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Posts Tagged ‘American Chestnut’

Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows I like to play on the banks of the Ashuelot River, which meanders through several local towns. Though when I was a boy it was terribly polluted, now people fish for trout along its banks and eagles can sometimes be seen flying over it. That’s why a few years ago I was disturbed when I saw an oily sheen on the water that filled my footprint on the shore. It looked much like the puddle I found on the shore in the photo above and I posted it on this blog, saying how I was hoping I’d never see such a thing on these riverbanks again. Then happily, thanks to several knowledgeable readers, I found out that this sheen might easily have come from natural sources. Iron rich ferrous hydroxide that occurs naturally in soil can cause the oil like sheen on water, as can bacteria which generate hydrocarbons in oxygen depleted soil. I was very happy to hear that because though I don’t want to see this river polluted, I do think that this film on the water is beautiful. Just look at those colors.

While I was at the river, I spotted trees that had grape vines loaded with grapes growing in them. Wild river grapes (Vitis riparia) like a lot of rain, and I know that because we’ve had a lot of rain and I’m seeing more grapes than I’ve ever seen before. The odd thing about it though, is how the birds don’t seem to be eating them. These grapes are a favorite of many birds and they are often gone even before I can get a photo of them, but on this day I didn’t see that a single one had been picked. That’s a little disturbing.

Also disturbing is how none of the Oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) have been eaten. They are another favorite of the birds and they disappear as quickly as the grapes, so why aren’t they? This vine is very invasive and can strangle trees to death so I don’t want it to spread, but I do wonder about the birds.

While I was there wandering along the river, I took a shot of the Thompson covered bridge, named after playwright Denmon Thompson, who was a native son, and built in 1832. The bridge design is known as “Town lattice,” patented by Connecticut architect Ithiel Town in the early 1800s. The open lattice work lets a lot of light into the bridge and this is unusual because many covered bridges are dark and cave like. In the 1800s being able to see daylight inside a covered bridge would have been the talk of the town. The Thompson Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful covered bridge in New England but the person who ran the wires must not have known that.

This bridge is known as the Cresson Bridge, also in Swanzey and also crossing the Ashuelot River. It was opened to traffic in 1859 and I wanted you to see it so you could get an idea of how dark it was inside these old covered bridges. The tiny square windows didn’t let in much light, and that’s why Town truss bridges like that in the previous photo were such an innovation, and why they were so welcomed by the traveling public. By the way, back in those day traveling was done by sleigh in winter, so snow had to be shoveled onto the plank floors of covered bridges so sleigh runners would have something to slide on. What a job that must have been.

I finally found a blue bead lily plant (Clintonia borealis) with a ripe berry on it and now you know why I call it “electric blue.” That might sound like the title of a Jimmy Hendrix song but it is a very unusual shade of blue, to these eyes at least. It seems to sparkle in the right light and it is a deer magnet. From seed to berry can take 14 years, with two of those years taken up by seed germination. This is not a fast-growing plant.

I went to see Baily Brook Falls up in Stoddard and was surprised to see how little water was actually falling. With all of the rain we’ve had I thought they would be roaring. I have a feeling that beavers are involved and if I walked upstream, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that they’ve dammed up the stream.

Since Bailey Brook Falls werent roaring I went to where I knew I’d hear the roar of water; the outflow dam at Swanzey Lake.

I’m always amazed by what I see when the leaves start falling. Here was a wasp nest as big as a soccer ball up in a maple tree, and I had been walking under it several times each day all summer long without seeing it. I’d bet its residents saw me though, and I’m glad they decided we could coexist. I was pruning a large rhododendron once that had a similar nest in the center of it. By the time I was able to stop running I had been stung on the back several times.

When the leaves fall from the trees the wind has greater force as it whistles through the bare branches and inevitably, small bird nests like these get blown out. I don’t know what bird made this one but you could barely have fit a hen’s egg in it. It was as light as a feather and very well made of grass.

I saw a spider web on a lawn and it reminded me of the synapses in my own brain. One of the questions that has been nagging at that brain for quite a long time is why nature uses the same shapes over and over again.

I looked down into the heart of a yucca plant and thought of the Native Americans who used every single part of this plant. They pounded the leaves and used the strong fibers inside them to weave sandals, cords, belts and baskets. They also ate the flowers and fruit of the plant. The sharp points at the tips of the leaves were used as sewing needles and the roots were peeled and ground and mixed with water to make soap for washing their hair and treating dandruff.  Sap from the leaves was used medicinally to stop bleeding and heal sores. Not a bit of it was wasted.

I found this colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb in a swamp one recent day. Wooly alder aphids grow a white, filamentous waxy covering that looks like it’s made up of tiny white ribbons. A colony of them looks like white fuzz on the alder’s branches and this white fuzz helps protect them from the eyes of predators. They are sap sucking insects which secrete a sweet honeydew on the leaves and branches of plants. This honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold, but since the mold grows only on the honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. The aphids themselves will do far more harm because they can literally suck the life out of a plant.

I’m not sure if the aphids with dots in this photo I took previously always look that way, if they haven’t grown the white waxy covering yet, or if they’ve lost the covering for some reason. They are very small; not even half the size of a house fly. I find them usually on the undersides of alder branches. If you are lucky enough to catch these insects in flight, they look like tiny white fairies. In fact another name for them is “fairy flies.” This is the best time of year to find them.

Here is something quite rare, unfortunately. American chestnuts were one of the most important forest trees, supplying both food and lumber. An Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees and the disease all but wiped out over three billion American chestnut trees. New shoots often sprout from chestnut roots when the main trunk dies so they haven’t yet become extinct. Unfortunately the stump sprouts are almost always infected by the Asian fungus by the time they reach 20 feet tall but since some trees do bloom maybe these particular examples are growing from chestnuts. I found these three or four young trees a few years ago and have watched them get bigger over the years. They look very healthy so far. Though the leaves resemble beech leaves they are much bigger with very serrated margins. Many botanists and other scientists are working on finding and breeding disease resistant trees and maybe these trees will one day fit the bill. If you happen to find any you might want to keep an eye on them.

A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off, the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. This example is special because it looks like the very tip of a branch on one trunk grew directly into the other trunk. It must have taken many years of strong winds and bark rubbing before they could grow together as they did.

Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo. I’ve seen them on several different species, so I don’t think any one species is more or less susceptible to cracking than others. It’s more a matter of how the sunlight falls on a tree’s trunk. Wrapping an ornamental tree’s trunk loosely in burlap in winter can help prevent the bark splitting.

If you grow stone fruits like peaches, apricots, plums or cherries then you should know the disease called black knot. It is caused by a fungus called Apiosporina morbosa. This fungus grows in the wild and its spores can be spread by rain or wind. The spores will typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like that 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. Black cherry seems particularly susceptible to the disease.

I saw a hollowed-out stump that was slowly filling with fallen leaves beside a trail. From what I’ve read in the book Bark; a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech, eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are the only trees with stumps that will rot away from the inside out. It’s an interesting thing that I don’t see that often.

You would think that with all the rain we’ve had I’d be seeing slime molds everywhere, but actually I’ve seen very few this year. I believe the orangey brown material in this photo was once an active slime mold but by the time I found it, it was dry and hard. There are many different orange slime molds so it’s impossible to tell which one it is but it was still interesting. It shows how a slime mold will spread over its immediate surroundings, looking for food. Slime molds “eat” tiny unseen organisms such as bacteria and yeasts, and they are also said to help decompose leaves and rotting logs.

I’ve seen many thousands of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata.) They’re the ones that look like tiny golf tees, but I’ve always wondered what they looked like when they first started forming. Did they always look like golf tees? I didn’t think so but I couldn’t say why. Then one day I thought I had found the answer. As you can see in this photo the little golf tees start life looking like simple pegs. You can see a few with tiny “cups” just starting to form. Pixie cup lichens are squamulose lichens with fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. Squamulose means they have scale like lleafy obes that often overlap like shingles. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. Podetia means a stalk like growth which bears the spore bearing fruiting bodies. Finally, frucitose means a lichen with bushy, vertical growth. It is thought that some colonies of pixie cup lichens might be as old as 4,500 years. It’s good I think, to know a little more about these tiny life forms that see everywhere I go.

A boulder on the side of the road was covered by moss and though that might not seem surprising or earthshaking, it caught my attention.

Picture yourself in a small, single engine plane flying low over the treetops in the Amazon jungle, and you’ll understand why I was fascinated by this mossy boulder. I imagined that scene would look a lot like this.

Here’s a little hint of what’s to come. We finally had a frost, more than a month after our average first frost date and the second latest since such things have been recorded. But we haven’t had a freeze, and that means we still have colorful leaves on some of the trees.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for coming by.

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In 1889 George A. Wheelock sold a piece of land known as the Children’s Wood to the City of Keene for a total of one dollar. This area was eventually combined with an additional parcel of land purchased from Wheelock, known as Robin Hood Forest, to form Robin Hood Park. It’s a 110-acre park located in the northeastern corner of Keene and it is a place that has been enjoyed by children of all ages ever since. I decided to go there last weekend because it had been quite a while last time I had been there. On this day the pond surface was so calm it was a mirror, showing me twice the beauty.

In March I come here to see the coltsfoot that grow along the shoreline and in July I come to see the pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) that grows just off the shoreline. Who needs a calendar? Or a clock for that matter; it’s the same here now as it was 50 years ago. Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots of pickerel weed and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant can form huge colonies in places and it gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) also grows along the shoreline, along with many other plants. In fact if I listed all the plants that grew here the list would be very long indeed. For a nature nut coming here is like visiting paradise. There are interesting things to see no matter where you look.

I once worked in a building that had outside lights on all night and in the morning when I got there the pavement would be littered with moth wings of all shapes and sizes. The wings were all the bats left after they ate the moths, I guessed. On this day I saw many wings floating on the surface of the pond. This was the prettiest. Bats eat many insects during the night, including mosquitoes and biting flies.

A frog meditated on an old plank. This told me that there were probably no great blue herons here this day. I see them here fairly regularly though, along with cormorants, and one winter there was an otter living in the pond.

There were many dragonflies here on this day, flying up out of the tall grass by the pond. I think this one is a widow skimmer but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

There is a trail that follows all the way around the pond but it gets rocky in places and there are lots of tree roots to trip over, so you have to watch your step. The trail wasn’t as empty as this photo makes it seem; I saw a few people walking. Some were fishing, some were sitting on benches and some, the littlest ones, were running and laughing, bursting with joy.

In two places seeps cross the trail. This one looked like a beautiful stream of molten sunshine. Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer and this one stays just like this winter and summer. It never freezes solid and it never dries out.  

I saw many broken trees here. This red maple must have just fallen because its leaves weren’t wilted yet. The woodpecker hole tells the story; most likely the tree is full of insects and, if it had stood, it would probably have had fungi growing on it as well. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes fungi to appear on what’s left after it’s cut down.

A young white pine grew in the arms of a much older tree. Some of these pines can be hundreds of years old.

An older white pine has very thick, platy and colorful bark. But these are very common trees in these parts and I think few people notice.

Robin Hood park is a great place to find mushrooms and slime molds and with our recent rains I thought I might find a fungal bonanza but no, this was one of only two I saw and it was in sad shape.

By far the biggest mushroom that I’ve ever seen is Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi.) This example was easily 2 feet across at its widest point. They grow at the base of hardwoods in the east and in the west a similar example, Bondarzewia montana, grows at the base of conifers. It causes butt rot in the tree’s heartwood. The wood turns white before rotting away and leaving a standing hollow tree.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly and grow in the dark places in the forest but they aren’t fungi. They can get away with doing that because they don’t photosynthesize, but they do have flowers and when the flowers are pollinated they stand straight up toward the sky.

This is what the flowers look like once they’re pollinated. The seeds are fine like dust and I think the flower standing up straight must have something to do with rain being able to splash the seeds out of the capsule. Many plants and mosses use the same strategy for seed and spore dispersal. Fresh Indian pipe plants contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems, and the common name comes from the plant’s resemblance to the pipes they smoked.

This might not look like much but it is a rare sight. American chestnuts were one of the most important forest trees, supplying both food and lumber. An Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees and the disease all but wiped out over three billion American chestnut trees. New shoots often sprout from chestnut roots when the main trunk dies so they haven’t yet become extinct. I’ve seen photos of the trees blossoming on other blogs but I’ve never seen it in person. Unfortunately the stump sprouts are almost always infected by the Asian fungus by the time they reach 20 feet tall but since some trees do bloom maybe these particular examples are growing from chestnuts. Many botanists and other scientists are working on finding and breeding disease resistant trees. This forest must have once been full of them because I’ve found three or four young trees growing here. Though the leaves resemble beech leaves they are much bigger with very serrated margins.

This tiny fern would easily fit in a teacup. It has been growing in a crack in this boulder for years, never getting any bigger. It gets a gold star for fortitude.

Something I’ve never been able to explain is the zig zag scar on this tree. I’ve shown it here before and blog readers have kicked around several ideas including lightning, but none seem to really fit. The scar is deep and starts about 5 feet up the trunk from the soil line. If it were a lightning scar I would think that it would travel from the top of the tree into the soil. I happened upon a large white pine tree once that had been hit by lightning very recently and it had a perfectly straight scar from its top, down a root, and into the soil. The bark had been blown off all the way along it. This tree shows none of that.

There are lots of stones here, some huge, but this one always catches my eye because it has a spear of either quartz or feldspar in it. I think, if I remember my geology correctly, that it would be called an intrusion or vein. Granite itself is considered an intrusive igneous rock.

For over half a century I have visited this place. I learned how to ice skate here and swam in the pool and fished in the pond. I listened to band concerts and camped in the woods and now I walk the trails and sit on the benches. It’s a peaceful place full of life and since the 1800s generations of children have come here to play and enjoy nature and many like myself have never really left. Time means little in such a place and this day might have been any of the other days I’ve spent here in the last 50+ years. I’ve done and seen much here but now I think I come here more for the serenity than anything else. I hope all of you have a place like this to go but it doesn’t matter if you don’t; bliss is a fruit always ready to be harvested, no matter where we happen to be.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Pearl Crescent Butterfly

I haven’t seen many pearl crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) this year but this one landed nearby and let me get quite close. I wondered if it needed a rest after flying with such a torn up wing.  I’ve read that males have black antenna knobs, so I’m guessing that this is a female.

2. White Admiral Butterfly

This white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) landed in the leaves at the side of a path. It seemed like odd behavior for a butterfly but I thought it might be looking for some shade. It was a hot day.

3. Branch River

The branch river in Marlborough has more stones than water in it at the moment. It’s a good illustration of how dry our weather has been. Rain is a rare commodity here lately, but they say we might see showers this weekend.

4. Forest Clearing

Last year at this time I found a northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) growing in this spot but this year there wasn’t a sign of it or any other orchid. A tree fell and opened up the forest canopy to let the sunshine hit the forest floor and last year I thought that it might be the reason the orchid grew here. Now I wonder if the extra sunshine is what caused the orchid to no longer grow here. I’ve noticed that many of the smaller orchids I’ve found seem to prefer shade.

5. Hobblebush Leaves

Signs of fall are creeping from the forest floor up into the shrubby understory, as these hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) show. This plant gets its name from the way it can “hobble” a horse because it grows so close to the ground. My own feet have been hobbled by it once or twice and I’ve taken some good falls because of it, so now I walk around rather than through stands of hobblebush.

6. Bracken

Bracken ferns are also starting to show their fall colors. This fern is one plant that will not tolerate acid rain, so if you don’t see it where you live you might want to check the local air pollution statistics. We have plenty of it here so acid rain must be a thing of the past, thankfully.

7. Cranberries

This seems to be a bountiful year for fruits as these cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) show. Most were unripe when this photo was taken but you can see one reddish one in the upper right.  Cranberries, along with blueberries and grapes, are the only fruits native to North America that are grown commercially and sold globally.

8. Sumac Pouch Gall

Someone from the Smithsonian Institution read another post where I spoke about sumac pouch gall and contacted me to ask if I knew where they grew. They are researching the coevolution of rhus gall aphids and its host plants the sumacs. A female aphid lays eggs on the underside of a leaf and plant tissue swells around them to form a gall. The eggs overwinter and mature inside the hollow gall until spring, when they leave the gall and begin feeding on the plant. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. They are studying this relationship at the Smithsonian and I told them that I could show them where many of these galls grew. We’ll do that sometime in September, after they collect galls from Georgia, Arkansas, and Ohio.

9. Chanterelle

This chanterelle mushroom held a good amount of water in its cup. I never thought that the coating on a mushroom was water proof, but it looks like I have to re-think that.

10. Chestnut Leaves

This might not look like much but it is a rare sight. American chestnuts were one of the most important forest trees, supplying both food and lumber. An Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees and the disease all but wiped out over three billion American chestnut trees. New shoots often sprout from chestnut roots when the main trunk dies so they haven’t yet become extinct. Unfortunately the stump sprouts are almost always infected by the Asian fungus by the time they reach 20 feet tall. Many botanists and other scientists are working on finding and breeding disease resistant trees. I’ll be watching this one.

11. Mini

Mini the wonder dog comes trotting out of the darkness with tongue wagging, ready to save mankind from the scourge of the chipmunk. Mini lives with friends of mine and I call her the wonder dog because I really have to wonder if I’ll ever see her sit still. She’s very energetic and loves a good chipmunk chase. She never catches them but that doesn’t keep her from trying.

12. Sunlit Clouds

I saw the sun light up the clouds one evening but I couldn’t stop driving right then and had to chase the view until I found a good stopping place. It was amazingly colorful and reminded me of a Maxfield Parrish painting.

13. Sunlit Valley Maxfield Parrish

For those unfamiliar with Maxfield Parrish; he was a painter who moved to Plainfield New Hampshire in 1898 and painted here until he died in 1966. His paintings are known for their saturated colors and sunlit clouds. There is often a beautiful woman dressed in Native American or other unusual clothing somewhere in the painting. This painting is titled “Sunlit Valley.” The clouds I saw reminded me of it.

14. Blue Moon

Last month we had a blue moon and I went out and took photos of it but then forgot to put them into a post, so here is a nearly month old photo of the blue moon. Obviously it isn’t blue but is called blue when two full moons appear in a single month. According to Wikipedia the suggestion has been made that the term “blue moon” arose by folk etymology, the “blue” replacing the no-longer-understood belewe, ‘to betray’. The original meaning would then have been “betrayer moon”, referring to a full moon that would “normally” be the full moon of spring. It was “traitorous” in the sense that people would have had to continue fasting for another month in accordance with the season of Lent.

The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves. ~Kahlil Gibran

Thanks for stopping in.

OF LOCAL INTEREST: The following was sent to me recently:

2015 NH Permaculture Day – Saturday, August 22, 2015 Anyone who wants to learn ways to live in a more sustainable and self-sufficient way should attend the third annual NH Permaculture Day – Saturday, August 22 from 8 am to 5 pm at Inheritance Farm, in Chichester, NH, presented by the New Hampshire Permaculture Guild in cooperation with UNH Cooperative Extension.  Experts will lead more than 30 activities on such topics as growing, harvesting, preparing, and preserving food; herbs; mushrooms; raising farm animals; historic barns and natural building practices; and sustainable energy. Tickets are $35 for adults, children ages 6-15 are $10, and ages 5 and under are free. A local organic farm-to-table lunch is included.

Locally-made products will be for sale in the vendor’s area, and supervised activities and crafts will be offered all day long in our Children’s Corner.

Tickets can be purchased online (via Eventbrite).  For more information, go to the event page at http://extension.unh.edu/2015-NH-Permaculture-Day.

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