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Archive for the ‘Things I’ve Seen’ Category

 

Two or three years ago I saw my first pale beauty moth and now I’m seeing them everywhere. Their wings and body are pale greenish to grayish white and the female, which I think this example is, is said to be much larger than the male. The caterpillars are said to feed on the leaves of 65 species of trees and shrubs including alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, blueberry, cherry, fir, elm, hemlock, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, spruce, larch, and willow. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but I see them in daylight. Usually in the evening though, so maybe they come out early.

There are a lot of dragonflies about this year and for some reason many of them are on lawns. I’ve walked over lawns and had hundreds of them flying around me. I can’t think of another time I’ve seen this but it must be that they’re finding plenty of food on the lawns. Or something. This example of what I think is a female widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) was near a pond on a cattail leaf, but there are lawns nearby. There were light whitish spots outside the dark spots on the wings but I think the lighting hid them.

 

A black ant was so interested in something it found on a sarsaparilla leaf (Aralia nudicaulis) it let me get the camera very close. I couldn’t see what attracted its attention and can’t tell from the photo either, but it was rapt. I think it was a common black house ant. It didn’t seem big enough to be a carpenter ant.

While I was visiting with the ant a winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) flew down and joined us on the same sarsaparilla leaf. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one seemed happy just being on a leaf. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid, so they must be happy right now. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

On a very windy day what I believe was a male calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) clung to the siding of a building. The light wasn’t right for dragonfly photography but I tried anyway and though it isn’t a great shot you can see most of the wing markings. These dragonflies are used to being blown about on the tips of twigs like a pennant, and that’s where their common name comes from. A fact that I find interesting about this dragonfly is how the males are not territorial and often perch facing away from water, apparently waiting for females as they approach the water. I’m not sure why this one chose a building.

NOTE: Blogging friend Mike Powell has pointed out that this is a female calico pennant dragonfly. If you’re interested in dragonflies or any other natural wonder, you should be reading Mike’s blog. You can find a link right over in the “Favorite Links” section of this blog. Thanks Mike!

I’m lucky enough to work near a pond and as I drive to work, early in the morning on a certain day in June, the snapping turtles begin to lay their eggs. As if someone flipped a switch the sandy shoreline between the pond and the road will be lined with the big turtles, sticking half out of the sand. And they are big; snapping turtles can weigh between 10-35 pounds. Though some snappers have been found as far as a mile from water most will dig their nest closer to it. They’ve been known to nest in lawns, gardens, and even muskrat burrows. Snapping turtles reach maturity at 8 to 10 years and can live up to 40 years or more.

It is said that some turtles weep from the strain of egg laying but this one had dry eyes. In fact she looked like she was smiling. You can see her beak in this photo; it has a rough cutting edge that is used for tearing food. They have powerful jaws and the snapping beak is easily able to snap off a finger or toe, so it isn’t wise to get too close to one. They have a neck that stretches quite a distance and they can lunge at high speed, which is how they catch their food. Snapping turtles eat plants, insects, spiders, worms, fish, frogs, smaller turtles, snakes, birds, crayfish, small mammals, and carrion. Plants make up about a third of their diet.

Snapping turtles lay one clutch of eggs in May or June and unfortunately this photo shows how most of them end up. Out of a nest of 15 to 50 eggs most will be eaten by raccoons, skunks, or crows. Though I’ve looked in the sand near disturbed nests I’ve never seen a paw print, so I can’t say what animal is doing this. It doesn’t take much to harm the turtles; the eggs are very delicate and the turtle embryo can be killed if turned or jarred. As many as 90% of the nests are destroyed each year and as I think about it I wonder if that isn’t part of nature’s plan. If every egg in every nest on this small pond were to hatch it would be overrun by snapping turtles and they would quickly run out of food. It might be better for them to never be born than to slowly die of starvation, but I’m very thankful that it isn’t up to me to make that decision.

Nature has a way of ensuring the continuation of each species and I know that many snapping turtles survive because I see them in ponds and streams everywhere. Egg hatching takes about three months but it varies depending on temperature and weather conditions. If the nest isn’t disturbed the hatchlings dig their way out in August through October and head right for the water. In winter they hibernate in the mud at the pond bottom. I should say that there are laws against disturbing turtle nests in New Hampshire, so they are best left alone.

I’m guessing that this bullfrog was very happy that there were no snapping turtles nearby. Adult female bullfrogs have an eardrum (tympanic membrane) that is about the same size as the eye and on a male it is much larger than the eye, so I’d say this one was a female. Females don’t croak but there was a lot of croaking going on here on this day.

With such a rainy spring I’m surprised that mushrooms aren’t popping up out of the sidewalks, but I’m not seeing that many. I did find some little horsehair mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) growing on a log recently. These are very small things; the biggest one in this photo might be as big as a pea.

Horsehair mushrooms are also called pinwheel mushrooms. Their pleated and scalloped caps always make me think of tiny Lilliputian parachutes. The shiny, hollow black stem lightens as it reaches the cap and is very coarse like horse hair, and that’s where the common name comes from. They grow in small colonies on rotting logs, stumps, and branches. Their spore release depends on plenty of moisture so look for this one after it rains. In dry weather they dehydrate into what looks like a whitish dot at the end of a black stem, but when it rains they rehydrate to release more spores. They can do this for up to three weeks.

The underside of the horsehair mushroom’s cap also looks like a parachute, with gills spaced quite far apart for such a little thing. In the center the gills join to make a collar that encircles the stem.

Swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans) are interesting fungi that grow in water and I find them in seeps where water runs 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 and this photo shows how they are growing out of saturated leaves. I’m sorry about the strange angularity of this photo but I was kneeling in mud when I took it, trying not to drop the camera into it.

Another common name for swamp beacons is “matchstick fungus” and that’s exactly what they remind me of because they are just about the size of a wooden match. This one had an elongated head on it though and didn’t look very match like. If you want to get shots of this fungus be prepared to get your knees wet. Mine were soaked.

Hot humid weather along with a rainy day or two always makes me want to start looking for slime molds and sure enough after a recent shower, I found some. Slime molds seem to grow on just about anything; there is even a photo online of one engulfing a beer can that was left out on a rock. They almost always grow on the side away from the sun because they don’t want to dry out. A slime mold is an amoeba and that says a lot about how very small they are, but luckily they group together and that makes them easier to see. When I look for them I look for a smudge of color on the shaded sides of logs or on last season’s leaves. The one seen here is in its plasmodial stage and is on the move. I think it might be one called the tapioca slime mold (Brefeldia maxima.)

Slime molds can appear in their single celled amoeba form but when I see them they are almost always massed or massing together as these were. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using “cytoplasmic streaming,” which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. They can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Eventually they will shift from the growth to the fruiting stage, when they will release their spores. Slime molds do not like dryness, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain.

Here’s another look at what a slime molds can look like from a distance. This could also be yellow, orange or red. When looking for slime molds it’s important to remember that hot sunlight dries them out, so they’ll be on the shaded sides and undersides of logs, on stumps, mossy rocks, and in the leaves on the forest floor in the darkest part of the forest where the soil stays moist.

Here’s a closer look at the slime mold in the previous photo. Identifying slime molds can be tricky, but most good mushroom books will include a section on them and there are a few good online resources as well. If you want to photograph slime molds you’d better have a good macro lens because many are almost microscopic in size. What you see in this photo wouldn’t even cover a penny. A good LED light is also helpful. I think this example might be coral or white fingered slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.)

I think all slime molds are beautiful but this one really takes the cake. At least I think it’s a slime mold. I’ve found various examples of it for about three years now and I’ve spent that long trying to identify it with no luck. I haven’t found anything even similar to it online or in a book. I think part of the problem is it starts out looking like the white, blurry, bumpy mass in the lower left corner and then opens into the tiny blue starbursts seen above. What that means is it’s hard to know whether to search for a white or blue slime mold. I’ve tried both many times with no luck, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

As I was walking through the woods one day something told me to look up and when I did I saw a young porcupine sitting on the crook of a branch. It let me get close enough for a couple of quick photos but I didn’t want to disturb it, so I left and let it be. Porcupines are herbivores and eat leaves, twigs, and green plants such as clover. They often climb trees to find leaves for food, and in winter they will eat the bark of some trees. They are shy, gentle creatures but unfortunately I see many of their kind run over on the roadsides. They roam at night a lot and can be very hard to see. This one was quite small; probably smaller than a soccer ball. Many Native American tribes used porcupine quills for decoration on their clothing but women in the Lakota tribe found a way to get the quills without harming the porcupine; they would throw a blanket over it and then pick out the quills that were stuck in the blanket.

I went to the Ashuelot River one recent evening and found it raging because of strong thunder showers we’d had the day before, but a duck had found a calm spot away from the chaos of curling whitecaps. The river was high too; that small island isn’t usually an island.

But the duck didn’t seem to care one way or the other. It splashed and preened and tipped up to eat and smiled serenely while the river raged on around it. There has to be a lesson for us all in there somewhere. After all, nature is full of them.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

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We were having some “triple H” weather here last weekend, which means hazy, hot and humid, so I wanted to get to a shady forest. I chose High Blue trail in Walpole because I was fairly sure that there would be a good breeze on the summit, which faces west. The trail starts out following an old logging road.

I started seeing things of interest almost as soon as I reached the old road. False Solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) bloomed all along it. Some grow close to three feet tall but most are less than that; about knee high. False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. 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 used crushed false Solomon’s seal roots to stun fish. Others used the plant medicinally.

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) in this stage are stunning, in my opinion. I like the powder gray against the bright white margin. As they age they blacken and look like burnt wood and become very brittle and are easily crushed. They grow on dead hardwoods and cause soft rot, which breaks down both cellulose and lignin. In short, this is one of the fungi that help turn wood into compost.

This photo taken previously shows what the brittle cinder fungus will become; a black lump. Younger examples have a hard lumpy crust or skin, a piece of which can be seen in the upper left of the example in the photo. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same fungus that’s in the previous photo.

Grasses are flowering nearly everywhere I go now and I like looking at them closely. I don’t know this one’s name but I’ve learned enough about grasses to know that the yellow bits at the top are the male pollen bearing flowers and the wispy white bits on the lower half are the female flowers.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinite) grew in wet spots along the road. It’s a large sedge that grows in big, 2 foot tall clumps. I like its drooping habit and I’m not the only one, because it has become a popular garden plant. Many animals and waterfowl eat different parts of sedge plants, especially the seeds. Other names for this plant are drooping sedge and long-haired sedge.

The trail does a loop but I always take the left at the High Blue sign and walk in and out.

From here the logging road narrows down into little more than a foot path. The sunlight was dappled and my camera doesn’t do dappled well, so this isn’t the best photo I’ve ever taken.

Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) does well up here and grows in large colonies all along the trail. I like the repeating patterns that they make. This fern likes shade but will tolerate extreme dryness well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. This fern does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

Last year the meadow suddenly became a cornfield and the corn attracted animals of all kinds, including bears. I’ve seen a lot of bear droppings all over this area ever since, so I carried a can of bear spray. Thankfully I didn’t have to use it.

Our brambles are coming into bloom and it looks like we might have a good blackberry harvest. Easy to pick blackberries can be found along virtually any rail trail and many woodland trails. Blackberries have been eaten by man for thousands of years. The discovery of the remains of an Iron Age woman called the Haraldskær Woman showed that she ate blackberries about 2500 years ago. The Haraldskær Woman is the body of a woman found naturally preserved in a peat bog in Jutland, Denmark in 1835. Native Americans made a strong twine from fibers found in blackberry canes, and they used piles of dead canes as barricades around villages. I’m guessing that anyone who had ever been caught on blackberry thorns wouldn’t have tried to make it through such a barricade.

Orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) was dotted here and there in the meadow. I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed plant and I’m not sure why that is. The plant might be from Europe but it’s far from invasive in this area. Maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. Orange Flowers do reflect ultraviolet light though, so that means that some insects must find them.

As I usually do when I come here, I had to stop at what’s left of the old foundation. I’m not sure who lived up here but they had plenty of courage and were strong people. All of this land would have been cleared then and sheep would probably have lived in the pastures. It was a tough life in what the Walpole Town History describes as a “vast wilderness.” But it was populated; many Native Americans lived here and they weren’t afraid to show their displeasure at losing their land.

One of the reasons I chose this place was because there is a small pond on the summit and I wanted to see if it was covered with duckweed yet. I wanted to take a close look at the tiny plants but about all I could see was pine pollen floating on the surface.

There was some duckweed but it was too far off shore to be easily reached. This pond must be spring fed because it never dries up completely, even in last year’s drought when streams were disappearing. I always wonder if it was the family’s water source.

There are an estimated 259,000 miles of stone walls in the northeastern U.S., most of which are in New England, and many are here in New Hampshire. The stones were found when the recently cleared pastures were plowed and they were either tossed into piles or used to build walls, wells, foundations and many other necessities of the day. Sometimes entire houses were built of stone but wood was plentiful and easier to work with, so we don’t have too many stone houses from that time. Most of what we see is used in stone walls like this one, which cross and crisscross the countryside in every direction.

I always take a photo of the sign when I come here, but I’m not sure why. What it means is that at 1588 feet above sea level the summit is higher than the surrounding terrain, and the view is always blue.

As I thought it would be the view was very hazy on this day, but there was a nice cool breeze blowing and that alone made the short hike worth it on such a hot humid day.

It was so hazy I couldn’t even see Stratton Mountain over in Vermont, which is just across the Connecticut River Valley seen here.

The stone pile builder has been busy. I’ve wondered why anyone would carry stones all the way up here just to build an eyesore like this, but on this day I realized that it was much more likely that these stones are being taken from the stone wall we saw 4 photos back. I wonder if this person knows that taking stones from stone walls is a crime, punishable by having to pay three times the cost of restoring the wall, plus legal costs. This is because many of these old walls mark boundary lines and are recorded as such in property deeds. I’m not sure why anyone would risk it just to put piles of stones in other people’s way, but to each their own.

We’ve had a lot of rain recently but I was still surprised to see a slime mold growing on the side of a log. The book Mushrooms of Northeast (no, not northeastern) North America-Midwest to New England by George Barron has quite a good section on slime molds and it starts off with one called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa. I believe that the photo above shows the cylindrical white fruiting bodies of Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa. There is a second variety of this slime mold called porioides, and the fruiting bodies look like tiny white geodesic domes. The fruiting bodies shown are so small and so fragile that one swipe of a finger can destroy hundreds of them.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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For six weeks now we’ve had at least one rainy day per week and often two or three. This has amounted to a drought busting 2-3 inches of rain each week and the water table is again where it should be, if not a little high. Unfortunately along with the rain we’ve had cold and until this past week it seemed that it would never warm up, but warm up it has and temps in the 90s are expected for part of next week. Beaver brook seems happier when it’s full. It cheering chuckles and giggles can be heard throughout the forest and it is a welcome companion when I walk along its shores.

The orangey red fertile fronds of cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have appeared. They once reminded someone of sticks of cinnamon, and that’s how this fern comes by its common name.

A closer look shows that this isn’t cinnamon. The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which is where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Even the seeds (samaras) of red maple (Acer rubrum) are red, and a beautiful red at that. Squirrels love red maple seeds and that’s probably a good thing because our trees produce many millions of them. A single tree about a foot in diameter was shown to produce nearly a million seeds, and red maple is the most abundant native tree in eastern North America. Native Americans used red maple bark to wash inflamed eyes and as a remedy for hives and muscle aches. The tree’s wood was used for tools and its sap boiled into maple sugar, much like the sap of the sugar maple.

One of the things that determines how many acorns an oak will produce is the weather. Since the male flowers release pollen to the wind in the hopes that it will reach the female flowers, rain can have a big impact because it can wash the pollen out of the air. Since we’ve had a lot of rain this spring it will be interesting to see how many acorns we have this fall. The flowers shown are the male catkins of a red oak (Quercus rubra.)

These are the male pollen bearing cones of the mugo pine (Pinus mugo.) Mugo pine is a native of southwestern and Central Europe which is used as a landscape specimen. Its pollen cones closely resemble those of our eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) When the female flowers are fertilized by this pollen they produce the seed bearing pine cones that we are all familiar with. Here in New Hampshire pine pollen is responsible for turning any horizontal surface, including ponds and vehicles, a dusty green color each spring. It also makes some of us have sneezing fits.

I heard that the new spring fiddleheads of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) were purple and, since I’ve never paid attention to them I decided to go and see some. Sure enough they were deep purple. I shouldn’t have been surprised because another name for this fern is flowering fern, because its fertile fronds are purple.

Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes 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 thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) starts out life in spring with its leaves colored red or bronze and people are often fooled by it at this stage. It is a plant that anyone who spends time in the woods should get to know well, but even then you can still occasionally be caught by it. It doesn’t need to have leaves on it to produce a reaction; I usually end up with a rash on my legs each spring from kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of spring beauties. Luckily it doesn’t bother me too much but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it.

This Northern water snake was basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2 feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a good photo of.

Early one morning I saw a dragonfly on a building. I knew it was alive because it was moving one of its legs slowly back and forth. It let me get the camera very close and didn’t flinch even when I turned on the camera’s LED light. I haven’t been able to confidently identify it but I thought it might be a Lancet club tail. I hope someone will let me know if I’m wrong.

I’ve never gotten so close to a dragonfly. Odd that it didn’t fly away.

Tent caterpillars appear in early spring as buds begin to open. They prefer fruit trees but can also be found on maples, hawthorn and others. Their nests are smaller and more compact than fall webworms and are found in the crotch of branches rather than at the ends. Often the caterpillars can be seen crawling over the outside surface of the nest as these were. They feed in morning and early evening, and on warm nights. They do a lot of damage and can defoliate a tree in no time at all. Though the tree will usually grow new leaves it will have been severely weakened and may not bear fruit. As the larvae feed they will make the silky nest larger to enclose more foliage.

A close up look at the tent caterpillars. They can be seen crawling everywhere at this time of year. Tent caterpillars are an important food source for insects, animals and birds. One bear was found to have eaten about 25,000 of them and more than 60 species of birds will eat them. Frogs, mice, skunks, bats, reptiles and 28 different insects help control the population but nothing can stop them. Scientists have found that a severe outbreak can defoliate tens of thousands of acres of forest.

This robin had a beak full of caterpillars but they weren’t tent caterpillars. He didn’t seem real happy to see me.

Some think that without ants their peony blossoms wouldn’t open, but that’s really just an old wive’s tale. Peony buds have very small glands called extrafloral nectaries along the outside edges of their bud scales. These glands produce a mixture of sugar, water and amino acids, and this is what attracts the ants. To repay the peony for its gift of nectar the ants drive off pests that might harm the buds.

Native Americans held turkeys in such high regard they buried the birds when they died, but the turkey’s value was in its feathers, not its meat. The feathers were used to decorate their ceremonial clothing and as arrow fletching to stabilize arrows.  They were also used for winter cloaks because they were lightweight and very warm. A feather from a turkey was powerful medicine thought to symbolize abundance, pride, fertility and wisdom, but the meat was considered starvation food. Early colonials mentioned the small flocks of young turkeys seen near Native villages and how the Natives refused to kill them for food, which they couldn’t understand. Of course Europeans saw little to no value in the feathers.

Why some plants have red or purple leaves in spring isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought that the color helps protect their new, fragile leaves from damaging ultraviolet rays and cold temperatures. It isn’t just trees that use this strategy; many shrubs and plants also have new leaves tinged with red or purple. The rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) in the above photo shows just how purple some new spring leaves can be. Eventually all its leaves will be green but the color won’t disappear entirely; a deep maroon color will be left on their veins, making this a very beautiful plant at any time of year.

The heartwood of oaks and some other tree species have a high tannin content and when iron or steel come into contact with the tannins a chemical reaction takes place. This almost always results in a discoloration of the wood. It is caused by nails, barbed wire, chains, or any one of a hundred other iron or steel objects that can be found in trees. There is even a photo online of a bicycle grown into a tree. This is trouble for loggers, because if the sawmill sees stains like those on the red oak log pictured above they’ll reject the log. Their saw blades are expensive and running them through steel just doesn’t work.

If you happened upon a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree just after bud break it would be easy to believe that you were seeing a tree full of beautiful flowers, but what you saw would be the colorful insides of the newly opened bud scales. What you saw would also be one of the most beautiful things you could find in a New England forest in spring.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts.  ~Susanna Clarke

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The last time I visited the deep cut rail trail that was once part of the northern branch of the Cheshire Railroad there were huge columns of ice hanging from the walls of the manmade canyon. These ice columns start to melt in the spring and can sometimes fall into the trail. Since they’re big enough to crush a person I stay away from this, one of my favorite places, until I’m sure they’ve melted. Though we’ve had a cool May I was sure they had melted by last Sunday, so off I went.

Right off I noticed something disturbing; a rock half the size of a Volkswagen Beetle had fallen from the face of the canyon. Particularly disturbing was how it fell right into the drainage ditch, which is where I am when I want to get close to the liverworts and other plants that grow on these walls. Thoughts of tons of stone whistling 50 feet down through the air certainly captured my attention for a while. It’s going to take a lot more than muscle and pry bars to move this one. I’m not sure that a backhoe could even move it.

As I walked around the stone I saw that more than one had fallen, and when they fell they took down a yellow birch tree about 6 inches across, which someone had cut up. The New Hampshire chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club comes here to train in rock and ice climbing and I hope there wasn’t anyone near here when all of this fell. If anyone were to be hit by even the smallest stone I doubt they would have survived.

Rocks fall here regularly because of the constantly seeping groundwater. In the winter it freezes, and when it freezes the ice in the many fissures inside the stone expands enough to fracture it into pieces, which eventually succumb to gravity. This year there is a lot of groundwater seeping through; all the cliff faces were wet, as the above photo shows. Of course, the plants love it.

Three or four years ago a stream appeared out of nowhere and has run down the rock face ever since, winter and summer. It’s a good thing the railroad dug wide drainage ditches along this section of rail bed, otherwise the place would be flooded and impassable from so much water constantly pouring in. The ditches have kept the rail bed dry for nearly 150 years now.

Apparently I’ve been walking right by mountain maple trees (Acer spicatum) all of my life without realizing it, but now all of the sudden I’m seeing them everywhere I go. That could be because they’re flowering now, and these trees flower like no other maple. All other maple trees have flowers that hang down but mountain maple’s flower clusters stand upright, above the leaves. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum) and I think that’s why I haven’t noticed them; I didn’t look closely. The shrub like tree is a good indicator of moist soil which leans toward the alkaline side of neutral. Native Americans made an infusion of the pith of the young twigs to use as eye drops to soothe eyes irritated by campfire smoke, and the large leaves were packed around apples and root crops to help preserve them.

There might be plenty of fruit to snack on later. Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) bloomed all along the trail but many types of wildlife eat the berries, so I doubt I’ll get any. Wild strawberry is one of two species of strawberry (Fragaria virginiana and Fragaria chiloensis) that were hybridized to create the modern strawberry. Strawberries were an important food for Native Americans and they made a cold tea of mashed strawberries, strawberry juice, water and sassafras tea to drink at their strawberry moon festivals in spring. For that reason it was called strawberry moon tea.

Up ahead a big red maple had fallen across the trail and its top had caught on the opposite rim of the canyon. There are many people who ride and walk along this trail and I hoped there wasn’t anyone near it when it fell. Once again I was dismayed to notice that, same as the stone had, the tree’s butt end fell right into the drainage ditch.

The maple had broken off about 6 feet up its trunk, probably in a good wind. Bark was missing and that’s a good sign that it had died some time before.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grow here by the hundreds but I was surprised to see them because I’ve never noticed them before. I’m guessing that I’ve never come here when many of the plants I saw on this day were blooming. With such a huge variety of plants all growing together it’s a simple thing to miss a leaf or two, even when walking at a toddler’s pace. Before long many of the plants here, like tall meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum,) will be shoulder high.

What I think are marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) grow here by the thousands and I was glad that I got here when they were blooming because it was quite a sight. The 5 petaled flowers stand above the leaves on tallish (6-7”) stems and can be violet, dark blue and sometimes white, They are said to be darker at their center, as these were. Many Native American tribes used violets medicinally for everything from stomach pain to swollen joints. A blue dye was also made from the plants, used to dye arrow shafts blue.

When I look up at the rim of this manmade canyon I don’t think about falling stones or trees; I think about how lucky I am to have found a place so beautiful, where nearly every surface is covered with plants of all kinds. I think of the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote about in Lost Horizon, and imagine that I’ve found it. As a boy I dreamed of being a plant hunter in distant jungles, and this is the closest I’ve ever been able to come. I’ve found many plants here that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll of the algae called Trentepohlia aurea. It is one of the things I found here that I can’t see anywhere else and is one of the reasons I put on my rubber boots and walk in the drainage ditches. Up close it is surprisingly hairy. I keep hoping I’ll see it producing spores but I haven’t yet.

Another plant I’ve never seen anywhere else is the eastern swamp saxifrage (Saxifraga pensylvanica.) In fact this day was the only time I’ve ever seen it, and I think the only reason I saw it at all was because it happened to be flowering. The thick, three foot tall flower stalk is covered in sticky hairs and terminates in several flower clusters. The flowers aren’t really anything to write home about; they’re small and greenish with petals that can be green, white or yellow, and rarely purple.  One plant has a single flower stem and both black bears and deer love to eat it. I know there are deer here so I was lucky to see it.

The big leaves of swamp saxifrage are in a basal rosette, each about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide, widest at or above the middle, with a blunt or sharp point at the tip, tapering at the base, on a short reddish stalk. The leaves and flower stalk are edible and the Native American Cherokee tribe ate the young leaves as salad greens. They also used the plant’s roots in a poultice to treat muscle soreness.

Another plant that grows here that I’ve never seen anywhere else is wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris.) At least I think it is wild chervil; so many plants in the carrot family look alike. Some call it Queen Anne’s lace on steroids but its fern like leaves don’t look anything like queen Anne’s lace leaves to me. This plant is thought to have been introduced to North America from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in many places. Oddly, some of those places are very cold, like Alaska, Iceland and Greenland. It makes sense that it would like this place then, because it gets very cold in winter and has ice columns that grow to unbelievable proportions.  Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been reported to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties against human cancer cells. It is an entirely different species than cultivated chervil, which is an herb used for flavoring soups.

Mosses of every description grow to cover huge areas of the vertical walls because of all the water available. It makes the place seem even more like a lush, verdant paradise.

A little violet grew alone on a ledge where it would be constantly watered by the splashing water. I never knew that violets liked so much water, but I guess names like marsh violet should have been a clue. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water this year.

A dandelion also grew on a ledge near splashing water. I wondered how this plant, which has a long tap root, could grow on a stone that was covered by maybe a half inch of soil.

The beautiful great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. I was surprised last winter to see that many of the plants had turned gray and appeared to be dying. On this day when I walked in the drainage ditch to get close enough for photos I noticed an odor rising from the water with each step, as if it were stagnant, and now I wonder if something in the water is killing them off. Even those that show new growth appear much smaller than in previous visits.

This is the only place I’ve ever seen this beautiful plant so I hope I’m wrong about what I’m seeing. Without knowing much about them it’s hard to say. What I’m seeing could be a natural phase of their life cycle. At least that’s what I’m hoping. I’d hate to see them disappear because they are one of the things that make this place so very special. Their amazing scent is where their common name comes from; if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle.

The photos of the liverworts were taken quickly, rushed because in the back of my mind there were thoughts of things falling from the cliff wall I was standing under at the time. I later stood at what is left of the old lineman’s shack thinking about that but knowing that though there may be danger here, I’d be coming back. For me this is a place of wonder and bliss, a place like no other I know, and I can’t just abandon it because of something that could happen someday.  What I can do though, is stay out of the drainage ditches. That I probably will do, but we’ll see.

Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing. ~Denis Waitley

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The spring growth on a white pine (Pinus strobus) begins when the terminal bud at the end of a branch forms what is called a “candle.” The cluster of candles in the photo above are new shoots that will bear the tree’s leaves (needles.)  White pine needles grow in bundles of 5 and last for 2 years before turning first yellow and then brown before finally falling off. White pine needles contain five times the amount of vitamin C of lemons and were used by Native Americans to make tea. The knowledge they shared saved many early settlers who were dying of scurvy.

Both the cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) are up and growing quickly. Both have wooly fiddleheads that make them hard to tell apart when young, but there are clues.

If you look closely you might see each fiddlehead is covered by tiny spherical bumps.

These tiny spheres are the fern’s spore bearing sporangia, and of the two ferns only interrupted fern has sporangia on its fronds. Cinnamon ferns grow separate fertile fronds that bear its sporangia and they appear a little later on, so I’d say that these fiddleheads belong to the interrupted fern. In any case neither fern has edible fiddleheads. In fact some ferns have fiddleheads that are carcinogenic, so if you want to eat fiddleheads in spring it pays to learn all you can about them.

As the sun gets brighter and the days grow longer light sensitive tree buds can tell when there is enough daylight for the leaves to begin photosynthesizing, so the buds begin to break. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud” and this can be a very beautiful thing. American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.

When I see beech buds begin to curl I watch them closely, because I know that any time now the new leaves will appear and I wouldn’t want a spring to pass without seeing them. They are silvery and downy and very beautiful at this stage and I’ve lost myself in their beauty many, many times.

The process of bud break in beech trees moves from start to finish very quickly so you have to watch closely but luckily each tree’s buds will break at different times, so you still have a chance to witness it if you live in the Keene area.  Due to the cool rainy weather (I think) some buds are still just starting to curl.

The only example of plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) that I know of grows in an old stone wall and is blooming now. The prominent midrib, two lateral veins, maroon bases, and puckered look of the leaves are all used as identifying features for plantain leaved sedge. The leaves can be up to a foot long and an inch wide and I can’t think of another sedge that has leaves that look quite like these.

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

New spring leaves on many hardwood trees show some amount of red but sunlight and warmth quickly turn them green so they can photosynthesize. When we have a cool, cloudy spring like we’re having this year though, the red stage can last considerably longer. It also seems to depend on the tree; I’ve seen new spring leaves of both red and green on maples.

Oak trees are among our last to leaf out but with the cloudy cool weather holding some trees back it seems to be happening all at once this year. New spring oak leaves are often red but not these examples, even though they still wear their soft downy coatings.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be very beautiful as it spreads its new leaves to catch the sun. Unfortunately it’s also very invasive and almost impossible to control. I’ve seen Japanese knotweed shoots killed to the ground by cold in the past, and within 3 weeks they had come right back and grew on as if it had never happened. The plants grow quickly into large, 4-5 foot tall shrub like masses that shade out natives. I’ve heard that the new shoots taste much like rhubarb, so maybe if we all developed a taste for them we could finally eradicate them, at least from our roadsides.

The shoots of the common or field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) seemed to appear overnight in a large colony that thankfully wasn’t near anyone’s garden. If you’ve ever tried to rid a garden of them, you know what I mean.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a common or field horsetail ends in a 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 its 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 the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by the gritty green infertile stems that most of us are probably familiar with. Horsetails were used as medicine by the ancient Romans and Greeks to treat a variety of ailments.

More people are probably familiar with the infertile stems of horsetail, shown here. They grow from the same roots as the fertile spore bearing shoots in the previous two photos and they do all the photosynthesizing.  Horsetails spread quickly and can be very aggressive. If they ever appear in your garden you should remove them as soon as possible, because large colonies are nearly impossible to eradicate.

I was admiring these beautiful spruce tree cones (flowers) when it hit me: Wait a minute, I thought; spruce cones always hang down and fir cones always stand up! Well, yes and no. After quite a lot of research I found that young cones of some spruce and pine trees stand up until they are pollinated. This is because they are pollinated by wind borne pollen, and it’s easier for the pollen to settle onto the open cones while they’re in an upright position like those in the photo. Once pollinated they close up, turn green and grow bigger and heavier until they tip over, where they hang until the seeds mature. Once the seeds mature the cones open and the seeds (or the cones) fall to the ground. So is it true that fir cones always stand up and spruce cones always hang down? As is often the case in nature, if you remove the word always the answer is yes.

I thought that this unfurling shoot of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) was very beautiful. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and I’ve seen others with flower buds already. Native Americans sprinkled the dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but that’s assuming you know how to prepare the roots and young shoots correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant usable.

I love the movement in the young spring shoots of whitebane berry (Actaea pachypoda) and I look for them every spring. They’re such a beautiful and interesting little things, with new leaves that always remind me of prehistoric hands or wings. If I was still drawing they would be one of my first subjects.

Native Americans used a root tea for various problems including pain, colds and coughs but the entire white baneberry plant is extremely poisonous and its berries especially so, so no part of it should ever be eaten. The bitter berries are white with a single black dot that gives them the common name doll’s eyes. In summer the berries follow a raceme of white flowers that is taller than it is wide, and which will grow from the tiny buds seen in this photo.

Each summer for the past two years we saw nothing but wall to wall sunshine, day after day for month after month. Clouds were rare and I complained about how boring it was to see a never ending flat blue sky. This year nature seems to have decided that it was time I learned another lesson; for the first half of May sunny days have been rare. I took this reflection photo on one of those rare days when the sun was shining. It was also very still that day. Days without wind have also been few but things seem to be turning around now. We’ve had four sunny days in a row this week.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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You can see a lot of interesting things along rivers, so last weekend I decided to walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene. Archeological digs and radiocarbon dating of artifacts have shown that Native Americans lived alongside parts of this river at least as long as 12,000 years ago. The word Ashuelot is pronounced either ash-wee-lot or ash-wil-lot, and is supposed to mean “place between” in Native American language. Between what, I don’t know; possibly between the hills that surround the Connecticut River valley that it flows through.

There have been trails along this section of river for at least as long as I’ve been around and I used to walk them as a boy, so I know the area fairly well. Still, even though I was born just a few scant yards from the river, almost every time I walk its banks I see things that I didn’t know were there. A river is full of surprises.

There are many side trails that beckon, but there is only so much time in a day.

Most of our red maples have finished flowering and are now in the business of leaf and seed production.

Silver maple seeds (samaras) are losing that crimson red that I like so much but the animals that eat them like squirrels aren’t going to care what color they are. I read once that squirrels can get all the moisture they need from trees and never have to come down for a drink. Eating seems to be another story though.

This section of forest has had all of the brushy undergrowth cleared away for some reason, and it looked as if it had been carpeted with green carpet.

Violets are just one of the plants that make up that green carpet seen in the previous photo.

Sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) also carpet the forest floor, and I saw them by the many thousands. In botanical terms the word sessile describes how one part of a plant joins another. In sessile leaved bellwort the leaves are sessile against the stem, meaning they lie flat against the stem with no stalk. These leaves are also elliptic, which means they are wider in the middle and taper at each end.  New plants, before the flowers appear, can resemble Solomon’s seal at a glance. The plants I find always have just a single nodding, bell shaped, pale yellow flower but they can sometimes have two. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats.

Even as the female box elder flowers still bloom seed production is in full swing. The bright lime green parts are the female flower stigmas and the dark parts are the newly emerging seeds.

Two turtles vied for prime space on the end of a mostly submerged log. The trilling of frogs was very loud here but though I spent I few minutes looking, I didn’t see a single one. When I was a boy there were huge bullfrogs in this river; some as big as cantaloupes.

There are beavers in the river, and they get hungry. This tree was big and I wondered if maybe they had given up. Still, I’ve seen them drop trees even larger than this one many times.

Duckweed was just getting started on the river’s surface.

Native shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) blossomed here and there along the shoreline. They usually stand very straight, reaching up to 25 feet tall. Shadbushes originally got their name from the way they bloomed when the shad fish were running upriver to spawn. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens. The fruit is said to resemble a blueberry in taste, with a hint of almond from the seeds. Native American used the fruit in pemmican, which is made with fat, fruit, and preserved meat. Shadbush wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. It can also be very straight, and Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. They also used its roots and bark medicinally. Shadbush makes an excellent garden shrub or small tree and is easily found in nurseries. It grows naturally at the edge of forests and along river banks.

This was a real head scratcher. There are 3 trees in this tangle, all broken. I’m glad I wasn’t anywhere near them when it happened. I heard one fall very close to me two years ago on Mount Caesar in Swanzey and it must have been big because it made a tremendous crashing sound.

At the start of this post I said that I almost always see something here that I didn’t know was here and this large colony of trout lilies is one of them. Over the course of my lifetime I’ve walked past this spot hundreds of times but I’ve never seen these plants. Why is simple; I’ve just never walked here when they were blooming and I’ve always missed seeing their foliage. The leaves blend into their surroundings quite well when there are no flowers. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food, so they would have been very happy to see them.

Many of these trout lilies had beautiful red anthers. According to a blog called The Trout Lily Project “Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) exhibits striking variation in the color of its anthers & pollen grains.  Anthers that lack red pigment are pure yellow in color, whereas those that produce red pigment range in color from pale orange to deep brick red. Although this variation is well known, its ecological significance remains virtually unstudied.”

New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms, I believe. It can be difficult to tell them apart. Cherry trees usually bloom right on the heels of shadbush but sometimes the bloom times overlap, as they are this year.

Mayapple foliage was easy to see, but there were no flowers yet. The flowers nod beneath the leaves and can be hard to spot but the buds are usually easily seen. I’m going to have to get back here this week for photos of the flowers.

The highbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium corymbosum) had plenty of buds. It looks like it’ll be a good year for blueberries as long as we don’t have a late frost. It is said that blueberries are one of only three fruits native to North America, but the crabapple is a fruit and it is native to North America as well. The others are cranberries and concord grapes. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

On my walk back down the trail I noticed that one of the two turtles that I had seen at the start of this walk had won top spot on the almost submerged log. It crossed its hind legs contentedly as it looked over its (probably) hard won territory.

There is no rushing a river. When you go there, you go at the pace of the water and that pace ties you into a flow that is older than life on this planet. Acceptance of that pace, even for a day, changes us, reminds us of other rhythms beyond the sound of our own heartbeats. ~ Jeff Rennicke

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In my last post I spoke about climbing Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. I took a short detour on the way home that day to see Bailey Brook Falls in Nelson. The brook wasn’t running quite as high as I expected considering the regular rain and all the snowmelt we’ve seen lately. The state says we’re still in a moderate drought because the underground aquifers have been depleted, so hopefully we’ll see our average rainfall this summer. That would help a lot.

This is my favorite view of the falls. Interesting how the brook is always split in two here.

A pileated woodpecker had carved a deep hole out of this white pine (Pinus strobus.) There’s nothing remarkable about that; I see holes like this all the time. It’s what happened afterwards that is worth noting.

The pine tree’s sap had turned a beautiful blue, deeper in color than most I see. I see more blue pine sap in winter than at other times of year so I’ve always assumed that it was the cold that turned it blue, like it does to some lichens, but now that I’m noticing it in warmer weather as well I’m just not sure. Does the cold turn it blue in winter and then it stays that way from then on? I’ve spent many hours searching for the answer and can’t find a single reference to blue pine sap, so I can’t answer the question.

Ninety five percent of the white pine sap I see looks like this; kind of a cloudy tan color, and that’s why blue pine sap is so startling and unusual. Pine sap (resin) has been used by Native American tribes for thousands of years to waterproof just about anything that needed it; baskets, pails, and especially canoes. The Chippewa tribe also used pine sap to treat infections and wounds. The treatment was usually successful because pine sap seems to contain several antimicrobials.

I also saw some resin on a black cherry tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. It was clear and amber colored and very different than pine resin. This is the kind of resin that insects got trapped in millions of years ago and which are found occasionally today, preserved forever just as they were when they became stuck in the sticky sap. There were quite large globs of it here and there on this tree and I wish I had taken one to add to my collection of outdoor oddities.

Because of colorblindness I don’t usually try bird identification but I think I’m safe saying that this is a European starling. European starlings were first introduce into New York In the 1890s. Those original 100 birds have now become  over 200 million, and they can be found from Alaska to Mexico. I saw three birds working this lawn for insects; not exactly a flock. The name starling comes from their resemblance to a four pointed star when they fly.

I’ve read that a starling’s spots are more easily seen in winter and all but disappear in summer, but they were very noticeable on all 3 of these birds. They’re a pretty bird but I understand that a lot of people here in the U.S. don’t like them.

Milk white toothed polypore is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of branches the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it.

The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.”

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is one of our earliest to show in spring but this year it was even earlier than I thought so it got ahead of me. These fiddleheads were already about 6 inches tall. This fern doesn’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. It likes wet or very moist ground along rivers and streams.

I found a beard lichen (Usnea) still attached to a cut log and it turned out to be the longest one I’ve seen. They’re very common on pines and hemlocks in our area. They attach themselves to the bark but take nothing from the tree, much like a bird perching. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” and I can’t think of a better plant to demonstrate it than rhubarb.

There is a very short time when skunk cabbage leaves (Symplocarpus foetidus) actually look like cabbage leaves. I’m guessing that with skunk in their name they don’t taste anything like cabbage though, and I hope I’m never hungry enough to be tempted by them. I’ve heard that bears will eat them when they can’t find anything else.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and in many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This photo from a few years ago shows what the complete ramp looks like. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it has happened.

I think these buds were on a white ash (Fraxinus americana), but it could also be a green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Both are commonly planted along streets and in parking lots and I saw this tree in a store parking lot. One thing that helps identify ash trees are the shape of the leaf scars that appear just below the buds, and I didn’t look at it closely. On the white ash these scars are “C” shaped and on green ash they look like a “D.” White ash leaf scars are also much larger than those on green ash. Ash bears male and female flowers on separate trees.

The beautiful fruits (samaras) of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) start out their lives deep red with a white furry coat. When you see them beginning to form you have to check them frequently to catch them in this stage because it happens quickly and ends just as quickly. The mature seeds are the largest of any native maple and are a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk. Silver maples get their common name from the downy surface of the leaf underside, which flashes silver in the slightest breeze.

The pinkish leaf buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are growing quickly now. They often show hints of orange and are quite beautiful at this stage; in my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year. Branches full of them stop me in in my tracks. There is so much beauty out there; I hope all of you are seeing as much of it as you are able to.

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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