Posts Tagged ‘American Beech Nuts’

I couldn’t remember the last time I was at Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene so last weekend I thought I’d take a walk up the old abandoned road to the falls that are at the end of it. As far as I can tell the old road was laid out in the 1700s and was abandoned in the early 1970s when a new highway was built-literally right across the existing road. Nature has been taking back what is hers ever since and the old road slowly gets narrower as the plants and trees grow in toward its middle where the sunlight is. It is kept open to the public as a nature trail and follows Beaver Brook, so named because of the beavers that once thrived here.

It was cold the night before and was still cold when I started out. Below freezing weather had created ice here and there on the brook, mostly in areas that don’t get much sun.

I like to come here because I can find things here that I don’t see anywhere else, like this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) Actually I see this lichen just about everywhere I go but nowhere else are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) so blue. The blue color comes from the way the light falls on the waxy coating that covers the black outlined apothecia and often when the light is just right the stone they grow on appears golden, which makes for a very beautiful scene.  

Plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) Is another reason I come here. This is the only place I’ve ever seen it so when I want to see how it changes as it grows I have to come here. Today I discovered that it must be evergreen because we’ve had over a week of real cold weather, with nighttime temperatures sometimes in the single digits, and it was still as green as it is in May.

I like the crepe paper like leaves of this sedge. The prominent midrib, two lateral veins, maroon bases, and puckered look of the leaves are all used as identifying features for plantain leaved sedge. The leaves can be up to a foot long and an inch wide and I can’t think of another sedge that has leaves that look quite like these. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high. There is a stream just a few feet from where this one grows.

There are calm pools along Beaver Brook and this is one of them. It had a thin skim of ice along the stream banks but it still caught the forest in reflection.

Where the water splashed and dripped, icicles grew in long fingers.

In places the old guard posts and cables survive. These posts used to have to be hand painted black and white, one by one, all the way along this and every other road in the county. Of course it was a lot more open here then, when the forest wasn’t allowed to grow so close to the road.

The guard rails were a necessity on a narrow, two lane road. You didn’t want to drive into the brook because in places the embankment is quite steep. This is a view across the brook to the hillside beyond. There is a boulder fall there and when we get enough rain a stream runs down through and over it. On this day there was only ice.

The utility pole in the distance is broken off at the base and it leans precariously toward the brook. I think it will eventually fall into the brook if something isn’t done. It looks like it might be taking these two poles with it.

I’m not sure what these electric lines power but whoever receives their power from them must be frequently in the dark because every time I come here there are trees on the wires. In fact there are fallen trees all through here.

Here was a huge pine tree in the brook. It had fallen with its top pointing perfectly downstream. Whether or not it will dam up the brook is anyone’s guess but it looked to be about 100 years old and was big enough so I doubt the brook will be able to move it, even in flood.

Beech nuts and their husks littered the old road. There are lots of beech trees here and this seems to be a mast year, so the forest animals will eat well. Native Americans ate beech nuts raw but they contain toxins that can be removed by cooking, and they are said to taste better when roasted.  Early settlers pressed the nuts and used the oil for lamp oil and as a substitute for olive oil.

In this light it was easy to see how the golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) came by its common name. There are many of them here right alongside the road and they make a beautiful contrast on winter afternoons when the snow is deep blue in the shadows. These trees like it cool and moist and are often found near streams and ponds. They can also stand a lot of shade so a cool, shaded forest is perfect for them. Golden birch is also called yellow birch, and Native Americans tapped this and other birch trees for their sap, which they boiled down into syrup. They also made a medicinal tea from the bark.

We have several vase shaped evergreen ferns and a few species grow here. This one was a little flat but it was still green.

The two rows of spore cases (sori) growing on the underside of the sub-leaflets and the large brown scales on the bases of its stalks told me this was the evergreen wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia.)

Black raspberry leaves (Rubus occidentalis) provided some late fall color.

There was ice on the ledges and it wasn’t a surprise.

The groundwater that created the ice in the previous photo is slowly bringing down the ledges, which are weakened and shattered after close to 300 years of freeze / thaw cycles. This big rockfall could have killed anyone standing under it so I don’t get too close to these ledges anymore. Most of the stone here is feldspar, which is why it appears white in the photo. Feldspar is a soft rock when compared to quartz or granite and it can be split with a sledge hammer. When you strike it with a hammer it has a very unusual smell.

Beaver Brook cascades over ledges into a small, shaded pool that was once a popular swimming hole. There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about how high the falls are; I’ve heard everything from 10 feet to 100 feet, but I’d guess that they are closer to 30 to 40 feet and maybe 50 if you include the part that isn’t visible in this photo. They’re big enough to make a roar that can be heard from a distance.

Up above the falls there is a small turn off; I guess you’d call it a rest area, where cars could have pulled off the main road. The guard posts seen in this photo would have stopped a car from tumbling into the falls, but just beyond the last one you could walk right off the edge and fall into them if you weren’t paying attention. That’s probably why I can’t remember my father ever stopping when he drove through here on our way to see relatives. I was what you might call a “handful” when I was a boy and he probably thought he’d have to fish me out of the brook if he let me out of the car. A few years back a teenage boy was fishing up here and fell in and was swept over the falls. He was lucky to come away with only some bruised ribs and a broken arm.

Right before the turnoff is a fairly good side view of the falls when the leaves have fallen. In fact I think just after the leaves fall is the best time to come here because you can see the falls from the old road, and that’s important if you happen to be a little too creaky to slide down the steep embankment to the brook. Soon it will be winter and the roar of Beaver Brook will most likely become a whisper under the ice for a while; some winters even the falls are muffled by the ice.

But for now you can still see the old no-passing lines in the road. I could do 5 posts on this place and still not show you all of the beauty found here, so if you live nearby I do hope you’ll pay it a visit. It isn’t far from the center of town, which makes it a perfect nature spot for anyone living in Keene.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

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Here are a few more of those out of the ordinary things that I stumble across in my travels.

 1. Beard Lichen

Like the bones of a prehistoric reptile or the ruins of an ancient castle, beard lichens (Usnea) always remind me of the great age and great mysteries of this earth. This one has become an old friend and I visit it often. Most lichens refuse to grow where there is air pollution, so seeing them is always a good sign.

2. Bubbkegum Lichen

Ground dwelling lichens like this bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum) will become covered with leaves and harder to see before too long.  This lichen gets its common name from the bubble gum pink fruiting bodies.

3. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) grows on stones in full sun, so it will be visible all winter long. This is one of my favorite lichens and one of the most beautiful, in my opinion.

4. Beechnuts

Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) are dropping their ripe nuts now and I saw a few places last week where the forest floor was littered with them.  The chipmunks and squirrels have been busy though, so you find more empty husks than anything else.

5. Beechnut  Opened

If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open like the one in the photo, and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards. Since most of the kernels I opened were empty I have to assume that this isn’t a mast year.

6. Wild Sarsaparilla Fruit

The black, shiny wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) berries are ripening. This year has been amazing as far as the bounty of nuts, fruits, and berries I’ve seen. I think the birds and animals will have a good winter with plenty to eat.

7. Polypody Fern Sori

Now is the time to turn over the leaves of the common polypody fern (Polypodium virginanum ) to see the naked spore capsules, which are called sori.  Most ferns have a flap like structure called an indusium that protects their spores, so being able to see them exposed like this is unusual. They always remind me of tiny round baskets full of flowers. The Druids though this fern had special powers because of its habit of growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbal and botanical texts.

8. Cockleburrs

Common cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows in every state except Alaska and throughout most of Canada. The spiny parts of the plant in the photo hide its tiny female flowers parts. Male flowers can be seen in the upper part of the photo, just to the right of center. I find cocklebur growing on riverbanks but it can also grow in agricultural areas. Since it can be toxic to livestock it isn’t a favorite of farmers and ranchers. Historically it has been used medicinally by Native Americans and was once used to make yellow dye.

9. Wild Cucumber Fruit

Young boys just need something to throw at each other (and rarely at young girls if they’re trying to get their attention) and it’s as if wild cucumber seed pods (Echinocystis lobata) were specifically designed for that purpose. The spines are scary looking but in reality are soft and aren’t really prickly until they are dried. This one reminded me of a small spiny watermelon.

10. Foxtail Grass

It’s not hard to see where green foxtail grass (Setaria viridis) gets its common name. This grass is a native annual that grows in clumps. Each bristle, called an awn, comes from a single grass flower and through natural rain and frost action burrows into the ground with the seed once it falls from the seed head. These plants are very dangerous to dogs and other animals because the awns, driven by the animal’s normal muscle movements, can burrow into their skin and cause infection and even death if not treated. Dog owners would be wise to rid their yards of any kind of foxtail grass.

11. Wooly Alder Aphid aka Paraprociphilus tessellatus

This colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb was quite large. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.

12. Water Lily Stems

I watched the sun come up over a local pond recently and it was at the perfect angle for lighting up water lily stems. Since this isn’t something I often see I thought I’d show them here. These leaf stalks are flexible and coil somewhat to allow for fluctuations in water depth.

13. River Rocks

I visited a different section of the Ashuelot River one day and found that someone had been stacking rocks. Some Native American tribes believed that stacked rocks were a spiritual method of protecting sacred spaces. They were often built near powerful energy sources like springs or places with high numbers of lightning strikes. Piles and stacks had many different shapes and sizes and each meant something different.

14. Old Red Oak Tree

This large red oak stood next to a trail I was following one day. It isn’t the biggest I’ve seen but it was big. I leaned my monopod against it to give an idea of its size. A small sign nearby said that its age is estimated to be 300 years, and that it probably was never cut because it grew on a stone wall. Stone walls are boundary markers here in New Hampshire and it is illegal to remove stones from them or alter them in any way unless they are on your land. I can picture the farmers on either side of the wall not cutting the tree because their neighbor might have claimed ownership. That’s the way we do things here-not wanting to bother our neighbor, instead of asking we wait and see, sometimes for 300 years.

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. ~Carl Sagan

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