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Archive for April, 2013

I was going to do a post on spring ephemerals, but not all of the plants that follow are true spring ephemerals. Some plants however-even shrubs and trees-can have flowers that fit the definition of ephemeral, which is simply “lasting for a very short time.”

1. Bloodroot

Our native bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ) has just started blooming.  This is one of my favorite spring flowers. If we’re lucky and the temperatures don’t get too warm we might see two weeks of bloom.

 2. Bloodroot

A closer look at bloodroot. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful or perfect flower.

 3. Trout Lily

Yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum ) has also just started blooming.  These flowers have three petals and three sepals. All are yellow on the inside but the sepals have brown / bronze on the outside. Trout lily blossoms open in the morning and close in the evening, so you have to time your visits accordingly. The place that I go to see them has many thousands of plants there and I’m hoping to see great masses of them all blooming at once this year.

 4. Trout Lily

Trout lilies might stand 5-6 inches tall so getting a peek inside the nodding flower can be difficult, but I always try. The flowers are pollinated by ants, so they don’t have to raise their faces to the sky.

5. Trailing Arbutus Flowers

The tiny pinkish white blossoms of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) are also just starting to open. These are one of the most fragrant flowers in the woods and are the favorite of many a grandmother.  Mine called them mayflowers and she loved them. This plant isn’t a true ephemeral because its leaves appear year-round, but its flowers are fleeting.

 6. Fly honeysuckle aka Lonicera canadense

Native fly honeysuckle (Lonicera Canadensis) is one of the earliest shrubs to blossom. Its greenish yellow flowers are interesting because of the way they are joined. The flowers give way to oval red fruits which are also joined, but don’t share a single ovary like those of partridgeberry. Each blossom lasts only one day. The National Park Service uses this small shrub quite a lot to improve wildlife habitat, but in my experience they are rarely seen in local forests.

 7. Spring Beauties

 Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) are going strong after a slow start. I’m hoping to see large masses of these soon. Depending on how quickly it warms up, these flowers might appear for only a week. I’ve noticed that they do not like hot weather.

 8. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is another plant that seems to dislike hot weather. Dryness is also a potential problem for spring ephemerals as the wilting stems in this photo show. We haven’t had the usual April showers here this spring, so we might be in for a dry summer.

 9. American Elm Flowers

I think I’ve had more trouble getting a decent picture of American elm (Ulmus Americana) flowers than I ever have with any other flower. I know of only one tree with flowers on it and every time I go near it either the light isn’t right or the wind is blowing a gale. I’m going to keep trying but meanwhile this shot will have to do.

10. Fiddleheads

Ferns may not fit anyone’s description of ephemeral, but anyone who has tried to find the spring shoots, called fiddleheads, knows that it isn’t long before they have turned into fully formed fronds. We’ve had some warm weather recently and in just the last few days ferns have suddenly started growing fast. I think the ferns pictured are common ladyferns (Athyrium filix-femina.)

 11. Bluets

 Our native bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are always a welcome sight in spring but they usually come up in lawns so they get mowed off before they mature. In my lawn they have time to mature though, because I mow around them. These tiny flowers usually range from white to pale blue, but every now and then a clump of darker blue can be found. These were growing beside a road. Though bluets are categorized as ephemerals in some books I’ve seen them blooming throughout summer in cool, shaded areas.

 12. Trillium

Red trillium (Trillium erectum) has many common names. Some call it purple trillium and some flowers seem to be more purple than red, like the plum colored one in this photo was.  Another common name is wake robin, because the flowers are supposed to appear at the same time as robins do. Yet another name is stinking Benjamin, and I remembered why it had that name when I was taking this photo-phew! Red trilliums are pollinated by flies and one scent that is attractive to flies is rotting meat, and that’s what they smell like. It’s a beautiful sight, but don’t stand down wind.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.~Annonymous

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This post is another full of those interesting and sometimes strange things that I’ve seen in my travels through the woods.

1. Trail

The trails are much easier to negotiate these days. Just a short time ago there was so much snow here that snowshoes were needed.

 2. Bubblegum Lichen

I came upon some bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum) a while ago. This lichen gets its name from the bubble gum pink fruiting bodies. They really stand out against the light blue body of the lichen-even for someone as colorblind as I am. This lichen likes dry, very acidic soil. I often find it growing near blueberry bushes.

 3. Hobblebush Bud

The naked flower buds of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) have grown large since the last time I checked on them. We should see the beautiful white blossoms within the next two weeks, I’d guess. This is one of my favorite viburnums.

 4. Bird

Regular readers of this blog know that they won’t see many bird or animal pictures here, but occasionally one will pose for me like this bird did recently. I have a blurry side view that leads me to believe it is an eastern phoebe.  Usually color blindness lets birds and animals blend right into the background when I try to find them, and that’s why I don’t spend a lot of time trying to photograph them.  This day there were several of these little flycatchers darting among the cattails at a local pond, and that made them much easier to see.

 5. Robin

This robin was bobbing along beside a road I was walking on. It seemed important for him to stay just slightly ahead of me, so we played the game of me trying to catch up to him for a while before he flew off.

6. Bittersweet Damage to Tree

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) tried to strangle this tree but the tree grew out over the vine and enveloped it, choking it off instead.  Oriental bittersweet was intentionally imported to help with erosion control. Almost immediately, it escaped and began trying to take over the U.S. Once established it is very hard eradicate.

 7. Large Bittersweet

This example of an oriental bittersweet was as big as my wrist and like an anaconda, had slowly strangled the life out of the tree it climbed on.

8. Amber Jelly Fungus

Jelly fungi like this amber one (Exidia recisa) seem to be much more plentiful in winter and spring rather than in summer.  Common names for this fungus include willow brain fungus and amber jelly roll. It always reminds me of canned cranberry jelly.

9. Yellow Jelly Fungus

Yellow jelly fungi (Tremella aurantia) seem more plentiful in the warmer months. I’ve just started seeing them in the woods again after its being absent for most of the winter. Common names for the fungus in the photo include golden ear fungus. It is very similar to yellow witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica) but has a matte finish rather than a shiny, wet looking finish. It also seems to more closely resemble a brain.

10. Oak Buds

Weeks after seeing the book Photographing Patterns in Nature I’m still finding patterns everywhere. I like the chevron patterns on these small oak buds. I think these were on a black oak (Fagaceae Quercus.) I could have verified this by looking at the inner bark, which is a light orange color, but I didn’t have a knife.

 11. Cinnamon Fern Fiddleheads

Cinnamon ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) have fuzzy fiddleheads. They look like they’ve been wrapped in wool but deer don’t mind-they will eat all they can find.  This fern gets its common name from its fruiting fronds that turn a cinnamon color after starting life bright green. These fiddleheads stood about 3 inches tall and are the first I’ve seen this spring.

 12. Twisted Log

I loved the figural grain patterns on this log and wished that I could take it home and make a desk or table from it.  Who wouldn’t want to be able to see such beautiful wood each day?

13. Sedge Flowering

It isn’t often that I see sedges flowering, so I was happy to see this one. Its grass like leaves, purple bracts and relatively large male staminate flowers at the end of the stalk tell me this plant is one of the carex sedges.  Once I got home and looked at the photo I was even happier to see the shiny leaves of broom moss (Dicranium scoparium) in the background. This moss is one of the easiest to identify because of its grass green leaves. They taper from base to tip and also curve in a continuous arc. Another common name is wind swept moss because of the way that the leaves all appear to be pointing in the same general direction. It is, I think, one of the most beautiful mosses.

The forest makes your heart gentle.  You become one with it… No place for greed or anger there.  ~Pha Pachak

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More flowers are blooming daily now and it’s getting a little harder to keep up with them. Here are just a few that I’ve seen.

Striped Squill

This striped sqill (Puschkinia scilloides, variety libanotica) was a big hit the last time I showed it here so I thought I’d give readers a little more information about where to find it. First, it is a spring flowering bulb that is planted in the fall, so it shouldn’t be ordered until mid to late summer.  The only place I have been able to find it for sale is Brent and Becky’s Bulbs’ spring / fall catalog, which you can view online by clicking here. Our friends in the U.K. can order them through Kevock Gardens by clicking here. If you order these bulbs you should remember to specify the variety, which is Libanotica. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t able to find a European supplier, but I’d bet that there is at least one out there.

Daffodil

Daffodils have just started blooming. These were the first ones I’ve seen.

 Magnolia Blossom

This is the first magnolia blossom I’ve seen. It was very fragrant, with a scent that reminded me of cabbage roses or peonies. The temperature might drop as low as 25 degrees tonight-I hope the petals don’t get nipped by frost.

Bloodroot

In the forest bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is all ready to bloom. This plant gets its common name from the way its root “bleeds” red sap when it is cut. Native Americans used the colored sap for decorating baskets, as war paint, and even as an insect repellant. Each plant has a single leaf and flower growing on separate stems.

False Hellbore Side

False hellebore (Veratrum viride) has just come up over the last 3 or 4 days. Though it was used by Native Americans in various ways including medicinally, this plant is one of the most toxic n the New England forest. Unfortunately at this time of year it is also one of the most interesting, and big enough to make it hard to miss. Most people who eat it mistake it for ramps and eat the root, which is its most potent part.

 False Hellebore Top

I like the patterns made by the deep pleats in the leaves of false hellebore. Its small green flowers are interesting, but not very pretty. I went looking for them last year and never found them, so I’ll have to try again.

Trout Lily

Yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum ) isn’t blooming yet but I they are very close. Each pair of leaves sends up one stalk which bears a single yellow, nodding flower. This plant is also called dogtooth violet because of the underground bulbous root that looks like a tooth.  The name trout lily comes from the way the mottled leaves resemble a trout’s body.

 Spring Beauty Blossom

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) grow among the trout lilies. Each flower consists of 5 white, pink striped petals, 2 green sepals, 5 pink tipped stamens, and a single tripartite pistil, which means that it splits into 3 parts. Two days ago I didn’t see a single spring beauty blossom and now the woods are full of them.

Trillium

It seems early for trilliums here but these plants were growing out of a crack in a boulder, so maybe the sun-warmed stone gave them an extra boost.  These were very near a popular trail so I’m hoping nobody picks them before I get back to see the flowers.

Ramps

These leaves might not look like much but they cause quite a stir each spring, even causing entire towns to close down to have festivals in this plant’s honor. These are ramps (Allium tricoccum,) also called ramson, wild leeks, wood leeks, wild garlic, and spring onions. Ramps are native and considered a vegetable. Note the difference between these plants and false hellebore, above. Ramps are said to have a strong, garlic like odor and a strong onion taste. I can only vouch for the odor-they do smell a bit like garlic, but more like onion to me. Native Americans called the plant chicagou and, since it grew there in abundance, the city of Chicago was named after it.

Ramp Bulbs

The white, swollen lower stem of ramps is what all the fuss is about. Ramps remind me of the fiddleheads from ferns that are available for just a short time in spring. Both plants are considered great delicacies and are served in upscale restaurants at astronomical prices.  I haven’t seen any fiddleheads yet and was surprised at the size of these plants.

Dandelion

This dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) blossom is barely bigger than an acorn cap so it won’t win any prizes, but it’s the first one I’ve seen this spring. It seems like they are late this year.

Willow Blossom

We may have as many as nine different willow species here in New Hampshire and they all bloom at different times. This, one of the earliest, just started blooming. I believe the photo is of the male flower of Salix discolor, known as pussy or glaucous willow, but it could also be Goat Willow (Salix caprea.) Willows are one of my favorite spring flowers.

Skunk Cabbage with Leaf

 I hope you can stand another look at skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus.) I wanted to show people in places it doesn’t grow what the leaf looked like so they could see how much they really do resemble cabbage leaves at this stage. The leaves are the stinkiest part of the plant, so it’s doubtful that anyone could ever eat one by mistake. I had a woman stop while I was taking this picture and tell me that she was glad that these plants weren’t growing outside her bedroom window.

Blossom by blossom the spring begins~ Algernon Charles Swinburne

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Everywhere I go these days I run into water. Sometimes literally-like absentmindedly finding myself ankle deep in a puddle-but usually I see it rushing down hillsides and across trails, as if its very existence depended on it finding the lowest point in the valley as quickly as possible.

Sm. Waterfall Blurred

Since the days of film cameras I’ve had the opinion that blurred water in a photo simply showed the photographer’s skill in manipulating the camera’s controls, but otherwise served no useful purpose.  I’ve had to revise that opinion recently because in photos of little rivulets like this one the water was so clear that it became almost invisible if it wasn’t blurred.  My opinion has therefore been upgraded to useful, but easily overdone.

 Tree Fungi

These mushrooms grew on a fallen tree near a stream and were as soft as velvet and wiggled like Jell-O, and they reminded me of cookies. (I hadn’t had lunch yet.)

 Tree Fungus Underside

Many bracket fungi are polypores and have pores on their undersides. These had gills and a short, off-center stalk, so they aren’t true bracket fungi and they aren’t polypores. Now I know a few things about what they aren’t, but I haven’t been able to identify them to discover what they are.

Spring Runoff

Way up in the hills small rivulets join forces and become bigger streams that fall down the hillsides. These streams might run for a week, a month, or a few months but few of them run year-round. The water in this photo wasn’t blurred. At least, not intentionally.

 Male Red Maple Blossoms

All along the streams and rivers red maples (Acer rubrum) are blooming. Here the male blossoms are showing pollen. Even though I became an allergy sufferer at age 50 I still love seeing the trees bloom in spring.

 Female Red Maple Flowers

The female flowers of red maple (Acer rubrum) are just opening-waiting for the wind to bring pollen from the male blossoms.

Brook

All the water running off the hillsides has to go somewhere, and in this case it causes this small brook to swell and fill its banks. In high summer you can walk across this brook in places while barely wetting your ankles. This is called Beaver Brook after the many beavers that once lived here.

Log

Sometimes when I walk through these forests it is easy to imagine the immense wilderness that faced the first colonists. I wonder how they felt when they first realized that, as far as they knew, this forest stretched on indefinitely.  If I think back even farther I can imagine Native Americans living in a true paradise so alluring that many early colonists “rescued from the savages” didn’t want to return to what their race called civilization.

Beaver Brook Falls

The brook tumbles through a small gorge before spilling over Beaver Brook Falls with a roar. The falls are fairly impressive at this time of year, but they look quite different in July and August.

Turkey Tails

I haven’t seen many turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) over the past winter. I saw a lot of dried out ones with washed out colors, but very few with color like those in the photo. As I’ve said before, these fungi have a lot of secrets and they don’t give them up easily. Every time I see them I’m reminded of how little I really know about them.

Ashuelot River Waves

With all of the water from all of the surrounding hills spilling into it, the Ashuelot River is feeling pretty powerful these days, and it is. The eerie booming sounds coming from the boulders and debris that it rolls along its bottom can be felt as well as heard. Almost like thunder, it rolls through you.

Ashuelot on 4-14

So far this year the Ashuelot has held all of the thousands of gallons of runoff water within its banks. From here it will travel to the Connecticut River and then to the Long Island Sound where it will spill into the Atlantic Ocean. Once it evaporates into the atmosphere it might return and give us some welcome summer rain.

Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything – even mountains, rivers, plants and trees – should be your teacher. ~Morihei Ueshiba

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This spring it was as if someone had thrown a switch and turned on all the bird songs, all at once. One day it was quiet and the next it seemed like there was a bird symphony playing. Now the flowers are following along-last weekend there were a scant few but now, after 2 or 3 days with the temperature hovering around 70 degrees, they are everywhere.

 1. Crocus

This is the first crocus I’ve seen this year. As the week wore on many more followed.

 2. Scilla

Scilla (Scilla siberica) was the first to bloom in my yard. The oak leaves are a gift that the winds bring me each fall and spring. I don’t have an oak in my yard.

 3. Iris reticulata

I found this clump of Iris reticulata growing at the local college.  I like the dark violet color of these dwarf blossoms.

 4. Cornelian Cherry Blossoms

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is just coming into bloom with clusters of small yellow flowers. This large shrub has nothing to do with a cherry tree but is in the dogwood family and comes from the Black Sea region. The fruit resembles a red olive and matures in the fall. It is very sour but high in vitamin C, and has been eaten throughout recorded history. The Persians, ancient Greeks and Early Romans would all recognize these flowers.

5. Vernal Witch Hazel Blossoms

I just learned that in previous posts I misidentified this shrub as vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis.) It lives in a local park and is most likely a cross between Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica ) and Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis.)  It has just about finished blooming after starting in February. Its very fragrant flowers are smaller but much more numerous than those of autumn witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana.) Vernal witch hazel is a native of the southern states and is also called Ozark witch hazel. Its hardiness this far north is doubtful. Sorry about the confusion.

6. Striped Squill aka Puschkinia scilloides

Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides) resembles scilla, which is also called Siberian squill. I like the blue stripe on the petals, which is how the plant gets its common name. These flowers are slightly fragrant. The squills come from Europe and Asia.

 7. Forsythia Blossoms

This is the first forsythia I’ve seen blooming. Soon they will be seen on nearly every street in every town in the region.  I know of a place where a long row of old forsythia shrubs grow at the top of an embankment beside the road. When they bloom in the spring it looks as if a yellow waterfall is flowing over and down the embankment and people from all over New England come to view and photograph them.

 8. Coltsfoot

I took another photo of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara ) so those who don’t know the plant can see the scaly stems that are quite different than dandelion stems.  These scales are one way the plant protects its vascular system against freezing in cold weather. The leaves, which some say resemble a horse’s hoof, don’t appear until the flowers have finished blooming. This plant has been used medicinally for centuries and that is most likely why it was brought over from Europe by the first colonists.

9. Hazelnut Flower

One of the smallest flowers that I know of is the female blossom of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana.) To give you a sense of just how small they are, the bud that the flowers grow from is slightly smaller than a BB that you would use in an air rifle. The crimson thread-like bits are the stigmas of the unseen female flowers, waiting for the wind to bring them some pollen from the golden male catkins.

10. Elm Flowers

The green and purple blossoms of American elm (Ulmus americana) are just starting to show. Soon the mature, wind pollinated flowers with bright red anthers will hang at the ends of long, thin filaments called pedicels.

 11. Red Maple Buds

Red maples (Acer rubrum) still have their crimson flower parts tucked up inside the buds but the ends of the bud scales have come off, meaning the flowers will appear any day now.

Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet.  ~Jeremy Bentham

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This post is another one of those filled with all of the strange things I’ve seen that don’t fit anywhere else.

1. Red Stain on Pine Bark

I found several white pine trees (Pinus strobus) on less than a square acre of land with some type of red substance on the base of their trunks. I don’t know if this was caused by a fungus or not, but I’m fairly certain that it wasn’t a lichen or slime mold, and I’m sure it wasn’t paint. I’ve never seen this before.

 2. Red Lichen on Tree Trunk

This tree also had a red substance on it, but it was higher up than that on the white pines was. This looked like it might have been a crustose lichen-possibly one of the fire dot lichens.

 3. Wild Cucumber

Last summer long I kept watch for a wild cucumber vine (Echinocystis lobata) but never saw one. Then I recently found this one, or what was left of it. This summer I’ll go back to this place and get the shots I wanted last summer. These vines are very fragrant when they bloom and people have started growing them in gardens for their enjoyable fragrance.

 4. White Pine Bark

This bark was on the end of a fallen log. It was much smoother and was a different color than all of the bark around it, and it looked as if someone had sanded and stained it. Seeing things like this always make me wonder how and why they happened.

5. Frozen Tree Sap

We are still having freezing cold days here and this recently cut hemlock stump with its sap frozen solid illustrates just how cold it can get when the wind is from the north.

 6. Dead Fern

This dead fern made me imagine the rib cage of some unknown forest creature.

7. Feather on a Twig

Birds must lose a lot of feathers, because I see them hung up on shrubs all the time. Sometimes from a distance they can be easily mistaken for flowers. Since I’m tired of bush whacking my way through the woods to look at feathers that I thought were flowers, I bought myself some nifty mini binoculars to scan my surroundings with. They weigh almost nothing and will fit in a pocket.  I might even get to see some birds with them.

 8. White Bracket Polypore Underside

I recently thumbed through a book called “Photographing the Patterns of Nature,” which was a mistake because now I’m seeing patterns everywhere.  This is the pattern on the underside of a bracket fungus.

9. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

 A tiny midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg in the developing terminal leaf buds of a willow and when the larva grew it caused this pine cone gall by releasing a chemical which interferes with the willow’s normal development. The adult insect will emerge soon and repeat the cycle.

 10. Grape Damage on Tree

When something that doesn’t stretch is wrapped around the trunk of a tree it interferes with the tree’s normal development by stopping the flow of nutrients to its roots from its crown. This is called girdling. Unless it has other branches that aren’t girdled so nutrients can reach its roots, the tree will usually die. In the case of the tree sapling in the photo, this girdling was caused by a grape vine tendril.

11.Beard Lichen 2

I took this picture of this beard lichen because it looked so ancient-as if it had been clinging to this branch since the dawn of time.

12. Moon and Clouds

One cold morning at about 6:00 am I saw clouds around the moon so I gathered up my camera and tripod, and out I went. Out of over 100 photos, this is the only one worth showing here.  Keeping both the moon and clouds in focus was much harder than it should have been. I’ll see if I can learn from the rejects and try again the next time the moon is in the clouds.

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.  ~John Milton

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This past week I was determined to find some real live, growing things. I’m happy to say that my quest was a success.

1. Pines

The snow has melted in the woods now, so both hiking and finding plants has become easier.

 2. White Clover

White clover (Trifolium repens) was looking very spring like in a ditch beside the road.

 3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot bloomed happily in yet another roadside ditch. Other than skunk cabbage, this is the first wildflower I’ve seen this spring. The plant’s lack of leaves and the scaly stems make coltsfoot hard to confuse with dandelions. Coltsfoot originally comes from Europe, Africa and Asia and is considered an invasive weed in some areas. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years, but it can be toxic to the liver if it isn’t prepared correctly.

 4. Coltsfoot Closeup

Composite flowers are highly evolved, and coltsfoot is a plant with this type of flower. It has flat, petal like ray flowers in a corolla around the outside of a central disk shaped area that holds disk flowers. Botanically speaking, each “flower’ on this plant is actually a flower head made up of many flowers. This photo shows the lily like, pollen bearing center disk flowers just starting to open.

 5. Little Brown Mushroom

I’ve seen several mushrooms, even when there was snow on the ground, and I’m convinced that many mushrooms that guide books describe as “late fall” mushrooms also grow in early spring.  There is a group of mushrooms called LBMs, (for little brown mushrooms) that can be very poisonous and are often hard to identify.  Since I haven’t been able to identify this one I’ll just call it a little brown mushroom.  I can’t vouch for its edibility, but I know that I wouldn’t eat it.

 6. Pussy Willow

Pussy willows can be seen everywhere now.

 7. Common Alder aka Alnus glutinosa Catkins

Every now and then nature will put something in your path that leaves you standing silently- awestruck at the beauty before you.  I had one of those moments when I saw hundreds of these beautiful male alder catkins (Alnus glutinosa) hanging from shrubs that surrounded a small pond.  Soon the wind will blow pollen from these catkins to the waiting female flowers.

8. Poplar Catkins

Two weeks ago these poplar (Populus) catkins were as small as pussy willows, but now they have lengthened in preparation for pollen release. The poplar family is split into 3 main groups:  the cottonwoods, the aspens, and the balsam poplars. This tree is in the aspen group. The female blossoms appear on different trees and, if pollination is successful, they will develop cottony seeds that will fill the air in May. The old New England Yankee name for this tree was popple.

9. Trailing Arbutus

The flower buds of our native evergreen trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens,) also called Canada Mayflower, are all set to bloom once it gets a little warmer. These small, waxy, 5 petaled blossoms are very fragrant, and can be white or pink. This plant is also called gravel plant because the Shaker religious sect sold it as a remedy for kidney stones. Native Americans also used the plant for kidney ailments, indigestion, and joint pain. Modern tests have shown that the plant can be toxic.  Trailing arbutus was nearly picked into extinction in the past because of its strong, pleasant, almost tropical scent. Its flowers should never be picked.

 10. Skunk Cabbage Flower

 Nobody will be picking this flower because of its pleasant scent! We’ve probably all seen enough pictures of skunk cabbages to last us until next spring, but what we are usually seeing is the splotchy, red / purple / yellowish-green hood that covers the actual flower. This hood is called a spathe and protects the flower, which is called a spadix. In this photo you can see the spadix inside the spathe, as well as flecks of pollen on the outside surfaces.  The plant’s disagreeable odor attracts the flies and bees which pollinate it. Occasionally hungry black bears just out of hibernation will eat these flowers, but most animals leave them alone.

 11. Skunk Cabbage Flower

 The plant in the previous photo had a spathe with an opening that was large enough to sneak the lens of my Panasonic Lumix into, so here is a close up shot of the spadix, or flower, covered in pollen. If the plant is successfully pollinated it will produce a round, red fruit head that will contain several berry like fruits.  Each fruit will have a single seed. The strange lighting in this photo is from the sun shining through the spathe wall.

12. Mountain Haircap Moss aka Polytrichastrum pallidisetum

 The leaves of mountain haircap moss curl around the stem when they’re dry. The upright fruiting bodies are called sporophytes and each is covered by a pointed, whitish cap, called a calyptra. Each calyptra is covered with hairs and that is where the name haircap comes from. As the capsules, shown in the following photo, containing the spores mature and enlarge these calyptrae will fall away.

13. Mountain Haircap Moss Spore Capsules aka Polytrichastrum pallidisetum

These are the tiny capsules that contain the spores of mountain haircap moss. They are 4 sided like a box and have a lid, which eventually falls off to release the spores to the wind. The capsules in this photo lost their lids and released their spores last summer, but were still standing.

Go out, go out I beg of you
and taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
with all the wonder of a child.

~Edna Jacques

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Last week I was lucky enough to have two extra days off so I used some of that time to explore the Ashuelot River at a spot that I visit often.

 1. Riverside

This is a relatively mild spring for the river. The snowstorms have been spaced far enough apart so there wasn’t three feet of snowmelt to fill its banks. This picture shows a wide, flat area where the river can stretch out a bit if need be. Many unusual and beautiful wildflowers grow here and in the woods beyond.

2. River Ice

If you want to look for it winter can still be found in shady, out of the way places, but for the most part open land is clear of snow. What is left in the woods is melting fast now and might be gone within a week.

3. Green Shoots

 In quiet backwaters green shoots of aquatics are starting to appear. There were hundreds of tiny plants here but I couldn’t get close enough to identify them.

4. River Sand

Here and there along its banks, where the current runs slow, the river deposits fine silt. Over the years it has built up so it doesn’t wash away in high water. This is an excellent place to look for animal tracks. Deer, raccoon, muskrat, beaver; all seem to come through here at one time or another.

 5. Track in River Mud

Others whose tracks I’m not sure of also come through here. Whether Fox, coyote, or dog, it’s hard to tell.

6. Poison Ivy Berries

There are enough interesting plants and wildflowers here to make someone interested in nature get on their knees for a close-up eventually. Unfortunately the place is also full of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans,) so you have to watch where you’re kneeling. Even berries and leafless vines can get you itching. In the summer when I come through here I always keep well covered, no matter how hot it is.

7. Sphagnum Moss

This peat moss (Sphagnum) is one plant that had me kneeling over it, trying to identify it while trying to avoid poison ivy. I bought a new field guide for mosses called Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians by Karl B. McNight and others. It’s a very helpful book but it has 10 different peat moss examples in it and I can’t decide which one is the one in the photo.  I’m leaning towards tricky peat moss (Sphagnum fallax) which grows at the water’s edge and can stand being submerged.  I’ve seen these plants under water many times.

8. Bottle on Riverbank

Not too far in the past people used the river as a dumping ground, and every so often it will wash a bit of that history up on its banks as if to remind us of our past crimes against nature. Thankfully we came to our senses and now fish have returned to this stretch of river.

9. Bitter Wart Lichen

Bitter wart lichen (Pertusaria amara) and many others grow on the ironwood trees (Carpinus caroliniana) along the river. One way to tell if you have identified this lichen correctly is to taste a bit of it. If it has a very bitter taste, it is bitter wart lichen. Unfortunately nobody can tell me how long the bitter taste lasts, so I haven’t tried it.

 10. Dried Out Fungus

 From a distance it looked like someone had left a white flower on this old log but it turned out to be a dried out bracket fungus.

11. Dodder Seed Capsules

Devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, pull-down, strangle weed, and witch’s hair are all common names for dodder ( Cuscuta) and may give a clue to its purpose, which is to suck the life from other plants as a parasite. Dodder is a vine that has little chlorophyll of its own and so must rely on a host plant for food. Once it has found a living host the vine’s root attachment to the soil dies and it lives completely off the host, giving nothing in return. These annual vines flower in summer and grow pea sized seed pods like those in the photo. Here along the Ashuelot River, goldenrod is the plant most likely to become food for the dodder vine.

Sit by a river. Find peace and meaning in the rhythm of the lifeblood of the Earth. ~Anonymous

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