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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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

 

Forsythias have started shouting that spring has finally arrived. The other day I drove down one of our longer streets and saw that almost every house had one of these overused but much loved shrubs in their yards. Spring would be very different without them.

I checked the grape hyacinths 7 days before this photo was taken and didn’t see a bud. Now here they are full of blooms. Things can happen quickly in spring so you’ve got to keep your eyes open.

I saw a daffodil that looked perfect to me, so I had to take its photo. Daffodils are native to meadows and woods in southern Europe and North Africa, Spain and Portugal. They are an ancient plant that has been admired and grown by man since before recorded history. No matter what you call them; daffodil, narcissus, or jonquil, all are in the narcissus genus. According to Wikipedia the origin of the name Narcissus is unknown, but it is often linked to a Greek word for intoxicated (narcotic.)

The female flowers of speckled alders (Alnus incana) don’t seem to be as willing to show themselves this year as they have in years past, even though the male catkins have been shedding pollen for weeks.

The tiny crimson female (pistillate) flowers of alders are the smallest flowers that I know of; smaller even that the tiny threads of the female hazelnut blossoms. The female flower catkins often form at the very tips of the shrub’s branches in groups of 3-5 and contain tiny red stigmas that receive the male pollen. Once fertilized the female flowers will grow into the small, cone like seed pods that I think most of us a familiar with.

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) usually appear well after those of red maples. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance. Once you get to know them you realize that they are everywhere, because they were once used extensively as a landscape specimen. If planted where they have plenty of room they have a pleasing rounded, almost mushroom shape. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states because it has escaped into the forests and is crowding out native sugar maples. It is against the law to sell or plant it in New Hampshire.

Most people never see the beautiful flowers of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) that appear on tufts of grassy looking plants in mid-April. Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like, white female pistillate flowers but the female flowers always open first to receive pollen from a different plant. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. It’s a beautiful little flower that is well worth a second look. I see them just about everywhere I go.

Willows (Salix) were hit hard by the late cold snap this year and many of the furry gray catkins never blossomed at all, but you can find a flower or two if you’re willing to search a bit. Willows are one of those early spring flowers that don’t get a lot of fanfare but I love the promise of spring that they show.

The inner bark and leaves of some willows contain salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Native Americans chewed or made tea from the willow’s leaves and inner bark to relieve fever or toothaches, headaches, or arthritis, and that is why the willow is often called “toothache tree.” It was a very important medicine that no healer would have been without.

I thought it was too early for purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) and it was, but only just. Another day and their flowers would be fully opened, so I’ll have to get back to see them. Purple trilliums are also called red trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent. “Benjamin,” according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word benjoin, which was an ingredient in perfume that came from a plant in Sumatra.

I found that a tree had fallen on my favorite colony of bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) and the branches were in a real tangle, so I could see the flowers but couldn’t get to them. With a little stretching and twisting I was able to get a photo of this single example, which I think was close to being gone by already. The flower petals drop off within a day or two of pollination, so their visit is brief indeed. The plant’s common name comes from the toxic orange red juice found in its roots. Native Americans once used this juice for war paint on their horses. You have to be careful of the juice because alkaloids in it can actually burn and scar the skin, so I wonder what it did to the poor horses. I’d love to show the root to you but I can never bear to dig one up.

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from long filaments. Each male flower has tan pollen-bearing stamens that are so small I can’t see them. The pollen is carried by the wind to female trees. Once they shed their pollen the male flowers dry up and drop from the tree. It’s common to see the ground covered with them under male trees.

I saw a huge colony of coltsfoot; more than I’ve ever seen in one spot I think. They won’t be with us much longer though. Their stay is brief and once their leaves start to appear the flowers are done. I think they’ve done their job though, because I saw several bees and other insects buzzing around them.

For me flowers often have memories attached, and trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) always reminds me of my grandmother. She said that no other flower could match its fragrance and that was high praise, because she knew her flowers. We used to look for them when I was a small boy but I can’t remember ever finding any with her. That’s probably because so many of them were dug up by people who erroneously thought that they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens. The plant grows in a close relationship with fungi present in the soil and is nearly impossible to successfully transplant, so I hope they’ll be left alone.

The fragrant blossoms of trailing arbutus were once so popular for nosegays it was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England, and in many states it is now protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society. Several Native American tribes used the plant medicinally. It was thought to be particularly useful for breaking up kidney stones and was considered so valuable it was said to have divine origins. Its fragrance is most certainly heavenly.

I visited one of the trout lily colonies (Erythronium americanum) I know of last Saturday and didn’t see a single blossom. I went back on Sunday and there must have been at least a hundred plants blooming. Saturday was cool, cloudy and drizzly and Sunday was sunny and warm, so that must have had something to do with it. Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow but quickly turn brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect stigmata will catch any pollen that visiting insects might bring. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and attracts several kinds of bees. The plant will produce a light green, oval, three part seed capsule 6-8 weeks after blooming if pollination has been successful. The seeds of trout lilies are dispersed by ants which eat their rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs. They’ve obviously been working very hard with this colony.

There are tens of thousands of plants in this colony alone, but bloom times are staggered. Each plant grows from a single bulb and can take 7-10 years to produce a flower, so if you see a large colony of flowering trout lily plants you know it has been there for a while. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food.  Black bears love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) grow among the trout lilies in their own huge colony of many thousands of plants, so I couldn’t miss them. I also couldn’t resist taking far too many photos of them again.

What a perfect name is spring beauty for such a beautiful spring flower.

I’m guessing that I’ll be showing lilacs in my next flower post. I look forward to smelling their wonderful fragrance again.

A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions — so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect.  Terri Guillemets

Thanks for coming by.

 

At this time every year when the red maples bloom I get the urge to show you what a forest full of millions of red maple flowers looks like from above, so I pick a mountain and climb up above the treetops. This year I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard because it offers a 360 degree view. The above photo shows the start of the trail. It was a sunny, hot Sunday that was supposed to have temperatures in the mid-80s F. It proved true; it reached 85 at my house and the weather people say it was the warmest Easter in 30 years. I’ve never had to use air conditioning in April, but I thought about it that day.

I’ve climbed this mountain fairly regularly for years now and have apparently walked right by this hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) growing right beside the trail every time. The things I don’t see often amaze me as much as the things I see do.  Hobblebush is one of our most beautiful native viburnums. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker.

A pileated woodpecker had cut this tree right in half looking for insects. I’ve been cutting and splitting wood at work and the other day I split a log that had a huge colony of big black carpenter ants in it. A pileated woodpecker would have been very happy to have pecked at that tree.

An old pine tree had broken off halfway up its trunk and fallen onto the side of the trail. We’ve had some strong winds lately so I wasn’t surprised.

I turned about halfway up the trail to take a photo of Mount Monadnock and I could see by the haze that the views wouldn’t be good, but I wasn’t here for the views; I was here for the red haze produced by millions of red maples. I noticed that there was still snow at the edge of the meadow.

There was even more snow in this part of the meadow. It was hard to believe after a week of warm temperatures and such a hot day as this one. The haze made this view look almost surreal.

I love to see the shading on the distant hills. I saw something similar done in fabric once and it was a very beautiful piece of artwork. The idea must have come from a scene like this one.

Before you know it you can see the fire tower through the trees. This means you’re very close to the summit, but it also means you’ll climb the steepest part of the trail to reach it.

I hoped that all of those trees with bare branches would look like someone had washed them with red watercolor, but I’m not seeing that. My color finding software sees various shades of red in small amounts, but more gray. There are blueberry bushes and mountain ash trees out there too, and they also have red buds.

I got distracted by the clouds for a time.

The near hill showed what looked to be smudges of red but still not what I expected.

The wind whistled loudly through the steel structure of the fire tower. One day last year was the only time I’ve ever seen this tower manned. The  New Hampshire Forestry Service lets people into the tower and quite a few people were going up on the day I was here. Many were children and I didn’t want them to miss their chance so I didn’t bother trying to get in.  This tower was built to replace the original wooden tower that burned in the 1940 Stoddard-Marlow fire. It was the biggest fire in the region’s history.

The tower is anchored to the bedrock by stout cables and it’s a good thing because the wind was so strong I couldn’t stand still swayed in the breeze. It was just as strong the last time I came here and each time was the strongest wind I’ve seen here.

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen that is very granular. Its round, almost microscopic fruiting bodies (apothecia) are hard to see in the photo but they are there. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used in Sweden to dye wool yellow. It must have been difficult scraping it off the rocks that it grew on and I would imagine that yellow wool in Sweden was very expensive then.

An areolate lichen is one in which the body is made up of many little lumps or islands. The tile lichen (Lecidea tessellata) in the above photo fits that description well. Its black fruiting bodies (apothecia) are even with, or slightly sunken into the surrounding body (thallus). There are 136 species of tile lichens and identification is difficult without a microscope, so the species name in this case is a guess on my part. Tile lichens grow on rock in full sun, winter and summer.

Depressions in the stone catch water and I’ve always called them birdbaths. On this day there was actually a bird there, drinking and bathing.

I think it was a dark eyed junco but I don’t know birds well so I hope someone more knowledgeable in the subject might correct me if I’m wrong.  It was gray on top and white underneath, and was just a little smaller than a robin.

Though the birdbath looks quite big in the photo it isn’t more than 5 inches deep and hardly as big in diameter as an adult bicycle tire. There seems to always be water in it no matter how long we go without rain.

In the end I didn’t get the photo of the red maples that I had hoped but it wasn’t because there aren’t any red maples here. The target canker on the bark of this tree tells me it’s a red maple because, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, red maple is the only maple that gets target canker. I think, though there are plenty of red maples here, the buds simply hadn’t opened yet. Though the buds have fully opened in Keene Pitcher Mountain lies far enough north of town to make a difference, so maybe they were still closed.

But I still had plan B, which was to visit these red maples that grow along a very busy stretch of highway in Keene. I couldn’t show them from above but at least they give some idea of what we see here each spring.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

It’s that time of year when spring ephemeral flowers appear to live out their short lives before the leaves appear on the trees. Once that happens the trees will cast shade deep enough to keep most flowers from blossoming so they grow, bloom and go dormant in about a month’s time. Vernal pools like the one in this photo are good places to look for wildflowers. And frogs and salamanders too.

I find spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) near a vernal pool like the one in the previous photo. They seem to appear overnight, so at this time of year I check the spot where they grow every couple of days. I’m always surprised to see them, because just a day or two earlier there was no sign of them. This photo is of a very unusual spring beauty, like none I’ve ever seen. The white petals usually have purple stripes the same color as the purple anthers in this example, but this one had none. Each flower blossoms for just three days, but the stamens are active only for a day. The stamens consist of, in this case, a white filament tipped by a violet anther. The stamen is the male part of a flower and produces pollen. In a spring beauty the female part of the flower is in the center of the blossom and is called the pistil. It terminates in a three part (tripartite) style.

This example looks more like the spring beauties I know. I always try to find the flower with the deepest color and this was it on this day. I’ve read that it is the amount of sunlight that determines color in a spring beauty blossom. The deeper the shade, the more intense the color, so I look for them in more shaded areas. The Native American Iroquois tribe used the powdered roots of this plant medicinally and the Algonquin people cooked them like potatoes.

I usually see trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) blooming with spring beauties but on this day all I could find were the leaves, which are speckled like the body of a trout. The flowers will probably have appeared by next weekend and there should be many thousands of them in this spot.

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) are late this year; I often see them in March but these are the first I’ve seen this year. They like moist to wet soil and these examples were in a roadside ditch. Coltsfoot flowers would be hard to confuse with dandelion but I suppose it happens.

Coltsfoot flowers are flat and dandelions are more mounded. Dandelion stems are smooth and coltsfoot stems have scales. Coltsfoot is said to be the earliest blooming wildflower in the northeast but there are many tree and shrub flowers that appear earlier, so I suppose “earliest” depends on what your definition of a wildflower is. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

After having their flowers frostbitten again and again the red maples (Acer rubrum) are finally free to let go and open all of their blooms, as this photo of the male blossoms shows. Each tiny red anther will become greenish yellow with pollen, which the wind will then carry to the female blossoms.

These are the female (pistillate) flowers of the red maple, just emerging. They are tiny little things; each bud is hardly bigger than a pea and each crimson stigma not much bigger in diameter than an uncooked piece of spaghetti. Once the female flowers have been dusted by wind carried pollen from the male flowers they will begin the process of becoming the beautiful red seeds (samaras) that this tree is so well known for. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

Each tiny female red maple flower (stigma) sparkles as if it had been dipped in sugar. They must be very sticky.

American elm (Ulmus americana) flowers form in small clusters. The flower stems (pedicels) are about half an inch long so they wave in the slightest breeze and that makes them very hard to get a good photo of. They are wind pollinated, so waving in the breeze makes perfect sense. Each tiny flower is about an eighth inch across with red tipped anthers that darken as they age.

The whitish feathery bit is the female pistil which protrudes from the center of each elm flower cluster. If the wind brings it pollen from male anthers it will form small, round, flat, winged seeds called samaras. I remember them falling by the many millions when I was a boy; raining down enough so you couldn’t even see the color of the road beneath them.

I finally found a pussy willow (Salix) that was showing some color but I don’t know if it was coming or going. This example looks a lot like the seed pods I see when they’re done flowering, but the gray fuzz hints at its just opening. I’ll have to go back and see it again.

I saw enough crocus blooms on Saturday to fill this entire post with nothing but crocuses, but I thought I’d restrain myself and show just this one, which was my favorite.

I also saw my first daffodil blossom on Saturday. Unfortunately I also saw many with frost bitten buds and leaves that won’t be blossoming this year. It’s a shame that so many were fooled by the early warmth.

The Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are finally blooming. The buds have been showing color for over a month but they refused to bloom until they were sure it was warm enough, and that was probably wise. This shrub is in the dogwood family and gets its common name from its red fruit. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years. The Persians and early Romans knew it well and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the sour red, olive like fruit, which is high in vitamin C. Cornelian cherry often blooms at just about the same time as forsythias do. Its yellow flowers are very small but there are enough of them to put on a good show.

Japanese andromeda blossoms (Pieris japonica) look like tiny pearlescent glass fairy lights topped with gilded ormolu mounts, worthy of the art nouveau period. Japanese andromeda is an ornamental evergreen shrub that is very popular, and you can see why. Some think the blossoms resemble lily of the valley so another common name for the plant is lily of the valley shrub. Some varieties have beautiful red leaves on their new shoots.

I don’t know what it is that grabs me about a white flower with a simple blue stripe down the center of each petal but striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica) has it. The flowers are much like the scilla (Scilla siberica) that most of us are familiar with in size and shape, but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often and border on rare in this area. They’re worth looking for because they’re very beautiful.

Scilla (Scilla siberica) are also called Siberian squill and they are doing very well this year. Both striped squill and scilla grow to be about ankle high.  Scilla will spread and grow in lawns quite freely, so it’s wise to be careful when planting it. In some places it is considered invasive, but I haven’t ever seen that here. People usually plant it knowing that it will spread into large blue drifts.

Scilla has stripes on its petals and sepals much like striped squill but as far as I can tell they aren’t related. They look great planted together though.

Friends of mine grow hellebores that are very beautiful and when I see them I always wonder why, of all the people I gardened for, not one of them grew hellebores. I can’t even remember anyone asking about hellebores, and that seems odd considering their great beauty. Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. Maybe that’s why nobody I gardened for grew them.

I’ve seen flowers that were as beautiful but it’s hard to name one that could surpass the beauty of this hellebore blossom. It’s hard not to stare at it even here in a photo. it’s the kind of thing that I find very easy to lose myself in; mesmerizing, almost. I wonder how someone cannot love a life that is filled with things like this.

The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

Last Sunday I decided to follow a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew had a trestle on it. History and botany are two of my favorite things and I knew I’d find a lot of both here. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and hiking just about anywhere would have been pleasant.

Sometimes the sap of white pines will turn blue in very cold weather but it was warm on this day and the sap was still blue. I wonder if it stays blue once it changes.

I’ve never heard of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) being evergreen but there were several plants along the trail, all wearing their winter purple / bronze color. If this plant looks familiar it’s probably because it is the smallest of our native dogwoods and the 4 leaves look like miniature versions of dogwood tree leaves. Bunchberry gets its common name from its bunches of bright red berries. It is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Something unusual I saw this day was a Canada yew (Taxus canadensis.) It is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy. A man in England died not too long ago from eating yew, so I wouldn’t advise trying to make tea from it. Natives knew how to treat poisonous plants in ways that made them beneficial to humans, but much of that knowledge has been lost.

A yew branch looks very flat and once you get to know what they look like you’ll never mistake it for any other evergreen.

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative. Tell tales are rarely seen these days; the above photo shows the only example I know of.

The Ashuelot River was full in places.

And over full in others. This happens regularly throughout this area and the trees survive it just fine. Many are silver (Acer saccharinum) and red maples (Acer rubrum.)  Another name for them is swamp maple because they often grow in the lowlands along rivers that flood regularly.

The large crimson bud clusters make the maples easy to spot at this time of year but I couldn’t tell if these examples were flowering or not. Many are, now that we’ve had some warmth.

There isn’t a lot of ledge in this section of trail but there is some and it shows the marks of a steam drill.  The railroad workers cut through the solid rock by drilling deep holes into the stone using steam powered drills and then poring black powder into them. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force. Trains first rolled through here in the mid-1850s.

Maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) are beautiful and are definitely worth looking for. I’ve found them growing on maple, oak, beech, and poplars. They are usually quite a different green but the camera didn’t seem to be seeing green very well this day.

You can tell that it’s a maple dust lichen by the tiny fringe around its outer edge.

The trail goes on for many miles and it is wide, flat, and sometimes busy as it was on this day. I saw several people while I was here and I was happy to see them out enjoying nature. I hope they saw as many interesting things as I did.

There was snow for anyone who might want it. I didn’t.

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. Beech bud break doesn’t usually start until mid-May, so I think the example in this photo is a fluke caused by early warmth. Others I saw had not curled yet.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring.

Partridgeberry flowers are fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were. Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. Native Americans ate the berries and made them into a jelly, which was eaten in case of fevers. Partridgeberry is still used in folk medicine today to treat muscle spasms and as a nerve tonic.

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grows along the sides of the trail and its thousands of tiny spore capsules were shining in the sun. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. In the spring the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.  Sometimes the capsules do turn red as they age, so I suppose the name makes sense.

Most of these spore capsules were not quite spherical and that means that they were still immature. When they become spherical the spores will begin to ripen and prepare for the wind to disperse them.

Human history and natural history are visible from rail trails. The old railroad routes through a town can show a lot about how the town developed, what it was like long ago. When you go through a town by bicycle on an old railroad route, the place looks very different than from the customary perspective of the car and the highway. ~Peter Harnick

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Though he stopped when he saw me watching this male robin was pulling worms from the ground, and that told me that the soil had warmed and thawed enough for things to start growing in it, so off I went last Saturday looking for growing and hopefully blooming things.

I saw a single dandelion blooming a few weeks ago but on this day there were several blooming in the lawn that the robins worked. It’s too bad that chemical companies have convinced so many that dandelions should be hated.  Any flower is a welcome sight at this time of year, even dandelions. Rather than dump chemicals on them maybe we should eat them; when I was a boy my grandmother cooked dandelion greens and served them much like spinach. They’re a good source of Folic acid, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese. The leaves are higher in beta-carotene than carrots and contain more iron and calcium than spinach. According to the USDA Bulletin “Composition of Foods,” dandelions rank in the top 4 green vegetables in overall nutritional value.

American hazelnut (Corylus americana) is a common roadside shrub that I don’t think many people ever see. When I tell people about the shrubs and the nuts that they bear they always seem surprised.  The best time to find a good stand of hazelnuts is right now, because the male catkins become golden colored and dance in the wind, and they can be seen from quite far away.

So far the hazelnuts have had a rough spring but the tiny female flowers still appear, waiting to be dusted with pollen from the male catkins. If the wind helps with pollination each of those tiny crimson filaments will turn into a sweet little hazelnut.

I was finally able to get a shot of some reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) without snow on them. This is a tough little plant with quite a long blooming period. Unlike bearded irises which grow from large roots and take up quite a lot of space these little flowers grow from bulbs that look something like crocus bulbs. Their leaves also turn yellow and die off in summer like crocus. They’d be a great low maintenance flower for a rock garden.

If I understand what I’ve read correctly reticulated iris flowers are always purple, yellow and white but the purple can be in many shades that vary considerably. The  “reticulata” part of the scientific name  means “netted” or “reticulated,”  and refers to the netted pattern found on the bulbs.

One big difference between crocuses and reticulated iris is how most crocuses stay closed on cloudy days, while reticulated iris open in any weather.

But on the other hand, crocuses come in more colors than reticulated irises. I think if I were planting a bulb garden I’d have a lot of both.

A German doctor named Leonhardt Rauwolf brought hyacinths from Turkey.to Europe in 1573. The original wild hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) was blue or pale blue but today hyacinths come in red, blue, white, orange, pink, violet or yellow. It’s hard to tell what color this example will be but I’m sure it’ll be fragrant. Both Homer and Virgil wrote about the hyacinth’s sweet fragrance, and that’s my favorite part of this flower.

For about a month now, every time I’ve gone to see the Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas,) I’ve said “next weekend they’ll be blossoming for sure” but, as the above photo shows; not yet. Surely the 70+ degree temperatures this week will have made it finally bloom. This very unusual, almost unknown shrub isn’t a cherry at all, it is a in the dogwood (Cornus) family and blooms very early in the spring before the leaves appear. It hails from Europe and Asia and has beautiful yellow, 4 petaled flowers that grow in large clusters. This is a not often seen, under-used plant that would be welcome in any garden.

The red maples (Acer rubrum) have also had a time of it this year; with 60 degree temperatures one day and 20s the next they haven’t known whether to bloom or not. The ones that bloomed early paid the price and were frost bitten, but from what I’ve seen many of them didn’t open at all. This bud cluster tells the story; there are male flowers still in the bud, some that had just come out of the bud, and quite a few that were frost bitten.

The female red maple flowers seem to have been a little more level headed and waited until now to bloom. These are the first I’ve seen, just peeking out of the end of the bud. if pollinated they will turn into winged seed pods called samaras that are a favorite of squirrels. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

I was surprised to find this Forsythia blooming so soon after our cold snowy weather, but there it was. It’s easy to think of Forsythia being over used and boring but I always look forward to seeing the cheery yellow blossoms after a long cold winter. An embankment with uncountable thousands of its yellow blossoms spilling down and over it can take your breath away. They shout that spring has arrived and it’s hard to ignore them because they are everywhere. I think you’d have a hard time finding a street in this town that doesn’t have at least one.

Before 1850 there were no forsythias here, so spring must have been very different. Much less cheery, I would think.

In my own yard the Scilla are up and in a day or two should be blooming. This fall planted bulb with small blue flowers is also called Siberian squill and comes from Russia and Turkey. It spreads quite quickly and is a good flower to grow in a lawn because it usually goes dormant before the grass needs to be cut. I grow it because it takes care of itself and is my favorite color. These bulbs are easily confused with glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) because the differences are so slight (flattened stamens) that even botanists have trouble telling them apart. It is for that reason that many botanists think the two plants should be classified as one.

Very small plants blossomed in a lawn; so small any one of them would fit in the bottom of a tea cup. I think they’re some type of spring cress; possibly small-flowered bitter cress (Cardamine parviflora.) Each white flower has 4 petals and is very small. None had fully opened on this cloudy day.

I don’t see many snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) but the ones I do see usually bloom right on the heels of skunk cabbage and vernal witch hazels. Their common name is a good one because they’ll blossom even when surrounded by snow. The first part of this plant’s scientific name comes from the Greek gala, meaning “milk,” and anthos, meaning “flower.”  The second part nivalis means “of the snow,” and it all makes perfect sense. Snowdrops contain a substance called galantamine which has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not a cure but any help is always welcome.

There was still ice on the trails on Saturday, but after a 70 degree Sunday and 84 degrees on Monday and yesterday, I’m guessing that it’s probably all gone now. It can’t disappear quickly enough for me. I can’t remember another winter with so much ice.

As is often the case here in this part of the state all the melting snow and ice has raised the levels of the rivers and streams. There was a flood watch for a couple of days and the Ashuelot River flooded a field or two in outlying areas, but I haven’t heard of anything serious. One of the good things about a few feet of snow is that it has eased the drought. They say we could slip back into a drought without too many dry days, but the threat has eased considerably.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

After the last snowstorm, which lasted all day Friday and Saturday, I decided to visit Beaver Brook in Keene. The storm was long in duration but it was warm enough so much of the snow that fell melted, and there wasn’t much more than 3 or 4 slushy inches on the old abandoned road on Sunday.

Though I’ve done several posts about Beaver Brook I’ve never shown this old box culvert. Upstream a ways is a channel that diverts part of the brook along a large stone wall and through this culvert. It’s very well built; I’ve seen water roaring over the top of it a few times when the brook was high and it never moved.

This is where the diversion channel leaves the brook. I wonder if the farmer who first owned this land diverted the brook purposely to water his stock or his gardens.

The water is relatively shallow here; probably about knee deep, but with the rain and snow melt that happened yesterday it’s probably quite a lot deeper right now.

The snow hung on in shaded areas along the brook, which was starting to run at a fairly good clip. I’m sure it must really be raging by now, after a 50 degree day and a day of rain. There have been flood watches posted in parts of the state but I haven’t seen any flooding here.

This is a favorite spot of dog walkers but I didn’t see any on this day.

Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods on a cold night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter.

When repeated healing and cracking happens in the same place on the tree over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen on the yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) in the above photo.

I like to look at the undersides of fern leaves to see what’s happening under there. Luckily we have several evergreen ferns that let me do this in winter. The spore cases seen here were on the underside of a polypody fern leaf (Polypodium virginianum.)

Polypody fern spores grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Once they ripen they are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers; in this case yellow and orange flowers.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but I see very few of them, so I was surprised to find a sapling growing here. The Norway Maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the Sugar Maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. According to Wikipedia Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

Beaver brook flows at the bottom of a kind of natural canyon with sides that are very steep in places, as this photo shows.

In places the hillside comes right down to the water’s edge. This makes following the brook on the far side difficult.

The bottom of the canyon is wide enough for the brook and the road, and not much else. The road was hacked out of the hillside in the 1700s and goes steadily but gently uphill. Normally it isn’t a difficult walk but the wet slushy snow on this day made it feel as if I was sliding back a step for every two I took. I stopped and took this photo at this spot because I was getting winded and this is where I was going to turn around, but after catching my breath I decided to go on instead.

The road was covered in enough snow so somebody new to the place might not realize they were walking on a road at all if it wasn’t for the old guard rails along the side nearest the brook.

A seep is a moist or wet place where groundwater reaches the surface from an underground source such as an aquifer, and there are many along this old road. Springs usually come from a single point while seeps don’t usually have a definite point of origin. Seeps don’t flow. They are more like a puddle that never dries up and, in the case of the example shown, rarely freezes. Seeps support a lot of small wildlife, birds, butterflies, and unusual plants and fungi. I’ve found swamp beacons and eyelash fungi in seeps in the past so I always look them over carefully when I see one. Orchids grow near this one.

There are ledges along this old road and they have many lichens growing on them. Crustose rock disk lichens (Lecidella stigmatea) are very common on rocks of all kinds and usually grow in full sun. Crustose lichens form a crust that clings to the substrate so strongly that it becomes impossible to remove them without destroying what they grow on.

Rock disk look a lot like tile lichens (Lecidea tessellate,) but tile lichens have black fruiting bodies that are sunken, or concave, and rock disk lichens have black fruiting bodies that are raised or flat. This photo shows how the black apothecia stand slightly proud of the body (Thallus) of the lichen. This is an important identifying characteristic when looking at gray or tan lichens with black apothecia, so you need to get in close with a good loupe or macro lens.

It isn’t the rarity of the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that make me take photos of them each time I come here, it is the way the light falls on them. In the right light their spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) turn a beautiful blue, and it’s all because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in this light they glow different shades of blue and are very beautiful. I hope readers will look for them. It’s always worth the small amount of effort it takes to find them.

I made it all the way to  Beaver Brook Fall but there is a steep embankment you have to climb down and if you get top heavy and get going too fast you could end up in the brook. Having that threat added to climbing back up in the slippery slush meant that I decided not to do the climb.

Here is the shot of the falls from the road that I should have gotten, but on this day my camera decided it wanted to focus on the brush instead of the falls so I’ve substituted a photo from last year. To get an unobstructed view you have to climb down the treacherous path to the water’s edge because for some reason the town won’t cut the brush that blocks the view. The falls are about 30 to 40 feet high.

I’ve done many posts about this place but I keep coming here because I always see something I’ve never seen before and I get to see old friends like the hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides,) which is one of our most beautiful native viburnums. At this time of year its naked, furry buds are growing bigger and its leaf buds look like praying hands. Later on it will have large, beautiful white flower heads followed by bright red berries which will ripen to purple black. I’m guessing this one was praying for spring like the rest of us.

The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it. ~Chinese philosopher

Thanks for stopping in.