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Posts Tagged ‘American Elm’

Last Saturday the weather wasn’t cooperating at all. As the above radar image shows there was a thin ribbon of rain from the Midwest to the northeast. In my corner of New Hampshire it was in the mid-30s and we had snow mixed with rain, which translates into a sloppy mess. With the hill climbing trails still covered in snow and ice March continues to be a challenge.

This is what the view out my back door looked like while it snowed.

In spite of a near blinding snow squall this willow’s golden branches lit up this space. Golden willows are one of the earliest signs of spring in this area.

I’m guessing that I won’t be seeing any yellow flowers on the pussy willows (Salix) real soon. Once the snow stopped they had ice on them on this day.

A sedum decided to throw caution to the wind and come up anyway, even if it was snowing. The shoots looked like tiny cabbages.

Buds of American elm (Ulmus americana) are just starting to open. Their flowers are unusual and beautiful and I hope I don’t miss them this year. I know of only two trees with branches low enough to reach.

Last year this magnolia blossomed too early and lost nearly every flower to frost because of it, but this year there is still a single furry bud scale on every bud. They looked a little wet and bedraggled but they’re still protecting the flower buds inside. Soon they’ll fall off and the tree will start to blossom, cold weather or not.

It looked like the bud scales on these box elder buds (Acer negundo) were just starting to open. The buds and young twigs of box elders are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are often pruinose. Box elder is in the maple family and several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap.

Lichens are at their best in wet weather so I decided to look at a few I hadn’t seen in a while. I can’t speak for the rarity of hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) but I do know that I rarely see it. This lichen gets its common name from the way it looks like its lobes were hammered out of a sheet of steel. This one grows on a tree in a local shopping mall. It’s the only example that I could confidently lead  someone to if they asked to see one.

On the same tree, just a few inches away, grows a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris) that produces spores quite regularly. The dark brown apothecia with white rims are fairly easy to see without magnification but there was something else here that I had never seen.

I’ve seen many lichens with apothecia that are cup shaped as this one has but some of these cups were full of water, and that’s something I’ve never seen. I don’t know how or even if this benefits the lichen but I do know that most of them like a lot of water. Star rosette lichen gets its common name from the way its lobes radiate outward like a star.

If you don’t mind getting down on your stomach in the kind of swampy ground that they like to grow in you can sometimes get a peek inside the spathe of a skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) to see its flowers. A spathe is just a modified leaf or bract which kind of wraps around itself and protects the flower bud. As the plant matures a gap opens in the spathe to let in the insects which will pollinate the flowers. This one was open far more than they usually are and I wondered if someone had been there before me, taking a peek inside.

Inside the skunk cabbage’s spathe is the spadix, which 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. This example had released a large amount of pollen and it was stuck to the insides of the spathe. In 1749 in what was once the township of Raccoon, New Jersey they called the plant bear’s leaf because bears ate it when they came out of hibernation. Since skunk cabbage was and is the only thing green so early in the spring so if the bears woke up too early they had to eat it or go hungry.

Some of the skunk cabbages came up too early and paid for their mistake by being frozen. Now their spathes are shriveled and black. This one had a new green leaf shooting up beside it but its spathe didn’t look good. The leaf will keep the plant alive but it will have to wait until next year to blossom again. There is a time when they’re young that the leaves do look somewhat cabbage like but they grow quickly and lose any resemblance once they age.

I doubt it would help pollinate a skunk cabbage but I did see what I think is a wasp recently. It seemed sluggish; most likely because of the cold. It did finally rear up on its hind legs when I got the camera too close, but I don’t think it was in any position to sting just yet. It seemed like it could barely stand. After a couple of quick shots I left it alone to contemplate the weather.

Reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) are our earliest iris I think, and usually bloom at about the same time as the crocus does, though this year I saw a crocus blossom two weeks ago. This beautiful and tough little plant comes from Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern Iraq and Iran.

This one looked more like an iris, even with the ice on it making its petals curl. Reticulated iris are a much tougher plant than I ever realized and I appreciate them and the other early bloomers showing me that spring is indeed here, even though it still feels like winter.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. ~Henry Van Dyke

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1-aerial-view

We’ve had some snow here and it’s hard to get into the woods right now so I thought I’d take a walk through the plowed sidewalks of Keene. This aerial view from probably the 1960s shows a good part of the downtown area. Main Street was once, and might still be, the widest paved Main Street in the world, as someone has written on the photo. Where the street becomes a Y at the northern end is the town common. Washington Street is the right leg of the Y, and that’s where I go when I want to show you Beaver Brook Falls. On the left Leg of the Y is Court Street and that’s one way to get to Tenant Swamp, which I showed in my last post. By American reckoning Keene is an old town, having first been granted township status in 1732 and settled in 1736. The population fluctuates because of the college students coming and going, but I think it averages about 25,000 residents.

2-keene-main-street-in-the-1960s

Here’s a shot from the 1960s showing just how wide Main Street was. It’s still as wide but there is now a divider going up the center of it with a walkway for pedestrians. I could have easily been in this photo riding my stingray bicycle up the sidewalk, but I can’t really tell.  I can tell that this wasn’t taken on a Sunday though, because on Sunday every single store closed and Keene became a ghost town for a day. That was when my father and I usually went to visit relatives. We often drove up the right side of the Y, past Beaver Brook Falls.

3-the-white-church

One of the most familiar landmarks in Keene is the United Church of Christ, all in white. It’s called the “white church” or the “church at the head of the square” by most of us. Though the town common is round the blocks of buildings that surround it form a three sided square, so that’s where the term “head of the square” comes from. That confuses a lot of people so I just call it the “white church.” It’s a very beautiful building, in my opinion.

4-coal-silos

Almost as iconic to townsfolk as the white church are the huge coal silos that have been here for as long as anyone can remember. Surprisingly I can’t find much historical information about them.

6-coal-silos-old

Since there are railroad tracks beside the silos in this photo from about 1920, I’m guessing that the coal was brought in by rail, but how it got into the silos from there I don’t know. I’d guess that some type of conveyor was used.  If you needed coal you just backed your horse and wagon or truck under the silo, a door would open and gravity would do the rest. I walked down those tracks beside the silos many times when I was a boy but I never saw them actually work. By then the roof over the tracks was gone but trains still used them.

7-cheshire-railroad-repair-shops

Keene has a long railroad history. The Cheshire Railroad was opened in Keene on May 16, 1848. The first train to arrive was from Boston, a “doubleheader” with two engines, the Cheshire No. 5 and the Monadnock No. 6. The train is said to have been decorated its entire length with flags and evergreens. By the time I was old enough to walk through here the double arched repair shop had become a screw factory. My father worked there and so did I for a while. The old roundhouse can still be seen today, even though the building is now full of stores and restaurants. When I was a boy the original turntable was still there. I used to love playing on it, but I never saw it turn a locomotive.

8-railroad-station

This photo is of a big steam locomotive leaving the railroad station which was once located on Main Street. I never got to see one quite that old but I saw a lot of trains pass through town.

9-oak-gall

At one time Keene was called the Elm City because of all the beautiful 200 year old elms that grew along almost every street, but Dutch elm disease wiped out most of them in the 50s and 60s and the city replaced the elm trees with others of various species, including oak. I happened to look up at one of these oaks and saw that it was covered in gouty oak galls. Gouty oak gall is caused by a wasp called, not surprisingly, the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis quercuspunctata). In spring the wasp lays its eggs in expanding plant tissue and secretes chemicals that will cause the abnormal growth seen in the photo. The gall grows quickly and once the eggs hatch the larvae feed on its tissue. It can take two years or more for the gall wasps to reach adulthood. One adult exits the gall through each hole.

10-court-street-keene

This photo of Court Street from the late 1800s shows why Keene was called the Elm City. Almost every street in town became a tunnel formed by the massive arching elms. I was lucky enough to have been born before all the trees died and I remember seeing many views just like this one. It was a beautiful place for a boy to grow up in; like living in a Currier and Ives lithograph.

11-lichens-on-tree-trunk

Many of today’s trees are encrusted with fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa) and other lichens. The city of Keene uses in-ground sprinklers in the summer and the spray keeps the trunks of the trees moist to about 5 feet off the ground and that’s just where these water loving lichens grow. Some trees are so covered with them that it looks as if someone painted them bright yellow. People were giving me some strange looks; probably wondering what was so fascinating about a tree trunk. If only they would stop and see for themselves.

12-lichen

The book Lichens of North America says that fruiting bodies (Apothecia) are commonly seen on fringed candle flame lichens, but I rarely them.  They are the tiny cup shaped parts, which were extremely small and difficult to get a good photo of. I think the largest one seen in this photo was probably only 1/16 of an inch across. This lichen is said to be very sensitive to air pollution, so seeing it is a good sign that our air quality is good.

13-lichen

What I believe were star rosette lichens (Physcia stellaris) grew among the fringed candle flame lichens.  Star rosette lichen gets its common name from the way its lobes radiate outward like a star. This photo doesn’t show that feature well though, because I was trying to get a shot of the apothecia. This lichen’s dark brown apothecia are often pruinose, which refers to a white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on blueberries, plums, and first year black raspberry canes. The waxy coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing ashy gray and at other times more blue.

14-coke-sign

I don’t know when this Coca Cola sign was painted but it has been here all of my life, on the side of the old Bullard & Shedd drugstore. Bullard & Shedd had special things like Russell Stover chocolates and I used to save my money and buy my grandmother the biggest box of them that I could afford on Valentine’s Day. Of course she always shared them and I usually got about three to her one.

15-jumanji-sign

This sign isn’t anywhere near as old as the Coca Cola sign but it’s probably a lot more famous, because it was painted for the film Jumanji with Robin Williams. Many of the exterior scenes in the film, including the animal stampede on Main Street, were filmed here. The film crew painted this sign for a business that never existed on the wall of a downtown building. Robin Williams was a nice guy who truly enjoyed meeting people, and he became friends with some of our local residents.

16-boston-ivy-berries

We have a lot of brick buildings here in Keene and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) grows well on a few of them. But Boston ivy isn’t from Boston and isn’t an ivy; it is in the grape family and comes from eastern Asia. In the fall its red leaves are one of the most beautiful things in town but since the vines grow mostly on the rear of buildings few notice them. Boston ivy attaches itself to just about any vertical surface with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils.  It secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to “glue” the pads to the surface it wants to climb. The glue can to hold up to 260 times its own weight and it is close to impossible to remove the vine from a building.

17-blue-spruce

A Colorado blue spruce poked its colorful branches out of the deep snow. Snow won’t hurt this tree any; it was found growing in Colorado on Pike’s Peak in 1862 up in the high country, so it’s perfectly cold hardy. Its silvery blue color comes from the waxy coating on its needles, which is similar to the bloom on blueberries and plums. This coating helps its needles (actually leaves) to minimize moisture loss in winter when there is little water available to its roots. Some western Native American tribes used the tree medicinally to treat colds and stomach ailments but today its value comes from its popularity as a landscape specimen.

18-japanese-andromeda

I didn’t notice it when I took the photo but this Japanese Andromeda looks like it might be infested by Andromeda lace bugs. Andromeda lace bug nymphs are 1/8 inch long when they hatch in late spring. They suck cell sap, which speckles the leaves with off color dots. These lace bugs damage broadleaf evergreens throughout the eastern U.S. from western North Carolina to Maine. They attack shrubs that are stressed, especially those that receive too much sun.

19-the-old-clock

It wasn’t the time but the cold that ended this outing. The odd thing was that at 22 °F it really wasn’t that cold, but every time I had to take off my gloves to snap the shutter my fingers felt like they had been frostbitten so I called it a day. This beautiful old cast iron clock is another Keene landmark. E. Howard & Co. was a clock and watch company formed by Edward Howard and Charles Rice in 1858, but I haven’t been able to find out when this clock came to Keene. With its gold leaf details restored it certainly is spiffier than it was when I was a boy.

How strange it is to view a town you grew up in, not in wonderment through the eyes of youth, but with the eyes of a historian on the way things were. ~ Marvin Allan Williams

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1. Rail Trail

I decided to visit an old familiar place recently, just to see if it had changed any since my last visit. Now a rail trail, when I was a boy the big Boston and Maine diesels used to roll though here and I spent enough time walking the tracks to know the place as well as I knew my own yard. The view down the trail reminded me of learning how to draw perspective in art class and how easily the concept came to me. I walked here almost daily and the idea of a vanishing point was right there in front of me every time. Way down there where those two steel rails used to look like they came together; that was the vanishing point, and that was where I was going on this day.

 2. Broken Birch

The birches have had a tough time of it this year; that heavy foot of snow we had on Thanksgiving eve was more than some of them could bear. This one broke right in half about half way up its length, and some of the others still haven’t stood back up completely.

 3. Cherry Burl

I saw a burl as big as a soccer ball on a black cherry branch (Prunus serotina.) Seeing something like this would have gotten me excited when I was younger and I would have been off to the library to read all I could about it. If a place can give a gift, then curiosity is the gift that this place gave to me. The things in nature that I saw in here made me curious enough to want to learn about them, and that’s something that’s still with me today.

Burl, for those who don’t know, is an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. I find them more on black cherry than any other tree, and I know what they are because of this place.

4. Grafted Elm

Before it died of Dutch elm disease this American elm grafted itself together in two places, both above and below where you can see daylight through the trunks. Natural grafts can’t really be called rare, but this is the first double one I’ve ever seen. The wind blows the trees and they rub together enough to rub off their bark down to the cambium layer, which can then grow together if the two trees are the same species.

 5. Hawthorn Thorn

Years ago the hawthorn trees (Crataegus) I saw here made me want to know why some trees had thorns and others didn’t, so I got ahold of a used 1858 copy of Asa Gray’s How Plants Grow to see if he knew. Gray was a hero of mine but he sure did write some awfully dry books, and if I hadn’t been so interested in plants I don’t think I could have made it through many of them. I learned a lot about the various ways plants defend themselves from his books though, including using thorns, spines and prickles.

6. Snow Depth

Because snowmobiles pack it down so much it’s very hard to judge how deep the snow is along these trails, so I was surprised when I came to a slushy spot and saw that it wasn’t more than an inch deep. It’s still pretty tough getting into the woods but spring is coming.

7. Woods

What are woods here now used to be all cornfields when I was a boy and it seems strange knowing that I’m older than the trees. When I think about it though, I suppose even the youngsters among us are older than at least some of the trees. Maybe it’s getting to meet the trees that I know are younger than me that makes it feel so strange. I like the way these woods have grown up to have a light and airy, uncrowded feel. These trees are mostly red maple and they don’t mind the occasional spring floods that happen here.

8. Winged Euonymus

I was dismayed but not really surprised to see some very invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) growing here. These open woodlands are just the kind of place these shade tolerant shrubs love to grow in. Their shallow root systems and the shade they cast mean that native plants can’t get a start, so before long you have a monoculture made up of invasives. The plant is also called winged euonymus because, as the above photo shows, they have corky ridges or “wings” that grow along their stems.

9. Euonymus Pod

There were only 3 or 4 burning bushes here but they were big and had grown thousands of berries. Unfortunately the birds had eaten every single one of them and all that was left were the once purple pods.

10. Side Rails on Trestle

This old trestle marks the vanishing point that we saw in the first photo. Of course you can’t ever reach it because it moves with you (see-there is another one way down there) but it was a great thing for a young school boy to spend time thinking about. If you walk from vanishing point to vanishing point before you know it you’re in Swanzey with very tired feet, unless you cross country ski it like I used to. That’s another thing I learned how to do here.

11. Beard Lichen

Snowmobile clubs have put wooden safety railings all along these old trestles and there was a great example of a fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) growing on the weathered wood of this one. There are many lichens that prefer growing on wood, but it doesn’t always have to be in tree form.

12. Trestle Rivet

I’ve always wondered how these old steel trestles were built but I never have been able to find out. I don’t know if they were built in factories and shipped to the site to be assembled or if they were built right in place. Either way I’m sure there was an awful lot of rivet hammering going on. I do know that the stones for the granite abutments that these trestles rest on were taken from boulders and outcroppings in the immediate area, but I think they must have had to ship them from somewhere else in this case because there is little granite of any size to be found here.

13. Trestle Rivets

I’ve always been a lover of solitude and when I was young this is the place I came when I wanted to be alone, because back then you could sit on this old trestle all day without seeing another soul. It was a good place to just sit and think or watch the many birds and animals that came to drink from the river. I don’t come here very often these days because solitude is easier to come by now and the place seems to bring on an ache that’s hard to understand. Maybe it’s an ache for another shot at boyhood or maybe it’s just simple nostalgia, but it always seems to end with the feeling that there’s an empty place somewhere inside of me. Maybe that’s why I only visit about once each year.

 14. Brook View

Hurricane brook starts up in the northern part of Keene near a place called Stearns Hill. Then it becomes White Brook for a while before emptying into Black Brook. Black Brook in turn empties into Ash Swamp and the outflow from the swamp becomes Ash Swamp Brook. Finally it all meets the Ashuelot River right at this spot. Confused? Me too; it has taken me about 50 years to figure all of that out. Why so many name changes? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that the settlers in the northern part of Keene and the settlers here in the southern part didn’t realize that they were both looking at the same brook. I wonder if anyone has ever followed it from here to its source. It would be quite a hike.

15.Embankment

This bluff where the brook meets the river is where bank swallows used to nest. They are social birds and nest together in large colonies that sometimes number in the thousands. What I find fascinating is how the male birds dig nest holes using their feet, wings, and tiny beaks, and these holes can be 2 feet deep. They nest near water and eat insects, and that explains why there were never any mosquitos here. The swallows are a good example of how this place has taught me so much over the years; I didn’t know exactly what kind of birds they were and I had to look them up. After all these years I still learn something when I come here, and it could be that the most important lesson I’ve learned is, as author Thomas Wolfe said, that you can’t go home again.

The past is for learning from and letting go. You can’t revisit it. It vanishes. ~Adele Parks

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This spring it was as if someone had thrown a switch and turned on all the bird songs, all at once. One day it was quiet and the next it seemed like there was a bird symphony playing. Now the flowers are following along-last weekend there were a scant few but now, after 2 or 3 days with the temperature hovering around 70 degrees, they are everywhere.

 1. Crocus

This is the first crocus I’ve seen this year. As the week wore on many more followed.

 2. Scilla

Scilla (Scilla siberica) was the first to bloom in my yard. The oak leaves are a gift that the winds bring me each fall and spring. I don’t have an oak in my yard.

 3. Iris reticulata

I found this clump of Iris reticulata growing at the local college.  I like the dark violet color of these dwarf blossoms.

 4. Cornelian Cherry Blossoms

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is just coming into bloom with clusters of small yellow flowers. This large shrub has nothing to do with a cherry tree but is in the dogwood family and comes from the Black Sea region. The fruit resembles a red olive and matures in the fall. It is very sour but high in vitamin C, and has been eaten throughout recorded history. The Persians, ancient Greeks and Early Romans would all recognize these flowers.

5. Vernal Witch Hazel Blossoms

I just learned that in previous posts I misidentified this shrub as vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis.) It lives in a local park and is most likely a cross between Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica ) and Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis.)  It has just about finished blooming after starting in February. Its very fragrant flowers are smaller but much more numerous than those of autumn witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana.) Vernal witch hazel is a native of the southern states and is also called Ozark witch hazel. Its hardiness this far north is doubtful. Sorry about the confusion.

6. Striped Squill aka Puschkinia scilloides

Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides) resembles scilla, which is also called Siberian squill. I like the blue stripe on the petals, which is how the plant gets its common name. These flowers are slightly fragrant. The squills come from Europe and Asia.

 7. Forsythia Blossoms

This is the first forsythia I’ve seen blooming. Soon they will be seen on nearly every street in every town in the region.  I know of a place where a long row of old forsythia shrubs grow at the top of an embankment beside the road. When they bloom in the spring it looks as if a yellow waterfall is flowing over and down the embankment and people from all over New England come to view and photograph them.

 8. Coltsfoot

I took another photo of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara ) so those who don’t know the plant can see the scaly stems that are quite different than dandelion stems.  These scales are one way the plant protects its vascular system against freezing in cold weather. The leaves, which some say resemble a horse’s hoof, don’t appear until the flowers have finished blooming. This plant has been used medicinally for centuries and that is most likely why it was brought over from Europe by the first colonists.

9. Hazelnut Flower

One of the smallest flowers that I know of is the female blossom of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana.) To give you a sense of just how small they are, the bud that the flowers grow from is slightly smaller than a BB that you would use in an air rifle. The crimson thread-like bits are the stigmas of the unseen female flowers, waiting for the wind to bring them some pollen from the golden male catkins.

10. Elm Flowers

The green and purple blossoms of American elm (Ulmus americana) are just starting to show. Soon the mature, wind pollinated flowers with bright red anthers will hang at the ends of long, thin filaments called pedicels.

 11. Red Maple Buds

Red maples (Acer rubrum) still have their crimson flower parts tucked up inside the buds but the ends of the bud scales have come off, meaning the flowers will appear any day now.

Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet.  ~Jeremy Bentham

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