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Archive for the ‘Buds’ Category

What I would have to call my favorite rail trail was calling to me and had been for a week or two, but I had resisted its pull until this day. Like getting a song out of your head by playing it, I had to walk this trail to stop it from calling, so here we are. Since I love jungles, I was happy to see that the area had almost become one. I hadn’t been here since last February and of course I didn’t see how overgrown it had become then.

The first thing I noticed was orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) flowering along the side of the trail. Orchard grass is a pretty little grass. In my opinion a kind of architectural grass, if there could be such a thing. It was introduced into this country over two hundred years ago as a forage crop and of course it immediately escaped and is now everywhere I go. That’s fine with me because it’s very pretty when it flowers, as can be seen in the photo.

I followed the railroad tracks that were here when I was a boy every chance I had and one of my favorite things to do as I walked along in summer was to eat the raspberries that grew here. Last summer when I came here I didn’t see any, but there were plenty on this day. Not ripe yet but they’re coming along.

Blackberries are also waiting in the wings.

My biggest surprise on this day was finding ragged robin flowers (Lychnis flos-cuculi) growing along the trail. I’ve never seen them in any other place than in Hancock where I used to work, and I searched for many years before I found them there.

It’s a very unusual flower that is hard to find and amazingly, here it was right where I first flowered. I hope to one day see many of them here. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields.

Multiflora roses (Rosa multiflora) have just started blooming and the pollen eaters aren’t wasting any time. Though this small flowered rose from China is very invasive it is also highly fragrant and I’ve always loved smelling it as I walk along. Birds plant it everywhere and I’ve met people who fertilized it, not knowing what it was or where it came from, but thankful for its wonderful scent. I’ve seen it climb 30 feet up into trees without any fertilizer, so personally I’d just let it be.

This is where as a boy I discovered that the best walks are unplanned. They are those with no purpose, when you have nothing to gain and no destination in mind. You just surrender yourself to the unknown and wander the countryside, and over and over again you stop, you see, you wonder, you learn. This is where I discovered the value of empty space and silence, and first found the solitude that was to become a life long friend. My grandmother worried about my being alone out here and thought I was “brooding,” as she put it. She thought I was deeply unhappy because I didn’t have a mother, but had I been older I would have asked her, how can you miss what you’ve never known? I was too young and didn’t have the words to explain to her that what I really felt out here was pure unencumbered bliss.

I tell these stories hoping that they will resonate with the parents and grandparents out there. Let your children and grandchildren run free in nature. Let them wander and wonder. Or, if you can’t bear to cut them loose, go with them. If you can’t bear that send them off to a nature camp. Nature will become their teacher, and they will be all the better for it. Just be prepared to find them books on botany, biology, entomology, nature study, etc., etc, because their heads will be full of questions. They’ll want to know everything; not about the latest video game but about life and their place in it.

I went down the embankment to see what was once a cornfield, but what is now forest. Nothing but silver and red maples, and sensitive ferns. All of it has sprung up over the last 50 years or so, which means that I’m older than everything in this photo. The way the flooding of the river and Ash Brook happens now I doubt this will ever be farmland again.

I was surprised to find bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) out here because I’ve never seen them here before. Next May I’ll have to come back and see their flowers.

I could tell that the plants had bloomed because they had seedpods on them. They also had poison ivy growing all around them and I knelt right in it. As of this writing my knees aren’t itching but since I end up with a poison ivy rash every year I won’t be surprised if they do.

Something seemed to be ravaging the new buds on American hazelnuts (Corylus americana), which will mean no nuts this year on this bush.

I can’t blame this tiny creature for the damaged hazelnut buds but it was the only insect I found on the plant. After a bit of searching I have been able to identify it as the larva of an Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) so it was not eating the hazelnut buds. It will actually eat the aphids that do harm to so many plants.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) were flowering in high numbers and I was happy to see them. I hope the grapes will draw the Baltimore orioles back to the area. There used to be lots of them when I was young but I never see them out here anymore. Grape flowers are among the smallest I see but when thousands of them bloom together their wonderful fragrance can be smelled from quite a distance. I’m sure many have smelled them and not known what they were smelling. The vines climb high into the treetops by using tendrils, and you can just see one over on the left, looking for something to cling to.

Other plants have different strategies when it comes to climbing. Native climbing false buckwheat (Fallopia scandens) does it by sending long shoots straight up, hoping to find something to twine itself around. This one missed the mark by a few feet but it will just fall over after a bit and grab on to whatever it can. Eventually it will get to where the most sunlight is. This plant is also called climbing bindweed and there are invasives that resemble it.

A bicycle built for two had ridden over the trestle just before I reached it. I saw lots of people on bikes out here on this day including an old friend I hadn’t seen in many years. I was glad to see so many people using the trail. That means it will stay open and will be cared for.

I went down beside the trestle, which is something I used to do regularly years ago, just to explore. The banks seem to have narrowed quite a lot between the stream and the abutments since those days but I suppose it’s in the nature of a stream to want to widen over the years. I wanted to go under the trestle but I didn’t trust the mud there. When conditions are right you can sink into it quickly. I saw animal tracks but no human ones, so I stayed away.

I tried to get a good shot of the entire trestle but low hanging silver maple limbs were in the way. Since when I was a boy I had to cross another trestle near my house to get to this one, this will always be the second trestle to me. Its sides are much lower than the first trestle for some reason, maybe only as high as the bottom of a rail car. For that reason I also think of it as the small trestle. When I was a boy, I could and often did sit out here all day long and not see another person. The brook meets the Ashuelot river just around that bend and there is a high sand bluff where bank swallows used to nest, and I would sit and watch them for hours, wondering how a bird could dig a hole.

Ash Brook was calm and shallow and behaving nicely on this day but I wasn’t fooled by its calm demeanor. I’ve seen it rage and swell up and pour over its banks too many times. This was a good place to learn about the true power of nature.  

As you get closer to the brook the trees get bigger because this land was never cleared like the land from a few photos ago was. It wasn’t cleared for planting because it has always flooded, but never like it has lately. You can see where the waterline shows on some of the tree trunks from the flooding last February. The water here would have been up to my chest in this spot, I’d guess, which is deeper than I’ve ever seen it. I remember standing on the embankment listening to the hissing, creaking and cracking ice. Of course deeper water means it spreads further over the land, and that’s why there is no corn grown anywhere near here now. It takes too long for the soil to dry out so planting can begin.  

The undergrowth in the photos of the forest is made up almost entirely of sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis). Many thousands of them grow here, for as far as the eye can see. They, like the trees, don’t mind wet ground and in fact they are a good wetland indicator. Their rhizomes branch and creep and as this photo shows, this fern can form large colonies. I know this fern is toxic to cattle and horses but I don’t know if it is toxic to wildlife. I do know that Deer and muskrats won’t eat it. The only animal I’ve ever seen have anything to do with it was a beaver that was swimming down the river with a huge bundle of fronds in its mouth one day. I supposed it would use them for soft bedding rather than food.

Though there were so many ferns you couldn’t see the ground, more were still coming. I’ve heard that you can eat the spring fiddleheads but I certainly wouldn’t.

Can you see the wind when you look at this nodding sedge (Carex gynandra)? See how the hanging seed spikes aren’t hanging perfectly vertical? The breeze came from the right and the camera had to stop the motion.

On the way back I saw lots of stitchwort blossoms (Stellaria graminea) that I hadn’t seen on the way out. They’re pretty little things and I’m always happy to see them, even if they are a weed.

I also saw plenty of fuzzy staghorn sumac buds (Rhus typhina). Soon they will be tiny green fuzzy flowers that will become first pink and then red, fuzzy berries. This was the first time I’ve noticed that the buds spiral up the stem. The spiral is nature’s way of packing the most flower buds into the least amount of space, but that’s only one example of how nature uses spirals. I see them everywhere all the time, in everything from trees to snail shells to coiled snakes. It’s just another one of those many things in nature that makes you wonder and seek answers.

Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.  ~David Polis

Thanks for stopping in.

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I thought I’d take a break from flower posts this week, not because I’m tired of flowers but because my California friend Dave asked when he would see photos of shagbark hickory buds breaking. They’re easily as beautiful as a flower, but to see them I had to go to the banks of the Ashuelot River. This was no hardship because I started playing on the banks of this river when I was a boy and have loved doing so ever since.

It was beautiful along the river with all the new spring green leaves, but the water level has dropped considerably since the last time it rained. I think it has been close to two weeks since the last substantial rain, and many smaller streams are starting to dry up.

I saw lots of what I think were muskrat tracks in the mud along the shore.

And there were the new shagbark hickory leaves. I couldn’t catch the color I wanted on the bud scales (actually inner scales) in the bright sunshine so I went back the following day when it was cloudy. On this day the beautiful pinks, reds and oranges were easier to capture. It’s not just the light though; some inner bud scales are a single color and others are multi colored like these were. They also lose color quickly as they age so you just have to walk along the river bank and look until you find the one that speaks to you. Fortunately a lot of shagbark hickory buds usually break at the same time so they aren’t hard to find. They’re worth looking for because in my opinion, they’re one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a spring forest.

This is what they look like when they have spread out to unfurl their leaves. It’s unusual to be able to see this because it usually happens far up in the tree tops, but for some reason in this area the beavers keep cutting the trees. New shoots regrow from the stump and the beavers leave them alone for a while before coming back and cutting them again. Thanks to the beavers there is always a good supply of buds at eye level.

The oaks have also broken their buds, and more new leaves appear each day. Oaks are one of the last buds to break.

Like the maples, oaks can have very colorful new leaves. I’ve seen them in white, pink, red, and just about every shade of green imaginable.

Some new oak leaves even have stripes, as these did. I saw a lot of these leaves in all stages of growth and they appeared to be changing from white to red, which accounted for the stripe. New oak leaves are always velvety and soft.

Some oaks are even showing flower buds already.

Here was a young oak that had barely unfolded its leaves and it was already being eaten by something. It also had three or four oak apple galls on it. They’re caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. Galls that form on leaves don’t harm the tree so they can be left alone. They’re always interesting to see.

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) are also flowering, with their green bell-shaped flowers all in a string. Sometimes they dangle under the big leaves and other times the wind blows them up and over the leaves as these were. There is only one maple in this region that flowers later, and that is the mountain maple (Acer spicatum).

If you want to see a beautiful, non-flowering plant called the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) you’ll have to leave the trail and go into the forest, but it will be worth the effort to see the delicate, lacy foliage of what is considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails. I was happy to see that they had grown from what was a single plant a few years ago to ten or more now, so they like it here. I originally found them by following a beaver pond outflow stream into the woods.

Woodland horsetails like to grow in bright sunshine in very wet ground. Here they grow right along the water’s edge by this stream. They blend in easily with the foliage of other plants, so you have to walk slowly and look carefully. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forest”, and that’s where you have to search for them.

I found what was left of a wild turkey egg shell by the stream where the woodland horsetail grows. Turkeys nest directly on the ground but I didn’t see any signs of a nest so I wonder if a predator didn’t carry the egg here to eat it. According to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game turkeys lay an average of a dozen eggs in early to mid-May, only one per day, and they hatch after about 28 days, so either this hen laid her eggs early or this egg didn’t hatch. If a predator gets to her eggs she’ll lay another clutch in July or August, but normally they lay only once per year. This egg was tan colored, about the size of a hen’s egg I think, with brownish speckles all over it. New Hampshire has an estimated population of 45,000 turkeys. I see them everywhere but they’re almost always running into the woods as I drive by.

If I’m lucky I might see one beech seedling with its seed leaves still intact each year. Here is this year’s seedling. Seed leaves often look nothing like the true leaves. In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves but feel tough and leathery. On a beech seedling they will photosynthesize until the true leaves appear, and then once they are no longer needed, they will wither and fall off. In my experience they are a rare sight.

Each spring I look for the shoots of the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), and each spring they look absolutely identical to the ones I found the spring before. They always look to me like a small hand is holding the plant’s flower buds while an older “parent” gazes down lovingly at them. It always seems like a tender moment has been caught and frozen in time, and it’s always as if I’m seeing the exact same thing I saw the year before. I’ve seen lots of new spring shoots but these are the only ones I know of that never seem to change. They’re like an old friend who comes around once a year to remind me that some things never really change, even though it may seem as if they do.

Mr. robin wondered just what it was I was doing and hopped over to get a better look. Though most robins will hop or fly away if you get too close there are some that are very curious. If you let them come to you they’ll often get quite close, as this one did. I was on my knees taking photos so maybe he wondered why this human’s eyes were so close to the ground while others were not. I didn’t realize what eye movements could do to animals until I watched a show on PBS television that showed border collies herding sheep by using only their eyes. They never bark; it’s all done with eye movements. I’m hoping I remember never to stare into a bear’s eyes again.

I don’t know if this was two trees or one tree that split and grew this way but either way, I’m not sure what would have made it do this. Trees do some strange things.

A big dead white pine fell into a pond and stretched two thirds of the way across it. White pine (Pinus strobus) is New Hampshire’s tallest tree but you often don’t realize how tall they really are until they fall.  

A painted turtle looked like it was practicing its yoga exercises on a log, but really it was just releasing heat. I read that when they raise their feet like that it cools them off. Sometimes they look as if they’re trying to fly.

I went to the skunk cabbage swamp and not surprisingly, found it full of skunk cabbages. But that’s not the only reason I come here. Nearby, higher up on drier ground, our beautiful native azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum) bloom so I wanted to check their progress. It’ll be another week or so before we see the flowers, depending on the weather.

I saw something bright yellow in a drainage ditch and when I looked a little closer, I saw that the color was coming from swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans). Swamp beacons are interesting “aquatic” fungi and I find them in seeps and ditches where ground water stays on the surface year-round. They will be my first fungal find of the season.

Swamp beacons 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. I almost always find them growing out of saturated oak leaves, as these were. They are small; about the size of a wooden match, and another name for them is matchstick fungus. These were some of the brightest colored examples that I’ve seen.

Treasures are hidden away in quiet places. They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach. They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them. They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways. They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still. ~Craig D. Lounsbrough

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One of the things I love most about spring is seeing all the various buds break open so new leaves can emerge. As this maple bud shows, it can be very beautiful. Each year, usually around mid to late April I start watching various buds, but it all depends on the weather. This year they began to swell and it looked as if they’d break early but then we had a cold snap so they just sat and thought about it. Now, they are all coming alive.

New maple leaves are often tomato red and it is thought that the color wards off sunburn. Since so many plants start out with red or purple leaves it makes sense, but I’ve noticed this year that many of the new leaves are starting out green rather than the other colors, so I think the color must be weather dependent. If we have a cloudy spring there is no reason for them to have to protect themselves from sunburn. But how they know what the sun is doing while still encased in the bud scales is a mystery.

The strict definition of bud break is when the tip of a leaf is seen emerging from the bud, but spring isn’t just about new leaves any more than it is just about new flowers, so I’ve taken some liberties and have strayed a bit from that strict definition. After all spring is really about the beauty of it all in my opinion, and what could be more beautiful than this Norway maple flower bud opening?

In fact I think the bud in that previous shot is far more beautiful than the flowers that came out of it.

Striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum), often in velvety shades of pink and orange as these were, grow up out of the bud scales, which are the darker parts seen here. Bud scales offer protection to the bud over winter but as the temperature warms they are no longer needed, so as the bud grows they open to allow it to expand and lengthen. In the case of a striped maple bud, if you watch closely a line will appear on the bud. You can see the whitish lines running up the center of these three buds in the photo.

When the lines appear this is the time to watch the buds closely. I usually visit them each day because the lines signal that the bud is ready to open. When it does it will split open on that line, as can be seen in this photo. It could be that the line is always there but I never notice it until the buds are ready to open so I use it as a signal.

This might surprise people who know striped maples. The big, light gathering, mature leaves on the tree have a flat, matte finish that reflects little light. The only time the leaves shine that I know of is when they have just come out of the bud as these had done. Whether or not that is another strategy to prevent sunburn, I don’t know.

Some native cherry trees will grow flower buds very soon after the leaves appear, and it seems that they put more energy into the flowers than they do their leaves. If you’re all about continuation of the species it makes perfect sense. They’re also among the earliest flowering trees, which also makes sense. Grab the attention of the insects before all the other flowers come out and you have a better chance of being pollinated.

Invasive Japanese honeysuckles are usually the first shrub in the forest to show new leaves. In that way they get a jump on natives and can begin photosynthesizing earlier, and growing faster. This one had a raindrop nestled in its leaves. We have 3 invasive honeysuckles here in New Hampshire and to identify them you can just break a stem. Stems of all three shrubs are hollow while native honeysuckle stems are solid. It is illegal to sell, propagate or plant any of these shrubs in New Hampshire.

I like the way the new spring shoots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) flow and move. After a shoot comes straight up out of the ground the leaves appear and the shoot nods toward the ground. The height the plant has reached when the leaves begin to appear is the height it will stay at throughout the present year’s growth. Native Americans and early colonists ate these shoots the way we would eat asparagus and they used the plant’s starchy roots in soups and stews. They also dried them to make flour for bread.

I love to see the new spring shoots of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) but I dread trying to get a photo of them because in my experience they’re one of the most difficult of all the spring shoots to get an accurate photo of. I quickly forgot about that though, when I found two plants growing where there had been just one. Even better was how both had plenty of flower buds. I was happy to see that this relatively rare plant was multiplying. This is the only spot I know of to find it.

The wind is caught in blue cohosh, so maybe that’s what makes it so hard to photograph. You might think there was a gale blowing on this day but no, there wasn’t even a breeze. It just wants to fly. Cohosh means “rough” when translated from Native American Algonquin language, and refers to the knobby root. A tincture of the root was said to start childbirth but science has shown the entire plant to be toxic.

Regular readers of this blog will have seen hobblebush flower buds (Viburnum lantanoides) evolve over the past few months from a hard lump with two “rabbit ears” to what looked like a wormy mass, to what it is now; recognizable flower buds with leaves on either side. Soon the shrubs will blossom, with large sterile, pure white flowers surrounding a mass of smaller fertile, white flowers in the center. It’s one of our most beautiful native shrubs and I hope to be able to bring it to you in another post in the very near future.  

Another beautiful flower is that of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea). The buds have broken and the leaves have pulled back to reveal the big, thumb size flower buds. They will become beautiful red, yellow and pink flowers before long. I think the tips of the leaves were frost bitten this year, by the looks.

We had lots of field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) where I worked in Hancock but I had to hunt for this one here in Keene, and one was all I found. I hope to find more before they pass on.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a common 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.

This horsetail was fully open, revealing its tiny spore producing sporangia. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brownish sporangiophore are the sporangia. They look like tiny white bags. Once it has released its spores it will die and be replaced by an infertile stem.

The rhubarb in a friend’s garden was also breaking bud. When I was a boy I could pull a stalk right off the plants in my grandmother’s garden and eat it right there, but I think I’ve lost my taste for it. They tell me when I was just a pup I’d have a dill pickle in one hand and a baby bottle in the other, so I must have been a bit of sourpuss when I was young. Now just writing about it is enough to make my mouth pucker.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be beautiful when it first comes up in the spring, but of course it’s also terribly invasive. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots are tart and juicy and taste much like a cross between asparagus and rhubarb, but I watched a television show about foraging recently and when the two people there tasted the knotweed, they said it didn’t taste like much. Judging by the looks on their faces I’d guess they probably spit it out once the camera looked at something else. The shoots they tasted were quite large though, like the one shown here. I think if you picked the new shoots just as they broke ground, they’d be tender and might be fairly tasty. Developing a taste for them would be a good way to overcome the problem of their being so invasive.

I don’t know if fern fiddleheads fit the description of bud break but I always enjoy seeing them in spring. This is a sensitive fern fiddlehead (Onoclea sensibilis). This fern gets its name from the early settlers, who noticed its sensitivity to frost. Since our last safe frost date is Memorial Day, it was rolling the dice. It’s a beautiful thing with its fur coat and tiny new leaves showing.

Christmas fern fiddleheads (Polystichum acrostichoides) wear hairy, silvery fur coats to protect themselves in spring. This is an evergreen fern so you can often find last year’s green fronds splayed out on the ground with this year’s fiddleheads coming up in the center of the plant. As fiddleheads go these are some of the biggest. This fern gets its name from early settlers, who saw that it was still green on Christmas.

The only fern in this area with fiddleheads that are safe to eat is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are considered an early spring delicacy but they need to be prepared and cooked correctly. I’ve read that eating too many can make you sick. The easiest way to identify ostrich fern fiddleheads is by the brown papery husk that covers the fiddlehead, and the deep groove in the stem. The groove has been compared to that you find on a stalk of celery and as far as I know, this fern is the only one in this region to have it. The plant itself has the shape of the shuttlecock used in badminton, so another name for it is the shuttlecock fern.

I watched beech buds closely over the last weeks and I saw them arch or curl, however you choose to see it, but then stop and do nothing. They simply waited along with all the other buds for the cold snap to end. The buds curl like this because the cells on the top become excited by the light and warmth generated by the stronger spring sunshine, and grow faster than the cells that grow in the shade on the bottom of the bud.

The difference in cell growth rate creates a tension in the bud, which increases until the bud simply can’t take any more and tears itself open. This releases the new leaves, which are beautifully covered in silver hairs. Sometimes they look more animal than plant.

Once the sunlight reaches the new leaves, they expand like an accordian and quickly lose their silver hairs. Bud break is one of the most beautiful things to happen in a New England Forest in the spring and I do hope that you are able to see it. Once you’ve seen something like this you never forget it.

Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain, surround us on every hand: life itself is the miracle of miracles. ~George Bernard Shaw

Thanks for stopping in. I hope all the moms out there will have a grand and happy Mother’s Day tomorrow!

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Last week a storm spun just off the coast and brought us wave after wave of clouds, rain, wind and cold almost every day. In spite of below freezing nighttime lows there were a few plants brave enough to bloom. Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) bloomed just in time for May and that’s perfect. It is called Mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.

To smell its flowers you have to literally get your chin on the ground because these flowers are ground huggers. It’s worth it though, because they have a scent all their own that it is impossible for me to describe. Kind of spicy, but there’s more to it than that. It’s a very unusual scent and that’s why they were so over collected for use in nosegays in years past. My grandmother always told of this being her favorite flower but we never did find any of them, so I found myself wishing she were there on this day. Until I thought about it, that is. She had awful trouble standing from a kneeling position, so she would have told me to pick some and give them to her and I would have had to refuse. That wouldn’t have gone over well. In her day the thought of a flower becoming extinct from over picking would have seemed ridiculous, and she would have told me so. They just didn’t know any better in her day.

A flower I’ve never heard of being picked is that of wild ginger (Asarum canadense), but the plants are still hard to find. I’ve found them in only in this one spot.

The plant’s fuzzy, heart shaped leaves were just unfolding but the brownish flowers were already blooming. I can’t think of another wildflower with leaves quite like these so the plant is very easy to identify. The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage, so it should not be used.

You could fit a pea inside a wild ginger flower but nothing much bigger. Though flies often crawl into the meat colored flowers it is now thought that they do so simply to get warm. Several scientific studies have shown that these flowers are self-pollinated. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because I saw many insects including bees already out before these flowers bloomed. Maybe insects just aren’t interested for some reason.

I’m not happy with the way the river water in the background came out in this shot of leatherleaf blossoms (Chamaedaphne calyculata) but I got a difficult shot so maybe I should just keep quiet and be happy with it. The plant normally grows out of the water a few feet but it can stand being flooded and this year because the river was high, I couldn’t get near it. I stood on a slope just at the water’s edge getting as close as I could by leaning, which wasn’t a good idea. It grew a foot or two off shore and I almost leaned myself right into the river.

But I stayed dry and it was worth a slightly raised heart rate to get photos of such pretty little blossoms. I was able to get a hold of a branch on another shrub and pull it toward me for this shot. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. At a glance it might be mistaken for a blueberry, but these flowers are smaller and not quite so round as a blueberry blossom.

If you see these shiny pointed bud scales littering the ground that means the poplars are blooming. When they bloom their catkins are often blown off or taken off by rain, and you can see one of them on the upper right.

If you pick up one of the fallen poplar catkins this is what you’ll see. These are the reddish-brown male anthers, which are extremely small. But they do the job and when the female flowers have been pollinated, they’ll release their cottony seeds into the air and they will settle on everything. It’s not a good time to leave your car windows open.

The feathery white female flowers of the European white elm (Ulmus laevis Pall), which we call Russian elm, were just forming seeds when I saw them. The tree is large and spreading and quite beautiful, but it lacks the height and vase shape of the American elm.

The female flowers of the American elm (Ulmus americana) were a step ahead of those of the Russian elm, and had already become seeds (samaras), each with a white fringe. They will quickly lose this fringe as they ripen.

One of my favorite native tree flowers are the female flowers of the box elder. The male flowers come out early before the leaves, but the female flowers don’t show themselves until the leaves unfurl. I love their color and shape. They have a sticky velvety coating so they can catch as much pollen as possible. They must be very good at it because you find these “weed trees” coming up in waste areas and vacant lots all over town. Box elder was the first tree I ever planted. My grandmother used to pay me to pull up all the trees growing around her foundation and one of those I pulled up was a box elder. I carried it home bare root, dug a hole and stuck it in, gave it some water and pretty much forgot about it, and that tree grew for years and years. For all I know it could still be there, some 55 years later.  

For the first time I saw the flower stems (petioles) of female box elder flowers. I never knew this was such a hairy tree but I’ve always known how pretty it was, weed tree or not.

A rare thing has happened. Rare in this area anyhow; a downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) has bloomed. This single plant is the only one I’ve ever seen. I thought it might be a round leaved yellow violet but the leaves are definitely heart shaped and not round.

It’s a very pretty thing and I was happy to see it. I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’ve seen a yellow violet.

Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) have just come into bloom. These berries are small but you haven’t really tasted a strawberry until you’ve tasted them.  The full moon in the month of June was known to many Native American tribes as the “Strawberry Moon” because that was when most strawberries began to ripen. The berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to pemmican, soups, and breads. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) has just come into bloom and only three or four out of thousands had opened when I went to see them. It was a windy day and you can tell that by the way this flower isn’t hanging vertically. I doubted I’d be able to get a shot but the camera stopped the motion and this is the result. The black flies are out in force now but the wind keeps them away, so I should have been grateful for it instead of grousing about it while there on my knees waiting for it to stop so I could get a photo. You never have to search too hard to find something to be thankful for, but sometimes I miss the opportunity.

I went to see what American hazelnut buds looked like when they broke but instead found this one still flowering. I was surprised because the male catkins have turned brown and dried up. These were the longest female filaments I’ve ever seen and I wondered if maybe they grew longer by stretching for pollen that will never come. I see a lot of hazelnut shrubs with no nuts on them in the fall and now I wonder if it is because many female flowers don’t appear until after all the pollen has been shed. In the end it doesn’t matter. Nature will straighten it out.

After a very slow start henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is having a great year. This plant was loaded with cartoon faced blossoms that resemble those of some of our small flowered orchids.

You might see a resemblance to henbit in the much larger flowers of dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) and well you should, because they are both in the same family.

Bradford pear blossoms (Pyrus calleryana) are pretty enough but they’re about all this tree has going for it. They have weak wood and lose branches regularly and birds love the tiny pears it produces, which means that it is quite invasive. In the wild it forms nearly impenetrable thickets and out competes native trees. And though the flowers are pretty enough their scent has been compared to everything from rotting fish to an open trash bin. I smelled fish when I was walking among them taking photos and I can say that I was very happy that I didn’t have one in my yard.

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis) has just started blossoming, but I’ve never seen one like this. It had two colored flowers on the same plant, pink and blue / purple. I’m guessing that they come out pink and then change but I’ve never noticed this before so I wonder if it’s a newer hybrid. Another name for the plant is lungwort. During the Middle Ages in Europe, lungwort was considered dangerous because the grey spots on its leaves were associated with an infected lung. Later, it was used to treat lung disorders. The scientific name Pulmonaria comes from the Latin pulmo, meaning lung.

Tulips of all colors and shapes have appeared.

I was looking for the very early red and yellow tulips I saw last year but I never did find them, so these will have to do. There was less yellow on the ones I saw last year. It just peeked out between the red petals.

It’s time to say goodbye to red maple flowers because they have grown wings, and now they will fly. The trees have blossomed longer this year than I’ve ever seen, most likely due to a cool spring.

I tried to draw my soul but all I could think of was flowers. ~Natalya Lobanova

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is seeing lots of flowers!

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I’ve wanted to visit the cranberry meadow pond trail in Peterborough since it was built a few years ago but somehow, I never made it. It isn’t far, just a half hour away to the east of Keene, so last week I decided to finally go and see it. Since this is in a county other than Cheshire County where I live, this trip was part of my new branching out plan. The trail begins with a raised boardwalk through a wetland.

On this day the wetland the boardwalk crosses was very wet but I could tell by red maples standing in a foot of water that it isn’t always this wet. It looked like the stream that runs through here flooded from heavy rains we had a few days before. What a beautiful day it was.

The boardwalk is sturdily built and wide enough for two people to pass. Building it was obviously a lot of work, so hat’s off to the builders. I think it was built three or four years ago, and it has stood up well.

At the end of the boardwalk were planks to help get you through the muddy spot. There are many muddy spots along the trail so you should wear sturdy, waterproof hiking boots if you come here. You can also see in this shot a blue diamond blaze on the tree ahead. The trail is well blazed with these markers.

But really, on this section of trail you don’t need blazes because you’re simply following a steam to its source. Since I’ve been following rivers and streams for all of my life it seemed obvious, but for someone who hasn’t done that maybe the blazes are a good idea.

I saw what I can only describe as tenderness being displayed by a family of cinnamon ferns, but that’s just my interpretation. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are usually the first to show their fiddleheads in spring.

There were lots of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) here that had reached a good age. I don’t see many large striped maples like these. The bark gives their name away.

There were lots of beech trees, too. I looked for the arching of buds that signals bud break, but saw just a few getting ready.

In case you don’t know what bud it is you’re seeing someone has marked the tree for you. They didn’t bother with the Fagus grandifolia part of the name though, which is probably a good thing for the tree.

At this point you have to cross the stream. It’s always nice to have the laughter of a stream to keep you company on a walk through the woods. This one is very easy to get close to over most of its length and that made an enjoyable walk even more so.

Stone walls hint that this was once pasture land, and the young age of most of the trees found here confirms it. This was a common “thrown” or “tossed” wall, built only to get the stones out of the way as quickly as possible. Though they often followed boundary lines they weren’t built for pretty. It was hard, back breaking work but if you wanted to grow crops it had to be done, and with our short growing season, the sooner the better.

There are some huge boulders here and there, some with polypody ferns and others with rock tripe lichens growing on them. This one was covered with mostly moss and a few trees. If you pay attention to the plants and trees that choose to grow on boulders like this one you realize how shallow their root systems must be. There can’t be more than an inch of soil on some of the big stones, but it is enough. Mosses usually colonize first and soak up rain water like a sponge, and then the larger plants growing near or with them benefit from their slow release of water. I’ve even seen dandelions growing on stone, even though they have a root like a carrot.

There were some nice reflecting pools in this little stream. It’s amazing how moving water can appear so still sometimes. Several times I thought of my father on this hike because he loved to fish for brook trout in places like this. Actually I’ve always thought his love of fishing was secondary to his love of simply being in places like this.

Here was another muddy spot. No trouble at all if your boots are waterproof.

I saw a tiny yellowish smudge on a birch log. The camera’s zoom brought it closer and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

It was a pretzel slime mold (Hemitrichia serpula) producing spores. The furryness or fuzziness of it is what shows that it was in the fruiting stage, actively producing spores. If I had found it a day or two earlier it would have been in its plasmodial stage, shiny and smooth like plastic. I had been hoping to see one for years, so it was an exciting find. They are usually small; all of what you see here fit in what was maybe a square inch of space. If you’re interested there is a good short video explaining what this slime mold is all about here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2RguYFuiM8

The trail started to climb uphill, but not steeply. This is the part of the trail where you leave the stream you’ve been following.

Once the trail leveled off again it was easy to picture it as pasture land. All the trees were very young.

There were some old grape vines growing up into the treetops. River grapes most likely, but they might have been Concord grapes, which also grow wild here. Before we started cultivating them and training them, this is how grapes grew naturally. They seek as much energy giving sunshine as possible and this leads them into the treetops. If you are mindful of how valuable sunlight is to plants when you walk through the woods, you’ll see all the various ways they maneuver themselves into position to recieve the most light. They all have different strategies that they have developed over who knows how many years of evolution, and some might surprise you. Plants that don’t climb, like native hobblebushes for instance, have developed other ways of finding light. They grow large, light gathering leaves. Other plants grow taller and lean into the light to get their share, just like that bean plant you probably grew on the window sill in first grade did. By the way, you were supposed to be learning about phototropism in that experiment, so I hope you were paying attention.

And here was the source of the stream; Cranberry meadow pond. Though I met quite a few people on the trail, which was a surprise on a weekday, for the most part you have the place to yourself. The pond is large and does have at least one house on it that I saw, and there is more building going on nearby. Since I had to see everything there was to see I dawdled and was here for about two and a half hours, but I think you could easily get to the pond and back to your car in an hour. But you’d miss a lot if you did, so dawdle a little. The trail map says it is one mile to the pond from the parking area but my phone said 1.3. Either way it isn’t much. You can go on from here all the way to the top of Pack Monadnock Mountain, another 1.2 miles, but I stopped here at the pond. When mushrooms start appearing I’ll be back because I have a feeling that this will be a great place to find them.

I saw one of the oldest, gnarliest blueberry bushes that I’ve ever seen here. It had a girth on its lower trunk as big as my leg. This scene showed how you can often pick the most blueberries from a boat. Ponds and lakes in this region have wild blueberry bushes growing all along their shorelines.

And the old blueberry was loaded with buds. When young, blueberry buds are bright red but as they grow in spring they swell up and lose their red color.

I saw beaver damage on trees all the way up here and here was the source of it; a large beaver lodge. It’s hard to find a pond or river in New Hampshire that doesn’t have beavers in it. What surprised me most here was the lack of damming of the stream.

There’s the beaver lodge again, just to the left of center out on the shoreline. This view also shows a small very flat island, which could be a bog mat made of peat mosses. I was surprised that I didn’t see any cranberry plants here but since most of the trail was wooded, I shouldn’t have been. They like full sun.

If you’re a lover of solitude this is the place for you, but if on the other hand you want to have a family picnic this would be a great place for that, too. The land the trail is on is privately owned and the land owners graciously allow public use, so the best way to keep it open is to always leave it as you find it. You can find out more about the trail and download a trail map by Googling “Cranberry Meadow Pond Trail, Perterborough, NH” or by clicking on the underlined text.

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

Thanks for stopping in.

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I’ve been walking each day since the day after I retired and it has made my lungs feel so much better, so I thought I’d tackle climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. It was a beautiful spring day of the kind where it really doesn’t matter where you are or where you go, as long as you are outside.

I didn’t know it at the time I started the climb but this would be a day of firsts, and the first first was seeing goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) growing beside the trail. I can’t remember seeing it here before, though I’ve come here countless times. Any time now I should be seeing its tiny but very pretty white flowers. Once collected almost to the point of extinction, it has made a good comeback and I was happy to see that it had found its way here.

I’ve never seen a striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) here before either but here was a small tree, quietly lengthening its velvety buds. Those buds are one of the most beautiful sights in the forest in the early spring, in my opinion.

I don’t remember why I took this photo. Maybe to show what a beautiful day it was.

I stopped along the trail for a moment and happened to glance down and saw some small, hard black, cup shaped fungi that I’ve since found are called ebony cup fungi (Pseudoplectania nigrella.) The smallest one was about the size of a pencil eraser and the biggest maybe a half inch across. According to Wikipedia they like to grow in groups on soil, often amongst pine needles and short grass near coniferous trees, and that was the situation here except for mosses instead of grass. Wikipedia also says that they have a worldwide distribution, but are hard to see because of their small size and dark color. I wondered how many times I had walked by them without seeing them. It was just luck that I saw them on this day.

I’ve read that jays, nuthatches and even chickadees stash acorns in holes in trees. This wasn’t a hole but I guess it was good enough for stashing acorns in.

This trail is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep until you near the summit. I think most people could go up and down in an hour or less, as long as they didn’t stop to see anything. Since I stop to see everything, it takes me twice as long.

Here was something I’ll probably never see again. This branch fell from one of those maples and got stuck just as it is. I looked it over and there were no nails or screws, just fate and branch forks in the right places. All it needed was a sign hanging from it.

I was happy to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) growing along the trail. It wasn’t showing any flower buds but this wasn’t a very big plant, so they’ll come along in the future. This is another plant that is making a comeback after being collected almost into oblivion.

A huge tree fell long ago and I always stop here to catch my breath before I reach the steepest part of the trail. I didn’t see them at the time but now that I see the photo my question is, how did those stones get inside the log?

This isn’t just any old log; it has lots of interesting things to see on it no matter where you look, and one of those things is a fungus called ceramic parchment fungus (Xylobolus frustulatus.) Apparently it prefers shade because it only grows on the shaded surfaces of the log, like under that branch stub.

Here is a closer look at the fungus. I’ve never seen anything else like it but a helpful reader identified it the last time I showed it here. Its common name comes from the way it resembles broken ceramic tiles, put back together with black grout. I’ve read that it is found on the dry, well-decayed wood of oaks, so this must be an oak log. What a gigantic tree it must have been.

Here was the steepest part of the trail. I didn’t fly up it but I have to say that all the walking I’m doing has improved my lung power greatly over what it was just a short time ago. I didn’t have to take anywhere near as many breaks as I did the last time I climbed here.  

And here was the granite bedrock of the summit itself, where you realize that you’ve been climbing a huge granite dome covered by just a thin skin of soil.

I thought that I might see the red haze caused by millions of red maple flowers from up here but I couldn’t see any at all.

Instead I saw red maple flowers right here on the summit. Some of them can be seen on that tree on the right in this photo I took of clouds.

There weren’t a lot of red maple flowers up here but what were here seemed well balanced between male and female flowers.

The male red maple flowers had that beautiful light, what I call the light of creation, shining out of them. I’ve come to believe that everything created has that light. Sometimes it is dim and other times it shines brightly as it did here, but everything (and everyone) has it.

Staghorn sumac also grew on the summit. They seem to be slow to get going this year, or maybe it is just impatience on my part. They have nice red new leaves coming out of the buds in spring that I’d like to see.

If, when you’re in nature, something catches your eye, just sit with it for a while. While you’re sitting with the thing that interests you, be it a flower or a leaf or a stone or a toadskin lichen, study it. Get to know it. Study it as if you were going to have to write a paper describing it. See every little nuance, its color and shape, feel its texture, hear it whisper or see the movement it makes when the wind blows over it. Just let yourself fall into it. Forget about naming it, forget about missing the game yesterday or going to work tomorrow and just be there with it, without a thought of anything but what is there in front of you.

Take some photos or take some notes, and when you get home look them over. If you do this, before long you’ll know the thing that caught your attention better than you ever thought possible, and doing this regularly will mean the end of your looking but not seeing. Before long you’ll see with new eyes, and you’ll want to see more. Fortunately there is always plenty more to see.

I once met two college age girls coming off a trail. When I asked them if they had seen any wildflowers both said they hadn’t seen a single one. As soon as I had followed the trail for just a few yards I started seeing flowers everywhere. They were small but they were there, and I realized that day that even though some people look, they just don’t see. Don’t be one of them. You’ll miss so much of the beauty in this world.

I took the trail east from the summit for a few yards to see Mount Monadnock. I hope I wasn’t as close to the edge of that cliff as it appears when I took this photo, because it’s a long way down.

That’s better. I cropped the cliff out because heights give me the heebie jeebies and also, we can see the mountain a little better now. Henry David Thoreau said he’d rather see Mount Monadnock from a distance rather than see out from its summit because it was far more beautiful from a distance, and I agree. Once you’re up there it doesn’t look much different than right here does, and this is a much easier climb.

As I started back down the trail three mourning cloak butterflies spun in a whirlwind above my head and then disappeared. Or so I thought; this one landed on a fallen branch just out ahead of me. It sat there with its wings folded, so I waited for them to unfold. They would unfold and then quickly fold back together, and I would miss the shot. I tried and missed several times-anyone who has ever tried to photograph a butterfly knows what I mean-but then finally the beautiful wings opened and stayed open, just long enough to get what you see here.

A little further down the trail there was another one sunning itself on an outcrop. I’ve read that these butterflies mate in spring, which might account for the whirlwind behavior that I saw happening several times. They’re very pretty and I was happy to have seen them. Usually the way it works with me is, once I see something I begin to see it everywhere, so hopefully I’ll see more of these beautiful creatures.

I thought I’d leave you with some good advice I found on the summit. I find these painted stones just about everywhere I go these days.

Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well. ~Naya Rivera

Thanks for stopping in.

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Since violets don’t usually bloom here until the end of April, I was surprised to find them so early. I was doubly surprised to see that they were white wood violets (Viola sororia albiflora) because I see maybe one white one for every hundred blue / purple ones. I’ve read that the American Violet Society says that the white ones are just white versions of the common blue violet (Viola sororia.) A kind of natural hybrid, I suppose. They’re prettier in my opinion, with their dark guide lines that help insects find the prize.

That ancient plant the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) has bloomed. They are members of the dogwood family but you would never know it by the tiny flowers, each one about an eighth of an inch across. The entire flower cluster seen here is barely an inch across. Though I’ve never seen it they say that each flower will become a small red fruit.

It is the fruit of the Cornelian cherry that is the reason it has been used since ancient times. Man has had a relationship with this now little-known shrub for about 7000 years, and we know that from finding remains of meals from the early Neolithic period that included cornelian cherry fruit. They usually bloom at about the same time Forsythias do, but they are seen in the form of small trees rather than the shrubby form of Forsythias. From a distance it might be easy to mistake one for a dwarf crab apple when it wasn’t in bloom.

So far, I’ve seen just two magnolia blossoms, this one and a white one that had been nipped by frost. So far it seems like spring is moving very slowly because of the still cool nights. Days are running in the high 50s F. lately and showery to partly sunny for the most part.

Hyacinths have come along now, and they always seem to me to mark the midway point of the flowering bulb season. They’re very beautiful and one of the most fragrant of all the spring flowering bulbs.

All of the sudden there are daffodils everywhere. In the last flower post I did I showed some that had been hurt by frost but these were untouched. According to the National Trust in the U.K. the daffodil’s drooping flowers are said to recall the story of Narcissus bending over to catch his image in a pool of water.

The local college has some very early tulips. They stay small but after a while will have yellow along with the red in the blossoms, if I remember correctly.

Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica.) is a scilla size flower that is one of my very favorite spring flowering bulbs. I tried to find them years ago and had a hard time of it but I just looked again and they now can be easily found through most spring bulb catalogs. Still, even though they’re easy to find now I never see them. I know of only this one place to find them and they are very old, coming up in the lawn of a local park. Though the catalogs will tell you that the blue stripes are found only on the inside of the blossom they actually go through each petal and show on the outside as well. I think they’re very beautiful.

Johnny jump ups (Viola) are blooming by the hundreds now. I chose this as my favorite on this day.

The cool weather is being good to the coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) plants. I see more and more blossoms but not a single seed head yet.

This dandelion blossom was just waking up, and I put it here so those of you who don’t know could see the difference between it and the coltsfoot blossom in the previous photo. In truth the only thing they have in common is the color. Size, shape and growth habit are different but the easiest way to tell the two apart is to look at the flower’s stem. Coltsfoot stems are scaly and dandelion stems are smooth.  

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) are growing about an inch per day when the sun shines, and if you look closely, you can see tiny flower buds all ready to get started. These are the tall, old fashioned bleeding hearts that die back in the heat of summer.

Raindrops were being cradled lovingly by the new growth.

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are looking more cabbage like each day, but you wouldn’t want to eat them.

I’ve been looking for some moss spore capsules to try out my new camera on and apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) obliged with its tiny round capsules, fresh out for spring. Reproduction actually begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warmer rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny green globes, so their appearance is a good sign of spring.

Each spore capsule is about 1/16 of an inch in diameter. Tiny, but after a few failed tries the new camera was able to do the job. The pointed part seen is the calyptra, which is a hood or cap which covers the lid-like operculum. The calyptra falls off first as time passes and the spores ripen, and finally when the spores are mature the operculum comes off and the spores are released to the wind.

Here is an apple moss spore capsule against a U.S. nickel. I tried to find the height of the date text on a nickel but had no luck. It is safe to say that it’s very small.

Though the male catkins are looking a bit tired the female flowers of American Hazelnuts (Corylus americana) are still going strong.

Hobblebush buds (Viburnum lantanoides) are opening but you’d never know it unless you had watched the hard mass that was there in winter slowly soften and begin to expand. Still, even at this stage it isn’t much to look at, and it might be hard to believe that in about a month it will be one of our most beautiful native wildflowers.

It is indeed hard to believe that the unshapen mass in the previous photo will become something as beautiful as this, but come mid May the woods will be full of wonderful blossoms like this one. Hobblebush flower heads are large-often 6 or more inches across, and are made up of small, fertile flowers in the center and larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge. All are pure white. I can’t think of a better reason to walk through the woods in spring.

I haven’t seen any of the feathery female flowers of the elms (Ulmus americana) yet but I’ve seen plenty of the male flowers like those shown here. Male flowers have 7 to 9 stamens with dark reddish anthers. Each male flower is about 1/8 of an inch across and dangles at the end of a long flower stalk (Pedicel.)

Male (staminate) box elder flowers (Acer negundo) are just showing in the recently opened buds. Once they begin to show like this things happen fast, so I’ll have to watch them.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) buds are showing color, so it won’t be too long before I can smell their wonderful fragrance again. It was my grandmother’s favorite wildflower because of that scent. Several Native American tribes considered the plant so valuable it was said to have divine origins, and I think she must have thought so too.

Trout lilies are up but so far leaves are all I’ve seen. The leaves always appear before the small yellow, lily like blooms. It won’t be long.

I was lying on my stomach at the edge of the woods trying to get this photo, just a few yards from one of the busiest highways in Keene, when I heard “Sir, is everything all right?” I looked up and found a young Keene Police officer looking down at me. I assured him everything was fine, thanked him for his concern, showed him the first spring beauty blossoms he had ever seen, and off he went. I thought afterwards that he had closed his car door, walked down an embankment full of crunchy oak leaves and stood right there beside me, and I hadn’t heard a thing. This, I thought, is a good example of becoming lost in a flower. I could imagine by his look of genuine concern what must have been going through that young officer’s mind. It can’t be every day that a policeman sees someone lying motionless in the weeds beside the road. At least, I hope not.

If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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In spring it doesn’t matter where you walk because everything is fresh and new and beautiful, but there were some things I wanted to see that I couldn’t see anywhere else, so I chose the old rail trail up in Westmoreland where the wild columbines grow. It’s the only spot I’ve ever found them in.

The first thing I saw was a stream running perpendicular to the trail, and when you’re on a railbed that can mean only one thing; a box culvert.

Box culverts carry the water under the railbed and have a roof made of thick slabs of granite, sturdy enough to carry the weight of a train. This is an odd one though, because one of the side walls is less than 90 degrees; not parallel to the other side wall. Also, if you look at the horizontal piece of granite you see there is a piece of track propping it up. These are things I’ve never seen on any other box culvert, and I’ve seen a few.  Another very odd thing about this setup is, the stream never comes out on the other side of the trail. Somehow, it goes underground or into a well. There are two huge pieces of granite slab on the opposite side of the trail covering something big.

But the strange box culvert wasn’t what I came here to see. One of the things I wanted to find out was if the red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa) had broken. Not only had they broken, they were already showing small clusters of flower buds. They remind me somewhat of lilac flower buds at this stage.

When red elderberry leaf buds break several (usually) purple leaflets come up out of the bud. Each “finger” of the tiny purple leaflet is rolled into a tube when it comes out of the bud, but will quickly unfurl and turn green in the sunshine.

And here was another stem that had leaves unfurling. It doesn’t look like much until you consider that just a month ago, all of this was packed inside of a bud just slightly larger than a pea. Once the buds break things happen quickly.

There are a few railroad artifacts along this trail, including this old signal base.

The place where the columbines grow isn’t far, about a mile out, and it’s an easy walk. There is a lot to see here, and there are always lots of birds to hear. I like places like this, especially on a beautiful spring day.

But you’ve got to stay awake and aware out here, because this is where I ran into the biggest bear I ever hope to meet up with.

I’ve thought about that encounter, and I think the bear just happened to be in this spot because one of the biggest beech trees I’ve even seen stood here, and I think the bear was probably just gobbling up all the fallen beechnuts from it. With a tree that size there must have been thousands of them. But then a storm blew through and the tree must have been weaker than it looked, because one trunk fell here, across the trail, and the other fell the opposite way. That stump and part of the trunk is all that’s left. Someone came out and cut it all up, but left the parts that were too big and heavy to move behind.

There are also wild grapes growing here. Something else for birds and animals to eat.

Marks from the big steam drills the railroad used are everywhere. Drill a hole, pack it with black powder, light the fuse and run as fast as you can go. I have a cannon that my father gave me that I use black powder in and I found that you had better run and hide behind a tree after you light the fuse because it has no carriage, and once the charge goes off it will fly through the air. It will fire a ball the size of a pinball machine ball, and it will bury that ball so deep in a chunk of maple you can’t dig it out. When they blew these ledges, the sound must have been deafening because that cannon can be heard from a long way off.

There was a lot of stone to take care of on this section and once they had the ledges cut back away from the rails they left them as they were, and now 150 years later they are home to some rarely seen plants.

Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is one of those plants, rare enough in this area so that I’ve never seen it anywhere else. It should bloom around the first of May or the last week of April, depending on the weather.

You’ve got to watch for loose stone above you near these ledges, though. This pile of stone had fallen not too long ago, and I think it landed right where the only blue cohosh plant I’ve ever seen grew.  

I’ve never gone very far beyond the ledges but this was a beautiful day and I had time so I decided to explore a little.

I saw a little brown mushroom growing on a very rotten black birch (Betula lenta) branch.

I think it might have been in the suillus clan. They only grow in soil from what I’ve read, but this branch had rotted down to very near soil. The only thing holding it together was the bark.

I saw an old road leading into the woods.

There were gate posts on either side, far enough apart for even a car to drive through. There was also a stone wall with a built-in break in it at this spot, so this road has been here for quite some time.

The road went into the woods for a short way and then turned sharply to the left, going downhill. The woods, mostly pine and hemlock, were thick and dark. Someday I’ll have to follow that old road, but not on this day. It’s too dark in that forest for sun lovers I think, but there could be a lot of pink lady’s slippers, as well as goldthread and other shade tolerant plants, but it’s too early to find any of them now.

I turned back and once again stopped at the ledges, at the place where a large clump of purple trillium grows. It was too early for trillium too, but it’ll be along in a week or two, probably. It grows fast and usually blooms when the columbines do so I’ll have to come out here again soon. I noticed that a lot of young trees had found enough soil to grow in on the ledges.

One of the trees growing on the ledges was striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum,) and most of the buds I saw on them showed cracks in the bud scales, just like those seen here. That means bud break will happen before too long and that gets me excited.

Striped maple buds are among the most colorful in the forest and quite different looking than other buds I’ve seen. They can be pink, orange, yellow or any combination of those colors and they are always velvety soft. This shot from last year shows them in all their glory.

This tiny moss grew on a section of ledge where water dripped constantly but didn’t look at all wet. It caught my eye because it was so bright, but it was so small I had to use full microscope mode on my camera to get just a poor shot of it. After 3 or 4 days of trying off and on to identify it, I haven’t had any luck so far. If you happen to know what it is I’m sure other readers would be happy to know.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
 ~Robert Frost

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Though it hasn’t warmed up much since the last flower post, spring is still happening. Each time I look around I’m seeing more crocuses. Last year there were a lot more white ones in this cool color group but they seem to be disappearing.

A new clump of reticulated iris has bloomed. I thought they were very pretty.

This bicolor is the first daffodil flower I’ve seen this year. Though it had just opened it looked tired and weather worn.

Many others won’t bloom at all because of the two cold nights we had. If you look to where the petals meet the stem on this bud you can see that they’re kind of discolored and watery looking. It and a few others were bitten badly.

I wasn’t going to bother with this shot of scilla but then I saw the oak leaves beside it

The small crocuses with blue stripes on the outside have opened to white. They’re pretty but it’s hard to see the blue when they’re open, and that’s my favorite part.

I like the soft shading on these examples. Google Lens calls them “vernal crocuses” and I think they might be Crocus tommasinianus. But whatever their name it doesn’t matter; they’re very pretty.

I like to see if I can get a bee’s eye view of flowers now and then. What bee wouldn’t want to go in there?

I saw hundreds of tulip leaves but not a single bud.

Magnolias are shedding their fur coats, but very slowly. After three days this one looked just the same as it does here. I love the color of that bud.

Imagine a bud that is the size of a large pea, and then imagine all of those yellow flower buds packed into that space. That’s exactly what is going on in this photo of a Cornelian cherry bud (Cornus mas). The bud scales open to reveal what seems an impossibility.

Grape hyacinths have come along. They aren’t related to grapes; they’re actually in the asparagus family (Asparagaceae) as are true hyacinths, but they do look like little clusters of grapes. These weedy flower beds you see in these some of these shots are at the local college. I went there and asked them if they couldn’t use a part time weeder but the funding isn’t there. I wasn’t surprised. Two years of Covid crippled the University System of New Hampshire but tuition rates are usually still among the highest in the entire country, so I’m sure that must limit spending as well. Maybe if they lowered tuition rates, they’d attract more students and make more money.

There are lots of squirrels around now. I’ve read that a squirrel can live its entire life without ever touching the ground. They bite the bark of trees like maples and lick up the sap, and then they eat buds, bark and fruit. This one found something to nibble on down below though. It also looked like it had been in a fight or two.

The vernal witch hazels, encouraged by the cool weather, just keep on blooming. These bushes are at the local college and a man I took to be a professor walked by when I was taking photos. “Are we all budded up?” he asked. I was a bit surprised. “There are flowers blooming all over the campus,” I told him. I also told him these were some of my favorites because of their scent. He started telling me that he couldn’t smell them because he had allergies, but then he said “Oh wait, I can smell them. They’re wonderful.” It’s easy to imagine him stopping to smell them every time he walks by from now on, just like I do. They are indeed wonderful and well worth stopping for.

I went to see the willows and finally spotted some color amidst the gray. You have to look closely, but it’s there.

The next day I saw this.

And this. Once you see a bit of color on a willow catkin it’s a good idea to go right back the next day because they bloom fast. These are male (Staminate) pollen bearing flowers. I haven’t found any female flowers yet. They aren’t quite as showy as the male blossoms on willows.

One day while visiting the spot where the willows grow, as I was checking to see if they were blooming, I heard a beautiful bird song coming from above. I looked up and there was a cardinal in the top of a tree, the first one I’ve ever seen. It’s hard for someone who isn’t colorblind to understand I know, but with the kind of colorblindness I have two of the most difficult colors to see when they’re together are red and green. I can see that this bird is obviously very red in the photo and I could see it that day when it was in the treetop but if it had been in a green tree, I wouldn’t have been able to see him at all. As if to prove it to me once again, this bird flew into some nearby spruce trees and completely disappeared. I could hear him singing so beautifully, but though I tried and tried I couldn’t see him. In my mind I could hear my son asking, as he did one day while pointing at a tree, “It’s right there. How can you not see it?” I can’t explain the how of it but I can say that this world is full of things we don’t see.

Dandelions are having a great time this spring and I’m seeing lots of them. They’ll disappear as soon as it gets hot so I enjoy them while I can.

One of them had curled stigmas full of pollen showing, which I’m sure the insects were very happy to see. On a dandelion blossom the stigma comes out of a tiny tube formed by the anthers, and though it’s a bit grainy if you look closely, you can see that in this photo.

I didn’t even have to go into the swamp to see that the leaves were unfurling on skunk cabbages. The sunlight highlighted this one perfectly. When they’re young like this they do resemble a cabbage leaf.

I thought I’d take a look at the place where spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) grow to see if I could find any of their leaves showing but instead, I found a single flower blooming. I was very happy to see it and I thought this day, April second was the earliest I’d ever seen them bloom but no, in 2020 they bloomed a day earlier, on April first. I walked around the area to find more but this was the only one I could find in bloom. It won’t be long though, before the forest floor is alive with them. These beautiful but small, aspirin size wildflowers always help me retrain my eyes to see small in spring. That’s important, because many other tiny flowers like bluets and goldthread will be coming along in mid-month.

The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time. ~Loren Eiseley

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Red maple season (Acer rubrum) is in full swing now, and the hillside are starting to take on that reddish haze that is so common to this area in spring. It’s beautiful but so far in my experience, impossible to capture with a camera. Maybe I’ll do another climb and try again.

The female flowers, tiny scarlet stigmas, have appeared right on schedule and the male flowers continue to bloom. They might not look like much but to me they are as beautiful as any other flower, especially because they tell me that spring has arrived.

The male flowers cover the whole spectrum of blooming. Some have shed their pollen and are dying off while others are justs starting to open, as these were. Sugar maple flowers haven’t opened yet but it shouldn’t be too much longer. Once they open that will be the end of the maple sugaring season. I’ve heard it was a good year, though shortened because of the early warmth. I’m sure it was welcome after a terrible year last year.

One morning I went to one of the spots where I know coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) grows and saw nothing at all. Then that afternoon, after a day in the 50s F., there they were.

Coltsfoot isn’t native but it is still welcomed as one of our earliest blooming wildflowers. It won’t be too long before the plant’s leaves apper, and that will mean the end of their season. I was happy to see them; they helped push winter a little further back into my memory.

I know where to go to find almost all of the spring flowers that appear in these posts, but little chickweed is always a surprise. I never know when or where it will pop up. I’m not sure which one it was but it was pretty.

American hazelnuts (Corylus cornuta) continue their spring journey with the male catkins just starting to release pollen. I was happy to get this shot because it shows the transition from what the catkins look like in winter, there on the right, to what they look like in spring, on the left. As can be seen, the catkins lengthen by quite a lot and turn golden.

But that isn’t all that happens to the catkins. If you think of a catkin as a spring, when the spring gets pulled the coils are pulled apart, and that’s essentially what happens to a catkin. Each of the tiny manta ray like parts are bud scales. They have a white fringe and a blackish “tail.” As the central stalk of the catkin lengthens in spring the spirally arranged buds slowly pull apart, and under each tiny bud scale the actual flowers are revealed. The hundreds of flowers are the very small, roundish golden bits under each bud scale; maybe 3 to 5 per scale. To me all of this is simply a miracle. I can’t think of any other way to describe it.

And there were the tiny, sticky female flowers, already dusted with pollen grains.

Just after the hazelnuts start taking care of their spring business the alders (Alnus) begin, so as soon as I see golden hazelnut catkins blowing in the wind I start checking the alders. The two plants aren’t that different really, as far as strategy goes. It’s easy to see the way alder buds are arranged in spirals just like the hazelnuts, even in catkins that haven’t opened. Spirals are nature’s way of packing the most life into any given space and you see them used in everything from galaxies to our own inner ear.

I think alder catkins are more attractive than hazelnut catkins because of the contrasting purple and yellow colors. The brown and purple scales on the catkin are on short stalks and there are three yellow/ green flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen. This was the only bush I found with open catkins and it was very early, I thought. Soon though, all the bushes that line pond edges will look like they’ve been strung with jewels.

I wanted to see what the plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) was doing. It looked fine but it was too early for it to be flowering. It is one of the earliest though, so it shouldn’t be too long.

The other day I saw a Forsythia trying to bloom.

And the next day it had bloomed with two or three blossoms showing, but the day after that it got cold again, with a low of 15 degrees at night, so I’ll have to go see how it’s doing. Many of the plants that grow here have built in cold resistance but since Forsythia isn’t native it might have suffered.

Scilla have started blooming as well. I love the color of these small blossoms. I once worked for some people who had a large drift of scilla, thousands of them, under some old oaks, and it was beautiful.

There was no wind but this one looked as if it was in a gale. It was also beautiful.

Reticulated irises have finally appeared. This is a strange plant, because some years it blooms before crocuses and other years after, so I’ve learned not to count on it doing anything that I expect it to.

This was my favorite iris, but there was only one. I’ve heard that they will kind of fade over the years so that what was once twenty can become just one or two.

Snowdrops have fully opened.

This little crocus is one of my favorites, but more for its beautiful outside than its plain white inside. My blogging friend Ginny tells me small crocuses like these are called snow crocuses, which I guess nobody I gardened for years ago ever grew or wanted, because I had never heard of them. They’re very pretty little things.

Hyacinths are up and showing color.

And magnolia bud scales are starting to split open, because the flowers inside are now growing. It won’t be long before they show themselves.

Daffodils, the last time I saw them, were heavily budded and I expect by now many have opened. I hope to be able to show them to you in the next flower post if the cold didn’t get them.

It’s hard to say when the hellebores will open but they were showing some fine looking big red buds. Though the buds are red, the flowers on these plants will be a kind of not very exciting light, greenish color.

I’ve met many people who didn’t think spring was anything special, and some who have even said they didn’t like it at all. I have to say that I felt sorry for them because I’ve never understood how anyone couldn’t become excited by the promise and hope of the season, and why the beautiful miracle of the earth awakening once again didn’t make them want to sing. I’ve loved spring forever; since I was a very small boy, and it still just blows my heart open and makes me want to run and play and see and smell every flower that blooms and see every new leaf unfold. While I was taking some of these photos I heard the loud quacking of wood frogs, and then the next day I heard spring peepers. The grass is starting to show green in places and all of the birds are singing their beautiful songs of spring, and how could you not love it? If you don’t love it, I hope you can at least put up with it because I’ll be showing a lot more of it in future posts.

Free your heart from your mind. Embrace wonder for one moment without the need to consider how that wonder came to be, without the need to justify if it be real or not. ~Charles de Lint

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