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Posts Tagged ‘Apple Moss’

Last Sunday I decided to follow a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew had a trestle on it. History and botany are two of my favorite things and I knew I’d find a lot of both here. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and hiking just about anywhere would have been pleasant.

Sometimes the sap of white pines will turn blue in very cold weather but it was warm on this day and the sap was still blue. I wonder if it stays blue once it changes.

I’ve never heard of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) being evergreen but there were several plants along the trail, all wearing their winter purple / bronze color. If this plant looks familiar it’s probably because it is the smallest of our native dogwoods and the 4 leaves look like miniature versions of dogwood tree leaves. Bunchberry gets its common name from its bunches of bright red berries. It is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Something unusual I saw this day was a Canada yew (Taxus canadensis.) It is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy. A man in England died not too long ago from eating yew, so I wouldn’t advise trying to make tea from it. Natives knew how to treat poisonous plants in ways that made them beneficial to humans, but much of that knowledge has been lost.

A yew branch looks very flat and once you get to know what they look like you’ll never mistake it for any other evergreen.

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative. Tell tales are rarely seen these days; the above photo shows the only example I know of.

The Ashuelot River was full in places.

And over full in others. This happens regularly throughout this area and the trees survive it just fine. Many are silver (Acer saccharinum) and red maples (Acer rubrum.)  Another name for them is swamp maple because they often grow in the lowlands along rivers that flood regularly.

The large crimson bud clusters make the maples easy to spot at this time of year but I couldn’t tell if these examples were flowering or not. Many are, now that we’ve had some warmth.

There isn’t a lot of ledge in this section of trail but there is some and it shows the marks of a steam drill.  The railroad workers cut through the solid rock by drilling deep holes into the stone using steam powered drills and then poring black powder into them. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force. Trains first rolled through here in the mid-1850s.

Maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) are beautiful and are definitely worth looking for. I’ve found them growing on maple, oak, beech, and poplars. They are usually quite a different green but the camera didn’t seem to be seeing green very well this day.

You can tell that it’s a maple dust lichen by the tiny fringe around its outer edge.

The trail goes on for many miles and it is wide, flat, and sometimes busy as it was on this day. I saw several people while I was here and I was happy to see them out enjoying nature. I hope they saw as many interesting things as I did.

There was snow for anyone who might want it. I didn’t.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud. Beech bud break doesn’t usually start until mid-May, so I think the example in this photo is a fluke caused by early warmth. Others I saw had not curled yet.

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 remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring.

Partridgeberry flowers are 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. Native Americans ate the berries and made them into a jelly, which was eaten in case of fevers. Partridgeberry is still used in folk medicine today to treat muscle spasms and as a nerve tonic.

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grows along the sides of the trail and its thousands of tiny spore capsules were shining in the sun. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. In the spring the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.  Sometimes the capsules do turn red as they age, so I suppose the name makes sense.

Most of these spore capsules were not quite spherical and that means that they were still immature. When they become spherical the spores will begin to ripen and prepare for the wind to disperse them.

Human history and natural history are visible from rail trails. The old railroad routes through a town can show a lot about how the town developed, what it was like long ago. When you go through a town by bicycle on an old railroad route, the place looks very different than from the customary perspective of the car and the highway. ~Peter Harnick

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1-brickyard-brook

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so much further into the forest once the shrubs that make up the undergrowth have lost their leaves. This means that things that were hidden all summer like mosses suddenly become very visible. I was surprised to find that I could see so far up Brickyard Brook in Winchester recently. The water was very low and every stone was covered in moss. This is odd since not that long ago water covered most of the stones. Can mosses really grow that fast, or were they there underwater the whole time, I wondered. There are aquatic mosses and one called common water moss (Fontinalis  antipyretica) was recently found to be growing at 1000 foot depths in Yellowstone Lake, near a geo-thermal vent.

2-dog-lichen

Mosses don’t have roots but on dry land they soak up rain water like a sponge and release it slowly over time. Other water loving plants like this dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) take advantage of that and grow among them so they won’t dry out. This lichen was moist and pliable, even though we’ve been in a drought for months. Mosses also benefit the ecosystem in many other ways.  Bryologist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer says that “One gram of moss from the forest floor, a piece about the size of a muffin, would harbor 150,000 protozoa, 132,000 tardigrades, 3,000 springtails, 800 rotifers, 500 nematodes, 400 mites, and 200 fly larvae.”

3-medusa-moss-hedwigia-ciliata

The name medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) comes from the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. It is also called white tipped moss, for obvious reasons. This moss is fairly common and I find it mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It always seems to be very happy and healthy.

4-rambling-tail-moss

I think this moss must be rambling tail moss (Anomodon viticulosus) because of its long length and its habit of growing out away from the tree’s trunk. I think it is too long to be tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates.)

5-rambling-tail-moss

The main stems of rambling tail-moss are said to be creeping with blunt ends like a paintbrush, and they arch upward when dry like a hook. Those attributes and their yellow green color are what lead me to think that this example is Anomodon viticulosus, but I could be wrong. You really need a microscope to be sure when there are several mosses that look so much alike.

6-apple-moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) doesn’t look like many other mosses so it’s relatively easy to identify. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.

7-apple-moss

Though they’re orange on this example sometimes the spore capsules do turn red as they age, so I guess the name apple moss is appropriate.

8-broom-moss

Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) 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. It’s a fairly common moss that grows in large tufts or mats on logs and tree bases, soil or stone.

9-delicate-fern-moss

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) changes from deep green to lime green when it gets cold and becomes one of the more visible mosses. It grows in soil in shaded spots and I find it in my lawn each fall. It will also grow on the base of trees and on logs and boulders, where it can form quite dense mats. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.

10-greater-whip-wort-bazzania-trilobata

Greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) grows right alongside mosses but it’s a liverwort. A close look shows that it looks almost if it has been braided. Each leaf on this leafy liverwort is only about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of the scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.”

11-stairstep-moss

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is a very beautiful moss that grows on stones and looks quite fragile, but I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it so I can say with certainty that it’s a lot tougher than it looks. That is most likely why it grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It seems fairly rare here; this is the only place that I’ve seen it.

12-stairstep-moss

When dry stair step moss has a slight satiny sheen to it, and that’s probably how it came by its other common name of glittering wood-moss. Its common name comes from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. It is said that you can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps, and from what I saw this branch would have been at least 5 years old.

14-big-redstem-moss-pleurozium-schreberi

This is the first time that big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) has appeared on this blog because, though I’ve seen it for years I have only just learned its name. It’s a very common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning other mosses. I finally learned the name of this one by reading The Saratoga Woods and Waterways Blog. If you love nature and aren’t reading this blog you’re doing yourself a disservice.

13-big-redstem-moss-pleurozium-schreberi

It should be obvious how big red stem comes by its common name but I don’t see any red, and neither does my color finding software. I’ve looked through two moss books and countless photos on line though, and all examples of big red stem look like this example. That makes me wonder if its stem isn’t red for part of the time. Mosses do change color.

15-rose-moss

Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is a very beautiful moss and one of my favorites. Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience. I know of only one place to find it.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics; it also grows on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. It is a resurrection engine. A single clump of mosses can lie dormant and dry for forty years at a stretch, and then vault back again into life with a mere soaking of water.
~
Elizabeth Gilbert

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1. Abandoned Road

The weather man said that Easter Sunday would be sunny and in the mid-50s so I planned to climb one of our local hills, but instead of sun we had clouds that were low and thick enough to keep the temperature in the low 30s. I quickly changed my plans and decided to hike up to Beaver Brook Falls. Actually it’s more of a walk than a hike because you have an old abandoned road under your feet the whole way.

2. Beaver Brook

The old road was built to access a sawmill in 1736 and follows Beaver Brook to the north of Keene. The brook was relatively placid this day but it hasn’t always been so in the past.

3. Plantain Leaved Sedge

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

4. Road

The old road isn’t travelled by car anymore but there were many years that it was. We had relatives living north of Keene when I was a boy so I’m sure I travelled the road many times with my father. I don’t really remember a single instance though; in those days I was far more interested in what was at the end of the road than the journey along it, and I probably couldn’t wait to see my cousins. These days I care more about what I see along the roadsides and don’t think much about when or where they might end. It’s funny how your perspective can change so easily, without any real effort at all.

5. Lines

I don’t suppose the no passing lines will ever wear away now since there has been no traffic on this road since the 1970s.

6. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) gets its name from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. You can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps. It’s a very tough moss that even grows on the Arctic tundra. It has a certain sparkle to it when it’s dry and is also called glittering wood moss because of it. According to the Islandwood outdoor classroom in Seattle, Washington, stair step moss was once used to chink the logs in log cabins. Wet moss was pressed into the cracks between logs and when it dried it stayed compressed and green for the life of the cabin.

7. Beech Fungus

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to the purplish black color seen in the photo, 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. It has no common name apparently, and I had a very hard time identifying it; it took three years before I finally found its scientific name.

8. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

Other things I come here to see are the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens,) not because I can’t find them anywhere else but because of the way the light reflects off their spore bearing apothecial disks here. They look beautifully sky blue in this light, much like the whitish bloom on plums and blueberries make them look blue in the right light and it’s all due to a powdery waxy coating that the lichens and fruits have. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen, which can be the golden brown seen here or grayish white. The disks are barely bigger than a written period on paper. This is a really beautiful lichen that’s relatively common on stones and ledges.

9. Washed Out Culvert

The old road is washing away along the brook in more and more places each year. I talked to an old timer up here once who told me that he had seen water up over the road a few times in the past. Chances are one day far in the future there won’t be a road here at all.

10. Guard Rail

Many of the old wooden guard posts that hold the guard wires have rotted off at ground level and hang from the wires but this one was still solid. It’s probably been close to 50 years since they last saw any maintenance. Even the triangular concrete posts used to replace the wooden posts are breaking up and washing downstream.

11. Waterfall

There are a few things that can get me to climb over the guard wires and one of them is this view across the brook of a waterfall that appears sometimes when it rains. I like the mossy rocks and wish I could get over there with dry feet, but the only way I see is by walking through the brook. This photo also illustrates the kind of steep hillsides found on both sides of the road. Together they make this place a canyon that it would be very hard to climb out of.

12. Dog Lichen

The biggest dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) that I’ve seen grows here. It’s about 9-10 inches across and grows happily surrounded by mosses. The mosses soak up water like a sponge and that keeps the lichen moist as well. When moist it is pliable and feels much like your earlobe but when it dries out it feels more like a potato chip. The grayish / whitish areas show where it’s starting to dry out.

I’ve heard about four different theories behind the name “dog lichen.”  One says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the lichen’s fang like rhizines that anchor it to the substrate look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears. There’s not a single part of it that reminds me of a dog.

13. Apple Moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) gets its common name from its spherical spore capsules that some say look like tiny green apples. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warmer rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny green globes.

14. Path to Brook

The path down to the brook near the falls is steep and getting steeper all the time because it’s slowly washing away. Each time I stand here I ask myself if I’m not getting too old for this but each time if it isn’t icy, down I go. It’s a kind of half slide/ half climb situation going down so coming back up is always easier.

15. Beaver Brook Falls

The reason I climb down to the brook is of course to see an unobstructed view of the falls, which people who stay up on the road don’t get to see. It was really too shady to be down here on this day but I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m guessing the falls are about 40 feet high but I’ve also heard all kinds of other guesses about its height. I don’t think anyone really knows, but I’m inclined to believe the old timers. It’s high enough so I know I wouldn’t want to ride down it.

16. Above the Falls

I’ve shown this place many times on this blog but I’ve never shown this view of Beaver Brook from above the falls. It’s a bit hard to see because of all the trees but it was the best I could do. When I took the previous photo of the falls I was down there at water level. You don’t really understand what that means until you see it from up here.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

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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. Mosses

One of the things that I like about this time of year is how the all the mosses are suddenly so easy to see, so this is when I go visiting them. Mosses call to me and make me want to know more about what I’m seeing, so I’ve been studying them for a few years. If a scene like the one in the above photo gets your blood pumping, this post is for you. I’ve been both wanting to do it and dreading it for a while now. If you’ve ever tried to identify mosses I’m sure you understand.

2. Delicate Fern Moss

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) changes from deep green to lime green when it gets cold and then eventually becomes one of the more visible mosses. It grows in soil in shaded spots and I find it in my lawn each fall. It will also grow on the base of trees and on logs and boulders. It forms quite dense mats as can be seen in the above photo. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.

3. Rambling Tail Moss

This moss growing on the base of a tree almost had me fooled into thinking that it was tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) but a closer look has me believing that it must be rambling tail moss (Anomodon viticulosus) instead. This moss is too long to be tree skirt moss, I think, and its habit of growing out away from the trunk isn’t right for that moss either. The main stems of rambling tail-moss are said to be creeping with blunt ends like a paintbrush, and they arch upward when dry like a hook. That and their yellow green color are what lead me to choose Anomodon viticulosus, but I could be wrong.

4. Common Haircap Moss

Common haircap moss (Polytrichum commune) is one of the most common and also one of the largest mosses in this area, and that makes them easy to identify and study. I find them growing in soil just about everywhere I go.

5. Haircap Moss Spore Capsule

Last year I found a blue haircap moss spore capsule but this year the best I could do was salmon pink. These capsules are rectangular in shape with corners and often sunken sides as the photo shows. The light colored ring on its end is called a peristome and has 64 tiny teeth around its inside diameter, which is measured in micrometers. The teeth can’t be seen in this photo and neither can the cap, called a calyptra, which protects the spores and in this instance is hairy, and which is what gives this moss its common name. When the spores are ready to be released the calyptra falls off and the spores are borne on the wind.

6. Mnium punctatum

Red penny moss (Rhizomnium punctatum) is a very small but leafy moss that was renamed from Mnium punctatum. I find it growing in deep shade in the soaking wet soil of seeps. It is a forest moss but only in very wet areas that don’t easily allow kneeling for a photo.

7. Mnium punctatum Closeup

On male red penny moss plants in the center of the leaf rosettes are what look like tiny blackberries. These are actually the antheridia, which are where the sperm is produced. When mature the sperm will wait for a rainy day and then will swim to a female plant. Once fertilized the female plant will produce spores and send them off on the wind.

8. Apple Moss

It looks like apple mosses (Bartramia pomiformis) are growing white whiskers for winter. Do they always do this, I wonder? Maybe I’ve just never noticed, but since this is one of the easier to see mosses I don’t know how I could have missed it. I’ve looked in my moss books and on line and can’t find another example with white tips, but on this day I saw many. This moss gets its common name from its spherical spore capsules that some say look like tiny green apples.

9. Moss Islands

In her book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer tells of an experiment where chipmunks were coaxed into running over some sticky paper. When the paper was examined it was found to have thousands of moss spores stuck to it, so if you’ve ever wondered how mosses get 100 feet up in the tree tops thank a chipmunk, because the spores stick to their feet. And squirrel’s feet too, I’m guessing.  Of course, wind and rain also carry spores so rodents don’t have to do all the work. The above photo is of tiny green moss islands I found on the trunk of a tree, and I think it shows the spores just becoming recognizable plants. I wish I’d seen that lichen on the right with rose colored apothecia when I took this photo. It’s a beauty.

10. Crispy Tuft Moss

I think the moss islands in the previous photo will turn into something like this clump of crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa.) This moss is very common on tree trunks in these parts and I see it all the time. When dry its leaves tighten and curl.  This clump was about an inch across.

11. Broom Moss aka Dicranum scoparium

Some mosses are so animal like they make you want to reach out and pet them. This broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) is one of those that I had to touch before I left it. This moss grows on stone, wood or soil in sunnier places and it’s common here.

12. Rose Moss on Dog Lichen

Another very beautiful moss is rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum,) shown here growing against the dark shine of a dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) on a boulder. Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants when it is found. Many native orchids for instance, fall into that category.

13. White Tipped Moss aka Hedwigia ciliata

The name medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) comes from the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. It is also called white tipped moss, for obvious reasons. This moss is fairly common and I find it mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It always seems to be very happy and healthy.

14. River Foxtail Moss

This is the first time this moss has appeared on this blog because I’ve only just found it. I think it might be a moss called river foxtail moss (Brachythecium rivulare) which is said to have a whitish cast.  I found it growing in shade on a stone shelf where it was watered by constantly dripping ground water; exactly the habitat that river foxtail moss likes.

15. Unknown

This moss was growing right beside the one in the previous photo but even though I tried several times it was simply too small to get a sharp photo of. Instead over and over the camera focused on the tiny water droplets that decorated it like Christmas ornaments, so that’s what I’ll show here. Everything seen in this photo would easily fit on a penny (.75 inches.)

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

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1. Deformed Alder Cone

I saw this deformed speckled alder cone (Alnus incana) and took a couple of photos of it.  I can’t tell you what it says but it speaks to me and I like it, so here it is.

2. Apple Moss

Some of our mosses have started producing spores, like the apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) pictured here. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.  Sometimes the capsules do turn red as they age, so I guess the name is appropriate.  When there are no sporophytes showing this moss is easily confused with broom moss (Dicranum scoparium.) I know how easy it is to do, because I confuse the two all the time. The leaves look almost identical, but those of broom moss are not as shiny.

3. Star Moss aka Mnium cuspidatum spore capsules

Star moss (Mnium cuspidatum) is also not wasting any time in spore production. I wanted to show you it’s leaves but they were so small and curled because of dryness, I couldn’t get a good shot of them. Like the apple moss we saw previously this moss makes immature toothpick like sporophytes in late fall, and then they swell to form capsules when the warm spring rains arrive. The capsules droop at the tip as seen in the photo. You can tell that they haven’t fully matured by the tiny, whitish stocking cap like structure, called a calyptra, which covers the end of the spore case. It stays in place until the spores are ready to be released. This moss is very short and grows just about anywhere, including in lawns. I found this example on the wet rocks along a rail trail.

4. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchids

I went looking for my old friend the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) and even though I know where it lives I walked by it several times before I found it. You would think the color would stand out against the brown leaves but I can look right at it and not see it sometimes. Maybe colorblindness has something to do with it. In any event I went looking for it because I love the color and netting on its leaves and I just wanted to see it again. It’s another one of those plants that I can sit beside and just admire.

 5. Downy Woodpecker

While I was walking back and forth searching for the downy rattlesnake plantain a downy woodpecker said maybe I’ll do instead and flew down onto the path a few feet away. He didn’t stay long though, and by the time I had finished fumbling around with my camera he had found a tree just out of the comfortable range of the lens. He stayed relatively close for quite a while though, letting me snap away. I think he knew he was too far away for my camera and that all of the photos would be soft and fuzzy.

Note: A reader has pointed out that this is a female hairy woodpecker. It’s a good thing I don’t get many bird photos!

 6. Woodpecker Hole

I wondered if he was the woodpecker that excavated this cavity in an old dead pine. It was close to where we were when I saw him.

7. Beard Lichen

Near the woodpecker tree a beard lichen hung from the end of a fallen branch. I have a hard time passing a beard lichen as big as this one was without taking a photo. I think it might be boreal oak moss (Evernia mesomorpha.) The forest I was exploring when I found all of these things is a strange place with plants that you rarely see anywhere else, like larch, spruce, and striped wintergreen. It has a very boreal feel to it, like it really belongs up in Canada.

8. Ice in the Woods

The calendar might say spring but winter is hanging on for dear life this year and doesn’t want to let go. In shady places in the deep woods there is still snow and ice to be found.

 9. Horsetail

Last year I found a place where hundreds of field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) grew, but this year there were just three shoots. If any of you have had horsetails in your garden you know that they don’t give up easily, so I couldn’t imagine how hundreds became three. It turned out that the cold was holding them back I think, because there are more coming along now.

10. Horsetail

One of them was far enough along to start producing spores. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common or field horsetail ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by the gritty green infertile stems that most of us are probably familiar with. Horsetails were used as medicine by the ancient Romans and Greeks to treat a variety of ailments.

11. Solomon's Seal Shoot

The two toned buds of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are poking up everywhere now. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and it won’t be long before it blooms. Native Americans sprinkled dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but that’s assuming you know how to prepare the roots and young shoots correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant useable.

12. Striped Maple Buds

The pinkish leaf buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are growing quickly now. They often show hints of orange too and are quite beautiful at this stage; in my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year. It’s interesting how the bud scales on the two smaller lateral buds open perpendicular to those on the terminal bud. I’ve never noticed that before.

 13. Striped Maple Bark

This is how striped maple comes by its common name. Striped maple bark is often dark enough to be almost black, especially on its branches. This tree never seems to get very big so it isn’t used much for lumber like other maples. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one bigger than my wrist, and even that might be stretching it. It could be that it stays small because it usually gets very little direct sunlight. The green stripes on its bark allow it to photosynthesize in early spring before other trees leaf out but it’s still the most shade tolerant of all the maples, and that’s usually where it’s found. It is said that Native Americans made arrow shafts from its straight grained wood.

14. White Ash Buds aka Fraxinus americana

The male flower buds of American white ash (Fraxinus americana) appear before the leaves do and look like little blackberries from a distance. According to the U.S. Forest Service one of the earliest reported uses of white ash was as a snake bite preventive. Ash leaves in a hunter’s pocket or boots were “proved” to be offensive to rattlesnakes and thereby provided protection from them. It is said that we have timber rattlers here but since I’ve never seen one I don’t think I’ll put ash leaves in my boots just yet.

15. Box Elder Flowers

Box elder (Acer negundo) was the first tree I ever planted. The tree’s male flowers appear here but my grandmother had a big female one in her front yard that dropped about a billion seeds each year. She knew that if they all grew their roots would destroy the brick foundation, so every few years she would pay me a quarter to go around the house and pull all the seedlings. One day I found a nice tall one that I liked so I pulled it up, took it home, and planted it. That tree took off like I had given it super strength fertilizer and last I knew was still growing strong. It was another one of those times that a plant spoke to me and told me that they and I just might get along.  When you really love them they can tell, of that I’m convinced.

16. Tree Moss

Somehow this post ended up being a little tree heavy but sometimes that’s just the way it works out. The subject of the above photo isn’t a tree but it is called tree moss (Climacium dendroides) because of its resemblance. This tough little moss loves wet places that flood occasionally so I always look for it when I’m near water. It always seems to glow from within, happy to simply be alive.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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1. Pennsylvania Sedge aka Carex pensylvanica

Along the river creamy yellow male staminate flowers bloom above the wispy, feather like, white female pistillate flowers of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica.) This is a very early bloomer that usually appears at just about the same time as spring beauties and trout lilies. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed.

2. Pennsylvania Sedge Clump aka Carex pensylvanica

When it isn’t blooming Pennsylvania sedge is easily mistaken for a course grass. I find it along the river and also in the woods under trees. It doesn’t seem too fussy about where it grows and will tolerate shade.

3. Virginia Creeper

Tendrils of Virginia creeper first exude a sticky substance before expanding into a disc shaped pad that essentially glues itself to the object that the vine wants to climb-in this case, a dead tree limb.  Once the adhesive discs at the tendril ends are stuck in place the tendrils coil themselves tightly to hold the vine in place. Charles Darwin discovered that each adhesive pad can support two pounds. Just imagine how much weight a mature vine with many thousands of these sticky pads could support. It’s no wonder that Virginia creeper can pull the siding off a house.

4. Bittersweet on Grass

Invasive oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) doesn’t have tendrils so it becomes a tendril over its entire length and winds its way up trees, wires, and even grass stems, as the photo shows. I’ve seen old bittersweet vines as big around as my leg.

5. Lady Fern Fiddleheads (2)

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) fiddleheads are about 2 inches tall. The dark brown scales on their smooth lower stems help to identify this one. This fern doesn’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there.

6. Red Maple Seeds Forming

The wind has brought plenty of pollen from the male flowers so now the pistillate female flowers of red maple (Acer rubrum) have begun turning into seeds, which are called samaras. These are one of the smallest seeds in the maple family. It is estimated that a single tree 12 inches in diameter can produce nearly a million seeds, and if the tree is fertilized for 2 years seed production can increase by 10 times. It’s no wonder that red maple is getting a reputation for being a weed tree.

7. Apple Moss

It’s easy to see how apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) got its common name. This moss grows its almost spherical spore capsules (sporangia) very early in spring. As they age the capsules turn brown but it pays to watch closely because some spore capsules will turn red between their green and brown stages, and that’s when these tiny orbs really look like apples. It’s an event in nature that most people never get to see.

8. Black Oak Inner Bark aka Quercus velutina

The inner bark of the black oak (Quercus velutina) shows why this tree was once called yellow oak. Native Americans made yellow dye from this bark and also used it medicinally. The yellow pigment is called quercitron and was sold in a bright yellow dye in Europe as late as the 1940s. Black oak is a member of the red oak family and easily cross breeds with red oaks to form many natural hybrids.

9. Red Elderberry aka Sambucus racemosa

Elderberry flowers really aren’t much to look at (or to smell) but the flower buds of this red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) are very beautiful. Since the flowers are white, plum purple is a very odd color for the buds. They remind me of lilac buds.

10. Lilac Buds Breaking

Of course, after comparing red elderberry buds to lilac buds I had to show those as well. This is a French hybrid, deep purple lilac that was given to me by a friend many years ago. Its bud scales have just broken to reveal the flower buds tucked inside. This is part of the magic that is spring, and something I love to watch happen.

11. Unknown Gall on Oak

This is the strangest gall I’ve seen. It looks (and feels) like a group of small deflated balloons. It was growing on an oak limb and I haven’t been able to identify it.

NOTE: Helpful readers have identified this gall as the oak fig gall, caused by the wasp Trigonaspis quercusforticorne. They are specific to the white oak family, apparently. Thank you to David and Charley for the identification. I learned a lot.

12. Rockfoam Lichen

Rock Foam (Stereocaulon saxatile) is a fragile looking lichen but it is really quite tough. As their common name suggests, they are found on rocks and boulders, usually in full sun. These lichens are often used as a prospecting tool because a simple lab test will show what type of rock they grow on and what minerals, like copper or magnesium, are present.

13. Rockfoam Lichen Closeup

A closer look at rock foam lichen. When it is dry it feels as rough as it looks.

 14. Orange Oak Leaf

I’m seeing a lot of orange oak leaves this spring and I’m not sure what makes them turn this color. It must be some kind of bacteria or fungus.

15. Hairy Cap Moss aka Polytrichum commune

This hairy cap moss (Polytrichum commune) with its water droplet reminded me that flowers aren’t the only beautiful things to see in spring. There is plenty there for the seeing if only we take the time to look.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust

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