I finally saw some crocus blossoms on Easter morning. They bloom in what was once a flower bed by a now vacant print shop and I was very happy to see them. Passers by might have wondered what I was doing kneeling there in the leaf strewn soil beside a busy street rather than on a prie dieu on Easter morning, but what better way to show your appreciation of the artist than by losing yourself in the beauty of his art.
The spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis) in a local park have finally blossomed. I’ve been watching them for about two weeks and have noticed that they’ve been really shy about opening this year.
I went to see if the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) that lives near the witch hazels was blooming yet, but instead of flowers I got feathers. The bud scales have started opening though, so it won’t be long. This ancient plant is from Europe and is in the dogwood family and I look forward to seeing its small, bright yellow blossoms.
The brown and purple bud scales on the male catkins of speckled alders (Alnus incana) are opening wider to show the flowers beneath. These scales are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers covered in yellow pollen. If you watch them closely at this time of year you can see more of the yellow pollen appearing each day.
The skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) seem to be doing really well this year. The clumps are larger with more plants and there are more clumps in this spot than I’ve seen in the past. The green shoots seen in front of the mottled spathes in this photo are future leaves which, for a short time as they begin to unfurl, will resemble cabbage leaves. You wouldn’t want to taste them though, even if you could get past the skunk like odor, because the plant contains calcium oxalate crystals which can cause a severe burning sensation of the mouth and tongue. Deer and black bears seem to be about the only ones immune to it. Another good reason to not eat skunk cabbage is because the very deadly false hellebore (Veratrum viride) often grows right beside it. Personally I don’t know why anyone would want to eat skunk cabbage but if you don’t know how to tell it from false hellebore it’s best to just leave both plants alone.
Like most arums, inside the spathe is the spadix, which in the case of skunk cabbage is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. Some describe the odor as rotting meat but it always smells skunky to me.
I’ve been seeing more yellow green skunk cabbage spathes this year than I ever have. I’m not sure what determines their color but the yellow ones appear right beside the darker red / maroon ones, so it doesn’t seem like it would be anything in the soil or water.
Here in northern New England we have a fifth season that we call mud season, and it is now upon us. I heard on the news the other day that the mud is 12-16 inches deep in parts of the state, but I haven’t seen it that bad here yet except on logging roads. Quite often the mud gets bad enough to close unpaved roads and the logging industry virtually grinds to a halt until things dry out. When the frost is 3 or 4 deep in the ground and the top two feet of a road thaws the melt water is sitting on frozen ground and has nowhere to go, and this results in a car swallowing quagmire that acts almost like quicksand. Those who live on unpaved roads have quite a time of it every year at this time.
Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) starts life as a beautiful soft gray crust fungus with white edges. As they age they blacken and look like burnt wood and become very brittle and are easily crushed. They grow on dead hardwoods and cause soft rot, which breaks down both cellulose and lignin. In short, this is one of the fungi that help turn wood into compost. Younger examples have a hard lumpy crust or skin, a piece of which can be seen in the upper left of the example in the photo.
Here is a photo from last June which shows how beautiful the brittle crust fungus is when it’s young. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same fungus that’s in the previous photo.
Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to a purplish black color, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. They were one of the hardest things to identify that I’ve ever found in nature and I wondered what they could be for a few years. They have no common name that I can find.
Since I’m color blind I often confuse red and green so even though this aspen bud looked red to me by the time I got home I’d convinced myself that it had to have been green. Once I saw the photo it still looked red, so as usual I let my color finding software have the final say and it sees orange, brown and red. I never knew aspen buds were so colorful, and it seems that I just haven’t been paying attention. I think the tree was a bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata) which gets its common name from the sharply pointed teeth on its leaves.
I was surprised recently to see a great blue heron hunting last year’s cattails (Typha) in a small pond beside the road. I knew if I made a move he’d fly away, so I took this shot through my passenger window. Most of the larger lakes and ponds are still ice covered, so I think he’s a little early. I’ve heard red winged blackbirds but no frogs yet, so he’ll probably have a fish diet for a while.
Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.
~Edgar A. Guest
Thanks for coming by.