log

This log lying on its side along the path is huge and always reminds me of the giant redwoods I have read about in books like The Wild Trees, by Richard Preston. I always wonder if this hole in it was made by a woodpecker 200 or so years ago.

8. Sidewalk Firedot Lichen aka Caloplaca feracissima

I found this orange sidewalk fire dot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) growing on a boulder where it would get afternoon sun. I should have taken a much closer look at the stone this was growing on because this lichen likes alkaline stones like limestone, which is rare in this area. It gets its common name from the way it grows on mortar and concrete, which of course have lime in them. This lichen is the reason why very old concrete walks sometimes look yellow.

9. View From Mt. Caesar 3

One object of climbing mountains is of course the view from the summit, but so far every time I have climbed up here the sun has been shining directly at me when I look to the southwest. This makes for challenging photographic conditions, but what I saw is what I got. I’ll have to climb very early in the morning next time so the sun is at my back.

10. Mt. Monadnock from Mt. Caesar

Off to the east, Mount Monadnock looms much higher still than where you stand. It is said that Native Americans controlled Mount Caesar when Swanzey, New Hampshire was just a handful of crude cabins, and I can understand why they wouldn’t want to give up such glorious views. Mount Monadnock is famous for being the second most climbed mountain on earth after Mount Fuji in Japan.  It is also said to be the most written about, painted, and photographed mountain. I’ve taken many hundreds, and I have to say that I’m least pleased with those taken from this spot.

11. Common Toadskin Lichen aka Lasillia papulosa

As you sit on the ledges looking out over the hill tops, directly behind you, just a few feet away, is a rocky outcrop with this common toad skin lichen growing (Lasallia papulosa) on it. Though at first glance it may look like rock tripe lichen, its warty projections identify this one as common toad skin lichen. They are called pustules and if you look at the back of this lichen there will be a corresponding pit for every pustule. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present comes through. Each one of these large, flat bodies is attached to the rock at a single point.

12. Common Toadskin Lichen aka Lasillia papulosa Dry

This is what common toad skin lichen looks like when it is dry, and I’ve included this photo so you could see the dramatic color changes that many lichens go through when they dry out. Because of this it’s much easier to identify them after it has rained if they aren’t near a source of moisture. Touch is also a good way to tell if they have dried out; when dry this lichen is as crisp as a potato chip and when wet it is as pliable as a piece of cloth. The same is true with many lichens. The many black dots on this one are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) where its spores are produced.

This is only the second time I’ve gone mountain climbing in the snow, and it will probably be the last. It is much easier and safer on dry ground!

Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb. ~ Greg Child

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Have you heard about Punxsutawney Phil, the weather predicting ground hog? He has been indicted in Ohio for fraud because of his “misrepresentation of spring.” The indictment alleges that he acted with “prior calculation and design” to cause people to believe that spring would arrive early.

Of course, his handlers claim that poor Phil is being railroaded. “There are several defenses,” they claim, including the fact that, since Feb. 2, “there have been spring like temperature spikes. “

Exactly-spring like temperature spikes followed by winter like temperature dips. Or, two steps backward for every step forward. Historically, the rodent’s predictions are accurate only 30% of the time, so we have only ourselves to blame if we jumped for joy at his early spring prediction this year.

Cincinnati prosecutor Mike Gmoser doesn’t see it that way though, and is calling for the death penalty, citing “aggravating circumstances.”  Here is a man who is obviously very sick of winter! I wonder what he’ll do about the National Climatic Data Center and the National Weather Service-who also called for an early spring.

 1. Asuelot River on 3-17-13

This is what the Ashuelot River looked like on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th.  Nice and spring-like.

 2. River Waves

The river was so happy to see some sunshine that it was chuckling and pretending to be the ocean.

 3. Asuelot River on 3-19-13

Here is what the river looked like 2 days later on Tuesday, March 19th after about 9 inches of snow fell.  (This shot is in color.) Oh well, the temperature is above freezing each day so it is all melting away again, slowly. Fortunately, I had spent some time in the woods before it snowed.

4. Foam Flower Leaves

The dusty rose-pink leaves of our native heart leaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) will soon turn green, but for now they really stand out among the brown leaves and snow on the forest floor. This plant loses its green color in the fall when other leaves are changing, but it hangs on to its leaves all winter, green or not. It gets its common name from the shape of its leaves and from the many small white flowers that look like foam.

 5. Brocade Moss  aka Hypnum imponens

Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens) forms extensive mats and looks as if it has been embroidered on what it is growing on. This moss is easy to spot due to its greenish golden color along with yellow and orange highlights and rust colored stems. A close look at the small, overlapping leaves shows that they look like they have been braided along the stem. This moss likes moist areas.

6. Common Goldspeck Lichen

Common gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) grows just about anywhere, but I usually find it growing on parts of stones that don’t receive any direct rain. Some say its color resembles egg yolks and others say powdered mustard. It looks pale, sulfur yellow to me, and sometimes looks a little green.  This is a crustose lichen which grows like a crust on its substrate.

7. Common Goldspec Lichen on Stone Wall

Common gold speck lichen is easy to spot growing on stone walls. This picture shows how it grows in sheltered places that aren’t likely to receive any direct rain.

8. Golden Moonglow Lichen aka Dimelaena oreina

I found this golden moon glow lichen (Dimelaena oreina) growing on polished granite in full sun. It was small-no bigger than a dime-but noticeable because of the way the dark, disc shaped fruiting bodies (Apothecia) in the center shade into the greenish yellow outer edges. One unusual aspect of this lichen is its squamulose form. A squamulose lichen falls somewhere between the leafy foliose lichens and crusty crustose lichens and has “squamules,” which in this case are the tiny, curled lobes around its outer edges.

 9. Blue Flag Iris Shoots

Native blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) shoots were green and growing along the river bank before the snow fell.  This is a tough plant so it’s doubtful that snow will hurt it. The flowers have 3 sepals and 3 petals and are deep blue (sometimes purple) and showy with yellow or white highlights at the base of the sepals. This plant was very valuable medicinally to Native Americans and it is said that many tribes grew it close to their villages.

10. Pattern in Red Maple Tree Bark

Last year I saw a maple tree with this circular pattern repeated in the bark all up and down the trunk. This year I found the same pattern on a different tree. After a year of searching books and websites I finally found a naturalist who identifies these circular patterns as normal markings on young red maple trees (Acer rubrum.) As the tree ages the circles are obscured by other lines and ridges.  My question is: After decades of roaming in the forest why have I only seen this twice?

11. Honey Locust Thorn

When it comes to thorns the honey locust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos) has to be king of the forest in this area. The three pronged thorns on these trees are hard enough to pierce before they break off. They can be 6 inches long or more under optimal conditions and are very sharp. During the Civil War Confederate soldiers used the thorns to hold their uniforms together, which led to the common name of Confederate pin tree.

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. ~ Carl Sagan

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Spring starts today at 7:02 am so I’ll wish everyone happy spring, even if the weather is saying otherwise and even if the first full day isn’t until tomorrow. Two years ago today this blog started. I remember thinking that I’d be lucky to keep it going for 6 months, because there just wasn’t that much to write about. Fortunately nature has provided plenty. In this post you’ll find those things I’ve seen that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

 1. Skunk Cabbage

A large patch of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) that I visit is near a swamp with a water level that rises in winter and falls in the spring. Most of the plants grow in soil that was underwater in the winter but has dried out somewhat by the time they come up. Except for this year-two days of rain along with snow melt refilled the swamp, so now many skunk cabbage plants are underwater. The plant in the photo just barely escaped.

2. Fan Clubmoss aka Diphasiastrum digitatum

The thing that makes our native evergreen fan clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) easier to identify is the way the very flat, shiny branches are parallel to the ground. Once you get looking at clubmosses closely the differences between them are easy to see. Clubmosses got their common name from the fertile, upright, club-like shoot that is called a peduncle. On the peduncle are strobili, which are cone-like fruiting bodies.  Spores are released in the fall. On this clubmoss the peduncle (not seen here) branches near the tip.

 3. Wrinkled Broom Moss aka Dicranum polysetum

Clubmosses aren’t true mosses but this wrinkled broom moss (Dicranum polysetum) is. I found it growing on the ground in a small clump, surprised that there wasn’t more of it around. Its shiny, greenish-gold, rippled leaves stand out against the surrounding terrain, making it easy to see. It wasn’t fruiting but y new moss book “Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians” says that this moss has “macaroni shaped spore capsules with exaggerated, long beaks.”

4. Cinnabar Polypore aka Pycnoporus cinnabarinus

Cinnabar polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus) is a bracket fungus that grows on hardwood logs. Mushroom books describe it as “widespread but not common.” I’d have to agree since I’ve never seen it before. The bright orange-red color really lights up the forest and makes these fungi easy to spot from quite a distance. These two were about the size of a standard chocolate chip cookie and were frosted with a little snow.

5. Cinnabar Polypore aka Pycnoporus cinnabarinus Underside

The underside of the cinnabar polypore is bright red. The cinnabarinus part of the scientific name means “bright red” or “vermillion.” As they age these polypores lose color and slowly lighten to almost white. These mushroom cause white rot in fallen logs.

6. Toothed Bracket fungi

Growing on another deciduous log near the cinnabar polypores were these bracket fungi that I’ve been trying to identify for about a year and a half. I thought they might be jelly rot fungi (Phlebia tremellosa), but they don’t quite match the description. If anyone knows what they are I’d love to hear from you.

7. Poison Ivy Berries

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans ) berries can still give you quite a rash, even when they are dried out like these were. Last spring I knelt on some leafless ivy plants while shooting pictures of trout lilies and had itchy knees for a week or two. This spring when the trout lilies bloom I’ll have a tarp with me.

 8. Pussy Willow aka Salix discolor

This is the first and only pussy willow that I’ve seen this spring. If you were to order a pussy willow from a nursery in this area you would most likely get Salix discolor, which is also called American willow. In nature study though, it’s common practice to call any plant with soft, fuzzy, gray catkins a pussy willow. I believe the one pictured, which grew near a beaver pond, is an American willow.

9. Winged Euonymus

The stems of burning bush (Euonymus alatus) have thin, corky projections that protrude from the stems in a spiral pattern. This gives it the common name winged euonymus. The word alatus from the scientific name is Latin for “winged.”  This shrub is from China, Korea, and Japan and is considered invasive, spread by birds eating the small, red berries. It is beautiful in the fall when the foliage turns from a deep maroon to bright red and then to a light, pastel pink just before the leaves fall.

10. Maleberry

If you came across a maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrub when it was blooming you might think you were seeing a blueberry bush, because the blossoms and leaves are very similar. You would have a long wait for blueberries though, because maleberrry shrubs grow 5 part, hard, woody seed capsules instead of a fruit. The seed capsules stay on this medium sized shrub almost year round, which makes for easy identification.

11. Polypody Fern Sori Closeup

The common polypody fern (Polypodium vulgare) bears watching at this time of year because its naked spore capsules (Sori) start out life on the undersides of leaves looking like small piles of birdseed and then turn into what look like little mounds of orangey flowers when they mature.  Each sori is made up of a cluster of sporangia, which are small enclosures where spores develop. Many thousands of dust-like spores live in the sporangia until they mature, and then the wind blows them away.

12. Crescent Moon

I heard that March 13th would be prime viewing time for the Pan-STARRS comet, so at the recommended 45 minutes after sundown I set up my camera and tripod, looking off to the west. The comet was supposed to appear just above and slightly to the right of the crescent moon, but I waited until it was almost too dark to see and never saw it. It is supposed to be visible from March 12-24 in this part of the world, but every night since the 13th has been cloudy.

A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.~Lewis Mumford

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Last Sunday I went to Westmoreland, New Hampshire, which is North West of Keene on the banks of the Connecticut River. Westmoreland is an island of alkaline soil in county of mainly acidic soil. In fact, much of this part of the state has acid soil. If you are trying to find plants that like alkaline soil like hepatica, anemone, and many types of orchids, acid soil can be a problem.

 1. Railroad Cut

Knowing where the plants you are searching for are likely to grow isn’t enough though-you still need access to the land. Fortunately the Cheshire Railroad provided that many years ago. The railroad was named after Cheshire County, New Hampshire.

 2. Ice on Ledges

This stretch of railroad once ran from Bellows Falls, Vermont to various towns in northern Massachusetts after being built in the mid-1800s. The route runs through, rather than over or around this hill. This is known as a deep cut.

3. Cheshire Railroad in 1870

This is what it looked like circa 1870 when it was relatively new. If I had to guess I’d say the man on the right was picking berries. Raspberries, blackberries and black raspberries grow all along the railroad beds in this area. The Cheshire Railroad was swallowed up by the Fitchburg (Massachusetts) Railroad, which in turn was bought out by the Boston and Maine Railroad. This picture is from the Cheshire County Historical Society.

 4. Ice on Ledges

Many railroad spurs in this area had their tracks torn up and were abandoned from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. This section is well known to ice climbers and snowmobilers.  Ice climbers have to beware at this time of year though, because much of this ice is rotten. In fact, in places you can hear water running down the stone behind the ice. The height of this ledge was probably 25-30 feet.

 5. Railroad Ties

Piles of railroad ties line the cut and remind visitors of its history.

6. Trail through Ledges

In places the walls of this man made canyon soar up to 70 feet or more. It’s easy to see why it was called a deep cut. Out of view-several hundred yards to the left-the north/south Route 12 highway goes up and over this hill.

7. Blasting Hole

The railroad workers made their way through the hillsides by drilling holes into the stone and then blasting. Deep holes like these were probably drilled by steam power and are evidence that black powder, rather than dynamite, was used. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866, so it was either black powder or brute force. After the wall face was blasted away someone had to clean up tons of stone. There are several dump sites that can be seen from the highway, but they are quite far from this cut.

 8. Stone Wall and Drainage Ditch

Not all of the blasted stone was dumped-miles of stone retaining walls line the cut and hold back the hillside. The railroad company must have had stone cutters working right at the site, cutting and fitting the blasted stone into stone walls that have stood since the mid-1800s. The railroad also dug deep drainage ditches between the roadbed and walls to keep everything dry. They still work fine today.

 9. Algae

 Some of the ditches had strange things going on in them. In places algae (?) grew in long strands.

10. Mineral Stain on Rock face

Years of mineral seepage had stained the stones here and there.

11. Frosted Grain-Spored Lichen

With all the stone in the area lichens were easily found. This is frosted grain-spored lichen (Sarcogyne regularis.) Reflective crystals of wax-like material make the red-brown fruiting bodies appear blue.

 12. Intermediate Wood Fern Crown

The crown of an intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris spinulosa var. intermedia) showed great promise, with several fiddle heads all ready to start growing.

 13. Hedwigia ciliata Moss

Medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) grew on boulders. This moss is easy to identify because of thepale, whitish tips on its leaves and bright red-orange stems. Dry plants look like clusters of stiff, frosty worms.

14. Green Grass

The deepest parts of the cut don’t see much, if any, sunshine so there was more snow there than I expected. Still, things like this small clump of grass were green and growing. I’m going to try to get back here at least once each week to see what else grows here.

There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country.  A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. ~ Paul Scott Mowrer

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

1. Snowy Trail Friday 3-8-13

This is what one of my favorite trails looked like last Friday after 3-4 inches of snow.

 2. Ashuelot River on 3-9-13

Then on Saturday the sun came out and the temperature shot up into the 50s. I’ve never seen snow melt so fast.

 3. River Waves 3-9-13

The river is still handling the snow melt well, and has hardly risen at all.

 4. Geese on the River 3-9-13

Canada geese were enjoying the sunshine and doing what geese do.

 5. Black Locust Thorns

I spent some time dawdling along the river banks, also enjoying the sunshine. I saw this thorny black locust tree there (Robinia pseudoacacia.)

 6. Shadows on Snow

I liked the way the sun turned all the shadows blue early in the morning.

7. Small Winter Stonefly

Shadows weren’t the only thing on the snow-this is a small winter stonefly, in the family Capniidae, according to bug guide.net. The nymphs live beneath rocks and gravel on the bottom of streams and rivers. When the adults emerge they can be found along the banks-even on snow.  The adults feed on blue-green algae and the nymphs on aquatic plants.

8. Backlit Mushroom

Later in the afternoon I took about 20 pictures of this mushroom but didn’t like any of them because of the strong sunlight in the landscape beyond. Finally I cropped the background out of one and found something I could live with. I like the way the sun lit it up-which is what made me want to take the pictures in the first place.

 9. Barberry Berries

This Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) still had berries that the birds hadn’t eaten. That’s two fewer plants of this very invasive species to worry about.

 10. Bittersweet

Another invasive is the twining vine Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) which also loves to grow along the river. Here it is doing what it does best-strangling a native tree.  This vine was originally imported from Asia for erosion control.  Birds loved its orange berries and now it is everywhere.

11. Vernal Witch Hazel

I left the river and went to a local park, where I found this witch hazel blooming. Our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms in the fall but many ornamentals are vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis,) meaning they bloom in the spring.

12. Daffodils

The daffodils at the park look just like they did weeks ago. They too have been waiting for warmth and sunshine.

 13. Marsh at Sunset

Sometimes if everything comes together just right the setting sun turns the water in the local marsh to gold. I like being there when it happens.

If you think Sunshine brings you happiness, then you haven’t danced in the rain. ~Unknown

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Here in the southwest corner of New Hampshire we’re getting into three straight weeks of cloudy weather. When the sun peeks out from behind the clouds everyone seems to stop-as if they need a moment to remember what it is.

1. Red Winged Blackbird Tree

One day while I was out walking the clouds parted long enough to get a teasing glimpse of blue sky and sunshine. This tree is a favorite perch for red winged blackbirds. I didn’t see any in the tree but I could hear several, so that’s a good sign.

 2. Black Witch's Butter

I saw some black jelly fungi nearby (Exidia glandulosa.) With its matte finish and pillow like shapes it doesn’t look like other jelly fungi, but that’s what it is. I find it on alders and oaks in this area. It’s called black witch’s butter or black jelly roll.

 3. Orange Jelly Fungus

Orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus) seems to seep out from beneath tree bark, which makes sense since jelly fungi are actually parasites that grow on the mycelium of other fungi. Jelly fungi can be found throughout the winter. This one grew on a fallen hemlock limb.

4. Scilla Shoot

The scilla I planted 2 years ago has come up already, but I was even more surprised to see roots already coming from acorns that the squirrels buried last fall. Scilla is also called Siberian squill (Scilla siberica.) The small blue flowers will be a welcome sight.

 5. Beard Lichen on Birch

Bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta) is common and can be seen on birch limbs or growing directly on the trunk of pine trees in this area. It likes the high humidity found near ponds and streams.

6. Hazel Nut Husks

The husks of hazel nuts (Corylus) make good, dry homes for spiders, apparently. A large, shallow pit full of the remains of hundreds of thousands of burned hazelnut shells, estimated to be 9,000 years old, was found in Scotland in 1995. Man has been enjoying eating these nuts for a very long time.

7. Cushion Moss aka Leucobryum

 In cushion mosses (Leucobryum) each cushion shaped group is made up of thousands of individual plants. The leaves of these plants have outer layers of cells that are dead and which fill with water. This water filled outer coating helps protect the living cells by slowing dehydration. When the cushion does dry out it turns a much lighter green and can even look white.

8. Turkey Tails

Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) have been peeking out from under the snow for weeks now-the snow is melting very slowly.

9. Frosted Grain-Spored Lichen

This frosted grain-spored lichen (Sarcogyne regularis) has reddish brown discs that have waxy, reflective crystals dusted (or frosted) over their surfaces. The crystals are called pruina and make the discs appear bluish gray. At a glance they appear to be Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) but there are differences.

10. Thistle in Winter

Its sharp thorns couldn’t protect this thistle from winter’s wrath, but it wasn’t eaten.

11. Sunset Through Pines

Glimpses, that’s all we’ve see of the sun-just long enough to feel a little of its warmth and then it’s gone again. The weather people have been promising all week that we will see sunshine all weekend. It’s too early right now to tell what today will bring, but I hope their prediction is accurate.

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens.

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

As a professional gardener I was never surprised that work slowed down a bit in the winter here in New Hampshire-ground that is frozen solid doesn’t hoe well. Each year at about this time I’d start to feel a little anxious-full of energy and excitement- wanting those southerly winds to bring us some spring weather. After it finally got here and I’d had a day or two of working in the warm sun again I’d be walking with a spring in my step, whistling a happy tune.  (If you need a happy tune to whistle, just click here.)

1. Moon on March First

March 1st is the meteorological start of spring here in the North Eastern U.S., and at dawn that day I positioned my tripod on top of the crusty snow for a shot of the waning gibbous moon stuck in the trees.  The clouds parted just long enough in the morning to get a glimpse of it, and then it clouded over again. The astronomical method of dividing the year into seasons names March 20 as the first day of spring.

2. Icy Ledges

Over the weekend I followed an abandoned road that was hacked through the bedrock in the early 1700s. Ledges line parts of that road-this one is about 12 feet high with ice that looks impressive but is rotting and dangerous to climb. It’s hard to describe rotten ice but it is weakened by melt water running over and through it due to warmer temperatures. Once you’ve seen it, you know it. Since it means spring is nearby, I like to see it.

 3. Fissidens adianthoides Moss

Mosses can go through some very cold temperatures and still look like they have just come up in the spring. I thought it would be a cinch to identify this one but once again, nature threw me a curve ball. It resembles both Fissidens and Neckera mosses, so not only am I not sure of the species, I can’t even get to the genus. Whatever it is, I thought it was unusual and beautiful enough to include here.

4. Hobblebush Bud aka Viburnum alnifolium

One of my favorite native shrubs is hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides,) which will be covered with large white, showy flowers in May. Its buds have no scales so they are open to all that nature can throw at them all winter long, just like those of witch hazel. This particular bush was really stunning last spring and I found myself wishing it was in my yard. I can’t wait to see it in bloom again. The flower bud between the two tiny leaves tells me that it will. If you would like to see what it looks like when it is blooming just click here.

5. Split Gill Mushrooms

Split gill mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune) wear fuzzy white coats in winter. Actually they wear these coats at any time, but when they’ve had adequate moisture they appear less fuzzy. The common name refers to the way the folds on their underside resemble gills that have split lengthwise. I haven’t been able to find out if they stay this way all winter or if they start growing in spring, but seeing them makes it feel like spring.

 6. Sap Buckets

Nothing says spring in New Hampshire like a sap bucket hanging from a maple tree. Once spring turns on the flow it doesn’t stop until fall. It’s a good sign that the earth is thawing.

7. Red Jelly Fungus

At first I thought this was a jelly fungus but the small bit to the left shaped like a jelly bean didn’t fit with a jelly fungus. Then, because there are lichens that mimic jelly fungi, I thought it might be one of those, but again, the jelly bean didn’t fit. I finally decided that the only thing that is tomato red and looks like a jelly bean that I know of is wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum,) also called toothpaste slime mold. The smeared parts are “jelly beans” (fruiting bodies) that have been crushed. If slime molds are growing it must be warming up.

 8. Willow Gall formed by Rhabdophaga midges

I found this odd specimen on a willow branch. Since it is smiling, maybe it’s just as happy that spring is coming as I am. Actually this is a stem gall which was formed when Rhabdophaga midges burrowed into the willow’s stem last year, but I can see an eye, a nose, and a smiley mouth. And even a pointy hat.

9. Skunk Cabbage

The skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is looking very red this year. Last year it was a much darker purple. There is a large swamp in Swanzey, New Hampshire where hundreds of these plants grow. Many grow on a hillside that is submerged for much of the winter but dries out a bit in spring, making it easier to get photos of them.  Seeing them is always a good sign that spring is near. Smelling them is difficult.

 10. Mount Monadnock

The cloud deck over Mount Monadnock shows what our weather has been like for the past 2 weeks. Short glimpses of sun are all we’ve seen through small breaks in clouds that stretch from horizon to horizon. Spring is coming, but it isn’t coming quickly or easily-it seems like it’s going to have to be pried from the cold fist of winter one warm, sunny day at a time. I’ll just have to be patient, like the mountain.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.  The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.  ~Henry Van Dyke

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been finding a lot of lichens lately and since I did a lichen post last year, I thought I’d put them all in one post again. I know that not all readers of this blog are interested in lichens but I hope posts like this might show how beautiful and fascinating they are. They can be found at any time of year growing just about anywhere and that makes winter just a little more exciting for me.

I don’t have any way to identify lichens microscopically or chemically, so the lichens in this post have been identified visually with the aid of guide books.

1. Scattered Rock Posy aka Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca  subdiscrepans) is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and pale orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) This one was growing on stone in full sun. It was very small-no bigger than a penny. Lichens are a good indicator of air quality, so if you see a lot of lichens where you live your air is of good quality. If you aren’t seeing them you might want to check into your local air quality.

 2. Script Lichen

Script Lichen (Graphis scripta) looks like someone took a pocket knife and stuck the tip into a powdery, grayish crustose lichen over and over again leaving small, dark slits. This one was about the size of a tennis ball and was growing on the bark of a maple tree near a stream. I’ve noticed through hunting lichens that many of them prefer high humidity and grow near lakes, ponds, and streams.

3. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen aka Porpidia albocaerulescens

Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) is a crustose lichen, meaning it grows like a crust on the substrate, in this case stone. I showed this lichen in my last post and said that I wasn’t sure of my identification because of the blue color of the fruiting discs. Since then I’ve seen other pictures of this lichen with nearly the same blue color. I’m still going to re-visit this one on a sunny day though, because descriptions say these discs should be light to dark gray.

4. Bitter Wart Lichen aka Pertusaria amara

I first saw this bitter wart lichen (Pertusaria amara) several months ago and it has taken me that long to identify it. It resembles several lichens known as toad skin lichens but I’m convinced that it isn’t one of those. One sure way to identify it would be to chew a tiny bit but my lichen book says that if I did I would have a bitter taste in my mouth for a “long time,” so I don’t think I’m ready to go there.  The bumpy, warty growths are part of the body (Thallus) and hide the fruiting bodies (Apothecia.)

5. Spotted Camoflage Lichen aka Melanohalea olivacea

I found this spotted camouflage lichen (Melanohalea olivacea) growing on a birch branch near a pond. It is a foliose lichen, meaning it looks leafy. The olive green color and tiny white spots (pseudocyphellae) that line the margins of some of the lobes and fruiting discs help to identify this one.

6. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

I’ve never seen poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthoria hasseana) growing on a poplar but I’ve found many growing on ornamental Bradford pear trees near a beaver pond. This is another foliose lichen and is very beautiful, in my opinion. These lichens like to grow on trees in open areas. This one was probably as long as an egg.

7. Fringed Wrinkle Lichen

Fringed wrinkle lichen (Tuckermanopsis americana) is another common but beautiful foliose lichen. I see them growing mostly on birch branches near ponds. Like many lichens their color changes quite a lot when they dry out. They are dark brown when dry and on the greenish / lighter side when wet. You have to look carefully for lichens in trees. I’ve seen a tree covered with them standing next to a tree with none at all.

 8. Cumberland Rock Shield Lichen

Cumberland rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia) likes to grow on boulders and that’s where I found this one. The body (Thallus) is described as being “yellow-green to sometimes bluish green.” I’m not seeing that but my color finding software is. Being color blind, I can’t disagree. The fruiting discs (Apothecia) are “cinnamon to dark brown.”

 9. Cumberland Rock Sheild Lichen Close Up

This is a close up of apothecia on a Cumberland rock shield lichen. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common.

10. Sea Storm Lichen aka Cetrelia chicitae-olivetorum

Sea Storm Lichen (Cetrelia chicitae-olivetorum) gets its common name from the way the lobes of the body (Thallus) undulate and have powdery or granular margins. These two attributes reminded whoever named the lichen of storm tossed ocean waves.  This foliose lichen likes to grow on mossy rocks in shady places and that is exactly where this one grew.

 11. Powdery Sunburst Lichen

Powdery Sunburst Lichen (Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes) was growing on a stone in a stone wall. This foliose lichen is easy to see, even when it’s small, because of its bright orange yellow color. This lichen really likes moisture and is often found growing near channels that carry water on stone or bark.

By stripping off the bonds of individuality the lichens have produced a world-conquering union. ~David Haskell in his book “The Forest Unseen”

I hope you’ll take a liking to lichens! Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »