The beautiful fruits (samaras) of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) start out their lives deep red with a white furry coat. When you see them beginning to form you have to check them frequently to catch them in this stage because it happens quickly and ends just as quickly. The mature seeds are the largest of any native maple and are a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk. Silver maples get their common name from the downy surface of the leaf underside, which flashes silver in the slightest breeze.
I joined a professional ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddlehead forager earlier to see where the ferns grow along the Connecticut River. There were many thousands of ferns there-so many that I don’t think a busload of people could have picked them all. I also saw some of the biggest trees that I’ve ever seen that day. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are considered a great delicacy by many and many restaurants are happy to pay premium prices for them at this time of year. I’ve always heard that ostrich fern is the only one of our native ferns that is safe to eat. They like to grow in shady places where the soil is consistently damp. They really are beautiful things at this stage in life.
Though I’ve heard that ostrich fern is the only fern safe to eat many people eat lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) fiddleheads as well, and gourmet restaurants in Quebec will pay as much as $10.00 per pound for them. Both ostrich and lady fern fiddleheads are considered toxic when raw and should be boiled for at least 10 minutes, according to one chef. After they are boiled they are sautéed in butter and are said to hold their crispness. They are also said to have the flavor of asparagus, but more intense. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks.
Both cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted ferns (Osmunda claytoniana) have wooly fiddleheads that taste very bitter and are mildly toxic. Some fern fiddleheads, like those of the sensitive fern, are carcinogenic so you should know your fern fiddleheads well before picking and eating them or you could get very sick. I’ve known the fern in the photo for a few years now and know that it is a cinnamon fern, but if I hadn’t seen its fertile fronds in the past I wouldn’t know for sure. The fertile fronds that will appear a little later on once reminded someone of a stick of cinnamon, and that’s how it comes by its common name.
The interrupted fern gets its common name from the way its green infertile leaflets are “interrupted” about half way up the stem by the brown, fertile leaflets. The fertile leaflets are much smaller and their color makes them stand out even at a distance. This fern doesn’t seem to mind dry, sunny spots because that’s usually where I find them.
Though usually brown the fertile leaflets on this interrupted fern were bright green and I wonder if they change color as they age; I’ve never paid close enough attention to know for sure. In any event, the fertile leaflets are covered with tiny, round spore producing sporangia. They will release their spores through tiny openings and then the fertile leaflets will fall off, leaving a piece of naked (interrupted) stem between the upper and lower infertile leaflets.
Last year at about this time I found this greenish stuff seeping out of the rocks on a rail trail and, not knowing what it was, called it rock slime. It looked slimy but if you put your finger in it, it felt like cool water and wasn’t slimy at all. Now this year I seem to be seeing it everywhere, but still seeping out of rocks. Luckily last year our friends Zyriacus, Jerry, Laura, and others identified it as a green algae of the genus Spyrogyra. Zyriacus said that some 400 species of this genus are known, and they thrive in freshwater. It’s great having knowledgeable friends-just look at the things we learn from each other!
Beavers started cutting this tree, but they don’t seem to be in any hurry to see it fall because it has been this way for a while. The only part of the tree’s trunk they eat for food is the inner bark, called the cambium layer, so maybe they were just snacking.
A beaver’s teeth really do make it look like someone has been chiseling the tree. If they have a choice they’d rather tackle trees less than six inches in diameter but they can fell trees up to three feet in diameter. The Native American Cherokee tribe has a story that says that the beaver collects the baby teeth of the tribe’s children, and will give a child good luck in return for a song.
White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) has so much movement and interest in its spring shoots. They remind me of tiny bird claw-like hands and always make me wish that I had brought a pencil and a sketch pad so I could draw them. Later on this plant will produce bright white berries, each with a single black spot, and that is how it got the common name doll’s eyes.
We’re having some unusual spring warmth and it seems to be speeding up events that normally take a few weeks. I took this photo of a striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) bud breaking on April 30th. On May 10th I was taking photos of striped maple flowers. From no leaves to flowering in just 10 days seems quite remarkable to me.
As you walk the trails along the Ashuelot River you might see what look like large pinkish orange flowers on the trees and think gosh, what beautiful things. If you get closer you will see that the colors are on the insides of the bud scales of the shagbark hickory tree, and aren’t flowers at all. And then you might wonder why such beautiful colors would be on the inside of a bud where nobody could ever see them, and as you walk on you might find yourself lost in gratitude, so very thankful that you were able to see such a thing. And later on, you might wonder if this chance meeting might have been an invitation.
In the spring as the sun gets brighter and the days grow longer light sensitive tree buds can tell when there is enough daylight for the leaves to begin photosynthesizing, so the buds begin to break. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud” and this can be a very beautiful thing, as we just saw with the shagbark hickory. American beech bud (Fagus grandifolia) break is every bit as beautiful and begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.
Now we know how beech buds open, but who can explain why they’re so beautiful when they do? Maybe it’s just another invitation. These invitations come so unexpectedly. Art, music, the beauty of a leaf or flower; all can invite us to step outside of ourselves; to lose ourselves and walk a higher path, at least for a time. It’s an invitation which if accepted, can be life changing.
One who not merely beholds the outward shows of things, but catches a glimpse of the soul that looks out of them, whose garment and revelation they are–if he be such, I say he will stand for more than a moment, speechless with something akin to that which made the morning stars sing together. ~George MacDonald
Thanks for coming by.