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Posts Tagged ‘American Beech Spalting’

In my last post I said I had never seen a dandelion blooming in February but never mind; this one was blooming on Leap Day. Now I’ve seen them bloom in all of the coldest months of December, January and February. They’re a hardy plant, and pretty too.

The morning sunlight caught in the trees always makes me slow down on my way to work but on this day it was so beautiful I had to stop. There is little else like a spring morning; cool but with a hint of the warmth that the day will bring. Even as a young boy a morning like this one made me so happy I felt like I could become part of it; maybe I could float up into the trees with the birds and sing their praises along with them. I know just how they feel on such beautiful mornings, and I’ve known for a very long time. It’s about what a joy it is to be alive.

I was splitting wood at work and picked up a log and found these winter oysterling mushrooms (Panellus ringens) growing on it. At least I think that’s what they are after comparing them to photos and descriptions I’ve found online. I can’t find them in any of my mushroom books but I did see some examples found in Connecticut online. They’re small and said to be reddish brown but my color finding software sees more orange than red. They are a true winter mushroom that doesn’t mind the cold and they were as limber as my ear lobe. They’re said to be bioluminescent, but I have no way of confirming that.

Winter oysterlings have an off center stem. It seems odd how they grow with their gills up but in my experience mushrooms want their spore bearing surfaces pointed toward the ground and what I saw as up might have been down while they grew on the log. I didn’t see them until their log reached the wood splitter so it was hard to know how they grew. This photo does show how they’ve erupted out of a flattish mass.

When I split open another log I saw future fungi in the form of mycelium. For those who don’t know, mycelium can be compared to roots in the way that they reach out from the fruiting body of a fungus to search for moisture and nutrients. Botanically it is the vegetative structure of a fungus and the mushrooms we see above ground grow from it. They can be tiny or as large as a forest. The largest one known covers 2,385 acres in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon. Unfortunately it is from the Armillaria ostoyae fungus, which is parasitic on tree roots and will kill trees.

If you strip the inner bark (phloem) of an oak log you can find fibers that are useful in the making of lashings and cordage. Once the fibers are twisted together to make cordage they are quite strong and can be used for anything we would normally use string or rope for. The outer bark had fallen off this oak log naturally due to weather, exposing the fibers underneath. The phloem carries food to the rest of the tree so normally these fibers would run parallel to the length of the log but the weather must have had its way with these because they were all in a jumble as you see here. Native Americans turned tree fibers into threads and cords and made ropes, fishing lines, nets, mats, baskets and even shoes out of them.

Another red oak log just happened to split just right to reveal an insect’s egg chamber deep inside. When you see a woodpecker pecking at a tree this is what it’s looking for. I’m not sure what the insect was but before I split the log open there were about 30 larvae in this one chamber. Lots of protein for a hungry bird.

This is what a pileated woodpecker can do to a tree when it looks for those larvae in the previous photo. It had almost cut this dead beech right in half and wood chips littered the snow.

A beech log when cut revealed spalting. Spalted wood is evidence of fungal damage. Sometimes woods affected by fungi can become very desirable to woodworkers, and spalted wood is one of them. Spalting is essentially any form of wood coloration caused by fungi but there are 3 major types; pigmentation, white rot and zone lines. Sometimes all 3 can be present as they are on the end grain of the beech in the above photo. Pigmentation is the blue gray color, which is probably caused by bluestain or sapstain. White rot is in any areas that look soft or pulpy, and the zone lines are the dark, narrow lines found radiating randomly throughout the log.

This is what a spalted log looks like when it has been split. They can be very beautiful and when sawed into planks can be worth quite a lot of money.  

I’m seeing lots of orange crust fungi on the logs I’m splitting. I think they’re one called Stereum complicatum. It’s color is so bright it’s like a beacon in the woods and it can be seen from quite far away on fallen branches. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself” and that is often just what it does.

I picked up a log and put it on the wood splitter and saw what I thought was a leaf fluttering in the wind, and then I saw the legs and realized it was a butterfly. A butterfly in February? Apparently, and the closest I can come with an identification is the question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis.) According to what I’ve read September laid eggs develop into the winter form of the butterfly, which appear in late fall and spend the winter in various shelters. This one had no shelter and hung onto this log for dear life in a strong wind. When I took  photos the log it was on was vibrating on the log splitter so this is the best of a bad lot. Its long white legs reminded me of the Rockette dancers.

Whenever I see spruce gum on a tree I always wonder who the first person was to peel it off the tree and chew it. When I see it I don’t think of chewing it, but someone did. If you gently heat the resin, which is called spruce gum, of the black spruce tree (Picea mariana,) it will melt down into a liquid which can then be strained and poured into a shallow pan or other container to cool. After about half an hour it will be hardened and very brittle, and when broken into bite sized pieces it can be chewed like any other gum. Spruce gum is antiseptic and good for the teeth. It has been chewed by Native Americans for centuries and was the first chewing gum sold in the United States.

Sweet gale (Myrica gale) is also called bog rosemary. It likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. Though it is a native plant here it also grows native in Europe, where it is used as an ingredient in beer making in some countries. It is also used in an ointment used to treat sensitive skin and acne. Its buds are very pretty, but also very small.  They will open and flower in spring.

Two or three years the white pines (Pinus strobus) in this area had a mast year and tens of thousands of pine cones fell. This year strong winds have stripped branches from the trees and every one I look at is loaded with tiny undeveloped cones like the one in this photo, so it looks like we’re headed for another mast year for white pines. Mast are the fruits, seeds and nuts of trees and shrubs, which are eaten by wildlife. Hard mast is made up of nuts, seeds and cones and soft mast are berries, apples and such. A mast year means lots of food for wildlife like the white footed mouse, which carries Lyme disease, so they do have an impact on humans as well. This cone was about an inch long.

Here is something I’d bet most people never see; the open spore cases of the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis.) This fern is a good wetland indicator and they grow all alongside streams and rivers in the almost always wet soil. Their shin high, spore bearing fronds full of round black spore cases make them very easy to see in winter but I rarely see them opened as these were.

This is what sensitive fern spore cases usually look like. Early colonists noticed that this fern was very sensitive to frost and they gave it its common name. It has toxic properties and animals rarely eat it, but some Native American tribes used its root medicinally.

A mud puddle had evaporated but it left these long ice crystals behind. Puddle ice is an endless source of fascination and beauty.

In my experience I’ve only seen ice needles in spring or fall before the ground freezes or after it has thawed, so these examples that I saw recently were a good sign of spring. When the air temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remains thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. From what I’ve seen the needles almost always freeze together and form ribbons, but few of these did.

Though this photo of Mount Monadnock may not look very spring like, down here in the lowlands most of the snow is gone and what’s left is melting quickly. The record keepers at the state capital say that February was 3.5 degrees above average, and that makes for a short winter. Flowers are starting to bloom and the red winged blackbirds have returned. The furnace runs less each day and grass is greening up in places, so though the calendar might not say spring yet all signs are certainly pointing to it.

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.  ~Walt Whitman

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November on average is the cloudiest month, but we’ve seen quite a lot of sunshine so far. Unfortunately the sunshine hasn’t warmed us up much and we’ve had a string of several cold days and below freezing (32º F) nights. This week we’re to see January type cold that could break records that have stood for 150 years. Historically the colder the November the snowier the winter, but we’ll see. In spite of all the cold this dandelion struggled to come into full bloom.

And this chicory blossom did the same. I was very surprised to see it.

We’re at the stage where the grass is coated by frost overnight but then it melts off as soon as the sunlight reaches it.

Leaves that have gone unraked get covered by frost and then become wet when it melts off.

Ice baubles formed in the Ashuelot River one cold night.

The waves in the river splash up on twigs or anything else that the water touches and it freezes there in the cold air. Much like dipping a candle in molten wax the waves splash again and again and ice baubles like the one in this photo form. It was about an inch across but I’ve seen them get bigger. Just as a side note: that small starburst over on the right hasn’t been added. This is just the way it came out of the camera. The ice is very clear and will act as a prism in the right light.

There was hoar frost on the fallen pine needles on the river bank. Hoarfrost grows whenever it’s cold and there is a source of water vapor nearby. When it is below freezing the water vapor from unfrozen rivers and streams often condenses on the plants and even trees all along their banks and covers them in hoarfrost. It looks so very delicate that I often have to remind myself to breathe while I’m taking its photo.  One touch of a warm finger, a ray of sunshine, or a warm breath and they’re gone.

I’m guessing there was plenty of water vapor coming from the river. The river wasn’t really raging but I did get to practice my wave catching skills on this day. At a certain time of morning the sun hits the river just right for a wave photo at this spot and the colors are ofen very beautiful. I love the how the colors of the water change as the light changes. The river taught me that if you want blue water in your photo you should have the sun more or less behind you, and it taught me that right in this very spot.  

This photo changed my mind about what I thought were oyster mushrooms because of the brownish cast I saw, which I couldn’t see in person. They might have been flat creps (Crepidotus applanatus,) which start out white and then shade to brown. Flat creps resemble oyster mushrooms but without a microscope to study the spores with it’s hard to be sure. I could have done a spore print; crepidotus species have brown spore prints and oysters have a white to lilac spore print, but I didn’t bring one home.

I’ve said a lot about turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) over the years, including how they are showing value in cancer research and how they have been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years, but I keep coming back to their multitude of color combinations and their beauty. For me, that’s enough to keep me interested.  

I had been looking for scarlet elf cup fungi (Sarcoscypha coccinea) for a very long time and then a friend showed me a photo of something growing in the gravel of his driveway and I thought I’d found them. I went there and took the photos that you see here, shocked that they grew where they were, with just sand and gravel around them. That’s especially surprising when you consider that this fugus typically grows on moist, rotting branches. I would have guessed that there might be a branch or root buried under the gravel but they grew in groups over a wide area, so that theory didn’t work. That fact leads me to believe that they are instead the orange peel fungus (Aleuria aurantia.) It likes to grow in clay soil or disturbed ground, often in landscaped areas.

The clincher is, my color finding software sees shades of orange, but no scarlet. I was surprised by how small they were. Some were as big as a penny at about 3/4 of an inch, but a pea would have nestled perfectly in this example. Orange peel fungi get their common name from the way they look like orange peels strewn on the ground.

I always look for juniper berries at this time of year because I love that shade of blue. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them that color. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat. Birds also love them.

The golden sunlight on the blueberry bushes in the foreground was lighting up the trees on the far side of Half Moon Pond in the same way and it was beautiful, but I wasn’t fast enough to catch it. It disappeared in just seconds and before I could turn my camera on it was gone.

Here is that same golden light caught in the tops of these bare trees. Sometimes I see it in the morning on my way to work and it’s very beautiful. On this morning I had to stop and watch.

I like lake sedge (Carex lacustris) because of the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds. Even when it isn’t blowing in the wind it seems to have movement.

Henry David Thoreau said about polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” I would add that, since they are tough evergreen ferns they are there in the winter too, and that’s what cheers me most about them. They are also called rock cap fern or rock polypody because they love to grow on top of rocks, as the above photo shows. There were hundreds of them on a large boulder.

Turn over a polypody fern leaf and you’re apt to see tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many fern sori.

Once they ripen polypody fern sori are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers; in this case yellow and orange flowers. They always make me wonder why so many ferns, lichens, fungi and mosses produce spores in winter. There must be some benefit but I’ve never been able to find out what it is.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries shown here will remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring. The berries are edible, but fairly tasteless and eaten mostly by birds. If I was going to spend my time in the forest looking for small red berries to feed on I’d be looking for American wintergreen, (teaberry) which are delicious.

Partridgeberry flowers always appear in twos as twins fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were. Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. I like the hand hammered look of the leaves.

A big beech tree fell where I work and damaged one of the buildings, so it had to be cut up. When we cut it down to the stump we found it was spalted, and spalted wood is evidence of fungal damage. Sometimes woods affected by fungi can become very desirable to woodworkers, and spalted wood is one of them. Spalting is essentially any form of wood coloration caused by fungi but there are 3 major types; pigmentation, white rot and zone lines. Sometimes all 3 can be present as they are on the end grain of the beech stump in the above photo. Pigmentation is the blue gray color, which is probably caused by bluestain or sapstain. The white rot is in the areas that look soft or pulpy, and the zone lines are the dark, narrow lines found radiating randomly throughout the log. Zone lines often form where 2 or more types of fungi meet.

There is beauty everywhere in this world, even in an old tree stump. The question is, will we let ourselves first be drawn into it and then actively seek it out or will we ignore it? I choose to seek it out, and now I see it wherever I go.

Life can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, if a person would only pause to look and to listen. ~Rod Serling

Thanks for coming by.

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