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Archive for the ‘General gardening’ Category

Last weekend I thought I’d visit a few places along the Ashuelot River in Keene and Swanzey to see if there were any fall colors showing yet. I saw a few, though I really hoped it was still too early for fall.

I even saw signs of fall up in the trees already. As I’ve said here many times, spring and fall start on the forest floor and work their way through the shrubby understory to the trees. To see it already in some of the trees was a bit disconcerting.

Here was a beautiful wild sarsaparilla plant (Aralia nudicaulis) on the forest floor that was sticking to the plan. This is where I expect to see fall first, and sarsaparilla is always one of the first forest floor plants to change. Most turn yellow but this one felt like purple would do best.

Native dogwoods of the shrubby understory are also starting to change. They’re often one of the first shrubs to turn and will often turn purple.

Another shrub that’s beginning to change is the invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus.) These understory shrubs can take a lot of shade and can form monocultures in the forest. They in turn cast enough shade so natives can’t get a start.  Burning bushes often turn unbelievable shades of pink and a forest full of them is truly an amazing sight. Their sale and cultivation is banned in New Hampshire but there are so many of them in the wild they’ll always be with us now.

Last time I saw this butterfly I had a very hard time identifying it and finally settled on silvery checkerspot, but several of you knew it as a pearly crescent. Then someone wrote in and said they were fairly sure it was indeed a silvery checkerspot, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide. To be honest I just enjoy seeing butterflies and don’t really need to know their names to love them.

This one I did know; a cabbage white butterfly rested on a Virginia creeper leaf. This species is originally from Europe along with quite a few of the cabbage family of plants that their caterpillars feed on.

Of course there were turtles. There are almost always turtles to be seen along the Ashuelot. In the fall this turtle would be looking out upon a blaze of flaming red maples in this spot but on this day all we saw was green.

I saw plenty of flowers along the river, including this aster that I’ve been too lazy to try to identify.

I hate to say it but when I was a boy this river was so polluted you could hardly stand the smell in high summer. I’ve seen it run orange and purple and green, and any other color the woolen mills happened to be dyeing with on any particular day. I’ve seen people dump their trash on its banks and I’ve seen it close to dead, with only frogs, turtles and muskrats daring to get near it. But after years of effort it is clean once again and eagles fish for trout and other freshwater fish along its length. It no longer smells and though you can still find an occasional rusty can or broken bottle it is far cleaner than it was when I was growing up. Or so I thought; when I was a boy you could step in the mud at the river’s edge and see oil accumulating in your footstep, just like it did in the photo above. How long will it take to clean that up, I wonder? It’s a hard thing to see, after all these years.

But the plants don’t seem to mind. Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is just about done this year but I still loved seeing the few pretty little flowers that were left. This plant can get quite tall under the right conditions but it’s fussy about where it grows. It likes wet soil and full sun, which means I almost always find it near water. Its bitter roots were used by Native Americans to treat gastric irritation and some tribes roasted them and ground them into flour. Others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to stop nosebleeds. This is one of the plants they introduced to the Europeans and they used it in much the same way.

Ducks and many other birds feed on the seeds of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and the ones on this plant were almost gone. This native shrub grows all along the river and I see it fairly often. Each puffy bit that looks like a bladder is what a fertilized flower turns into and each should hold two black seeds.

Hairy galls on buttonbush leaves are caused by the buttonbush mite (Aceria cephalanthi.) There are over 900 species of the nearly microscopic Aceria insects that are identified by the host plants they feed on.

Nodding bur marigolds (Bidens tripartita) grew along the shore with smartweeds like tearthumb. I just featured this plant in my last post so I won’t go on about it, other than to say that the way to tell how old the flowers are is by their position. As they age they nod and point toward the ground, so it’s safe to assume that these flowers were relatively freshly opened.

Mad dog skullcaps (Scutellaria laterifolia) are still blooming, I was surprised to see. This plant was unusual because of its one flower. They always bloom in pairs and I must have gotten there just after one of this pair had fallen. They love to grow on grassy hummocks near rivers and ponds and that’s where I always find them. The skullcap part of the common name comes from the calyx at the base of the flower, which is said to look like a medieval skull cap. The plant was once thought to cure rabies, and that is where the mad dog part of the common name comes from. This plant contains powerful medicine so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a vision quest or a spirit walk, this was one of the plants they chose to get them there.

Giant foxtail grass (Setaria faberi) is a large annual grass that can form large colonies. Its nodding, bristly, spike like flower heads and wide leaves make it easy to identify. The flower heads go from light green to straw colored as they age.

I think pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) goes from flower to fruit quicker than any plant I know of. These berries were overripe and stained my fingers purple when I touched them. The birds usually eat them right up and I was surprised to find so many on this plant. Science says that humans should never eat the berries or any other part of the plant because it’s considered toxic, but people do eat the new shoots in spring. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses.

My favorite part of the pokeweed plant is the tiny purple “flower” on the back of each berry. The flower is actually what’s left of the flower’s five lobed calyx, but it mimics the flower perfectly. I just noticed that this calyx has six lobes rather than five. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen more than five.

A hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) found its way to the top of a pokeweed plant to get more sunlight. Pokeweeds can get 5 or 6 feet tall so the bindweed got a lot closer to the sun than it would have normally been able to.

And here was something new; at least, it was new to me. I can’t believe I’ve walked the banks of this river for over 50 years and have never seen native swamp smartweed (Persicaria hydropiperoides.) This plant is also called false water pepper or mild water pepper and is the only smartweed I’ve ever seen that had most of its flowers open at once. You’re usually lucky to find one or two open on a smartweed.

From what I’ve read even botanists have a hard time with this one because the plant is so variable, probably because of cross breeding. The pretty pinkish white flowers are quite small; less than an eighth of an inch across.  They remind me of the sand jointweed flowers that I featured in the last post, right down to the plum colored anthers.

No, I haven’t put the same shot of the Ashuelot River in this post twice. This one looks upriver from a bridge and the one at the start of the post looks downriver. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best so you get to see both of them. I hope you like one or the other. They show how the green is starting to lighten and fade from a lot of the leaves.

This was one of those perfect New England days in late summer where the spirit of autumn takes a first stealing flight, like a spy, through the ripening country-side, and, with feigned sympathy for those who droop with August heat, puts her cool cloak of bracing air about leaf and flower and human shoulders. ~Sarah Orne Jewett

Thanks for stopping in.

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Seeing the purple trilliums bloom told me that it was time to walk down an old rail trail in Westmoreland to see the wild columbines bloom. But purple trilliums aren’t the only sign and I almost turned back when I saw that the red elderberry at the start of the trail wasn’t blooming yet. So far every time I’ve seen the columbines in bloom the red elderberry was blooming as well.

There has been a lot of logging going on up here over the past few years and you can now see deep into the forest, which is or was mostly beech, maple and oak. I was glad I could see so far because this is known bear country up here. I had a can of bear spray with me but I’m hoping I never have to use it. If I saw a bear way off in the distance I’d sooner leave the woods to it rather than spray it.

It was a little disorienting to see the plants so far along here. Here were ferns in leaf while in Keene they were barely out of the ground.

I was just taking photos of striped maple buds (Acer pennsylvanicum) breaking the day before and here they were in leaf.

I hadn’t seen any sign of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) in Keene but here it was in its strange, clasping pose. This is how it looks just before its leaves unfurl.

Some plants had even leafed out already. At this stage many people confuse wild sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which also comes up at the same time and has glossy green leaves.

What looks like a dark tunnel is where we’re going. Once you get there you find that it isn’t dark and it isn’t a tunnel.

But what was that up ahead?

Beech bud break; one of my favorite things to see in the spring forest. They are this beautiful for a very short time; less than a day before leafing out completely. It usually starts when the buds begin to curl in mid-May, so these were early. At this point I hadn’t seen any sign of bud break in Keene.

I don’t know how long I stood there admiring the new leaves and taking photos but it was a good while. This only happens on one or two days each year and I usually lose myself in the beauty of it for a while. In what seems like no time at all the new leaves will lose their silver fringe and become completely green for the summer. If I’d seen no more of nature for the rest of the day I still would have been very happy. I do hope readers of this blog will look for new leaves in spring. They can be astoundingly beautiful and they’re so easy to find.

Here we are already. These ledges were made when the railroad cut its way through in the mid-1800s. It is part of the same rail trail that the Westmoreland deep cut is on, which I’ve posted about regularly over the years. The major difference in the two cuts is how this wall of this cut is bathed in sunshine for much of the day. It means that a lot of different species of wildflowers can grow here. I have a feeling that this ledge is lime rich because wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) prefers a slightly alkaline soil.

There they were and I was surprised, because though every other plant I had seen here was ahead of its cousins to the south the columbines were not. They were heavily budded though and I won’t mind another walk out here to see the blossoms. Most of the columbines grow over my head on the ledges so getting good photos of them can be difficult. I tried climbing up to them once and slipped on the oak leaves, landing in a very undignified heap at the foot of the ledge.

This bud was within reach and had a few stamens poking out. It also had what looks like a tiny insect egg on it, there on the left. I’m guessing that it would have been about the size of a single letter in any word of this sentence as they appear here; so very small I didn’t even see it until I looked at the photo.

The flower buds on this Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) were clearly visible but I haven’t seen this plant anywhere near this far along in Keene. It must be the bright sunshine up here, or the fact that cold air runs downhill like water and pools in the valleys like the one Keene is in. This must be some type of microclimate.

Jack in the pulpit plants (Arisaema triphyllum) were blooming on the ledges. I always lift the hood of the spathe to see “Jack,” which is the spadix, and to see the beautiful dark stripes. Another name for this plant is tcika-tape, which translates to “bad sick” in certain Native American tribal language. But they didn’t get sick on the poisonous roots because they knew how to cook them to remove the calcium oxalate crystals that make them toxic. That leads to another common name: Indian turnip.

I’ve always thought of the spadix in a Jack in the pulpit as being black, but the bright sunshine shows it to actually be more plum colored. If you’re looking for Jack in the pulpit yet another name for it is bog onion, and that should tell you that it likes low, damp places. But it will also grow on stone as it does here, as long as there is dripping groundwater to keep it good and moist.

There is a large clump of purple trillium (Trillium erectum) here as well.

I know I just showed a purple trillium in my last post but who can resist something as beautiful as this? They’ll be gone before we know it.

In my last post I told about finding marsh marigold, which is a plant I’d never seen, and here was another one I’d never seen: blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides.) Cohosh is believed to be an Algonquin name used for several different plants with different color fruit and in this case the blue refers to the berries. The stems and leaves also have a blueish cast. I think this must have been this plant’s first year here. It stood knee high right next to the trail and was quite bushy, so I surely would have seen it last year. It is said to be long lived when it grows in a place that it likes.

Each of the 6 yellow green petal-like sepals of the blue cohosh flower contains a nectar gland to attract spring insects. The flowers are small at about 1/2 inch across. 6 yellow stamens form a ring around the green center ovary. The true petals are the shiny green parts that ring the center between the sepals and the stamens. Though both Native Americans and early settlers used the plant medicinally to treat a variety of ailments including childbirth, it contains alkaloids and all parts of it should be considered toxic.

Though the flower buds showed some blue the name blue cohosh actually comes from the blue fruit, which looks much like a blueberry but isn’t really a berry at all. They are actually brown seeds with a dark blue fleshy seed coat that protects them. The naked seeds are considered the plant’s fruit but are poisonous. I’m looking forward to coming back and seeing the “berries” when they ripen in summer. It also has beautiful dark blue shoots as it comes out of the ground in spring, so of course I’ll have to be here next year to see that as well. I certainly haven’t seen every plant there is to see but I’ve seen many, so finding two plants I’ve never seen before in one day really amazed me. I think I had a great week. Tomorrow I’ll go back to see those columbines in bloom.

My relationship to plants becomes closer and closer. They make me quiet; I like to be in their company. ~Peter Zumthor

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there!

 

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How strange it seems to be able to do a flower post this late in October, but the weather people say we’re on the way to the warmest one ever. Bluets often start blooming in early May. They have quite a long blooming season but I was still surprised to find a small clump in bloom this late in the year. As many other flowers do right now, the bluets looked smaller than normal, and stunted. It’s as if they know they shouldn’t be blooming but decided to give it a halfhearted try anyhow.

False dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) is a plant that is still thriving and I see it blossoming everywhere I go. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The yellow flowers are smaller than the dandelion’s and stand atop wiry, 6-8 inch long stems. The leaves look like miniature versions of dandelion leaves and are nowhere near as wide or as long.

I still see various species of goldenrod blooming here and there but the huge fields of them I saw in August and September are finished for this year. I think this one might have been downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula,) which I’ve seen growing in this place before. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches, and it has been used for centuries to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections.

A hoverfly on the goldenrod was willing to pose for a photo.

I found this pretty little dianthus growing in a garden. Dianthus are much loved garden flowers that are often called “pinks.” Maiden pinks and Deptford pinks are two members of the family that have escaped and are found in the wild in summer.

Pee Gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) blossoms are still turning into their fall pink and when that is done they will go to brown. Eventually each flower petal will start to disintegrate and for a short time will look like stained glass. If cut at the pink stage however, the color will hold for quite a long time.

The last time I saw brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) blooming was in August I think, but apparently after a rest it has decided to bloom again. Either that or new plants have grown from seed. This is an annual plant that is originally from Europe and Asia. It is considered highly invasive in some regions but I hardly ever see it here. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls at the top of the plant.

The flowers of brittle stem hemp nettle have a 3 part lower lip for insects to land on. From there they can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom, brushing against the 4 pollen bearing stamens along the inside of the upper lip as they do so. The small 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on the outside of the upper lip and the square stems are also hairy. It is a very brushy, bristly looking plant but the soft hairs don’t embed themselves in your skin, thankfully.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. This blossom was at the very top of the flower spike, meaning this plant is done.  Mullein is a biennial which flowers and dies in its second year of growth. Native Americans used tea made from this plant’s large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

This tiny lobelia flower known as Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) is the first I’ve seen in a while now. Most of these plants have long been brown but this one must have wanted to give it one more go. I’m sure the insects appreciated its efforts. I was glad to see it too.

Indian tobacco gets that name from its inflated seed pods that are said to resemble the pouches that Native Americans used to carry their smoking materials in.

I was hoping to see some orange hawkweed once more this year but I didn’t see any members of the family blooming except this yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum.) Yellow hawkweed starts blooming in June here and is fairly common, but not in October. I think this is the latest I’ve ever seen it bloom. This plant had several more buds on it too, so it will bloom for a while yet.

I’m still seeing roses blooming away like it was high summer. I keep thinking I should call them the last rose of summer when I show them here but summer seems to just go on and on this year. And I’m not complaining about that.

I found a large colony of pink knotweed (Polygonum pennsylvanicum) still blooming, mixed in with grasses and clovers. It was very small and short but it had also been mowed so it was probably stunted because of it.

Pink knotweed is also called Pennsylvania smartweed. The flower heads are made up of many petal less flowers that grow densely on the stalk. Smartweeds get their name from the way your tongue will smart if you bite into them. Native American used smartweeds medicinally to treat a variety of ailments, and also used the chopped plants as a seasoning, much as we use pepper today. Some species are extremely hot while others are said to be milder. I almost always find smartweeds near water but these examples were not.

I think this is the first time scabiosa has been on this blog, mainly because I don’t see them very often. This example was growing in a local park and seemed to be doing well, with many flowers. Actually I should say many flower heads, because what you see in this photo is a flower head containing many small florets. I’ve read that the name scabiosa comes from the plant’s use in the past to treat scabies, which causes a severe itching. It is native to Africa, Europe and Asia.

If you ever want to see a child’s face light up and break into a big grin, just squeeze a blossom of pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) and have them smell it. They’re always surprised when they find that the humble little weed that they’ve never paid attention to smells just like pineapple. I’m guilty of not paying attention too; I realized when I saw several plants blooming that I had no idea what its normal bloom schedule was. I know that it starts blooming in June here and according to what I’ve read blooms for about two months, so it is well past its normal blooming period. It is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year so I wonder if next year’s seed supply is growing now, in this extra warm fall.

Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) is in the same family (Oleaceae) as lilacs and that should come as no surprise when you look closely at the small flower heads. What is surprising is that it was blooming at all, because they usually bloom in May or early June. Privet is a quick growing shrub commonly planted in rows and used as hedging because they respond so well to shearing. Originally from Europe and Asia it is considered invasive in some areas. It has been used by mankind as a privacy screen for a very long time; Pliny the Elder knew it well. Its flexible twigs were once used for binding and the name Ligustrum comes from the Latin ligare, which means “to tie.”

Common chickweed (Stellaria media) likes cool weather so it was a bit surprising to find it blooming. The plants looked like they were suffering though, with small, stunted flowers that looked as if they had never made it to full size. Chickweed is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year. It’s originally from Europe and is considered a lawn weed here. I usually find it in the tall grasses at the edge of woods. This one had tiny friends visiting.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is often thought of as a warmth loving southern plant but here it is blooming and making berries in October in New Hampshire. Pokeweed flower clusters (Racemes) are unusual because you can often see ripe fruits at the bottom and new flowers at the top.

Pokeweed flowers are about a quarter inch across and have no petals but do have 5 white or pink sepals surrounding green carpels that fold and meet in the center. These green carpels will become a shiny, 8-10 chambered, purple-black berry. The carpels are surrounded by 10 white stamens. Though they were once used to color cheap wines the berries are poisonous and have killed children. People eat the leaves and spring shoots but adults have also been poisoned by eating plants that weren’t prepared properly. There are some powerful toxins in parts of the plant and scientists are testing it for its anti-cancer potential.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

Thanks for coming by.

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1-the-stream

There is a small stream near my house that I like to visit at least once in winter and I did so recently. Right now it looks lazy and placid, but I’ve seen it rise overnight into a raging, road eating thing that easily covered everything in this photo except the trees. Its name is Bailey Brook, I just found out the night before posting this, but according to the Maine Geological Survey a brook is just a small stream. On the other hand a stream is a small river or brook, so I’m just going to keep calling it a stream.

2-tree-moss

One reason I like to come here is to see my old friends the tree mosses (Climacium dendroides.) They’re beautiful little mosses that I never see anywhere else. They must like very wet soil because they grow right at the edge of the stream and are covered by water when the stream floods. In fact all of the plants you’ll see in this post are under water for at least a day or two each year. It is their shape that gives tree mosses their common name but it is their inner light that draws me back here to see them.

3-christmas-fern

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is probably the most common of our evergreen ferns. When seen at this time of year it is obvious that it has had its branches flattened by the weight of the snow because they splay out all over the ground. When the new fronds, or fiddleheads, appear in spring the previous season’s fronds turn yellow and then finally brown. The dead fronds then form a mat around the living fern that helps prevent soil erosion. This is a fern that doesn’t mind wet soil.

4-christmas-fern

Christmas fern is easy to identify by its leaflets that resemble little Christmas stockings. The narrow fine teeth that line the edges of the leaflets and the short leaf stalks can also be seen in this photo. It is said to be called Christmas fern because early settlers brought the green fronds inside at Christmas.

5-marginal-wood-fern-spore-cases

Marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) is another evergreen fern that also grows well here because it likes damp, shady places. Its spore bearing sori grow on the edges of the leaves and give this fern its common name. The sori are covered by a kidney shaped cap (indusium,) which is smooth. The cap comes off just when the spores are ready to be released, as it has done on at least two of these examples.

6-pine-sap-on-fern

The sticky sap from a white pine (Pinus strobus) had dripped on the upper part of the marginal wood fern’s frond. I decided to show it to you so you could see how white pine sap turns blue when it’s cold.

7-jelly-fungus

An orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus) was drying out and had lost its transparency. Jelly fungi can absorb many times their own weight is water but when they begin to dry out they can shrink down to a hard dry chip the size of a toddler’s fingernail.

8-fungal-growth

I saw a fallen branch with some familiar looking growths on it, so I looked a little closer.

9-fungal-growth

The branch growths had me believing they were slime molds for a minute or two. They looked a lot like a slime mold called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa v. porioides, which looks like tiny geodesic domes and loves to grow on rotting wood. But something wasn’t right; they were a little too big and they weren’t bright white like Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa. Them my right hand found something cold and jelly like on the branch.

10-fungal-growth

I think what my hand found was a milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus.) This is a “winter” fungus that can appear quite late in the year. It is also a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of logs the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it. This is the first time I’ve seen the “birth” of this fungus.

11-winter-fungus

I saw an awful lot of fungi for a January day. I’m not sure what this one was but it was pleasing to the eye and reminded me of spring, and that was enough.

12-artists-conk

Artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum) grew on an old oak and wasn’t hard to identify. This bracket fungus gets its name from its smooth white underside, which is perfect for drawing on.  Any scratch made on the pure white surface becomes brown and will last for many years. I drew a farm scene on one more than 30 years ago and I still have it.

13-artists-conk

Artist’s conks are perennial fungi that get bigger each year. Older examples can be up to two feet across, but this one was closer to half that. I put my Olympus camera on it to give you an idea of how big it was. This fungus causes heart rot in a wide variety of tree species, so this living tree is doomed.

14-horsetails

Horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) rise like spikes from the forest floor. These ancient plants are embedded with silica and are called scouring rushes. They are a great find when you are camping along a stream because you can use them to scour your cooking utensils. Running your finger over a stalk feels much like fine sandpaper.

15-horsetail

In Japan horsetails are boiled and dried and then used to smooth wood, and are said to produce a finish superior to any sandpaper. Horsetails produce spores in their cone shaped tips, but the examples in this spot rarely grow them. I think the stripes on them will always remind me of socks.

16-woodpecker-tree

This tree is full of insects, probably carpenter ants, and the pileated woodpecker that made these holes knew it. Pileated woodpecker holes are almost always rectangular and very big compared to other woodpecker holes. These were quite deep as well.

17-bark-beetle-damage

Pine bark beetles (Ips pini) had a field day here, according to the evidence left behind on several fallen limbs. The look of a jagged saw tooth pattern means unfinished egg chambers.  Pine bark beetles kill limbs and trees by girdling them. This stops the movement of water and nutrients up and down the tree and the infected limbs or the entire tree will die. These beetles are small and range in size from about 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch in length, but they can do a lot of damage when enough of them are in a forest.

18-grape-tendril

Native river grapes (Vitis riparia) grow along the stream banks. These are old vines that grow well into the tree tops and the fermenting fruit makes the forest smell like grape jelly on warm fall days. I like looking at their tendrils. Sometimes I see beautiful Hindu dancers in their twisted shapes; other times animals, sometimes birds. This one took the shape of a heart.

River grapes are also called frost grapes, and their extreme cold tolerance makes their rootstock a favorite choice for many well-known grape varieties. They’ve been known to survive temperatures of -57 degrees F. (-49 C)

19-tangle

Bailey Brook gets its start in the Horatio Colony nature preserve in Keene, which was too far away to hike to on this day, so I stopped at this tangle of trees, brush and vines. Finding ways under, over, through or around snags like these can take a lot out of you. This stream completely dried up in last summer’s drought and I could have walked up its bed all the way to its source, but I didn’t. I’m happy to see it full pf water again.

If it weren’t for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song. ~Carl Perkins

Thanks for stopping in.

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1-road-start

When it snows enough to make hiking a little more work I like to follow Beaver Brook in Keene. It’s a popular spot with both nature lovers and dog walkers and it’s rare that someone hasn’t made a path for you to follow. Since the old road that is now a trail essentially ends at a waterfall it’s easy to guess where the trodden snow path will lead.

2-ledges

One of the other reasons I like to come here in winter is because of the easy access to the ledges that are close beside the old road. There are many mosses and lichens that grow on thede ledges and I hoped to see the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that grow here, but unfortunately on this day snow covered them all.

3-blue-lichen

Though I didn’t see any smoky eye boulder lichens I did see one of the lichens that taught me that lichens can change color. This lichen is normally an ashy gray color in summer but as it gets colder it becomes darker and darker blue. This is the darkest I’ve ever seen it and I wonder if that’s because of the below zero nights we’ve had. I haven’t been able to identify it but it’s very granular and scattered, with no definite shape.

4-stairstep-moss

The stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) that I only find in this place is very delicate looking but it can take a lot of winter ice and snow and grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It is also called glittering wood moss and sparkles when the light is right. It grows on stone here and seems to like places when it can hang over an edge.

5-beaver-brook

Another reason I like coming here in winter is to see the often spectacular ice formations that grow along the brook, but this year it has frozen from bank to bank early and the only ice seen was flat and shapeless. Beaver Brook itself had been all but silenced except for a giggle heard here and there where there were small openings in the ice. It’s very strange to walk in a place where you know there is always the sound of running water and then suddenly not hear it. Only ice can silence a stream or river.

6-ice

There wasn’t even that much ice on the ledges, and I finally realized that the ice that grows here must grow from snow melt rather than seeping ground water. If it’s too cold for the snow to melt as it has been recently, ice doesn’t grow. If the ice came from seeping groundwater it would keep growing no matter how cold it got.

7-ice-on-stone

The dribbles of ice on this stone looked ancient, as if they had been here forever.

8-patterns-in-stone

Even without ice on them the stones here are fascinating and speak of the countless eons of tremendous pressure that stretched and folded these hills into what we see today. The stones here were once a mineral stew and today many blood red garnets can be found.

9-fern

Evergreen ferns grow under the ledge overhangs and wait patiently for spring, when this year’s green fronds will finally turn brown and new shoots will appear. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring, which gives them a head start over the competition.

10-large-boulder

Off in the woods across the brook stands a huge glacial erratic boulder. If it could be hollowed out two people could easily fit inside it with plenty of room to spare. One day an old timer I met here told me that there are people who cross the brook to climb it, but I’ve never seen them do so. He’s the same old timer who told me that he had seen the brook flood and cross the road, which is a very scary thing to think about because not too far from here is downtown Keene.

11-lichens-and-liverworts

There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. As it gets colder these liverwort turn color until they become a dark purple; almost black, so they are much more noticeable in winter than in summer when they’re green. Some can get fairly large but this example was smaller than a tennis ball.

12-frullania-liverwort

The tiny leaves of frullania liverworts are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but though I finally membered to smell a few they didn’t seem to have any scent at all. This liverwort can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) has been seen in loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with it on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs with liverworts on them.

13-script-lichens

Script lichens (Graphis) grow on tree bark all along this old road. The dark “script” characters are the lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) There are many script lichen species and each seems to prefer a certain species of tree. This photo shows the clear separation between three species. Though the dark fruiting bodies are all horizontal in these examples, their size and spacing is quite different. Script lichens are another lichen that seems to produce spores only in cold weather. In summer they appear as whitish or grayish splotches on tree bark.

14-script-lichens

I got excited when I saw this script lichen because I thought I had found the rare and beautiful asterisk lichen (Arthonia radiata) that I’ve been searching for, but I think the two fruiting bodies that look like asterisks were just an anomaly in what is a common script lichen (Graphis scripta.)  In a true asterisk lichen all of the fruiting bodies would be star shaped.

15-golden-birch

Many of the trees looked like they wore capes of ermine. Speaking of ermines, I searched for the otter slides that I’ve seen here in the past, but didn’t see any. The old road has steep hillsides along its length and otters come here to slide down them in winter.

16-guard-post

This road was laid out in the 1700s and was abandoned in the early 70s when a new highway was built-literally right across the existing road. Since then nature has slowly been reclaiming the area. Some of the old guard rails still stand but many have been swallowed up by the brook, which over time has eaten away the edge of the road.

17-big-snowball

From a distance I thought that a boulder had rolled down off the hillside and landed in the road but it turned out to be a huge snowball that someone had rolled. It was chest high and must have taken considerable effort to move.

18-fungus

Fall oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on the trunk of a maple but were now frozen solid. These fungi cause white rot and are not a good thing to see on living trees. Oyster mushrooms are also carnivorous. Scientists discovered in 1986 that they “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

19-moss-on-tree

We’ve all seen the deep channels in tree bark but what I didn’t know until I started researching mosses and lichens for this blog is how rainwater runs in these channels. They’re like small vertical streams and a frozen one can be seen over on the left in this shot. Mosses and lichens and even some fungi take advantage of these streams and grow beside them on the tree’s bark. By doing so they probably get a little extra water when it rains.

20-oak-leaf

An oak leaf had fallen on the snow. Its dark color will attract sunlight and that will heat it enough to melt the snow, and it will gradually sink in until it eventually disappears under it. Oak leaves are among the most water resistant leaves but being under the snow all winter is enough to waterlog even them.

21-approaching-falls

I made it to the falls which are over on the right out of the photo but I didn’t bother climbing down the embankment to take photos of them because they were frozen and hardly making a sound. It would have been a slippery climb for a shot of a big lump of ice and once I get down in there I’m never sure if I’ll get back out because it’s very steep.

The stripped and shapely maple grieves
The ghosts of her departed leaves.
The ground is hard, as hard as stone.
The year is old, the birds are flown.
~John Updike

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1-stream-in-early-morning

Fall continues to amaze. Especially amazing to me is how colorful everything is in spite of our drought, which seems to go on and on. Even old timers who have seen the colors come and go for years often stand agape at the current year’s brilliance, and some say it’s the best they’ve seen. But then, we say that almost every year, so you’ll have to judge for yourself.

2-fall-colors

The red maples (Acer rubrum) are really putting on a show this year and that surprises me because another name for them is “swamp maple,” which hints at how much water they like. As of right now many of our swamps, small ponds and streams have dried up, but since these trees grow right at the water’s edge I’m sure they aren’t suffering.

3-bittersweet

The yellow leaved vine in the foreground of this photo is oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus,) climbing high into the trees seeking more light. At all other times of year it bends into the green background but in the fall it turns bright yellow quite early, and that’s why this is the best time of year to try to eradicate it. It’s very invasive and very hard to get rid of once it becomes established.

4-monadnock

Puffy white clouds would have done a lot for this shot of Mount Monadnock from Perkin’s Pond in Troy, but we don’t see too many clouds these days so I have to take what nature gives. This is the first time in the fall that I’ve had this spot all to myself. There are usually cars lined up along the road and painters and photographers vying for the best spot. Maybe they were waiting for clouds to appear.

5-fall-foliage

More red maples, this time at the edge of the pond in the previous photo. Too bad they don’t stand in front of the mountain.

6-red-maple

I drive by this red maple tree every day on my way to work and I’ve watched it get more colorful each day until finally I had to stop and take its photo. Red maples are among our most beautiful trees and fortunately our forests are full of them. This one grows right beside a stream and even though I see it each day its color seems almost surreal. It was all my camera’s sensor could do to capture its true brilliance.

7-along-the-river

I think the trees along this section of the Ashuelot River in Keene are turning a little more slowly than in other places, but it’s happening.

8-mallard

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard preened in the late afternoon sunlight. Are they oblivious to the incredible beauty that surrounds them or do they know that they’re part of it, I wonder?

9-bittersweet-nightshade

Bright red bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny Roma tomatoes, but they’re very toxic and shouldn’t be eaten.

10-bittersweet-nightshade-foliage

The leaves of the bittersweet nightshade were an amazing dark purple, almost black.

11-mushrooms

Even the mushrooms are dressed for fall.

12-maple-leaf-viburnum

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) isn’t offered by nurseries but I’ve always though it should be. It’s a very low growing shrub; I think the tallest one I’ve seen might have reached 3 feet. It has white flowers at the branch ends in the spring but I’ve always thought that fall was when it was most beautiful because of the amazing range of colors in its leaves.

13-maple-leaf-viburnum

This is one example of the colors found in maple leaf viburnum leaves…

14-maple-leaf-viburnum

…and this is another, with the berries (drupes) included as a bonus. These fruits are about the size of raisins and I’ve heard that they don’t taste very good, but many birds and animals eat them. They disappear quickly and getting a shot of both fall colored leaves and fruit is difficult. In fact it’s something I’ve been trying to do for years.

15-along-the-river

I often walk along the Ashuelot River in the late afternoon in the fall, and this is one reason why. When the sun is right it looks like the trees are on fire, and it can sometimes be breathtaking. Many times I’ve come upon people who were frozen in place, just staring. I love seeing the beauty of nature take people outside of themselves, and this is a great place to see it happen. I know well how they feel, so I rarely leave without a smile on my face.

16-fall-colors

Though many of the photos in this post were taken near water this is the only one that showed a clear reflection of the trees. Catching reflections is often not as easy as it might seem.

17-walnut

The beautiful reds, oranges and purples of this small tree caught my eye.  I think it’s a young walnut. The colors are so bright it looks like I used a flash, but I didn’t.

18-staghorn-sumac

The staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are showing good color this year. In the fall these small trees can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between.

19-staghorn-sumac

I thought my color finding software was going to have a breakdown when I asked it to tell me what colors were in these sumac leaves. Most prevalent is something it calls “Indian red,” but it also sees tomato red, pale violet red, fire brick, coral, salmon pink, peach puff, rosy brown, burly wood, light yellow, and Peru, which is a shade of orange, and believe it or not, tan. That’s a dozen colors on a single branch. I see red, orange and a little yellow and I’m happy with that.

20-branch-river

This was taken along the Branch River in Marlborough in full sun. I can never decide if full sun or an overcast sky is better for showing off the colors so I try to get some of both for these posts. This year though, overcast skies have been hard to come by.

21-rail-trail

On the television news one recent evening they were interviewing visitors from other lands who had come to see the fall foliage. Many said that photos couldn’t ever compare to the real thing, and I have to agree. I’ve tried my best to show what I’ve seen, but I hope one day everyone will get to see this beautiful yearly spectacle in person. It’s when nature pulls out all the stops and reminds us what the word beauty really means.

Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell–some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1-asters-and-goldenrod

Sometimes when you live in a forest there is a feeling of closeness, so I like to occasionally visit more open areas to balance things out. Hill climbing usually widens the viewpoint so on Saturday I decided to climb the High Blue trail in Walpole. From up there, I knew there would be nothing blocking my view of the horizon.

There were plenty of flowers to be seen along the way, especially asters and goldenrods. They must have mesmerized me because I got home and discovered that I had no photos of the trail itself, so I have to ask you to imagine walking on your favorite forest trail as you scroll through this post.

2-asters

Some aster blossoms were about an inch and a half across and that told me they were most likely New England asters. There is no other native aster as big that I know of that will grow in dry places. Some come close in size but they want wet feet and grow on stream banks.

3-aster

They’re always beautiful no matter what their name or size.

4-coltsfoot-foliage

Years ago there was a substantial colony of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) here that bloomed heavily each spring. They were the most coltsfoot plants I had ever seen in one place but a logging skidder plowed them up and I haven’t seen one bloom here since. I saw plenty of foliage on this day though, and that tells me that they’re making a comeback.

5-corn-field

In all the time I’ve been coming here this large plot of land has been a hay meadow, but all of the sudden it’s now it’s a cornfield. I was here last June and the field hadn’t even been plowed, so I was surprised to see so much corn.

6-corn

In spite of the drought the corn looked good, with large ears showing. Animals had found it though, and they were helping themselves. Possibly raccoons, or maybe turkeys or crows, or maybe all three.

7-corn-field

When I was a boy walking along the railroad tracks I saw (and played in) many cornfields, so this field made me feel young again. The corn must have been 8 feet tall.

8-sarsaparilla

Fall had been sprinkled on the sarsaparilla plants (Aralia nudicaulis) along the trail.

9-reflector

A reflector button on a tree reminded me that archery season for white tail deer had started two days before. There are plenty of deer in this area and most likely plenty of hunters as well, but I didn’t see any. Bow hunters often sit up in the trees.

10-foundation

 The old foundation on the summit and the deer hunters made me wonder what the settlers who once lived here must have eaten;  probably plenty of venison, as well as moose, bear and other animals.

If you’re interested in history the following is from the book Walpole as it was and as it is. 1749 to 1879.

“The flesh of the deer and bear afforded the settlers many a delicious repast. Wild turkeys were trapped and shot, and quails and pigeons caught in nets, in great abundance. The brooks were filled with trout and dace, and the river abounded in salmon and shad.“

11-stone-wall

Clearing this place of all the stones in this wall as well as all of the trees that once grew here was hard work when all you had was an axe and a horse, or oxen if you were lucky, so I’m sure eating well would have been all important.

12-pond-surface

The small pond on the summit has shrunken to about half its size due to the drought but at least it still had some water in it. If the hoof and paw prints in the mud are any indication a lot of animals drink here. Though the pond’s surface was mostly covered by duckweed the dappled sunlight on it was beautiful. It was like  looking through a kaleidoscope.

13-sign

This place is called High Blue because it’s higher than the surrounding terrain and the view to the west across the Connecticut River valley is always blue, without fail.

14-view

As expected the view was blue this day and there was little haze. I could see Stratton Mountain over in Vermont clearly, and that was a surprise. I’ve noticed that it can get very hazy here and sometimes you can barely make out the mountain.  I also noticed that some of the trees were getting taller, and I wondered who maintained this overlook. Whoever it is has some work ahead of them.

15-view

It was clear enough to just make out the ski trails on the right hand end of Stratton Mountain. I’m not anxious to see snow on them but I’m sure they’ll be covered by mid-November, either by man-made or natural snow. Thanksgiving always comes with a school vacation and that’s a busy time for the ski slopes.

16-rock-piles

I saw that there are now four piles of stones here, not only marring the landscape but also interfering with the space that people have to stand and look at the view. There isn’t much room to begin with and these piles take up half the available real estate, so I’ve decided that I will dismantle them. I could understand building them if they marked a trail or had some other significance, but up here they are just a nuisance. I almost tripped over one of them when I was trying to find the best spot for taking a photo.

17-fern-gully

The place I’ve come to call fern gully because of all the ferns there was both green with live ferns and brown with dead ones, with a little orange and yellow to mark the halfway point between them.

18-lady-fern

Some of the lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) were at the white stage; which is the last color they turn before becoming brown and dry. Lady ferns are also called ghost ferns because of this habit. Unfortunately they don’t all turn at the same time. If they did fern gully would be a wondrous sight at this time of year.

19-hobblebush

The hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) warned that fall was right around the corner, and in fact tomorrow is already the first day of autumn.

20-full-moon

Later that night I thought I’d take a photo of the harvest moon. I haven’t taken a photo of the moon in so long I can’t remember when the last time was, so I thought it was about time. But after a summer of cloudless skies one cloud floated in and parked itself right in front of the moon. It was the slowest moving cloud I’ve ever seen; I waited nearly two hours for it to float away so I could take this photo.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.” ~ John Muir

Thanks for coming by.

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