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Archive for June, 2016

1. 12 Spotted Skimmer

When I first started trying to get photos of dragonflies it seemed like they just never sat still, but after a while I found that they do, and sometimes for quite a long time. This male twelve spotted skimmer stayed still for a while so I was able to get close enough for a useable shot. He gets his name from the 12 brown spots on his wings, but some people (and many books) count the white spots and call him the 10 spotted skimmer. Only mature males have these white spots. Females and immature males have the twelve brown wing spots but not the white spots.

2. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly

I think this is another skimmer; the widow skimmer. Bothe males and females have the dark wing spots but only mature males have the white ones. Adult males also have the powdery blueish white color on their abdomen. The name skimmer comes from the way that they fly low over the water, but some are also called perchers. I’m always happy to see the perchers, the skimmers are a little too fast when they’re skimming.

3. Possible Eastern Amberwing

I saw a dragonfly land one day but because of the distance, the bright sunlight, and my colorblindness it instantly disappeared among the cattail leaves. I thought I knew where it was though so I just shot blindly a few times, hoping the lens had caught sight of it. The above photo is the result, proving that yes, dumb luck plays a part in being a nature photographer. I’ve had a hard time identifying this one but I think it might be an eastern amber wing.

NOTE: Several blogging friends have said that this is a male calico pennant and after a little research I agree with them. Thank you all very much for the help, I appreciate it.

4. Cattail Blossom

While I was watching the dragonflies I was also looking for flowering cattails. Out of many hundreds this was the only one that had flowered up to that point but it won’t be long before they all have flowers. Native Americans used the roots of cattails to make flour and also wove the leaves into matting. Cattails produce more edible starch per acre than potatoes, rice, taros or yams, and during World War II plans were being made to feed American soldiers with that starch in the form of cattail flour. Studies showed that an acre of cattails would produce an average of 6,475 pounds of flour per year, but thankfully the war ended before the flour making could begin.

5. Viceroy Butterfly

It was a hot but very windy day when I found this viceroy butterfly clinging to a leaf for dear life. I must have stood there for 20 minutes waiting for it to open its wings and it did every time I looked away or fiddled with the camera’s controls, so I ended up with one blurry shot of it with its flaps down. This shot shows how the strong wind was curling the tops of  its wings toward the camera. I was surprised that it could hang on at all. Those legs are small, but very strong.

6. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

There wasn’t any wind when I saw this eastern tiger swallowtail drinking from a vetch blossom but it was tilted in an unusual way so I never did get a really good shot of it. Now that I look at the photo I see that I could have gotten down lower and shot up at it, but then I probably would have been shooting into the sun. It’s amazing how birds, animals and insects use sunlight to their advantage and will often position themselves so the sun is behind them, meaning it is shining directly in your eyes if you try to see them. Fighter jet pilots use the same strategy to blind the enemy.

7. Luna Moth

Since I work outside all day every day I always carry a small pocket camera, because as anyone who spends time outside knows, you just never know what you might see. One day I saw this Luna moth in the grass. At first I thought it was dead but it was just crawling through the grass rather than flying and I don’t know enough about them to know if this is normal behavior or not. Luna moths are one of the largest moths in North America, sometimes having a wingspan of as much as 4 1/2 inches. They are beautiful, with a white body, pinkish legs, and pale lime green wings. In northern regions the moth lives for only 7 days and produces only one generation, while in the south they can live for as long as 11 weeks and produce three generations.

8. Beetle

We have a small yellow buggy that we use to get around the 760 acres where I work and one day this beetle landed on it. I haven’t been able to identify it but I think it’s one of the longhorn beetles. They are also called wood worms because of the way that many of them bore into wood. Some, like the invasive Asian longhorn beetle, can do serious damage to forests.

9. Queen Anne's Lace

Along the Ashuelot River Queen Anne’s lace buds were just beginning to unfurl themselves in the sunshine.

10. Sedge

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) blossomed a few feet upriver. You can just see the tiny, almost microscopic wisps of whitish flowers at the pointed ends of some of the upper spiky protrusions (perigynia.) This plant is also called bottlebrush sedge, for obvious reasons. It’s very common near water and waterfowl and some songbirds love its seeds.

11. Ashuelot in June

The stones showing in the river tell the story of how dry it has been. You don’t usually see this many until August but the water level is low enough in this spot right now to walk across without getting your knees wet, and we’re still in June. I suppose I shouldn’t complain; we’ve seen some damaging floods in recent years.

12. Flowering Grass

What I think might be bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis) sparkles and shimmers in the breeze along the edges of the forests.

13. Flowering Grass

The closer you get, the more interesting it becomes. It’s a beautiful tall grass with very large seed heads.

14. Flowering Grass

It’s only when you take a real close look that you discover why it sparkles and shimmers so. Yellow pollen bearing male (staminate) flowers hang down, waiting for the wind will carry their pollen to waiting feathery white female (pistillate) flowers. Usually the pollen bearing male flowers will bloom and release pollen before the female flowers appear. In that way the pollen of one plant reaches and fertilizes nearby plants and the grass avoids fertilizing itself.

15. Orchard Grass

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) is another tall, beautiful grass that seems to be having an extended blooming period this year. I wish more people would take a look at grass flowers because they can be very beautiful. And they’re easy to see because they’re virtually everywhere, even in vacant city lots.

16. Hay Bales

Orchard grass is especially good for baling and it and most of the other pasture grasses grown on local farms will end up in hay bales. The lack of rain is working in the farmer’s favor and the first cutting of hay has dried well, but if the dryness lasts much longer it will start to work against them.

17. White Pine Pollen Cones

The male flowers of eastern white pine trees (Pinus strobus) are called pollen cones because that’s what they produce. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of pollen make it look like the trees are burning and releasing yellow green smoke each spring. Virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, buildings, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in and if you leave your windows open you’ll be doing some house dusting in the near future. Pine pollen is a strong antioxidant and it has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago and they are said to be numerous.

18. White Pine Pollen Cones

When the white pine’s pollen cones have shed all of their pollen they fall from the trees in the many millions and cover the ground for a short time. Here they’re suspended in a spider’s web.

19. Cornfield

Here in this part of the country our corn is supposed to be knee high by the fourth of July but it looks like the dryness might keep it shin high instead. When I was a boy cornfields stretched to the south as far as I could see, growing on rich bottomland along the Ashuelot River, built up by annual spring flooding over thousands of years. This land has been farmed for at least as long as I’ve been alive.

20. Bracket Fungus

You might find a conspicuous lack of fungi and slime molds here this year but again, that’s because it has been so dry.  I did see a bracket fungus that was a little sad but it still had a blush of pinkish orange on it. Since orange is such a hard color to find in nature I thought I’d show it here.

I think we are bound to, and by, nature. We may want to deny this connection and try to believe we control the external world, but every time there’s a snowstorm or drought, we know our fate is tied to the world around us.  ~Alice Hoffman

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1. Ox-Eye Daisy

We’ve had hot dry weather in this part of New Hampshire but ox eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) continue to delight. When I saw these in a small meadow by the side of the road they shouted JUNE! so I had to stop and visit with them. It’s hard to have a bad day while living among such beautiful, cheery things and I’m very lucky to be able to work outside and see them every day.

2. Maiden Pinks

One way plant breeders come up with new plants is by selection, in which hundreds of plants are searched through for that one that is just a little better than all the others. It might be a different color or have bigger blossoms, it might be shorter or taller than normal, it might have fragrance where there is usually none, or it might flower longer or earlier or later than usual. I thought of that when I found this colony of maiden pinks. Most were the expected deep violet purple color but a few were very pale and almost white. I’ve never seen this before in the wild (escaped) varieties, and I wonder if anyone else has.

3. Maiden Pink

The lighter colored maiden pinks still had the same jagged red line at the bases of the petals and even had blushes of the deeper purple color but the petals were very light lavender. A Google search shows lighter colored flowers but I didn’t see this exact version. Some of those I saw were truly gorgeous.4. Milkweed

After not seeing any monarch butterflies at all last year I saw one just the other day flying from milkweed to milkweed plant (Asclepias syriaca,) but it chose the wrong spot because none of the blossoms had opened yet. It was too fast for me to get a useable photo and when I found a spot where the flowers were open there were no monarchs visiting them. Maybe I’ll have another chance. That can’t be the only monarch butterfly in these parts.

5. Dogwppd

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult.

6. Grape Blossoms

Tiny grape blossoms are among the most fragrant in the forest, especially those of river grapes (Vitis riparia,) but though the blossoms look the same those in the photo were on a cultivated grape and had no scent at all. Fragrance is often sacrificed by plant breeders to improve flavor, increase size, or intensify color. Personally I think they get a little carried away at times, like when they produce a beautiful rose that has no scent.

7. Vetch

This seems to be the year for vetch. The fields are full of them, and I can’t remember ever seeing so much of it.

8. Crown Vetch

Crown vetch has just come into bloom and I’m happy to see it because I think it’s a beautiful flower. It’s one of those that seem to glow with their own inner light and I enjoy just looking at it for a time. Crown vetch has seed pods look that like axe heads and English botanist John Gerard called the plant axewort and axeseed in 1633. It is thought that its seeds somehow ended up in other imported plant material because the plant was found in New York in 1869. By 1872 it had become naturalized in New York and now it is in every state in the country except Alaska.

9. Knapweed

I’ve always liked knapweed but according to the U.S. Forest Service brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) is a “highly invasive weed from Europe that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.” The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

10. Dandelion

I wonder if dandelions dislike heat and dryness, because though they were abundant earlier in spring  I now have to search for them. The month of May started off warm but now it is hot and very dry. The weather people say we’re in a moderate drought, having had only three quarters of the expected rainfall. Last summer was much the same and dandelions were scarce then too, though larger pockets of them were spotted here and there by various correspondents.

11. Pineapple Weed

One of the things I like most about native pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is the way a child’s face will light up and break into a smile when they crush it and smell it. Usually when I tell them that it smells like pineapple they don’t believe it, so it’s a surprise. The conical flower heads are easiest to describe by saying they’re like daisies without petals, or ray florets. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and the leaves are also scented and have been used to make tea. The plant has also been used medicinally in the past.

12. Yellow False Indigo

Since Indigo is the color of a blue dye it seems strange to name a plant yellow false indigo, but here it is. False indigo (Baptisa) is a shrub-like perennial with blue, purple, and even yellow flowers that resemble pea blossoms.  This is a very tough, 3-4 foot tall plant that can stand a lot of dryness and bumble bees love it.  I found this example in a friend’s yard.

13. Yellow Hawkweed

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower and each forms its own seed. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval, overlapping leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk. It is an introduced invasive and names like “yellow devil” and “devil’s paintbrush” show what ranchers think of it.

14. Wild Radish

Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) usually has pale yellow flowers similar in color to those of the sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) but this example was canary yellow. The flowers  can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. I always find it growing at the edges of corn fields at this time of year, not because it likes growing with corn but because it likes to grow in disturbed soil. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

15. Fragrant White Waterlily

I’m sorry to be showing so many photos of fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) lately but they’re blooming by the hundreds right now and they’ve always been one of my favorites.

16. Fragrant White Waterlily

The water level in the pond in the previous photo was so low that I was able to actually walk to this water lily and get a photo looking onto it, rather than from the side as most water lily shots are taken. It’s a first for me because usually unless you have a boat it’s an impossible shot to get.

17. Fragrant White Waterlily

This view is the one usually seen when water lilies are involved and I have to say that I like it better than the previous shot looking into a blossom. That’s probably because I’m more used to this one because it’s the view that is seen 99% of the time. Either way it’s a beautiful flower; another of those that seem to glow from within.

I have lost my smile, but don’t worry.
The dandelion has it.
~Thich Nhat Hanh

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1. Logging Road

On Saturday I decided to visit a beaver pond that I’d heard might prove to be a worthwhile walk. I started off down this old logging road, which was well worn and rutted, in Hancock. It was early and cool on a day that was supposed to be hot later, with temperatures in the high 80s F. We’ve been having a few of those lately and there are more to come.

2. Stone Wall

The stone walls lining both sides of the road told me that this land once looked far different than what it does now. It was cleared and farmed at one time and folks lived out here in what now seems like the middle of nowhere. But I can see why they built here; the land is level in places and is relatively protected by hills, and there is a stream running through it.

3. Trail

Through a break in the wall you turn onto the trail that leads to the beaver pond.

4. Boulder

The trail is called boulder trail for good reason. There are some very big stones out here; car, truck and house size. Can you imagine wanting to clear the land and seeing this, when all you had was an axe and maybe a pair of oxen? They must have just cleared around it because here it still sits.

5. Swamp

Finally you reach the beaver pond. It’s peaceful here but far from quiet. Bullfrogs made their presence known with loud bellowing cries from every direction. They usually do this in the evening and at night, but will also croak during the day when the breeding season is at its peak. It must be at its peak now because there had to have been thousands calling; most of them male. At one point they started calling at one end of the pond and then more and more joined in, all perfectly synchronized, until you could feel as well as hear the wave of sound pass around the pond. I’ve never heard anything like it from bullfrogs. Spring peepers yes, but not bullfrogs.

6. Beaver Lodge

A beaver lodge was off shore a few yards, but I didn’t see any beavers.

7. Beaver Trail

I didn’t really need to see the beavers to know they were there though. Their trails through the floating aquatic plants told me that they were active, most likely at night. The grass growing beyond the trail isn’t a good sign for the beavers though. It means their pond is silting up, and there isn’t a thing that they can do about it except move on. Sometime in the future their unmaintained dam will collapse and the land will drain and dry out. Trees will take root, and once again this place will be a forest with a stream running through it. Beavers will then move back in, start to cut the trees and build another dam, and the ever repeating 30 year cycle will start again.

8. Beaver Tree

Their activity was very recent. There must have been 30 or more trees either felled or in the process of being cut. It’s a bit unnerving out here on a windy day I would imagine, because some of the standing trees had been cut to one tenth their original diameter.

9. Beaver Tree

There isn’t much left of its original self. One good wind gust and over it goes.

10. Blue Flags

But there wasn’t any wind and anyway, I was too busy looking at all the beautiful things around me to worry about falling trees.

11. Blue Flag-2

Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) is a beautiful flower and I’m always happy to see it. It loves to grow on the shore of virtually any slow moving or still water and so is right at home here.

12. Great Blue Heron Chicks

The beaver pond attracted fish and bullfrogs and they in turn attracted great blue herons, which built their nests in the still standing dead trees. Sometimes the trees looked like high rise apartments with multiple nests. Each nest seemed to have at least two chicks in it.  I heard that one of the special things about this place is how the herons have become used to seeing people, and it’s true; they aren’t as skittish as they’ve been in other rookeries I’ve visited. All of these photos were shot in the morning, but I learned to wait until afternoon to come here, because in the morning the sunshine falls almost directly on the trail where you stand, which means right at your lens, and that can make for some challenging photography.

13. Great Blue Heron

My camera really doesn’t have the reach required to get good photos of herons in the middle of a beaver pond but this one sat in a tree nearer to me than most. Herons will teach you patience by standing statue-still for long periods of time but finally, this one had an itch.

14. Dragonfly

When I wasn’t watching statuesque herons I watched the multitudes of dragonflies flitting back and forth. I think this one is a female or newly emerged male blue dasher, but it’s hard for me to tell. As dragonflies will, this one kept leaving and returning to its perch and even fought with others for the right to use it.

15. Fragrant White Waterlily

The fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) were just opening and were beautiful as always. While I was trying to find an unobstructed view of this flower a big black northern water snake caught a frog and dragged it under. There would be one less voice in the chorus on this night.

16. Northern Water Snake by Wikipedia

The Northern water snake was too fast for me to get a photo of but I thought you might want to see what they looked like, so I found this excellent shot by Matthew Hayes on Wikipedia.  It shows one of the big snakes basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2  feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a photo of.

17. Indian Cucumber

I’ve never seen so many trillium, lady’s slippers, blue bead lilies and Indian cucumber root plants in one place before. There were so many in places it was hard not to step on them. The above photo shows an immature Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana,) too young to bloom. I chose it for a photo because I wanted you to see how its leaves grow in a whorl around the stem. It will produce another tier of whorled leaves higher on the stem when it becomes old enough to bloom. The plant gets its common name from its small white, carrot shaped edible root, which tastes like cucumber. Native Americans used it for food and also used it medicinally. The Medeola part of the plant’s scientific name is from Medea, a magical enchantress from Greek Mythology. It refers to the plant’s magical curative powers.

18. Indian Cucumber Blossom

The flowers of Indian cucumber root usually nod under the leaves and have 6 yellowish-green recurved tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish-purple to brown, curved styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red-brown like those shown but I think they darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish-black berry.

19. Black and Blue Damselfly

I think this is a common blue damselfly, but it’s uncommonly beautiful. It’s also my favorite shade of blue.

20. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris

As I was sitting on a log waiting for the blue herons to do something interesting I noticed these plants that I’d never seen before growing at the water’s edge. I get excited when I see a plant I’ve never seen, so I had to have a closer look.

21. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris

Wild calla (Calla palustris) was what they were and you could have knocked me over with a feather, I was so surprised. I’ve been roaming around swamps and backwaters for 50 years and I’ve never seen this plant. Though it isn’t thought to be rare in New Hampshire it is said to be a more northern species, so that could explain why I never see it. It’s also called water arum and is in the same family as Jack in the pulpit and other arums. Like jack in the pulpit the flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. The plant is toxic and it is said that the Native American Meskwaki tribe of the great lakes region chopped the root and put it in the food of their enemies, causing them great pain and possibly death.

22. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris Close

Unfortunately I missed the actual flowers, which are tiny and greenish white, and grow along the spadix where the green berries are now. These berries will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

23. Swamp

Some say that you can see heaven in water and I thought I saw it once or twice myself in this beautiful place. There is a sense of wonder and mystery in such places and time can seem to stop, and that’s one thing that makes them so special. I’m sorry that this grew to such a long post but there was much to see and still, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll definitely be returning; I’d love to see it in winter.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

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1. Maiden Pink

Most wildflowers will be found in full sunshine away from the forest now and meadows and roadsides are just coming into bloom. The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows.

2. Bird's Foot Trefoil

Puffy little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is suddenly everywhere. It’s in the pea family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods, which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives.

3. Autumn Olive

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) was imported for cultivation from Japan in 1830 and is now one of the most invasive shrubs we have. It’s a plant that’s hard to hate though, because its berries are delicious and their content of lycopene is 7 to 17 times higher than tomatoes. Also, the pale yellow flowers are extremely fragrant just when lilacs finish blooming. It is a very vigorous shrub that is hard to eradicate; birds love its berries and spread it far and wide. Its sale is prohibited in New Hampshire but that will do little good now that it grows along forest edges almost everywhere you look.

4. Autumn Olive

Autumn olive was originally introduced for landscaping, road bank stabilization and wildlife food. The undersides of the shrub’s leaves are scaly and silvery and grow alternately along the stem. A closely related shrub, Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), has narrower silvery leaves with a smooth underside that appear oppositely arranged along the stem.

5. Canada Mayflowers

I think Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is the only plant in this post that grows in the shade of the forest and, as the above photo shows, it does very well there.

6. Canada Mayflower

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe Canada mayflower as invasive but it does form monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. Its tiny white four petaled flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals.

7. Beauty Bush

Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis.) originally came from China and is popular as an ornamental, but it has escaped cultivation in this area. I found the above example growing at the edge of a forest in dry, sandy soil. I find it only in this spot so it doesn’t seem to be at all invasive. It gets quite tall-sometimes 8 feet or more-and can get as wide, so it needs a lot of room. It is sometimes used as a hedge but it is difficult to trim once it gets above 6 feet tall, so it’s best to keep it on the short side. The trimmings are very itchy if they get inside your shirt as you’re trimming overhead.

8. Fleabane

Fleabane continues to bloom and always remind me of spring blooming asters. I believe this example is Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus,) which is our earliest blooming fleabane. It has inch to inch and a half diameter showy white to purple flowers. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center.

9. Rhody

Our rhododendrons follow the native azaleas into bloom. This one blooms in my yard. I’ve never known its name but I like it.

10. Multiflora Rose

Invasive multiflora rose originally came from China and as the old story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by hogging all the available sunshine and I’ve seen it grow 30 feet into a tree. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.

11. Multiflora Rose

It’s easy to see why it is in the rose family but if it wasn’t for their heavenly scent you might as well be looking at a raspberry blossom because multiflora rose blossoms are the same size, shape, and color, and raspberries are also in the rose family.

12. Upright Bedstraw

Upright bedstraw (Galium album) is also called upright hedge bedstraw, and that name is perfect because it describes where this plant is found growing. Where the meadow meets the woods there can be found millions of tiny white, honey scented flowers lighting up the shade. Bedstraws hail from Europe and have been used medicinally for centuries. In ancient times entire plants were gathered and used as mattress stuffing and that’s where the plant gets its common name. The dried leaves are said to smell like vanilla in some species of Gallium and honey in others.

13. Upright Bedstraw

When I see it’s foliage before it blossoms the plant always makes me think of sweet woodruff, because its leaves grow in whorls along the stem just like sweet woodruff, which is also in the Galium family.

14. Smooth arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)

Smooth arrow wood (Viburnum dentatum) has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and is blooming along stream banks and drainage ditches right now. Native dogwoods are also beginning to bloom, but they have four petals and the viburnums have five. Dogwood flower clusters also tend to be much flatter on top and seem to hover just above the branch. Smooth arrowwood viburnum has a much more rounded flowering habit. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

15. Smooth arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)

There’s an awful lot going on in a viburnum flower head but taking a close look and counting a single tiny flower’s petals is the best way to tell it from a dogwood.

16. Heal All

Heal all’s (Prunella lanceolata) tiny hooded flowers always remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure virtually every disease known, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

17. White Water Lily

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have just come into bloom. Last summer I was with someone who crawled out on a plank to smell one of these beauties and he said the fragrance was very pleasant but impossible to describe. When I told him that others thought the fragrance was close to that of honeydew melon he said yes, maybe that’s it. Each beautiful blossom lasts only 3 days before the stem coils and pulls it underwater to set seeds. After several weeks the seeds are released into the water so currents can carry them to suitable locations to germinate. The stamens that glow at their center always remind me of a golden fire, and I love to see it burn.

A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions — so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect.  ~Terri Guillemets

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1. Trail

Last Sunday the forecast was iffy, with possible showers and high wind gusts predicted, so I had to shake a leg and get moving earlier than I would have on a sun filled day. As the puddles in this photo of the old logging road that starts this climb show, it had rained the night before. It has been very dry here so the rain is welcome.

2. Sign

I chose High Blue trail in Walpole because of the forecast. It’s an easy and relatively quick climb and I know it well. I was hoping the showers would hold off, and they did.

3. Meadow

Before you know it you’re in the meadow. I met a porcupine here last year but I didn’t see him this time.

4. Orange Hawkweed

I did see some orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) though, and I was happy to find it because it’s something I don’t see much of. Yellow hawkweed is far more common here. Orange hawkweed is native to the alpine regions of Europe, so apparently it likes high places. If you look at the flower over on the left you’ll see a tiny crab spider pretending to be orange like the flower.

5. Crab Spider-2

Crab spiders can change their color to match the background, but I think this one went a little heavy on the red. They change color by secreting pigments into the outer cell layer of their bodies and I wonder if they carry a whole case full of different colored pigments along with them. This one needs to mix in a little yellow to get the desired orange, I think. I’ve seen white, yellow and purple crab spiders but never red or orange.

6. Spider in Buttercup

I don’t know what kind of spider this one was, but it was living in a buttercup and it had a visitor. I don’t know the visitor’s name either, but it was able to balance on the edge of a petal.

7. Spider in Buttercup

Then all of the sudden the visitor was gone. I don’t know for sure where he went, but I can guess.

8. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

An eastern swallowtail butterfly appeared to be sunning itself on the edge of the meadow. It let me take 3 photos and then flew off.

9. Rock Tripe

There are places where the bedrock thrusts up into ledges and some of the biggest rock tripe lichens (Umbilicaria mammulata) that I’ve ever seen grow on them. They look like green rags hanging from the stone. These were very pliable because of the previous night’s rain. If you want to know what they felt like just feel your ear lobe, because they feel much like that, only thinner. Rock tripe is edible and eating it has saved the lives of people who were lost and starving in the past.

10. Rock Tripe with Camera

I put my new camera above one of the rock tripe lichens so you could get an idea of their size. The camera is about 2 X 3.5 inches and though it looks like it was on that’s just a reflection on the viewing screen.

This camera is hopefully going to replace the Panasonic Lumix that I’ve used for years. The Lumix was a great camera that took macro photos better than any camera I’ve owned, but it finally gave up the ghost after taking many thousands of them. Since you can’t get that version of the Lumix any longer its replacement is a Canon Power Shot ELPH 180. The jury is still out on its capabilities. I’ve noticed that it gets confused and can’t find the subject occasionally but it took all of the macros and close ups in this post, so I’ll let you judge for yourselves.  I need to put it through its paces a bit more, I think.

11. Erineum patches on Beech

The eriophyid mite Acalitus fagerinea produces erineum patches on American beech that look and feel like felt. In fact the definition of erineum is “an abnormal felty growth of hairs from the leaf epidermis of plants caused by various mites.” The patches can turn from green to red, gold, or silver before finally turning brown. They don’t cause any real harm to the tree but if you had a copper beech as an ornamental they could be unsightly.

12. Virw

I finally stopped dawdling and reached the summit to find that the view was hazy as I expected. But at least the clouds were casting deep blue shadows on the hills, and that’s something that I had hoped to see on my last climb of Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey.  I could just make out the shape of Stratton Mountain, off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont, on the left. It’s easier to see in winter when it has snow on it.

13. Virw

I sat and watched the cloud shadows race each other over the hills for a while like I remember doing as a boy. This view is to the west and the clouds coming toward me were beginning to darken and stack up, and the wind had started gusting enough to make the trees creak and moan. This spot is always windy even on a good day, so I decided it was time to be on my way.

14. Pond

But first I wanted to see the pond to see if it was covered with duckweed like it was last summer. It wasn’t covered yet but the tiny plants floated along the shoreline. It also had a lot of tree pollen floating on its surface. The tree and grass pollen has been bad this month because we haven’t had much rain to scrub it out of the air, and allergy sufferers are having a hard time of it.

15. Duckweed

Last year the duckweed all disappeared from this pond and readers told me that it sinks to the bottom in winter, and comes back in spring. So far it seems they were right.

16. Duxkweed

I swished the end of my monopod through the duckweed and came up with these plants. Each plant has 1 to 3 leaves, or fronds, of 1/16 to 1/8 inch in length. A single root or root-hair grows from each frond. Many ducks eat duckweed and carry it from pond to pond on their bodies. I suppose if you had it in a home pond the only way to control it would be to scoop it out with some type of net. It does flower and makes seeds, so chances are good that you’d have to do it at least once a season for 2-3 years.

17. Lady's Slipper

I saw several native pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) growing near the pond but all but one had lost its blossom, maybe to a hungry deer. This photo shows a view of the hole at the top of the blossom that insects need to crawl out of to escape the pouch after entering through the slit down its middle front. There is another hole just like it on the other side, so they have a choice. Downward pointing hairs inside the pouch prevent them from crawling back through the central slit, so forced to exit through a hole they get dusted with pollen.

18. Fern Gully

I decided to take another side trail through what I’ve taken to calling fern gully; there was one more thing I wanted to see.

19. Fern Patterns

The fern fronds dancing back and forth in the wind were mesmerizing and I could have sat watching them for a while if the swaying, groaning trees hadn’t quickened my step.

20. Dinosaur

I wondered if the dinosaur and coins would still be there on the quartz ledge and they were. I don’t really know anything about them but I like to think that a child was thankful for what nature had shown them and wanted to give something back out of gratitude, so they left their favorite toy and their allowance money. At least, that’s the story that has written itself in my mind.

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind.
Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation.
Suddenly, you know you are alive.
~Vera Nazarian

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1. Meadow

The tree leaves have fully unfurled and the forests are shaded, and that means it’s time to get out of the woods and into the meadows where the sun lovers bloom.

2. Vetch

There aren’t many flowers that say meadow quite like vetch. I think this example might be hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa,) which was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire. I think of vetch as very blue but this example seemed purple so I checked my color finding software. It sees violet, plum, and orchid, so I wasn’t imagining it. Maybe it is cow vetch (Vicia cracca,) which is kind of violet blue.

3. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. This example grows in a local park. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, and another common name is American ipecac. Nobody seems to know the origin of the name bowman’s root or whether it refers to the bow of a boat or the bow part of the bow and arrow.

4. Bowman's Root

The white flower petals of bowman’s root are asymmetrical and always look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler. But they are beautiful nonetheless and dance at the end of long stems. And they do dance in the slightest movement of air. Some say that all it takes is the gentle breath of a fawn to set them dancing, and because of that another of their common names is fawn’s breath. A beautiful name for a flower if there ever was one.

5. False Solomon's Seal

I missed getting a photo of Solomon’s seal this year but there are plenty of false Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) blooming right now. The largest example in this photo was close to three feet tall; one of the largest I’ve seen.

6. False Solomon's Seal

False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California used crushed false Solomon’s seal roots and used them to stun fish. Others used the plant medicinally.

7. Yarrow

Humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

8. Goatsbeard

After not seeing any goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis,) for a couple of years I recently found a good stand of it growing in a meadow in full sun. Luckily I was there in the morning because goat’s beard closes up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify.

9. Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)

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, but there are over 50 different chickweeds. 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.

10. Bittersweet Nightshade

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine, which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

11. Wood Sorrel

I can’t say if wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) is rare here but I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grew in a wet area near a stream. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger.

12. Tradescantia

My grandmother had a great love of flowers that rubbed off on me at an early age. I used to walk down the railroad tracks to get from her house to my father’s house and when I did I saw flowers all along the way. One of those was spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana,) and I loved them enough to dig them up and replant them in our yard, despite my father’s apparent displeasure. He didn’t care much for the plant and he often said he couldn’t understand why I had to keep dragging home those “damned old weeds.” He said he wasn’t pleased about a stray cat that I brought home either but it wasn’t a week later that I saw the cat on his lap with him stroking her fur, so I think he really did understand why I kept dragging those damned old weeds home. Though he could have he never did make me dig them up and get rid of them. That’s why spiderwort became “dad’s flower,” and why every single time I see one I think of him.

13. Purple Tradescantia

Spiderworts can be blue, pink, purple, or white so I don’t know if this one growing in a local park is a native natural purple flowered variety or if it’s a purchased cultivar. It’s nice but I like the blue best.

14. Peony

While I was at the park visiting the purple tradescantia I saw this saucer sized peony blossom. It was a beautiful thing to stumble upon and very easy to lose myself in for a while.  When you’re taking photos of a flower or object it’s easy to become so totally absorbed by the subject that for a time there is nothing else, not even you.

15. Rose

Do roses smell like peonies, or do peonies smell like roses? Either way we win, but I smelled a rose before I even knew what a peony was because we had a hedge full of them.

16. Fringe Tree

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that few people grow. It’s one of the last to leaf out in late spring and its fragrant hanging white flowers give it the name old man’s beard.  Male flowered trees are showier but then you don’t get the purple berries that female flowered trees bear. Birds love the fruit and if I had room I’d grow both. I’ve read that they’re very easy to grow and are pollution tolerant as well.

17. Blue Eyed Grass

I showed a photo of blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) recently but here is one with seed pods. I’ve never seen them. Blue eyed grass is in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light blue green leaves resemble grass leaves. The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find.

18. Maple Leaf Viburnum

Our viburnums and native dogwoods are just coming into bloom. The flowers above are on the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) Each flattish flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

19. WNE

I thought I’d tell local readers that the new wildflower guide by Ted Elliman and the New England Wildflower Society is in stores. I got my copy about a week ago and I find it really clear and easy to read. It also has photos rather than line drawings, which I like and another thing I like about it is how some of the more common non-native plants are also included. Some of my own photos can be found in it as well, and I feel honored to have had them included. I hope everyone will want a copy.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

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1. Pond

Some of the photos in this post were taken along a path that circles this small pond in Keene on a recent puffy white cloud kind of day. I’ve thought of doing a post on just this pond because a list of what I’ve found on its shores over the years would be astounding. Everything from otters, heron and cormorants to flowers, fungi, lichens, mosses, and slime molds can be found here and I’m sure there are many more things waiting to be discovered. I think the same is probably true of most ponds.

2. Fringed Sedge

Fringed sedge (Carex crinite) lives at the pond. It’s a large sedge that grows in big, 2 foot tall clumps. I like its drooping habit and I’m not the only one, because it has become a popular garden plant. Many animals and waterfowl eat different parts of sedge plants, especially the seeds.

3. Royal Fern

Royal fern (Osmunda spectablis v. regalis) also grows on the shores of the pond and is one of my favorites. When you see this fern you can bet that there’s water somewhere nearby; I’ve even seen it growing in water. 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.

4. Maidenhair Fern

When some people see royal fern they confuse it with maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum,) so I thought this would be a good time to show them both. As the photo above shows, maidenhair fern really bears little resemblance to royal ferns. The name maidenhair comes from the fine, shiny black stalks, which are called stipes. This fern is very rarely seen in a natural setting in this area.

5. Bracken Ferns

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum,) which is sometimes called brake, is easily identified by its shiny triangular fronds. What makes identification easier still is the fact that it is the only fern that has side branches. No other fern in this country has these branches, so it’s almost impossible to confuse it with others. Though I usually find this fern about knee high, I’ve seen it reach chest height under optimum conditions. Bracken fern often grows in large, dense colonies with few other plants present and this is because it releases chemicals that inhibit the growth of many other plants. Plants compete for light, water, and nutrients but bracken fern has found a way to almost eliminate the completion.

6. Swamp Beacons

Last year was the first time I ever saw swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans,) but that was because I didn’t know where to look for them. They’re interesting fungi that grow only in water and I find them in seeps where water runs year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark and this photo shows how they are growing out of saturated leaves.

7. Swamp Beacon

Another common name for swamp beacons is “matchstick fungus” and that’s exactly what they remind me of because they are just about the size of a wooden match. This one had a triangular head on it though and didn’t look very match like. If you want to get shots of this fungus be prepared to get your knees wet.

8. Tiny Mushrooms

Down current a little way in the seep were these unknown mushrooms, easily the smallest I’ve seen. Those are white pine needles in the background and the stem of the largest mushroom is barely the same diameter as the pine needles. These also grew on soggy leaves just like the swamp beacons, so they must be another aquatic fungus.

9. English Plantain

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blooms in rings around the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else.

10. English Plantain

English plantain is wind pollinated so it hangs its stamens out where the wind can blow the pollen off the anthers. Each stamen is made up of a white bag like anther sitting at the end of a thin filament. If pollinated each flower will bear two tiny seeds in a small seed capsule.

11. Chipmunk

This little chipmunk looks startled because he was caught digging holes in a garden bed; he was being naughty and he knew it. Actually though, I’ve never known a chipmunk to harm any plant, and many people welcome them into their gardens. Some even have “chipmunk crossing” signs for them. They’re cute little things and people love to watch them. They’re also very curious and seem to like watching us as much as we like watching them. I always enjoy having them follow along forest trails with me when I’m out walking, even though their chattering and chipping warns all the other forest creatures that I’m coming.

12. Frog

Mr. Bullfrog on the other hand doesn’t like being watched, and he was hoping if he stayed very still I wouldn’t see him.

13. Dragonfly

This dragonfly was hanging on to a plant stem for dear life in what was a fairly good breeze that was blowing it around like a little flag, so that told me that I should look up pennant dragonflies. Sure enough there is one called the banded pennant which looks like a lot like this one. I’m sorry that the colors on its wings don’t show very well here. I think it was because of the poor lighting but its wings looked wet to me, and I wondered if it had just come out of the pond.

14. Dragonfly

This dragonfly landed on the hood of a white truck that we use at work one day, making getting the correct exposure almost impossible. I’ve seen dragonflies by the hundreds landing in some very strange places this spring, like all along the edges of dirt roads. I haven’t been able to identify this one and I’m not sure what it was getting out of being on the hood of a truck, but it stayed there for a while.

15. Dragonfly wings

There was amazing detail to be seen in its wings.

16. Moth

I found this moth clinging to a building’s wood shingle siding one day so I took its photo. I was surprised when I saw that the moth was so hairy. It looked like someone had knitted it a beautiful wool sweater. I tried to find out its name but there are so many brown, gray, white and black moths out there that I didn’t have any luck.

17. White Admiral Butterfly

Butterflies are easier to identify than moths, I think. This white admiral landed on the gravel in front of me one day and let me take as many photos as I wanted. I also saw a mourning cloak and an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly that day but neither one wanted its photo taken.

18. Orchard Grass

Grasses like this orchard grass have just started flowering and I hope everyone will take a little time to give them a look, because they can be very beautiful as well as interesting. They are also one of the easiest plants there are to find. Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.  ~Vincent Van Gogh

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1. Toadflax

We’ve had August heat in May and that has coaxed many of our wildflowers into bloom, and some earlier than usual. Our humble little native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) has just come into bloom. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers.

2. Blue Flag

Our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) have appeared, so it must be June. Actually, they were early this year and bloomed the last week of May. The name flag is from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the cattail like leaves. Though Native Americans used this plant medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic.

3. Iris

Here’s an that iris has been in my family longer than I have. Before I was born my mother planted a few in the yard so I’ve known it quite literally my entire life, and now it grows in my own yard. Its name is Loreley, and it’s an old fashioned variety introduced in 1909. It’s one of the toughest irises I know of; truly a “plant it and forget it” perennial. It was bred in Germany, and the name Loreley (Lorelei) refers to the sirens who would perch on cliffs along the Rhine and entice sailors to their doom with their enchanting song, much like the sirens who lured Ulysses and his crew in the Odyssey.

4. Iris petal

Is it any wonder that Loreley is still grown 107 years after her introduction?

5. Bunchberry

Bunchberry plants (Cornus canadensis) grow right up into the V made by the two trunks of this oak tree near my house but the heat made them bloom early this year and I missed seeing all but two or three. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

6. Bunchberry

Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The large (relatively) white bracts surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries which give it its common name.  Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

7. Dogwood

Here’s a dogwood blossom to compare to the bunchberry we saw previously. It has the same 4 larger white bracts with small greenish flowers in the center. Though you can’t see them in this photo even the leaves show the same veining.

8. Azalea

Our native azaleas continue to bloom. The beautiful example in this photo grows in a shaded part of the forest and is called early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I usually find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet.

9. Azalea

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. Another common name, wooly azalea, comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

10. Lupines

Last year the highway department replaced a bridge over the Ashuelot River and widened the road leading to and from it. They put what I thought was grass seed down on the roadsides once the bridge was finished, but this year there are cornflower blue lupines (Lupinus) growing all along the sides of the road. Were there lupine seeds mixed into the grass seed or have the lupines been there all along? These are questions I can’t answer but it doesn’t matter; I’m happy to see them no matter how they got there.

11. Ox Eye Daisy

To me the ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) says that June has come but this year the warmth of May has brought them on a little early. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. I like its spiraled center.

12. Sarsaparilla

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen.

13. Sarsaparilla

Each sarsaparilla flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard. Every now and then you’ll find a plant with flowers but no leaves over them. I don’t know if these leafless plants are a natural hybrid or how the plant benefits from having fewer leaves. Fewer leaves mean less photosynthesizing and that means less food for the plant.

14. Red Clover

Seeing the light of creation shining from a red clover blossom (Trifolium pretense) is something you don’t ever forget, and I look forward to seeing them every spring. But light isn’t all that flowers radiate; scientists have found that they also generate weak electrical fields which insects like bumblebees can sense through the hairs on their bodies. The electric field bends their tiny hairs and that generates nerve signals which the bees use to tell the difference between flowers.

15. Blue Bead Lily

It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. I like seeing both the flowers and the blue berries that follow them. It’s been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

16. Blue Bead Lily

At a glance it might be easy to confuse the large oval leaves of blue bead lilies with those of lady’s slippers, but they don’t have the pleats that lady’s slippers have, and of course once the flowers appear there is no doubt. The two plants often grow side by side and bloom at the same time. It can take more than 12 years for blue bead lily plants to produce flowers from seed.

17. Lady's Slippers

Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have come into bloom quickly and I think I’m seeing more of them than I ever have. I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be.

18. Lady's Slipper

For those who haven’t seen one, a pink lady’s slipper blossom is essentially a pouch called a labellum, which is a modified petal. The pouch has a slit down the middle which can be seen in this photo. Veins on the pouch attract bumblebees, which enter the flower through the slit and then find that to get out they have to leave by one of two openings at the top of the pouch (not seen here) that have pollen masses above them. When they leave they are dusted with pollen and will hopefully carry it to another flower. It takes pink lady’s slippers five years or more from seed to bloom, but they can live for twenty years or more.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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1. Trail Start

Last Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far, with plenty of tropical humidity as well. Puffy white clouds floated slowly through the sky and if you hadn’t known it was May you’d have sworn it was August. When I was a boy I used to love such days, when you could see the shadows of the clouds moving across the distant hills, so I decided to climb one of those hills to see those shadows again. Since it was so hot I decided on an easy climb and chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. You start by crossing the meadow in the above photo. I saw that someone had been there before me; maybe another cloud lover.

2. Grass Flowering

Grasses were flowering. It’s too bad that so many miss them, because they can be very beautiful when they blossom.

3. Blue Eyed Grass

Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) wasn’t a surprise; meadows like this one is where it loves to grow. Despite its name this little beauty isn’t a grass at all; it’s in the iris family. Wild turkeys love its seeds.

4. Trail

I knew if I didn’t stop dawdling among the meadow flowers I’d never get to the top of the hill, so I set off up the trail.

5. Lady's Slipper

But there were more flowers there to dawdle over. Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids, bloomed alongside the trail. Native Americans called it moccasin flower, for obvious reasons. They used the plant medicinally as a nerve tonic and a pain reliever.

6. Wooly Oak Gall

Further up the trail I found a woolly oak gall, created by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator.) It was a small example about the size of an acorn, but I’ve seen them as big as ping pong balls. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls.

7. Oak Apple Gall

Oak apple galls fall from the trees regularly at this time of year. Theses galls are caused by a gall wasp known as Biorhiza pallida laying an egg inside a leaf bud. Tissue swells around the egg and a gall is formed.

8. Oak Apple Gall Inside

The gall wasp larva lives in the very center of the gall. Once they develop into an adult wasp they make a hole through the side of the gall and fly (or crawl) off to begin the cycle again. A web of spokes keeps the hollow sphere from deflating by connecting the inner hub to the outer shell.

9. Tippin Rock

When you see the 40 ton glacial erratic called Tippin rock you know the climb is just about done. This rock gets its name from the way it can be rocked or tipped when pushed in the right spot, but I’ve never found the spot. Anyhow, this wasn’t what I had come to see so I took a quick photo and moved on. The climbing might be over but the hiking to the scenic overlook isn’t.

10. View

I came hoping to see puffy white clouds casting shadows on the hills, and though I saw plenty of puffy white clouds I didn’t see any shadows. That’s because the clouds were off to the left and the sun was on the right. I find that usually when I go into the woods expecting to see a certain thing I don’t usually see it. Focusing on just one thing can make you miss a lot of what nature has to offer, so that’s why when I go into the woods I try to strip myself of all expectations and just enjoy whatever happens to be in my path. I saw many other interesting things so a lack of cloud shadows wasn’t disappointing. There will be other days with puffy white clouds.

11. View

Some of the puffy white clouds were becoming puffy dark gray clouds, and I wondered if we might see a thunderstorm. I hoped not since I was carrying three cameras (2 in pockets) with no way to protect them.

12. View

This view probably comes closest to what I was trying for, but it’s still not it.

13. Clouds

This shot, taken earlier on the same day at a different location, is what started it all, and shows what I was hoping to see on the hilltop. I might have done better just staying in the low lands.

14. Toadskin Lichen

But if I hadn’t climbed I wouldn’t have gotten to see my old friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa,) because they only grow on hilltops. Their warty projections are called pustules and if you look at the back of this lichen there will be a corresponding pit for every pustule. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present comes through but when dry they can be very ashy gray. They are also very brittle when dry, like a potato chip.

16. Rock Tripe Lichens

Growing right alongside the toadskin lichens is rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) which is kind of like a toadskin without the warts. It attaches to the rock in the same way and also gets brittle when dry. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

17. Toadskin and Rock Tripe Lichens

In this photo the green rock tripe lichens are smaller than the gray toadskin lichens and that’s unusual, but it’s because the rock tripe lichens in this photo are babies. I’ve seen rock tripe lichens as big as my hand but have only seen toad skins about 2 inches across, which is what I’d say the biggest examples in this photo were.

18. Toadskin Lichen

Each lichen, both rock tripe and toad skin, is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. I hope everyone reading this will make lichens one of the things they look for when outdoors. They’re fascinating, beautiful things that grow virtually everywhere; even in cities if the air is clean. Cemeteries are a good place to look for those that grow on stone.

19. Smiley Face

Mr. Smiley face was happy as always because that’s what happens when you spend all of your free time outside. You become filled with more joy than you ever thought possible.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

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