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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!

Imagine a tree 80-100 feet high and 50 feet wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

Each beautiful catalpa flower is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough for a bumblebee.

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I always find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Once you get used to seeing both dogwoods and viburnums you can tell them apart immediately. The flowers on our native viburnums like the the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) has tiny hooded flowers that remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. This one had a friend visiting.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years.

Several times I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Heartsease (Viola tricolour) has been used medicinally for a very long time as an expectorant, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Used both internally and externally, the violet is said to be helpful for cystitis, rheumatic complaints, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Though Viola tricolor, the parent of today’s pansy, is native to Europe the medicinal qualities have been found to be the same for all of the species. Native Americans used our native blue violets for cancer treatment. American pioneers thought that a handful of violets taken into the farmhouse in the spring ensured prosperity, and to neglect this ceremony brought harm to baby chicks and ducklings.

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms and you can see certain roads that are lined with the glossy leaved, white flowering shrubs. They seem fussy about where they grow but when they find a spot that they like they can form dense thickets that are nearly impossible to get through. In this spot they grow to about 10 feet tall.

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. I saw several bumblebees working these flowers and you can see some relaxed anthers in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the tough wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like roadsides but I think most are escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers on this example look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

I found this white mallow looking for all the world like a white hibiscus.

I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

A very special guest flower for this week is the rare (here) and beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), a plant that I’ve searched for for many years and could never find. Where I finally found it was amazing; one of the lawns where I work had construction going on near it and couldn’t be mowed for two weeks, and in those two weeks up popped several ragged robin plants. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it.

Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S., like the very beautiful Clarkia pulchella shown recently on Montucky’s blog,  this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England. It might have come as a garden ornamental, but when ships arrived from foreign lands it was once common practice to dump their ballast of gravel and stones on our shores so they could take on cargo, and this plant was reported growing in ship’s ballast in 1880. However it got here I was very happy to see it. This is the kind of thing that makes my pulse quicken and my breath catch in my throat and is what can take me out of myself to a higher place, much like art or music might do for you. The chance of seeing something so beautiful is part of what keeps me going back to nature day after day, year after year.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. ~Rumi

Thanks for coming by.

There is a place that I go to now and then just to see what the plants that live there are doing, and to see if any new ones have moved in. When I was a boy the land was part of a huge cornfield, then it became an industrial park with roads and businesses sprouting up where the corn once grew. Slowly all the lots in the industrial park filled except for one, which has been vacant for years. As I visited the place I realized that every city and town in America must have a place like this; empty, forgotten places that nobody seems to care about. They are wastelands by definition, but this particular wasteland is where many flowers have chosen to grow, so I haven’t forgotten it.

I thought I’d do an inventory of sorts and list the plants that grow here with the thought that if you visited that vacant lot that you might know of, you might find many of the same plants there. In this view there are white ox eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare,) yellow silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea,) and purple maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids.)  The maiden pinks especially seem to love this place. There are so many of them it was hard to take a photo without them in it.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) also does well here. This plant is in the aster family and looks like an aster but it blooms much earlier and the flowers are much smaller; about the size of a dime. Plants reach about 3 feet tall and sway in the breeze. They can also be pink but I see very few pink ones. They do best in fields, along roadsides, and around waste areas ; anywhere with dry soil. Its common name fleabane comes from the dried plants being used to rid a house of fleas. It is native to the U.S. and Canada and has escaped cultivation in Europe. Native Americans made a tea from the leaves that was used for digestive ailments.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) bloomed among the tall grasses. This plant is originally from Europe and is also called common or grass leaved stitchwort. It like disturbed soil and does well on roadsides, old fields, and meadows. The Stellaria, part of its scientific name means star like, and the common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

Keene sits in a kind of bowl surrounded by hills and all of the runoff from the hills can make this a very wet place, especially in a rainy year like this one. Farmers solved the problem many years ago by digging deep, wide drainage ditches around the perimeters of their fields and they are still here today. All manner of water loving plants grow in and along them. There was a lot of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) growing in this one but they weren’t blooming yet.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) grew along the top of the drainage ditch and were heavily budded. This shrub reaches 10 feet but always seems to lean, which makes it seem shorter. It typically grows in fields, abandoned farmland, clearings and along roadsides. It is very similar to staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) but the young stems of staghorn sumac are very hairy and those of smooth sumac are smooth, and that’s where its common name comes from. The glabra part of the scientific name means “without hairs.” Native Americans used the berries of smooth and staghorn sumac to make a tart lemonade like drink which they sweetened with maple syrup. The roots and shoots were also eaten peeled and raw in spring.

Native arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) also grows along the drainage ditches. This native shrub has a rounded habit and grows to 10 feet high. It’s quite showy and dense, and many people who grow native plants use it for hedges. It attracts butterflies and birds love its showy blueish black berries. In the fall its foliage can be yellow, orange or red. Native Americans used the straight stems of the shrub for arrow shafts, and that’s how it comes by its common name.

When it comes to small yellow flowers in my opinion one lifetime isn’t enough time to identify them all.
I usually admire them and leave them alone but it was hard to not want to know more about this little beauty. I knew its silvery leaves would make it easy to identify so I started with them and found silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla anserina.) It comes from Europe and is considered invasive but, though there were quite a few plants here they weren’t choking out other plants and I was happy to see them.

Maybe another reason I stay away from small yellow flowers is because they’re so hard to photograph. Or at least this one was; I had to try 4 different times to get a useable photo. I didn’t say a good photo because this one isn’t, but it does give you a good look at what silver leaved cinquefoil flowers look like.

It’s obvious how silver leaved cinquefoil gets its common name. The undersides of the leaves and the stems are a bright silvery white but they can fool you if you only give them a glance, because they’re deep green on top.

Five heart shaped pale yellow petals on a two foot tall stem mean sulfur cinquefoil. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides and in waste places and it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I think it’s very pretty.

Pollen grains that cause hay fever symptoms are very small and dust like and carried by the wind, and common ragweed pollen (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) fits the bill perfectly. It wasn’t blooming here yet; it will bloom as soon as goldenrod does and will then release its dust like, wind borne, allergy inducing pollen grains. For that it will get a free pass because for centuries people have blamed what they see, goldenrod, for their allergies. But goldenrod couldn’t make us sneeze even if it wanted to; the pollen grains of goldenrod are very large, sticky, and comparatively heavy and can only be carried by insects. Even if you put your nose directly into a goldenrod blossom, it is doubtful that you would inhale any pollen.

Golden clover (Trifolium campestre) is another imported clover originally from Europe and Asia. It is also known as large trefoil and large hop clover. The plant was imported through Philadelphia in 1800 to be used as a pasture crop and now appears in most states on the east and west coasts and much of Canada, but it is not generally considered aggressively invasive. Each pretty yellow flower head is packed with golden yellow pea-like flowers. I see the plant growing along roadsides and in sandy waste areas like this one.

Milkweed does well in waste areas and I saw a few plants here. The buds were just starting to show color so I’d guess another week or two before we see many blossoms. I’m hoping we see a lot of monarch butterflies visiting them; for the last two or three years I’ve been able to count the numbers I’ve seen on one hand.

I knew that I’d run into a plant or two that I hadn’t paid attention to in the past and sure enough here was an unknown sedge. It was a pretty little thing (with the emphasis on little) and I think it might be little green sedge (Carex viridula.) Sedges can be difficult to identify though, so don’t bet the farm on my results. I didn’t find it in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown, but I’ve seen many similar examples online. This sedge grows to about a foot and a half tall. Sedges are often found near water and this one grew near a drainage ditch. Many different birds eat the seeds of sedges, including ducks and Canada geese.

I always find native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) growing in hot sandy waste areas and along roadsides so I wasn’t surprised to see it here. Toadflax has a long blooming period and I often see it later on in fall. The wind was blowing ferociously on this day and each tiny blossom shows it; not a single one was still.

I thought I’d find yarrow in this sandy, sunny place and I wasn’t disappointed. As I said in my last post, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was considered a valuable healing herb for thousands of years; one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time. I always feel like I’m seeing far into the past when I look at its tiny flowers. Neanderthals were buried with it. I can’t think of another living thing that I can say that about, and it just boggles my mind to think that they saw what I’m seeing..

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blooms in rings around the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working spirally towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else. English plantain is wind pollinated so it hangs its stamens out where the wind can blow the pollen off the anthers. Each stamen is made up of a white bag like anther sitting at the end of a thin filament. If pollinated each flower will bear two tiny seeds in a small seed capsule.

Lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa) looks a lot like its cousin nodding smartweed, but instead of growing near water this one will be found growing at forest edges, roadsides and waste places. The plant gets its common name from the dark spot that appears on each leaf. Legend has it that a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently) left the smudge-like mark on a leaf and it has been there ever since. Lady’s thumb is originally from Europe and has spread to nearly every state since 1843.

You’ve seen many of the flowers shown here in recent posts and I hope you don’t feel cheated, but I wanted to show once again how easy it is to immerse yourself in nature. Something I’ve pointed out almost since I started this blog is how you don’t need to drive anywhere and you don’t need any fancy equipment. All you really need to do is walk outside and look, that’s all. Even in forgotten wastelands like this one nature is very busy. Something I couldn’t show is all the bees and other insects that were buzzing around what really is a huge amount of flowers, or all the birds that were singing in the trees and shrubs. Though we’ve forgotten these places nature most certainly has not, so I hope you’ll visit your local vacant lot or other wasteland soon. Don’t let beauty like this go to waste.

The place to observe nature is where you are. ~John Burroughs

Thanks for stopping in.

 

There are over 200 viburnum varieties and some of our native shrubs  are just coming into bloom. One of the earliest is the arrow wood viburnum. Smooth arrow wood (Viburnum dentatum) has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and is blooming along stream banks and drainage ditches right now. Native dogwoods are also beginning to bloom, but they have four petals and the viburnums have five. Dogwood flower clusters also tend to be much flatter on top and seem to hover just above the branch. Smooth arrow wood viburnum has a much more rounded flowering habit. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) is in full bloom now and is a plant held in high regard for its hard to find clear blue color. This is another tough native plant that bees love. People love it too, and it is now sold in nurseries. The black seed pods full of loose, rattling, seeds that follow the flowers were once used as rattles by children. Not surprisingly, other common names include rattle weed and rattle bush. Native Americans made a blue dye from this native plant that was a substitute for true indigo.

Blue false indigo is in the pea / bean family. If you’ve ever looked at a pea or bean flower then this flower shape should look very familiar.

I thought I’d show an actual pea blossom for comparison. The blossom has 5 petals that form a banner, wings, and keel. The banner is a single petal with two lobes though it looks like two that are fused together. Two more petals form the wings. The remaining two petals make up the keel and are usually fused together. As long as there is a banner, wings and a keel on the blossom the plant is a member of the Pea family. The pea family of plants is the third largest, with somewhere near1,000 genera and 25,000 species. Some grow to tree size and some are tiny. Some members of the family are edible and some are poisonous. Peas have been eaten for nearly 7,000 years; remains of the plants dating from 4800–4400 BC have been found in Egypt.

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

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

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. This example grows in a local park. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, so another common name is American ipecac. Nobody seems to know the origin of the name bowman’s root or whether it refers to the bow of a boat or the bow part of the bow and arrow.

The white flower petals of bowman’s root are asymmetrical and always look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler. But they are beautiful nonetheless, and dance at the end of long stems. And they do dance in the slightest movement of air. Some say that all it takes is the gentle breath of a fawn to set them dancing, and because of that another of their common names is fawn’s breath. I can’t think of a more beautiful name for a flower.

This plant goes by many common names but I’ve always called it peach leaved bluebells (Campanula persicifolia) which comes from its leaves resembling those of the peach tree. It is very easy to grow; literally a “plant it and forget it” perennial. I planted one in my garden years ago and not only is it still growing, but many seedlings from it are also growing all over the yard. I usually give several away each summer to family and friends. It’s a good choice for someone just starting a garden.

The waxy shine on buttercup (Ranunculus) petals is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed. I can’t speak for what the spider was doing. Maybe just enjoying the sunshine.

Meadow anemone (Anemone canadensis ) is an old fashioned garden favorite that has much larger flowers than our other native wood anemone.  Though it seems to spread out in a garden it’s easy to control. It’s also called crowfoot because of the foliage. Native Americans used this plant medicinally and its root and leaves were one of the most highly regarded medicines of the Omaha and Ponca tribes. It was used as an eye wash, an antiseptic, and to treat headaches and dizziness. The root was chewed to clear the throat so a person could sing better.

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

Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) has pale yellow flowers similar in color to those of the sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) but they can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. I always find it growing at the edges of corn fields at this time of year, not because it likes growing with corn but because it likes to grow in disturbed soil. Wild radish is in the mustard family and is sometimes confused with wild mustard (Brassica kaber,) but that plant doesn’t have hairy stems like wild radish. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

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

Red campion (Silene dioica) likes alkaline soil with a lot of lime and that’s why we rarely see it here. That’s also why I’m fairly sure that this plant is a white campion (Silene latifolia,) which can also be pink. Just to confuse the issue red campion flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa. It’s pretty, whatever it is.

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) has just come into bloom and I’m happy to see it because I think it’s a beautiful flower. It’s one of those that seem to glow with their own inner light and I enjoy just looking at it for a time. Crown vetch has seed pods look that like axe heads and English botanist John Gerard called the plant axewort and axeseed in 1633. It is thought that its seeds somehow ended up in other imported plant material because the plant was found in New York in 1869. By 1872 it had become naturalized in New York and now it is in every state in the country except Alaska.

Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), though beautiful, can overrun a garden. These flowers grow from a bulb and are native to southern Europe and Africa. The bulbs contain toxic alkaloids and have killed livestock, so they are now listed as an invasive species.

Invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) originally came from China to be used as an ornamental and as the old story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by using all the available sunshine. In the above photo it’s growing up into a tree and I’ve seen it reach thirty feet. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.

It’s easy to see why it is in the rose family but if it wasn’t for their heavenly scent you might as well be looking at a raspberry blossom because multiflora rose blossoms are the same size, shape, and color, and raspberries are also in the rose family.

Wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) is a ground hugger, easily hidden by any plant that is ankle high or more, so I have to hunt for it and though I can’t say if it is rare here, I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grew in a wet area near a stream. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger.

Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music. They relax the tenseness of the mind. They dissolve its vigor. ~Henry Ward Beecher.

Thanks for coming by. Happy first day of summer!

 

 

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

Thanks for stopping in.

I saw this view along one of our roads recently. Lupines and Ox eye daisies seemed to go on forever. There were a few white lupines but most were blue / purple. It’s a hint of what will come; soon our meadows will explode with color.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

When I was growing up we had a hedge of rugosa roses and I’ll never forget their wonderful scent. This rose reminded me of them because it too had that same scent. I think it was in the rugosa rose family but it wasn’t the exact one we had. The Latin word “rugosa” means “wrinkled,” as in the wrinkled petals  this one had.  They are a shrub rose that come along just after lilacs so if you’re looking for an extended period of fragrance in the garden I can’t think of anything better to extend it with. Rosa rugosa has been cultivated in Japan and China for about a thousand years but it has only been in this country since 1845. After its introduction it immediately escaped cultivation and can now be found just about anywhere on the coast of New England.

Pliny the Elder said chewing the root of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) would relieve a toothache, but modern science has found that every part of it contains a range of isoquinoline alkaloids that makes it toxic if used in large amounts. When used in the correct dosage the plant’s yellow sap can be used against warts and moles.  If used at all, all of the latex sap should be washed from the hands because it can cause irritation if rubbed into the eyes. Greater celandine is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S.

All the books will tell you that the flowers of greater celandine have four yellow petals but nature doesn’t know the words always and never, so you have to use a little common sense when identifying plants. Things like leaf shape, where it grows, flower size and color, and the yellow sap all have to be considered when identifying this one.

I love the beautiful colors and shapes found in the perennial bachelor’s button blossom(Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a friend’s garden.

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower and each forms its own seed. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval, overlapping leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk. It is an introduced invasive and names like “yellow devil” and “devil’s paintbrush” show what ranchers think of it.

This beautiful clematis was spotted in the garden of friends of mine. Its blossoms are large, probably 6 inches across. I think its name is “Nelly Moser.” Though we do have native clematis most clematis cultivars have a Chinese or Japanese lineage. According to Wikipedia the wild clematis species native to China made their way into Japanese gardens by the 17th century, and in the 18th century Japanese garden selections were the first exotic clematises to reach European gardens. From there came our first “exotic” clematis, an old favorite called Jackmanii, which is still grown today.

Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) might look like another exotic import from China or Japan but they’re native to the east coast of the U.S. It’s a beautiful and fragrant tree that you rarely see anywhere, and I wonder why it’s so under used. It is said to be tougher than dogwood, more dependable than saucer magnolia, longer-lived than cherry, and smells better than Bradford pears. So why don’t more of us use it?

When seen alone the fringe tree’s blossoms don’t seem like much to get excited about but when they get together in lacy, drooping clusters at the ends of the branches they are quite beautiful. Fringe trees are one of the last to show new leaves in spring and they can look dead until the leaves and flowers appear.

I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some south eastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today, but most don’t see these small flowers. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and other insects. The plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally.

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen. Each sarsaparilla flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

Our locust trees are blooming. The one shown here is a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) loaded with white, very fragrant blooms. One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains. Its hanging flower heads remind me of wisteria.

Locusts are in the same family as peas and beans and the flowers show the connection. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well. They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

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

The beautiful little flowers of red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) are hard for me to see because they’re so small, so I take photos of them so I can see them better. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s and it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.  I find them growing in dry, sandy waste areas. I’m not sure what the web or plant fibers surrounding this flower were all about.

I was bending down the stem of a sandspurry with one hand and taking its photo with the other so the penny is out of focus, but at least you can see how tiny this beautiful little flower really is, and that’s what’s important. I think you could fit about 8-10 of them on a penny.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

Thanks for coming by.

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

Thanks for Stopping in.