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Posts Tagged ‘Arrowwood Viburnum’

Back when I started this blog I found a little peninsula of land jutting out into the Ashuelot River. It can’t be more than a few yards wide but the variety of nature found there is really astonishing. There are deer, woodpeckers and other birds, a wide variety of plants, and even beavers. It’s amazing what can live on such a small piece of land. I’ve had what I thought was a fair understanding of nature since I was a boy but this is where nature really took me by the hand and said “Come with me, I’ve got something to show you.” So, going there last Sunday was like going home again, even though the place had been rearranged by nature somewhat.

One of the first thing I noticed was this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) changing into its bright green fall color. Many mosses will grow on wood, stone or soil and delicate fern moss is one of them. It’s is a beautiful little thing that isn’t as delicate as its name implies, but it certainly is fern like. The leaves of this moss are often dull rather than shiny. It is fairly common and easy to find because it often forms very large mats. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.

I saw a couple of frost rimmed little brown mushrooms on a log. It was cold this morning.

This one growing nearby showed what the previous mushrooms looked like when they were younger. Though the shape isn’t quite right I thought they might be deadly galerina mushrooms (Galerina autumnalis) which are, according to mushroom expert Tom Volk, so poisonous that eating even a little bit can be deadly. They are common on rotting logs in almost all months of the year and can fruit in the same spot several times. If you collect and eat wild mushrooms deadly galerina is one that you should get to know very well.

An old red maple tree had fallen, and I knew it was a red maple by the target canker still showing on the small piece of bark still left on it. Target canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. According to Cornell university: “A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’” Apparently the fungal attacker gives up after a while, because as the tree ages the patterns disappear and the tree seems fine. I doubt it had anything to do with this tree’s death.

By the way, speaking of red maples, I hope everyone knows that buds are set in the fall and don’t magically appear in spring. All the plants you see out there have already made their plans for spring, as these beautiful red maple buds show. All they need now is a little rest first.

This little spit of land is where I found witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) blooming in January one year. This day was cold enough to feel like January but it didn’t stop them.

I love the deep browns of witch hazel leaves. So warm on a cold day.

The underside of a witch haze leaf tells a different story. There is something that eats all of the tissue between the leaf veins and before long it will be a skeleton.

There was a good size burl on this witch hazel. Burl 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. Bowls and other objects made from it can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

The dark spots of frullania liverworts could be seen on many trees  It’s a leafy liverwort but each leaf is smaller than a house fly. There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on; instead they simply perch there like birds. Mosses and lichens are also epiphytes. A frullania liverwort’s tiny leaves are strung together like beads, and change from green to deep purple in cold weather. Frullania liverworts can cause a rash called woodcutter’s eczema in some people. It’s an annoying, itchy rash but doesn’t cause any real harm, and it disappears in a week or two if you stop handling logs with liverworts on them.

Sometimes when the river floods parts of this little bit of land can be almost completely underwater, and it’s slowly washing the soil from the roots of this big maple. You can see the whitish, very fine silt it has deposited at the tree’s base. It’s a bit scary out here when the water is that high.

Here is a gravel bar complete with grasses that wasn’t here the last time I came out here. This river has changed a lot over just the last 10 years.

In 2010 a 250 year old timber crib dam was removed just upstream from here and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services “landscaped” this section of river bank by planting native trees and shrubs. One of them, an arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) showed off its fall color. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

I walked down to the river’s edge and saw a stone with so much iron in it, it seemed to be rusting. Iron rich stones are common here but I think they were brought in from elsewhere by the state.

And then I saw this; almost every oak and ash tree that the state planted 10 years ago had been cut down and dragged off by beavers. There had to have been 12-15 trees gone, and at anywhere from $150-$500 per tree depending on size when planted and species, these beavers had an expensive meal.

Most of what they took were oaks. They had reached probably 4-6 inches in diameter since they were planted. To be honest when I first saw these trees had been planted here I wondered what the state was thinking. They are an open invitation to beavers, which swim right by here all the time. It took them a while but they’ve answered the invitation and they’ll most likely be back night after night now until every tree is gone. You can trap and re-locate them yes, but that’s like closing the barn door after you’ve see the horse running down the road. And they’ll just come back anyway.

You could see the drag marks in the sand where they had dragged branches.

They left an oak top at the water’s edge, but they’ll be back for it.

They didn’t just cut trees and drag them off though; they sat here and had a fine meal. You can tell by how every last bit of bark has been stripped from these branches.

And weren’t the oak leaves beautiful?

A beaver is a rodent that has to continually gnaw to keep its teeth from growing too long, and this is what their gnawing sometimes looks like. Their teeth are extremely sharp.

Now that they’ve taken most of the oaks and ash tees they’re going for the maples, which are native trees that weren’t planted. Beavers will often chew through a tree half way like this and leave it. It’s very dangerous to be walking among trees that look like this in a high wind, so I wish they’d simply drop the tree. I have a feeling that something scared them off when they do this.  

Well, this post wasn’t supposed to be about beavers; there was no part two planned for the original “Leave it to Beavers” post that I did a week ago but as you can see, the beavers made me do it. When I left off with that post I told about all the marvelous things beavers do for the ecosystem (true) and only hinted at the damage they can do. Now you’ve seen it, but don’t blame the beavers. You can’t expect a beaver to leave your trees alone. They’re just doing what comes naturally; what they’ve been doing for millennia, and they don’t know or care if it’s a “weed tree” or a rare specimen tree that costs thousands of dollars. They get hungry and they’ll eat, and in this spot it was like someone had set the table for them. Planting a tree near fresh water in New Hampshire is like having dinner invitations printed up.

It wouldn’t be right to end a two part beaver post without a photo of a beaver, so here is one I got a few years ago of a beaver swimming down the river with a mouthful of what look to be sensitive ferns. Sensitive ferns are toxic to humans but it might be that beavers can eat them, or maybe this beaver cut the ferns to use as bedding in its lodge. Beaver lodges can be quite big, with the floor a couple of inches above the water level. On the floor they scatter a 2 or 3 inch deep bed of dry leaves, grass, shredded wood and other materials to keep the floor dry, so using ferns would make sense.

Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from. ~Terry Tempest Williams

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There are so many plants blooming right now that I thought I’d do two wildflower posts in a row to try and keep up with them all. I thought I’d also show a few of the places I go to regularly as well as the plants I find in them. Most of the places have no real name so I just call them the pond, stream, path, bog, or meadow. 

I visited a local unnamed beaver pond hoping to find some native orchids. Other than pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule,) which are still blooming off in the drier parts of this tract, I didn’t see any. Most of the pink lady’s slippers look like this one now, with seed pods forming. Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) was blooming in a sunny spot. This plant is often confused with wild morning glory, but the leaves are very different. A good pocket field guide is the simplest way to identify them. The Hairy Vetch (Vicia vilosa ) was running rampant all through the tall grasses and shrubs. This is another plant that is often mistaken for something else. I’ve even seen it called crown vetch (Coronilla variaon) on various websites, but the two flowers are very different.  Tracy at the Season’s Flow blog recently showed a good picture of crown vetch that can be seen by clicking here.  Hairy vetch is easily confused with cow vetch, which looks very similar but doesn’t have fine hairs on its stems and doesn’t grow in New Hampshire. Hairy vetch is a native of Europe and Asia and is used as a cover crop or for livestock forage. Bumblebees love it. The daisy fleabane (Erigeron strigosus) is still blooming strongly and should continue right up until fall, when it will be confused with asters.  The flower on the left had a visitor that I didn’t see when I was taking the picture. Daisy fleabane can be mistaken for common fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus,) but the leaves clasp the stem on common fleabane and do not on daisy fleabane.  I regularly find fleabane growing in sunny spots quite deep in the woods where you wouldn’t expect it to be. I decided to leave the boggy areas and head for dry ground. Many wildflowers grow along this path and in the surrounding forest, so it is one of my favorite places.Blue bead lily (Clintonia borealis ) grows in these woods and is just setting fruit. Before long these will be bright blue berries that aren’t fit for eating, but are a pleasure to see.Our native Northern Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) isn’t rare but it is uncommon in my experience. It also isn’t a true honeysuckle. Unlike a true 6-8 foot tall honeysuckle this little plant might reach 3 feet under perfect growing conditions, but is usually much shorter. The flowers are small but grow in clusters at the ends of branches and are long lasting. They change colors, going from greenish yellow to orange and then to purplish red. Something to watch for in identifying these plants is the odd little mushroom shaped pistil. The fall foliage is very colorful, going from yellow to deep red. Another native shrub just coming into bloom is the arrow wood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum.) These shrubs get large, often growing to 6-8 feet tall and 10 feet wide at the edge of the forest, but each individual flower is hardly bigger than a pencil eraser.  An easy way to identify viburnums is to look for the five petals that they all have. Native dogwoods, which should be blooming any day now, will always have 4 petals.  The glossy, toothed leaves are a good indication that this plant is an arrow wood viburnum. The white flowers are followed by small, dark blue fruit that birds love.Native False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) is still going strong but very soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. These plants prefer dry woods and partial shade, but I’ve seen them grow in quite wet soil and nearly full shade as well. False Solomon’s seal can be found in garden centers and is an excellent choice if trying to attract birds to the garden.Another flowering shrub that isn’t well known is the Buckthorn (Rhamnus.) This shrub can be tree like, reaching 25 feet in height. This is another of those plants that is easily confused. There is one called Common Buckthorn, another called Alder Leaved Buckthorn, one called European buckthorn, and still another called Lance Leaved Buckthorn. All are similar but I believe the plant in the picture is the European buckthorn because the leaf margins aren’t serrated. The small white flowers that grow in the leaf axils are followed by fruit that changes from green to red to purple and finally to black. This shrub is said to attract Brimstone butterflies. There are buckthorn hybrids that are grown as garden specimens. Forest plants can be invasive. This plant is very rare in this area-at least in my experience, since I’ve only seen it twice in my life. It is called rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum.) The common name comes by way of an old tale of how the plant likes to grow in areas populated by rattlesnakes. We do have timber rattlers here in New Hampshire, but none were in the area when I was taking pictures. This native plant is listed as endangered in Maine and I think it should probably have the same designation in New Hampshire, but here it is listed as “present.” It is related to both dandelion and yellow hawkweed (Hieracium pratense) and the flowers look nearly identical to those of yellow hawkweed.  My favorite parts of the plant are the reddish purple veined leaves.The flowers of rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) close at night and on cloudy days and since it was nearly evening when I took this picture, these blossoms were closing.  This picture does show the notched petals that are so similar to those of yellow hawkweed.I don’t think I could count all the times I’ve told kids “That little flower smells just like pineapple,” only to have them say “No it doesn’t.” “Smell it,” I tell them and then watch as the big smile comes to their face when they do. “That’s why,” I tell them “it’s called pineapple weed.” Is there anyone, I wonder, who hasn’t squeezed and then smelled pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea)? Some think this flower looks and smells like chamomile with all the petals missing, and I’ve heard it makes a good tea. It is a native plant that was used extensively by Native Americans. For the last picture in this post I thought I’d leave you with a small sampling of what a New Hampshire meadow can look like. Every flower in it has already been in this blog though, so it’s time to find another meadow.

Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air ~George Bernanos

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