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Archive for the ‘Things I’ve Seen’ Category

Our hot dry weather continues, and the more visible stones there are in the Ashuelot River the lower the water. This is normal in the in late July and August, but it has been this way since May, and that isn’t normal. Or maybe it’s the new normal.

Despite the low water levels I’m seeing a lot of dragonflies, like this 12 spotted skimmer.  Males are sometimes called 10 spotted skimmers, but apparently it depends on whether you count the white spots or brown spots. Only males have white spots between the brown. I’ve read that mature males seldom perch, but this one returned to its twig again and again.

I’m not sure about the identity of this dragonfly, but it might be a dusky club tail. There is a similar dragonfly called the ashy club tail though, and I’ve read that care needs to be taken in identification of the two. Since I have no field guides that are very helpful for dragonflies I’ll leave it up to those more knowledgeable than I to make an identification, if they care to. Males of both species have blue gray eyes and very similar markings and colorblindness keeps me from seeing any obvious differences.

The widow skimmer is another common dragonfly with brown and white wing patches, but only males have the white markings. One day it seemed like hundreds of them flew at a local pond and that is a good thing, because they eat mosquitoes.

I’m not sure what was going on here; either an ant and a spider were fighting or an ant was carrying a big striped egg. Whatever was going on it was all taking place on a Queen Anne’s lace flower head.

There have been times when butterflies literally landed at my feet on various trails but so far this year I can’t get near them. This one did sit still for more than a few seconds though, so I was able to get a poor shot of it. I think it’s a white admiral.

I saw these strange little pencil eraser size brown things on a log recently. They were small enough so I had to use my camera to see the details and when I did I realized they were the chocolate tube slime mold (Stemenitis) that I had been hoping to see for a very long time.

Chocolate tube slime molds get their common name from their long brown sporangia, which stand at the top of thin black, horsehair like stalks. They typically grow in clusters on rotting wood and are found on every continent on earth except Antarctica. They are also called “pipe cleaner slime molds” or “tree hair.” There are thought to be about 18 species which can only be accurately identified with a microscope. Some can be quite long and look like sea anemones, but these examples were short; about a half inch long. They start life as a white plasmodial mass before becoming a cluster of small yellow bumps, and they in turn grow into what you see here.

Once its spores have been released the chocolate tube slime mold kind of melts away, and this is what is left.

I saw a good example of scrambled egg slime mold (Fuligo septica) on another log. This common slime mold grows in full sun on logs, wood mulch or wood chips and is easily seen because it can get quite large. It also produces the largest spore producing structure of any known slime mold. At the stage shown the slime mold has formed a crust and before long it will darken in color and begin to release its spores.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is blossoming. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge and I usually find it on the shores of ponds or in wet ditches.

The flowers of porcupine sedge are so small they are almost microscopic, but you can see them here. They are the whitish wisps that appear at the ends of the spiky protrusions, which are called perigynia. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds.

Another sedge that was flowering recently was this bladder sedge (Carex intumescens.) The wispy white flowers look like those on porcupine sedge but these are larger and easier to see. This is another sedge I find on pond edges and wet places.  I thinks it’s one of the prettier sedges.

I think anyone who has spent much time on a riverbank or pond shore has seen brown wooly sedge (Scirpus cyperinus,) but I can’t remember ever seeing it flowering before like it’s doing here. It is also called cotton grass bulrush, I’d guess because of the cottony look of its many white flowers. This is a big, clumping sedge with three foot tall flower spikes but the flowers are so small I couldn’t even get a useable photo of them. In time these tiny flowers become even fuzzier and look more cottony than they do in this photo.

I hope everyone takes the time to look at grasses because some can be quite beautiful when they flower. The latest one I saw blossoming was this Timothy grass (Phleum pretense.) This well-known grass was brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began promoting cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720 and the grass has carried his name ever since.

Timothy grass flowers from June until September and is noted for its cold and drought resistance. It’s an excellent hay crop for horses. Each tall flower head is filled with tiny florets, each one with three purple stamens and two wispy white stigmas. The flower heads often look purple when they are flowering.

An oak tree came up in deep shade and decided it didn’t need to photosynthesize, since it never saw any sunshine. It might grow on but I doubt it will last long unless an older tree falls and opens up a hole in the canopy.

You see lots of photos of the fuzzy red berries of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) but you never see the flowers that the berries come from, so I like to show them now and then. The big green flower heads were just coming into bloom when I took this photo.

The small, yellow-green, five petaled, fuzzy flowers will never win any prizes at a flower show but they’re interesting and always remind me of poison ivy flowers, even though they aren’t poisonous.

Many people forage for and eat (or drink) the fuzzy red berries of staghorn sumac just as Native Americans did. This year there will be plenty because, as this photo shows, the birds have hardly touched them. I’ve read that the berries “yield a fine claret colored spice that is deliciously tart and clean tasting.” I’ve heard they taste like lemon, and I know that a drink that could easily pass for lemonade can be made with them. They are said to be very high in vitamins C and A. In Europe a different sumac, Rhus coriraria, is used in much the same way. Why the birds don’t eat the berries like they do in other parts of the country is a mystery to me.

Sarsaparilla plants are interesting at all times of year. In spring their leaves appear in threes at the top of  thin stalks and quickly turn to shiny bronze. In summer they display patterns made by leaf miners, and in late summer when I don’t want to think about fall yet they are among the first leaves in the understory to turn yellow. I have a hard time imagining  an insect so small it can eat its way between the top and bottom surfaces of a leaf but the patterns they make can be interesting.

I was mowing one afternoon quite far from any shelter when these clouds decided that a 20 minute, torrential downpour would be fun. Luckily I found a place where I could stay relatively dry and when the storm broke mare’s tail clouds formed as I watched. Mare’s tails are a type of cirrus cloud known as cirrus uncinus, which means “curly hooks” in Latin. When they appear with altocumulus clouds they often mean that a storm is brewing. I should have been paying attention to their message before the rainstorm.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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We had a single day of rain on Thursday the 29th so this past Sunday I thought I’d hike around Goose Pond in Keene. It’s a great place to find fungi and slime molds at this time of year and I thought the rain would have brought them out for sure. The trouble was the weather people were warning about dangerous heat, but I thought if I went early enough I’d miss the worst of it so at 9:00 am off I went. The sun was bright and hot in some places but this tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) wasn’t bothered by it.

Most of the trail around the pond is shaded so though it was warm and humid it didn’t seem too bad. Back in the old days people would either climb a mountain or find a lake or pond to escape the heat so I thought I would do the same. I have an old black and white photo somewhere that shows a woman dressed in 1800s garb walking along the shore of this pond.

Some of my favorite woodland scenery lies near Goose Pond. This fern filled glen is a special treat.

This is another favorite spot. I often see salamanders here. This spot says wild to me and the Goose Pond natural area is indeed a wilderness; a 500 acre wilderness. The vast forest tract has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s. The pond itself was once used as a water supply for the city of Keene and in 1865 it was enlarged to 42 acres. It takes a while to walk around it.

White pine trees have roots that lie just under the soil surface and when people walk on that soil it tends to disappear, and this is what happens. Much of the trail has exposed roots like these and where there aren’t roots there are stones and / or mud, so it’s best to wear good sturdy hiking shoes if you come here. I actually saw one lady wearing flip flops! I’m guessing that she’s never been here before. She had to stop every few feet and fix them, so I’m also guessing that she learned an awful lesson.

A century or more of people walking on tree roots can sand them down and even polish them, and I’ve seen some that were so beautiful I wished I had a saw so I could carry them home with me. They were like living sculptures. I thought this one was very pretty but it would have been even better with bark still on it.

Pipewort is an aquatic plant that grows in the mud just offshore. As the photo shows the stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum.) The quarter inch flower heads are made up of tiny white, cottony flowers. Another common name for them is “hat pins.” I think this is the best shot I’ve ever gotten of one. They can be a tough subject.

American bur reed (Sparganium americanum) also  likes to grow just off shore and that’s where this one was, just beginning to flower. There are two types of flowers on these plants; the smaller and fuzzier male staminate flowers bloom at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers blossom lower down. After pollination the female flowers become a bur like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl love. These plants, though native, act like invasive aliens and can fill small ponds quickly.

What I think were creeping spike rush plants (Eleocharis macrostachya) were flowering just off shore. Though it has the word rush in its name this plant is actually a sedge, and it’s a small one. The cream colored oval parts are its male parts and the white, wispy parts are its female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look almost identical so I could easily be wrong about the identification, but it is a sedge and it was flowering.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinita) is one sedge that’s so easy to identify it can be done from just a silhouette. This sedge is a water lover and I usually find it on the edges of ponds and streams. It is quite large for a sedge and is sometimes grown in gardens. This plant looks a lot like pendulous sedge (Carex pendula) but that plant grows in Europe.

I took several photos of the pond and the island but it was so hazy and humid this was the only one that came out. There were people out on the island on this day, swimming. They had kayaks that they must have dragged up here, because you can’t drive to the pond. It seemed a little hot to be dragging kayaks up hills, but to each his own.

I saw slime molds almost everywhere I looked but instead of the yellow, red and blue ones I hoped to see all I saw were white ones.

I think this one was white fingered slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa.) Slime molds can be very beautiful things and I hope everyone will get to see some for themselves this summer. They aren’t slimy and they aren’t molds. In fact science doesn’t really know what they are, but they have enough intelligence to navigate a maze to get to food. Look for them in shady places like the side of a log away from direct sunlight. They usually appear on hot humid days a day or two after a good rain, along with many mushrooms. Unfortunately on this day I saw only one sad little brown mushroom, shriveling from the heat.

An eastern tiger swallowtail finally decided to sit still for more than a few seconds. It was getting a drink from a wet spot on a piece of concrete at the pond’s outflow. Even the butterflies were parched. I was certainly glad I had something to drink with me.

The swallowtail even turned so we could see the outside of its wing. It held steady but I couldn’t; my sweaty hands were shaky from the heat, hence the poor quality of these photos.

A garter snake hoped I wouldn’t see it.

Maleberry shrubs (Lyonia ligustrina) line the shore of the pond along with blueberries, and sometimes it can be hard to tell the two apart. The flowers of maleberrry, though nearly the same shape and color, are about half the size of a blueberry flower and the shrub blooms about a month later. There are often berries on the blueberries before maleberrry blossoms.

Maleberry blossoms become small, hard brown 5 part seed capsules that persist on the plant, often for over a year. They make maleberrry very easy to identify, especially in spring; just look for the seed capsules and you’ll know it isn’t a blueberry.

The strangest thing I saw on this hike was a bee or wasp stinging a moth over and over again. I heard a buzzing that sounded like a bee swarm and when I followed the sound I saw a moth rolling in the leaves, beating its wings furiously. And then I saw a smaller insect attacking it. You can just see the striped body of the bee or wasp under the moth’s left wing in this blurry photo. It knew enough to sting the moth’s body and the poor moth must have been stung 12-15 times while I watched. Finally the moth crawled into a pile of leaves and the bee / wasp flew into a hole in the ground. Because it’s so dry many bees and yellow jackets are nesting in the ground this year and I think the moth must have blundered onto the entrance to an underground nesting site. I mowed over the entrance to a ground nest once and was stung 5 or 6 times by yellow jackets. I was wearing shorts at the time and it’s something I’ve never forgotten.

And then I started to feel strange; a bit dizzy and my legs felt heavy, and I began to wonder if I’d make it out of there without help. The heat was unbelievable and the sweat pouring from me was causing the insect repellant I was wearing to run into my eyes and all but blind me, so I sat down in the shade to rest and I let my thoughts go. I let them swim in the cooling water of the pond, and thought of nothing but an old tree stump for a time. After a while what the heat had taken from me my thoughts, cooled by the water of the pond, replenished and I was able to go on until I reached my car. Never was an air conditioner appreciated more than it was that day. Just before sunset that evening the thermometer here reached 101 degrees F., the hottest I’ve seen in nearly thirty years I’ve lived here.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

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It’s turtle time here in this part of New Hampshire and the big snapping turtles are on the move, looking for soft sand to dig their nest in.  Average adult snapping turtles can be over two feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds and they can be very aggressive on land, so it’s best to stay away from them. They don’t have teeth but they have strong jaws and beaks that can easily break fingers. I took this photo of a female wandering along the side of a dirt road from my car window.  I’ve read that the largest snapper ever recorded weighed 75 pounds. It must have been huge.

Snapping turtles dig rather shallow holes with their hind legs and lay anywhere from 25-80 eggs each year. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks but many eggs don’t make it anywhere near that long. Foxes, minks, skunks, crows and raccoons dig them up and eat them and destroyed nests are a common sight along sandy roadsides. These big turtles eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, ducklings, and just about anything else they can catch. Oddly, when in the water they are rather placid and don’t bother humans.

Snapping turtles aren’t the only reptiles laying eggs; painted turtles are also nesting.

Tent caterpillars are out of their nests and searching for food. Many people confuse tent caterpillars with fall webworms, but tent caterpillars appear in spring and do much more damage than fall webworms, which usually eat foliage that trees no longer need. Tent caterpillars prefer fruit trees but will also eat maples, hawthorns, and others. They can defoliate a tree in a short amount of time and a large outbreak can leave large areas of forest weakened.

I’m seeing more swallowtail butterflies this year than I’ve ever seen but I can’t get a single one to pose for a photo. This cabbage white was willing though, and sat for a while on this yellow hawkweed blossom while I clicked the shutter. At least I think it’s a cabbage white; my insect identification abilities aren’t what they should be.

I was able to identify this rosy maple moth because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like it. This is a cute little thing with its wooly yellow body and pink and creamy yellow wing stripes. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

I went looking for the beautiful purple flowers of the larch tree (Larix laricina) but instead I found the tiny yellow eggs of a ladybug stuck to a larch branch. Each egg is less than a millimeter in length and this entire batch of them was less than an inch long. This larch must have an aphid problem because I’ve read that ladybugs will always try to mate as close to an aphid colony as possible. The ladybug lays infertile eggs along with the fertile ones though, and the hatchlings will eat these infertile eggs if they can’t find any aphids. They also eat scale insects and mealybugs, so they are great friends to have in a garden.

On the same larch I also saw some newly emerging needles which I thought were something most of us never see. Larch trees lose their needles in winter and grow new ones each spring; the only conifer I know of to do so.

Other conifers are busy right now too; pines are growing pollen cones, which are the tree’s male flowers. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of smoke like yellow-green pollen can be seen coming from them on windy days. The trees look like they’re on fire and virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, houses, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in, but pine pollen is a strong antioxidant that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its numerous health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago.

Here’s a close look at some pine pollen cones that have opened and released their pollen. Not good news for allergy sufferers, I’m afraid.

When all that pollen falls on water it can make some fantastic abstract designs that I love watching as they slowly float along on the current and change shapes and patterns. There were also white locust blossoms scattered here and there on the pond on this day. The scene kind of takes me back to the seventies when my consciousness was expanding.

Here was a snake like river of pollen on the surface of a pond. I can’t even begin to explain how it could have formed. I hope everyone gets to see such beautiful things in their day to day travels. These are the things that make us wonder and, as Edgar Allan Poe once said: It is happiness to wonder, it is happiness to dream.

To ensure that there will be plenty of pollen available for future generations here was a tiny white pine (Pinus strobus) seedling. If everything goes according to plan it will grow to become one of our largest trees.

Sometimes I wonder if every now and then nature does something just to please us because I can’t think of any other reason rattlesnake weed’s foliage (Hieracium venosum) would have evolved into something as beautiful as this. Leaves colored in such a manner would only lessen photosynthesis I would think and I doubt that would be a benefit to any plant, so until I learn differently I’m going to believe that this kind of beauty was put here simply to please any onlookers that might pass by. This is the only plant of its kind I’ve ever seen and each year I make a special pilgrimage to see it, so I hope you like it. It is in the hawkweed family and has flowers that resemble those of yellow hawkweed.

And here was another plant at the river that looked like it was trying to mimic rattlesnake weed. I haven’t been able to identify it but I do know that I’ve never seen another like it. If you should recognize it I’d love to know what it is. It grew very low to the ground.

Here’s something that I’d guess that most of us have never seen; the tiny seed pods of dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius.) I know of one small colony of perhaps 20 plants and this is the first time I’ve ever seen seed pods on one. I hope all of them grow into new plants.

The tiny splash cups of juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) have appeared. These are the male reproductive organs of this common moss, which grows both male and female plants. Male plants produce sperm in these cups and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If everything is wet enough and all goes well the sperm will swim to a female plant and fertilize the eggs found there. If you sat a single pea in one of these splash cups the tiny cup would disappear behind it.

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra. This cap is very hairy, which is where the common name comes from, and it protects the spore capsule and the spores within. As the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra will fall off. The spore capsule will continue to ripen and when the time is right the end cap will fall off and  the spores will be released to the wind. At this stage the capsule is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti.

It has been so dry here we’re already down about 3.5 inches from our average rainfall so I’m not seeing much in the way of fungi, but I did see these examples growing on a pine root. There are many mushrooms that look like these so I’m not sure what their name is. They are pretty though.

I also saw a few examples of the aquatic fungi known as swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans.) Each one is about as big as a wooden match stick and I find them in seeps where there is open water year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark; only on things like last year’s saturated leaves.

I looked down into the heart of a yucca plant and wished I could think of something to make from all those threads. Native Americans used yucca fibers to weave sandals, cords, and baskets. They also ate the fruit of the plant. The sharp points at the tips of the leaves were used as sewing needles and the roots were peeled and ground and mixed with water to make soap for washing their hair and treating dandruff.  Sap from the leaves was used medicinally to stop bleeding and heal sores. They used every single part of this plant.

It’s hard to believe that something as tiny as a river grape blossom (Vitis riparia) could be fragrant but in places right now you can follow your nose right to the vines, so strong is the fragrance. And this isn’t the end of the joy they bring; in the fall the fermented fruit on a warm day will make the woods smell just like grape jelly.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you every day. It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder.
~Avina Celeste

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Longtime readers of this blog know how much I enjoy exploring the banks of the Ashuelot River; it is something I’ve done since I was a young boy. On this day I chose a section with nice wide trails through a beautiful forest.  The old trail winds through a place called Ashuelot Park, which is in downtown Keene. It has been a big hit with joggers, dog walkers, bikers, and families with children but when I started coming here 50 or so years ago there was no park. Back then it was just a trail through the woods and you hardly ever saw anyone, but on this day it was busy and it was nice to see so many people out enjoying nature. It was a hot humid day; more August than May, and like me I suppose they sought out the shade of the forest and the breeze off the river.

The trail through these woods isn’t that far from where the railroad repair depot used to be in Keene, and the trail is black because it was “paved” with the unburned slag from the big steam locomotive fireboxes. This slag is usually called “clinkers” or “clinker ash” and it is made up of pieces of fused ash and sulfur which often built-up over time in a hot coal fire. Firebox temperature reached 2000 to 2300 degrees F. in a steam locomotive but they still didn’t burn the coal completely. A long tool called a fire hook was used to pull the clinkers out of the firebox and in Keene we must have had tons of the stuff, because it was used as ballast on many local railroad beds. The section that ran by my house was as black as coal.

It’s hard to believe that the seeds of red maples (Acer rubrum) are falling already. It seems like it was hardly more than a week or two ago that I was taking photos of the flowers. Though I felt like I was 10 years old again walking along this trail this little seed reminded me just how fast time passes.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) was one of the first flowers I found along the trail, but this was no ordinary Solomon’s seal. The plant was large and very robust, much bigger than our native plants. Its leaves and flowers were also at least twice the size of those on native plants, and that’s because it is a hybrid plant that has escaped a garden and is now naturalizing in the woods. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen in a forest and there’s really no telling what it will do.

False Solomon seal (Maianthemum racemosum or Smilacina racemosa) have just started blooming and they were all along the trail. False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem, unlike the dangling pairs of flowers of true Solomon’s seal. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California crushed false Solomon’s seal roots and used them to stun fish. Other native tribes used the plant medicinally.

Last year at this same spot I saw a turtle wiggling its toes in the breeze and had to laugh, because it looked like it was trying to fly. This year on the same sunken log here was another turtle doing the same thing, and as I watched a woman stopped and asked how long my monopod extended. “Would it be long enough to help that poor turtle?” she asked. “Just look at the poor thing; it’s stuck and can’t get back into the water.” Last year a helpful reader told me that this is one way turtles regulate their body heat, so I passed that on to the concerned woman. “Well that’s a relief” she said, “now I’ll be able to sleep tonight!” We humans, I thought after she left, sure do come up with some strange ideas about nature. And yes, I do include myself in that statement.

When they are near a water source royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) can grow quite large and appear to be a shrub, but this one was young and on dry ground so it wasn’t very big. The royal fern is found on every continent except Australia, making it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over 100 years. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are also in the Osmundaceae family. It is thought that the genus might have been named after King Osmund, who ruled in the British Isles in the eighth century. Royal ferns are one of my favorites because they are so unlike any other fern.

Royal ferns have just started growing their spore bearing fertile fronds. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile fronds looked like bunches of flowers.

At this stage the sporangia of royal ferns are green but soon they’ll turn a beautiful purple color, and that’s why the plant was named flowering fern.

Chokecherries blossomed on the river bank. Like most of the white spring flowering trees, chokecherries (Prunus) and chokeberries (Aronia) grow on the edge of the forest. Though they look alike from a distance, chokeberries and chokecherries are only distantly related in the rose family. The common name is the giveaway here: A cherry is a stone fruit with one seed, so the chokecherry will have one seed. A berry will have multiple seeds; in the case of the chokeberry 5 or fewer.  Chokeberry flower clusters are smaller than chokecherry and kind of flat on top. Chokecherry flower clusters are usually long and cylindrical like a bottle brush. Positive identification between these two is important because chokecherry leaves and seeds contain prussic acid which can convert to cyanide under the right conditions, so it wouldn’t be good to eat too many seeds. The simplest way to be sure is by counting the seeds in a piece of fruit before picking and eating from the tree.

After walking the trail for a while you see it begin to narrow a bit and that’s because it doesn’t see a lot of traffic on the more northern section. Many people turn and go back rather than walk the entire trail and they miss a lot of beauty by doing so.

In spots with little to no current the tree pollen collected on the water’s surface. With all of the different species of trees we have pollination is an extended event in spring, and then after the trees come the grasses, so it goes well into summer. It’s a tough road for allergy sufferers.

You would expect to see insects along a river and I saw this one, which I think must be some type of crane fly.

I came upon the biggest colony of Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) I’ve ever seen, right there beside the trail and I have to say that I was astounded. I’ve walked by this spot literally hundreds of times since I was a boy and have never seen it, so that shows that it’s worthwhile to walk the same trail again and again. In years past I’ve spent hours searching for just one plant and here were hundreds upon hundreds of them. So much for my “excellent powers of observation;” I miss as much as anyone else.

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

There were also some large colonies of blue bead lily out here, which I have also never noticed before. Since I just featured them in my last post I’ll just show their photo here.

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen. These flower heads are usually covered with insects and I think this is the only time I’ve ever gotten a photo of them blooming without insects on them.

Each sarsaparilla flower is smaller than a pea but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard. Every now and then you’ll find a plant with flowers but no leaves over them. I don’t know if these leafless plants are a natural hybrid or how the plant benefits from having fewer leaves. Fewer leaves mean less photosynthesizing and that means less food for the plant but maybe animals eat them, I don’t know.

I saw the strangely shaped pine tree that I’ve wondered about for years. Something traumatic must have happened to it. I’m guessing another tree fell on it when it was young.

There were many violets blooming all along the trail, including beautiful little northern white violets (Viola pallens.) As I’ve said in previous posts, this seems to be a banner year for violets. I’ve never seen so many.

All journeys back into childhood have to end somewhere and mine ended right here. Not too far up ahead is a busy highway that I didn’t need to see so I turned and meandered back to my starting point, giving a good look to everything that caught my eye along the way.  I saw kayakers and friendly dogs, spoke with friendly people, and saw a nice big patch of lilies that will bloom in a month or so, so all in all it was a fine day. I hope yours was and will be the same.

Every summer, like the roses, childhood returns. ~Marty Rubin

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Actually, nothing in any of these photos or any post you may find here is secret or hidden but most people never see these things, and that’s too bad. Just look at how beautiful this young shagbark hickory bud (Carya ovata) was after it opened. A tree full of them looks like a tree full of beautiful flowers and they’re right there in plain sight, so I hope you’ll look for them.

Every bit as beautiful but not quite as colorful 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.

A new beech leaf still has some of the delicate silver hairs left from its time in the bud, but it loses them quickly. The orange turns to green quickly too, and then the magic ends for another year.

I saw some beautiful young red buckeye leaves on the Central Ohio Nature blog, a link to which you can find over there on the right in the Favorite Links section. I don’t have the same tree but I do have a bottlebrush buckeye and this photo is of its leaves, which are more of a rosy brown / brick red color.

New oak leaves are covered in soft velvet and come in many colors…

…including hot pink. They also shed water quickly.

Some oaks are already flowering.

According to my color finding software this maple leaf also had pink in it, along with plum purple and fire brick red. I don’t see those colors but I believe the software is accurate.

New poison ivy leaves (Toxicodendron radicans) are often a deep maroon color but these were green with a white fringe. I’ve noticed this year that many new spring leaves that would normally wear various shades of red and bronze are instead shades of green. What this means I don’t know. They seem to want to get a jump on photosynthesizing.

I checked on the field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) each day and there was no sign of them and then overnight there they were, hundreds of them. One little tap and what looks like clouds of pollen float off them but the “pollen” is actually a cloud of microscopic spores.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a field horsetail ends in a light brown cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll so most of it is a pale whitish color. When it’s ready to release spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores. The whitish ruffles at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in this photo it has released its spores and will shortly die.

When the fertile spore bearing stems of the horsetail have released their spores the infertile green, photosynthesizing stems pf the plant appear. These shoots are rough and gritty since they contain a lot of silica. In fact they are often used by campers to scrub pots and dishes because they are so gritty. They are also very close to impossible to eradicate from a garden, so this isn’t a plant to wish grew closer to home.

I didn’t see a goldfinch but I knew it had been here. A beautiful gift from a beautiful little bird.

The big buds of Norway maple (Acer platanoides) opened a week or so ago but the flowers still persist on the trees. Last year they were blossoming in late April so they’re clearly late this year. These trees are native to Europe and are considered invasive here. Finding white sap in the leaf stem (Petiole) is one way to identify Norway maple. Sugar maple and red maple have clear sap.

The flower clusters of Norway maples are large and appear before the leaves so they can be seen from quite a distance. Though invasive the trees were once used extensively as landscape specimens and you can find them all over this town. Unfortunately the tree has escaped into the forests and in places is crowding out sugar and other maples. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states and it’s against the law to sell or plant them in New Hampshire.

The new spring shoots of cattails (Typha latifolia) are coming up among last year’s fallen stalks. Science has recorded cattail marshes growing up to 17 feet in a single year, but animals like muskrats often eat the roots and this helps keep them in check. Cattail roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice and they were an important food source for Native Americans. They made flour from the fleshy roots and ate the new shoots in spring. They had uses for every part of the plant, including its pollen. To anyone thinking they’ll go collect a basketful of cattail roots I say be very careful, because blue and yellow flag iris leaves look much like cattails and often grow right along with them, and iris roots are very poisonous. Know your roots!

For a short time between when they appear and when they ripen and fall American elm (Ulmus americana) seeds have a white fringe. When they ripen they’ll become dry and papery and finally fall to the wind. I grew up on a street that had huge 200 year old elms on it and those trees put out seeds in what must have been the millions. I remember how they wreaked havoc with cars by clogging the vents. My father complained about them more than once. Elm seeds contain 45% protein and 7% fiber and in the great famine of 1812 they were used as food in Norway.

I finally found some developing silver maple seeds to show you. Normally when very young they’re bright red with white hairs but these had gone over to green, even though they still had the hair. I’ll have to try again next spring. You really can’t see everything there is to see in spring unless you have all day every day to look, and even then I doubt it would be possible.

Some ferns are just coming up and others are knee high and ready to unfurl. I think these were cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) but they could be interrupted ferns (Osmundastrum claytoniana.) Royal ferns and sensitive ferns are still in the just out of the ground fiddlehead stage.

This isn’t a very good photo because all I had with me was the small camera I use for macro shots, but how often do we get to see baby squirrels playing? These three babies were less than half the size of an adult squirrel and spent quite a lot of time chasing each other in and out of a hollow tree, learning all the while I suppose. I’ve always liked watching squirrels. They’re a lot of fun to watch because they seem to have a lot of fun.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.

~Edna Jaques

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Flowers aren’t the only beautiful things to appear in spring. Fern fiddleheads can also be beautiful as this lady fern fiddlehead (Athyrium filix-femina) shows. Lady fern is the only ferns I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers.

I came very close to stepping on this small garter snake because I didn’t see it until the last moment, but it didn’t move. In fact it let me take a few photos and walk away and when I went back later it was still there soaking up the sun. It’s a good thing my grandmother wasn’t with me because she would have been up the nearest tree, so great was her fear of snakes. She knew garter snakes weren’t poisonous, but she was still afraid of them.

Garter snakes might not be poisonous but false hellebore (Veratrum viride) certainly is. In fact it’s one of the most toxic plants to grow in a New England forest and people have died from eating it after mistaking it for something else. Even animals won’t eat them, but certain insects or slugs will, and usually by July the plant’s leaves look shot full of holes. I think the deeply pleated oval leaves are quite pretty when they first come up in spring.

It’s hard to believe that a plant with flowers that look as delicate as those on heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) can make it through a winter but these plants are evergreen and because of that are photosynthesizing far ahead of their competition. Their pretty 4 inch tall racemes of small white flowers will appear in mid-May. Sometimes these leaves are mottled with purple or have dark purple veins. Some Native American tribes used the mashed roots of foamflower in a poultice on wounds and used an infusion of the dried leaves to relieve sore eyes.

Japanese knotweed can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb, so maybe we could defeat it by eating it.

Speaking of rhubarb, it has just come up. This one was just unfolding a new leaf and had a tomato red bud just waiting. Rhubarb is a native of China, and though its leaves are poisonous it was used medicinally there for centuries.

Though these plants looked like ferns I’m not sure if they are. If they are they’re the earliest to leaf out that I’ve seen.

Beaver brook wasn’t showing any signs of new leaves on the trees that arch out over it but I don’t think it’s going to be long before they appear. We saw 90+ degree temperatures this week.

While at beaver Brook I visited the plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) to see if its flower buds had opened. They were open but only the cream colored male stamens were showing. This is odd because female sedge flowers usually appear first.  In any case I’m sure it knows what it’s doing better than I and I would bet that by now the female flowers are out and waiting to be pollinated.

How I wish you could have heard all the spring peepers chirping and trilling away in this beaver swamp. It’s a sound that many of us here in New England long to hear once March and April come along.  For those not familiar with them, spring peepers are small frogs with a loud voice and sometimes a pond full of them can be almost deafening on a warm spring evening. They are brown with a darker X shape on their backs and large toe pads for climbing. The “peep” is a mating call that comes from the male, which of course is trying to attract a female.

I went to the beaver pond looking for the bloodroot flowers that grow there but they hadn’t come up yet. Instead I saw some of what I think were Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica) flowers. It’s too bad that many people never see these tiny blooms. They stand about 4 inches tall and grow from a clump of what looks like coarse grass, but what is actually a sedge. Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like female pistillate flowers. The female flowers usually open first so they can receive pollen from another plant and avoid self-fertilization. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. Though it looks much like the plantain leaved sedge flowers we saw earlier these flowers and plants are much smaller.

What look like giant pussy willow catkins are actually the catkins of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides.) Quaking aspen is the only poplar tree with catkins like these that doesn’t also have sticky bud scales. If the shiny brown bud scales were sticky it would be a balsam poplar(Poplar balsamifera.) These long catkins fall from the trees and get stuck in other tree’s branches and in shrubs. They can make quite a mess for a short time.

Though these tiny stigmas looks like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) they are actually the flowers of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta,) which grows in areas north and east of Keene. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clamshell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth like the one shown.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) is an extremely toxic plant but I love the movement that its new spring shoots have. Every time I see them I think how nice it would be to sit beside them and draw them, but I never seem to find the time. Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots of this plant and used it medicinally to treat pain and other ailments, but no part of it should ever be ingested. In late summer it will have bright white berries with a single black dot that give the plant its common name of doll’s eyes.

When you see white fur like that in this photo appear on female silver maple buds, this means the seeds (samaras) are just about to appear. For just a very short time they’re deep red with a furry white fringe, and they’re beautiful enough to watch each day so you don’t miss them. I hope to have a chance to catch them in all their glory this year.

The stamens of male box elder flowers (Acer negundo) hang down from the buds on long filaments and sway in the breeze. Box elder is in the maple family but its wood is soft when compared to other maples. Several Native American tribes made syrup from its sap and the earliest example of  a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Once the leaves start to show on a box elder it’s time for the lime green female flowers to appear.

Here’s a closer look at the female box elder pistils just starting to show. They’re very pretty things but they don’t last long. Soon the seeds will form and there will be no need of flowers.

The flower buds of the American white ash (Fraxinus americana) appear before the leaves and can be colorful sometimes and at other times be as black as blackberries. The Native American Wabanaki tribe made baskets from ash splints and some tribes believed the wood was poisonous to rattlesnakes, and used canes made of ash to chase them away.

The beautiful pink and orange buds of striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) have appeared but I was a little late in seeing them because many had already opened so the leaves could unfurl. Their opening signals that it’s time to now watch beech buds, which should open at any time. Beech bud break is another very beautiful forest treat that many people miss seeing.

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

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I was shooting photos of a wintery Mount Monadnock when spring hopped into the photo in the form of a robin. He’s there in the grass on the left.

Robins are very curious birds, I’ve found. They seem to like watching what I’m doing as much as I like watching them. I had one let me stand right next to it just the other day.

A raccoon has become a regular visitor to where I work. Somehow it has damaged its paw and doesn’t seem to be able to see very well. We think it must be quite old for a raccoon but it still gets around fairly well and can still climb trees.

Two mallards hid in the reeds in a small roadside pond. While he watched me she tipped up and ate. She ate quite a lot, ignoring me the whole time.

They finally got tired of me watching them and swam off. Ducks and other waterfowl are very wary of humans in this area. They don’t swim right up to you when they see you like they do in other places because nobody feeds them, so getting photos of them is usually tough. This pair put up with me longer than most do.

Activity seems to have increased among all creatures except bees, which I still haven’t seen yet. Squirrels are certainly in abundance; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. This one was hopping across a lawn when I tried to get its photo.

I’ve never seen so many pinecones fall as they have this year either. They’ve made a squirrel’s life pretty easy, as this large stone covered with pinecone scales shows. For some reason squirrels usually like to sit up off the ground when they eat and one or more of them ate a lot of pine seeds on this stone.

There was a storm brewing on an ice covered Half Moon Pond in Hancock on March 29th when this was taken.

This is what the pond looked like 14 days later on April 12th. We’re getting just about one sunny day each week and this one was that week’s day. The ice on the pond wasn’t completely gone but there was very little left. It has snowed again once or twice since that photo was taken.

I found what I thought was a toothed crust fungus, but this fungus wasn’t acting like any other crust fungus that I’ve seen.

This crust fungus had developed fruiting bodies that looked like mushrooms with a hollow stem. On the smaller one on the left you can just see the teeth hanging from the underside of the cap. I don’t really know if the toothed crust developed from the mushroom like fruiting bodies or if the mushrooms arose from the toothed crust. Each “cap” was about as big as an aspirin.

On a nearby section of log the toothed crust, if that’s what it is, had completely enveloped the mushroom shaped fruiting bodies. I’ve never seen anything like this and haven’t found anything like it, either in my mushroom guides or online. If you know what it is I’d love to hear from you.

I know what this is; an orange jelly fungus behaving strangely. Orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) are common here and usually grow on fallen eastern hemlocks. They absorb many times their own size and weight in water and usually shrink when they dry out but this one looked like it was melting. These fungi are eaten in China and are said to improve circulation and breathing.

Plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) is a large plant as sedges go, with wide, pleated, foot long leaves that wrinkle like crepe paper. It’s large leaves are for gathering light so it does well in the shade under trees, where the one pictured grows naturally. Sedges like cooler weather and cool soil, so they grow and flower best in spring in this area. Once it gets hot their growth slows but sometimes in a cool fall they’ll have a second growth spurt. This one is on the rare side here. I know of only a few plants, all growing in one spot.

Plantain leaved sedge usually blooms in mid spring and this plant seems to be right on schedule. It had several beautiful dark purple flower spikes showing. These flowers will open into wispy white female flowers on the lower part of the stalk (Culm) and the long, yellowish male flowers on the upper part. The flowers are called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, and that leads to the old saying “sedges have edges.” I’m guessing that these flowers will appear in a week or two, depending on the weather.

Soil crunching underfoot in the spring and fall is a sure sign that you’re walking on ice needles. For them to form the temperature at the soil surface has to be below 32 degrees F while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, which is sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because more water is freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape and that needles 16 inches long have been found, but most of the ones I see are less than 5 inches long. They are often very dirty.

There is a plant called common cotton sedge (Eriophorum angustifolium) but I doubt this is it because another name for it is bog cotton due to its habit of growing in damp boggy ground, and this plant was growing in a spot that was high and dry. It grew at the edge of the woods under pine trees and I’ve never seen anything else like it. It had a single hairy stem about a foot tall with this bit of “cotton” at the top. It had no leaves because of the time of year. If you know what it is I’d love to know.

An eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was healing a wound in a strange way, I thought. The wound cork had grown over a scar in a kind of lump rather than flat as it usually does. According to the book Bark, by Michael Wojtech eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeast that grows wound cork in annual increments. Because it grows this way it can be counted just like a tree’s growth rings. From what I counted this scar took 10-12 years to heal. Native Americans used the inner bark (Cambium) of hemlock as a base for breads and soups or mixed it with dried fruit and animal fat to use in pemmican. They also made tea from the tree’s needles, which have a high vitamin C content. This saved many an early settler from scurvy.

I recently went to see one of my favorite lichens, the poplar sunburst (Xanthoria hasseana.) One of the reasons it is one of my favorites is because it is almost always producing spores in its large, sucker like fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) This lichen grows on tree bark near a pond and has a mounded growth habit rather than flat. This example might have been a half inch across. It’s a pretty little thing.

I might have already shown these turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) but I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter anyway because seeing such beautiful things doesn’t have to happen just once. I certainly think they’re worth a second look. As beautiful as they are though turkey tails frustrate me a bit, because I’ve never been able to find out how they come by their color. They have a wide range of colors and something must influence what color they’ll be. I think it might be the minerals in the wood they feed on, but that’s just a guess. I hope you’ll be able to see at least one thing as beautiful this week.

The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves. ~Kahlil Gibran

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