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Archive for the ‘Lichens’ Category

Last Saturday was supposed to be a gorgeous day according to the weather people so I headed out early for Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. In my opinion no other mountain can compare for foliage viewing, because this one has a 360 degree view. By the time I got there though, the parking area was filled so I had to park on the road. The view above is what I saw on the other side.

I always take a photo of the trail so you can at least get an idea of my surroundings but on this climb I had to fiddle faddle around while the people ahead of me turned the corner. But they didn’t turn the corner right away because they were taking photos-of all things, the bits of nature all around them that caught their eyes. I gave them a silent hooray and shot the side of the trail instead. Even then they still made it into the shot but oh well, now you know there were people there. A lot of people.

Lady ferns were turning white as they always do in fall. Besides sensitive fern it’s one of the earliest to do so.

Clubmosses were clubbing, just as they do every year at this time. Their spores form in spike-like structures called sporophylls, which are the yellowish green “clubs” seen here. A single clubmoss plant can take twenty years to grow from a spore, so I try to never harm them.

I turned to look at Mount Monadnock and saw the haze, present for weeks now, from the western wildfires. If you look at satellite imagery you can sometimes see a trail of smoke from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

I knew that the haze meant that It wouldn’t be a day for far off views but when the near views looked like this I had a hard time caring.

The farmer had baled all the hay, I’m guessing for the Scottish Highland cattle that live here. Do they live this high up in Scotland? I wondered. I’ve often thought they had the best view of anybody.

I moved aside to let people by and fell in a small hole off the side of the trail. I could have twisted my ankle if I hadn’t had good stout hiking boots on, and it reminded me how easy it is to get hurt on rough trails like this. Each year the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game goes on average 190 rescue missions, which costs the state about $308,952 per year. Because of this they have started charging the people who have had to be rescued due to their own negligence. An example of negligence would be climbing this trail without proper footwear and in the winter without proper winter clothing. I’ve been up here in January and it’s no joke.

I’ve seen people climbing this trail in flip flops believe it or not, and that’s their choice but if they get hurt and have to be carried from the mountain, they will be charged for the adventure. The elderly and children who get lost are not charged and neither are those who have a medical emergency, but being foolish in the woods here in New Hampshire could cost you a few hundred dollars.

I won’t tell you how many times I have tried and failed at this photo but today the light was just right and I finally got it. What is it? It shows what black knot disease can do to a cherry tree. Black knot is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth.

This photo I took previously shows what black know looks like on a young tree. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots which will eventually become serious wounds like that seen in the previous photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

The blackberries have taken on their beautiful fall purple and bronze colors. You have to just stand for a moment or two admiring them because they’re so pretty.

There were lots of leaves still on the maples, even though many have fallen in the lowlands. It has most likely been warmer up here because cold air flows like a stream down mountainsides and pools in the valleys below. Since I live in a valley I tend to notice it more.

I saw a dead staghorn sumac and had to have a look at the bark, because the inner bark of the tree is often bright red as this example was. I’ve read that the powdered bark can be made into a good antiseptic salve that can be used to treat burns.

I was out of breath by the time I saw the fire tower from the old ranger cabin, so I decided to sit for a spell.

I was sitting on the porch and heard “Oh cool! What is that?” I stood up and saw 4 or 5 young boys, probably just into their teens. “It’s the ranger station,” I told them. “Does anyone live there? Can we go inside?” I answered no to both questions. “But you can stand on the porch,” I said as I moved along. Of course they raced down the trail and did just that. I remembered when I could race down trails. And up them.

The old mountain ash had not only been stripped of all its fruit by birds, the wind had taken all its leaves as well. Now it’s ready for its winter sleep.

There was that smoky, yellowy haze again and I thought of the poor people in the western part of the country. We had a terrible fire here once; in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the fire tower and all of the trees and vegetation on the summit. Terrible it was, but it was nothing like what is happening on the west coast.

The colors at the summit were beautiful, especially the deep reds of the blueberries.

Speaking of blueberries, Josh Fecteau from the Josh’s Journal blog over there in the favorite links section asked me to take another look at what I identified as the native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum.) The berries I looked at this time were in the center of this bush, which by its leaves I know is  the highbush blueberry bush (Vaccinium corymbosum.) The problem is, all of the various species of bushes grow in a tangled thicket so it can be difficult to know what you’ve got. 

Josh thought these might instead be the fruit of the Chokeberry (Aronia sp.) and I have to say that they don’t look quite right for a blueberry, so I think he’s correct. Personally I don’t get too excited about such things but I know Josh is a forager and such things are very important to foragers, so his intentions and motivations are good ones. Though I have been studying nature since I was a boy and have had some formal training in botany I still consider myself very much an amateur, because there is simply too much to know. I’ve met a few in life who thought they knew it all but so far in my experience none has, and that includes me. I do make mistakes and people should always verify any plant identification they find on this blog if they intend to use that plant in any way.

The sun was coming directly at me when I tried for this shot of the meadows below.

I had to wait for a few people to move on before I could get a good view of what I call the near hill. It was beautiful; well worth waiting for. Just an endless, unbroken forest of color stretching off to the horizon.

A 4.8 million square mile forest of color.

If there was a triangle in the center of this marker it would be part of a triangulation point but since there isn’t it’s there for a surveyor to know where the point of his plumb bob should fall to be dead accurate. Right on that cross in the very center I’d guess, or maybe over the tiny hole I’ve never noticed before.

I don’t know this lichen’s name and I don’t really care. It’s beauty and the challenge of getting its photo was enough.

The overhead wire that I accidentally got in this shot is one of the cables that keeps the fire tower from blowing off the top of mountain.

And I’m not kidding. On this day it was extremely windy and there were a couple of gusts that almost blew me over. You’d have thought it was January.

Wind is to be expected up here, sometimes very strong winds, but on this day it didn’t really bother me because I was lost in the colors.

The ferns wanted attention and they had mine.

It had rained a bit during the past week but it was enough to top off what I call the bird bath, apparently. In fact I’ve never seen it go dry, and that’s a little amazing. I sat for a while hoping a bird would stop in to bathe or drink but none came. It didn’t matter; it was a glorious day with filled with sunshine and incredible beauty everywhere I looked, and I knew that I lacked not one single thing. You really can’t ask for more than that.

I saw a wooly bear caterpillar on the trail. Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will be very mild indeed. Wooly bears don’t care much about winter though, because they produce their own antifreeze and can freeze solid. Once the temperature rises into the 40s F in spring they thaw out and begin feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually they spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live but I’d bet that it lives a rich, full and satisfying life.

The last time I was up here in August the backs of my legs were bothering me enough so I was a little apprehensive about the trip down but on this trip they felt fine. I didn’t fly down the trail to catch up with the people you see there ahead of me but I did okay.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

Thanks for stopping in.

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Last weekend I felt the urge to climb, so off I went to Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I know better than to deny the urge because it only gets stronger as time passes. The town History of Swanzey, New Hampshire says that Mount Caesar was named after Caesar Freeman, a freed black slave and one of the original settlers here. Some believe that he is is buried somewhere on it.

One of the first things I saw was a nice clump of lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids. Its beautiful pouch like pink flowers appear in May and last for a week or two, depending on the weather. I was happy to find them growing all along the trail, almost to the summit.

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. This one had apparently been pollinated because it had a seed pod.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) bloomed in sunnier spots along the trail. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

Indian Tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I saw a bright yellow, very hairy caterpillar on a twig. I believe it might be a Virginian tiger moth caterpillar (Spilosoma virginica.) This caterpillar is also called yellow bear and I think this is the first time I’ve seen one. I’m not sure what those four yellow bumps are.

Up and up I went. Mount Caesar is the most difficult climb I do these days but by normal standards it really isn’t that difficult unless you have breathing issues. I saw two or three people race up and down it before I even made it to the top but they weren’t interested in what they might see along the trail. Only the end of the trail is important to many people and they miss a lot of the beauty of nature by thinking that way. Some are even more interested in listening to their phones than the birds and I saw that happening here as well. All I can say about that is, if you are in the woods to enjoy nature racing through them as fast as you can go and plugging your ears so you can’t hear anything is not considered being in nature. Being in nature means allowing it to fill all of your senses while you are there. It means being completely immersed in the experience. When you are there be there, fully. You’ll enjoy it more and you’ll get far more out of the experience.

What I believe were ink cap mushrooms grew in the middle of the trail, but just because something is obvious doesn’t always mean it is seen and I doubt anyone noticed them because a few had been stepped on. I think they might have been the hare’s foot ink cap (Coprinopsis lagopus) but I could be wrong. I do know from personal experience that ink caps can appear very different at different times; even at different times of the same day, because their lives are very short. I liked the maroon shimmer of these examples. These mushrooms often grow in the forest, as these did.

Once they produce spores they’re done, and that usually takes one day but on this day there were plenty more coming. They’re called ink caps because their caps liquify and turn into what looks like ink.

I saw things here on this day that I’ve never seen before and one of them was shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) producing spores. The yellowish club like spore producing sporophylls at the tip of each plant are where the spores are produced and once the spores are released to the wind they can take up to 20 years to germinate. In my experience sporophylls aren’t common on this clubmoss. The leaves, called microphylls, resemble scales more than actual leaves and for some reason they are very shiny. Shining clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Note: A helpful reader has pointed out that this is actually bristly clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum,) which I’ve never heard of. Shining clubmoss doesn’t produce sporophylls, which explains why I never see them.  

Another thing I discovered on this day was that the unripe berries of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) are white. This plant is also called checkerberry and it is the first plant I ever learned well enough to know on sight, probably when I was just 5 or 6 years old. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed to relieve pain because they contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin. Since I’ve known these berries as red my entire life seeing them white was quite a surprise. I don’t suppose I’ve ever wondered what they would look like in their unripe state.

I was trying to capture the beautiful luminosity of the forest when I heard a loud crashing behind me. I thought “Oh great, another bear” but no, it was a deer. It stopped and watched me for a bit, blending into the forest so well that I couldn’t get a shot of it from where I was. Of course as soon as I started moving so did the deer, and it was off like a shot. The odd thing was it didn’t really run away; I could hear it jumping and thrashing in the woods for a while afterwards as I continued climbing, as if it was running along beside me.

I saw the deer clearing stone walls with ease, jumping so high it had feet to spare. I was wishing I had legs that could do  that.

A young oak had fallen and split lengthwise to reveal that it was completely hollow, most likely chewed up by carpenter ants. There are far more hollow trees in the woods than most people realize. If you have a tree on your property and you see what looks like sawdust around its base you should call an arborist, especially if it is near your house. Friends of mine had their barn cut in half by a hollow white pine that fell on it just a few years ago.

I could look at this all day. It is worthy of hanging in an art gallery, in my opinion.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is also called arrow wood. Its beautiful white flowers turn into blue-black berries, which aren’t often seen. This plant’s fall foliage is some of the most colorful in the forest and I always look for it in the fall. The shrub is called arrow wood because its branches grow very straight and some believe that Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. 

Yellow spots form on wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves before fall even arrives, and they slowly grow larger until the entire leaf is yellow. This is one of the earliest plants to start turning color in the fall.

I couldn’t get over the beautiful light coming through the trees. At times it was hard to focus on anything else.

Before you know it (unless you’re climbing with me) you’re at the summit. I remember how surprised I was the day I realized that I had been climbing a huge piece of granite. The trail ends just as it begins; with bare granite bedrock.

There is a glacial erratic up here that is nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It is said to rock back and forth like the 40 ton glacial erratic over on Hewe’s Hill called Tippin Rock, but I didn’t feel like heaving and grunting over boulders on this day.

Instead I wanted to visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulose.) Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily. They are naturally a deep pea green but when dry they turn ash gray as this one has. They will simply sit and wait for rain for eons if necessary and they, along with great blue herons, have taught me a lot about patience.

All those black dots on the lichen in the previous photo are this lichen’s fruiting bodies, where it’s spores are produced. I’ve noticed that they often seem to form where the lichen stays wettest longer after a rain. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecium) could easily hide behind one. The apothecium is where the lichen’s spores are produced and in this case it is tiny black disc with a sunken center that makes it look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This photo isn’t great but I was happy that it showed the detail that it does. What looks like a piece of wood in the upper right is actually a bit of a white pine needle, if that tells you anything about scale.

The views weren’t very good but that didn’t bother me. As I’ve said before, if I climbed for the view I’d be disappointed most of the time, because views are weather dependent. On this day there was a milky sky and that almost always means that far off scenes and landscapes will not reproduce well in the camera. In fact it isn’t that I don’t enjoy the views, it’s the trying to reproduce them that I don’t enjoy. If I ever stop blogging I can easily see myself no longer carrying a camera when I’m in the woods.

This is what I mean by a milky sky; almost pure white. Still, in my opinion there’s no such thing as a bad photo of Mount Monadnock, so I’ll just leave you with this one. 

No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. ~Ansel Adams

Thanks for stopping in.

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In the spring walking along Beaver Brook in Keene is one of my favorite things to do because there are so many interesting and rare plants growing there. Last Sunday was a beautiful spring day of warm temps and a mix of sun and clouds, so off I went to see what was growing.

The walk is an easy one on the old abandoned road that follows alongside the brook. Slightly uphill but as trails go it’s really no work at all.

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

The flower stalks (culms) on plantain leaved sedge are about 4 inches tall and when they bloom they’ll have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the terminal male (staminate) flowers. Sedge flowers are actually called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, hence the old saying “sedges have edges.” I can’t speak for the rarity of this plant but this is the only one I’ve ever seen and it isn’t listed in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high.

The sedge grows on a stone that’s covered by delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum,) which is a very pretty moss. I like how it changes color to lime green in cold weather. Because I’m colorblind it often looks orange to me and an orange moss commands attention.

I knew that red trilliums (Trillium erectum) grew near the plantain leaved sedge but I didn’t expect to see any on this day. But there they were, and already budded, so they’re going to bloom maybe just a little early, I’d guess. They usually bloom in mid to late April. They are one of our largest and most beautiful native wildflowers and are also called purple trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent.

Bud break is one of the most exciting times in a forest in my opinion, and one of the earliest trees to open their bud scales so the buds can grow is striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum.) The large velvety buds of striped maple in shades of pink and orange are very beautiful and worth looking for. Bud break can go on for quite some time among various species; striped and sugar maples follow cherry, and birch and beech will follow them, and shagbark hickory will follow birch and beech. Oaks are usually one of the last to show leaves. That’s just a small sampling that doesn’t include shrubs like lilac and forest floor plants that also have beautiful buds breaking.

This is how striped maple comes by its common name. Striped maple bark is often dark enough to be almost black, especially on its branches. This tree never seems to get very big so it isn’t used much for lumber like other maples. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one bigger than my wrist, and even that might be stretching it. It could be that it stays small because it usually gets very little direct sunlight. The green / white stripes on its bark allow it to photosynthesize in early spring before other trees leaf out but it’s still the most shade tolerant of all the maples, and in the shade is usually where it’s found. It is said that Native Americans made arrow shafts from its straight grained wood.

I found a mountain maple (Acer spicatum) growing here a few years ago and realized on this day that I had never paid attention to its buds. I was surprised how even though I’m colorblind I could see how bright red the bud scales were. And then the bud is orange. I can’t think of another tree that has such a splashy color scheme. Something else unique is how all other maple trees have flowers that hang down but mountain maple’s flower clusters stand upright, above the leaves. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves. The shrub like tree is a good indicator of moist soil which leans toward the alkaline side of neutral. Native Americans made an infusion of the pith of the young twigs to use as eye drops to soothe eyes irritated by campfire smoke, and the large leaves were packed around apples and root crops to help preserve them.

Someday I’ve got to poke around more in this old boulder fall, because there are some quite rare plants growing among the stones. I believe a lot of these stones are lime rich, due to the plants that grow among them.

One beautiful thing that grows on the tumbled stones of the boulder fall is rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever found it.

The two toned buds of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are poking up everywhere now. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and it won’t be long before it blooms. Native Americans sprinkled the dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but Native Americans knew how to prepare them correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant medically useful.

One of my favorite things to see here is the disappearing stream on the other side of the brook. It runs when we’ve had rain and disappears when we don’t, but the beautiful mossy stones are always there. You can’t see it here but there was still ice up in there in places.

Another reason I wanted to come here on this day was to witness the buds breaking on the red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) that grow here. They are handsome at this stage but the whitish, cone shaped flowers that will follow are not very showy. The leaves, bark and roots are toxic enough to make you sick, so this shrub shouldn’t be confused with common elderberry (Sambucus nigra) which is the shrub that elderberry wine comes from.

The spring leaves of the red elderberry  look like fingers as they pull themselves from the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers soon, and they’ll be followed by bright red berries that birds snap right up. The berries are said to be edible if correctly cooked but since the rest of the plant is toxic I think I’ll pass. Some Native Americans used the hollow stems to make toys. According to the U.S. Forest Service the Alaskan Dena’ina tribe made popguns from the hollow stems, using a shelf fungus (Polyporus betulinus) for ammunition. The Kwakiutl tribe of British Columbia made toy blowguns from red elderberry stems.

I was surprised to find wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) leaves. This plant is a ground hugger, easily hidden by any plant that is ankle high or more, so I have to hunt for it and though I can’t say if it is rare here, I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grows in a wet area by the brook. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger. This is the first time I’ve noticed the hairs on its leaves.

I wasn’t sure if these were early spring mushrooms or if they were leftovers from last fall. Little brown mushrooms, or LBMs as mycologists call them, can be very hard to identify even for those more experienced than I, so they always go into my too hard basket. There just isn’t enough time to try to figure them all out.

It looks like people are geocaching again. I used to find them here quite often, though I never looked for them. According to Wikipedia “Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.” Someone tried to put this one under a golden birch but it wasn’t hidden very well.

I hoped to see some fern fiddleheads while I was here but I had no luck. I did see some polypody ferns though. Polypody fern spores grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Once they ripen they are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of yellow and orange flowers but these had gone past ripened and in fact most had fallen off the leaf, leaving a tiny indentation behind.

We’ve had enough rain to get Beaver Brook Falls roaring. I toyed with the idea of going down to the brook to get a face on view of them but I’m getting a little creaky in the knees and you slide more than walk down the steep embankment, and then you have to nearly crawl back up again on your hands and knees. Since I was the only one here I didn’t think any of that was a good idea, so a side view is all we get.

In the right light the spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) of smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) turn a beautiful blue. It happens because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in the special light found here they glow different shades of blue and are as beautiful as jewels on the golden colored ledge they grow on. Beaver Brook is one of only two places I’ve ever seen them this beautiful, and they’re just one of many beautiful reasons I love to spend time here.

We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. ~C.S. Lewis

At Beaver Brook I did indeed bathe in beauty. Thanks for stopping in, and take care.

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Over the nearly nine years I’ve been doing this blog the question I’ve been asked more than any other is “How do you find these things?” So this post will be about how I find them; I’ll tell you all the secrets, starting with the jelly baby mushrooms above. Do you see how small they are? They’re growing in an acorn cap. The first time I saw them I was feeling winded and when I sat on a rock to rest I looked down and there was a tiny clump of jelly babies, Just like this one. That day a side of nature that  I never knew existed was revealed and from then on I started seeing smaller and smaller things everywhere I went. 

You have to learn to see small by seeking out small things and training your eyes, and your brain somewhat, to see them. It also helps to know your subject. For instance I know that slime molds like the many headed slime mold above appear most often in summer when it’s hot and humid, and usually a day or two after a good rain. They don’t like sunshine so they’re almost always found in the shade. I’ve learned all of this from the slime molds themselves; by finding one and, not knowing what it was, looking it up to find out. I’ve learned most of what I know about nature in much the same way. If you want to truly study nature you have to be willing to do the legwork and research what you see.

Another secret of nature study is walking slowly. Find yourself a toddler, maybe a grandchild or a friend with one, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have one yourself. No older than two years though; they start to run after that and they’re hard to keep up with. Anyhow, watch a two year old on a trail and see how slowly they walk. See how they wander from thing to thing. They do that because everything is new and they need to see and experience it. You need to be the same way to study nature; become a toddler. Slowly cross and crisscross your line of progress. See, rather than look. Why is that group of leaves humped up higher than all the others? Is there something under them making them do that? Move them and see. You might find some beautiful orange mycena mushrooms like these under them.

So you need to train yourself to see small, to toddle and think like a toddler, and then you need to know your subject. All that comes together in something like this female American hazelnut blossom. I first saw them when I had toddled over to a bush to see the hanging male catkins, which are very beautiful, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.

But all I could see was a flash of color because female hazelnut blossoms are almost microscopic. That’s a paperclip behind these blossoms. Even with eye problems I can find them though, because I know they’re tiny. I know they bloom in mid-April and I know they’re red and I know what shape the buds they grow out of are. All I need do is find one and the camera does the rest, allowing me to see its Lilliputian beauty.

That’s how I start the growing season each spring; by re-training my eyes to see small again. Most of what I see in winter is big so I need to get used to small again. Spring beauties like those above are as small as an aspirin, so they’re a good subject to start with. They’re also very beautiful and a forest floor carpeted with them is something you don’t soon forget.

Sometimes I’ll see something like this larch flower in a book or on another blog and I’ll want to see it in person. That’s what happened when I first found one, and I was surprised by how small they were. This is another example of my being able to only see a flash of color and then having to see with a camera. They’re just too small for me to see with my eyes but they’re beautiful and worth the extra effort it takes to get a photo of them.

I spend a lot of time looking at tree branches, especially in spring when the buds break. I’ve learned what time of month each tree usually blossoms and I make sure I’m there to see it happen. This photo shows male red maple flowers. Each flower cluster is full of pollen and the wind will be sure the pollen finds the female blossoms. When you see tulips and magnolias blooming it’s time to look at red maples. One of the extraordinary things about these blossoms was their scent. I smelled them long before I saw them.

Lichens aren’t easy to identify but there are easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere; on soil, on trees, on stone, even on buildings. But most are quite small, so walking slowly and looking closely are what it takes to find them. This mealy firedot lichen was growing on wet stone and that’s why the background looks like it does. You could spend a lifetime studying just lichens alone but it would be worth it; many are very beautiful.

Countless insects make galls for their young to grow in and the size and shape of them is beyond my ability to show or explain, so I’ll just say that I always make a point of looking for them because they’re endlessly fascinating, and you can match the gall to the insect with a little research. This one looked like a tiny fist coming up out of a leaf. Something else I like about them is that you don’t have to kneel down to see them. That isn’t getting any easier as time goes on. 

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind. I learned all of that by studying the moss and reading about what I saw going on, and you can too. And you can do it with virtually anything you find in nature. To me, that is exciting.

A good memory isn’t strictly necessary for nature study but it can come in handy if you wish to see a plant in all stages of its life cycle. I knew where some rare dwarf ginseng plants grew in this area and I knew when they blossomed but I had never seen their seedpods, so I had to remember to go back to see what you see here. It might not look like much but it’s a rare sight and I doubt more than just a few have seen it. I often can’t remember my own phone number or where I parked my car but I can lead you right to the exact spot where this plant grows, so I seem to have two memories; one for every day and one for just nature. The one for nature works much better than the every day one.

Develop an eye for beauty. Give yourself time to simply stand and look, and before long you’ll find that you don’t just see beauty, you feel it as well, all through your being. This is just tree pollen on water; something I’ve seen a thousand times, but not like this. On this day it was different; it usually looks like dust on the surface but this pollen had formed strings that rode on the current. I wasn’t looking for it; I just happened upon it, and that shows that a lot of what you see on this blog is just dumb luck. But I wouldn’t happen upon it if I wasn’t out there. That’s another secret; you have to be out there to see it. You’ll never see it by staring at a phone or television.

This is another rarity that I just happened upon; a mushroom releasing its spores. Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in this photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. Once it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away. This is why it’s so important to walk slowly and look carefully. You could easily pass this without seeing it.

Something else that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did. You can’t plan to see something like this, you simply have to be there when it happens.

Do you know how many puddles there are with ice on them in winter? I don’t either, but I do take the time to look at them and I almost always see something interesting when I do. I’ve never seen another one like this.

Sometimes if you just sit quietly unusual things will happen. I was on my hands and knees looking at something one day and I looked up and there was a fly, sitting on a leaf. I slowly brought my camera up and this is the result. By the way, much of what I see comes about because I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees. If you want to see the very small, you have to. And before I get back on my feet I always try to look around to see if there’s anything interesting that I’ve missed.

I was crawling around the forest floor looking for I don’t remember what one day and saw something jump right in front of me. It was a little spring peeper. It sat for a minute and let me take a few photos and then hopped off. Another secret of nature study is to expect the unexpected. If you want to document what you see always have your camera ready. I have one around my neck, one on my belt and another in my pocket, and I still miss a lot.

I was in a meadow in Walpole climbing the High Blue trail when I saw a blackish something moving through the grass on the other side. Apparently it saw me because it turned and came straight for me. When it got close I could see that it was a cute porcupine. I thought it must have poor eyesight and would run away when it got close enough but then it did something I never would have  expected; it came up to me and sat right at my feet. I took quite a few photos and then walked on after telling it goodbye. I still wonder what it was all about and what the animal might have wanted. I’ve never forgotten how we seemed to know one another. It’s another example of why you have to expect the unexpected in nature study. You just never know.

Sometimes all you need to do is look up. When was the last time you saw mare’s tails in the sky? There’s a lot of beauty out there for you to see, and you don’t really have to study anything.

So, what you’ve read here isn’t the only way to study nature. It’s simply my way; what I’ve learned by doing. I had no one to guide me, so this is what and how I’ve learned on my own. I thought that it might help you in your own study of nature, or you might find your own way. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re out there having fun and enjoying this beautiful world we live in. I’ll leave you with a simple summary that I hope will help:

  1. To see small think small. There is an entire tiny world right there in plain sight but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it. Nothing is hidden from the person who truly sees.

  2. Don’t just look, see; and not just with your eyes. Use all your senses. I’ve smelled certain plants and fungi before I’ve seen them many times. I also feel almost everything I find.

  3. Walk at a toddlers pace. Cross and crisscross your path.

  4. Know your subject. You probably won’t find what you hope to unless you know when and where it grows, or its habits. When you see something you’ve never seen if you want to know more about it research it.

  5. Be interested in everything. If you’re convinced that you’ve seen it all then you’ll see nothing new. Run your eye down a branch. Roll over a log. Study the ice on a puddle.

  6. Expect the unexpected. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest but I’ve never seen it happen. Tomorrow may be the day.

  7. Develop an eye for beauty; it’s truly everywhere you look. Allow yourself to see and feel it. Appreciate it and be grateful for it and before long you too will see it everywhere you go.

  8. Let nature lead. Nature will teach you far more than you’ve ever imagined. It will also heal you if you let it, but none of this can happen if you spend all your time indoors.

  9. None of the things you’ve read here are really secrets. Nature is there for everyone and you can study it and take pleasure in it just as easily as I can.

  10. Have fun and enjoy nature and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cares melt away. Problems that once might have seemed insurmountable will suddenly seem much easier to solve.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long. 
~John Moffitt

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Some people think that once the leaves have fallen there is nothing left to see outside until spring, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Lichens for instance, are there year round and unless you live in a place with poor air quality they are everywhere; on trees, on stones, on the ground, and even on buildings, roofs, windows, and sidewalks. They are like small jewels that have been sprinkled throughout nature. Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) for instance, are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. It’s a very artistic lichen and I like the patterns that it makes. I see it on gravestones quite often.

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describe the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, but this one appeared to have a few. The bluish color in the background is the slate that it grows on.

This is an odd lichen with large white fruiting bodies (apothecia) that look like they just erupt anywhere on the body (thallus) but also look like they are stalked, depending how you look at them. Some are convex and some concave and some have rims and some don’t. The white apothecia and green body with flattened strap like branches tell me that it’s probably the tufted ramalina lichen (Ramalina fastigiata.) A lichen guide from 1902 says this lichen is “very common in New England” but I know of only one place it grows. It is apparently very sensitive to air pollution as many lichens are. If you live in a place with a lot of lichens, breathe happily.

Bright yellow fringed candle flame lichens (Candelaria fibrosa) will often cover entire tree trunks. It must like a lot of water because I see it a lot on the lower parts of trees that grow near irrigation systems, with trunks that are almost always wet in warmer months. Seen up close this lichen always reminds me of scrambled eggs. I call this the “downtown” lichen because I see it a lot there.

It’s interesting how nature seems to use the same shapes over and over again in different ways. The round fruiting cups, called apothecia, of the Poplar Sunburst Lichen (Xanthoria hasseana) remind me of the suckers on an octopus or squid. Instead of latching onto things however, this lichen uses its cups for spore production. To give you a sense of scale-the largest of those in the photo is about an eighth of an inch across. The entire lichen might have been an inch long.

This example was even smaller at about the size of a penny (.75”) and was more apothecia than thallus. Spore production is what it’s all about because that’s what ensures continuation of the species.

The apothecia on this star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris) are a good example of how colors can change, even on the same lichen. This lichen has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to the white, waxy, powdery coating. You’ve no doubt seen examples of this waxy “bloom” on blueberries and plums. I’ve noticed by watching lichens that have pruinose apothecia that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue, and sometimes even black. The apothecia on this lichen often show a range of colors, from brown to light blue. The way the sunlight strikes it has a lot to do with its colors.

I think this is the smallest example of a Cumberland rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia) that I’ve ever seen, but even at its tiny 1/2 inch size it was beginning to produce spores in its brown apothecia. This lichen likes to grow on boulders or other stone. The body (Thallus) is described as being “yellow-green to sometimes bluish green” and the fruiting discs (Apothecia) are “cinnamon to dark brown.” The body of this lichen always looks like someone dripped candle wax on the stone to me. This one was very symmetrical but they are usually asymmetrical.

Smokey eye boulder lichen apothecia (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are usually a smoky gray color, which is where their common name comes from, but they can also have a bluish tint because of the way their waxy (pruinose) coating reflects sunlight. In this case the body of the lichen is a grayish color but it can also be a brownish gold color. One of the things that can make lichen identification difficult is the ability of some lichens to change color in different light, and this is one that does that. It can look very different from just a few feet away. This is a crustose lichens and it forms a kind of crust on the substrate that it grows on. The bond between a crustose lichen and its substrate is so strong that it can’t be removed without damaging the substrate.  

British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) like to grow on damp wood like rotted stumps and logs, but I’ve found them on buildings, fence posts, and built up forest litter on boulders. At this time of year I don’t pass too many mossy old tree stumps without having a glance for British soldiers. Their bright red apothecia make them easy to see, even if you’re colorblind.

Shrubby little beard lichens are fruticose lichens, and fruticose lichens have upright or pendulous branches. I think this one is a bristly beard (Usnea hirta) but it might also be a young fishbone beard lichen. Though it grew on the shadier side of a tree it was caught in bright sunlight, and I’d guess that it must get an hour of sunlight a day. One way beard lichens reproduce is by fragmentation. Pieces break off and are carried by the wind or maybe animal fur to another spot to colonize. There are many of these high up in the trees and they come down, often still attached to the branch they grew on, during a good wind. I’ve found as many on the ground as I have on trees.

I’ve been trying to identify this beard lichen for years with no luck. Maybe it’s just a different colored example of the bristly beard seen previously?

Common greenshield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) is indeed very common. It’s a large lichen and colonies of them often grow big enough to cover entire trees. They often wrinkle like the example seen here. Like many lichens they change color, and go from grayish when dry to yellow green when wet. This example was dry. This lichen also taught me that many lichens prefer growing on the shady side of trees, presumably so the sun doesn’t dry them out quite so fast.

Hammered shield lichens (Parmelia sulcata) are on the rare side here but I see them occasionally, always on trees. There didn’t seem to be anything special about the deciduous tree they were on, this time but it was in a sheltered spot like the last tree I found them on. Hammered shield lichen is said to have a large variety of named varieties and forms, so it can be tough to pin down.

Hammered shield lichens are silvery gray and their many sharp ridges and depressions makes them look like they’ve been hammered out of a piece of steel. Fruiting bodies are said to be rare and I’ve never seen them. It is said to have powdery, whitish soredia but I’ve never seen them either. Soredia are tiny packages of both fungus and alga that break off the lichen. They are simply another means of reproduction.

I find pebbled pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata) growing on soil or rotting stumps and logs, and occasionally on stone. Pixie cups look like tiny golf tees or trumpets. They are squamulose lichens, and the golf tee shapes arise from leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (thallus,) and  squamulose lichens have small, leafy lobes like those at the base of this example. The cup is so small even a pea would seem huge in comparison.

Though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are its podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. This example has some almost microscopic dots around the rim, which are its apothecia. Finally, frucitose means a lichen has a bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen.

If you spend time walking along old stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it and it will probably be the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was very dry. Lichens are at their best when they are wet because that’s when they’ll show their true colors and size, so that’s when serious lichen hunters look for them. A misty or drizzly day is perfect but we haven’t had one in a while.

Some lichens might look like they have little spiders on them, or maybe as if they had been carved with a pocket knife but no, the squiggly lines are the apothecia of the script lichen (Graphis scripta.) This lichen usually prefers trees with smooth bark so I was surprised to see it on this rough barked tree. From what I’ve seen they only produce spores in winter. You can walk right by a tree full of script lichens in summer and see only grayish spots with no apothecia at all. In fact many lichens seem to prefer winter for spore production and I’ve never been able to find out why.

Next time you find yourself walking outside after a rain I hope you’ll take the time to look a little closer at all those colored spots you’ll see on the trees, stones, soil, and even sidewalks. If you do a whole new world of nature study will open for you.

There is a low mist in the woods. It is a good day to study lichens. ~Henry David Thoreau

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Some coworkers of mine like to rock climb and they asked me if I knew any good places to do so, so I immediately thought of Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. People have climbed there for many years I’ve heard, but until this day I had never seen anyone doing so. To get to the trailhead you have to cross this meadow. It was about 70 degrees F. with wall to wall sunshine; not great for photography but perfect for climbing, I was told.

Meadow anemone (Anemone canadensis) grew at the edge of the meadow. It’s an old fashioned garden favorite that has much larger flowers than our other native wood anemone. Though it seems to spread out in a garden it’s easy to control. It’s also called crowfoot because of the foliage and it is also known as Canada anemone. Native Americans used this plant medicinally and its root and leaves were one of the most highly regarded medicines of the Omaha and Ponca tribes. It was used as an eye wash, an antiseptic, and to treat headaches and dizziness. The root was chewed to clear the throat so a person could sing better.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) also grew in the meadow and some of them were very blue indeed. I always enjoy seeing these cheery little flowers.

At one point a tree had fallen across the trail. I was surprised because you don’t usually see this here. The hill is privately owned and well maintained. But it must be a lot of work; I saw two other fallen trees that had been cut out of the trail with an axe.

Delicate hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) grew on the shaded sides of the trail. This fern gets its name from the way that it smells like fresh mown hay when you brush against it. The Native American Cherokee tribe used this fern medicinally to treat chills.

Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) bloomed along the sunnier sides of the trail. This plant has just started blooming but it looks like it will be a great year for them, and blueberries too.

Do you look at roots when you hike a trail? I do and I see many that so many feet have touched they look as if they’ve been sanded and polished. They can be very beautiful things, especially the roots of eastern hemlock like those seen here.

The bright harsh sunlight made photography a challenge, especially with a new camera that I don’t fully know (or like) yet, but this is a relatively accurate view of what the forest looked like from the inside.

Big, teardrop shaped leaves told me that Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) grew here. In fact they grew in large numbers. Botanically speaking a whorl is an “arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem,” and nothing illustrates this better than Indian cucumber root. Its leaves wrap around the stem arranged in a single flat plane, so if you saw them from the side theoretically you would see an edge, much like looking at the edge of a dinner plate. If any leaf or leaves in the arrangement are above or below others it’s not a true whorl.

Native Americans used this plant as food because like its common name implies, its small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber. It’s easy to identify because of its tiers of whorled leaves and unusual flowers. It likes to grow under trees in dappled light, probably getting no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight each day. The flowers of Indian cucumber root have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red- brown but I think they darken as they age. These appeared to be kind of orangey. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry.

I had warned my co-climbers that it would be a slow climb, what with me having to take photos of every living thing and stopping to catch my breath frequently, but we made it to Tippin Rock in good time. I had a good chance to catch my breath while my friends tried to tip the glacial erratic. They each took a turn while I watched, and each of them had the big 40 ton behemoth rocking like a baby cradle. It’s a very subtle movement and you have to watch the edge of the boulder against the background to see it. So far everyone I know who has made something this big move so easily has been amazed. When you think about all that had to happen for a perfectly balanced boulder to be sitting on the bedrock of this summit it boggles the mind.

After the rock there are the views and they weren’t bad on this day. Some decorative puffy white clouds would have made the scene a little more photogenic but you can’t have everything.

For years I’ve heard that New Hampshire has 4.8 million acres of forested land but it’s hard to wrap your head around a number like that until you’ve see something like this. Seemingly unbroken forest stretches to infinity. Or at least to the horizon.

I often wonder, when I’m in places like this, what I would have done in the 1700s if I had looked out over something like this, carrying only a gun and an axe. Would I have had the strength and courage to go on into the unknown or would I have turned back to relative safety? Of course it’s an impossible question to answer, but that’s the way wilderness makes you think. Back then there were bears, wolves, and very unhappy natives down there.

The friends I was with were all about hanging off ropes after crawling over the cliff edge but I was not. I had the heebie jeebies just looking at the edge shown in this photo from 10 feet back, so since I don’t have the stomach for such things I left them to their fun (?) and headed back down the hill. Now that they know where the spot is they can come and climb anytime they like. I made sure that they knew, and I think others who might be reading this and thinking about coming here should know; this is private land and permission has graciously been granted by the owners to the public for recreational use. Nothing but your footprints should be left behind when you leave.

Of course I couldn’t leave without saying hello to my little friends the toadstool lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) They’re very rare down below in my experience but up here they’re plentiful and that’s good because it makes me climb up to see them. Since I’ve met climbers in their 80s on these hills and haven’t been able to keep up with them I’m assuming that climbing must be good for you. In any event some of the lichens were dry, as shown by their ashy gray state. They are also crisp like a potato chip at this stage.

Some lichens found a spot near seeping groundwater on the cliffs and wore their happy pea green color. In this state they’re soft and rubbery and feel like your earlobe. They aren’t big; this one was about an inch across.

Some lichens were on the fence, part green and part gray, but they dry out quickly. I’ve seen them ashy and crisp two days after a pouring rain. I like their warty look, which always reminds me of distant solar systems. They’re another one of those bits of nature that can take me out of myself for a while.

I saw a blister, which I took to be some type of gall, on a blueberry leaf. It caught my attention because blueberries don’t seem to be attacked by many pests or diseases other than witch’s broom.

A dead branch looked purple in the forest but my color finding software sees blue. Either way, you don’t expect to find blue or purple on fallen branches. I have no way of knowing what caused the strange color but I would guess spalting. Spalting is any discoloration of wood caused by fungal hyphae growing along the softer sapwood. Though spalting usually happens on dead wood it can sometimes be found on live trees, which isn’t good for the tree. It can be very beautiful and spalted wood is highly prized by woodworkers.

A man does not climb a mountain without bringing some of it away with him, and leaving something of himself upon it. ~Martin Conway

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Since I recently did a post about lichens that grow on trees I thought I’d do one on lichens that grow on stone. Though there are lichens that can grow on wood or stone most of the ones I know seem to prefer one or the other. In fact the ones I know seem very fussy about where they grow, even down to the species of tree or stone. The lichen in this first photo is not that fussy though, so it will even grow on sidewalks, and that’s how the name sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) came about. Though I’ve seen it on concrete once or twice in the past I almost always see it on lime rich stones. It’s a pretty orange color and it can get quite big. This one is as big as a car tire.

Another lichen that can get quite big is the peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) but this example must have just gotten started because it was quite small and had few apothecia. This lichen likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid.

Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for. The beautiful brown ones in the photo above belong to the peppered rock shield.

Some lichens are very easy to identify because there aren’t many others that look like them, and the toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) is one of those. Toadskin lichens show color changes when they dry out like many other lichens. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray like the above example. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens.

This is the very same toadskin lichen as the one in the previous photo. You can easily see the dramatic color change between this day when it was wet and when it was dry in the previous shot.

Rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata) is a relative of the toadskin lichen but it doesn’t turn gray when it dries out. Instead it gets brownish and curls up. It is very pliable and rubbery when it’s moist, but once it dries out it becomes crisp like a potato chip. The Umbilicaria part of the scientific name comes from the Latin umbilicus, meaning navel. This is where another common name, navel lichen, comes from and points to how, like the toadskin lichens, they attach themselves to stone with a single attachment point that looks like a navel. It sticks itself to stone by way of this single, navel like attachment point and the rest of the lichen hangs from this central point, much like a rag hanging from a peg.

Here is what rock tripe lichens look like dry. You can see the back of it, which is black and pebble textured. Rock tripe is edible and eating it has saved the lives of people who were lost and starving in the past. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

Rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis.) Look like melted candle wax to me. They are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty.

If you happen to see a stone that looks like it has sprouted gray hairs you might want to take a closer look, because there’s a good chance you’re seeing a Cladonia lichen.

There are many Cladonia lichens including the well-known pixie cups, but I think these were peg lichens (Cladonia sobolescens.) Peg lichens are also a large group, with split pegs, thatched pegs, powdery pegs, etc., but these seem to fit the description of what the book Lichens of North America calls simply peg lichens. The “peg” is called a podetium and it is topped by brown apothecia.

Here is a closer look at the tiny tan / brown apothecia that sit atop the pegs. These are where the lichen’s spores are produced. They are so small that I wasn’t able to see them but luckily the camera could.

This peg lichen is a squamulose lichen, which means it is scaly, but it is also foliose, or leafy. Squamules are the small leafy, lobed growths that are at the base of the tiny peg shaped podetia. A podetium is an upright secondary thallus in Cladonia lichens. It is a hollow stalk extending from the primary thallus. Podetia can be pointed, club like, cupped, or branched in shape and may or may not contain the ascocarp, which is the fruiting body of the lichen. If the asocarp is bowl shaped it is an apothecium. In this peg lichen the podetia are not branched and the leafy squamules are rounded and grayish green to brown, with white undersides. The quality of these photos isn’t great but the various parts of this lichen are very small. I think they do show enough to make a fairly good identification but if I’m wrong I hope someone will let me know.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do. I’ve seen this pretty lichen even on mountain tops.

Here is a closer look at those pretty rock posy apothecia. The ones I’ve seen are never shiny. They always have a kind of matte finish.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. especially slate. I see it on older gravestones quite often. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describes the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, but this one had a few. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. They grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. The one in the photo was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone, especially granite. It is a crustose lichen, so removing it from a gravestone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially. I would think the same would be true for polished stone.

Another lichen common to stone walls is the sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s a very soft, pale yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Dog lichens (Peltigera) are good example of lichens that will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses help provide the moisture that they need. It is very thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined on this example. This lichen is large and easy to see. It is also probably quite old.

Here is another look at the dog lichen. They’re much bigger than most other lichens. I’d guess this one is about the size of a 45 RPM record, if anyone can remember those.

The underside of a dog lichen is often bright white as this one was. They also have small hairs called rhizines which help them cling to whatever they’re growing on.

Smokey eye boulder lichen is a favorite lichen of mine. The blue color seen in the above photo is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies, which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. In addition to blue it can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.  The greenish-gold background color is the color of the body (thallus) of this crustose lichen. It’s a very beautiful thing and I hope you’ll take the time to look for it and all of the other beautiful lichens out there.

There is no absolute scale of size in nature, and the small may be as important, or more so than the great. ~Oliver Heaviside

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When the snow is piled high and it seems like anything of any interest is buried under it I go to the woods and look at the trees. They’re never buried and they always have something fascinating to show me, like lichens. Lichens will grow on just about anything including glass, but this post is devoted to those I’ve found on trees.

The yellow on the trunk of the tree in the previous photo I believe is made up of fringed candle flame lichens (Candelaria fibrosa) like that seen above, but I’m not a lichenologist and I don’t own a test kit or microscope, so don’t hold me to it. This lichen must like a lot of water because I see it a lot on the lower parts of trees that grow near irrigation systems, with trunks that are almost always wet in warmer months. This lichen always reminds me of scrambled eggs.

What prompted me to do this post was a visit to the doctor’s office. I walked past a tree that had bushy green things all over it and luckily I had my camera with me, so I ran back and took a few quick shots before the appointment. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.

It has taken quite a while to figure out what this lichen might be called but its green body (thallus) with flattened strap like branches and white fruiting bodies (apothecia) have led me to finally settle on the tufted ramalina lichen (Ramalina fastigiata.) A lichen guide from 1902 says this lichen is “very common in New England” but I’ve never seen it. It is also apparently very common in the U.K.

This is an odd lichen with large apothecia that look like they just erupt anywhere on the body but also look like they are stalked, depending how you look at them. Some are convex and some concave and some have rims and some don’t. The white apothecia are reproductive structures where the lichen’s spores are produced. This is a very interesting lichen that I hope to see more of without having to visit the doctor.

The doctor’s trees were full of surprises. I almost made myself late taking photos of the tufted ramalina so I went back later and looked the trees over a little more closely. When I did I found another lichen I had never seen; the Eastern speckled shield lichen. According to what I’ve read it grows on the bark of deciduous trees, has a bluish gray body with large brown apothecia, and has brown to black dots (pycnidia) on the surface of the body. This lichen has all of that but what it doesn’t have that I could see are white, grainy bits called psuedocyphellae so I can’t be 100% sure of my identification. If you know more about this or any of the lichens seen here I’d love to hear from you.

Common greenshield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) is indeed very common. It’s a large lichen and colonies of them often grow to cover entire trees. Older ones wrinkle like the example seen here. Like many lichens they change color, and go from grayish when dry to yellow green when wet. This example had just been rained on a day or two before I took the photo but was still dry, so it doesn’t take them long to dry out. This lichen also taught me that many lichens prefer growing on the shady side of trees, presumably so the sun doesn’t dry them out quite so fast.

If you saw what looked like blue eyes near the greenshield lichen in the previous photo they were just the apothecia of the star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris) seen here. The apothecia of this lichen are actually dark brown but they have a powdery wax coating that can cause their color to change depending on the light. Plant parts with this powdery waxy coating are said to be pruinose and a good example of it is the “bloom” on blueberries, grapes, plums, and other fruit. The coating reflects light and protects what it coats from the sun. Depending on the angle of the light these apothecia can appear blue, gray, brown or black. That’s why it pays to visit lichens several times.

I was shocked to find a tree with hammered shield lichens (Parmelia sulcata) all over it, because my experience up to this point has shown it to be on the rare side here. There didn’t seem to be anything special about the deciduous tree they were on, but it was in a sheltered spot. Hammered shield lichen is said to have a large variety of named varieties and forms, so it can be tough to pin down.

Hammered shield lichens are silvery gray and their many sharp ridges and depressions makes them look like they’ve been hammered out of a piece of steel. Fruiting bodies are said to be rare and I’ve never seen them. It is said to have powdery, whitish soredia but I’ve never seen them either. This one had granular bits that looked like soredia on its lobe edges but they were gray, so maybe it’s one of the aforementioned varieties.

Poplar sunburst (Xanthomendoza hasseana) is a very pretty lichen but it isn’t very common, in my experience. It’s a good one to study because it has large apothecia that are almost always present. A close relative of this lichen, the elegant sunburst lichen, was sent into space and exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for a year and a half.  When it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened, and that’s why many believe lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as immortal as any earth based life form can be.

Some lichens prefer growing on smooth barked trees but others don’t seem to care and will form themselves to whatever shape the bark they grow on happens to have. What I think is a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) had done just that and was bowl shaped, but still happily producing spores.

Shrubby little beard lichens are fruticose lichens, and fruticose lichens have upright or pendulous branches. I think this one is a bristly beard (Usnea hirta.) Though it grew on the shadier side of a tree it was caught in bright sunlight, and I’d guess that it must get an hour a day. One way beard lichens reproduce is by fragmentation. Pieces break off and are carried by the wind or maybe animal fur to another spot to colonize. There are many of these high up in the trees and they come down, often still attached to the branch they grew on, during a good wind. I’ve found as many on the ground as I have on trees.

This is an extreme close up of a different beard lichen showing its granular soredia, which are another means of reproduction. A soredium is a tiny granular ball of fungal hyphae and algal cells. They can grow on the body of the lichen or on its margins. No matter what living thing you find in nature, it’s always about the continuation of the species, and the drive to survive seems very strong in all of the things I see.

I think this lichen is a powder edged ruffle lichen (Parmotrema stuppeum) because of its uniform gray color, broad rounded lobes with erect edges, and soralia on the lobe edges. Soralia are groups of soredia meant to fall or break off a lichen and are used as a vegetative means of reproduction. They are what makes this lichen’s lobe edges look like they were dipped in powdered sugar. This lichen also has dark brown to black undersides but they aren’t seen in this photo. It was about as big as a penny, or about 3/4 of an inch across.

Some lichens might look like they have little spiders on them, or maybe as if they had been carved with a pocket knife but no, the squiggly lines are the apothecia of the script lichen (Graphis scripta.) This lichen prefers trees with smooth bark and, from what I’ve seen, only produces spores in winter. You can walk right by a tree full of script lichens in summer and see only grayish spots with no apothecia at all. In fact many lichens seem to prefer winter for spore production and I’ve never been able to find out why.

Beautiful in its simplicity is the maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Plain and undressed without the fussiness of other lichens, it makes me think I could just stand and stare at it, warmed by its calm, clean lines. But how does it reproduce? I’ve never seen any reproductive structures of any kind on it so I had to look it up. The answer is that it does have apothecia, but very rarely. It also has “a thin patchy layer of soredia,” though I’ve never noticed it. The white fringe around the outside is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify this lichen, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it.

I hope you’ll go out and look at the trees in your neighborhood. You might be very surprised by what you see.

I find myself inspecting little granules as it were on the bark of trees – little shields or apothecia springing from a thallus – such is the mood of my mind – and I call it studying. ~ Henry David Thoreau

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My small climb up along 40 foot falls that I wrote about in my last post inspired me to try something bigger, so last Sunday I decided to climb Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. A diagnosis of COPD took the wind out of my sails for a while and I wondered if I’d ever climb again, but the medicines they have given me seem to work well and I was able to climb on this day at least as well as I could last year. I started by walking through this frosty meadow.

At about 20 degrees F. it was cool but there was little snow to be seen, so I hoped for a trail without ice. This trail is well traveled and ice is always a problem when constant foot traffic packs down snow and turns it into ice.

Thankfully the trail was ice free, probably because the hemlock boughs overhead have kept a lot of the snow from falling on it. We’ve also had rain and warm temps and I’m sure that helped. I was glad to see it, because I’ve been here when the ice was so bad here I had to leave the trail and go into the woods to make it up the hill.

I think it was about 10 years ago when this hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was wounded, and I think that because I counted the rings on the scar. I’ve read that hemlock is the only tree that heals scars with growth rings that can be counted.

I also saw a large number of hemlock trees with this yellow crust fungus on them; more than I’ve ever seen. I believe it is the conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum,) which is also called the bleeding parchment because of the red juice they exude when they’re injured. The examples I saw were very dry and thin, almost as if they were part of the bark, and though I tried to scratch one with my fingernail it remained undamaged. Conifer parchment fungus causes brown heart rot, which is a reddish brown discoloration in the wood of conifers. This tree and many others I saw won’t be with us much longer, I’m afraid.

More ice needles than I’ve ever seen in one place grew all along the center of the trail, meaning the soil was saturated. Groundwater at the soil surface is one of the requirements for ice needle growth, and the other is a below freezing temperature right at the very surface of the soil while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces super cooled groundwater out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a needle shape. As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. Each needle is hexagonal and several will often freeze together into ribbon like bands like those seen here. As they grow they sometimes force the forest floor to heave up, which can be seen happening here.

There are many small holes in the ground made by chipmunks, snakes, and other animals, and these holes often grow hoar frost around their openings. This frost forms when the warm moist breath of the earth meets the cold air at the surface.

The trail gets darker in spots because of overhanging evergreens but on this day it clouded over and made it seem even darker.

I saw some colorful bracket fungi growing in the crack of a tree but I’m not sure what they were. I am sure that they were frozen solid, whatever they were.

I couldn’t account for the beautiful colors of this fallen limb, and I still can’t even guess what would have caused it except weather and age.

A blue jay lost a feather at some point, but on this day the woods were totally silent with no bird songs and no chatter from chipmunks or squirrels. It seemed very strange to have it so quiet.

The steepest part of the trail is near the summit so I knew I was almost there at this point. I was huffing and puffing but no more so than last year or the year before so that was a pleasant surprise. I do know that nature can heal because I’ve experienced it but I don’t know to what extent that healing can happen. I think maybe the only thing that is holding me back is me, but I’m keeping an open mind and believing, and will be very grateful each time I reach a summit.

You don’t realize how much water travels through the soil under our feet until winter. There really is an incredible amount of water moving about in this area, even on our hills.

My daughter and son in law were with me on this climb and all of us tried to move the 40 ton glacial erratic named Tippin Rock, but it wouldn’t budge. I think it was frozen right to the bedrock it sits on. I was a little disappointed because I wanted them to be able to see it move. For new readers, this boulder rocks back and forth just like a baby cradle when you push on it in the right spot, but apparently not in winter.

The big stone has quite a crack in it and someday it might be two stones, which would be too bad. It is a local legend.

The sun had gone, the sky was milk and the views were poor, but since the view isn’t why I climb it was little more than a passing annoyance.

One thing the views from here always show though, are the endless miles of unbroken forest stretching out in all directions. When you stand in such a place you can’t help but wonder, if it was 1760 and you stood here with only an axe head and a gun, what would you have done? It must have been just a bit overwhelming.

I’ve had a great fear of heights since I fell out of a tree and fractured my spine when I was young  so this is as close as I dared to get to the cliff edge. I wanted to show you what a forest looked like from above, but this is the best I could do. You can believe me when I say that this is a drop you would never survive.

There are some huge granite outcrops up here. That tree is a fully grown white pine.

I saw lots of amazing things up to this point but the main reason I chose this hill to climb was so I could visit my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) Though I expected them to be very dry from lack of rain or snow a few surprised me by being deep, healthy green. This is their natural color when they’ve had plenty of water and are happy. These lichens attach themselves to stones at a single point that resembles a belly button, and that means they are umbilicate lichens. I always feel as if I’m looking deep into infinity when I look at a toadskin lichen and I may be; there are many who believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and therefore immortal.

Though I doubt toadskin lichens like drying out I kind of like the way they look in their dry, ashen state. They are much like a potato chip when dry and they’ll break almost as easily so I only touch them when they’re green and pliable.

These toadskin lichens were under a good two or three inches of ice and that ice acted like a magnifying glass. Those black spots on the upper one are the lichen’s apothecia where its spores are produced, and without ice magnifying them they’re about the size of the head of a common pin. It’s kind of amazing to see them so big in a photo.

Only in the woods was all at rest for me, my soul became still and full of power. ~Knut Hamsun

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Actually stone walls can talk, but you have to speak their language to be able to decipher what they’re saying. Having built a few myself this one was relatively easy to understand. It told me that its builder didn’t have time for tight joint stone masonry and in any case most likely didn’t know how to build with stone anyway. He needed a field to plant crops in so he and his family could survive and these stones were in the way of the plow, so he tossed them in a long undulating pile, and that became what is now called a tossed or thrown wall, because the stones were literally just thrown on top of one another with no time or eye for intricacies.

The landowners on either side of the wall didn’t have time to patrol the wall and pull tree seedlings so many of them started growing down in the wall where their seeds fell. Some saplings were too close to stones to cut with an axe or saw so they grew to massive size, sometimes pushing the wall stones apart ever so slowly  to make room for the huge trunk. Now, over 250 years later they shade the wall and keep it from being covered in deep snow. Some, like the white pine shown above, still stand even after being struck by lightning. The old split in its bark runs from the top of the tree all the way down its trunk, following a root right down into the ground. I’ve found trees like this one soon after they were struck and the ground around them was covered with narrow strips of bark, blown right off the wood by the lightning bolt.

You can see many interesting things if you look at our stone walls carefully, like this blacksmith made hitching ring where someone would have hitched up a horse. The odd thing about it is its location in the wall. It’s in an empty place where it doesn’t look like there would have much going on but 250 years ago it could have been a community information hub, for all I know. Most likely it was simply a shaded place for the horse to rest while the rider did whatever they had to do here.  I’m guessing it involved a lot of work.

My grandfather was the town Blacksmith in Westmoreland which is to the north west of here, so I’m always fascinated by iron work. The chain hook shown here is one of the best examples of 18th century blacksmithing I know of. I like it because it shows hand hammered marks and shows the fine workmanship and talent of the smith. He didn’t have to make such a utilitarian object as beautiful as a dragon’s tail, but he did.

This stone in this wall is only the second place I’ve found a beard lichen growing on stone. I’ve seen thousands of beard lichens but they were growing on wood 99% of the time. I think this one might be a bushy rock lichen (Ramalina intermedia.) Lichen communities grow in succession with many varieties of crustose lichens as pioneers. Foliose lichens come next as intermediary species and finally fruticose lichens like this one are considered climax species. What I don’t know is, how much time is between pioneer and climax? Climax communities of lichens are considered “old growth” communities.

As this stone shows stone walls absorb a lot of heat from the sun and release it slowly all night long until the sun shines again the following day.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter many plants like this mullein like to grow along them. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall.

There are many ferns growing along this old wall. Some are evergreen and others, like this one, are trying to be.

Many types of trees grow along the old wall including shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) which is named, not surprisingly, for its shaggy looking bark. These trees drop large amounts of hickory nuts each fall so I thought I’d find one and show it to you.

Unfortunately the squirrels had already found all the nuts and I didn’t see a single one.

I did see a lichen on the bark of the hickory that I’ve never seen before though, made up of a grayish body (Thallus) with tiny black fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) I think it might be the tiny button lichen (Amandinea punctata) which grows on wood and has a grayish, barely perceptible thallus and flat, disk shaped, black apothecia. Each black dot seen here is very small; about the size of a period made on paper with a pencil.

At the base of the hickory was a stone with a forest of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) on it. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

Shield lichens have become kind of a ho-hum lichen for me because I see thousands of them, but the way this one seems to overlap like shingles and the way it grows in concentric circles is different, and I’m not so sure it’s a shield lichen at all. I’m leaning towards the zoned dust lichen (Lepraria neglecta) but I’ll have to go back and have another look to be sure. It also resembles the shingled rock shield (Xanthoparmelia somloensis.) Like any other part of nature, stone walls have their own mysteries.

Another lichen that I don’t see often is what I believe is the rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) seen here. Its rosy or orange apothecia are large and pad like and I’ve read that though it usually grows on wood it can grow on stone as well. It could also be a scattered rock posy lichen but I don’t think so.

Sometime I can be fooled into thinking I’m seeing lichens when I’m really seeing something else. In this case I’m not sure what the green “something else” was but possibly algae. Why it was here in this spot and nowhere else along the wall, I’m not sure.

Common speedwell was enjoying the warmth from the wall and looked as good as it does in early June but of course it wasn’t flowering. This European native is common here and has been used medicinally for centuries. Its leaves have also been used as a tea substitute.

I think a lot of us believe that winter is a very wet season and it can be when the snow melts, but when it is cold and there isn’t any melting going on it can be very dry, and this white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) reminded me of that. When dry it pulls its tiny needle like leaves in close to the stem and if dry enough it looks like strands of string or clumps of worms, and this gives it another common name of medusa moss. It hadn’t reached that point when this photo was taken but it was quite dry, even with snow on it.

Stone walls will give many gifts to those who walk slowly along their length and look closely. One of the greatest gifts they give me is green leaves in winter, even when there is snow on the ground.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

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