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Posts Tagged ‘Alder Catkins’

There is nothing special about this photo of a swamp, other than to mark the place where I heard the first red winged blackbird of this year. I haven’t seen any but I’ve heard them and that’s another sign of spring.

I hope the red winged blackbirds know what they’re doing because this frozen pond is right across the road from the thawed swamp in the previous photo. Our nighttime temperatures are still falling below freezing but I hear the birds each morning.

Half Moon Pond in Hancock certainly didn’t look very spring like after one of our many recent nor’easters. Before this cold came in March it looked like the ice would be gone in less than another week.

The wind blows strongly off Half Moon Pond almost all of the time, and this lake sedge (Carex lacustris) shows the direction. This sedge grows in large colonies near lakes, ponds, and wetlands and is native to Canada and the northern U.S. It is a pleasant shade of green in summer and can sometimes be the dominant plant along shorelines and in swamps. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds.

When I saw a mullein seedling (Verbascum thapsus) I realized that I had never seen another one, most likely because I wasn’t paying attention. It was every bit as wooly as its adult counterparts and ready to start photosynthesizing. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. This one was about the size of a baseball, or just over 9 inches.

I went to see my old friends the striped wintergreens (Chimaphila maculata) to see how they came through the winter and I was happy to see that they looked good and healthy. This is a plant I don’t see that often and I only know of three or four small colonies. Hopefully they will bloom and set seed in mid-July.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) grows near the striped wintergreens and also came through the winter looking well. This plant always reminds me of my grandmother because it was one of her favorites. The plant is also called mayflower and was once nearly collected into oblivion so the very fragrant blossoms could be used in nosegays, but it is now protected in many states. It relies heavily on a relationship with certain fungi mycelium in the soil and it absolutely refuses to grow anywhere that the mycelium isn’t present. Native Americans used to use the plant medicinally to break up kidney stones. It was so valuable to them that it was thought to have divine origins.

The basal leaves of hawkweed (and many other plants) often turn deep purple in winter. Many trees and other plants conserve a lot of energy if they don’t have to make  chlorophyll so in the fall many stop making it. When that happens other colors which were there all along start to show. Carotenoids make leaves orange and yellow and anthocyanins make them red, pink or purple. Anthocyanins can also protect leaves from getting sunburned in winter if they are evergreen.

Beaked willow gall is caused by a tiny midge laying its egg in a willow bud. The reddish galls usually form at branch tips in the fall and will house the fly larva all winter. It will eat the tissue in the gall until spring, when it will pupate and an adult midge will emerge. Winter is a great time to look for galls, which are often hidden behind leaves at other times of year.

I’m always amazed by how much red there is in highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and nothing shows it better than the witch’s brooms that are so common on these shrubs. On blueberries witch’s brooms are cause by a fungus that deforms branches or roots and causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. In my experience they don’t really harm the plant and can even be quite pretty with snow on them.

An old trick that gardeners sometimes use when they want to grow plants that aren’t hardy in their area is to plant the sensitive plats near a stone or brick wall. The mass of masonry absorbs the warmth of the sun during the day and releases it slowly at night, protecting the plants from frost damage. Sweet gum trees grow near such a sunlit wall at the local college and the above photo is of one of their seed pods (Liquidambar styraciflua.) Seeing these pods here seems very strange because sweet gum is thought of as a “southern tree,” and Massachusetts is the northern most point that it grows naturally. I never saw the seed pods as a boy but I wish I had because they’re interesting and hold their shape well when dried. They would have made a great addition to my collection of natural oddities.

The base of this eastern hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) was covered by what I think must be yellow green algae (Pleurococcus vulgaris.) These algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, on soil, stones and even on walls. Their closest relatives are said to grow in lakes and rivers, but these species can withstand some dryness. Fossil evidence shows that algae have existed for at least 540 million years.

A saw another hemlock that had a deep crack in its bark that ran straight and true from the ground to about 15 feet up. At first I thought it must be a frost crack but I’ve never seen one so long, so I’m guessing it must have been a lightning strike. Since it was an older wound there were no pieces of bark that might have been blown off lying around. I came upon a tree once that had been recently struck by lightning and there were strips of bark all over the ground. No matter how the crack was made I’m sure it made quite a loud noise when it happened.  On cold winter nights you can sometimes hear stressed trees cracking in the forest. It is sudden and sounds like a rifle shot.

The bud scales on many of the male alder catkins have gone from their deep winter purple to shades of pink, orange, red and brown. Soon the bud scales will open to reveal the yellow green flowers that will release the pollen to the wind. They become very beautiful at this time of year and sometimes when the light is right it looks like someone has strung ropes of multicolored jewels on all the bushes.

Boxwood (Buxus) is called man’s oldest garden ornamental because it has been used for hedges and specimen plantings for centuries. The early settlers thought so highly of it they brought it with them in the mid-1600s. The first plants were brought over from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. These examples I found in a local park were budded. They’ll bloom In late April or early May but so will many other flowers, so these small but pretty ones will probably be overlooked.

The willows seem to be in a holding pattern. They’ve had their fuzzy gray catkins for two weeks now but there are no signs of the bright yellow flowers yet. Maybe I’ll see some later today.

I was flabbergasted when I saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) still blossoming. They’ve been through three nor’easters and zero degree cold but there are at least five bushes still full of flowers, so I’d say they were well worth what it cost to buy them. I wish you could smell them. I’ve heard their scent compared to laundry taken in fresh from the line but another description I just read says a hint of citrus-maybe lemon-is there as well. They seem a bit spicy to me but it’s a very pleasant scent that you can smell from quite a distance.

It’s always nice to see budded daffodils in spring. These were coming along well in spite of the zero degree cold we’ve had. They grow near the brick wall of a building and I think the heat radiating off the wall keeps them warm at night, just like the sweet gum trees we heard about earlier.

Not all the daffodils were lucky enough to have a brick wall, and this is what happened to many of those that didn’t. This is the second year in a row that this has happened to these bulbs and I’m not sure if they’ll make it now. A bulb needs leaves to photosynthesize and build up the strength it needs to blossom the following year. With their first spring leaves dying off for two years now I doubt they have much strength left. If they were mine I’d dig and replace them with later blossoming bulbs. They’re a bit overanxious I think.

Sometimes sunlight on moss is really all I need. I pity those who spend their lives chasing after riches, all the while missing the incredible richness all around them.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy. ~Anton Chekhov

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The weather people are saying we’re in a “very active pattern” right now. The rest of us are saying “enough.” It wasn’t that long ago when the ground was bare except for plowed up snow piles, but then winter decided it wasn’t finished and we’ve had one nor’easter after another ever since. The first was rain, the second was snow, and the third is snow. Snow at this time of year doesn’t usually stay long but the cooler temperatures of late mean that it’s melting slower than many of us would like.

Despite the storms spring is definitely close at hand. Canada geese have returned and have taken up residence in the Ashuelot River. Soon they’ll be choosing nesting sites.

Willows are shouting spring. I love how they take on this golden color in the spring. It seems unusual that a tree’s branches rather than its foliage would change color, but there they are. Forsythia bushes sometimes do the same thing.

The willow in the previous photo isn’t a “pussy willow” but I did go and visit some. The fuzzy catkins hadn’t changed much since last week but they can grow into yellow flowers quickly. It happened so fast last year that I never did get a good photo of a willow flower. This year I’ll be keeping an eye on them.

The vernal witch hazels have just about bloomed themselves out I think, after blooming for two or three weeks now with storm after storm thrown at them.

It isn’t the cold or snow that will finish their blooming though, it is simply time. You can see in this photo how almost all the petals are brown on their tips. If the winter moths have done their job and pollinated them there will be plenty of seed pods next year. After a year on the bush witch hazel seed pods open with explosive force and can hurl the seeds for many yards. It is said that you can hear them snapping open but it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time, and so far I haven’t been.

Hollyhocks were a surprise. At least I think they’re hollyhocks. I don’t remember them coming along so early, and I used to work for people who grew them. Now I wonder if they aren’t evergreen.

I’ve remembered that the extremely early tulips I’ve been telling you about are actually hyacinths. I remembered their wonderful scent from last year as I was taking their photo. There will be deep blue and pink blossoms here before too long.

Maple syrup makers won’t want to hear this but the red maple flower clusters (Acer rubrum) have opened. You can just see the first flowers peeking out on the right in this poor photo. It’ll still be a while before the flowers unfurl, but they’re on the way and they’re beautiful to see in spring. There are so many red maple trees that the forest comes alive with a red haze when they all bloom together.

I also checked on striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) but didn’t see any signs of bud break. This is one of those tree buds I most look forward to seeing open, because the pink and orange buds are beautiful when they first open.

Here’s a preview of what those striped maple buds will look like in late April or early May. A tree full of them is really something to see.

I found this mountain of snow when I went to visit the skunk cabbages. It will be a while before it and what was added to it yesterday disappears.

The swamp where the skunk cabbages grow is also home to thousands of spring peepers. On a warm spring day you can often find this part of their swamp filled with floating, chirping frogs, but this was not a warm day and in any event I haven’t heard the frogs singing at night yet. I also still haven’t heard red winged blackbirds or seen any turtles, but spring is moving forward so it shouldn’t be long.

The skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) were melting their way through the snow. I’ve seen a surprising number of insects flying around on warmer days so if the plants can stay uncovered they have a good chance of being pollinated.

I went to see how the alders were doing and got this shot of both male and female catkins on the same branch. This doesn’t happen often so I was happy to finally get them both in the same frame. The longer lower ones are the male catkins and the smaller ones at the top are the female catkins. When they’ve been pollinated the female catkins will become the small cone shaped seed bearing strobiles that I think most of us are probably familiar with. I was hoping to see pollen on the male catkins, but not quite yet.

While I was poking around looking at alders I noticed a bird’s nest. I wondered if it was a used red winged blackbird’s nest, because they vigorously defend this area when they’re here.

I checked the female buds of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana,) but I didn’t see any flowers yet. Last year they bloomed near March first but this year the weather must be holding them back. Any time now though the tiny scarlet threads that are the female stigmas will appear.

The daffodils still hang on even though winter has thrown everything it has at them. Last year they came up too early and their leaves turned to mush, so it’ll be interesting to see if they have enough strength left to bloom this year. I haven’t seen any flower buds yet.

The daylilies also made it through the last storm, but I wonder if they’ll make it all the way.

Crocuses are coming up and trying to bloom where the snow is thin. Unfortunately it isn’t thin in many places at the moment.

The biggest surprise on this day was a blooming dandelion. It wouldn’t win a prize in a flower show but it was a flower, and the plant had many buds. No matter what the calendar says this dandelion says spring is here. That along with the fact that we now have an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day is enough to bring on a good case of spring fever.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

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Last Friday the temperature started to fall and it didn’t stop until it bottomed out at a meager 4 degrees Saturday morning. Along with 30 mph wind gusts, that meant a wind chill factor of about 19 below zero. In that kind of cold flesh can freeze in 30 minutes, so I decided to wait until it warmed up a bit. By noon the temperature had risen to 15 degrees above zero with a wind chill of zero, so off I went to one of my favorite stands of American hazelnut shrubs (Corylus americana.) They grow beside the rail trail in the above photo. Snow squalls Friday night coated the ground with an inch or two of fresh powder and added to the arctic feel.

I wanted to see the hazels up close to see if the male catkins shown here had opened. They had barely started to open and didn’t look like they would have been releasing much pollen.

But much to my surprise on such a cold day female flowers were just starting to show. Each tiny crimson thread is a flower stigma protruding from the female buds. The golden catkins that we saw in the previous photo are the male flowers, and the wind blows their pollen to the female blossoms. This photo also shows how hairy this shrub’s stems are. They feel slightly prickly when you run your finger over them, and that’s an easy way to identify them.

Female hazelnut flowers are simple sticky crimson stigmas and are among the smallest flowers that I know of. I have to look up and down each stem very carefully to find them. Even then I often see only color and no real shape so I let the camera sort that out. I had been out in the weather for about a half hour and that was about all I could stand. I hope the hazel flowers weren’t hurt by it; last year I saw many that had been frost bitten.

On a warmer day I had spent some time looking at the alder catkins. The large ones in the foreground are the beautiful male catkins and the tiny ones in the upper left are the female flowers, which at this time were only showing a hint of their crimson stigmas, which are similar to female hazel blossoms in color and shape. The male catkins had already started releasing pollen so the female stigmas should have come out fully at any time, but then we’ve had this terrible cold so now I’m not sure.

Brown and purple scales on the male alder catkin are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen. The opening of alder catkins is one of the earliest signs of spring and when thousands of them open it looks like the bushes have been hung with sparkling jewels.

I was glad to see that the chubby little buds on the red elderberry hadn’t opened yet. Last year they opened early and were frostbitten. The week of 60+ degree temperatures at the end of February fooled a lot of plants. I just heard on the news that apple tree buds started opening and now orchard owners are lighting fires in barrels along the rows of trees, trying to keep them from freezing.

The bud scales on some of the red maple buds (Acer rubrum) have pulled back to reveal cups full of male anthers tightly packed together. When the fuzzy bud scales are closed they protect the flowers through winter and keep them from getting damaged by the cold.

Some red maple blossoms couldn’t wait and started showing themselves, and I’d guess that they’re probably blackened and shriveled by now. I saw many get frost bitten last year but it didn’t seem to hurt the trees any. What it will do is cut down on the number of seeds, so squirrels and other animals that eat them won’t be pleased. When maple trees blossom their sap gets bitter so seeing these flowers tells me that we’re near the end of the syrup season.

Daffodil leaves poked up out of the snow. At least it was just their leaves. Last year we had a cold snap after they had blossomed and I saw many blooms lying on the ground.

Tulip leaves were also covered by snow. I don’t know if tulips are coming up earlier each year or if I’m just not paying attention, but it seems very early for tulips.

The season of Lent began on March first, but I fear the Lenten roses (Hellebores) will give up blossoming for lent this year. The season doesn’t end until April 13th though, so I could be wrong. The flowers are beautiful and I’d like to see them, but not if there’s a chance of them being damaged by cold.

Pussy willows seem to have shrugged off the cold; they hadn’t changed since the last time I saw them.

There was no yellow showing and plenty of fur, so I’m guessing the pussy willows will be fine.

Because skunk cabbage can melt its way through ice and snow by raising their temperature by as much as 50 degrees through a process called thermogenesis I didn’t think the cold would bother them at all, but I found quite a few that had been damaged. Though the above examples look healthy many flower spathes had darkened and had become soft and rubbery. I found several like that last year and wasn’t sure why they seemed sick. Now I know.

The greatest shock for me on this day was seeing the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) all in bloom. I’ve never seen them bloom in this kind of cold and only time will tell if they were hurt by it. I saw this scene on Saturday afternoon and that night it dropped to 2 degrees F., so I won’t be surprised if these flowers show more brown than yellow next time I see them.

There is an old Chinese Proverb that says “Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men” and the plants, shrubs, and trees are telling me that as far as they’re concerned it is indeed spring, but the weather certainly doesn’t seem to agree. I hope that the cold doesn’t harm too many early blossoms but there aren’t many plants that I know of that can survive such a long stretch of below freezing temperatures and now snow as well. We’ll just have to wait and see.

There I was, hoping for a warm spring rain.
But instead frost flowers bloomed on my window pane.
It wasn’t right; this cold, cold March.
Instead of frost on the windows there should be blooms on the larch.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. ~Willa Cather

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1. Half Moon Pond 3-9

Ice out is when the ice on a pond or lake melts or breaks up enough in spring to make the water navigable by boat again. I took this photo of Half-Moon Pond in Hancock on our first 70 degree day of the season, which was March 9th. In spite of the extremely warm temperatures there was still a lot of ice on the pond.

2. Half Moon Pond 3-10

March 10th brought rain but it was a warm rain on a 60 degree day, and it made mist form wherever there was ice.

3. Half Moon Pond 3-11

On March 11th the pond was completely ice free and I was surprised that it could happen that fast. Ice out dates on Lake Winnipesaukee, which is New Hampshire’s largest lake, have been recorded since 1887. The earliest ice out date for the big lake was March 23 in 2012 until yesterday at 11:30 am. Now the earliest ice out for Lake Winnipesaukee is March 17, nearly a full week earlier than the previous record. The latest ice out was May 12 in 1888.  On average ice out has been happening earlier in the season each year throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

4. Icy Stream

Though most of the ice fell to our warmer than average temperatures there is still ice to be seen if you care to search for it. Most don’t care to.

5. Snowdrops

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are the third flower I’ve seen this season, coming right on the heels of skunk cabbage and vernal witch hazels. Their common name is a good one; there was a plowed snowbank just feet from where these grew. 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.

6. Crocus

I was surprised to see quite a few crocuses blossoming. It’s easy to forget that it’s still winter when you see such sights. At least it’s still winter astronomically for one more day. Meteorological winter ended on March first. I didn’t realize it when I was taking this photo but every crocus was tilted towards the sun.

7. Bee in Crocus

One crocus blossom had an upside down bee in it. That was another surprise.

8. Male Red Maple Flowers

The buds of red maples (Acer rubrum) have just opened so sugar maples won’t be far behind, and that means an end to this year’s maple sugaring season. Once the night temperatures stay above freezing and the trees begin to flower the sap becomes bitter, so sap collection ends. This photo is of the tree’s male (staminate) flowers just poking out of the buds.

9. Female Red Maple Flowers

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 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. If you’re lucky you can often find male and female flowers on the same tree.

10. Red Maple Flowers

Each year the hills that surround town come alive with the red haze caused by millions of red maple flowers opening at once. Each year I try to catch it in a photo but never have much luck.

11. Squirrel

Squirrels eat the seeds, buds and sap of red maples. They bite the trunk to let the sap run and then when it dries they come back and lick up the sugar. Red maples are one of the trees that squirrels nest in as well. I once read that squirrels can get enough moisture from trees to never have to come down out of them for a drink. I’m not sure what the squirrel in the photo was looking for but it probably wasn’t water.

12. Pussy Willow

I thought I’d see some beautiful yellow willow flowers but they’re holding back and are still in the silvery gray catkin stage. I’d guess by today they’ll be blooming profusely so I’m going to have to go and see.

13. Poplar Catkins-3

Though these might look like pussy willow catkins they’re really quaking aspen catkins (Populus tremuloides.) Quaking aspen is the only poplar with catkins like these that doesn’t also have sticky bud scales. Balsam poplar catkins (Populus balsamifera) look much the same but their brown bud scales are very sticky to the touch.

14. Alder Catkins

Among all the beautiful things to see in the early spring woods one of the most beautiful are alder catkins (Alnus.) They hang from the shrubs all winter long but it is only when they are ready to release pollen that they become purple and golden striped jewels. They will stay this way for just a short time before becoming more gold than purple, and that’s when the shrub’s very tiny crimson female flowers will appear. Look for alders near streams and ponds.

15. Sunrise

The warmth and sunshine were great while they lasted but we’ve had rain almost every day for the last five and they say that tomorrow night and through Monday we might see a nor’easter which might leave more snow than any storm this winter. It would be just like New England weather to drop over a half foot of snow on the first full day of spring. Oh well, if it comes it’ll melt quickly and the flowers will still bloom; there’s no stopping spring now.

She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
~ A.A. Milne

Thanks for stopping in. Tomorrow the first day of spring is also the first day of the 6th year of this blog. I’d like to thank you for all your thoughtful comments and helpful input over the years.

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1. Monadnock

Last Sunday morning I woke from a dream of Mount Monadnock and drove to Perkins Pond in Troy to visit it. It might not be the tallest mountain but it is one of the prettiest, especially in winter when wearing a snowy cap. We had just gotten about 5 inches of snow 2 days before so it was a good time for photos.

2. Monadnock Summit

It’s always hard to know how deep the snow is up there. I climbed to the summit in mid-April once and found snow well over waist deep in places. It was very rough going without snowshoes and I shouldn’t have done something so foolish. When I finally got back down I was dripping wet and looked like I had fallen into the pond.

3. Patterns in Ice

There were ripples in the ice showing what you couldn’t see when it was in its liquid state. From here I decided to make the short drive to Dublin to see something I’d wanted to see since last summer.

4. Snowy Road

It would have been a short drive if I had stayed on the highway but I decided to take the back way. I was able to go much more slowly than I could have on the highway and so was able to see more.

5. Stream

When I pulled over to take the previous photo of the road I heard chuckling and giggling and found that I’d parked near a stream that I didn’t know was there.

6. Stream Ice

Ice baubles hung from the stones along its banks.

7. Oracle

Once I’d reached Dublin Lake I saw what I had come to see. Each morning for the last 6 months I’ve seen this fallen tree on the shoreline out of the corner of my eye as I’ve driven past. Though I’ve only seen it for seconds at a time I’ve seen it burning orange from the light of the rising sun, deep indigo blue in the twilight before dawn, and as a black silhouette in fog so thick I could barely see the road. It has become something I look forward to seeing; a half way point on my journey and an oracle that hints at the weather for the coming day. I told myself that one day I’d see it in full daylight, and now I have.

8. Branch River

I stopped at the branch river in Marlborough on my way back from Dublin to see if the melting snow had raised the water level. It didn’t seem any higher than normal and though there was a little snow on its banks there wasn’t a bit of ice on it that I could see.

9. Thin Ice Sign

I’d seen a lake and a pond covered with ice and a river with none, so I decided to visit a popular skating pond in a local Keene park. It told the story of our winter so far; yes, the ice grew but never thickened and it isn’t safe to be on anywhere in the state this. There has been no skating, hockey, ice fishing or much else that needs ice or snow this winter. Though I’m not a great lover of winter I am sorry that the people who enjoy it can’t have their fun. After all, I learned to skate on this very pond when I was a boy and spent many happy hours here.

10. Trail

These days I enjoy the pond more for the path around it rather than for the ice on it. Quite a few of the photos that have appeared on this blog over the years were taken here. It’s a great place to find fungi and slime molds and I saw my first maple dust lichen here. I’ve also seen otters playing, cormorants diving, turtles sunning, great blue heron fishing, and frogs hoping I didn’t see them.

11. Pondside

The ice was thin enough to be nonexistent in many places around the shoreline. It was warm; about 48 degrees F, and it felt like a spring day. This weekend is supposed to be considerably different, with a high of 14 degrees F (-10 C) expected today. If the sun is shining it might be bearable for a short time, but there won’t be any hikes going on. Tonight they say we’ll see a -20 F (-29 C) wind chill and I hope I don’t have to be out in that.

12. Alder Catkins

Alders line the shore but they don’t seem to be in any hurry to produce pollen; there was no green dust to be seen on the catkins. They’re wise to wait, I think.

13. Apple and Broom Moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) in the upper left gets its common name from its tiny green, spherical spore capsules which someone thought looked like apples. Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) in the lower right gets its common name from the way the leaves all point in the same general direction, making it look as if it had been swept by a broom. This photo shows that it would be very difficult to confuse them. Both seemed happy there by the pond.

14. Snowy Tree

The trees told the story of how the wind blew during the last storm.

15. Colored Laef

There is more color to be seen in winter than most of us realize, but sometimes you have to look closely to see it.

16. Swamp Dewberry

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly and its fruits look like small blackberries. I’ve never tried them but they are said to be bitter or tasteless. What I love most about it is its purple-bronze leaves in winter. They were so beautiful there against the green of the moss.

17. Snowman

This drooping snowman didn’t seem to be enjoying the spring like temperatures, but he might yet have the last laugh.

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park? ~Ralph Marston

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1. Crocus Blossoms on Easter

I finally saw some crocus blossoms on Easter morning. They bloom in what was once a flower bed by a now vacant print shop and I was very happy to see them. Passers by might have wondered what I was doing kneeling there in the leaf strewn soil beside a busy street rather than on a prie dieu on Easter morning, but what better way to show your appreciation of the artist than by losing yourself in the beauty of his art.

2. Witch Hazel Blooms

The spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis) in a local park have finally blossomed. I’ve been watching them for about two weeks and have noticed that they’ve been really shy about opening this year.

3. Feather on Cornelian Cherry

I went to see if the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) that lives near the witch hazels was blooming yet, but instead of flowers I got feathers. The bud scales have started opening though, so it won’t be long. This ancient plant is from Europe and is in the dogwood family and I look forward to seeing its small, bright yellow blossoms.

4. Alder Catkins

The brown and purple bud scales on the male catkins of speckled alders (Alnus incana) are opening wider to show the flowers beneath. These scales are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers covered in yellow pollen. If you watch them closely at this time of year you can see more of the yellow pollen appearing each day.

 5. Skunk Cabbage

The skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) seem to be doing really well this year. The clumps are larger with more plants and there are more clumps in this spot than I’ve seen in the past. The green shoots seen in front of the mottled spathes in this photo are future leaves which, for a short time as they begin to unfurl, will resemble cabbage leaves. You wouldn’t want to taste them though, even if you could get past the skunk like odor, because the plant contains calcium oxalate crystals which can cause a severe burning sensation of the mouth and tongue. Deer and black bears seem to be about the only ones immune to it. Another good reason to not eat skunk cabbage is because the very deadly false hellebore (Veratrum viride) often grows right beside it. Personally I don’t know why anyone would want to eat skunk cabbage but if you don’t know how to tell it from false hellebore it’s best to just leave both plants alone.

7. Skunk Cabbage Flowers

Like most arums, inside the spathe is the spadix, which in the case of skunk cabbage is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. Some describe the odor as rotting meat but it always smells skunky to me.

6. Yellow Skunk Cabbage

I’ve been seeing more yellow green skunk cabbage spathes this year than I ever have. I’m not sure what determines their color but the yellow ones appear right beside the darker red / maroon ones, so it doesn’t seem like it would be anything in the soil or water.

8. Muddy Road

Here in northern New England we have a fifth season that we call mud season, and it is now upon us. I heard on the news the other day that the mud is 12-16 inches deep in parts of the state, but I haven’t seen it that bad here yet except on logging roads. Quite often the mud gets bad enough to close unpaved roads and the logging industry virtually grinds to a halt until things dry out. When the frost is 3 or 4 deep in the ground and the top two feet of a road thaws the melt water is sitting on frozen ground and has nowhere to go, and this results in a car swallowing quagmire that acts almost like quicksand. Those who live on unpaved roads have quite a time of it every year at this time.

 9. Brittle Cinder Fungus

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) starts life as a beautiful soft gray crust fungus with white edges. 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. 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.

10. Brittle Cinder fungus aka Kretzschmaria deusta

Here is a photo from last June which shows how beautiful the brittle crust fungus is when it’s young. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same fungus that’s in the previous photo.

11. Annulohypoxylon cohaerens Fungi

 Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to a purplish black color, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. They were one of the hardest things to identify that I’ve ever found in nature and I wondered what they could be for a few years. They have no common name that I can find.

12. Bigtooth Aspen Bud

Since I’m color blind I often confuse red and green so even though this aspen bud looked red to me by the time I got home I’d convinced myself that it had to have been green. Once I saw the photo it still looked red, so as usual I let my color finding software have the final say and it sees orange, brown and red. I never knew aspen buds were so colorful, and it seems that I just haven’t been paying attention. I think the tree was a bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata) which gets its common name from the sharply pointed teeth on its leaves.

13. April Great Blue Heron

I was surprised recently to see a great blue heron hunting last year’s cattails (Typha) in a small pond beside the road. I knew if I made a move he’d fly away, so I took this shot through my passenger window.  Most of the larger lakes and ponds are still ice covered, so I think he’s a little early. I’ve heard red winged blackbirds but no frogs yet, so he’ll probably have a fish diet for a while.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.

~Edgar A. Guest

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Hazelnut Pods

I like the reds and orangey browns and the velvety texture of hazelnut husks. They add a nice touch of color to the gray and white world of winter. The nuts are a favorite of many birds and animals including turkeys and squirrels so they disappear quickly. This photo is of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) but we also have beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) in parts of the state.

2. Hobblebush Bud

This is the time of year that I start watching buds to see what they’re up to.  Hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium) flower and leaf buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales. Though there might be plenty of snow the ground is frozen, so none of the moisture is available to plants and bud scales help conserve moisture. Plants that have no bud scales have evolved other ways to protect their buds, and one of those ways is by wearing wooly winter coats like the hobblebush does.

3. Nannyberry Bud

Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) buds always remind me of long beaked birds. This is another native viburnum but instead of being naked its terminal flower buds have two scales. They’re a good example of valvate bud scales, which simply means the margins of the two bud scales touch but don’t overlap. This shrub is easily confused with wild raisin (Viburnum cassinoides) in the winter because its flower buds are very similar, but the bud scales on wild raisin tend to split open more around the swollen part of the bud.

4. Striped Maple Buds

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) have colorful twigs and buds and are among the easiest trees to identify no matter what time of year because of the green and white vertical stripes on their bark. Their terminal buds have two scales and are valvate like the nannyberry buds.

 5. Red Maple Buds

Red maples (Acer rubrum) protect their buds with as many as four pairs of rounded, hairy edged bud scales. The scales are often plum purple and the bud inside tomato red. This is one of the first of our native trees to blossom in spring and also one of the most beautiful, in my opinion. Each small bud holds as many as 6-8 red blossoms. Red maple trees can be strictly male or female, or can have both male and female blossoms on a single tree. They bloom before the leaves appear and large groves of them can wash the landscape with a brilliant red haze which shouts that spring has arrived.

6. Alder Catkins

This is also the time of year that I start to watch catkins for signs of pollen production. Before too long alder catkins will open their purple scales and burst with golden pollen, and the edges of ponds and streams will be draped with their dangling beauty for a short time.

7. Black Birch Male Catkins

Black birch (Betula lenta) catkins will do the same, but they aren’t quite as showy as alder catkins. Black birch twigs taste like wintergreen when they’re chewed so that’s how I make sure I have the correct tree. Black birch was once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen, and so many were taken that they can be very hard to find now. I know where a few grow but they aren’t a common sight. Young trees are easy to confuse with cherry.

8. Black Knot aka Apiosporina morbosa on Cherry-3

Speaking of cherry, one day I saw several young trees with black knot disease. It is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

9. Oak Gall Caused by Callirhytis quercussimilis

A gall wasp called Callirhytis quercussimilis caused this swelling on the trunk of this scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia.) If the trunk had twisted just a bit differently it would have made a great cane.

 10. Cedar Seed Pods

The dried, open cones of northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) look like tiny, carved wooden flowers. Gone are the eight seeds that each one holds, but the flattened, scale-like leaves so common on cedars can be seen in this photo. Native Americans showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of this tree and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He also had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

11. Indian Pipe Seed Pod

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) seed pods also look like tiny carved wooden flowers. Most have split open by now to release tens of thousands of seeds to the wind, but not this one. It has cracked open though and since the individual seeds are only ten cells thick, some have probably escaped.

12. Crust Fungus Steccherinum ochraceum

Fallen branches are great places to find lichens and fungi in the winter so I always take a closer look at them. This one had a large area of what I think was white rot fungus (Phanerochaete chrysorhizon) growing on it. This toothed crust fungus is a deep, orangey- brown and has folds that look like teeth.  It is very similar to the milk white, toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) but that fungus has edges that curl.

13. Rimmed Camouflage Lichen aka Melanelia hepatizon Apothecia

I found this leafy (foliose) rimmed camouflage lichen (Melanelia hepatizon) growing on a white pine branch but it can grow on stone and is also called rock leather. Its body (thallus) is very dark olive green with brown and black here and there. Its fruiting bodies (apothecia) are rosy brown disk like structures with white ruffled edges that look as if they’d been dipped in powdered sugar.  These white bits are called Pseudocyphellae, which are pores in the body of the lichen that open to the medulla. The medulla is a layer made up of long, thread like structures called hyphae which in turn make up the fungal part of the lichen. If we revisit lichens 101 we remember that lichens are actually composite organisms that emerge from algae or cyanobacteria (or both) living among filaments of a fungus in a mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationship. Phew. Some lichens can be almost as difficult to describe as they are to identify.

14. Orange Inner Bark

Though I enjoy finding things in nature that I’ve never seen before and love to learn all about them, sometimes I like to put away the books, forget all the big words and just enjoy the staggering beauty of it all. The unfurled bark of this tree limb showed its striking and unexpected colors that were hidden within, and it reminded me of how lucky I am to be able to see such things, and how very grateful I should be for the opportunity. After a whispered thank you for all of the wonderful things I had seen on this day I headed for home with a glad heart.

What right do I have to be in the woods, if the woods are not in me? ~John Cage

Thanks for coming by.

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