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Posts Tagged ‘Ashuelot River’

This is something I’ve never seen before; the Ashuelot River is so low that it has stopped falling over the dam on West Street in Keene. I’ve known this section of river all my life. I used to fish here at the dam when I was a boy and they still fish for trout, pickerel and sunfish here today. This dam is known as the Faulkner and Colony dam because it was built around 1777 by that company to power their woolen mill. A few years ago there was talk about removing it to open up the river and another idea would refurbish it to generate power but I haven’t heard anything lately about either idea. I like the thought of restoring the river to what it once was without any dams on it. Two other dams have been removed in the past 20 years; one in Swanzey and one in Hinsdale. They were timber crib dams though; this one is granite block.

When gravel bars like these appear in the river it shows low the water really is. It’s amazing how quickly plants will take over these islands.

Though we haven’t had any rain we’ve had several cool nights and cool air over warm water always means mist, as this shot of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows.

There are highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) on the shores of almost all of our ponds and this year they’ve changed into their fall colors early. They’re beautiful in the fall and rival the colors of the invasive burning bush (Euonymus elatus.)

Though I still haven’t found enough mushrooms to do a full mushroom post I still occasionally find examples that can apparently stand the dryness. Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushrooms usually grow in large groups, so I was surprised to find this single one growing in an old woodpile. Another common name for them is sulfur shelf though I’ve worked with sulfur and this mushroom doesn’t remind me of it. The name chicken of the woods comes from the way they taste like chicken when cooked. Finding bright colors in the woods at any time of year is always a surprise and I always feel grateful that I am able to see them. This example was about as big as a dinner plate.

I’ve read that as they age chicken of the woods mushrooms lose their orange color and this one did just that over the course of a day or two. I’ve seen other examples however that have never lost their color, even as they rotted away.

Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa,) is another edible polypore that often grows in the same spot year after year. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. I’ve seen only two this year and both were cracked like you can see here.

I’ve had quite a time trying to identify this pretty little bolete and I’m still not sure I’ve got it right but most of the signs point to the red mouth bolete (Boletus subvelutipes) which has a variable colored cap that can be tawny red to yellowish and a red pore bearing surface. One identifying feature that I don’t see on this mushroom is the dark red velvety hairs that are “usually” found at the base of the stalk.

The pore surface of the red mouth bolete is bright scarlet red with yellow at the edges, and this fits the example I found. The red mouth bolete also stains purple at the slightest touch and you can see purple spots on the cap and stem of this example. If it isn’t the red mouth bolete I hope someone can tell me what it is. I found it growing under oaks and hemlocks and by the way, I’ve read that you should never eat a bolete with a red spore surface.

I found some orange fan shaped jelly fungi (Dacryopinax spathularia) growing on a log. Some fungi look like they are erupting from the cracks in the bark and this is one of them. It is an edible fungus which, according to Wikipedia, in China is sometimes included in a vegetarian dish called Buddha’s delight.

As well as fan shaped this small fungus is spatula shaped unlike other jellies that are brain like, and that’s where the spathularia part of the scientific name comes from. This is the first time I’ve seen them.

What I believe were common stinkhorns (Phallus impudicus) have appeared despite the dryness. Their caps looked a bit dry, ragged and tattered and they didn’t last for more than a day. These fungi have an  odor like rotting meat when they pass on.  

The green conical cap is sometimes slimy like this example was. It uses its carrion like odor to attract insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores. This photo shows its spongy stalk, which feels hollow.

Graceful Hindu dancers glided across the forest floor in the guise of yellow spindle coral (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) mushrooms. Each tiny cylinder is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. This species usually grows in tight clusters, often in the hard packed soil on the side of the trail, but I’ve found them on the forest floor as well.

It’s apple picking time here in New Hampshire and apples are a big business. These examples are red delicious but my personal favorite is an old fashioned variety called northern spy. Northern spy is almost impossible to find in stores these days because they don’t ship well, but you might get lucky at a local orchard. I think many people are surprised to learn that apple trees are not native to the United States. They have all come from old world stock brought over in the 1600s. Apples from Europe were grown in the Jamestown colony and the first non-native apple orchard was planted in Boston in 1625. Only the crab apple is native to this country and they were once called “common” apples. The Native American Abenaki tribe called them “apleziz” and used them for food as well as medicinally.

Peaches are also ripe and ready. Many people, including people who live here, don’t realize that peaches can be grown in New Hampshire but they’ve been grown here for many years.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) are ripe and they’re disappearing quickly. They grow on the banks of rivers and streams, and that’s how they come by the name. They are also called frost grapes because of their extreme cold hardiness. Many birds eat these small grapes including cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, robins, wood ducks, several species of woodpecker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, and turkeys. Many animals also love grapes, including foxes, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and opossums. Deer will eat the leaves and new shoots and many birds use the bark for nest building; especially crows. I went back about a week after I took this photo and every grape was gone.

I thought I’d have a hard time identifying these tiny galls I found growing on the underside of an oak leaf but they were relatively easy to find, even though little to nothing is known about the insect that caused them. Dryocosmus deciduous galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree.

Gypsy moth egg cases look like they were pasted onto the bark of a tree. European gypsy moths were first brought to the U.S. in 1869 from Europe to start a silkworm business but they escaped and have been in the wild ever since. In the 1970s and 80s gypsy moth outbreaks caused many millions of dollars of damage across the northeast by defoliating and killing huge swaths of forest. I remember seeing, in just about every yard, black stripes of tar painted around tree trunks or silvery strips of aluminum foil wrapped around trunks. The theory was that when the caterpillars crawled up the trunk of a tree to feed they would either get stuck in the tar or slip on the aluminum foil and fall back to the ground. Today, decades later, you can still see the black stripes of tar around some trees. Another gypsy moth population explosion happened in Massachusetts recently and that’s why foresters say that gypsy moth egg cases should be destroyed whenever they’re found.

Though we’ve had some freezing weather turtles seem to have shrugged it off. I don’t know what this one was standing on but I hope it wasn’t the river bottom. If the river is that low they’ll be in trouble.

Mallards are not as tame here as they seem to be in other places and usually when I take a photo of them all I get is tail feathers, but this group showed me a side view. The water of the river glowed in the sunlight like I’ve never seen. What would it be like I wondered, to be swimming along with them, surrounded by this this beautiful glowing light. Bliss, I think.

A great blue hereon found enough water in the river to get knee deep. As soon as it saw me it pretended to be a statue so I left it in stasis and moved on. When it comes to patience these birds have far more than I do, but they’ve also taught me to have more than I once did.  

I thought I’d leave you with a view of coming attractions. Fall came early and is moving quickly this year. Almost all the leaves are already gone from these trees since I took this photo.

Mother Nature is always speaking. She speaks in a language understood within the peaceful mind of the sincere observer. ~Radhanath Swami

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We’ve had three nights in the 20s F. so I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do flower posts, but for now the hardiest fall flowers, like these I drive by each morning, are still blooming. Goldenrods and several different asters make up this scene. This is when our roadsides turn into impressionist paintings. Those that haven’t been mowed do anyway.

What I call the park aster survived the cold nights and is just coming into bloom.

After bragging a few posts ago how the pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii) in my yard never got attacked by disease this year it has mildewed and has very few flowers on it. Powdery mildew likes high heat, high humidity and poor air circulation, so with two out of the three available for months this year I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. But I am surprised, because in all the years I’ve had this plant it has never asked for a thing and has thrived on neglect.

In the woods under the trees, white wood asters (Aster divaricatus) are still blooming.

Now here is a plant that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never seen, or maybe I’ve just never paid attention to it. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is also called wormwood and it isn’t much to look at, but oh what a ride researching it has taken me on. It’s an herb that has been used by man for thousands of years; the earliest writings regarding it found are from 3 BC. in China. It is also one of the herbs recorded in the Anglo-Saxon nine herbs charm from the tenth century and by all accounts was and still is considered a very important plant. Here is the U.S. it is considered an invasive weed but since I’ve never seen it before now I doubt it’s very invasive in this part of the country.

One of the ways to identify mugwort is by looking at the underside of the leaves which should be silvery white, colored by downy hairs. I’ve read that the ridged and grooved central stem can be green, green with purple ridges, or purple but this one was green. The leaves of the plant are highly aromatic and if you run your hands over the plant you smell a strong kind of sage like odor which is quite pleasant. One of the reasons this plant has been considered sacred for centuries is because it has so many uses, from culinary to medicinal. It is used in China to flavor things like tea, rice cakes and seafood and is used to treat depression, indigestion and lack of appetite. It has even been used to make beer.

These are the flower buds which I’ve been watching for a few weeks, impatiently waiting for them to open. Another way mugwort is used is to ease childbirth and to treat other women’s issues such as menopause. The plant can cause miscarriage however, so it should never be used during pregnancy.  

And then the buds became bright red, and very fine filaments appeared. These filaments reminded me of the tiny female flowers found on alders in spring. I’ve seen photos online of the flowers and these don’t look like those but I think that’s because they hadn’t fully opened when I took this photo. They should become tiny greenish yellow “insignificant” blooms, and I’ll be watching for them. I can say that they were much more aromatic than the leaves and the pleasing scent they left on my hands lasted until I washed it off. In fact I wish I could bottle that scent because it was really very pleasing and not at all overpowering. I’ve read that some are allergic to the plant and can get a rash from it but though I have allergies, it hasn’t bothered me at all.

Mugwort leaves, at least the ones on this plant, turn red in fall. I’m sorry that I’ve spent so much time on mugwort but I’m very interested in this plant. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what it is supposed to be able to do.

I had to go out and see the bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) growing in their moist, shaded spot along the banks of the Ashuelot River. Their numbers seem to be increasing despite being weed whacked and stepped on. Normally I would say that I love their beautiful blue color but these were so purple even I could see it. How odd, I thought. Though I know their usual color when mature is a very beautiful deep violet purple I’ve always seen them as blue until now. Maybe my colorblindness is going away. 

Closed (bottle) gentians are indeed closed and strong insects like bumblebees have to pry them open to get inside. I’ve read that these plants won’t tolerate drought so we’ll have to see what next year brings.

I saw just one single peached leaved bluebell  (Campanula persicifolia) blossom. A survivor.

How can you go 60 plus years and never see a plant and then, all of the sudden, see it everywhere you go? That’s what I ask myself every time I see pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea.) I’ve now found it in four different places. Last year I would have told you it didn’t grow here but I’m glad it does. It’s a pretty little plant.

I’ve discovered by watching the plant that pearly everlasting flowers close each night and open when the sun finds them the following day. Native Americans used pearly everlasting for treatment of sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way. The name everlasting comes from the way the dried flowers will last for years in a vase.

Heart leaved asters (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) are just coming into bloom. They are pretty little things that are also called blue wood asters, and they last quite late into the fall season, especially if they’re under trees. I often find them along rail trails.

The flowers are quite small; this one might have been a half inch across, but is no less pretty because of it.

It isn’t hard to understand how the heart leaved aster got its name, but the leaf shape can be variable from the bottom to the top of the stem. They have sharp coarse teeth around the perimeter.

A goldenrod that I see a lot of is downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula.) The leaves have a downy coating and that’s where its common name comes from. They reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil, often in colonies of 15-20 plants. The bright yellow 1/4 inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.

Every time I say goodbye to coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) for the year more appear, and that’s a good thing. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

Nodding bur marigold plants (Bidens cernua) still bloom at the water’s edge at rivers and ponds. Though they might appear fragile these plants are tough. I’ve seen them still bloom even after being walked on and crushed. The pretty lemon yellow flowers look like a miniature sunflower. I like their deeply pleated petals.

Since I like the color blue so much it’s hard not to like vetch, even though it is invasive and is probably responsible for more than a few gray hairs on this head. Once it gets in a garden it is close to impossible to eradicate by pulling alone, and I know that because I tried many times in many gardens over the years. It’s especially annoying when it gets into shrubs. Various vetch species were originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as cover crops and for livestock forage. They’re now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire.

It is said that the name Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) was borrowed from the biblical Song of Solomon but others say that it was a mis-translation of the Hebrew “Chavatzelet Ha Sharon,” which was a crocus or daffodil. It could also have been a tulip, or a Madonna lily. What all of this tells me is that nobody really knows where the name came from. Even the syriacus part of the scientific name is inaccurate because the plant isn’t from Syria, it’s from somewhere in Asia. The thing is though, when you see the beauty of the flower you really don’t care what its name is or where it came from; at least, I don’t. I’m increasingly convinced that what makes nature so complicated is our inability to find the correct words and ways to describe it. Nature isn’t complicated. It is we who complicate it.

I was very surprised to see that tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants were having a re-bloom. In the mid-1600s this plant was discovered in Virginia by John Tradescant and shipped off to England. I wonder what they thought of John when they realized how aggressive it could be in a garden. In any event native Americans had been using the plant both medicinally and for food for thousands of years before any European saw it. According to the USDA they ate the young spring shoots and mashed the stems and rubbed them onto insect bites to relieve pain and itching. Something else I read recently is that tradescantia has been proven to be an effective botanical watchdog for high radiation levels. The cells in the stamen hairs in the center of the plant mutate and turn from blue to pink when exposed to radiation such as gamma rays. Will wonders never cease.

I’ll leave you with some more of those roadside flowers. Long may they bloom.

Many people have never learned to see the beauty of flowers, especially those that grow unnoticed. ~Erika Just

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I’ve been wondering about this mowed trail under the powerlines in south Keene for many years now. Since the land is near the local college I was sure they must have made the trail, but why? I decided to finally find out more about it last Saturday.

Since I grew up in this area I thought the trail might lead to the Ashuelot River, which is right behind those trees on the other side of the powerline cut.

But before I did anything I made sure all the power lines were still in place as they should be. A few years ago a terrible accident happened here when a college maintenance worker came out here to see what birds he might find. He didn’t notice that one of the lines had fallen and he was electrocuted. The electric company had neglected to inspect and repair their towers, so one of the tower cross members that the big insulators hang from had simply broken off due to rot and the wire fell to the ground. And I used to play under these things when I was a boy.

There were huge numbers of goldenrod here.

And quite a few of the deep purple New England asters that I like so much.

The dogwood leaves had already turned to their beautiful maroon fall color.

As I thought it would the trail turned into the woods.

I was happy to see that my boyhood playground was now a wildlife management area. That means this land will be protected.

A game trail led into the woods so I followed it.

The trail became what looked like an otter slide, and I found myself standing about ten feet above what was left of the river. It is definitely lower than I’ve ever seen it and I’m not sure what will happen if we don’t get some rain soon. Wells are going dry all over the state.

A marker told me that I was 1.56 miles from somewhere. Or maybe I had 1.56 miles to go. Either way it didn’t matter.

Sumacs are changing into their beautiful fall red.

Ferns stood as tall as I did.

A woodland sunflower was curling into itself, I’m guessing from lack of moisture. I’ve never seen the woods look so dry.

A backwater had nearly dried up, and that was hard to see. What struck me as most odd about the scene was the lack of animal tracks. There are large animals like deer out here and they need to drink but they hadn’t been here, so I wondered if this was more of that river mud that it is so easy to sink in to. I wasn’t going to try. I learned a lot out here when I was a boy and one of the most important lessons was not to do foolish things like play in wet river mud when I was alone.

And then I came to the college soccer fields. I can remember when they were built and a couple of college students walking the trail looked like they wanted to call me Methuselah when I told them that.

A silver maple showed me how it got its name. Normally, as the old tale says, when you see the silvery undersides of these leaves it is going to rain. On this day though, all we saw was a 20 MPH wind.

It really is amazing what the college has carved out of what was essentially wilderness.

There were lots of flowers to see; mostly asters and goldenrods.

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana,) our native clematis, often has deep purple leaves at this time of year.

Virgin’s bower also has fluffy seed heads and I think the seed heads are as interesting as the flowers. This is our most common native clematis and can be seen on roadsides draped over shrubs or climbing high up in the trees. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings. They also give the plant another common name: Old Man’s Beard. 

It was nice to see so many of these dark colored asters. This color isn’t common here but they’re my favorite.

It was amazing to think that, when I was a boy living barely a 5 minute walk from here, none of this existed. The power lines were there and what grew under them was cut fairly regularly, but the rest of the area; the college fields, the paths, the wildlife management area, none of it was here. What was here is what you see above; a forest, and it was a wonderful, magical place to grow up in. I spent most of my free time in these woods and on the railroad track that ran through them, and being here again was like going home. I was thankful for the mowed trails that made it so easy to get out here and I hope the college students will have as much fun here as I had. It’s a very special place.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. ~Alfred North Whitehead

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Each fall as the silky dogwood berries ripen the cedar waxwings return to this spot on the Ashuelot River. They supplement their berry diet with insects and perch on logs and boulders, waiting. When an insect is seen they fly out and grab it in mid-air often returning to the same perch, much as a dragonfly would. They are sleek, beautiful birds that are very fast, and I love watching them.

Silky dogwood berries go from green to white and then from white to blue, but for a short time they are blue and white like Chinese porcelain. In fact every time I see them I wonder if the original idea for blue designs on white porcelain didn’t come from berries just like these. Once they are blue and fully ripe the cedar waxwings eat them up quickly.

Though this might look like the same bird that is in the first photo that bird’s bill is hooked and this one’s bill is not. I chose this shot because I thought it gave a better look at the beautiful bird’s black bandit mask and crest. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see on its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or can even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol. I met a drunken cedar waxwing once so I know that the story is true. I got between a bird and its fermented dogwood berries one day and it flew directly at my face at high speed, only pulling up at the last second. It did this several times until I moved away from its berries. Only then did it leave me alone. There’s little that’s more jarring than having a bird fly like a miniature jet plane right at your face.

I saw some goldfinches picking the petals off a zinnia and I wondered what they were up to. I thought when the gardener returned and saw all the zinnias were bald they wouldn’t be very happy. I don’t know who that gardener is but if you’re reading this, here’s your culprit.

Once they spit the petal out they still had something to chew on but I wasn’t sure what it was. I’m going to have to look into how zinnia seeds form because goldfinches are great seed eaters. I’ve seen them eating bull thistle seeds almost everywhere I go this year. Imagine being light enough to sit on a flower.

These birds were only picking the petals off the white zinnias and didn’t touch other colors. This one sat and waited its turn for a peck at a white flower while sitting on a purple one and I wondered why it looked a little shabbier than the others. Was it molting? A juvenile? A less colorful female? As of right now I can’t answer any of these questions. Maybe it was just the quality of the light.

I’m not sure what is going on but I seem to be a dragonfly magnet this year. This one came and sat on a branch close enough to whisper in my ear. I don’t know its name but it’s a cute little thing.

Unfortunately other insects like deerflies seem to find me likeable as well. I thought this insect was a deerfly at first but though the wing markings are similar, now I’m not so sure. It was on a building at work early one morning. In any event for those who don’t know what a deerfly is, they have a very painful bite. Even more painful than horseflies.

I recently found this milkweed plant covered with aphids.  Not surprisingly, they are called milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii) and are tiny, bright yellow/orange insects with black legs that pierce plant tissue and suck the juices out of plants. An aphid colony can produce large amounts of honeydew which attracts sooty mold and is a black color.

Aphids stunt plant growth and if not controlled will eventually kill the plant. These aphids are also called oleander aphids and in places like Florida can often be found on that shrub. When conditions get crowded and there are too many milkweed aphids females will grow wings and fly off to find another plant.

The corn never grew in the fields due to the drought, which has now reached moderate or severe proportions in different parts of the state, so all of the volunteer plants in the cornfields are being raked under in a cloud of dust. According to those in the know this has been the 4th hottest summer on record in our area.

Even though it has been as dry as I can remember I have seen a few mushrooms. Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. They also change color as they age. If found when young as this one was it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older examples will dye wool brown. As it ages this fungus turns a dark red / maroon.

Crown coral fungi come in many colors but I usually find the tan / white varieties. The way to tell if you have a crown coral fungus is by the tips of the branches, which in crown coral look like tiny crowns rather than blunt or rounded. They grow on dead wood but if that wood is buried they can appear to be growing in soil. The example in this photo was about as big in diameter as a hen’s egg.

Eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) are considered cup fungi and they get their name from the hairs around the perimeter. The hairs can move and sometimes curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body. I just read the other day that some believe that the hairs might collect moisture, similar to the way spines on cacti work.

This shot shows how the eyelash fungus can curl its “lashes” inward. They’re fascinating things that there seems to be very little information about. These examples grew on a damp, leaking tree wound and the largest of them was smaller than a pea.

Black jelly drop fungi (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. They are also called poor man’s licorice but they aren’t edible. They look and feel like black gumdrops, and for some unknown reason are almost always found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up. The tree that these examples were on however, fell naturally.

Though they look like jelly fungi black jelly drops are sac fungi. Their fertile, spore bearing surface is shiny and the outside of the mature cups look like brown velvet. They are sometimes used for dying fabric in blacks, browns, purples and grays.

Can this be your everything for a moment; all that there is? It was mine for a time, kneeling there in the forest.

Young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) mushrooms found here often have a metallic yellow color when they just come up. They’re common where pine trees grow and this one was under a pine. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic, but I think that would be the red variety with white spots (Amanita muscaria) that is commonly found in Europe. Vikings are said to have used it for that very reason and those who used it were called “berserkers.” By all accounts I’ve read berserkers were very frightening people.

At this time of year small black witch hats can be seen on some witch hazel leaves, but what looks like a witch hat is actually a gall which the plant created in response to the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis.) It’s also called nipple gall and cone head gall. I’ve seen lots of these but I’ve never seen one with hair. It’s nice to occasionally be completely surprised by reality. It takes us down a peg or two and prevents us from believing that we know it all.

In 2015 someone from the Smithsonian Institution read a post where I spoke about sumac pouch gall and contacted me to ask if I could tell them where they grew in this region. They are researching the co-evolution of rhus gall aphids and its host plants the sumacs. A female aphid lays eggs on the underside of a leaf and plant tissue swells around them to form a gall like those seen here. The eggs overwinter and mature inside the hollow gall until spring, when the aphids leave the gall and begin feeding on the plant. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. They are studying this relationship at the Smithsonian and they collected galls from here and also collected them from Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan and Ohio.

When mature the galls become tomato red. It’s hard to comprehend being able to see the very same living thing now that could have been seen 48 million years ago.

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these except maybe when red baneberry (Actaea rubra) decides to have white fruit instead of red. It doesn’t matter though, because both plants are extremely toxic and no part of them should ever be eaten. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow. I often find it at or near the base of embankments that see a lot of runoff. Actually white baneberry berries remind me of Kermit the frog’s eyes.

Each berry of a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) starts out green and contains 3-5 seeds. Soon they’ll turn a beautiful bright, shiny red.  This is a native plant in the arum family similar to the Lords and Ladies plant found in the U.K. Deer often come by and chomp off the berries of the plant so I was happy to find these.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginianadangle beautifully red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses from purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. It reminds me each year how fall, like spring, actually starts on the forest floor.

Once fall begins there’s no stopping it and before long it moves from the forest floor to the understory, as these hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) show so well.

And of course fall moves from the understory into the trees above, and you can just see that happening in the yellow tree in the center of this hill on the other side of Half Moon Pond, just a short distance down from the top. It’s an ash tree I believe, which is one of the first trees to turn in the fall. By the way, the name “ash” can be traced back to old English where it meant “spear,” because ash wood was the first choice for the shaft of such a weapon.

You can experience the beauty of nature only when you sit with it, observe it, breathe it and talk to it.
~Sanchita Pandey

I hope all of you are experiencing the beauty of nature, wherever you may live.

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It seems as if it must be time to say goodbye to maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) because most of those I see have burned up from the drought. I realized when I saw this blossom that I had never seen its cousin the Deptford pink this year. It’s the first summer I haven’t found one. Both plants are from Europe though, so maybe they can’t take the kind of heat we’ve seen this year.

I saw what I’m fairly sure was a clammy ground cherry (Physalis heterophylla) plant growing at the edge of an unmown field. I haven’t seen the edible berries yet, but if this is the clammy ground cherry they will be yellow. Smooth ground cherry (Physalis subglabrata) fruits are orange, red, or purple and that plant doesn’t have hairs on its stem, leaves, and flowers like this one does.

The fruit of ground cherries is enclosed in a papery husk that looks like a Chinese lantern. This native plant is in the nightshade family along with its relatives; tomatoes and potatoes. A few posts ago I showed a tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica and Physalis ixocarpa) flower and fruit and they looked remarkably like this wild plant. That’s because they are in the same family and closely related.

I found a spot where many thousands of slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants bloomed. It was in full sun in dry gravel on the side of a hill. They were obviously very happy here; I’ve never seen so many in one spot. The blossoms seem to float in the air because the plants themselves are so wispy and thin.

Slender gerardia has the unusual habit of dropping its flowers each afternoon. Some websites will tell you that the flowers close at night but if you go to see it in the early evening you’ll find the ground around each plant littered with tiny fallen blossoms. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day, which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

Slender Gerardia is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the slender, sword shaped leaves. The blossoms are very hairy and have a long curved protruding pistil and especially from the side look nothing like foxglove to me.

The funny little plants called false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) have appeared in force and I’m seeing them everywhere. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The flowers are about half the size of a true dandelion and they bob around on long, wiry stems. At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Many hawkweeds bloom at different times than false dandelions, which also helps when trying to identify them.

False dandelion leaves look like miniature versions of dandelion leaves because they are nowhere near as wide or as long.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) are seen everywhere at this time of year. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant, which will grow under a heavy leaf canopy as it was doing here. The small, half inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

Purple stemmed beggar’s ticks (Bidens connata) have just started blooming. This is a plant that teaches patience because it suddenly appears in late July and grows for several weeks before it flowers. There are nearly 200 species in the genus and many of them look nearly identical. In this part of the state this plant grows side by side with the nodding burr marigold (Bidens Cernua,) which is also called smooth beggar’s ticks and looks very similar. The plant gets its common name from the way its barbed seeds cling to clothing. Books say that it reaches 3 1/2 feet tall but I’ve seen some get close to six feet. The one in the photo is more typical of its often sprawling habit. I’ve also seen these plants growing in water at the edge of ponds.

It’s hard to tell if a purple stemmed beggar’s tick blossom is fully opened but I think this one is close.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) are still blossoming but this one was looking sad, probably because of the extreme dryness. It must be really dry to bother such a tough plant.

Though this one doesn’t have one you will often find a tiny red / purple flower in the center of all the white flowers on a Queen Anne’s lace flower head. It’s there but it’s very small and most people never notice it.  

So small in fact, that I had to try many time to get this photo, and then once I had it I had to over expose it to show the tiny reddish flower. I went through all that because I’ve found that many people don’t know the tiny flower is even there. Legend says it is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators, but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. I have seen lots of ants around them in the past.

I saw a single globe thistle (Echinops) blossom this year and it was about finished by the time I found it. This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony. On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. Finches might.

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is an odd plant with clusters of flowers that seem reluctant to open. Even after they do open they still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely.  This plant gets its common name from the belief that it was useful in the treatment of piles, or hemorrhoids. In some areas it is also called fireweed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

This is all we see of a pilewort flower when it opens. It is made up of many disc florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. These plants can sometimes reach lofty heights. I’ve seen them 6 or 7 feet tall.

Once pilewort blossoms go to seed they will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) has started blooming and I’m seeing it everywhere. It isn’t a terribly showy plant but it’s quite obvious if you know what it looks like. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as this example shows. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. 

Sweet everlasting never looks like a flower until it is gone by and its bracts are all that’s left. The common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. An unusual fact about this plant is how it smells strongly of warm maple syrup. It was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to our only pink St. John’s wort; the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum.) Thought I’m still seeing plenty of plants I’m seeing fewer blossoms so I think its time with us is waning. As its common name implies it prefers wet areas and is considered a wetland indicator, so if you see it you’ll know that you’re in a wet area. I usually find it at the edges of ponds and rivers and it’s beauty makes it very much worth searching for.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder. ~Avina Celeste

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Last weekend was another hot, humid one so I spent some time at one of my favorite spots along the river. Due to our ongoing drought the water was as low as I’ve seen it get and some of the plants that grow here were looking parched. In spring I would have probably been in water up to my chest if I stood in this spot.

An invasive purple loosestrife plant (Lythrum salicaria) made a mistake and grew just a yard or so from the water. When the river fills and comes back to normal this young plant will be completely underwater.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows along the riverbank and I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of each dark purple berry. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Downstream a still pool looked inviting on such a hot day and if I were 12 years old again I would have been swimming rather than sweating. This river was very polluted when I was a boy but now children often swim right here in this spot and people also fish it for trout. I see an occasional bald eagle flying along the river and great blue herons often stand along its banks. We seem to have a shortage of herons this year though. I’ve only seen two this summer and one of them was standing in the middle of a road, slowing traffic.

Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed grew on the edge of the pool.

There is a lot of iron in the stones in this part of the river but I don’t know if that is what colored the riverbed in this spot or not. Whatever it was looked almost like algae.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. They bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

A wasp was busy pollinating boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum.) This is another plant that won’t be blooming too much longer.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries, even grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. Still, I can count the times I’ve found it in the wild on one hand, so it can hardly be called invasive. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

Tansy is a natural insect repellent and has historically been used as such but a crab spider was full of hope that an insect might be lured in by its bright yellow flowers.

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) grows prolifically here. This plant has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify. In fact, I’m never 100% sure that I’ve gotten it right.

I was very surprised to find marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) growing on the riverbank. This plant seems to be spreading quickly from place to place and I was happy to see it here because I often have to search high and low for it. Not only is this the only pink flowered St. John’s wort I’ve ever heard of; both its buds and seed pods are bright red.

Common St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) still bloomed here but I haven’t seen it anywhere else for a while now. This plant’s healing properties have been well known since ancient times.

What I call a spontaneous gift of nature stopped me in my tracks. The soft glow of the sun shining through the red leaves of a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) was beautiful. You can’t plan things like this; you simply have to be there and if you are you may see something you have never seen or even dreamed of.

Those silky dogwood leaves really shouldn’t be red this early, and neither should this burning bush leaf   (Euonymus alatus) be pink already. The first day of fall is nearly a month away unless it comes early, and some of the plants I’ve seen are hinting that it might.

These oak leaves weren’t hinting at an early fall; they were shouting it.

But on the other hand some oaks were just now working on continuation of the species.

Ducks and many other birds feed on the seeds of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and by the looks the ones on this plant were already gone. This native shrub grows all along the river and I see it fairly often. Each fertilized flower turns into a seed pod that hold two black seeds.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) bloomed along the river bank in shadier spots. This aster likes wet places and partial sunshine. It can grow up to 5 feet tall on unbranched stems, but these plants leaned out toward the river.

I didn’t know that fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) bloomed here until I saw the pretty seed pods. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the plant’s seeds. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. I like the little stars around each seed pod.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants bloomed on the riverbank and it struck me when I saw them how so many plants grow and bloom in places that will most likely be completely under water in a few months. Indeed during spring thaws I’ve seen many feet of water cover the very spot I was kneeling in. It was a bit unsettling to think about and I’m not sure how such seemingly delicate plants can survive it.

It’s always nice to spend part of a day on the river I grew up just a few yards from and have known all of my life. I saw so many interesting and beautiful things in less than a mile of waterway, and that always makes me imagine what I’d see if I could explore the whole thing. Someday maybe.

Meanwhile I’m content with the beauty I know that I’ll always find when I come here, like this beautiful cedar waxwing caught in a ray of sunshine. It was another of those spontaneous gifts of nature. I hope all of you receive similar gifts.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

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Native grass leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) grows in the calm water of streams and ponds. There are about 30 species of arrowheads out there and many of them are similar, so I hope you’ll take my identification with a grain of salt. Common to all arrowheads is how they grow in shallow, still waters at pond and stream edges, or in the wet ground of ditches and swamps. Grass leaved arrowhead has flower stalks shorter than the leaves and though perspective makes it look as if these stalks were taller than the leaves they were not.

Arrowheads have such simple clean white flowers; they are very easy to understand.

Wild senna (Cassia hebecarpa) is a native plant that is rarely seen in the wild here in the Northeast and is listed as threatened or endangered. They say this is primarily due to loss of habitat. The leaves and seed pods of wild senna contain compounds called anthraquinones, which are powerful laxatives, so deer leave it alone. I have this plant in my yard to attract butterflies and bees and also because I like the yellow flowers with their hairy pistils and dark brown anthers. Once it finds a place it likes it will spread.

The coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) have taken on that papery petal look that signals their passing. The Echinacea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek echinos, which means hedgehog or sea-urchin, and it refers to the spiny center. Soon that’s all that will be left and it will persist through winter, feeding gold finches and other birds. Coneflowers are native to our prairies.

I took this photo because of the beautiful intense yellow of the goldenrods but it’s getting harder to get a shot of goldenrods without purple loosestrife being there with them.

Groundnut (Apias americana) has just come into bloom. This plant grows as a vine, usually twining its way through and over any nearby shrubs or tall plants like goldenrod. Its flowers often can’t be seen because of all the foliage and when they are seen you usually see a view like the one in the above photo.

But it’s worthwhile to look a little closer because groundnut flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown. They are complicated things but they always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years. Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

From the side groundnut flowers look even more like a helmet. They’re very unusual flowers.

I saw this clematis from quite a distance and decided to look a little closer because I liked its plum color.

But this clematis came in two shades of plum. This darker shade appears on the new flowers and they lighten as they age.

This plant has had me scratching my head for a few years now. At first I thought that it might be the mountain hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis) which is a small flowered native with maple shaped leaves, but the USDA says that it doesn’t grow in this area of the country. Blogging friend Clare Pooley thought that it might be Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) but again the USDA says that plant doesn’t grow naturally in this area. And that is the hitch; this plant is in a garden so it isn’t growing naturally, and that means that it could be anything. I’ve read that the calyx and a few other identifying features will tell the tale so I’ve got to get back and take more photos.

Purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) is another flower that shines out its divine inner light. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. I always have to  stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just for a few moments.

Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) were cultivated by Native Americans for thousands of years for their tuberous roots, which they cooked and ate much like we do potatoes. They are said to be starchy with a nutty flavor and they were immediately adopted by the early settlers. The tubers have fewer calories than potatoes and the plant’s carbohydrates and sugars can be assimilated by the digestive tract without insulin. This makes them an excellent choice for diabetics. Though I’ve never eaten one I used to dig them for clients of mine that grew them for food and I’ll never forget how very tall these plants can be. This one grew up through the middle of a native dogwood and towered over it.

Obedient plants (Physostegia virginiana) are among the most invasive native plants that I have seen. Obedient plants get their common name from the way the flower stalks stay where they are if they are bent; they are “obedient.” I like the flowers, but don’t like having to weed them.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is said to be very invasive but I usually have to look for them each year. The plant is from Europe and Asia and has been in this country since it was introduced from Wales as a garden flower by Ranstead, a Welsh Quaker who came to Delaware with William Penn in the late 1600s. It has been used medicinally for centuries, since at least the 1400s, and modern science has shown it to have diuretic and fever-reducing qualities. In the Middle Ages, yellow toadflax was called wild snapdragon because of its close resemblance to the garden snapdragon.

The common name toadflax comes from the leaves , which are narrow like flax leaves, and the flower’s mouth “like unto a frog’s mouth,” from an old herbal. Another old source says that “Toads will sometimes shelter themselves amongst the branches of it.”

The trick though, is that you have to pinch the flower to get to see its open mouth. When pinched on the sides the lower lip falls and the flower opens, revealing four toothlike stamens and a double pistil or tongue. It takes a heavy insect like a bumblebee to force open the flowers and get inside. Once inside they have to crawl as far down into the spur as they can to reach the nectar with their tongues. It sounds like an awful lot of work, so I hope the nectar is extra sweet.

This is the time of year when gardens are filled with phlox blossoms, some so fragrant they will just carry you away on a warm late summer evening. I wanted to get a photo of this particular example because it is such a difficult color for my camera to get correct unless the lighting is perfect. I think it came out true to the original.

White can be another tough color to photograph so I had to try those too. Phlox are beautiful things.

I’ve spoken here probably far too many times of how colorblindness can often prevent my seeing red in nature. If a red cardinal lands in a green tree it immediately disappears from my sight and the same is true for the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis.) The first time I ever saw this flower a couple of years ago I had the help of Judy from the New England Garden and Thread blog. She sent me directions on where to find them, and it was worth the effort. This time I found them with the help of a friend from work. They grew on the banks of a stream and though I was almost stepping on them and still had trouble seeing them I was finally able to find them, and once again they were very beautiful.

Red is one of the hardest colors for a camera to see, so I had to take many photos to get what you see here. A single cardinal flower has five petals with three on its lower lip and two on its upper. These petals come together in a tube at their base. This makes it very difficult for insects to get at the nectar which hides at the base of the tube, so cardinal flowers rely on hummingbirds for pollination. Its five stamens are joined together into another tube formed around the style, with brushy anthers at the top. When a hummingbird, or sometimes a butterfly, dips in to get at the nectar the anthers deposit a dot of pollen on its head. When it visits another flower pollination will be complete. This flower isn’t at all common here and so far getting close to it has involved a bit of work, along with muddy feet.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.  ~Henri Matisse

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The longer I do blog posting the more I’m amazed more by what I don’t see than what I do, and here is a perfect example of that; pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea.) I’ve told readers before that they’d never see pearly everlasting on this blog because it didn’t grow here but what I should have said was I had never seen it. Now I’ve found it twice in two days in two different places.  According to the USDA the plant gets its common name from the “pearl-white involucre bracts that surround the yellow disk flowers.” You can just see one of those disk flowers beginning to show in the center of this flower head. Native Americans used pearly everlasting for treatment of sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way.

But it is that time of year when some of our smallest and most beautiful wildflowers show themselves and field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) is one of those. Its flowers are beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and that’s just what I usually do. Milkworts get their name from the ancient Greeks, who thought they increased milk production in nursing mothers. The polygala part of the scientific name comes from the Greek polugalon or “much milk.”

On field milkwort flowers what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant, including bumblebees. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

This shot from a few years ago gives you a sense of the size of a field milkwort flowerhead. Still, as small August flowers go, it’s among the biggest.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. Once the blossoms reach the very top of the flower spike the plant is done. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

Mullein is a biennial so like burdock and many other plants it flowers and dies in its second year of growth. It is considered a weed but if all of its flowers opened at once along its tall flower stalk I think it would be a prized garden specimen.

This photo is more about the red seed pods than the yellow flowers of Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) because some St. John’s wort plants have red buds and others have red seed pods, and it can get very confusing.

This photo is all about the flower of Canada St. John’s wort; the smallest of all the St. John’s wort flowers. Each blossom wouldn’t even hide Lincoln’s head on a penny. In fact you could pick a bouquet of them and hide it behind a penny, so small are the blooms.

And here is a Canada St. John’s wort blossom on a penny. It’s one of the smallest flowers I try to photograph.

Brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but it is relatively hard to find here. It’s an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) flowers look a lot like dandelions, but the rest of the plant doesn’t. Its flowers are held about 2 feet high on wiry stems, and its leaves have prickly edges. The seed heads look a bit like a dandelion seed head but are denser because of more seeds. This plant is considered a noxious weed in many places and comes from Europe and Asia. It was first reported in Pennsylvania in 1814 and is now in all but 8 states and most of Canada. This one grew right at the edge of a ditch I didn’t know was there and as I backed up to get a better shot I suddenly found myself lying on my back in the muddy ditch. Once I stopped laughing I came out of it feeling a little foolish but otherwise unscathed.

Here is a look at the edge of a sow thistle leaf. It feels as prickly as it looks.

When I started working where I do I found a single chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) growing in a 13 acre field that I mow each week. I mowed around the plant and let it be and then there were 3 or 4 plants, and then a few more, and now there is a forest of them. One recent day I found myself in the middle of this forest admiring all of these beautiful flowers and I suddenly had the strange sensation that I was lighter, almost as if gravity had been switched off and I was being carried away by the beauty that I saw. And for all of the rest of that day I felt light, as if I had little weight. It was very strange, but not uncomfortable. In fact I’d like for it to happen again. It reminded me of lying on my back in the grass as a boy, watching the clouds float past. Sometimes I felt as if I was floating then, too.

Beauty, according to Indian spiritual master Amit Ray, is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when the soul is satisfied he says, so on this day my soul must have been immensely satisfied.

And then I wondered if dragonflies like this Halloween pennant, perched atop a chicory plant, felt the same lightness I felt. And bees and butterflies? Do they have a sense of having any weight at all? Since they must know that they’ll float to earth if they stop moving their wings I’d guess the answer would be yes. Insects, especially dragonflies, do seem to have a certain amount of intelligence, because when I’m mowing this field dragonfly squadrons fly along on either side of me, knowing that the mower will scare insects up out of the grass. It’s an easy meal they don’t have to work too hard to get, and it’s always quite a remarkable thing to watch. No matter how fast or slow the mower goes they fly right along beside it.

Beautiful yes but every gardener’s nightmare come true, because creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is virtually impossible to eradicate. I worked for years trying to remove it from a garden I once worked in and last I knew the plants were still thriving. I think the new owners must have come to see the futility of it all.  

White avens (Geum canadense) are everywhere this year, more than I’ve ever seen. Each flower is about a half inch across with 5 white petals and many anthers. The anthers start out white and then turn brown and you usually find both on each flower. Each flower becomes a seed head with hooked seeds that will stick to hair or clothing.

I saw a hosta blossom that had to be in this post because it showed perfectly why hostas are in the lily family. In fact another name for the plant is the plantain lily.

This very beautiful rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) grows just off the side of an old dirt road at the edge of a swamp. At least I think it is rosebay willowherb; there seems to be some confusion among sources about the regions it grows in. According to the USDA it doesn’t grow in New England, but the University of Maine lists it in its database. Another name for the plant is fireweed and Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it in 1857, so I’ve been wondering for years now if the USDA map is incorrect. If you live in New Hampshire and have seen this plant I’d love to hear from you.

Narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis) grow alongside the same road that the rosebay willowherbs were on. Gentians of any kind are extremely rare in these parts and I’m always as excited to see them as I would be to see a field full of orchids. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often, because our soil is generally acidic. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I hope this small colony will spread. I’ve heard of other hidden colonies of it here and there as well.

Never has the earth been so lovely or the sun so bright as today. ~Chief Nikinapi

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When I see this photo I think “Oh, for a cloudy day” but no, last Saturday was another in a seemingly endless string of hot, humid, wall to wall sunshiny days. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing and that includes sunny days, but one of the first things someone who studies nature learns is that you take what comes, and so I set off down one of my favorite rail trails looking for nothing but a good time.

My good time started before I had walked 5 yards. Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) grew in sunny spots all along the trail. Often you find that the flowers are scattered here and there along the stems as they are here. 

One of the things I like about showy tick trefoil is how it blooms when goldenrod does. I like seeing the two colors together.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries start out green and then turn orange before finally ripening to red. They are pretty things but they can be mildly toxic to adults and more so to children, though I’ve never heard of anyone eating them. Tatarian honeysuckle is considered an invasive shrub. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, so the land around dense colonies is often barren.

It’s hard to believe that the tiny scarlet threads of the female hazelnut flowers (Corylus americana) can grow into such wonderous things as these, but they do. Each hazelnut is encased in a frilly husk, and you can just see them around the center of the tennis ball size growth. In 1995 a large shallow pit in Scotland was found to be full of the remains of thousands of burned hazelnut shells and was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so man has been eating this nut for a very long time. In this country Native Americans used them to flavor soups and also ground them into flour, most likely for thousands of years as well. And we still eat them today.

Daisy fleabane flowers (Erigeron annuus) are white, but those blossoms that happen to be in the shade often have a purple tint as this one did.

As I said in my last post, I’m seeing tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) everywhere I go and it grew all along this trail. That is unusual, because it wasn’t too many years ago when I had to search high and low to find it.  

Wild tall blue lettuce goes to seed relatively quickly so maybe that’s why I’m seeing so much more of it.

Between the drainage ditch full of purple loosestrife and the tree line is supposed to be a cornfield but hardly a seed germinated because of the drought, so now it’s a field full of everything but corn. All of this corn is cattle corn so the cows might have a lean winter.

When we have hot humid weather the conditions are perfect for powdery mildew, which can be seen on this clover leaf. It doesn’t seem to care which plants it attacks; I saw it on a few different species along the trail.

Fuzzy staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) berries were conspicuously absent. I saw plenty of shrubs but these were the only berries I saw. Many plants seem to be behaving strangely this year. I also saw raspberry bushes all along both sides of the trail but not a single sign of fruit.

Tall thimbleweed’s (Anemone virginiana) white flower sepals don’t seem to last very long. Every time I see them they have either turned green or are in the process of doing so, and you can just see a hint of green on two or three of these. That means if you see them in bloom that’s the time to get a photo. There are usually plenty of yellowish stamens surrounding a center head full of pistils, even after the flowers turn green. These flowers are close to the diameter of a quarter; about an inch. Thimble weed’s seed head continues growing after the sepals have fallen off and it becomes thimble shaped, which is where the common name comes from. Though the plant is poisonous Native Americans used the root to ease whooping cough and the smoke from the seeds was used to treat breathing difficulties.

Carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea) has blue berries that are a favorite of birds, but these examples seemed to be drying out as soon as they ripened and turned blue. This plant is a vine that can reach 8 feet long. The fruit is said to be edible, but you won’t catch me eating it. It gets its name from the strong odor of its flowers.

Common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) had just a few green berries on them because birds are eating them as soon as they ripen and turn black. The big flower head stems look like star charts.

I saw quite a few bicyclists whizzing by and there go a couple now, on the other side of the trestle. These old trestles have been reworked by snowmobile clubs and some, like this one, hardly show any signs of the original construction.

To get a better look at what the trestle looked like originally I had to go down under it.

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) grew in a sunny spot just at the edge of the trestle but I didn’t see any butterflies on it.

The trestle crosses Ash Swamp brook, which meanders lazily through Keene before finally meeting the Ashuelot River just around that corner. I spent many happy hours exploring this place as a boy and learned then that you have to be very careful where you step here because you could suddenly find yourself up to your knees in quicksand-like sucking mud. I’d guess that there must still be a few pairs of shoes under that mud, left behind when a stuck child was pulled out by friends. It wouldn’t have been parents pulling them out because you didn’t want parents knowing you were anywhere near this place. Very near here the banks of the river are high and sandy and bank swallows used to nest there. Watching them come and go was always good for an afternoon’s entertainment when I was a boy. Though the brook looked placid it can rise quickly in a heavy rain and flood quite a large area, so the surrounding land is considered flood plain. Seeing the water high enough to be almost touching the bottom of the trestle is something you never forget.

Can you stand another look at the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens)? They grew here in quite large numbers but I still didn’t see a monkey. A helpful reader wrote in to say that if I turned the photo upside down then I’d see a monkey. I tried it and still didn’t see a monkey, but I’m glad she did.

If you’re wondering where the title of this post came from, here it is; traveler’s joy. This native clematis is also called Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana.) It drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants, just as it did in this spot, but I’ve also seen it climbing into trees. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very pretty but toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten. It is also called old man’s beard and devils’ darning needles, but since it always brings me joy when I see it I like the name traveler’s joy.

A great black wasp came by for a bite to eat while I was there and I admired its beautiful iridescent blue wings. The color reminds me of my grandmother’s favorite perfume Evening in Paris, because the bottle was almost the same color. These big wasps eat nectar and pollen from flowers and don’t bother people but they can be a bit intimidating because of their large size. It was a beautiful thing; a joy to see on the traveler’s joy. I do hope your travels will be joyous as well.

Freedom, joy or bliss doesn’t come from the situation that we think we should be in, but it derives from the one that we are already in. ~Aditya Ajmera

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Good Morning everyone. I’m sorry this post is later than usual but I woke to no internet this morning, and there isn’t much you can do about that.

The monarch butterflies have returned and have gone straight for the Joe Pye weed, which they seem to love. Nature has its own rhythm but I can’t think of anything that illustrates it more beautifully than the monarch butterfly.

I hoped the monarch would open its wings for me but this was the best I could do.

Bull thistles are attracting more insects this year than I’ve ever seen. Here was a silver spotted skipper and a bumblebee sharing this one.

And here was an eastern black swallowtail on another. What a beautiful thing; I think this was the only one I’ve seen.

Early one morning I found this pretty moth resting on a leaf. Imagine sleeping on a leaf, waiting for the sun to warm and wake you at dawn. I took a few photos and it never moved. I think its name is the large lace-border moth. It has a lacy fringe on its trailing wing edges.

I never knew there was such a difference in the size of milkweed beetles. I’m assuming one is a male and the other female. It seems like every other time I’ve seen them they’ve been the same size.

I found another insect I had never seen before one morning; a dobsonfly. Luckily a coworker knew what it was. It was quite big; it must have been 3-4 inches long including its big, fierce looking pincers. Actually they’re called mandibles and males, which this one is, use them to fight off interlopers. I’ve read that these insects can give you quite a painful bite but it is more warning than anything serious.  

Here’s a closer look at the dobsonflies many eyes. The larvae are called hellgrammites or toe biters and are aquatic. They are eaten by fish and are often used for bait by fisher folk. They can also give you quite a bite, hence the name toe biters. They stay in the larval stage for one to three years before leaving the water as a male or female dobsonfly. Once they leave the water their lifespan is shortened to three days for males and eight to ten days for females. During that time it’s all about continuation of the species.

One morning a dragonfly flew off a pickerel weed stalk and landed bang, right on my left shoulder. It was odd because I saw the dragonfly on the pickerel weed and then saw it fly at me as if in slow motion, as if it had it all planned out. Luckily I’m right handed so I was able to get my small macro camera out of its case on my belt and get this photo. But then there was a problem; how do I get the dragonfly to fly away? I put my camera away and put my finger on my shoulder and much to my surprise the dragonfly climbed aboard.

But then there was another problem; how could I get a shot of it on my right finger when I had to use my right hand to take the photo? So, I put my left my left finger up to my right finger and sure enough, it climbed right on just like my grandmother’s parakeets used to do. I was able to take several photos but since the sun hadn’t come up over the hills I was able to salvage only this one by adjusting the exposure in post processing. But then I faced another problem; how to get the dragonfly off my finger. I wiggled it gently but it held right on, so then I put my finger up to the siding of a building and it finally crawled off and flew away. I love it when insects and animals decide they want to be friends. It happens more often than I would have ever thought.

I thought the color of this dragonfly would make it very easy to identify but that hasn’t proven to be so. I’ve included it here so you can simply enjoy its beauty as I have. Beauty doesn’t need a name and as time passes I find that I care less about the names of things and more about their beauty. In 1970 Ray Stevens sang a song called “Everything is Beautiful.” At the time I didn’t believe it; I thought well that would be great if it were true, but as I’ve come down through the years I’ve found that it is indeed true. Everything is beautiful, in its own way.  

Up to this point we’ve seen a lot of relatively big insects, but now imagine one so small it can actually feed between the upper and lower surfaces of a leaf. That’s a leaf miner and that’s amazing, and that’s why nature study can change the way you look at life.

In a normal year I would have done at least one mushroom post by now and possibly two, but we’ve had so little rain until recently mushrooms just weren’t happening. Then it rained a little each week for a couple of weeks and I saw this mycelium on a log, so I knew I should see mushrooms soon. If you think of a mushroom as a vascular plant, which it isn’t, the mycelium would be its roots and the above ground part would be its stalk, and its spores would be its fruit.

Yellow spindle corals (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) lick up out of the soil like tiny flames. Each cylindrical finger is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. The tips are usually pointed as they are here. This species usually grows in tight clusters, often in the hard packed soil on the side of the trail, which is where I found these. Because they grow where they do you often find them broken from being stepped on, as some of these were.

If you find a shelf like fungus that shines like it has been varnished growing on an eastern hemlock tree then you’ve found a hemlock varnish shelf mushroom (Ganoderma tsugae.) I show this mushroom regularly on this blog because I see it regularly, but not often in its mature form as it was here. Brick red, often quite large, and shiny.

I’m seeing quite a few boletes all of the sudden so I’ve ben doing some reading, trying to learn more about them. There are a few with red caps and yellow stems, but I think I know how to tell them apart.

When you touch the spore surface or gently squeeze the stem and where you’ve touched turns very blue, you have found Boletus pseudosensibilis. If the surfaces turn only moderately blue, you’ve found Boletus sensibilis. This one stained what I thought was quite intense blue immediately when I touched it.

This bolete did not stain blue and its pore surface on the underside of the cap was bright yellow, so it must be Boletus bicolor. Of course this is all very interesting but these mushrooms can very greatly even among the same species so I’d never eat any of them without an expert identification, and I hope you won’t either.

I rolled over a log and here was this tiny being on the side of it. I believe it is called a cotton based coral fungus (Lentaria byssiseda,) which gets its name from the creamy white, furry, feltlike, mycelial patch that it arises from. It is a pliant but tough little thing that could comfortably sit on a penny with room to spare. According to my mushroom guides they can be whitish, pink or gray.

Sometimes you don’t realize you’ve been looking for a thing until you find it, and that was the case with these Indian pipes. I’ve seen many thousands of Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) but these were just coming up out of the soil, and that’s something I’ve never seen.

Of course this is what Indian pipes usually look like when we notice them.

The female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is barrel shaped with a beaked end cap or lid called the operculum. When the time is right this end cap will fall off and release the spores to the wind but I’ve never seen it happen, so this year I took an end cap off myself and I was surprised by the cloud of spores that came out of the capsule. They were like dust and must have numbered in the thousands, so it’s no wonder I see so many mosses. The capsules are about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch long and about 3/16 of an inch in diameter and are a challenge to photograph. Since they’re too small for my tired eyes to be able to see any real detail in person I was pleasantly surprised to see the line of tiny water droplets when I saw the photo. They must have been very small indeed.

I’m guessing that we’ll have a great blueberry crop this year. The bears will eat well.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call electric blue. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

These blue bead lily berries were much darker and closer to a blueberry blue, but I’m not sure why.

In last Saturday’s post I was complaining about how hot it was and this stone illustrates it perfectly, because it was sweating. Porous rocks have the ability to absorb water and when it’s hot they can sweat, much like we do. I see this fairly regularly. There was no other explanation on this day because it hadn’t rained recently.

Congratulations are in order, because you’ve made it to the end of the longest post I’ve ever done. I hope it was worth your time and I also hope, as always, that it will entice you outside to see these things for yourself. Nature is endlessly fascinating and always beautiful so I hope you’ll get outside and let it change your life. I thought I’d leave you with this shot of the view I see when the sun comes up over the hills every morning, just before I start my work day. It’s one of my favorite scenes and yes, I do know how lucky I am. I hope all of you are every bit as lucky.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

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