Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend I decided a climb was in order. We had beautiful weather in the morning but it was supposed to warm into the 80s F. in the afternoon, so as early as I could I left for Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard. I had never climbed Pitcher Mountain that early in the day, so I was surprised to find that the sun was in my eyes the whole way up the trail. That’s why this shot of the trail is actually looking down, not up.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides,) one of our most beautiful native shrubs, bloomed alongside the trail. Lower down in Keene they’re all done blooming and are making berries but up here it looked like they were just getting started.

I saw lots of violets along the trail too.

The paired leaves of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are already out.

One of my favorite stopping points along the trail is here at this meadow, which often houses Scottish highland cattle. I didn’t see any on this day but it was nice to have such a big, open space. When you live in the second most forested state in the country you don’t see many views like this one. It’s just you, the sky and the earth.

And dandelions. There were lots of them in the meadow.

Here is another view looking down the trail, but up looks much like it.

I saw lots of future strawberries along the trail.

And blueberries too. Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries and people come from all over to pick them.

The previous shot of the meadow that I showed was taken down the hill over on the right, so this shot is 90 degrees to it looking across the meadow. A little further out and down the hill a bit is the farm where the cattle live.

I’ve always thought that the cows had the best view of anybody. Last year, almost to the day, there was a big black bear right over there at the tree line. It looked me over pretty well but left me alone. I was the only one climbing that day but on this day I saw a few people, including children. I’m always happy to see them outside enjoying nature, and I spoke with most of them.

A chipmunk knew if stayed very quiet and still I wouldn’t see it.

John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday” and of course he was right. I thought of him last year when I found spring beauties I had been walking by for years and then I thought of him again on this day, when I found sessile leaved bellwort growing right beside the trail I’ve hiked so many times. I’m always amazed by how much I miss, and that’s why I walk the same trails again and again. It’s the only way to truly know a place.

By coincidence I met Samuel Jaffe, director of the Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough New Hampshire, in the woods the other day. Of course he was looking for insects and I was looking for anything and everything, so we were able to talk a bit as we looked. He’s a nice guy who is extremely knowledgeable about insects and he even taught me a couple of things about poplar trees I didn’t know. I described this insect for him and he said it sounded like a sawfly, but of course he couldn’t be sure. I still haven’t been able to find it online so if you know I’d love to hear from you. (Actually, I’d love to hear from you whether you know or not.)

Samuel Jaffe was able to confirm that this tiny butterfly was a spring azure, just as a helpful reader had guessed a few posts ago. This butterfly rarely sits still but this one caught its breath on a beech leaf for all of three seconds so I had time for only one photo and this is it. It’s a poor shot and It really doesn’t do the beautiful blue color justice, but it’s easy to find online if you’re interested. By the way, The Caterpillar Lab is a unique and fascinating place, and you can visit it online here: https://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/ I don’t do Facebook but if you do you’re in for a treat!

I fear that the old ranger’s cabin is slowly being torn apart. Last year I noticed boards had been torn from the windows and on this climb I noticed that someone had torn one of the walls off the front porch. You can just see it over there on the right. At first I thought a bear might have broken in through the window because they do that sort of thing regularly, but I doubt a bear kicked that wall off the porch. What seems odd is how I could see that trail improvements had been done much of the way up here. You’d think the person repairing the road would have looked at the cabin, but apparently not.

I heard people talking in the fire tower but then I wondered if it might have been a two way radio that might have been left on. The tower is still manned when the fire danger is high and it has been high lately, so maybe there were people up there. I couldn’t see them through the windows though and I wasn’t going to knock on the door, so it’ll remain a mystery.

The view was hazy but not bad. It was getting hot fast but there was a nice breeze that kept the biting black flies away, so I couldn’t complain.

No matter how hot or dry it gets it seems like there is always water in the natural depression that I call the bird bath. I’ve watched birds bathing here before but I like to see the beautiful deep blue of the sky in it, so I was glad they had bathed before I came.

Dandelions bloomed at the base of the fire tower.

The white flowers of shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) could be seen all around the summit.

I looked over at what I call the near hill and wished once again that I had brought my topographical map.

The near hill is indeed the nearest but it isn’t that near. There it is to the right of center and this photo shows that it would be quite a hike.

The meadow below was green but the hills were blue and in the distance the hazy silhouette of Mount Monadnock was bluest of all. I sat for awhile with the mountain all to myself except for the voices in the tower, but then more families came so I hit the trail back down. As I left I could hear complaints about the new windmills in the distance, and how they spoiled the view. I haven’t shown them here but as you can see, not all the views were spoiled by windmills.

On the way up a little girl told me that she had found a “watermelon rock” and her grandfather had found a “flower rock.” She wondered why anyone would paint rocks and leave them there, and I told her that they were probably left there just to make her happy. Then I found a rock with a message that made me happy, so I’ll show it here.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

Thanks for stopping in. Be safe as well as kind.

Read Full Post »

If you’re tempted to pass by what you think are violets you might want to take a closer look, because our beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) have just started blossoming. Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets has fooled me in the past. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in pairs as can be seen in the photo above. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the little wings. The little fringe at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect lands on the fringe the third sepal, called the keel, drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. Surprisingly this little insect landed on the flower I was taking a photo of it and let me actually see how it works. I think it was a sweat bee.

In this shot the reproductive structures are exposed. That little bump or nub just under the tube formed by the petals makes up the reproductive structures and this is the first time I’ve ever seen them. Though I’ve searched high and low in books and online apparently little is known about how they function. I did read that the seeds are coated with a fatty tissue that ants like, so ants disperse them. I usually find this plant in shady, mossy places and I think it prefers moist ground. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual flower that I always look for in May.

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and a colony as big as this one is a beautiful sight. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their striking foliage as the flowers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

The small, numerous flowers of foamflower have 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. It is said that the long stamens are what give foamflowers their frothy appearance, along with their common name. Native Americans used the leaves and roots of foamflower medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “coolwort” because the leaves were also used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) has just come into bloom, right on schedule. This plant was introduced from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae but is sometimes mistaken for phlox, which has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) has just started blooming and something has already chewed a hole through the side of one of them. I can remember bringing my grandmother, whose name was Lilly,  wilting bouquets of lily of the valley along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw when I was just a young boy, so it’s a flower that comes with a lifetime of memories for me. The plant, originally from Europe and Asia, is quite toxic. It is actually in the asparagus, not the lily family.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are another spring flower that have just started blooming. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

Books will tell you that starflowers have 7 petals but as this one shows, they can have as many as 9. They can also have as few as 6.

When you see big umbrella like leaves like these you should look under them, because that’s where the flowers of Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) hide. Mayapple is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten.

Mayapple flowers are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves, but it can be done. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, but this colony seems to bloom well each year.

One of most beautiful spring flowering shrubs is the rhodora (Rhododendron canadense.) Henry David Thoreau once wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that’s what this little two foot tall shrub does each spring. The flowers appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because they aren’t common. Rhodora is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

Because of their habit of growing in or very close to the water it can be hard to get close enough to get a shot of a single flower, but if you’ve ever seen an azalea blossom then you know what they look like. It’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

My mother died before I was old enough to retain any memory of her but she planted a white lilac before she died, so now the flowers and their scent have become my memory of her. Whenever I see a white lilac she is there too. I know that long time readers are probably tired of hearing all these flower stories but there are new readers coming along all the time who haven’t, so I hope you’ll bear with me. When I see certain flowers I often think more of the connection it has in my memory to a certain person than I do the flower.

White lilacs hold my mother’s memories and tradescantia flowers hold my father’s. When I was just a young boy living with my father I decided that our yard needed a facelift. We had a beautiful cabbage rose hedge and a white lilac, and a Lorelai bearded iris that my mother planted before she died but I wanted more. I used to walk the Boston and Maine railroad tracks to get to my grandmother’s house and I’d see these beautiful blue flowers growing along the tracks, so one day I dug one up and planted it in the yard. My father was quiet until I had planted 3 or 4 of them, and then he finally asked me why I was bringing home those “dammed old weeds.” He also walked the tracks to get to work and back, so he saw the tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants just as often as I did. Though I thought they were lost and needed to be rescued, he thought somebody threw them away and he wished they’d have thrown them just a little farther, because now they were all ending up in his yard. Today every time I see these flowers I think of him. I hope your flowers come with such pleasant memories.

Common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is often confused with clover but clover has oval leaflets rather than the heart shaped ones. Yellow wood sorrel’s three leaflets close up flat at night and in bright sunshine, and for that reason it is also called sleeping beauty or sleeping molly. The flowers also close at night. The stricta part of the scientific name means “upright” and refers to the way the plant’s seedpods bend upwards from their stalks. This small grouping had the largest flowers I’ve seen; twice the size as they usually bear. I’m not sure what would cause that.

We have several invasive honeysuckle species here in New Hampshire and I’ve given up trying to identify them all. Most or all are banned from being sold but birds love their bright red berries and that makes the shrubs impossible to ever eradicate. Though most of their flowers are white you do see an occasional pink example. They can be very pretty and also very fragrant.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus ) takes quite a long time to bloom after the melting snow reveals  its cluster of basal leaves in  early spring. This commonly seen plant originally comes from Europe and Asia and is considered invasive.

Greater celandine’s yellow / orange colored sap that we used to call mustard when I was a boy has been used medicinally for thousands of years, even though it is considered toxic and can irritate the skin and eyes. It is said that it can also cause liver damage if used incorrectly. We might have called it mustard but as far as I know, nobody ever ate it.

Little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is one of my favorite spring flowers and it has just started blooming. Toadflax flowers have an upper lip that is divided into 2 rounded lobes, and a lower lip which is divided into 3 lobes that are rounded and spreading. They also have a long spur in back, which can’t be seen well in this photo. Toadflax likes sandy soil and waste areas to grow in. The cheery blue flowers are always a welcome sight.

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) is a plant that quite literally helped me see the light. There was a time when all this plant meant to me was more hard work. I didn’t like having to weed them out of lawns and garden beds but they were so unsightly with their long, weak flower stems and sprawling, weedy habit. And then one evening a single ray of sunshine came through the clouds and fell directly on a red clover plant at the edge of a meadow, and when I knelt in front of it to take its photo for the first time I saw how beautiful it really was. I saw that it had an inner light; what I think of as the light of creation, shining brightly out at me. I’ve loved it ever since, and since that day I don’t think I’ve ever truly thought of another flower, no matter how lowly, as a weed.

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them. ~John Ruskin

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Five years ago this past Wednesday on the twentieth of May, 2015 I walked into Yale Forest in Swanzey and found that it was being logged. Since Yale University has a forestry school this wasn’t a huge surprise but I like to see how a forest recovers after being cut, so that was my mission last Sunday as I started up the old abandoned road that was one known as Dartmouth College Road. It had that name because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. After being abandoned by the state it became part of Yale Forest, which is slowly reclaiming it.

I saw lots of blooming violets. They’re very cheery little things that always remind me that spring has finally come.

We had a tornado warning the Friday before this walk and though we didn’t see a tornado we had some strong winds that took down trees and knocked out power, so that was another reason for my wanting to come here. I thought I’d see trees down everywhere and I saw a few but they were the same ones I saw in January, the last time I was out here. Thankfully someone had cut a path through them with a chainsaw so I didn’t have to leave the road and go way out in the woods to get around them like I did in January. Thank you for cutting through them, whoever you are.

The turkeys have missed a lot of partridge berries (Mitchella repens.) They looked fresh despite being under the snow all winter. Each red berry has two dimples left by the twin flowers whose ovaries fuse to form one berry. This small trailing vine can form colonies that are several feet across under the right conditions and I saw lots of them out here.

I saw lots of starflowers (Trientalis borealis) but no flowers yet. The flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

All on saw on the starflowers on this day were tiny buds. That bud from stem to tip is about half the diameter of a pea. It’s hard to believe such relatively large flowers will come out of it, but they will.

I saw lots of mosses out here of course. I like the little start shaped shoots of juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum.) They were one of the mosses that had spore capsules ripening.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. It is very hairy as is seen here and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid, seen at the top of the capsule and called the operculum, will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square.

At this time of year last year’s fronds of the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) lie flat on the ground due to the weight of the snow that has covered them all winter but they are still photosynthesizing, and that gives the plant the extra energy needed to ensure that new growth quickly replaces the old. That’s what gives evergreen ferns their leg up on other, non-evergreen species.

Evergreen Christmas fern fiddleheads are covered with silvery hairs.

I was happy to see that the forest has recovered nicely, with so much new growth I couldn’t even see the tree stumps.

The university is protecting the forest with insect traps as well, probably against pests like the emerald ash borer, which is killing off our ash trees at an alarming rate. This is a wing trap which holds sex pheromone baits for specific insects. The inside is very sticky and the number of insects caught will help pest control advisers determine how best to control insect pest invasions.

Much of the new growth in this and other logged forests is made up of black birch (Betula lenta.) It is also called sweet birch or cherry birch. I was happy to see so many of them because black birch was once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen, and so many were taken that they were once very hard to find. The twigs have an unmistakable taste of wintergreen, so nibbling on a twig is the easiest way to identify it. The trees can be tapped like sugar maples in spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer. 

I saw lots of beautiful, velvety new oak leaves.

I saw lots of new beech leaves too, along with lots of buds still breaking. Bud break on beech and other trees is one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see in a northern forest, in my opinion.

I found an old trailer hitch, I’m guessing from maybe the 1930s or 40s. The ball that the trailer would have attached to is up in the left hand corner by the stick. I would have liked to have taken it back with me but it must have weighed twenty pounds.

The power company here in New Hampshire was called Public Service of New Hampshire for most of my life and someone had found one of their old utility pole badges and put it on a log. Since there are no utility poles out here I can’t imagine where it originally came from.

This spot was once very active, with busy beavers building dams and ponds but I think they left some time ago. I haven’t seen any fresh cutting or dam building and this small stream runs normally.

Wood horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) is one of the prettiest horsetails of all and this was the first time I’ve ever seen one. They are commonly found in wet or swampy forest, open woodlands, and meadow areas, which is a surprise because those are places I spend a lot of time in. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name means “of the forests.”  I’ve read that they are an indicator of a cool-temperate climate and very moist to wet, nitrogen poor soil.

Years ago I found some painted trilliums out here but I couldn’t find them on this day. Instead what I found were thousands of goldthread blossoms (Coptis trifolia,)  easily more than I’ve ever seen in one place. Since this plant was once collected into near oblivion because of its golden, canker sore relieving roots, I was happy to see them. The Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find until they couldn’t find anymore, so this is a success story. 

It’s such a beautiful little flower but those who were after the plant’s roots probably paid them little attention.

Eventually after jumping the stream you come to and old beaver pond and, though this is usually the end of the road, today I walked a little farther to see if I could find any more wildflowers. Not too far from here is the new highway that replaced this old road I was following, and I could hear the traffic.

But traffic noise didn’t bother this beautiful mallard, which fit the definition of serenity as it swam in the beaver pond. Though it quacked a few times it didn’t seem mind me being there, and that is odd behavior for a duck in this part of the state because they usually fly off at the first sign of a human.

There are times in nature when a great peace will settle over you, as if someone had placed a cloak of calmness over your shoulders, and that’s how I felt here alone with this bird. My presence must have bothered it at least a little but it seemed completely unperturbed and swam around as if I wasn’t even there. The mallard made me wonder if true serenity comes from simply letting go of the things that are disturbing us.

It is in the still silence of nature where one will find true bliss. ~Anonnymous

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone will find a puddle full of serenity to paddle in.

Read Full Post »

In a normal year painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the red / purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, for some reason painted trilliums have bloomed before the nodders. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three. I’ve read that trilliums can live for up to 25 years. Native Americans used them to ease the pain of childbirth and for that reason they are also called birthroot.

The small fertile flowers in the center of hobblebush flower heads have opened. The larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge opened about a week ago, and this photo shows the difference in size. Technically a hobblebush flower head is a corymb, which is just a fancy word for a flat topped, usually disc shaped flower head. It comes from the Latin corymbus, which means a cluster of fruit or flowers.  All flowers in the cluster have 5 petals, and that’s a good way to identify viburnums versus dogwoods, which have 4 petals. The large sterile flowers do the work of attracting insects and that’s why so many viburnums have this kind of arrangement. It seems to work well, because I see plenty of fruit on them later in the summer. Hobblebush is one of our most beautiful native viburnums.

One thing good about working 25 miles from where I live is how I almost get to see spring happen twice. Shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) just finished blooming here but in Hancock they’re just getting started. They are also called Juneberry because in June they’ll be full of small reddish purple berries that birds love. Cedar waxwings will even nest by this shrub each year so they can get first crack at the fruit.

I went to get a goodbye photo of trout lilies and found that they had already gone. In their place were anemones, and that was fine. I should have looked for the trout lilies last week but I completely forgot. The word ephemeral means “lasting for a very short time” so I wasn’t really surprised that I missed them. Leaves are on the trees and it’s warming up.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) are sun lovers so there’s a good chance they won’t be blooming much longer with the trees leafing out. They dance in the slightest breeze and Greek legends say that Anemos, the Wind, sends anemones in early spring to warn of his coming. He has certainly moved right in here because it has been windy for almost two months, and last Friday we even had tornado warnings. We didn’t have a tornado but many large trees fell.

The bell like shape of a blueberry blossom must be very successful because many other plants, like andromeda, lily of the valley, dogbane, leatherleaf, and others use it. This photo is of the first highbush blueberry blossoms (Vaccinium corymbosum) I’ve seen this season. It is said that blueberries are one of only three fruits native to North America, but the crabapple is a fruit and it is native to North America as well. The others are cranberries and concord grapes. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms. Choke cherries have just started blossoming as well.

This one I’ve never seen before, so I’m going to need help with it. I found it growing in a local park so it is obviously a cultivated garden plant but I can’t seem to find it, either in books or online.

It’s a very pretty plant that stands maybe a foot tall and the flowers look like they belong in the legume family along with peas, beans, locusts and lupines. If you happen to know its name I’d love to hear from you.

My grandmother loved flowers of all kinds but one of the flowers she loved most were apple blossoms, because of their wonderful fragrance. She lived upstairs and had trouble getting down to see the apple trees that grew near her house so each spring I would cut some of the flowers and bring them to her. Sometimes I would sit on the grass, leaning back against the trunk of one of her old apple trees, daydreaming as I looked up at the blossoms, choosing the best branches; the ones with a few flowers and lots of buds that I’d cut for her. The fragrance of the blossoms on this day brought me back to that boy, who was made of all of the things his senses revealed; the soft grass he sat on, the tree he sat under, the sun shining through its leaves and the bees pollinating its flowers. He was the rain and the wind, he was the universe distilled; he was the blue, the green and the pink. He was the fragrance. He was the bird on the branch and the soft hum of the bees. At ten years old he was all that ever was and all that ever would be, but at the same time he was nothing. He was simply the love that made him want to bring these flowers to his grandmother and he was nothing else, because when you distill the universe down to its very essence love is all that is left.

No matter how wonderful an apple tree can be they are not native to this country. The crabapple is the only apple truly native to North America and there are four species of them. They are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. The crab apple is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. The nine herbs charm was used for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs. The other eight were mugwort, betony, lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, thyme and fennel.

A single male flower of the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is a very hard thing to photograph, but I wanted you to see one. They aren’t as showy as other native maples but they must do their job, because we have a lot of sugar maple trees. Sugar maples can reach 100 feet in height and can live to be 400 years old when healthy. I never knew their flowers were so hairy.

I see many hundreds of this very small white violet in lawns and I wondered if they could be northern white violets (Viola pallens.) They are half the size of the violets that I usually see. In fact they are so small that I couldn’t even tell they were violets from five feet away. The insect guides look black in this photo but they’re actually deep purple. They’re pretty little things and they’re everywhere right now.

Our lilacs are finally blooming, and this photo is of the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s great to smell their wonderful fragrance again. Lilac is the New Hampshire state flower, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower.

Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) is in the euphorbia family, which contains over 2000 species of plants including poinsettia, cassava, and many popular house plants. It’s a plant native to Europe, thought to have been mistakenly imported when its seed was mixed in with other crop seed. It was first seen in Massachusetts in 1827, and from there it spread as far as North Dakota within about 80 years. It can completely overtake large areas of land and choke out native plants, and for that reason it is classified as an invasive species by the United States Department of Agriculture. I find it growing along roadsides and gravelly waste areas but I haven’t seen extremely large colonies of it. All parts of the plant contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts, or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock.

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is usually seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. Their color comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They are said to make an excellent hedge but I’ve never seen them used that way.

I looked inside a tulip and had a hard time looking away from it.  It was a beautiful thing.

The poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) is such an ancient plant that many believe that it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on. It can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and can be found in unmown fields. It is very fragrant and it is quite remarkable to realize, as you sit admiring its spicy fragrance, that the Roman poet Virgil once did the same thing. I love a plant that comes with a good history lesson.

Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis) is not native to New Hampshire and I have only seen two or three of the trees growing in this area until recently, when I found three large trees growing at the local college. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. These were sheltered by buildings, which probably accounts for their large size.

I was surprised to see clusters of redbud flowers surrounding pruned off limbs. They seemed to be coming right out of the bark of the tree. I’m also always surprised by how small the pea like purple flowers are on a redbud but the tree makes up for it by producing plenty of them.

There are more than 500 plants in the veronica family and they can be tough to tell apart, but I’ve always thought that this one might be slender speedwell (Veronica filiformis.) It’s a tiny blossom that I found growing in a lawn, and you could hide a whole bouquet of them behind a pea. This particular speedwell is native to Europe and is considered a lawn weed but there are many others that are native to the U.S., and Native Americans used some of them to treat asthma and allergies.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.
~ Zenkei Shibayama

Thanks for coming by. I hope there are many flowers in your lives.

Read Full Post »

Last Sunday I needed to see something new, so I decided on the rail trail that heads south out of Keene to Swanzey, Troy, Fitzwilliam, and eventually the Massachusetts border. I’ve done the northern and southern legs of the trail but never this middle section. I started my hike on this amazing stone arch bridge. Built of granite quarried a half mile away from the site, it was dry laid with no mortar in 1847 and soars 38 feet above the river. The bridge is 27 feet wide with a span of 68 feet, and its arch has a radius of 34 feet. Evidence of the plug and feather method used to split the stones is still visible on the faces of many of the stones. It’s hard to imagine how it was ever built without the use of modern tools and equipment.

The bridge is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means it earned a little money for upkeep. Part of the upkeep involved upgrading the drainage and laying a new bed of pea stone where the trains would have run. It seems to be still as solid as the day it was built.

Here is a postcard view of the bridge, probably from the early 1900s. The view and landscape is very different today of course. These postcards were usually actual photos colored by hand but I think this one was a drawing.

The white building in the postcard view is no longer there. This view from the top of the bridge looks west towards Vermont. It was a partly cloudy, very windy day and the gusts felt like they might blow me right off the bridge so I didn’t hang around up here for very long. We’ve had at least some wind nearly every day for over a month now.

I saw some very symmetrical horsetails. This is one plant you do not want in your garden because once you have them you’ll never be rid of them. When I had my gardening business I tried just about everything I could think of including covering them with black plastic for a full year. They loved it and grew on as if nothing had happened.

I also saw some very red new leaves on the staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina.

The trail is wide and dry for the most part because the drainage channels that the railroad built 150 years ago are still working.

Skunk currants (Ribes glandulosum) grew in patches here and there along the trail. I’ve read that the plant gets its common name from the odor given off by its ripe dark red berries, which doesn’t sound too appealing but they are said to be very tasty. If you can get past the smell, I assume. This is a very hairy plant; even its fruit has hairs. The Native Ojibwa people used the root of skunk currant to ease back pain but it is not a favorite of foresters or timber harvesters because it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.

Skunk currant flowers are quite small at about 1/4 inch across. They are saucer shaped with 5 petals and 5 purple stamens.

Unfortunately I also saw a lot of garlic mustard out here. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to what I’ve read, the young spring plants are delicious.

The sunshine seemed to always be just up around the next bend. Until I got to the next bend, that is. By then it had disappeared.

This is a typical New Hampshire mixed forest with mostly pine, hemlock, cherry, beech, oak, maple and white and gray birch. Also this single beautiful golden birch.

I saw a small bird’s nest in a cherry sapling. It was about 5-6 inches across so a small bird must have made it.

Violets bloomed all along the trail. I thought this might be an early blue violet but since my color finding software sees mostly purple, I’ll just call it a violet. It had long above ground rhizomes that I’ve never seen on a violet.

Sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew along the drainage channels in groups. I’ve seen them carpet large areas of forest floor so I had the feeling that they must have just gotten started here. They’re in the lily of the valley family, which can also form large colonies.

This signal post looked new, and that’s because someone had painted it. I’m not sure why anyone would but there it was, looking like it had just been installed yesterday.

I was very surprised to see skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) growing on a wet hillside. I’ve read that eating the leaves can cause burning and inflammation but something had eaten many of the leaves. Often animals don’t have the same reaction to plants that we do. Birds even eat poison ivy berries.

This is a photo of the fruit of a skunk cabbage which is a rare sight, even for those of us who look for such things.

I saw just two red trilliums (Trillium erectum) out here. I also saw Jack in the pulpit, starflowers, and lots of fern fiddleheads. The trilliums and our other spring ephemerals will probably be done by the time this post is read. Leaves on the trees and warmer weather finish their short bloom periods quickly.

I saw lots of wild sarsaparilla plants (Aralia nudicaulis) just unfurling their leaves. At this stage many people confuse wild sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which comes up at the same time and has glossy green leaves. One way to tell the two apart is by the stem. Poison ivy usually has an older, woody stem while sarsaparilla has a fresh, tender stem. The roots of this plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There were already flower buds on some sarsaparilla plants. They’ll bloom in late May, with ping pong ball size flowerheads made up of tiny individual flowers.

I thought these new oak leaves were beautiful, both in color and shape. They were soft like velvet, and there were flower buds as well.

A broken whistle post told me that a road was coming up. What looks like an M is really an upside down W. The W stands for whistle and the post is called a whistle post, because it marks the spot where the locomotive engineer was to blow the train’s whistle. When there is a crossing very nearby, where the railbed crosses a road, the whistle would have alerted wagon or auto drivers that a train was coming. Some whistle posts were marked – – o -, which meant “two longs and a short” on the whistle.

There was indeed a road; route 12 south out of Keene parallels the rail trail and I had walked to the Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey. Only 2.2 miles by car from where I started, so I’d guess it was a two mile walk.

And that meant that it was two miles back, but on such a sweet spring day with birds singing in the trees two miles didn’t seem like anything, really. It was one of those days that gets inside you and lets you see how wonderful this life really is, and there was no hurry to get anywhere or to do anything. I felt doubly blessed.

Some journeys take you farther from where you come from, but closer to where you belong. ~Ron Franscell

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is able to find some outdoor time.

Read Full Post »

I’m seeing more butterflies these days. This one, which I think is a comma (Polygonia c-album,) landed on the path just in front of me one day. They winter over in leaf litter and on the undersides of logs so it would make sense that they would be one of the first to appear. I’ve also seen a few small blue butterflies, maybe half the size of this one, but I’ve yet to get one of them inside the camera. I hope I can show them to you because they’re a beautiful shade of blue.

I was weeding around some lilacs one day and all of the sudden this was there. From what I’ve seen online it appears to be a wireworm, which is a click beetle grub.  Click beetles get their name from the way they click when they try to turn over if they land on their backs. There are about 60 species of click beetles but only five are plant pests. The grubs feed on plant roots but from what I’ve read they don’t do any real damage. In this photo the grubs head is the darker area in the upper left. Not seen are three pairs of legs, just behind the head.

I had to turn a picnic table over one day to clean it prior to painting it, and when I did I found this egg mass from an unknown insect.

A closer look showed that the tiny eggs looked like hen’s eggs, and most had already hatched. There must have been over a hundred of them and they were so small I could hardly tell what they were without looking at the camera screen replay.

There are still plenty of acorns left from last fall’s crop so squirrels are fat and happy. They had a mild winter, too.

All the rain we’ve had has made for some high water in streams and ponds, but one of the streams that run through the property where I work was abnormally high, so we walked its banks to see if anything was damming it up.

It was easy to see what the problem was; beavers, but what you see here is quite rare because this is an eastern hemlock tree and beavers don’t usually eat them. I’ve never seen them eat all the bark off a tree and its roots like this either, of any species.

We kept following the stream until we came to their dam and then we started taking it apart. This photo shows the dam after we had dismantled about half of it. To do the whole dam took all afternoon and it was hard work. The beavers had woven in logs and branches as big as my leg and getting them out of the dam took quite a lot of effort but it had to be done. Dammed up streams flood fields, forests and even roads. In this case this stream flows under a road, so you can’t just ignore the fact that it isn’t flowing. Depending on the size of the beaver family they can build a dam in a day or two, so we expect we’ll be visiting this spot again before long. They don’t give up easily.

All the rain water made taking wave photos at the Ashuelot River a lot of fun. If you didn’t mind the roar, that is.

There seems to be a lot of water in this post but I can’t help that; I just take photos of whatever nature shows me. At one time I thought something like this was an oil slick or some other form of pollution but several helpful readers have commented over the years that it can also be caused naturally, by decomposing vegetation and other natural phenomena.

It’s always very colorful.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) is an extremely toxic plant but I love the movement that its new spring shoots have. Every time I see them I think how nice it would be to sit beside them and draw them, but I never seem to find the time. They make me think of someone contemplating a handful of pearls, which of course are actually its flower buds. Soon it will have a club shaped head of small white flowers. Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots of this plant and used it medicinally to treat pain and other ailments, but no part of it should ever be ingested. In late summer it will have bright white berries with a single black dot that give the plant its common name of doll’s eyes. The berries especially are very toxic.

Hairy fiddleheads like these belong to either cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) or interrupted fern (Osmundastrum claytoniana.) Since I know these ferns I know they’re interrupted ferns but normally I wouldn’t be able to tell unless I saw the spore bearing fronds. Both are beautiful right up until fall, when they turn pumpkin orange.

Lady fern fiddleheads (Athyrium filix-femina) are also up. Lady fern is the only fern I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers. They don’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) leaves stay green under the snow all winter and they also shed water. The plant is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S. Soon 4 petaled yellow flowers will appear. When I was a boy we stained our hands with the plant’s yellow sap and called it mustard. Thankfully we never ate it, because all parts of it are toxic.

This strange color belonged to the buds of a bitternut hickory tree (Carya cordiformis,) which is on the rare side here. It is said that the nuts from this tree are so bitter that even squirrels won’t eat them.

Here is the same bud in full sun, looking electric yellow. The wood is very flexible and Native Americans used it to make bows. Early settlers used the oil from the nuts in their oil lamps and to help with rheumatism.

I’ve never seen false hellebore (Veratrum viride) plants grow like they are this year. This spot usually has a few but this year there are hundreds of them.

False hellebore is a pretty thing but it is also one of the most toxic plants in the forest and if you forage for edible plants, you should know it well. In 2010 five campers in Alaska nearly died from eating its roots. Thanks to being airlifted by helicopter to a hospital they survived. There is another account of an entire family being poisoned by cooking and eating the leaves.

It’s amazing what a little sunlight can do for a maple bud…

…and new maple leaves as well.

Tiny new oak leaves were an almost impossible shade of green.

If there is just one thing I hope this posts shows it’s how beauty is all around us, and not just in the form of flowers. I love seeing flowers as much as the next person but when I see something like this beech bud unfurling I have to just stand and admire it for a while. And then I take far too many photos of it, trying to let you see what I saw. Beech bud break in spring is one of nature’s small miracles that will happen each day for the next couple of weeks. I hope everyone gets to witness it.

Art, music, the beauty of a leaf or flower; all can invite us to step outside of ourselves; to lose ourselves and walk a higher path, at least for a time. Art and music may be hard to access at the moment, but nature is always right there. Indescribable, endless beauty and deep, immense joy. These are what nature offers to those willing to receive them, and all it costs is a little time.

But you can’t dawdle too long because once those buds break it’s all about making leaves and it can happen quite fast. If you can’t get into the woods why not take a look at the trees in your own yard or neighborhood? You could be very surprised by what you find.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

Thanks for stopping in. I’m hoping all of you moms out there have a very happy Mother’s Day tomorrow, and I hope you’ll have beautiful weather on your day.

Read Full Post »

After a warmer weekend many plants are responding and more flower buds are opening. At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. The flower type must be very successful because it is used by many other plants, from blueberries to heather. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to reduce inflammation and to treat fevers, headaches and sprains.

I put a single leatherleaf blossom on a penny so you could get an idea of their size. A penny is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter and a leatherleaf blossom is about half the size of a blueberry blossom.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have finally bloomed, about a week later than average but it seems longer. Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take from 7-10 years to produce flowers from seeds, so if you see a large colony of blooming trout lilies you know it has been there for a while. This colony has tens of thousands of plants in it and I’ve read that colonies of that size can be as much as 300 years old. To think that the first settlers of Keene could have very well admired these same plants, just as I do today.

These blossoms hadn’t been open long and you can tell that by the yellow male stamens in the center. As the blossoms age the 6 stamens quickly turn red and then brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect female stigma will catch any pollen an insect brings by. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and it attracts several kinds of bees. If pollination is successful a 3 part seed capsule will appear. The seeds are dispersed by ants, which eat the rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds behind to grow into bulbs.

I think my favorite part of a trout lily blossom is the back of the petals, which are tinted with maroon. They’re very pretty flowers no matter how you see them.

Spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) must like the cool damp weather because most plants still have buds, even though they’ve been blooming for about a month. This photo shows the variations in color. There are plants that can take me out of myself and cause a shift in my perception of time so that I often have no idea how long I’ve been kneeling before them, and spring beauty is one of them. How could you not lose yourself in something so beautiful?

I’ve never seen trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) bloom like it is this year and as I visited this colony I wished my grandmother could have seen it. She called them Mayflowers and she always wanted to show them to me, but we could never find them. She loved their scent and so did Native Americans, who though this plant had divine origins.

Each trailing arbutus flower has a tiny yellow star in its center.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a plant you have to watch closely if you want to see its flowers, because it can produce leaves and flowers in just days. Two days before these photos were taken these plants had no leaves opened.  

You can see how wild ginger’s unusual brownish flower rests on the ground in this photo. This makes them difficult to get a good shot of. For this one I turned on my camera’s onboard LED light. Because they grow so close to the ground and bloom so early scientists thought that wild ginger flowers must be pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but we now know that they self-pollinate. The flowers have no petals; they are made up of 3 triangular calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. Though flies do visit the flowers it is thought that they do so simply to get warm. The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage. Native Americans also used the plant medicinally for a large variety of ailments.

Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) have just started blooming and if the pollinators do their job each flower will become a small but delicious strawberry. My kids used to love them, and they’d eat them by the handful. The full moon in the month of June was known to many Native American tribes as the “Strawberry Moon” because that was when most strawberries began to ripen. The berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to pemmican, soups, and breads. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons,) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454, so they’ve been with us a long time.

Spring, like fall, starts on the forest floor with the spring ephemeral flowers and then it moves to the understory before finally reaching the treetops. Now is the time for the understory trees and shrubs to start blooming and one of the earliest is the shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis.)

Naturalists and botanists have been arguing for years over the many native shadbush species and hybrids. The 5 white flower petals can appear quite different in each, but none of the several variations that I’ve seen have had blossoms bigger than a nickel. All of them seem to have multiple large stamens. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples and some native cherries. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing.

This is what the flower buds of a shadbush look like. After shadbushes come the cherries, closely followed by the crab apples and apples, and then the peaches and plums. 

I’m finally seeing blue /  purple violets, about two weeks after I saw the first white one.

The deep purple lines on violet petals guide insects into the flower’s throat while brushy bits above dust its back with pollen. Native Americans had many uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers.

Lots of sedges are still blooming. The flowers stalks (culms) of plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) are about 4 inches tall and have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the butter yellow, terminal male (staminate) flowers.

I can’t think of anything much more delicate than female sedge flowers. They are living threads.

When you see these little black spearpoints sticking up out of what looks like grass you’ve found a sedge. Come back in a day or two and you’ll see flowers much like those in the previous two photos.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in forests so they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They’ll go dormant quickly when it gets hot and they can leave a hole in the garden but that trait is easily forgiven. It’s one of the oldest perennials in cultivation and it is called old fashioned bleeding heart. I’ve always liked them and they were one of the first flowers I chose for my own garden.

I believe this cultivated purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) is called “Purple Dragon.” Whatever its name it is a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf.

Dead nettle flowers always look like they have a chicken popping up out of them to me. They sort of resemble snapdragons but are in the mint family.

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. ~Marcus Aurelius

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is staying safe and able to spend time outside.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »