I saw this deformed speckled alder cone (Alnus incana) and took a couple of photos of it. I can’t tell you what it says but it speaks to me and I like it, so here it is.
Some of our mosses have started producing spores, like the apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) pictured here. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck. Sometimes the capsules do turn red as they age, so I guess the name is appropriate. When there are no sporophytes showing this moss is easily confused with broom moss (Dicranum scoparium.) I know how easy it is to do, because I confuse the two all the time. The leaves look almost identical, but those of broom moss are not as shiny.
Star moss (Mnium cuspidatum) is also not wasting any time in spore production. I wanted to show you it’s leaves but they were so small and curled because of dryness, I couldn’t get a good shot of them. Like the apple moss we saw previously this moss makes immature toothpick like sporophytes in late fall, and then they swell to form capsules when the warm spring rains arrive. The capsules droop at the tip as seen in the photo. You can tell that they haven’t fully matured by the tiny, whitish stocking cap like structure, called a calyptra, which covers the end of the spore case. It stays in place until the spores are ready to be released. This moss is very short and grows just about anywhere, including in lawns. I found this example on the wet rocks along a rail trail.
I went looking for my old friend the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) and even though I know where it lives I walked by it several times before I found it. You would think the color would stand out against the brown leaves but I can look right at it and not see it sometimes. Maybe colorblindness has something to do with it. In any event I went looking for it because I love the color and netting on its leaves and I just wanted to see it again. It’s another one of those plants that I can sit beside and just admire.
While I was walking back and forth searching for the downy rattlesnake plantain a downy woodpecker said maybe I’ll do instead and flew down onto the path a few feet away. He didn’t stay long though, and by the time I had finished fumbling around with my camera he had found a tree just out of the comfortable range of the lens. He stayed relatively close for quite a while though, letting me snap away. I think he knew he was too far away for my camera and that all of the photos would be soft and fuzzy.
Note: A reader has pointed out that this is a female hairy woodpecker. It’s a good thing I don’t get many bird photos!
I wondered if he was the woodpecker that excavated this cavity in an old dead pine. It was close to where we were when I saw him.
Near the woodpecker tree a beard lichen hung from the end of a fallen branch. I have a hard time passing a beard lichen as big as this one was without taking a photo. I think it might be boreal oak moss (Evernia mesomorpha.) The forest I was exploring when I found all of these things is a strange place with plants that you rarely see anywhere else, like larch, spruce, and striped wintergreen. It has a very boreal feel to it, like it really belongs up in Canada.
The calendar might say spring but winter is hanging on for dear life this year and doesn’t want to let go. In shady places in the deep woods there is still snow and ice to be found.
Last year I found a place where hundreds of field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) grew, but this year there were just three shoots. If any of you have had horsetails in your garden you know that they don’t give up easily, so I couldn’t imagine how hundreds became three. It turned out that the cold was holding them back I think, because there are more coming along now.
One of them was far enough along to start producing spores. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common or field horsetail ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by the gritty green infertile stems that most of us are probably familiar with. Horsetails were used as medicine by the ancient Romans and Greeks to treat a variety of ailments.
The two toned buds of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are poking up everywhere now. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and it won’t be long before it blooms. Native Americans sprinkled dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but that’s assuming you know how to prepare the roots and young shoots correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant useable.
The pinkish leaf buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are growing quickly now. They often show hints of orange too and are quite beautiful at this stage; in my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year. It’s interesting how the bud scales on the two smaller lateral buds open perpendicular to those on the terminal bud. I’ve never noticed that before.
This is how striped maple comes by its common name. Striped maple bark is often dark enough to be almost black, especially on its branches. This tree never seems to get very big so it isn’t used much for lumber like other maples. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one bigger than my wrist, and even that might be stretching it. It could be that it stays small because it usually gets very little direct sunlight. The green stripes on its bark allow it to photosynthesize in early spring before other trees leaf out but it’s still the most shade tolerant of all the maples, and that’s usually where it’s found. It is said that Native Americans made arrow shafts from its straight grained wood.
The male flower buds of American white ash (Fraxinus americana) appear before the leaves do and look like little blackberries from a distance. According to the U.S. Forest Service one of the earliest reported uses of white ash was as a snake bite preventive. Ash leaves in a hunter’s pocket or boots were “proved” to be offensive to rattlesnakes and thereby provided protection from them. It is said that we have timber rattlers here but since I’ve never seen one I don’t think I’ll put ash leaves in my boots just yet.
Box elder (Acer negundo) was the first tree I ever planted. The tree’s male flowers appear here but my grandmother had a big female one in her front yard that dropped about a billion seeds each year. She knew that if they all grew their roots would destroy the brick foundation, so every few years she would pay me a quarter to go around the house and pull all the seedlings. One day I found a nice tall one that I liked so I pulled it up, took it home, and planted it. That tree took off like I had given it super strength fertilizer and last I knew was still growing strong. It was another one of those times that a plant spoke to me and told me that they and I just might get along. When you really love them they can tell, of that I’m convinced.
Somehow this post ended up being a little tree heavy but sometimes that’s just the way it works out. The subject of the above photo isn’t a tree but it is called tree moss (Climacium dendroides) because of its resemblance. This tough little moss loves wet places that flood occasionally so I always look for it when I’m near water. It always seems to glow from within, happy to simply be alive.
I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn
Thanks for coming by.