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Posts Tagged ‘Beard Lichen’

In my last post I spoke about climbing Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. I took a short detour on the way home that day to see Bailey Brook Falls in Nelson. The brook wasn’t running quite as high as I expected considering the regular rain and all the snowmelt we’ve seen lately. The state says we’re still in a moderate drought because the underground aquifers have been depleted, so hopefully we’ll see our average rainfall this summer. That would help a lot.

This is my favorite view of the falls. Interesting how the brook is always split in two here.

A pileated woodpecker had carved a deep hole out of this white pine (Pinus strobus.) There’s nothing remarkable about that; I see holes like this all the time. It’s what happened afterwards that is worth noting.

The pine tree’s sap had turned a beautiful blue, deeper in color than most I see. I see more blue pine sap in winter than at other times of year so I’ve always assumed that it was the cold that turned it blue, like it does to some lichens, but now that I’m noticing it in warmer weather as well I’m just not sure. Does the cold turn it blue in winter and then it stays that way from then on? I’ve spent many hours searching for the answer and can’t find a single reference to blue pine sap, so I can’t answer the question.

Ninety five percent of the white pine sap I see looks like this; kind of a cloudy tan color, and that’s why blue pine sap is so startling and unusual. Pine sap (resin) has been used by Native American tribes for thousands of years to waterproof just about anything that needed it; baskets, pails, and especially canoes. The Chippewa tribe also used pine sap to treat infections and wounds. The treatment was usually successful because pine sap seems to contain several antimicrobials.

I also saw some resin on a black cherry tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. It was clear and amber colored and very different than pine resin. This is the kind of resin that insects got trapped in millions of years ago and which are found occasionally today, preserved forever just as they were when they became stuck in the sticky sap. There were quite large globs of it here and there on this tree and I wish I had taken one to add to my collection of outdoor oddities.

Because of colorblindness I don’t usually try bird identification but I think I’m safe saying that this is a European starling. European starlings were first introduce into New York In the 1890s. Those original 100 birds have now become  over 200 million, and they can be found from Alaska to Mexico. I saw three birds working this lawn for insects; not exactly a flock. The name starling comes from their resemblance to a four pointed star when they fly.

I’ve read that a starling’s spots are more easily seen in winter and all but disappear in summer, but they were very noticeable on all 3 of these birds. They’re a pretty bird but I understand that a lot of people here in the U.S. don’t like them.

Milk white toothed polypore is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of branches the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it.

The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.”

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is one of our earliest to show in spring but this year it was even earlier than I thought so it got ahead of me. These fiddleheads were already about 6 inches tall. This fern doesn’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. It likes wet or very moist ground along rivers and streams.

I found a beard lichen (Usnea) still attached to a cut log and it turned out to be the longest one I’ve seen. They’re very common on pines and hemlocks in our area. They attach themselves to the bark but take nothing from the tree, much like a bird perching. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” and I can’t think of a better plant to demonstrate it than rhubarb.

There is a very short time when skunk cabbage leaves (Symplocarpus foetidus) actually look like cabbage leaves. I’m guessing that with skunk in their name they don’t taste anything like cabbage though, and I hope I’m never hungry enough to be tempted by them. I’ve heard that bears will eat them when they can’t find anything else.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and in many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This photo from a few years ago shows what the complete ramp looks like. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it has happened.

I think these buds were on a white ash (Fraxinus americana), but it could also be a green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Both are commonly planted along streets and in parking lots and I saw this tree in a store parking lot. One thing that helps identify ash trees are the shape of the leaf scars that appear just below the buds, and I didn’t look at it closely. On the white ash these scars are “C” shaped and on green ash they look like a “D.” White ash leaf scars are also much larger than those on green ash. Ash bears male and female flowers on separate trees.

The beautiful fruits (samaras) of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) start out their lives deep red with a white furry coat. When you see them beginning to form you have to check them frequently to catch them in this stage because it happens quickly and ends just as quickly. The mature seeds are the largest of any native maple and are a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk. Silver maples get their common name from the downy surface of the leaf underside, which flashes silver in the slightest breeze.

The pinkish leaf buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are growing quickly now. They often show hints of orange and are quite beautiful at this stage; in my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year. Branches full of them stop me in in my tracks. There is so much beauty out there; I hope all of you are seeing as much of it as you are able to.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

 

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1-bridge

The last time I talked to anyone at the Keene Middle School about it, it looked like the boardwalk through Tenant Swamp behind the school might be closed in winter, so I was happy and surprised to find it open last weekend. You enter the swamp by crossing this bridge.

2-stream

The bridge crosses over a small stream which on this day had a skim of ice. For a swamp there is remarkably little standing water seen here.

3-boardwalk

I was happy to see that the boardwalk had been shoveled. At least I thought so…

4-boardwalk

Until I walked a little further and saw this. The snow had turned to a solid block about 3 inches thick, but thankfully it wasn’t slippery. On the left in this photo you can see the tall stems of the common reed, which is invasive.

5-phragmites

The invasive reed is called Phragmities australis and has invaded the swamp in several places. Even in winter its reedy stems block the view. Tenant swamp is bisected by a highway (Rte. 12 N.) and you can see large colonies of it from the road. This reed came from Europe and forms large monocultures that even burning can’t control unless it is done 2 or 3 times. Not only does a thick matted root system choke out other plants, but decaying reeds also release gallic acid, which ultraviolet light turns into mesoxalic acid and which means that seedlings of other plants that try to grow near the reed have very little hope of survival. It appears to be here to stay.

6-swamp

I think that even if I was blindfolded and brought here I’d know that I was in a swamp. There just isn’t anything else quite like them and being able to walk through one is a rare opportunity. In 2010 Keene built a new middle school at the edge of Tenant Swamp and the building sits on a high terrace that overlooks it. Before the school could be built however an archaeological sensitivity assessment had to be done, and by the time the dig was completed it was found that Native Americans lived here at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,000-12,000 years ago. The dig also found that the Ashuelot River once ran through here; about a half mile east of where it now flows. Since the site evolved into a swamp it was never farmed or built on so it was valuable enough archeologically to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since then, after much hard work and fund raising, a path and boardwalk leading into the swamp itself was built. It’s the kind of place that people rarely get to experience so it is meant to be a kind of outdoor classroom for anyone who wants to learn more about nature.

7-spruce

One of the most notable things seen here are the many spruce trees, because they aren’t normally plentiful in this area. It must stay relatively cool here because spruce trees prefer the boreal forests further north. There are at least two species here and I think they were probably red spruce (Picea rubens) and black spruce (Picea mariana.) Neither one minds boggy ground.

8-spuce-trees

Many of the older spruce trees are dying but they are pole size and I wouldn’t think that they’d be too old. I can’t even guess what would be killing them.

9-spruce-bark

Something had peeled the outer bark off this spruce to expose its beautiful, colorful inner bark.

10-beard-lichen

The spruce trees are hung thickly with beard lichens (Usnea) in places. These lichens seem to especially like growing on the bare branches of evergreens. I’ve met people who think the lichens kill the tree’s branches but they don’t, they just like plenty of sunlight and bare branches get more of it.

11-winterberries

Winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are a native holly that love wet feet so I wasn’t surprised to see many examples of them here. The berries were a little puckered but birds are probably still eating them because I rarely see any in the spring.  Robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings all eat them.

12-winterberries

The bright red color of winterberries makes them easy to see. There are also many blueberry bushes growing here, but I didn’t see a single berry on them. When I thought about it I realized that this swamp is full of food for birds and animals, and for humans as well.

13-cattail

Cattails (Typha latifolia) were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. Some of the cattails were releasing their seeds, just in time for the return of red winged blackbirds. The females use their fluffy fibers to line their nests. Cattails can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

14-bobcat-tracks

I saw what I think were bobcat tracks meandering around and under the boardwalk. There are many squirrels in this swamp and it might have been hunting.

15-hole-in-tree

This might have been a squirrel’s home, but it was too high up to look into. It might also have been an owl’s home, so it was probably best that I didn’t stick my nose into it.

16-alder-cones

Alders (Alnus) love to grow near water and they are one of the easiest shrubs to identify in winter. This is because the alders, of which there are about 15 species native to the U.S., bear seed pods that resemble miniature pine cones.  These cone shaped seed pods are the fruit of the female flowers and are called strobiles. Many birds eat alder seeds including ducks, grouse, widgeons, kinglets, vireos, warblers, goldfinches and chickadees. Moose and rabbits feed on alder and beavers eat the bark and use the stems to build with. Native Americans used alder as an anti-inflammatory and to help heal wounds. They also made a tea from it that helped cure toothaches. Those allergic to aspirin should not use alder medicinally because the bark contains salicin, which is similar to a compound d found in aspirin.

17-fern

There are many ferns here. When I visited the swamp in the summer I saw some that were easily waist high; mostly cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum,) which love boggy ground. Of course you won’t see any in winter but you can see plenty of signs that they grow here.

18-blue-pine-sap

I’ve seen lots of pine (Pinus strobus) sap turn blue in winter cold but this is the deepest blue that I’ve ever seen it. That’s odd since it really hasn’t been that cold since December. Native Americans used pine sap (or pitch) to treat coughs and pneumonia. It was also used to treat boils, abscesses and wounds.

19-lichen-on-moss

Lichens like plenty of water and mosses soak it up like little sponges, so this friendship between a crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) and a hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) is no real surprise. Hammered shield lichen gets its common name from the netted surface of each of its many lobes. It is also called the wax paper lichen, and if you’ve ever crumpled a piece of wax paper and then flattened it again out you know just what this lichen looks like.

20-swamp

To a nature nut the swamp is like a siren’s call and I would have loved to step off that boardwalk and explore it further, but then I remembered the stories of people getting lost there. A five hundred acre swamp is huge and I’m guessing that I’d probably be lost in under an hour. In November of 1890 George McCurdy went in and never came out alive; he died of exposure. They found him, but I’ve heard stories about another man who went into the swamp and was never found.  As much as I’d love to explore more I think I’ll just stay on the boardwalk for now.

The most primitive places left with us are the swamps, where the spruce still grows shaggy with Usnea (lichen). ~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1-felled-spruce

There has been quite a flare up of emotions in these parts lately over plans to cut trees near the Keene Dillant Hopkins airport. The airport isn’t in Keene, it’s actually in Swanzey which is south of Keene, and it is near a fine neighborhood called Edgewood. The Federal Aviation Administration says that the trees have to go for safety reasons, but Edgewood residents are concerned about the increased airport noise and lower property values, among other things. The above photo is of an old, large Norway spruce which was cut recently. One of the first of many.

2-sign

This is an old neighborhood; Keene’s first settlers landed very near here and called the place the “Nine Lot Plain.” The town history of Keene says that “On July 3, 1875, the Keene Driving Park Association opened a fair grounds, which included a half-mile horse trotting course and a grandstand that seated 1,500. It was a center for many Keene activities until about 1900. The Park Corporation laid out streets for a development here in 1913.” That development became Edgewood and, as the sign in the above photo attests, the Edgewood Civic Association donated part of the land to the city of Keene. It is forested and is home to many plants, birds and animals that aren’t easily seen in this area. Some are rare and some are endangered.

3-plantation-trees

Oddly Albert Proell, manager of the Keene Forestry Association, was allowed to start a tree plantation here in 1906 on unused land. Trees, chiefly Scot pine and Norway spruce, were grown from seed to be used in reforestation projects. The spruce trees have done well but the Scot pines have not; neither the soil nor climate is right for them. Many of the spruce trees are still here and, as the above photo shows, are tall but have no girth because they were meant to be transplanted into other areas, not allowed to reach full size. They are too close together and cast such deep shade that nothing but a few mosses and fungi will grow beneath them. The larger spruce trees in this part of the forest are about 40 years old, but still more poles than trees.

4-nursey

A 1920s look at the tree nursery started in 1906 by Albert Proell, on some of the abandoned agricultural land in the Keene Driving Park. The nursery is thought to be the first and one of the largest of its kind. It was about 5 acres in size.

5-pine-tree

But not all of the trees here were planted. In fact most of them weren’t and some have been here for a very long time, as the white pine (Pinus strobus) in the above photo shows. Mature white pines can be 200–250 years old, and some live to be over 400 years old. According to the Native Tree Society white pines can reach 188 feet tall, but pre-colonial stands were said to have been as tall as 230 feet. In any case they’re our tallest native tree, and I suspect that most of the trees slated to be cut will be white pines. I put a glove on my monopod to give you an idea of the size of this example, which by far isn’t the largest I’ve seen.

6-marked-tree

Marking has begun but this is a Norway spruce that stands in the old plantation, and these trees aren’t supposed to be cut. Maybe the tape means “don’t cut,” I don’t know.  How ironic that the non-native trees that have created what is almost a sterile monoculture are the ones that will be saved.

7-trail

This section of forest still contains a lot of Scot pine but they don’t have any real vigor and many native trees like white pine, birch, maple, oak, and hemlock have moved into what was once part of the old nursery. There are many trails through this forest and walking them is an enjoyable experience for many, including myself. I don’t get too excited about cutting a few trees; in truth responsible management is good for a forest and the wildlife that lives there, but in this case I do worry about the impact that the tree cutting will have on the plants that grow here, the people who live here, and others who use this forest daily. There is something to be said for the quality of life, after all.

8-topo-map

This map shows the two runways of the Keene Dillant Hopkins Airport on the left, and in the upper left corner is the Edgewood forest, marked “Edgewood Civic Association Parcel,” so you can see how close the forest and neighborhood are to the airport. The land that is now the airport was originally purchased in 1942 and the airport opened on in 1943. In 1967 the FAA recommended a 1.8 million dollar series of improvements which included further extending the runways, the construction of a control tower, and improvements to buildings. But before the airport was here, before Edgewood was here, Native American Squakheag tribes lived on this land for many thousands of years.  Archeological digs in the area have found Native sites that date back 10,500 years; some of the oldest in the country.

9-keenes-first-flight

In 1912 Keene’s first airplane took off from the driving park fair grounds and quickly landed in the top of a nearby tree. How’s that for irony?

10-wetland

There are extensive wetlands on the airport property and many threatened and imperiled species live in them, including the grasshopper sparrow, the northern leopard frog, the horned lark, the vesper sparrow, the eastern meadowlark, the northern long-eared bat, and the wood turtle. Some species have a rating of “imperiled at a global and statewide level,” including the spot-winged glider and the marsh wren. All have been spotted within a mile of the airport.  Rare plants include the endangered long-headed windflower (Anemone cylindrica,) and the uncommon swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) which I haven’t found yet.

11-skunk-cabbage

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) also grow in the wetlands here, and though I can’t speak for their rarity this is the only place I’ve ever seen them, and I’ve covered a lot of ground in my time.

12-native-azalea

This forest is one of only two places where I’ve found our beautiful native roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) growing. Luckily, I think it lives in a section where trees won’t be cut. At least I hope so. Plants grow where they do because that’s where they find the optimum levels of light, moisture and nutrients, and cutting the trees above them can cause serious changes in what they’re accustomed to.

13-goldthread

Beautiful little three leaf goldthread (Coptis trifolia) grows in quite a large colony here, but this plant was once nearly collected into oblivion and I’d hate to see them disturbed. Native Americans chewed the roots of goldthread to treat canker sores, which is why the plant is also called canker root. The natives shared the plant with the English settlers and it became such a popular medicine that by 1785 the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for it dried, which meant people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant.

14-ladys-slippers

One of our most beautiful wild orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) also grows here in abundance. It is also New Hampshire’s state wildflower. This plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  Pink lady’s-slippers are listed as “special concern” under the Native Plant Protection Act. I hope there won’t be any tree cutting in this area.

15-downy-rattlesnake-plantain

So far I have found just a single example of another of our beautiful orchids here. I don’t think that downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) could be called rare but it is hard to find and I hope the single example I know of in this forest won’t be run over by a logging skidder.

16-one-flowered-pyrola-side-view

One flowered pyrola (Moneses uniflora) is quite rare; the two plants in this photo are the only examples that I’ve ever seen. This plant is also called one flowered wintergreen and single delight. It is found in dry, cool, undisturbed forests and was used by Native Americans as a cold remedy, and to reduce swelling and ease pain. I found these plants in Edgewood forest in 2014 but then lost them and haven’t been able to find them again since, even though I know the general area they grew in.

17-trailing-arbutus

The fragrant blossoms of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) were once so popular that the plant was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England by street vendors, who would then sell its flowers in “posies.” In many states it is today protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society. There are at least two colonies of this plant in Edgewood forest and I hope they aren’t disturbed because, according to the Virginia Native Plant Society, “trailing arbutus is very intolerant of habitat disturbance in any form, including fire, logging, grazing, and housing development, and serious deer overpopulation is wiping out many old colonies. Many reports say that trailing arbutus does not return following disturbance. Sites are easily destroyed when disturbed by man or livestock and seldom recover.”

18-striped-wintergreen

Another rarity in this forest is striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata.) I’ve found 5 or 6 examples here, all growing in the same general area. Striped wintergreen has a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like our native orchids. It also explains their rarity. I read recently that the plant is considered rare in both New England and Canada. I’ve also read that it won’t grow on land that has been disturbed in the last 100 years.

19-false-morel-mushrooms

False morel mushrooms (Gyromitra esculenta) also grow here, and this is the only place that I’ve ever seen them. I wonder if they have any relationships with the surrounding plants and trees. They grow very close to both trailing arbutus and several hardwood species of tree.

20-beard-lichen

A forest isn’t only about the trees and the plants that grow around them; what about all of the things that grow in the trees, like this beard lichen (Usnea)? This is something I don’t think people who cut trees spend much time thinking about, but cutting a tree affects far more than just the tree.

21-woodpecker-hole

In the end it really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks; the powers that be have spoken and the trees will be cut, but there are different ways to manage tree cutting in a forest. One way is to simply drive a huge log skidder right through it without a thought or care about what is being damaged. That way was used across town on the flanks of Mount Caesar a few years ago and the scars left behind will never fully heal. But there is another way, and that way includes care for the surrounding landscape and consideration for the wildlife and people who are being affected. Nobody wants to see a plane hit a tree, but neither do the people who know this forest intimately want to see it destroyed.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. ~John Muir

All photos of flowering plants were taken previously.

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1. Grape Tendril

I thought I saw a beautiful Hindu dancer in this grape tendril.

2. Feather

I see a lot of feathers in the woods. This white one had landed on a hemlock twig.

 3. Stream Ice

Red wing blackbirds have returned and there are buds on the daffodils but after the third coldest March in 140 years, there is still a lot of ice left to melt in the woods.

4. Ashuelot Ice

Where the river sees sunshine the ice is melting at a faster pace.

5. Orange Crust Fungus aka Stereum complicatum

This orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) was so bright on a rainy day that I could see it from quite far away, like a beacon guiding me into the forest.

 6. Slender Rosette Lichen aka Physcia subtilis

Gray rosette lichens are common enough so we often pass them by without a nod but some, like this slender rosette lichen (Physcia subtilis), are worth stopping to admire.

7. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen 3

I don’t know what it is with smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) this year but the wax coatings on their fruiting discs are bluer than I’ve ever seen them. It’s like someone sprinkled candy over the stones.

8. Beard Lichen

Beard lichens (Usnea sp.) always remind me of ancient, sun bleached bones. This one grew on a gray birch limb.

 9. Alder Catkins

Soon these alder (Alnus) catkins will to turn yellow-green and start to release pollen. If you look closely at the catkin on the far right you can see it just beginning to happen.

 10. Stair Step Moss

I’ve been looking for stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) and I think I might have found it. This moss gets its common name from the way the new branches step up from the backs of the old.

11. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss is feathery and delicate and quite beautiful.

At some point in life, the world’s beauty becomes enough. ~ Toni Morrison

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Stream Ice

This year winter seems determined to overstay its welcome and has brought record low temperatures and record high snowfall amounts. Even though we’ve had mini thaws where the temperature rose to 40 degrees for a day or two, most of the time we have been well below freezing during the day and below zero at night. Because of that the snow that has fallen is melting very slowly.

 2. Melting Snow

The snow in the woods is knee deep, which makes going rough. I recently bought some gaiters to keep my pant legs dry and make life a little easier, but another good storm will mean snowshoes for sure. One way to make it easier to get around is to look for south facing spots like that in the photo above where the snow has pulled back some. These are great places to look for mosses and other plants that stay green throughout winter.

 3. Fern on Ice

Ferns might look fragile but evergreen ferns like this intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) aren’t. This one was growing in the midst of an ice sheet. There aren’t many ferns that are evergreen in New England so winter is a good time to hone one’s identification skills by getting to know them. This one is very similar to the marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis). Both the words “intermediate” and “marginal” in the fern’s common names refer to the placement of the spore bearing structures (sori) found on the undersides of the leaves.

 4. Evergreen Christmas Fern

Another fern commonly seen in winter is the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). This one is easy to identify by its leaflets that resemble little Christmas stockings. The narrow fine teeth that line the edges of the leaflets and the short leaf stalks can also be seen in this photo. When seen at this time of year it is obvious that evergreen Christmas fern has had its branches flattened by the weight of the snow because they splay out all over the ground. Once new fronds emerge these will brown and die off.

 5. White Poplar Bark

Winter is also a good time to learn how to identify trees by their bark since there is no foliage in the way. A tree with light to dark, mottled gray bark with diamond shaped marks in it is a young white poplar (Populus alba). The diamond shapes are the tree’s lenticels, which are air pores. The bark on white poplars can be very white at times like a birch, but it is usually light gray when young. Older trees have darker gray, furrowed bark at their bases.  White poplar was introduced from central Europe and Asia in 1748. It can now be found in every state except Alaska, Arizona, and Hawaii.

 6. Hedwigia cillata Moss 

Mosses are easy to find in winter if you look at logs and stones where the snow has retreated. This Hedwigia ciliata moss with its white leaf tips is usually found growing on boulders and is very easy to identify. Common names include Hedwig’s fringeleaf Moss, Hedwig’s rock moss, and Fringed Hoar-moss. Johann Hedwig was a German botanist who studied mosses in the eighteenth century. He is called the father of bryology and lends his name to this and many other mosses.

 7. Slender Tail Moss aka anomodon attenuatus

This moss has never appeared on this blog in this dry state before. Long-leaved tail moss (Anomodon attenuates) is also called tree apron moss because it is quite common on the lower part of tree trunks. When wet its leaves stand out from the stem and it takes on a more feathery appearance and looks completely different than it does in the photo. This is a good example of why serious moss hunters do so after it rains.

 8. Moss aka Dicranoweissia cirrata

This is another first appearance on this blog. Curly thatch moss (Dicranoweissia cirrata) grows on rotting logs and stumps and is very small, with leaves that curl when dry. After a rain its leaves will straighten out and this moss will look very different than it does in this photo, which is why I’ve found it so hard to identify. Tiny growths on the leaves called gemmae are intended to break off to perpetuate the species.

 9. White Cushion Moss

White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) can appear silvery, white, bluish green or grayish green but it always forms a thick cushion and stands out from the mosses that might surround it. It likes plenty of water and shade and grows on rotting logs or on stone when there is enough soil. It is probably the easiest of all the mosses to identify.

 10. Beard Lichen

March is a month known for its wind and anyone who studies nature can take advantage of that fact, because there are all kinds of things falling from the trees at this time of year. This beard lichen (Usnea) was lying on top of the snow and at 4 1/2 inches long is the longest I’ve ever seen. It is said that if you take a single strand of this lichen and gently pull it apart lengthwise you’ll find a white cord inside, but it must take extreme magnification to see it because I’ve never been able to.

 11. Gilled Bracket Fungus 

Another bracket fungus that mimics the common turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) is the multicolor gill polypore (Lenzites betulina).  Since turkey tails have pores and these have gills they are hard to confuse. Multicolor gill polypores start life very white but turn gray as they age. They have some zoning like turkey tails and are often covered with green algae.

 12. Gilled Bracket Fungus Closeup

This is an extreme close-up of the underside of the multicolor gill polypore in the previous photo. These are clearly not pores.

NOTE: Thanks to help from a knowledgeable reader and more experience identifying fungi I now know this to be the Thin-maze flat polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa). The photo does actually show pores but they’re elongated and can resemble gills. I’m sorry if my incorrect identification caused any confusion.

 13. Hobblebush buds 

In my last post I talked about bud how scales enclose and protect buds throughout winter. Not all plants use bud scales for protection though; some like the hobblebush in this photo have naked buds.  Instead of using bud scales plants with naked buds often use fine hairs like those that can be seen on the fuzzy leaves and stems of the hobblebush. If there isn’t a flower bud between them the tiny naked leaves almost look like hands clasped in prayer. I like to imagine that they’re praying for spring like the rest of us, but I don’t know for sure.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. ~Willa Cather

Thanks for stopping in. Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead 1 hour tonight!

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1. Frozen Ashuelot

For the first time in at least 3 years the Ashuelot River has frozen over in this spot. You know it has been cold when that happens. It freezes over regularly in other areas but usually not here.

 2. Snowy Bushes

We’ve had 57 inches of snow so far this year and it seems like snow covers everything. It’s getting close to impossible to get through it without snowshoes. Luckily we also have 7000 miles of snowmobile trails-more miles than highways-and they make the going a little easier. If you step off a well packed snowmobile trail though, you can suddenly find yourself knee deep in snow.

 3. Snowy Stream

In spite of all the snow and cold there are still quiet, open pools in the woods where birds and animals can drink.

 4. Magnolia Bud 

Magnolia buds are wearing their winter fur coats.

 5. Monadnock From Marlborough

Mount Monadnock is wearing its winter coat too, but not to keep warm. The latest trail report says that hikers should be prepared for ice and deep snow. I’ve been through waist deep snow up there and I hope to never have to do that again. People sometimes underestimate the mountain and end up having to be rescued. Doing so can be very dangerous in winter.

 6. Lemon Drops 

Winter is a good time to find jelly and sac fungi. Lemon drops (Bisporella citrina) are sac fungi that grow on rotting logs and form spherical bodies that then become tiny yellow, trumpet shaped cups that are so small they look like simple discs. The biggest one I’ve seen was no bigger than 1/8 inch and the smallest the size of a period made with a pencil. They are usually in large groups that make them easier to find.

 7. Script Lichen with Elongated Apothecia called Lirellae 

For those new to blogging; the way it works is, if you mention on your blog that you’ve never seen a certain thing you will suddenly start seeing it everywhere. That’s exactly what happened when I said that I had only seen 2 examples of script lichen (Graphis scripta) in my lifetime. Now it’s like they’re on every tree limb. I’m not sure how it would work if you said you had never seen a room full of money that was all yours, but it works well for fungi, lichens and slime molds. And birds.

 8. Beard Lichens

There were many fishbone beard lichens (Usnea fillipendula) on the trunk of this white pine (pinus strobus). This pine stands near a local lake and these lichens seem to prefer growing near water. They get their common name from their resemblance to a fish skeleton.

 9. Fishbone Beard Lichen aka Usnea fillipendula with Unknown Green Beard

Here is a closer look at a fishbone beard lichen on the right and an unknown, dark green beard lichen on the left. I thought the darker one was moose hair lichen (Bryoria trichodes) at one time but that lichen is brown.  Now I’m wondering if it might be witch’s hair (Alectoria sarmentosa). It could also be a common beard lichen covered with green algae. It never seems to change color due to weather conditions as many other lichens do.

 10. Whitewash Lichen

Whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena) is a perfect name for this lichen that looks like someone painted it on tree trunks. It can be dull white or silvery and is a large crustose lichen that can cover quite a large area.  This lichen rarely fruits and, as lichens go, it isn’t very exciting.

 11. Black Locust Seed Pod

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) seed pods were all over the snow one day so I brought one home to have a closer look. These pods are from 2-6 inches long-far smaller than honey locust pods (Gleditsia triacanthos). Sometimes they can be very dark colored and other times are not. The leaves and bark of black locust are toxic to both humans and animals and I’ve read that if the foliage is bruised and mixed with sugar it will attract and kill flies. The fragrant flowers are very beautiful and appear in May and June. And bees and hummingbirds love them. The rot resistant wood makes excellent fence posts that can last 100 years or more.

12. Black Locust Seed

The tiny (about 1/4 of an inch long) seeds are bean shaped. No surprise since black locust is a legume, related to peas and beans. This photo shows how they attach to the inside of the pod. These seeds have a highly impermeable coating and can stay viable for many years. The seed pods stay on the tree until winter when strong winds will usually scatter them. The dried papery pod acts as a sail to help to carry the seeds long distances.

 13. Maple Sugaring

Someone is very optimistic about sap flow. This new method isn’t quite as picturesque as the old tin bucket hanging from a tree but it must be far more sanitary, and the sap won’t be diluted by rain water.

 14. Sunset

We’ve had some beautiful sunsets here this winter and they make me wonder if this winter is different somehow, or if I just wasn’t paying attention in previous years.

I please myself with the graces of the winter scenery, and believe that we are as much touched by it as by the genial influences of summer. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1. Wrinkled Crust Lichen Phlebia radiata

A couple of posts ago I showed what I suspected was a lichen that I found growing on a pine log. Though it felt fleshy like a fungus I had the idea in my mind that it “should be” a lichen, and so when I got home I looked through hundreds (literally) of lichen photos with no luck identifying it. Luckily Rick from the Between Blinks Blog had seen examples before and knew it to be a crust fungus called Phlebia radiata, or wrinkled crust fungus. These curious fungi lay flat on whatever they grow on much like crustose lichens would, and radiate out from a central point.  They have no stem or gills or pores. Most interesting about them to me are the various bright shades of pink and orange they display. This is a fungus that doesn’t mind cool weather, so it is often seen at this time of year. Thanks again for the ID Rick!

 2. Green Algae Trentepohlia aurea

So let’s see, this one I showed in a post from about a month ago is orange like a fungus, grows on stone like a lichen, and is hairy like a moss. I guessed that it might be some kind of strange orange moss, but I’d never seen anything like it. If I hadn’t stumbled across it online while searching for something else I never would have guessed that it was actually a green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. I know, I said the same thing-“it isn’t green, it’s orange.” These algae get their bright orange color from a pigment known as hematochrome, which forms in nitrogen starved algae and protects and hides the algae’s green chlorophyll. It can be orange, yellow or red and it also colors some lichens, making their identification even more difficult.

 3. Beard Lichen

Bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta) is often found on the ground but it doesn’t grow there; the wind blows them out of the trees. Many lichens like sunlight and grow in the tops of trees where there is less shade from the leaves. Native Americans used lichens medicinally for thousands of years and lichens in the Usnea group were described in the first Chinese herbal, written about 500 AD. Today scientists estimate that about 50% of all lichen species have antibiotic properties.

 4. Fringed Wrinkle Lichen

Last year I found fringed wrinkle lichens (Tuckermannopsis Americana) growing in a birch tree near a pond and they are still there this year. The color of this lichen varies greatly from when it is wet or dry, but its wrinkled surface and the way that its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) appear on the lobe margins help identify it. The purple dye used to color the togas of the rich and famous in ancient Rome came from lichens, and many other dye colors can also be extracted from them.  Some of the rich colors used in Scottish “Harris Tweed” also come from lichens.

5. Indian Pipe.

The seed capsule of this Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) split open to release its seeds. The seeds are so small as to be nearly microscopic, and are wind borne.  Each plant will release thousands of seeds, but if they don’t fall in exactly the right conditions, they won’t grow. Indian pipes need both the right fungi and the right tree roots to grow because they don’t photosynthesize and make their own food. Instead they parasitize both the fungi and the trees they grow on.

6. Cattails.

Cattail (Typha latifolia) seeds are also borne on the wind, but there will be plenty left when the female red wing blackbirds come back in the spring. They and many other birds use the seeds to line their nests. Native Americans had uses for every part of this plant and one of their names for cattail meant “fruit for papoose’s bed.” Even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

Some of the information on Native American uses for cattails used here comes from the folks at The International Secret Society of People Who Sleep with Cattail Pillows. No, I’m not kidding. Their motto is “You’ll Do Good Deeds, If You Sleep on Seeds!”

7. Bolete Mushroom

This tiny mushroom was all dried out but its dime sized cap had plenty of pores on its underside that were worth taking a look at. These pores are tubes where the mushroom’s spores are produced. Mushrooms with pores instead of gills are called boletes. If a shelf or bracket fungus has pores it is called a polypore.

 8. Broom Moss aka Dicranum scoparium

Broom Moss (Dicranum scoparium) is a North American native that grows on soil, stones or logs, but I usually find it on the ground in semi shaded places that don’t get strong sunlight. The scoparium part of the scientific name comes from the Latin scopae, which means “broom” and the common name broom moss comes from the way that all of the curved leaf tips point in the same direction, looking as if someone swept them with a broom. Scopae also describes the brush like hairs used to collect pollen that are found on the abdomens and legs of some bees.

 9. Woodpecker Tree

When you come upon a tree that looks like this in the forest you might think that a bear had gone after it, but this damage was caused by a woodpecker-a Pileated woodpecker, to be exact. I see trees that look like this all of the time, and have even seen trees cut in half with their top on the ground. I wish I had gotten the large pile of woodchips at the base of the tree in this photo, but I wasn’t thinking.

10. Juniper Berrires

The fruit of an Eastern juniper (Juniperus virginiana) looks like a berry but it is actually a soft, fleshy cone. They are a deep, bluish purple color but are covered with a white wax coating that makes them appear lighter blue. The most common uses for the “berries” are as flavoring for cooked game or to flavor gin. Native Americans used them medicinally and in food.

11. Snow on Monadnock

Mount Monadnock has had its first snowfall, though the bright sunshine almost hides that fact in this photo. Once the snow really starts to fly bare granite won’t be seen up there again until late spring. I decided to climb to the summit one warm April day years ago and had to wade / crawl through waist deep snow. By the time I made it back down several hours later I looked like I had been swimming with my clothes on and even had to pour water out of my wallet and shoes. Climbing with no snowshoes was a foolish and dangerous thing to do, but at 18 I wasn’t always the sharpest knife in the drawer.

About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow
.
~A.E. Housman

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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