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Archive for June, 2013

Here are a few more examples of what we have blooming here right now.

1. Black Eyed Susan

Really? I thought. Black eyed Susans already? I like these flowers but at the same time I’m never in any hurry to see them because to me they represent the top of the hill we have been climbing since the last of the snow melted. Once Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) bloom we start down the other side of that hill towards autumn, and I’m in no hurry to get there.  These plants are native to the U.S. anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, and introduced west of them.

2. BlueToadflax

Dry, sunny, sandy roadsides suddenly turn blue when blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) blooms. Tiny, pale blue and white flowers sit on thin, wiry stems. This native plant was introduced to Europe and has naturalized in some areas, including Russia. It is in the snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison.

3. Tall Buttercup

I’ve tried several times to get a photo that shows the waxy shine on common buttercup (Ranunculus acris) petals, and I think this one might be it. This shine is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed.

4. Catalpa Blossoms

The orchid-like flowers of the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) tree have opened. These native trees grow to 70 feet or more and often the branches are so high up that you can’t see the flowers closely, but I was lucky to find an immature tree. Each flower is made up of petals that fuse to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple can be seen in the throat. Flowers will give way to long, thin pods that we used to call string beans when I was a boy.

5. Crown Vetch

Crown vetch (Coronilla varia) has an interesting flower head made up of up to 25 individual flowers. The standard is upright and deeper pink than the 4 lighter petals that make up the keel. Flowers have a typical pea-like shape. This plant was introduced as a forage crop and has escaped to the point where it is found regularly along sunny roadsides.

6. Indian Cucumber Root Flower

The flowers of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) can be challenging to photograph. Out of more than 20 shots this is the only one worth posting. It shows how the yellow-green petals curve backwards to reveal a long, spidery style and 6 stamens, all in crimson and plum. When these plants aren’t flowering they are sometimes mistaken for starflower because of the way the leaves whorl around the stem. The root of this plant tastes like cucumber and Native Americans used it for both food and medicine. People seem to feel the need to taste the plant’s root and because of it Indian cucumber is now endangered in many areas. Please admire them and let them be so the rest of us can also admire them.

7. Dogbane

Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) is supposed to be toxic to dogs so the Apocynum part of the scientific name means “Away dog!” The second part of the scientific name, cannabinum, means “like hemp,” which helps explain the plant’s other common name of Indian hemp. Dogbane has white, sticky sap that is toxic, so animals avoid it. Native Americans made thread and cord from dogbane and used it for nets and snares because the fibers hold their shape and do not shrink when they get wet. Dogbane fibers have been found in archaeological sites that are thousands of years old.

 8. Mountain Laurel Flowers

Our woods are full of native blooming mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) right now. Many believe that these evergreen shrubs are related to rhododendrons, but they are actually more closely related to blueberries. The white to pink flowers of Mountain laurel each have 10 pockets or depressions in the petals that the anthers bend to fit into. When a pollinator lands on the blossom the anthers spring from these pockets and dust the insect with pollen.

 9. Mountain Laurel Flower Backs

This view of the back of mountain laurel blossoms shows the unusual pockets that the anthers fit into. Mountain laurel is very toxic and has been known to kill livestock that have eaten it.

10. Yellow Rattle aka Rhinanthus minor

Yellow rattle box (Rhinanthus crista) is a very strange plant that is, in botanical terms, “hemi parasitic” on pasture grasses. This means that even though it creates its own food through photosynthesis its roots attack the roots of other plants and literally suck the life out of them. If enough of them grow in a pasture they can destroy the grasses in it. This plant is from Europe and gets its common name from the way the dry seeds rattle around in the round, flat pods that form behind each flower.

 11. Lobelia

There are so many lobelias that it is often hard to tell, but I think this is pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata.) Lobelias usually prefer moist places so I was surprised to find it in a small, dry clearing on the side of a hill. I was also surprised that the flowers on some plants were such a deep blue, because they usually range from pale blue to white. Flowers are found on a thin, wiry stem. When I was looking for information on this plant I was surprised to find that it is listed as rare in New Hampshire. In my experience it is quite common. Lobelias are toxic so no part of the plant should ever be eaten.

 12. Lobelia-Single Flower

Each flower of Lobelia spicata has an upper lip that is divided into 2 lobes and a larger lip that is divided into 3 lobes. A dark blue stigma sits between the upper 2 lobes. The petals are fused and form a tube. At a glance it might be easy to confuse this plant with blue toadflax.

 13. Flowering Raspberry

The petals of our native flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) always look like somebody forgot to iron them before they put them on. If this flower reminds you of a rose, that’s because it is in the rose family. The 2 inch wide flowers are fragrant and attract butterflies. If pollinated, they are followed by large berries that are said to taste good, but have too many seeds to be useful. The red to orange fruit is shaped like a thimble and that gives this plant another common name-pink thimble berry.

Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.  ~John Ruskin

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New readers of this blog might not know this, but I’m always finding things that never seem to fit into other posts. When I have found enough of these unusual, sometimes bizarre and often beautiful things, I put them all in a post of their own. That’s what this post is.

1. Marasimus Mushrooms

The twig that these mushrooms grew on was less than half the diameter of a pencil, so that should help illustrate just how small these mushrooms were. By the time I found them it hadn’t rained for a few days so they were kind of dry. I think these are one of the Marasimus mushrooms-possibly Marasimus epiphyllus.

2. Bee on Red Clover

I’ve been giving red clover blossoms a closer look this year and have found that they vary greatly in color, sometimes appearing as a washed out pale pink that can look almost white all the way to a deep rose / purple color. I’ve been taking photos of the flower heads and letting my color finding software tell me what it sees. The software tells me that this one with a bee or hoverfly on it is pale violet, thistle, and plum.

3. Red Clover

Compared to the flower head in the previous photo this is very dark. The color finding software sees dark orchid, violet and medium purple. Red clover flower heads are made up of many individual florets, each having 5 petals. One petal is called a banner, 2 petals on either side of the banner are called wings, and 2 more fused petals make up what is called the keel. The keel encloses the reproductive structures.

 4. Bracken Fern

 Bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum) climb all over each other, trying to be the one to reach the sun first. These ferns are now almost 4 feet tall. Bracken fern releases chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants, and this gives it the ability to form large colonies with reduced competition from other species.

5. Deer Tracks

A deer (or more than one) went the same way I was going and not too long before, judging by the freshness of its footprints in the damp sand. I was wondering if I scared it off.

6. Goldsmith Beetle aka Cotalpa lanigera

I was walking along the side of a road one day and saw something in the road that didn’t look like it belonged there. It turned out to be this Goldsmith Beetle (Cotalpa lanigera.) This beetle was quite big-at least as long as the diameter of a quarter-and had a metallic shine, as if it had been painted with metallic paint. I wish that I had taken a photo or two of its underside, which is said to shine red-gold like polished copper. I can’t remember ever seeing this one before.

7. Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

I’m so colorblind that if this eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) had of just stayed still I probably never would have seen him. Instead he dashed across the path in front of me and froze. He convinced himself that he was invisible and that gave me time to fumble around with my camera, trying to get a photo. He let me take as many as I wanted but as soon as I took a step he was gone in a gray streak. I chose this shot because you can see his round cottony tail.

 8. Timothy

Timothy is blooming. No that’s not the title of a 60s song about Timothy Leary-it’s about the grass known as Timothy (Phleum pretense.) I’ve been waiting for it to flower because I think it’s the most beautiful of all the grasses. The story of how this grass got its name says that it was unintentionally introduced from Europe in 1711 and in 1720 a farmer named Timothy Hanson began to cultivate it. The grass took on his name and has been called Timothy ever since. It is an excellent hay grass.

 9. English Plantain

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is also blooming. This is another plant with a beautiful flower. This plant is considered a common weed found in lawns and waste places now, but it wasn’t always that way; Anglo-Saxons had nine sacred herbs that they believed protected them from sickness and other evils, and this was one of them. At that time, no other plants had such an elevated status. This plantain was cultivated in Europe and brought here in colonial times to be used medicinally. Native Americans called it “white man’s footprint,” because it grew wherever the colonists went.

10. White Cheese Polypore on Log

White Cheese Polypore (Tyromyces chioneus) grew on the end of a log. The Tyromyces part of the scientific name means “with a cheesy consistency” and chioneus means “snow white,” so both the common and scientific names for this fungus say the same thing. This fungus has a scent that some people say is like cheese cake.

11. Dark Green Bulrush aka Scirpus atrovirens

Many sedges and rushes grow near water and I like to include water in their photo if I can. That isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but this time it worked and I liked the color of the water behind these dark green bulrushes (Scirpus atrovirens.) Bulrushes aren’t true rushes, but are members of the sedge family. In Anglo Saxon times a sedge was any plant that grew near water, but now a sedge is one of nearly 1000 species in the genus Carex.

12. Sunset-2

While waiting for the moon to rise one night I saw this colorful sunset.

13. Full Moon on 6-21-13

The moon I was waiting for was a “super moon,” according to those in the know. This super moon was a moon that was both full and at its closest point to the earth for this year. It will not be as close to the earth again until August of next year. I wanted to get a view of it reflected in water and I drove around to rivers, lakes and ponds but I could never get to the side of the body of water that would have shown its reflection.

I have since found that there is a freeware program called “The Photographers Ephemeris,” which you can get by clicking here. In a nutshell, this program lets you position yourself anywhere on a Google map and see in which direction the sun and moon will rise and set from that position. I could have put myself on the accessible part of the local lake shore and seen beforehand, with a high degree of accuracy, that the moon wouldn’t be reflecting in the lake and saved myself the drive. The program can be used on computers or phones.

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. ~ Henri Poincaré

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When I was growing up we had railroad tracks running almost through our back yard, so some of my earliest memories include trains. Since they passed both my and my grandmother’s house, I was walking the tracks at a young age. Recently I’ve been hiking and biking on what are now the trails where the tracks once were, and it has been like visiting the past.

1. B&M DIESEL

Big, powerful Boston and Maine Railroad diesel engines rolled by the house each afternoon hauling a seemingly endless chain of boxcars behind them.  These trains, being so close, would shake the house to its foundation. In fact, we had an earthquake once and didn’t know it because the house shook just like it did when a train was going by.

I always wanted to hop a train but my grandmother’s stories of what happened to little boys who slipped and fell under trains while trying to jump onto them were so effective at discouraging me that I never once tried it, even though I often stood just inches away as they went rolling slowly by.

2.Tracks

Things like perspective and vanishing points began to gel in my mind and become real as I walked the tracks as a boy. No longer were they just vague, mysterious concepts read about in art class. I also learned to identify many of the plants that grew along the tracks and spent a lot of time eating the raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries that I found there.

 3. Tradescantia

Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) was one of my first discoveries as a boy. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old the first time I dug this plant up from beside the tracks and brought it home to plant in the yard.  That was about the same time my father started saying that he couldn’t understand why I kept “dragging those damned old weeds home.”  When I got a little older these plants got me interested in botany.

4. Rail Trail

By the time I came along the Boston and Maine railroad had been in business for more than 150 years, but things started going badly in the 1960s. By the 1980s it was over and the rails were being torn up. I didn’t mind when the trains stopped running, but it was hard to watch those rails being dismantled. Even though I never hopped a train the rails still took me places because I read about all of the places they went.

 5. Railroad Spike

Because I spent so many years of my life walking the tracks it seems very strange to walk these trails without them here. One of my first thoughts was that the kids of today would never be able to experience what I had, and that seemed like a huge loss. Before too long though, I found that there was still plenty for them to see and do on these trails. There is a lot of railroad history here, and if you do just a little bit of looking as you walk along you can see it all around you. The railroad spike in the above photo would be a worthy addition to any young boy’s treasure hoard.

 6. B&M Tie Plate

If that same young boy had a tie plate to go along with his rail spike he would be the king of show and tell. Not a whisper would be heard as he explained how a spike would be driven through each of the four square holes in the plate, deep into the hemlock ties by men with sledgehammers, to hold the rails in place.

 7. Ashuelot Trestle Winchester 9-2

Old rusty trestles  suddenly loom up out of the underbrush as you walk the trails. The Boston and Maine railroad crossed and re-crossed the Ashuelot River and groups of foolish young boys could often be seen performing very dangerous stunts on these trestles. It really is a wonder that none of us were ever killed. The trails and trestles are maintained by snowmobile and off road clubs now and have had safety railings built along their length.

 8. B&M Trestle Warning Wires

About 50 yards before each trestle on each of its ends, warning wires hung to warn anyone foolish enough to be on top of a boxcar that a trestle collision was imminent. These dangling wires are steel and about the same diameter as a pencil, so getting hit in the face by one while on top of a train going even 10 miles per hour would have hurt, badly. It would have been better than the alternative though, which was the steel crossbar of the trestle.

9. Timber Frame Bridge Support

Steel wasn’t the only material used for trestles and bridges. These twelve by twelve inch timbers still hold up the street bridge that passes over the rails. If I had known this was here when I was a boy I would have been climbing all over it, wondering how it had been built.

 10. B&M Stone Arch Bridge

This magnificent stone arch bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built of granite quarried a half mile away from the site, it was dry laid with no mortar in 1847 and soars 38 feet above the river. The bridge is 27 feet wide with a span of 68 feet, and its arch has a radius of 34 feet. Evidence of the plug and feather method used to split the stones is still visible on the faces of many of them. It’s hard to imagine how it was ever built without the use of modern tools and equipment.

I don’t think I’ve been on these rail trails a single time without seeing kids walking or riding bikes along them, and that’s a good thing. There are still plenty of things here to want to learn more about. History, math, botany, model railroading, and engineering are just a few that come to mind.

And there is the headlight, shining far down the track, glinting off the steel rails that, like all parallel lines, will meet in infinity, which is after all where this train is going. ~Bruce Catton

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Here are a few more of the wildflowers that I’ve seen recently.

 1. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliate) is native to the U.S. but doesn’t grow in New England states. The one pictured grows in a local park, but it is a wildflower. I thought it was pretty enough to include here. This plant is also called Indian physic, because Native Americans used the powdered root as a laxative and emetic. I can’t seem to uncover how the plant got the name of bowman’s root or its other common name, which is fawn’s breath. It’s a beautiful plant that does well in gardens and is sold by nurseries.

 2. Bush Honeysuckle

Northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) is showing its tubular, pale yellow flowers right on schedule. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It is native to eastern North America.

 3. Dame's Rocket aka Hesperis matronalis

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is a common sight at the edges of woodlands and along riversides at this time of year. It always tries to fool those who just take a quick glance into thinking it is phlox, but a closer look at the 4 petaled flowers and long, mustard family seed pods give it away. This plant was introduced from Europe and Asia and, as the all too familiar story goes, escaped and is now considered an invasive weed.

 4. Multiflora Rose

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is another invasive plant from Japan and Korea. This one blooms at about the same time as blackberries here and from a distance it is easy to confuse the two. A closer look at its leaves gives it away immediately though, because they look nothing like a blackberry or raspberry. Since this is a rose its thorns are quite sharp and the plant forms dense, impenetrable thickets that all but the smallest animals have a hard time getting through. It also grows over native shrubs and even into trees, trying to get as much of the available sunlight that it can.

5. Multiflora Rose in Tree

This shows what multiflora rose can do. It was about 25 or 30 feet up in this tree.

 6. Rugosa Rose

Rosa rugosa (Rosaceae) is another Asian native that has been here so long that people call it a “wild” rose. This rose was introduced to Europe from Japan in 1796 and then introduced to the United States in 1845. It is very resistant to salt spray and grows large red fruit, called hips. It is for those reasons that it is also called beach tomato. I found this one growing on the side of a road. Like multiflora rose, it forms dense thickets and is considered a noxious weed. It has beautiful, very fragrant blossoms.

 7. Stitchwort

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They grow at the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. This plant is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed.

 8. Stitchwort

The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals. This is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The flowers of greater stitchwort are also larger.

 9. Yellow Goat's Beard

Yellow goat’s beard flowers (Tragopogon dubius) usually have 13 green, sharply pointed bracts behind each flower but this one must have wanted to be different because it has only 12. These bracts grow longer than the petals and that is important when trying to identify it. The fun thing about this plant is its huge, spherical seed heads that look like giant dandelion seed heads.

 10. Yellow Sorrel

Yellow sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is often called a clover but it isn’t. Its three, clover like leaflets close up flat at night and in intense sunshine. The flowers also close at night. The petals have very faint, usually unnoticed lines that go toward the throat, and that is what I tried to show in this photo.

11. White Yarrow

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has to be the plant with the most common names-so many that I wonder if I should list them all. Oh, why not?  Bad man’s plaything, bloodwort, carpenter’s grass, carpenter’s weed, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, dog daisy, fern weed, field hoop, herb militaris, knight’s milfoil, little feather, milfoil, nosebleed, old man’s pepper, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort, squirrel tail, staunch grass, staunch weed, thousand-leaf, thousand-seal, thousand-weed, and yarroway. No matter what it’s called, there is no doubt that yarrow has been used medicinally for many centuries-it has even been found in Neanderthal graves. The scientific name Achillea comes from the legend of Achilles carrying the plant into battle so it could be used to staunch the flow of blood from his soldier’s wounds.

 12. Whorled Loosestrife

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) has just started blooming in the tall grass along roadsides. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. The flowers on this example are unusual because of the red stripes on the petals-I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.

13. Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is another plant with leaves that grow in a whorl, which can be easily seen in the photo. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. This plant makes an excellent old fashioned groundcover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. Dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years.  I found this plant in the yard of friends.

 14. Tulip Tree Blossom

 Tulip tree isn’t one that you think of when you think of New Hampshire, but I found one growing in a local park. I find that the leaves remind me of tulips more than the flowers do. I’ve heard these trees called tulip poplar but they are actually in the magnolia family. Another name for this tree is canoe wood because it is thought to be one of the trees that Native Americans used for dugout canoes.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.  ~A.A. Milne

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Here are a few more of those things that never seem to fit in other posts.

1. American Hornbeam Fruiting

American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) trees are fruiting. Long, drooping, leafy bracts bear the seeds in pairs of small oval nuts, as seen in the photo. This tree is also called blue beech or water beech. It grows along rivers and streams and likes moist to wet soil. The wood of the tree ripples and looks muscular, so it is also called muscle wood. The wood of this tree is very hard and early settlers used it for spoons, bowls, and tool handles.

 2. Male Cones of Red Pine

I had a little trouble identifying the pine tree that these male, pollen bearing cones were on because I’ve never seen them before. Luckily when it comes to native pines, here in New Hampshire we don’t have a lot of choices-only 4 pines grow here naturally-eastern white pine, jack pine, pitch pine, and red pine. I’m sure that the cones in the photo aren’t eastern white pine, and jack pine and red pine each have 2 needles per bundle. Since this tree has 3 needles per bundle it has to be pitch pine, according to my tree book, so these are the male cones of the pitch pine tree (Pinus rigida.)

 3. White Pine Pollen Bearing Cones

These are the male pollen bearing cones of the eastern white pine (Pinus strobus.) When the female flowers are fertilized by this pollen they produce the seed bearing cones that we are all familiar with. Here in New Hampshire this pollen is responsible for turning any horizontal surface, including ponds and vehicles, a dusty green color each spring. It also makes some of us have sneezing fits.

 4. Black Willow Seed Head

Black willows (Salix nigra) are just starting to release their seeds. Female catkins produce clusters of capsules that split to release the cottony seeds. This is another tree that is common along pond and river banks. The bark of the tree contains salicylic acid, which is very similar to aspirin, and Native Americans once used it to treat headache and fever.

 5. Fringed Sedge Flowers Carex crenita

Many grasses and sedges are also flowering. These droopy fringed sedge Flowers (Carex crinite) make this one easy to identify, even from quite far away. They also make it attractive and this plant is often seen in gardens. It’s another plant that like moist soil and is usually found on riverbanks and wetlands. Native American used sedge leaves to make rope, baskets, mats, and clothing.

 6. finger Gall on Black Cherry Leaf

Finger galls on the leaves of black cherry (Prunus serotina) are caused by a tiny eriophyid mite (Eriophyes cerasicrumena.) Visually these galls aren’t very appealing but they don’t hurt the tree. They are small-maybe as long as a half inch. A blue butterfly called the cherry gall azure (Celastrina  serotina) lays eggs on these finger galls in May, and when they hatch the resulting caterpillars eat the galls-mites and all. The caterpillars also leave behind sweet secretions that attract ants. The ants, in return for the sweets, protect the cherry gall azure caterpillars from wasps and other predators. Imagine-all of this happens on the surface of a single leaf.

7. Orchard Grass

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata ) is still flowering and seems to be going all to pieces. Who could guess that grass could be so interesting and so beautiful?

 8. Poison Ivy Flowers

 I found this poison ivy vine (Toxicodendron radicans) growing up a shagbark hickory near a popular canoe and kayak launching spot on the Ashuelot River. It is very healthy and each one of its flowers, if pollinated, will turn into a white, berry like fruit. (drupe) there are many old sayings designed to warn people of the dangers of this plant and one is “Berries white, run in fright.” You might not have to run in fright but eating any part of this plant would be a very bad idea.

9. Sweetfern Fruit

This is the fruit of the sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine,) which isn’t a fern but a shrub. Sweet ferns are usually found growing in gravel at the edge of roads or in waste areas. They are small-about 3 feet tall-and have a mounding growth habit. The leaves are very aromatic and can be smelled from quite a distance on a hot summer day. It is said that crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin will keep insects away. There is a tiny nut enclosed in the spiky husk shown in the photo. Native Americans made tea from the leaves.

 10. Turtle

It seemed strange to see what I think was a painted turtle in the woods, off to the side of the trail, but there it was. It took off as soon as I approached it, and I didn’t chase it. Chase doesn’t seem the correct word since it moved so slowly. Maybe “followed” works better.

11. Jumping Spider

I was getting up off the ground after getting shots of a flower and saw this guy peeking around a leaf at me. He ran off almost as soon as I pointed the camera at him, apparently upset because my “eye” was bigger than all of his. I’ve learned a lot about spiders and insects by reading Mike Powell’s blog, and I think this might be one of the jumping spiders which, if I remember correctly, don’t build webs. It had yellow slash-like marks on its body. If you’d like to visit Mike’s blog, just click here.

 12. Tiger Swallowtail on Rhodie

Butterflies aren’t landing at my feet any longer but I’m still seeing them everywhere. This eastern tiger swallowtail was on the rhododendron in the front yard-still letting me know that the butterfly drought has ended.

 13. Purple Grass

 There are grasses called “purple top” and “red top” and even one called “purple love grass” but I think this one might be called reed meadow grass (Glyceria grandis.) This grass is common in moist places throughout the country. Its color is nice to see in a sea of green, swaying grasses.

 14. Rattlesnake Weed

I recently re-visited the only rattlesnake weed plant that I’ve ever seen and found that all of the purple color that the leaves had earlier in the spring had drained away, and now they are green with purple veins. I like this plant and wish there were more of them. It is in the hawkweed family but, even though hawkweeds are blooming right now, this is not. If it does I might try to save some of its seed to grow a little closer to home.

Every aspect of Nature reveals a deep mystery and touches our sense of wonder and awe. ~ Carl Sagan

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We’ve had all kinds of weather extremes here lately, from heat and humidity to torrential rains, so I’ve been spending time at the Ashuelot River. The banks of the river are always cooler when it’s hot and after heavy rains the rapids really get rolling, and I like to watch them.  Since I spend so much time here and so many of my photos are taken here, I thought I’d do a post with a little background information of the area.

1. Ashuelot Rapids

This stretch of river is easy to get to and there are many good photo opportunities here-from the rapids to the many wildflowers that grow on the river banks. There are 4 small rapids that were built when a 250 year old timber crib dam was removed in 2010. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services created the rapids by laying very large boulders side to side across the riverbed in a crescent shape.

2. Swanzey Dam Removal

The timber crib dam was owned by the Homestead Woolen Mill, which is the large brick building in the background. The dam was built in revolutionary war times to power the mill, which in its heyday made many different kinds of textiles. Removing this dam opened up 20 miles of river and now brook and rainbow trout are caught here regularly. Salmon have also been caught and someone said they saw an eagle this spring.

Photo by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Division of Habitat Conservation, Open Rivers Initiative.

3. Ashuelot Rapids

When we’ve had a lot of rain if you stand in the right spot at the right rapid, you can see some fine waves. Since there are a few seconds of delay between when you press the shutter release and when the wave crests, getting shots of waves cresting and crashing is really hit and miss. Every time I try to anticipate what the river will do it does just the opposite, and that’s what makes trying to get a shot I’m happy with so much fun.

 4. Riverside

This view is looking downriver at two of the rapids and the shoreline that floods regularly, but where many wildflowers grow.

5. Thompson Bridge

 Slightly upriver from the rapids is the Thompson covered bridge, named after playwright Denmon Thompson, who was a native son, and built in 1832. This bridge is a truss style bridge with two spans that meet on a center support. One span covers 64 feet and the other 63.5 feet, making the total length 136 feet 10 inches long. It once had two covered walkways, but now has only one on the upriver side. It can be seen on the left in the photo. The bridge is so close to the mill building that I had my back against it when I took this photo. Town records indicate that there has been a bridge in this spot since at least 1789.

 6. Thompson Bridge

This view of the bridge shows the covered walkway. At the far end is where I perch to take many of the river photos that appear on this blog. The covered walkway comes in handy when it’s raining. Many wildflowers grow on the steep embankment on this side of the river, just below where I was standing when I took this photo.

7. Thompson Bridge

This view from downriver shows the stone center support for the two spans. The bridge design is known as “Town lattice,” patented by Connecticut architect Ithiel Town in the early 1800s. The Thompson Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful covered bridge in New England.

 8. Thompson Bridge

The open lattice work lets a lot of light into the bridge and this is unusual because many covered bridges are dark and cave like.  In the 1800s being able to see this much light inside a covered bridge would have been the talk of the town.

 9. Ashuelot Jetty 2

At the same time that the old dam was being removed stone jetties were built upriver from the bridge to protect its abutments. These jetties, one on each side of the bridge, direct the strength of the current and prevent erosion of the abutments at each end of the bridge. If you look closely at the white water at the far end of the jetty you can see the ripples of the current flowing in towards the middle of the river.

10. Ashuelot Wildflowers

This view from the bridge shows just a few of the wildflowers that grow on the river bank near the jetty in the previous photo. The town of Swanzey is planning on building a park in this area so the future of these plants is unknown at present. I thought the lupines growing here were our endangered wild blue lupine (Lupinus perennis) but after going back and counting leaflets and looking for leaf hairs, now I’m not so sure that they aren’t a natural hybrid. I’m hoping I can save some of their seeds and grow them in my own yard and get to know them a little better.

11. Clouds Over the Ashuelot

Flowers, rapids, and solitude aren’t the only reasons I come to this part of the river. The view downriver from the bridge is wide open and you can catch an occasional beautiful sunset here. I also like to come here to watch storms roll in.

12. Lori's Painting

 Local artist Lori Woodward was also taken with the view from the Thompson Bridge and did this painting from one of the photos that she saw on this blog. There is an upcoming exhibit of paintings and photos of the Ashuelot River at the Cheshire County Historical Society and this painting will be part of it. Lori works in acrylic, watercolors and oils. If you’re an art lover interested in collecting fine art, or just like looking at beautiful landscape paintings, you can visit Lori’s website by clicking here.

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known. ~A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

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Here are a few more of the flowers I’ve seen recently.

1. Blue Flag Iris

Last year I saw two native blue flag iris (Iris versicolor ) on the far side of a local pond. This year they are on all sides of the pond, so they spread fast. If you happen to be a forager and like making flour from cattail roots you want to be sure that you don’t get any iris roots mixed in, because they are very toxic.

2. Bunchberry

These bunchberry plants (Cornus canadensis) like growing on the side of this oak tree. These plants are often seen growing on or near rotting logs, so a lot of their nutrients must come from there. If bunchberry flowers remind you of dogwood blossoms, that’s because both dogwoods and bunchberry are in the same family. (Cornaceae) Just like with dogwoods blossoms the white parts of the bunchberry blossom are bracts, not petals.

 3. Bunchberry

The actual bunchberry flowers are the small bits in the center of the white bracts. The flowers will become “bunches” of bright red berries later on. The berries are loaded with pectin and Native Americans used them both medicinally and as food. The Cree tribe called bunchberry “itchy chin berry” because they can make you itch when rubbed against the skin.

4. Honey Locust Blossoms

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) grows in all but two of the lower 48 states in the country. People in Oregon and Washington won’t get to see and smell its beautiful blooms but the rest of us will. This tree gets its common name from the sweet pulp found on the inside of its long, ripe seed pods. This tree has some very sharp thorns and is also called thorny locust.

5. Native Pink Azalea aka Rhododendron periclymenoides

 Last summer I found a shrub that looked like an azalea, so this year I went back and found that, sure enough, the shrub was our native pink azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides .) In my experience this shrub is very rare-I’ve only seen two of them in my lifetime, and this is one of those. I’ve since discovered that it is listed as endangered in New Hampshire .The flowers had mostly all gone by before I re-visited it, so next year I’ll have to visit it a little earlier. It’s a beautiful thing rarely seen, so it is well worth the effort.

6. Columbine

Other plants that I found last year were some columbines (Aquilegia) growing along a roadside. It was well past their bloom time so I made a note to revisit them this spring. Unfortunately a road crew had come along and scraped up all but two plants. I visited those that were left several times this spring until they finally bloomed.  Again unfortunately, instead of being our native red flowered Aquilegia they were a pinkish / purple garden escapee. I’ve included their photo here only because it took 7 months and a good dose of patience to get it.

7. Ashuelot Wildflowers

Native blue lupines (Lupinus Perennis) are blooming along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey, New Hampshire, along with yellow bird’s foot trefoil. The town has decided that this area will be a park, so the lupines and many other wildflowers that grow here will most likely be destroyed. How ironic that blue lupines are listed as a threatened species in New Hampshire.

 8. Maiden Pink

 Maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) get their common name from the way the petals look like they were edged with pinking shears. This European native has escaped gardens and can be found in lawns and meadows in many states in the U.S. Oddly enough, it is listed as a nationally scarce species in England. I think we could send them boatloads, just from the stock we have here in New Hampshire. A very similar plant is the Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) but its flowers have much narrower petals.

 9. Blue Eyed Grass

There are several species of Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) that grow from coast to coast in the U.S. Though its common name says that it is a grass the plant is actually in the iris family. The flowers have 3 petals and 3 sepals and all are the same color blue. Blue eyed grass is an old favorite of mine.

 10. Oxeye Daisy

Ox eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) bloomed early this year. If ever there was a flower that said it was June this is it, but I found a few blooming in May. This is another European native that escaped gardens and is now found in meadows in every state in the U.S. including Alaska and Hawaii. A vigorous plant can produce up to 26,000 seeds. In tests 82% of those seeds remain viable even after being buried for 6 years, so don’t look for this one on the endangered list any time soon.

 11. Heal All

Heal all (Prunella vulgaris) has just started blooming this week here. Its tiny purple flowers are always a welcome sight. Nobody seems to agree on where this plant originated because it is recorded in the histories of several countries before the history of travel was recorded. Maybe everyone should agree that it is a plant known since ancient times and leave it at that. It was once thought to be a holy herb sent by God to cure man’s ills. The name heal all comes from the way that It has been used medicinally on nearly every continent on earth to cure virtually any ailment one can name.

 12. Yellow Hawkweed

Yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum) flowers can rise to a height of up to 3 feet on wiry, leafless stems. The leaves are in a cluster at the base of the long stem and this makes photographing the plants in their entirety very tricky, unless you are an expert in depth of field. I’m not, so you get to see the flowers and not the leaves. This plant hails from Europe and is considered a noxious weed in many states. The common name of hawk weed came about because Pliny the elder wrote that hawks ate the plants to improve their vision. I wonder if Pliny himself had vision problems.

 13. Orange Hawkweed

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) doesn’t get quite as tall as yellow, but getting the entire plant in one photo is still a challenge. This plant is another that was introduced from Europe and is now considered a noxious weed. I like it for its color because orange isn’t seen that often in nature. One common name of orange hawkweed is Devil’s paintbrush. When I was a boy everyone called it Indian paintbrush even though true Indian paintbrush (Castilleja) is an entirely different plant.

None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones. ~Forbes Watson

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Here is another post full of those odd, hard to fit in a post things that I see in my travels.

1. Amber jelly Fungus

The rains we had over Memorial Day made jelly fungi swell up and they can be seen everywhere right now. When it is dry, they will once again shrink down until they are almost invisible. This is amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa,) also called willow brain fungus because it grows on willow trees. It also grows on alder and poplar. Upper, shiny surfaces of this fungus bear spores and the lower, matte surfaces do not. This example doesn’t seem to have many shiny surfaces, but they often do.

 2. Gray Gilled Mushroom

The rain also helped bring a few mushrooms to fruiting stage. I liked the blue-gray color of the gills on this example. I think it is one of the Amanitas-possibly Amanita porphyria.

NOTE: A reader familiar with the above mushroom has corrected its identity. It is a wine cap mushroom (Stropharia rugosoannulata). Thank you Lisa!

 3. Chipmunk

When I was in high school there was a wooded area near the building where I and several of my class mates would hang out smoking, gabbing, and generally showing off and acting foolish. One day a friend of mine decided to see if he could catch a chipmunk barehanded. He caught it alright-in more ways than one. That cute little chipmunk instantly transformed into something resembling the Tasmanian devil on Bugs Bunny cartoons and gave him some nasty bites to the fingers.  I can’t remember much of what I learned in that school but I’ve never forgotten how sharp a chipmunk’s teeth are.

4. Larch Cone

I had been seeing photos of pink and purple larch cones (Larix laricina) on other blogs and frankly, I was a little jealous because all I ever saw in New Hampshire were dry, brown cones.  But that was because I’m color blind and wasn’t looking closely enough.  Thanks to Chris and her sister Marie over at the Plants Amaze Me blog, I’m now seeing plum colored larch cones. I think they’re as beautiful as many of the flowers that I’ve seen.

 5. Canadian Hemlock

This young Canadian hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis) tree was covered with new, light green growth and seemed to be so full of life that I had to take a picture of it. This tree might grow to 100 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet in diameter at maturity. These trees are also called eastern hemlock and, because of their unusual holding power, are often cut for use as railroad ties. Railroad spikes driven into hemlock ties are not as likely to loosen and work their way free as they are in other species.

6. Chicken-of-the-Woods aka Laetiporus sulphureus

Last year I misidentified a bracket fungus by calling it chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus .)  (This is a good example of why you don’t eat any old mushroom you read about on blogs.) I thought I’d take another crack at it this year by identifying the fungi in the above photo as chicken of the woods.  Its orange color makes it easy to see, but I don’t see many of them. This mushroom is also called sulfur shelf, and gets one of its common names because of the way that it tastes like fried chicken.

7. Dandelion Seed Head

I like macro photography because it often reveals heretofore unseen things on plants that I’ve seen thousands of times.  Good examples are the ribbed and barbed dandelion seeds, called achenes, that my aging eyes will otherwise never see. The seeds are a fine example of how a dandelion flower is actually made up of many small flowers-each flower produces a single seed. If you counted the seeds you would know how many flowers were on the original flower head.

8. Orchard Grass

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) is flowering now, as are many other grasses. This is a tall, cool season grass that is shade tolerant and drought resistant. I keep watch for grasses with their pollen ready to fly on the wind at this time of year. It is an interesting event that isn’t often paid much attention to.

9. Cinnamon Fern

Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) got its common name from its cinnamon colored spore bearing fronds. Once a cinnamon fern begins to fruit it stops producing fronds and puts all of its energy into spore production. The fertile fruiting fronds will be covered top to bottom with spore producing sori. Sori are a fern’s equivalent of flowers.

10. Royal Fern

Royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) have also started producing spores. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more.

11. White Admiral Butterfly aka Limenitis arthemis

Regular readers will no doubt remember that I wrote about commenting on another blog about how New Hampshire seemed to be in a butterfly drought, and then right afterwards had a butterfly land on the trail in front of me. Well, it hasn’t stopped yet. Apparently nature is teaching me a lesson because this white admiral butterfly landed just a few feet away from me the other day.

12. Red Spotted Purple Butterfly aka Limenitis arthemis astyanax

 Less than a minute after I took a few photos of the white admiral butterfly this red-spotted purple butterfly landed right beside me. When I mowed the lawn that evening there were smaller butterflies landing on the clover blossoms. So okay-I get it. New Hampshire does not have a butterfly drought and I’ll never say that we do, ever again.

Maybe nature is trying to tell me that the butterfly drought might just be my imagination, and maybe all of this came about because I haven’t been paying attention. To that I have to argue that I have been paying attention-to plants, not butterflies.

Nature reserves the right to inflict upon her children the most terrifying jests. ~Thorton wilder

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Last weekend we had enough rain to trigger flash flood warnings in parts of the state, so like any nature lover I went out to see the high water.

1. Waterfall

I had a tripod so I could practice my blurry water technique. This stream didn’t appear to have risen all that much.

2. Marshland

The water was quite high in several other places but I didn’t see any flooding. There were some clever ducks living in this marsh-they quacked so I could hear them, but stayed hidden so I couldn’t see them. They might have been nesting in the high grass.

3. Canada Geese Family

The geese weren’t quite so clever, but the mom and dad hurriedly herded the young ones away.  I took two quick photos and left them alone.

4. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Just after I commented on Jennifer Schlick’s blog that we were suffering a butterfly drought, this eastern tiger swallowtail dropped to the ground in front of me. This happens to me all the time-as soon as I say on a blog that I haven’t seen this or that I usually see it. Of course, when I say that I see a certain thing everywhere I go I might never see it again.  Does this happen to other people?

5. Lone Tree

I sometimes wonder if people realize how hard it is to get a photo of a single tree when you live in a place with 4.8 million acres of forested land. I saw this lone tree off in a pasture but I couldn’t tell what it was. It has the shape of a young American elm.

6. Cow

This magnificent example of bovine beauty and a waist high barbed wire fence kept me from getting any closer to the tree in the previous photo. She seemed to want her picture taken, so here she is.

7. Waterfall

After my encounter with the guard cow I headed back into the woods, where I found another small water fall that I hadn’t known about. I decided not to blur the water on this one.

8. False Hellebore

False hellebore (Veratrum viride) is about three feet tall now and all ready to bloom. This was a fine example. Usually they suffer a lot of insect damage and look quite ratty by this time of year, even though they are one of the most toxic plants in the forest.

9. Pink Lady's Slippers

Plenty of our native orchid pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) grew along this stream as well.

10. Painted Trillium

Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum ) also grows here, but they had just about gone by. It’s always good to find another spot where these plants grow, because they seem to be getting harder to find.

11. Ashuelot at Sunset

The setting sun was just kissing the top of the distant hills when I stopped at one of my favorite viewing spots along the Ashuelot River. The water was high but nowhere near flood level.

12. Ashuelot Rapids on 5-26-13

There was enough fast moving water in the Ashuelot to create some good rapids downstream.  I like watching the waves forming and crashing.  No two are alike-just like snowflakes.

There is another alphabet, whispering from every leaf, singing from every river, shimmering from every sky. ~Dejan Stojanovic

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