Just like spring, fall starts on the forest floor and nothing illustrates that better than maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) I’ve never seen another native shrub turn as many colors as this one does. Its leaves can be purple, pink, orange, red, or combinations of them all, but they usually end by turning to just a whisper of light pastel orange or pink before they fall.
Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along our roadsides. It’s a beautiful little 2-3 foot tall grass that lends a golden richness to life outdoors and I always look forward to seeing it. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful. It’s another of those things that help make walking through life a little more pleasant.
It is the seed heads on little bluestem that catch the light as they ripen. This grass is a native prairie grass which grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington. According to the USDA its appearance can vary in height, color, length of leaves, flowering, and clump diameter from location to location.
We have countless miles of unpaved gravel roads here in this part of New Hampshire and they usually get dry and dusty at this time of year, but this year is a banner year for dust and each time a car travels the road a big cloud of it kicks up. These native wild ginger (Asarum canadense) plants were covered by a thick layer which won’t be washed off until it rains.
Native virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) needs full sun and it will climb over shrubs and trees to get it. Its seed heads are often times more visible than its small white flowers were. As they age the seed heads become more and more feathery and are very noticeable after the leaves fall.
The tail on a virgin’s bower seed is what is left of the flower’s style. In a flower the style is the slender stalk that connects the sticky pollen accepting stigma to the ovary. As it ages the seed becomes dryer and lighter and the tail becomes feathery so it can be carried away by the wind.
River grapes (Vitis riparia,) so called because they grow on the banks of rivers and streams, are ripening, and you can let your nose lead you to them. Each year at this time many of our forests smell like grape jelly because of them. They are also called frost grapes because of their extreme cold hardiness; river grapes have been known to survive temperatures of -57 degrees F. (-49 C.) Many birds eat these small grapes including cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, robins, wood ducks, several species of woodpecker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, and turkeys. Many animals also love river grapes, including foxes, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and opossums. Deer will eat the leaves and new shoots and many birds use the bark for nest building; especially crows.
Native hobblebush berries (Viburnum lantanoides) are turning from red to deep, purple black as they always do. The berries are said to taste like spicy raisins or dates and are eaten by cardinals, turkeys, cedar waxwings and even pileated woodpeckers. Bears, foxes, skunks and squirrels are among the animals that eat them. They go fast; I rarely find them fully ripe.
Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) is another understory plant with black berries. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber.
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is another plant with purple-black berries. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.
I saw this large tolype moth (Tolype velleda) clinging to the siding of a building recently. It’s a pretty moth that’s very easy to identify because of its hairiness and coloration. It looks like it’s dressed for winter. The caterpillar stage feeds on the leaves of apple, ash, birch, elm, oak, plum, and other trees.
Days like this have been so rare I felt compelled to get a photo of one we had recently at Half Moon Pond in Hancock. Though it didn’t bring rain a low mist hung over the landscape and occasionally brought drizzle with it. Fog is very common here in the fall when the air temperature is cooler than the temperature of the water. The same thing happens in spring, but in reverse. Then the air is warmer than the water.
I think this was a solitary bee (Hymenoptera) sleeping in an aster blossom when it was so cool and misty that day. Solitary bees get their name from the way they don’t form colonies like honey and bumblebees.
Last year I misidentified a erythristic red-back salamander (Plethodon cinereus) as a red spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens,) but this time I think I’ve got it right. New Hampshire has eight native salamanders including the red-spotted newt seen here. The larva are aquatic and so are the adults, but the juveniles are called red efts and live on land. Since it has been so dry this summer I was surprised to find this one out in the open. This salamander eats just about anything that is small enough, including earthworms and insects.
The eastern yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons) is a wasp that usually build its nest underground but will occasionally build them above ground, as this large example I recently found hanging in a tree shows. It was about as big as a basketball, or about 9.5 inches across, and was built of paper made from wood fiber. Except for a small entrance at the bottom the nests are fully enclosed. Yellow jackets are very aggressive and will protect their nest by stinging multiple times. Their sting is very painful; I was pruning a rhododendron once that had a nest in it that I didn’t see until it was too late. A swarm chased me across the lawn and stung me 5 or 6 times on the back. This time they gave me time for one shot of their nest before getting agitated. When they started flying I backed off.
I’ve seen some very strange thigs happen in the world of fungi but I didn’t think this was one of them until I looked closely. Mushrooms often appear to be growing on stones but they’re actually growing on accumulated leaf litter that has fallen onto the stone. But not always; as this photo shows these examples of Russel’s bolete (Boletellus russellii) are growing directly out of the stone. I have to assume that the boulder had soil filled holes in it that the wind carried the mushroom’s spores to. But how did the holes get there?
One of the things I’ve learned by studying nature is that every single living thing eventually gets eaten, and nothing illustrates that better that this. I thought the gray veil hanging from this mushroom cap was mold but a little research shows that it is most likely Syzygites megalocarpus, which is a mycoparasite; a fungus that feeds on other fungi. It starts out white and then changes to yellow before finally becoming gray. It is a very fast grower and can appear overnight as this example on a bolete did. I’ve read that it has been found on over 65 species of mushroom so it isn’t choosy about its diet, but it is somewhat picky about the weather. Heat and humidity levels have to be to its liking for it to appear.
This black false tinder fungus (Phellinus igniarius) was covered by what appeared to be a white slime mold. Slime molds feed on bacteria, yeasts, and fungi so I assume that this one was feeding on the false tinder fungus, though it’s the only time I’ve seen this happen. Slime molds are not classified as fungi, plants, or animals but display the characteristics of all three. Nobody really seems to know for sure what they are.
The orange yellow underside of the false tinder fungus looked like it was slowly becoming engulfed by the slime mold. More proof that all things get eaten, in one way or another.
Native Virginia creeper is a large climbing vine with leaves that often turn red in late summer, but these examples wanted to be purple. Many grow Virginia creeper in their gardens because of its pleasing fall colors. My mother grew it so I’ve known it for about as long as I can remember. I like to see it growing up tree trunks; in the fall it’s as if the entire trunk has turned a brilliant scarlet color.
Summer is leaving silently. Much like a traveler approaching the end of an amazing journey. ~Darnell Lamont Walker
Thanks for coming by.