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Archive for the ‘Orchids’ Category

Here on my first day of retirement I don’t think the reality that I have nothing I have to do and nowhere I have to go has fully sunken in yet. Maybe I’ll need time to decompress after 50+ years of working. It was an odd career that went from gardener to mechanical engineer and then buildings and grounds maintenance. Though I started out fine with maintenance nearly 7 years ago I didn’t end fine. The job, always a dirty and dusty one, became increasingly difficult due to weakening lungs and I could feel myself slowing down, so it was time to go. One of the more pleasant memories of those last 7 years that comes to mind is of the many beautiful things I saw on those 25-mile drives to and from work; like clouds of mist rising up out of the forest in Marlborough, or the morning sunlight turning the snow-covered peak of Mount Monadnock to pink and orange. These sights were always unexpected and, though the drive wasn’t always welcome, they always were.

When I finally got to work each day, there on the shores of Half Moon Pond in Hancock, it wasn’t that uncommon to find something like this waiting. Each morning I would cross the road and stand on the shore in the quiet and watch as the sun rose behind me. It was a wonderful way to start the day and it wasn’t long before I felt that I had stumbled into paradise. I might not miss the work but I will miss the place.

You could feel an energy on the shores of the pond; an infectious childlike spirit, and that’s because children have come here for over 100 years to learn about and enjoy nature. The land, all 700+ acres, is known as The Sargent Center for Outdoor Education, owned by Boston University and currently in use by Nature’s Classroom, which is an outdoor environmental education program. Children, musicians, artists and other groups come from all over the world and the happy shouts and laughter of children can be heard all day every day, almost all year round. It was like music to me and I loved hearing them and seeing them having so much fun, but then covid came along and everything had to stop for a time. I can’t see that the place will ever stop attracting children though; after a fallow year in 2020 they returned for 10 weeks last summer and this summer looks like it will be even better.

The children come to what we call the camp to learn about nature and though that wasn’t my reason for coming, I learned right along with them. This was the first place I had ever seen dragonfly nymphs clutching the pond weeds, waiting to shed their exoskeletons. Once free they are apparently disoriented for a time. (I know how they feel) I had them land on me several times over the years and their empty shells, called exuvia, can be found here and there all along the shoreline.

This was the only place I knew of where I could get close enough to the big mother snapping turtles to see them laying their eggs. It was a slow, seemingly exhaustive process.

Before I went to work there, I had to drive for half an hour to see a rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) in bloom but that first year I found them along the shoreline. I was able to get to know them like I never could before. They’re one of our most beautiful early spring flowers and it was great to know that I could now find them with ease.

The same is true for sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). I used to have to drive for miles to find it and even then I had a hard time, but there it was right on the shore of the pond. This is another relatively rare and beautiful native shrub which blooms later than the rhodora. Our native laurels have 10 anthers that fit into tiny pockets and spring out when an insect lands on the blossom, dusting it with pollen. The thought of it always fascinates me.

Before I started working at the camp the only way I could see a beautiful marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) was from a kayak, and if you’ve ever tried taking photos while sitting in a kayak you know how that went. Here, I could walk right up to them and see them in all their beautiful glory. It’s a relatively rare plant so I was happy to find them growing right along the shoreline. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our others St John’s worts are yellow.

A little further up on shore I found my favorite milkweed, swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). As I watched over the years one plant became two, and the first plant grew more and more flowers. The pretty flower clusters always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Humble little Narrow leaf cow wheat plants (Melampyrum lineare) grew and bloomed by the hundreds there. I know of only one other place to find them and they don’t grow well there. This little, shoe top high plant may look innocent but it has a secret; it is a hemiparasite, which is a plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants. It seems to want more than its share. 

One year I cut a large area of brush right along the pond edge to open up a view and the following year I was surprised to find it full of wildflowers, including the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) above. This is one of the last of our spring ephemeral flowers to bloom and it’s a signal that it’s time to start looking for flowers out in the sunny meadows rather than in the woods. Other plants that grew in this spot were pink lady’s slippers, painted trillium, blue bead lily, and partridge berry.

In certain places in the camp woods you can sometimes find large colonies of painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum). Throughout my experience I have found only one or two plants here and there, so finding large numbers of them here in this place was surprising. And beautiful; painted trilliums are our most beautiful trillium, in my opinion. They will bloom in May, just about the same time as the rhodora we saw earlier.

I was also surprised to find so many broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) growing at the camp because I normally see so few of them. They were introduced from Europe in the 1800s and almost immediately escaped gardens and are now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. Scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature, and wasps have been seen moving away from it in a kind of staggering flight. Strangely, the plants have chosen to grow in the shade around building foundations.

Since I’m colorblind, before I started working at the camp I had seen only one cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and that was only because a kind reader had sent me directions to it. But it was across a stream, so I could never get close to it. When a red cardinal lands in a green tree it disappears to these eyes, so I almost stepped on the plant in this photo before I saw the red flower. It grew in a peaceful place beside a stream at the camp. It was a real treat to finally see them up close after so many years of looking for them but now I know that I should stop looking, because the only way I’ll ever find them is by luck. If I should happen to stumble across them again well, that will be a lucky day.

Another plant that I had never seen before working at the camp was the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). Like the cardinal flower it is a plant I searched for for many years. I stumbled across it growing in a lawn, which is the last place I’d have thought to look for it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

As I think back on my time at the camp, I can see that it was really just one discovery after another, and I could probably fill two posts with all the “firsts” I saw, like the eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) above. Its “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. It has a spine that it can click and use to propel itself away from predators, and it used it to jump and hit me in the back, otherwise I’d have never seen it. One day a bobcat walked past a group of us from just feet away, and one morning I saw a young moose come up out of the pond. Several people told me that a black bear walked just 10 feet from me when I was blowing leaves one day, but I never heard or saw it. This was also the first and only place I ever heard the song of a whippoorwill. It really is a magical place that is filled with natural wonders, and I’m very grateful to have had the chance to spend time there.

Another wonder was the cluster of Dryocosmus deciduous galls I found on a red-oak leaf one day. These galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree. I remember how amazed I was when I read that about them.

One of the jobs I had at the camp was mowing a 13-acre meadow. The first time I mowed it I noticed that there were one or two chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) in it, so I started mowing around them. Year by year their numbers increased until last year there must have been 15 plants, all blooming together. Several people asked me about them over the years and I think everyone enjoyed the blue flowers, even though they looked a little odd out in such a big expanse of grass.

The meadow that I mowed was full of tiny black insects which I think must have been weevils. There were so many thousands of them I could feel them peppering any uncovered spot on my body as I mowed, so I had to always wear glasses and keep my mouth closed tight. But mowing was when I first noticed something strange; a group of dragonflies would fly alongside the tractor, a few on either side, and every now and then one or two would peel off for a moment or two before coming back to rejoin the group. I realized then that the dragonflies were eating all the insects that were being scared up by the mower. I also realized that they were intelligent creatures. They must also have some type of a memory, because they flew along beside me every time I mowed the meadow in summer. The one in this photo was so used to me mowing I rode right up to it and took this shot with my macro camera as it perched on a chicory plant. If a fish can learn to come when it is called at feeding time, why can’t a dragonfly?

Because I spent most of my time outside, I could keep a close eye on the local monarch butterfly population, which seemed to rise and fall quite a lot from year to year. Last summer seemed to be a good one for them and I hope the future will be kind to them.

I realize as I work on this post how much there was to see and discover in an area smaller than the center of an average small New England town. It’s just amazing, but it isn’t just the beauty of it all; it’s also the rarity of the things found here, like the dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) flowers above. I’ve seen them in exactly one other place in over 50 years of wandering through nature.  

And then there is the purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) I found growing beside a trail through a swamp one day. People had been walking by it without seeing it perhaps for years and if I hadn’t caught just a glimpse of color out of the corner of my eye, I would have done the same. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget how I felt that day. I think it has to be the most beautiful flowering plant I’ve ever seen in these New Hampshire woods.

All of the animals, plants, insects, and amphibians that have made this place their home is what makes it so special. Just think of all the children, more than a hundred years’ worth of them, who came to this place and might have seen one, two or all of the things in this post. Think of how much they might have learned. This place, full of beauty, wonder and enchantment, should always be here for them.

Last year a group of artists came to stay for a week and my co-workers cajoled one of them into doing an oil painting of the bog orchid, which they gave me on my last day. It was a great gift and it now hangs here where I’ll see it every day. Though I doubt I could ever forget the camp, this painting will make sure I don’t. I hope many people who pass through the camp will get to see and admire the flower that inspired it, especially the artist. He did the painting from a photo that I had taken.  

There was a time when I could sit in the quiet of dawn on a summer morning and listen to the birds sing through the open windows, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing again more than anything else. In the evening I can walk to the stream down the road and watch the sunset turn it to liquid gold, and then when it gets dark I can sit outside and watch the stars while listening to the the spring peepers. These are some of the things that are most important to me, and I’ll have time now to do them and anything else that comes to mind. The possibilities are infinite.

One sweet dream, came true today. ~The Beatles

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It seems that these “looking back” posts get harder every year. Choosing a handful of photos is never easy but this year it seemed daunting at first. But then I sat down and remembered what this blog was all about, which is showing you the beauty of nature. I dangle a carrot and entice you into going out and seeing nature for yourself, and when you do you fall in love with what you see, just as I did. That’s the plan, anyway. So as you look at what I’ve chosen remember that these photos are about the beauty of this world and nothing else. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and you might not think the stream ice in the above shot is beautiful at all. Hopefully though, as you wade through this post, you’ll find something that catches your eye. And remember, if I saw it, you can too.

This is more stream ice, this time with leaves trapped in it. This reminded me of putting a leaf between 2 sheets of waxed paper and then ironing the paper so it sealed around the leaf. It’s always slightly fuzzy, never clear like glass.

The first two photos were taken last January. In February I was at the North Pole, or so it seemed when I was looking at this wind sculpted snow. I love to see the designs the wind can make in snow, but it has to be the right kind of snow with the right consistency or it doesn’t seem to work.

This shot, taken later in February, makes me want to say “whew,” because it shows the first sign of warm colors and melting ice after a long white winter. I’ve always believed that once we’ve made it through February winter’s back is broken. Sure, we can get more snow and even cold, but it doesn’t usually last for weeks like it can in January and February.

In early March there was still snow on the ground but the willows burned brightly and this scene reminded me of an impressionist painting. Vincent van Gogh, maybe?

March is when the first flowers appear but I doubt many people notice the beautiful male alder catkins dangling from the bushes like strings of jewels. A catkin is really just a string of flowers and there are probably hundreds of tiny male blossoms in this shot.

April is when things really get going and large willow shrubs full of bright yellow flowers appear at wood edges and out in the fields. They’re a breath of spring that I look forward to each year and their blossoming usually signals the return of red winged blackbirds.

Bloodroot is one of our most beautiful wildflowers which don’t often appear until early May, but last spring they came along in April. I’m not sure how a flower could be more perfect than this. Its simplicity is what makes it so beautiful, I think. It isn’t busy and there’s nothing to deduce or discover; it’s all right there so all you need to do is just admire its beauty. If you happen to find bloodroot growing in the wild you should remember the spot because this plant will come up in the same spot for many years if undisturbed.

May is when I start looking at buds and though there were many to choose from, I chose this velvety soft, pink and orange, striped maple bud. They seem to glow, and seeing a tree full of them is a sight not soon forgotten. This is a smallish tree and common in this region, so the next time you’re walking along a trail in early May, look out for it.

By mid to late May some of our most beautiful wildflowers are just coming into bloom, like the wild columbine seen here. The columbines grow on stone ledges off in the woods where few people ever see them, but some like me consider them very special and make it a point to go to see them each year. They’re quite a rare find; this spot in Westmoreland is the only place I’ve ever found them. It’s a bit of a hike but it isn’t any work at all to go and see them on a beautiful spring day in May when the leaves are just coming out on the trees and the air is full of sunshine and birdsong. In five short months it will be time to take that walk again, and I’m already looking forward to it.

In this area nothing says June like our native blue flag irises. I watch the roadside ditches because that’s where I find a lot of them blooming beautifully in large clumps. I also see them on pond and river edges. They like a lot of water and can sometimes even be found in standing water. They’re a beautiful flower that always says summer to me and you don’t have to hunt for them, because they’re everywhere.

Flowers come fast and furious in June and you can find many newly opened species each day. For this post though, I chose Robin’s plantain, a fleabane that’s considered a lowly weed. It comes up in lawns everywhere but even though it’s a weed, nobody mows it until it’s done blooming. I think this photo shows why. It’s such a beautiful weed.

There are times in the woods when I see something I can hardly believe I’m seeing, and that’s how it was the first time I saw this fringed bog orchid. I know I’ve found something special when all thoughts leave my mind and I just want to be quiet. I know I’m in the presence of something rare and very special, and I imagine that I feel as I would if I were walking into one of the world’s great cathedrals. It’s hard to explain, but you just know that this is a special moment and it deserves all of your attention, and your gratitude as well. You are humbled, I suppose is the best way to explain it, and it happens the same way each July when I go into the swamp where this magnificent orchid grows.

Also in July, this past July at least, because of all the rain, fungi and slime molds began to appear. I learned a lot by paying attention and watching closely this past summer. I saw a huge variety of fungi and slime molds appear that I had never seen before and as far as I can tell it was all on account of the steady rains we had. After two years of drought it was an amazing show of what nature can do under the right conditions.

In August I found the tiny flowers of the field forget-me-not growing in a lawn and that seemed appropriate, because August was the month that I lost a sister to lung cancer. Though nature has shown me that there is a deep well of peace within us all we have to find it before we can drink from it, and it isn’t something that one of us can give to another; each of us has to find it for ourselves. This was the unfortunate truth that I realized there alongside the forget-me-nots in August.

The concentric circles in tiger’s eye fungi also seemed appropriate for August. To me life is like a song, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. When one song ends a new one begins to take its place, and on and on it goes in a never-ending circle, through all of eternity.

In September I saw one of the prettiest displays of mushrooms I’ve seen when I found these Jack O’ lanterns growing on and around this old red maple. There were hundreds of them and they grew in a ring on all sides of the old tree. A day or two later and I would have missed this beautiful display, and that’s a good reason to get into the woods each day if you can.

This shot is a bit ironic with a monarch butterfly on a purple loosestrife because we wish we’d see more of the butterflies and less of the very invasive purple loosestrife. I didn’t count but I saw a fair number of monarchs, mostly in August and September of last year. I wish I knew why there were so many more, and I wonder if the weather had anything to do with it. I wouldn’t think a butterfly would want to be rained on but there were so many flowers blooming because of it.

This shot from October shows what I mean about having so many flowers blooming. This is just a roadside meadow of sorts that I pass each day on my way to and from work. It’s there every year but this past summer was the best I’ve seen it look. Because of this spot I discovered that New England asters like an awful lot of water. Seeing them in such a wet spot made me take note of soil conditions in other places they grew and each one was quite wet, or at least more than just moist.

You certainly receive plenty of hints in September and even in August of summer’s passing but October is when it really hits you. At least, that’s when it hit me one October morning when I stood on the shore of Half Moon Pond and saw how all the trees had colored. It was a beautiful way to end our summer and it went on and on, and again I think that was because of all the rain we had.

Very late October and early November is the time to visit Willard Pond in Hancock if you want to experience all the majesty of a New England hardwood forest in the fall. The oaks and beeches put on what is easily the most beautiful autumn spectacle that I’ve seen. It’s a quiet, peaceful place with well placed benches where you can sit and listen to the calls of loons and enjoy the beauty of the pond and surrounding forest.

I took a hike down a rail trail in November and just before I left, I snapped this shot of a distant hillside. I could see color on the hillside from where I was but it was like a smudge, with no real detail. I was surprised when I looked at the photo and saw that it was a hillside full of oaks. Everyone seemed to like this one so I’ll show it again.

We had our fist snowfall in December, barely an inch here, so I went out and got some photos of it. It was a nuisance storm and we’ve had two or three since, but no real snowstorms. People who have to shovel it are counting their blessings, but people who make money plowing it don’t feel quite so lucky. I think we all need to face the fact that winter has changed. Just over the course of this blog’s 11 years I’ve watched it go from cold and snowy to rather mild on average in comparison. Spring starts earlier and fall lasts longer now.  

It did get cold enough in December for me to get a shot of this frost crystal on my car windshield one morning. Everyone seemed to like seeing it, so here it is again.

And that’s 2021 in New Hampshire in a nutshell. I hope yours was even more beautiful, and I hope everyone has a safe, healthy and happy 2022!

The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come. ~Mick Kremling

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It comes in waves. News of the war between the Edgewood Civic Association and the Federal Aviation Administration will suddenly erupt in the local newspaper and then, after a few weeks, will disappear until the next eruption, and it’s been happening for as long as I can remember. The crux of the whole argument is about tree cutting in Edgewood Forest and it hinges on whether or not a 1983 amendment to the original deed, which said that trees on the property “may be cut or topped in order that they will not constitute an obstruction to air navigation,” is legal and binding. Residents say it isn’t, because the parties involved lacked the authority to make such an agreement, and the city of Keene says it is legal. In the end it seems that it will be up to the courts to decide but the original deed did say there was to be no tree cutting allowed on this deeded parcel.

Injunctions are filed and other court procedures go on, but meanwhile so does tree cutting. A friend told me about this tree topping and when I saw it, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would go to all of the trouble to top trees when they could have just cut them down. If they had cut them down, they wouldn’t have needed all the equipment it must have taken to lift them to such lofty heights to cut the tops off. Now of course, all of these trees are dead and will fall, and some are mere feet from the main trail.

The topped trees are also not too far from the many wires that follow this trail.

I don’t know what the W stands for on this huge old pine tree, but I’d say it’s a fair bet that it isn’t wisdom. Since our tallest trees are white pines which these days might reach 150 feet on a good day, and by law aircraft cannot fly “closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure,” I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It seems to me that if a plane hits a tree, it was flying far too low and was breaking the law. It seems simple, but I’m not a pilot.

On this day I just wanted to wash my hands of the whole thing and go into the woods. Or what’s left of them, anyhow.

There is something about the place, probably the fact that the soil has lain undisturbed for so long, that draws many native wintergreen plants that you don’t see anywhere else, like striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata.) It is my favorite of the native evergreens because I like the way its foliage turns deep purple in cold weather. The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love,) so it loves winter and does not die from the cold. It is relatively rare; I know of only two or three places where small colonies grow.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) also grows here in great numbers. In spring its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear and that’s why it was once over-collected into near oblivion. In fact my grandmother and I looked for it for years and never could find any. Though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. These days it can be found at many nurseries but it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type. That’s true of many of our native evergreens, in fact. They want to grow where they want to grow.

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) is another of our native wintergreens that grows in large numbers here. It’s interesting to me how so many native evergreens have chosen this place to grow in. Other than the long undisturbed soil I don’t know what the attraction would be. It might also have something to do with the humidity level as well, because there is plenty of water in the area. Shinleaf’s common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other native wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used to soothe many ailments.

Fan shaped clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) grow fairly well here but I haven’t seen large numbers of them. They’re pretty clubmosses that look quite different from others, and that means they’re easy to identify. They were once collected almost into oblivion for Christmas wreaths, and not that long ago. I can remember seeing clubmoss Christmas wreaths. That’s why I don’t usually tell anyone specifically where they grow.

I saw quite a few dead fan shaped clubmosses here, which is something I’ve never seen before. I hope it doesn’t signal something ominous.

Years ago I found a single downy rattlesnake plantain orchid growing behind a tree so I marked the tree with my pocket knife so I could find the orchid again. Of course the tree grew, its bark healed my little X mark over, and I couldn’t find it or the orchid again. Then, on this day I found another orchid just sitting there, not by any tree at all, and that means they are spreading. I’m very happy about that because they’re a beautiful little plant. And I do mean little; this one would fit in a teacup with room to spare. The flowers look like tiny white teapots and are very hard to photograph.

There is quite a lot of swamp land in Edgewood Forest and this particular spot is rich in peat mosses.

I have enough trouble identifying mosses without taking on the peat mosses but I do like to see them. This one seems to turn bright yellow in winter. I keep hoping to find spore capsules on them but since there are over 380 species of sphagnum peat mosses, I never really know what species I’m looking at.

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) leaves turn a nice purple color in winter but they will stay on the plant under the snow. It’s a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s pretty white flowers bloom.

Young yarrow plants grew here and there. Considered one of the nine “Holy herbs” by ancients, this plant has been healing mankind since before recorded history, important enough to be traded from one country to another until now it is found in nearly every country on earth. The young leaves are very feathery and very pretty.

It looked like these pear-shaped puffballs had puffed out all their spores already. People have gotten deadly lung infections from inhaling puffball spores so It’s really best to just let them be.

Lumpy bracket fungi (Trametes gibbosa) grow on many species of hardwood logs. They’re usually white or cream colored but I think this one had some algae growing on it, which is said to be common. These fungi decompose wood by causing white rot.

The pores on a lumpy bracket fungus look as if they’ve been stretched and look maze like, unlike the round pores found on a turkey tail fungus.

For years now I’ve seen this yellow crust fungus on conifers and though I once believed it was the conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum,) now I’m not so sure. The examples I see are always very dry and thin, almost as if they were part of the bark, and they are hard enough so, though I try to dent them with my fingernails, they remain undamaged. What I see here in this photo does not match the conifer parchment fungi I see online so for now, I’m still in the dark.

Powdery mildew grew on oak leaves. Powdery mildew is a fungal disease which usually grows where there is little direct sunlight, high humidity and poor air circulation. Some plants like bee balm, lilacs, and grape vines seem particularly susceptible to it. I think this is the first time I’ve noticed it on oak.

Because bracket fungi like birch polypores grow with their spore bearing undersides pointed toward the ground you can always tell if they grew before or after a tree fell. All of these grew after this birch fell.

A huge old birch tree had two trunks but one fell away, leaving what you see here. I thought the colors and grain patterns were beautiful. I wish I could make a table top from it.

Last year a group of volunteers came together to remove invasive water chestnut plants from this swamp that borders Edgewood Forest. Water chestnut is native to Eurasia and Africa, and was brought to the U.S. in the 1870s as an ornamental. The plants form a thick mat on the surface and crowd out natives. It was nice to see them gone from this spot and nice to know that people worked together in a place that has been so divided for so long. That’s exactly what needs to happen here.

In any conflict there are always three sides; two opposing and the innocent who are caught in the middle. ~A.J. Garces

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Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata,) another sign of summer’s passing, have come into bloom. Some of these flowers can be extremely fragrant and they’re a valuable addition to any garden. A walk along a garden border full of fragrant phlox on a summer evening is something you probably won’t ever forget. Many people think of English gardens when they think of phlox but this is actually a native plant with a range from New York to Mississippi.

Another sign of summer’s passing comes in the form of eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) but many people miss seeing these ankle tall plants full of tiny but very beautiful blue flowers. They bloom in the morning and each flower only blooms for one day before falling off the plant. Its common name comes from its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on the flower’s lower lip. It’s one of our prettiest mid summer natives and is worth getting down on your hands and knees to see. It likes poor, sandy soil like that found along roadsides, and that’s where I found this one.

One of the oddest plants you’ll meet at the end of July is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) Odd because it was introduced from Europe and of course almost immediately escaped gardens and is now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. According to the USDA it was first found in the wild in North America near Syracuse, New York, in 1878 and has now spread to 31 states. I see only a few plants each year and they’re usually growing in shade but in some areas they come up in lawns. They stand about knee high, but they can get taller with more light. The leaves, though smaller, closely resemble those found on false hellebore and the name helleborine in Latin means “like hellebore.” That’s another oddity about this plant; neither false hellebore leaves nor the leaves of this orchid look at all like hellebore leaves.

A third oddity about broad leaved helleborine orchids is how two plants growing side by side (it is said from the same bulbous root) can have different color flowers. The flowers, maybe slightly bigger than a pencil eraser, can be green with a hint of purple, or purple with a hint of green, as these examples were. In fact, this year the flowers have more purple in them than I’ve seen.  

The fourth and oddest oddity about this plant in my opinion, is how scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting one flower’s pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the intoxicating orchid for the buzz.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long yellow tipped, white styles sticking out of the tubular flowers the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Once the flowers go by (as this example was) a red seed head will form which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

Here is a fresh buttonbush flower head. Each small white flower is relatively long and trumpet shaped, with 4 short stamens and a single, long white style that is longer than the flower’s corolla, and that’s what makes them look like pincushions. Buttonbush is said to be poisonous to animals but beavers have been seen taking the wood. Whether for food or for the construction of their dams and lodges isn’t known.

One of the things that surprises me most about burdock (Arctium minus) is how, even though it grew everywhere when I was a boy and we used to throw the burs at each other, I never saw the flowers until I became an adult. I suppose my priorities changed; back then there was nothing more fun than covering your friends in the sticky burs. Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. When fully open long white styles grow from the often darker purple anthers, which form a type of sheath around it. Burdock must have come to this country very early, probably tangled in a horse or cow’s tail, because it was noted as being widespread in 1663. In fact, it was so common then that some who came later wrote that it was native. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) is also called false violet because of its leaves, and I think the resemblance might be part of why a lot of people never see it. Its small white flowers dot the forest floor like so many other small white flowers, and that also makes it easy to pass by with just a glance. Though I know of two colonies of them they are rare here, and are endangered or threatened in many other states.

Dewdrops have a secret; they produce flowers other than the ones we see. The hidden flowers don’t open but still produce seeds. They are called cleistogamous flowers and grow down beneath the leaves. The showy flowers like the ones in the photo are mostly sterile. In plants like hobblebush these bigger, showier, sterile flowers are used to attract insects to the smaller, less showy fertile flowers but I doubt that it works that way on dewdrops, because cleistogamous flowers are self fertile and don’t need insects to pollinate them. So why are the bigger, showier flowers even there? Maybe they’re just another way that nature expresses itself. Maybe all of creation rejoices when they come into bloom. Maybe that’s true of all flowers. Maybe it’s true of all life.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) gets its common name from the way the chopped and boiled leaves produce a soapy lather that is particularly good at removing grease. This plant is a native of Europe and is thought to have been brought over by colonists to be used as a soap substitute. Another common name for this plant is bouncing Bet. I’ve heard several stories about how this name came about but I like the one that claims that the curved petals catch the breeze and make the plant bounce back and forth in the wind. The flowers are very fragrant.

Bee balm (Monarda) is a native plant that is seen more in gardens than in the wild in this region. It is also called Oswego tea and bergamot. Many Native American tribes used this plant medicinally and a tea made from it can still be found in many stores. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew. It isn’t doing well here this year. The plants I’ve seen this year don’t have mildew but still seem weak and the flowers are small.

There are more than 43 different species of liatris so I’m never sure which one I’m seeing but I do know that though it is a native plant I’ve only found it outside of a garden just once in this area.  It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies and bees to the garden. I think it would be more striking planted in drifts rather than the one or two plants spotted here and there that I see. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of the plant; they are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

When you take a close look at the flowers the plant’s other common name, blazing star, comes to mind. It is grown commercially as a cut flower, so you might have seen it in an arrangement.

The beautiful blue of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) is hard to match in a garden. I and my color finding software see blue but some call it purple so if you see purple that’s fine. The plant is an Asian native with a common name that comes from its buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. In nature it grows on hillsides and in meadows. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. 5 white anthers surround a central stye that becomes 5 lobed as the flower ages. This example hadn’t been open long.

Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) is in the ginseng family but its flowers are hard to mistake for those of ginseng. In fact, the entire plant isn’t easily confused with any other natives because of its bristly lower stems and foul odor. The plant can reach 3 feet tall but its weak stems give it a sprawling habit in the shade.  I almost always find it growing in dry gravel under pine trees at forest edges. Medicinally, the dried bark can be used in place of sarsaparilla. This plant is also called dwarf elder, wild elder, or angelica tree. Its leaves look nothing like those of wild sarsaparilla. Its fruit changes from green to dark blue and finally to black.

Bristly sarsaparilla is listed by the USDA as endangered in many states. The stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. The lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter, so technically it is considered a shrub. Each small, 1/8-inch flower sits at the end of a long stalk. They have 5 white petals that almost always curl back away from the center. 5 white stamens surround a central shorter style. I almost always see black ants swarming all over the flower heads of this plant but on this day there were only one or two.

Though when I was a boy hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) flowers were always pure white, I’m having a harder time finding white ones these days. Now most of them seem to be bicolor pink and white and I’m not sure why, other than natural selection. It could be that insects are more attracted to the bicolor flowers, which means that they have a higher probability of pollination and seed production. I took this photo because the flowers looked white to me but then when I saw them in a photo I thought I could see a blush of pale pink here and there.

I found a garden variety yarrow (Achillea) that I haven’t seen before. Its color was eye catching. Many tiny flowers packed together make up a yarrow flowerhead and this plant showed that off beautifully.

NOTE: A reader wrote in to say they were quite sure this plant is a cultivar called ‘New Vintage Violet’. Thank you!

I knew this plant was a hydrangea but it didn’t look like any hydrangea I had ever seen. It was like a lacecap, but not entirely. The colors were unusual and seemed to be several different shades all at once. Then I realized that I had been out of the professional gardening game for quite a long time. This was the tea of heaven hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata,) also called sawtooth hydrangea or blood on snow. It is a hybrid and I haven’t kept up with newer developments; my subscriptions to garden catalogs and horticultural magazines ran out long ago. But none of that matters; its beauty is what caught my eye and I thought it might catch yours as well. By the way, the leaves contain a natural sweetener called Phyllodulcin and they are used to make tea in some Asian countries. That’s where the name tea of heaven comes from. As for the name blood on snow, we’ll leave that for another post.

Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) had me going around in circles for a while because the USDA said it didn’t grow here, but what I wasn’t picking up on for some reason on was that this plant grows in a garden here, and not in nature. It was obviously in the mallow family like hollyhocks but the small, quarter size flowers were unusual in my experience. Then the helpers came to the rescue, and that’s why I’m adding this plant to this post; I should never forget to thank the many people who write in to help with identifications. They do it quietly, often in the background unknown by readers, but they are an important part of this blog and I’m very fortunate to have them there, waiting for me to get tangled up. So thank you, one and all. I do appreciate your help.

I’ll end this post with this peachy daylily, for no other reason than the fact that it is extremely beautiful.

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom. They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful.  ~Jim Carrey

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Milkweeds are blooming now here in New Hampshire but so far I’ve only seen one monarch butterfly. If past years are any indication they’ll increase in numbers as summer passes. Though I grew up walking through fields of milkweed I never really saw how pretty the flowers were until I started photographing them. Cameras help you see, and anyone really interested in nature should have one whether they show the photos to anyone or not.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks. You can just see them in this photo where the flower stalks meet the leafstalks. When the flowers appear they face the ground and look as if their faces are pasted to the leaves, as can be seen in this photo. It is this habit which makes it easy to tell this plant from whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia,) which has very similar flowers that face outwards.

Each fringed loosestrife flower is about an inch across. Though it appears to have 5 petals they are actually 5 petal like lobes with pointed tips. Each flower has 5 stamens and a slender style. The flower produces both pollen and floral oil (instead of nectar) and is pollinated by oil bees that only feed on Lysimachia species, like  nude yellow loosestrife bees (Macropis nuda.) They roll tiny pollen balls using the oil and pollen and feed them to their young. Native Americans used all of our yellow loosestrifes medicinally for various ailments, usually in the form of tea.

Hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) have just started blooming. When I was a boy all I ever saw were pure white flowers but now I see far more bicolor pink and white flowers than the pure white ones, even though they are the same species. We kids used to call them morning glories but they aren’t that plant.

Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves. You can just see an out of focus leaf or two in this photo.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. I almost always find it near water.

I usually find arrow leaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) by feeling it rip at my clothes when I walk through tall grass. It is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible. It often grows in deep shade but it will also grow in full sun.

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and may make you sorry that you ever touched it. They point down toward the soil so when you pull up on it you get a nasty surprise. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late into summer.

Narrow-leaf cow wheat seems like a humble, shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite.  Its long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests. It looked like something had been eating the leaves of this one.

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is also found in cemeteries, often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. These days it is called the “ditch lily” and is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common. It was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental.

By the way, daylilies are not “tiger lilies.” There is only one tiger lily and that is Lilium tigrinum, now called Lilium lancifolium.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Saratoga Woods and Waterways, when I saw something I had never seen; the flowers of deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum.) For those not familiar with this native grass, its common name comes from the way its leaves resemble a deer’s tongue.

This is what the flower heads of deer tongue grass looks like; tiny beads (spikelets.) Each one is about a sixteenth of an inch around. The odd looking background in this shot is the granite rock the grass was leaning over.

And here are the brushy flowers (stigmata,) so tiny I didn’t think I’d ever get a photo of them. I finally had to put a piece of white paper behind them so my camera could find them. They’re one of the smallest things I’ve ever tried to show you. If you read the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog you too will discover beautiful treasures like these.

If you like the look of deer tongue grass there is at least one variegated cultivar that I found in a local park. I’ve tried to look it up but couldn’t find it, so I’m afraid I know nothing about it.

Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) is also called grass pink and will often reach two feet tall. They don’t always grow in the same large clumps as their cousins the maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) do, and they also don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center as maiden pinks do. The petals on Deptford pinks are narrower as well. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide their beautiful little faces in the sunny edges of the forest.

This flower shows that Deptford pinks don’t always have five petals. The name Deptford comes from the area in England where they used to be common.

Silky dogwoods (Cornus amomum) are the last of our native shrubby dogwoods to finish blooming in this area, following the gray and red osier dogwoods.

The flowerheads of silky dogwoods are quite flat, not mounded like those of gray dogwood.

Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. The silky dogwood will have berries that start out green, then blue and white and then turn fully blue. They are beautiful things that always remind me of blue and white Chinese porcelain. Cedar waxwings love these berries and they come to the river bank where the dogwoods grow each year to eat their fill.

We have three native wild roses here in the U.S., the Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana,) the prairie rose (Rosa arkansana) and the wild rose (Rosa acicularis.) We also have roses that appear to be wild but which have escaped cultivation. None are truly invasive here and I think it’s safe to say that all are welcome. I found this beautifully scented example near a stream.

I’ll never forget the day I was walking down a trail through a swamp and saw this orchid growing in a shaft of sunlight. It was such a beautiful thing, but finding it in a swamp was a bit surreal. I remember having a hard time understanding what I was seeing.

I hurried through the wet swamp muck to reach it and realized that I had stumbled upon one of the most beautiful flowers I had ever seen. It was a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) and it looked like a bush full of exotic butterflies. That first time there were two plants but now there is only one. It has reappeared at the end of June for several years now, and each year I feel very lucky to have seen it.

I can only stand and look when I see it. It makes me quiet and strikes me dumb, lost in its beauty. Once I get around to them photos are easy; how can you take a bad photo of something so beautiful? I’ve read that the flowers are pollinated by large butterflies and moths, but I’ve never seen an insect near them. I do hope they get pollinated and produce plenty of seeds. I’ve read that there was a time when the swamps were full of them. I can’t think of anything I’d rather see more.

In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. – Christopher Morley

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When I thought about the title of this post I wondered if anyone would really want to look back at the last year, but then I thought that these “looking back” posts are as much about looking forward as they are looking back, because in nature it’s a pretty fair bet that what happened last year will happen this year. To a point anyway; I hope the drought will ease this year so I can see mushrooms and slime molds again. The above shot is from last January, when I was stunned by the beauty of fresh snow.

I was also stunned by pussy willows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in January before.

In February the first skunk cabbages appeared from under the snow. A welcome sign of spring in February, which can sometimes be the coldest and snowiest month of all.

It was in February that I also saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Very small but beautiful, and with a fragrance that you can smell from two blocks away.

In March I saw the first of the American hazelnut blossoms; truly the first wildflowers of the year.

Things start happening in gardens in March as well. That’s usually when reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) appear. They are one of the earliest bulbs to show growth. They’re very cheery after a long winter without flowers.

April is when our spring ephemerals start to appear, and one of the largest and showiest is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum).These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. 

With so many flowers appearing in spring it’s very hard to choose the ones to put into these posts but one I felt I had to choose for April is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and I chose it because most people never see it. They aren’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They will for the most part bloom only when the sun shines on them but you can occasionally find them on a cloudy day. Their common name comes from the bright red or orange sap in their roots.

One of my personal favorites among the spring ephemerals is the spring beauty (Claytonia carolinana.) Though they sometimes appear in April, May seems to be the month I can really count on seeing them. I know where a colony of many thousands of plants grow and I have happily knelt in last year’s leaf litter taking photos of them for years now. I love their aspirin size, pink striped blossoms.  

Around the end of May is when I start seeing the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia). Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets make them easy to miss so you have to pay attention. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in quite large colonies but not always. They are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. Once you’ve found some you can go back to see them year after year. They seem quite long lived.

June is when our most well known orchid, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) blooms. Once collected into near oblivion by people who thought they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens, they have made a strong comeback and I see quite a few now. They’re beautiful and unusual, and should be left alone so we can all admire them. If transplanted they will not live long.

June was also when I found some larch flowers (Larix laricina). These tiny but beautiful things are so small all I can see is their color. I have to point the camera at the color and “shoot blind” until I get a shot. They can appear in mid May but I usually expect them in late May to early June. If you know a larch tree you might want to have a look. These tiny things will become the cones that hold the tree’s seeds, so if you look for the cones first that will give you an idea of which branches the flowers are most likely to appear on.  

Around the end of June and the first week of July I start looking for one of the most beautiful wildflowers I’ve seen; the purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). The big, two foot tall plant looks like a bush full of purple butterflies. They are quite rare in this area and that’s most likely because they grow in swamps. I can usually expect to have wet ankles after taking photos of this one.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blossoms right at the same time every year; just in time for the 4th of July, and its flowerheads just happen to look like fireworks. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo.

One of our prettiest and smallest wildflowers bloom in early August. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

In my last post I described how colorblindness prevented my ever seeing a cardinal. It works the same way for cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) unfortunately, so I was elated last August when a coworker and I stumbled upon a group of them. I knew what they looked like, and once I was right on top of them I could see their color, which was beautiful. Note how this much larger flower with its arching stamens uses the same strategy as the tiny forked blue curl we saw previously. The chief difference is, these stamens dust hummingbirds with pollen instead of bees.

It wouldn’t be September without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and this one just happens to be my favorite color aster. Unfortunately it’s also the hardest color to find so each year I have to go hunting for them. I can’t complain though; hunting for flowers is a pleasure, not a chore.

I could have shown a fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) in any month following May but this is the only photo from last year that showed the center of the flower, where a golden flame burns. I remember standing on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of these beautiful flowers last summer and being able to smell their glorious scent on the breeze. It was one the most amazing things, and I suspect that it wall last in my memory until I no longer have one.

I did see things other than flowers last year; things like this beautiful cedar waxwing I saw eating the berries of silky dogwoods at the river one September evening.

In October I went to see if the old stone staircase was still standing; all that’s left of Madame Sherri’s “castle” in Chesterfield. The castle was actually more of a chalet but it had quite a lot of elaborate stonework. It also had trees growing through the roof. How they kept the rain out is a mystery. Though I didn’t mention it in the original post I walked to the spot I had chosen and promptly tripped over a tree root and fell flat on my face in front of about 15 people who were all jostling to get a shot of the stairway. The camera was unscathed and I got my shot. The fall foliage was beautiful that day and the weather was perfect but the stairway was in need of some immediate help from a mason.

I also went to Willard Pond in October and walked through one of the most beautiful hardwood forests I’ve ever seen.

In November witch hazels bloomed. Also in December, but I doubt I’ll see any in January.

Also in November I was looking at lichens, including the smoky eye boulder lichen seen here. It’s one of the most beautiful in my opinion and I’ve put it here as an answer to the question “What is there to see in winter?” There is as much beauty to be seen in winter as there is at any other time of year. You just have to look a little closer, that’s all.

What could be more beautiful that this mossy hillside? It was like a green carpet covering the earth. What I like most about the colder months is how you can see the bones of the forest. There is no foliage to block your view in December.

One thing I’ll remember about the past year is how it was too dry for fungi. I saw very few until December, when I saw these mock oyster mushrooms (Phyllotopsis nidulans). They were big and beautiful, and looked as if they had been covered in orange velvet. They were well worth the wait but I hope to see more in 2021.

I hope this look back at 2020 wasn’t as bad as what you might have imagined. I’d rather have this blog be an island of calm in a sea of chaos than a running commentary on current events. Current events come and go like the tides and have no permanence, so about all you’re ever going to find here is nature, which is timeless. I do hope that’s why you come.

You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you’ll all have a happy, heathy new year.

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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

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Our locust trees are now in bloom. The one shown here is a bristly locust (Robinia hispida,) which is more shrub than tree, though it can reach 8 feet. What sets this locust apart from others are the bristly purple-brown hairs that cover its stems. Even its seedpods are covered by hairs. Bristly locust is native to the southeastern United States but has spread to all but 7 of the lower 48 states, with a lot of help from nurseries selling it for ornamental use. The beautiful pinkish purple bristly locust flowers are very fragrant and bees really love them. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge.

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) are also blooming and are loaded with white, very fragrant blooms. One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains. You can just see some of them unfolding in this photo.

If you don’t know this flower then you don’t know beans. Or peas, or lupines, or chickpeas, or soybeans, or peanuts, or any other of the more than 18,000 species in the legume (Fabaceae) family. Most have flowers much like the black locust example shown here but some tropical species can resemble orchids. Only the orchid and sunflower families have a larger presence in the plant kingdom. The huge legume family is made up of shrubs, trees, vines, and herbs which grow all over the world and feed its populations. Many plants in the family like clover have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots that convert inert atmospheric nitrogen into a form which is useable to other plants. That’s part of the reason Native Americans planted beans, squash and corn together. Legumes have fed mankind for thousands of years and this world would be a very different place without them.

You can see the same type of flower as the locust has on the puffy little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus.) It is also in the legume family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods, which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives.

If you Google “Herb Robert” (Geranium robertianum) you find two very interesting things. First is how it is named for a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases with it, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb.

Second is that many people, scientists included according to an article in The Healing Journal, have discovered that it grows most abundantly in areas that have high levels of radiation and is said to absorb radiation from the soil in powerline corridors. It is thought to absorb the radiation from the soil, break it down and disperse it. Obviously I can’t confirm that but it’s a story that I first heard years ago and which persists; I just heard about it again the radio the other day.

I’m sure everyone has seen a buttercup (Ranunculus) but I wonder how many have seen their shine? The waxy shine on the petals is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed. Capturing the shine in a photo is a challenge I’m glad I only face once each year because it means taking many photos before I get it right.

This yellow daylily (Hemerocallis) is very early, blooming just after the Siberian irises bloom. This plant was given to me many years ago by a friend who has since passed on and I have divided it many times for family and friends. Two things make this plant special: the early bloom time and the heavenly fragrance that smells of citrus and spices. I have a feeling this is a Lemon daylily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) which is a very old species brought to America in colonial days and originally from China and Europe.  The Greek word Hemerocallis means “beautiful for a day,” and that’s how long each flower lasts. It’s a shame that many of today’s daylilies, bred for larger and more colorful flowers, have lost their ancient fragrance.

There are two times when our wild grapevines tickle my nose; once in the fall when their ripening fruit makes the woods smell like grape jelly, and once in the spring when their tiny flowers emit a huge fragrance that can be detected from many yards away. These flowers are so small that I really can’t come up with an accurate way to describe their size. When you smell them your first thought will probably be “no, that fragrance can’t be coming from these tiny things,” but it is.

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that few people grow. It’s one of the last to leaf out in late spring and its fragrant hanging white flowers give it the name old man’s beard.  Male flowered trees are showier but then you don’t get the purple berries that female flowered trees bear. Birds love the fruit and if I had room I’d grow both.

Here’s a closer look at the male fringe tree flowers. I’ve read that these trees are very easy to grow and are pollution tolerant as well.

I felt bad when I accidentally knocked a columbine (Aquilegia) flower off while mowing near it but once I got down on my knees to get a photo I felt nothing but joy, because by then I was lost inside its beauty. Evolution yes; flowers have evolved to be appealing to the birds, bats and insects they want to attract, but that doesn’t explain their beauty. Or maybe it does; do birds and insects see it as we do?  If not then why are they so beautiful? It’s easy to think that maybe all that beauty is there just to please humanity, but that might be too crooked a path to follow.

When I was a boy I read books like Ivan Sanderson’s Book of Great Jungles, and I dreamed that one day I’d go to those jungles as a plant explorer and I’d bring back plants with flowers so beautiful they would make the people of the world weep with joy. The plant shown here wasn’t quite as beautiful as all that and it might make you weep for different reasons, but my sharp intake of breath and quickening heart rate told me that I had discovered something I’d never seen before.

After some searching I found that these small white flowers belong to a plant called flowered cancer root, also called naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora.)  The naked part of the name comes from its lack of leaves. It doesn’t need them because it is parasitic on the plants that surround it, in this case mostly raspberry, from what I could see. It pierces the roots of other plants and slowly sucks the nutrition from them, weakening them, so it isn’t as innocent as it might appear. The small flowers are white and fuzzy with a yellow center and tiny purple hairs around the outside that make it appear to have an aura in the right light.

According to a New York Times article by Dave Taft, there are records of medieval medical uses of the plant as an astringent healer of “old green wounds.” It is said that Native Americans used the plant to treat skin infections but little seems to be known about how they used it. According to Wildflowers of the United States, the broomrape name comes from the way a European cousin of the plant parasitizes certain species of broom, an old world name for vetch, and the orobanche part of the scientific name means “vetch-strangler.” According to Wikipedia this plant is considered rare or vulnerable in 17 states. In New Hampshire it is simply listed as “present” but since I’ve seen it exactly once in 60+ years its presence isn’t common. It is listed as rare in the Midwest.

It’s finally clematis time here in New Hampshire, and here is Ramona to prove it. She starts off with dark flowers…

…and then the flowers lighten as they age.

Orange is a hard color to find in wildflowers here in New Hampshire so luckily we have orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca.) I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed and I’m not sure why that is. The plant might be from Europe but it’s far from invasive. Maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. They do reflect ultraviolet light though, so that means that some insects must find them. The only other orange wildflower I can think of is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis.)

The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows but they will also grow in abandoned lots and other waste areas. I see them by the hundreds.

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) has just started flowering. Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

It’s already time to say goodbye to one of our most beautiful native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper. As can be seen here New Hampshire’s state wildflower had a good year.

Humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

If there is a sweeter name for a flower than fawn’s breath, I haven’t heard it. It comes from the way the flowers, which sit at the ends of long thin stems (pedicels,) will move and dance even in the gentle breath of a fawn. Since I’ve never seen a fawn near one I can’t confirm that but I do know that even the slightest breeze will set them all dancing. Of course that’s a flower photographer’s worst scenario but while I wait for the flowers to stop dancing I can admire their beauty.

Asymmetrical is what the flowers are, with petals that look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler, but it gives the plant a certain charm I think. It makes me search the plant for that one flower that must be perfectly symmetrical, but of course I never find it. The plant is also called Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata.) It is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, so another common name is American ipecac. 

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher

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Last Sunday I decided it was time to give my tired lungs a little more exercise by climbing 962 foot Mount Caesar in Swanzey. This is the longest climb that I do these days. I’ve done it many times, but not lately. The COPD I have makes it a little more difficult but I believe lungs are just like any other body part; they need to be used. This photo shows the start of the trail. The end of the trail at the summit is also granite bedrock. In fact after you’ve climbed it you realize that you’re on a huge granite outcrop with a little bit of soil on it.

Did you see that depression in the granite in that first photo? For years I’ve wondered if it was natural or man-made. “Man” would have been the red man; Native Americans had been here for thousands of years before Europeans and according to the town history of Swanzey, they are said to have used this mountain as a lookout. The Native Squakheag tribe (I think) burned the town to the ground in the 1740s but it was rebuilt some time later.

There are lots of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) here. Huge drifts of them line both sides of the trail at its start. These lichens are quite fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades to reappear. I’m guessing the large colonies found here must be hundreds of years old. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

I was surprised to see that native evergreen goldthread had melted its way through the ice in a shaded spot. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

When I see soil configurations like this I know what to look for…

…Ice needles. I just talked about them in a previous post so I won’t go into great detail but as they grow up out of the soil they push up and lift any soil in their way, and you can tell you’re walking on them by the crunching sound the soil makes.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I doubt that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well and often only one stone has done this. I think the ground must have heaved up and lifted all the soil that surrounded it. I saw that this had happened in several places along the trail. It’s a common sight in the spring.

It was a beautiful day to be in the woods. I saw many friendly people (and their dogs) and we all said the same thing; We were glad to see the end of winter.  

The beeches backlit by the sun made me want to just sit and admire them. They’re so beautiful at all times of year but especially in the spring and fall.

I didn’t see any signs of movement in beech buds but it won’t be long. By mid-May the newly opened buds will be the most beautiful things in the forest. It’s something I look forward to all year.

The old stone walls that line the trail tell a lot about the history of the place. At one time the flanks of this mountain were cleared of trees, most likely for sheep pasture. When the industrial revolution came along and farmers went to work in the mills all of that hard won pasture reverted back to forest. This means that most of the trees here aren’t much older than the mid-1800s, if that. They may have been cut again and again since that time.

There are still a few big trees left though; pines and an occasional oak. This huge old white pine was emptying itself of all the rotted wood within. I’m guessing that it’s probably full of carpenter ants but it can still stand and live for years, even when completely hollow. I wouldn’t want to be near it in a windstorm.

These seed heads at the edge of the trail caught my eye.

I moved a few leaves aside and found the orchid the seed heads were attached to; downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens.) There are about 800 different species of Goodyeara orchids and telling them apart can be tricky because they cross pollinate and create natural hybrids. These leaves look fragile but they’ll remain green throughout winter. They’re a very pretty but also very small plant. Many aren’t more than two inches across.

In places the trail gets steep and an occasional side trail veers off, but all in all it’s an easy trail to follow. I’ll never forget the day I saw a high school aged boy run up the trail to the top and then he ran back down, all before I could even reach the summit. I think that I could have done it at his age but not now.

Signs help show you the way.

There is a an old , very large log near the summit and I often pretend that I’ve seen something interesting on it so I can stop and catch my breath. On this day I didn’t really have to catch my breath but I did see something interesting on it.

The green bits in the photo are eastern hemlock needles. If you know that tree that should give you an idea of how small these unusual growths were. A lichenologist friend looked at this photo and he said he’s quite sure they aren’t lichens. I’ve looked through every one of my mushroom books and haven’t found anything there either, so if you should happen to know what they are I’d love to hear from you. I used to collect cacti and succulents and they remind me of the succulent called “living stones” (Lithops) but of course they aren’t those.  

NOTE: A kindly reader has identified this mystery being as the Ceramic parchment fungus (Xylobolus frustulatus.) Many thanks to all of the kindly readers out there. You’ve been a lot of help over the years!

The views were hazy on this day, a good illustration of why I don’t climb for the view.

I was surprised to find that I had no fear of falling when I took this shot. Since I fell out of a tree and fractured my spine when I was a boy I haven’t been a great fan of heights, but I thought this cliff face was interesting enough to chance a couple of shots. I didn’t look down but if you look over to the bottom left corner of the photo you’ll get an idea of how high this was. You don’t want to go back down that way.  

When the light is right there’s a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey from up here. Of course the best photos are found where you have to dance a little closer to a cliff edge than I like.

All in all this day was as close to perfect as one could get. Full sunshine, warm temperatures, easy breathing and getting to see a whole solar system in a toadstool lichen no bigger than a penny would be hard to beat. I hope all of you will have such a day in your near future.

Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

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The hardest part of these looking back posts is choosing which photos to use when I have hundreds to choose from. I try to choose a photo that speaks to the month it was taken, so I chose this photo for January because it says it all about what the weather was that month; cold enough for ice but very little snow.

In February we had both ice and snow, as this photo from the deep cut rail trail shows, but it’s a bit deceiving because it stays cold in the man made canyon. In the surrounding countryside we had a mild enough winter so, for the first time in almost 30 years, I didn’t have to shovel my roof. It would snow and then warm up and melt it and then do the same, and it did that all winter long. So far it appears that this winter is following suit.

March is when nature begins to stir, and one of the first signs is sap buckets hanging on maple trees. It really is a relief to see them because I know that even though we might still see a lot of snow the ground has thawed enough to let tree sap flow and buds to swell. Seeing breaking buds in spring is something I look forward to all winter.

But before the tree leaves appear many beautiful things will happen for just a short time, and they are the spring ephemeral flowers. In April I found these beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) blossoming in an old patch of woodland and I knew that spring was really, finally here. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to see the first wildflower in spring, but I’ve been known to kneel beside them for quite a long time taking photo after photo, making sure I don’t miss any of their fleeting beauty.

It was late April when I thought I’d walk along the rail trail to where wild columbines blossom but then I met up with a huge black bear, the first of two I’d see last year. This animal was closer than I ever want to be to another one; this photo was taken with a 50mm lens, not a zoom. It could have easily been on me in seconds but thankfully it just stared at me and let me walk away. The bear I ran into on Pitcher Mountain just a month later in May did the same thing, so I’m thinking 2019 was a lucky year. I was totally unprepared for each encounter and didn’t even have bear spray.

This is what the state of New Hampshire recommends we do when it comes to bears. I’m all for it but I just hope the bears have seen the posters.

In May I finally did get out to the ledges where the beautiful wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) bloom and though I didn’t see another bear I found that a lot of the shine had gone from this particular hike. This is the only place I know of to find these beautiful plants so I’ll be back out there this coming May, but this time I’ll be better prepared to meet up with old Mr. Bear, just in case.  

Every bit as beautiful but not quite as colorful as a flower is a spring beech bud (Fagus grandifolia) opening. A tree full of these looks like it has been festooned with tiny angel wings and they are one of my favorite things to see in spring. But you have to watch closely because they don’t stay like this for more than a day. A good sign that beech bud break is about to happen is when the normally small, straight buds grow longer and curl like a rainbow. Once that happens they are ready to break and let the leaves unfurl. I start watching for them in early May.

Some of the most beautiful things in the forest go completely unnoticed, like breaking tree buds. As this just opened bud of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) also shows, bud break is an event worth watching for. Many other buds like oak, maple, and elm also open in May and are just as beautiful. I hope you’ll look for them this spring.

Though we see flowers in March and April it doesn’t truly warm up until May, and that’s usually when some of the more fragile flowers like these beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) appear, but last year I didn’t find any of these until early June. This is a flower that is so complex it really is a wonder that it is pollinated at all. 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. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual little flower. 

One of the flowers I most look forward to seeing in June is our native pink lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium acaule.) I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce, so if plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will die if the fungus isn’t present. They should never be dug up or moved.

In July we had a hot, humid spell and I saw a beautiful blinded sphinx moth (Paonias excaecatus,) which is something I had never seen before. The minute I saw it I thought it looked like a blue eyed baboon face and I still think so. I’m guessing that it would scare a bird away.

One of the things I most look forward to in July is the blooming of the greater purple fringed bog orchids (Platanthera grandifolia) I found growing in a swamp a few years ago. It is easily one of the most beautiful flowering plants I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a few. At one time there were so many of these plants Native Americans made tea from their roots, but I’ve only seen two plants in my lifetime and those grew almost beside each other, so I’d say they are very rare in this area. Last July I found that the two plants had become one, and I had to wade through a swamp to get to it. I’m hoping I get to see at least that one again this July. Orchids are notorious for simply disappearing with no warning.

August is when some our most beautiful aquatic wildflowers bloom, and one of the most rare and beautiful is the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum.) I find them growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds. It can be tricky getting their photo though, because this plant closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine the following afternoon, so you’ll never find them blooming on a cloudy day or in the morning. Once they show buds I check on them every day until I find them blooming and it’s always worth the effort. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow.

It was hot last August like you would expect it to be so I went back down into the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s always a good 10 degrees cooler there with a nice breeze blowing, so it’s a good place to cool off on a hot day. But that isn’t the only reason I go there; it’s the only place I know of to find the beautiful and very reptilian liverwort called great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum), also called snakeskin liverwort, for obvious reasons. If you crush this liverwort it has a very unique, spicy clean scent. The reason it looks so snake like is because of the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surfaces. It is the only liverwort with this feature, so it is very easy to identify. In my opinion it is one of the most interesting and beautiful things found in nature, and it is always well worth searching for.

September is when our fall flowers start to bloom, like the asters seen here. The monarch was a bonus but I saw lots of them last year; many more than in previous years. There is a large field full of common milkweed very near where I took this photo but I always see far more butterflies, including monarchs, on other flowers. I’m not sure why that would be.

2019 was a poor year for fungi and I was never able to even find enough to put together a fungi post but I saw a few in September, including these orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana.) These little (less than an inch across) mushrooms fruit from June through September and are fairly common. If you touch them the orange color will stain your fingers. Mycena mushrooms also come in bright red, pink and purple. Some also bleed a blood colored latex when cut.

October is when the fall foliage that started turning in September really kicks in, and colorful leaves are seen everywhere you go. It’s a beautiful time of year and the foliage colors last year were exceptional, as this view from along the highway in Dublin shows.

In October I finally climbed Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard at just the right time and the foliage colors were at their peak. It was so beautiful I had a hard time leaving. I was up there for a good while, taking far too many photos. This was one of my favorites.

I had looked for red or orange cup fungi for years so I was surprised when friends said they had some growing in their gravel driveway. Fungi aren’t what I expect to see much of in November but there they were. It turned out that, not only was I looking in the wrong places for them but I was also looking at the wrong time of year. Now that I know when and where to look for the orange peel fungi seen here I hope I’ll find them regularly. They’re an unusual and uncommon fungus.

November is when those colorful leaves fall from the trees in earnest, but this view at Halfmoon Pond in Hancock lasted well into the month. What a beautiful season it was.

Life is a circle so of course we’ve ended up right back where we started, in winter. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at 2019 in photos. If I see only half as much beauty in 2020 I’ll be very happy.

Wise is the one who flavors the future with some salt from the past. Becoming dust is no threat to the phoenix born from the ash. ~Curtis Tyrone Jones

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone will have a happy and blessed new year.

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