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Posts Tagged ‘Beech Bud’

John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday,” and that was to prove very true last Sunday. I followed a rail trail in Swanzey that I’ve followed more times than I can count but saw many things that I’ve never seen here before.

Male American Hazelnut catkins swayed lazily in the slight breeze. They had lengthened to three times their winter length and were still heavy with pollen.

The tiny female flowers were waiting for a good dose of that pollen so they could become the hazelnuts that so many birds and animals eat.

There is a nice little box culvert out here that I always like to stop and see. There was quite a lot of water in the stream it carries safely under the railbed on this day. It’s amazing to think these culverts are still keeping railbeds from washing away 150 years after they were built, and without any real maintenance.

The stream rushes off to the Ashuelot River, which is out there in the distance.

The first thing I saw that I had never seen here were trout lily leaves (Erythronium americanum). I didn’t see any flowers but I found the leaves growing all along the trail, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t ever seen them.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail. This was where I was to get another surprise. I saw something swimming quickly toward me from those fallen trees you see in this photo. I thought it was ducks but I couldn’t see anything except ripples.

And then up popped a muskrat. At least I’m fairly certain it was a muskrat. Though it never showed me its tail it was much smaller than a beaver and nowhere near as skittish. It saw me up on the embankment but still just sat and fed on what looked like grasses. It probably knew I was far enough away; this photo isn’t very good because my camera was at the limit of its zoom capability. At least you can see the critter, and that matters more to me than a technically perfect shot.

I knew that apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grew here and I was able to find it. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.

Beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) are beginning to lose their straightness and that means the beautiful new spring leaves will be appearing before long. Beech bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the new leaves can emerge. The buds literally “break” and at the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.

New maple leaves were everywhere but every one I saw was green. That was unusual because young maple leaves are often red for a while.  

Raspberry plants were also showing their new leaves but blackberry buds had barely broken.

I saw native cherries in all stages of growth. Cherries usually leaf out and blossom quite early.

Some of the willows along the trail had thrown in the towel and were finished for this year.

This is what the flower buds of a shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) look like. After shadbushes come the cherries, closely followed by the crab apples and apples, and then the peaches and plums. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples and some native cherries. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing. I can’t remember ever seeing them bloom along this trail but there they were.

Forsythia has escaped someone’s garden and was blooming happily beside the trail. Another surprise.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear, but here they were blooming beside the trail. This is another plant I can’t remember ever seeing out here before. Trailing arbutus was once collected into near oblivion but these days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. The reason it was collected so much was because its small pink to white, very fragrant flowers were used in nosegays.

I reached the trestle and found that someone, most likely a snowmobile club, had overlaid the flooring, which was starting to rot out. This was a another welcome surprise because that little square that juts out to the right was a hole right through the boards. It’s quite a drop down to the river.

This trestle is the last one I know of with its tell tales still in place. These are pencil size pieces of soft wire that hang down low enough to hit the head of anyone standing on top of a freight car. They would warn the person, or “tell the tale” of an upcoming trestle. I can walk from the trestle to this one in under a minute, so whoever was on top of the train wouldn’t have had much time to duck before they’d hit the trestle, and that would have been too bad. Tell tales used to hang on each end of every trestle in the area, but this is the last one I know of.

The river has come up some since the recent snowfall and a few rain showers. I was surprised I didn’t see any kayakers. They like to paddle the river in spring when the water is high because in that way they can float over all the submerged fallen trees.

It still has to gain more run off before it reaches its average height, by the looks. We’re still in a drought according to the weather people.

I was surprised to find a small colony of bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) as I was leaving. This is another plant I’ve never seen growing here, so this day was packed full of surprises.

Bloodroot flowers don’t usually open on cloudy days and I couldn’t tell if this one was opening or closing, but I was happy to get at least a glimpse of its beautiful inside. These flowers aren’t with us long.

In a forest of a hundred thousand trees no two leaves are identical, and no two journeys along the same path are alike. ~Paulo Coelho

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Ever since I was a boy I’ve gotten an itch to start looking at buds at this time of year and I’ve learned a lot from them. They can tell you a lot about the plant they grow on; just counting the bud scales, for instance, will help identify a tree or shrub even in the dead of winter. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

Buds that have several scales like the gray birch bud seen here are called imbricate buds, with scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof, and it can be seen on this bud. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud.

Gray birch fruit appears as 2 inch long cylindrical clusters of winged nutlets growing at the branch tips. Birds eat them all winter long, and when all the nutlets are gone the stick like core is all that remains. One of those can be seen in the upper left. Ruffed grouse will eat both the buds and catkins and pine siskins and black-capped chickadees eat the seeds of gray birch. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap and I’ve seen beavers take an entire clump of gray birch overnight, so they must be really tasty. Deer also browse on the twigs in winter.

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) with their two scales are another example of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. Nannyberry is one of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit.

Native Americans ate nannyberry fruit fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally. They also used the berries in jam with wild grapes. According to the book The Origins of English Words nanny berry is also called sheep berry and that name comes from its fruit, which is said to resemble sheep droppings. The nanny part of the name comes from the nanny goat. Squirrels and birds are said to eat the fruit but I see huge numbers of them still on the bushes well into winter.

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) buds are ovoid with a short stalk and have 4 overlapping dark purple scales, so they are imbricate. This is one of our prettiest native viburnums, from its white flowers in may to its incredibly colored leaves in fall. Its leaves can be pink, purple, yellow, orange or even white and sometimes a combination of 2 or 3 colors.

Maple leaved viburnum’s dark blue berry like fruits are called drupes. Botanically speaking a drupe is a fleshy fruit which contains a single seed with a hard outer shell, like a peach or a cherry. Birds and small animals gobble them up so it isn’t often you see them in spring. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the imbricate bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

Terminal buds appear on the end or terminus of a branch and nothing illustrates that better than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) The large, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. Due to a cold spring New Hampshire only produced 148,000 gallons of syrup in 2019, which was average to below average, according to producers.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but they’ve been used for years as landscape trees so the genie has been let out of the bottle and now there is no stopping them. The Norway maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the sugar maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

One of the smallest buds I know belong to hawthorns (Crataegus) and the cherry red hawthorn bud in the above photo could easily hide behind a pea. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. Hawthorn berries are called haws and are said to have medicinal value. Native Americans mixed the dried haws and other fruits with dried venison and fat to make pemmican.  The dried flowers, leaves, and haws can be used to make a tea to soothe sore throats, and hawthorn also shows promise for treating heart disease.

I could look at a calendar to see when spring begins but I prefer watching the plants in the forest, because they’re rarely wrong. The terminal buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) shown in the above photo are quite large and can fool you into thinking that they are swelling because of spring sap flow but no, they’re this way all winter.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open in spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.” In May they are one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

I’ve never paid much attention to the buds of basswood (Tilia americana) but the way the terminal bud grows at an angle from the twig reminds me of blueberry buds. It was red and resin covered and had only two bud scales which overlapped. I’ve read that they can sometimes have just one bud scale as well. I can’t explain why this twig was so withered. Basswood is native to New England and the Midwest. Its lightweight wood is often the choice of wood carvers, much like balsa wood, and its tough inner bark was used for rope and mats by Native Americans.

This bud is from a speckled alder (Alnus incana,) and it has two bud scales so it is valvate. They and the twigs are also covered in fine velvet.  Speckled alder is a bit unusual because its branches can have three kinds of buds; leaf buds, male catkins, and female catkins. Catkins are essentially long strings of flower buds growing spirally (usually) around a central stem. I love to watch alder catkins in spring for signs of them opening. When they begin to open the catkins lengthen and their reddish color becomes speckled with golden pollen. They’re quite beautiful.

Witch hazel buds (Hamamelis virginiana) are light, yellow brown and they are hairy, with no bud scales. That means they are naked buds and the hairs protect them instead of bud scales. These buds, as do most of the buds seen here, form in the fall and spend the winter resting and waiting for spring, so they have a long period when the buds must be protected.

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) also have no bud scales so their naked buds are also hairy. Another name for staghorn sumac is velvet tree, and that’s exactly what its branches feel like. Native Americans made a drink from this tree’s berries that tasted just like lemonade, and grinding the berries produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple and / or tomato red. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins. Red maples can be tapped and syrup made from their sap but the sap gatherers have to watch the trees carefully, because the sap can become bitter when the tree flowers. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to capture that beauty with a camera.

I’ve spent many winters watching the buds of trees and bushes, especially those right around my house like the lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo. I check it regularly starting in February for signs of swelling. In winter buds are my connection to spring and I love watching the bud scales finally open to reveal tiny leaves or flowers. The lilac bud above is a good example of an imbricate bud.

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds like lilacs fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds. This one was half the length of my thumb. Buds found on known plants around the yard are a good place to start studying them, if you’d like to learn more.

If you are open to being taught by nature, go listen to the trees. ~Kenneth Meadows

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