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Posts Tagged ‘Beech Buds’

Both the groundhog and the National Weather Service predicted an early spring, but how early? As I write this there are only 22 days until the calendar says spring, so I thought I’d go looking for it. It’s hard to describe how or when spring happens but sometimes it starts with a hint of warmth on a breeze. You can tell that it’s different than other breezes but you don’t know why; you just know that it’s that first warm breath of spring. But that’s just one sign. There are others, like the ice starting to melt off ponds. Even though we still have cold days the ice melts slowly, and it might freeze and refreeze but the sunshine and warmth will win out and before long there will be open water where the ice was. It’s happening now; that spot of open water in this photo has slowly been getting bigger.

More and more trees, and especially willows like the one seen here, are changing into their spring golden colors. It’s something I’ve watched happen for years now, one of those first subtle hints of spring. One lady said her ponies shedding their hair was a sign of spring for her, and skunks coming out of hibernation is another. Seed displays are also popping up in stores.

Willow catkins, called “pussies,” are a sign of spring for many but this year I saw them in January.

The purple bud scales on these red maple buds (Acer rubrum) have definitely been pulling back to reveal the tomato red buds within since the last time I looked at them. The bud scales protect the bud from freezing weather, so I hope the tree knows what it is doing. I’ve seen red maples bloom too early and lose most of their flowers to frost.

I get to see this sugar maple (Acer saccharum) every day so I’m sure the bud scales have been slowly opening on it as well. But, since I haven’t seen any sap buckets yet, buds getting bigger doesn’t make much sense because it’s the sap that drives the growth.  Maybe the sap is flowing in some trees and not others. That sounds like a plausible answer, anyhow.

When I was a boy I used to get highly excited when spring came because that meant I could ride my bike to school again, and when I did I made sure to ride through as many ice covered puddles as I could. That’s why, whenever I see that thin, white, crinkly ice on a puddle it makes me think of spring. This ice wasn’t quite what I mean but it was on a puddle and it had some fantastic, feathery patterns in it.

Mud is also part of spring in these parts; so much so that we even have a “mud season.” That’s when dirt roads turn to something similar to quicksand for a week or two as things start to thaw and the frost comes out of the ground.

For me checking lilac buds is a rite of spring. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember, always starting about now, looking at them twice or three times a week for signs of swelling. It’s always exciting to see the bud scales finally fully open to reveal the deep purple, grape like cluster of flower buds within.

Some plants seem like they would do anything to be the first to bloom in spring, and these cress seedlings (I think) are one of those. These seedlings grew next to a building foundation where it’s a little warmer and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them blooming next week. Each plant would fit in a thimble and a whole bouquet of the white, four petaled flowers could easily hide behind a pea.

I saw some tulips up and out of the ground, standing about 3 inches high. There are bulb beds up against a building foundation and this must be why they’re up so early.

I hope those are more leaves coming along and not flower buds.

Reticulated iris grow in the same bed as the tulips. These are very early flowering plants and you can often find the tiny iris blossoms covered by snow.

Daffodils are also still up and growing in a raised bed at the local college. Raised beds drain and thaw earlier than the ground does but anything green in them can still be harmed by the cold, and those daffodils often get frost bitten. When that happens the leaves turn to mush.

I was surprised to see this beech bud curling, because curling like this is often a sign of bud break and it’s far too early for that. The curl is caused by the sun warming the cells on one side of the bud and making them grow faster than the cells on the other side. This causes a tension in the bud which will eventually cause it to open. For beech this usually means mid-May.

Here is a photo of a beech bud breaking from May 19th of last year. There are several leaves in each bud, all edged in downy, silvery angel hair. This is one of the most beautiful sights in a New England forest in spring and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it again.

I checked the skunk cabbages again and still didn’t see any of the blotchy maroon and yellow flower spathes but it shouldn’t be much longer. Since I’ve been keeping track the earliest I’ve seen them was in 2014. They were just coming up on Feb 2 that year and it looks like they might be a month later this year.

The spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) have bloomed earlier as well, but they’re waiting this year. The weather has been very strange so I’m not surprised. I’m guessing that once we get a week of above freezing temperatures all the early blooming plants will bloom at once.

Though they’re early bloomers I didn’t think there would be any sign of movement in magnolia buds. I just wanted to see their furry bud scales.

45 years ago I was doing some work for a man who suddenly said “Look at the bluebird on the fence.” I got a look at a beautiful blue blur and until just the other day I hadn’t ever seen another eastern bluebird. On this day there were 3 or 4 of them in a birch tree and I saw the beautiful color as I drove by. I stopped, grabbed my camera, and they actually sat still for more than a second or two; just long enough to jump out of the car and get these photos.

The bluebirds were eating the fruit (hips) of the invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and of course that just helps it spread. Blue birds, from what I’ve read, are migratory and usually return to New Hampshire to nest in March, so these birds are a true sign of spring even if they are a little early. Oddly enough that beautiful blue color doesn’t come from any blue pigment in their feathers because there isn’t any. Instead it comes from a thin layer of cells on each feather that absorbs all wavelengths of color except blue. Only the blue wavelength is reflected so when we see the beautiful blue of this bird we are actually seeing a reflection. But no matter where it comes from it certainly is a beautiful shade of blue, as this male shows.

Bluebirds are called “bluebirds of happiness” and seeing them again after so long certainly made me happy. They could have stayed a little longer but I’m very thankful that I got to see them, however brief that visit was.

But no blue, not even the brightest summer sky, seems as blue as the bluebirds of spring.
~Ron Hirschi

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The last time I passed through this section of woods I couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. The house I grew up in was just a few yards from the railroad tracks and I’d guess I started walking those tracks almost as soon as I could walk. I knew that if I followed them one way (north) I’d get to my grandmother’s house and then downtown Keene further on. But I didn’t know where the other direction went, so one day I decided it was time to find out. It would be my first great adventure.

There was a slight problem though. The Ashuelot River was also just a few yards from the house and if I was going to follow the tracks the way I’d never been I had to cross it by way of the train trestle over the Ashuelot River. The trestle had gaps between the ties and if you weren’t careful my grandmother said, a skinny little boy like me could fall right through one of those gaps and end up in the river. That thought had held me back for a long time as she knew it would but on this day I was determined, so off I went across the trestle for the first time, headed south.

My father knew that a boy had to run and explore and learn, and he let me off the leash early on. I had no mother to say otherwise so I simply loved life and made my own fun. Unlike the other boys I knew who could only seem to focus on what they didn’t have I saw what I did have, and though we were poor when it came to money I knew that I was rich; I could see it, sharp and clear, and even at twelve years old I knew that no boy anywhere else on earth was having a better boyhood than I was.

But even so my father would have had something to say about this adventure and I probably would have had to eat standing up for a few days if he’d found out. That’s because he knew the river drew me like a magnet. He was forever having to tell me to stay away from it, and with good reason. As I was taking photos of the frozen river on this day it began to groan and crack open and my stomach fell into my shoes. It was the same sound I’d heard when I was walking down the middle of it so many years ago when the ice gave way. Even after 50+ years it’s a sound that can still make my stomach lurch and my hands shake.

I could have drowned that day but instead I learned a good lesson, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. In fact I learned all kinds of things along these rail lines because I was curious and I wanted to know the answers to the thousand and one questions I had in my head. Since nobody I knew could answer the questions I turned to books. Botany books, wildflower books, tree books, bird books, I had them all and I learned from them, but even so I’m still what I call “overly curious” when it comes to the natural world, and it’s that curiosity that fuels this blog. For instance I’ve wondered for years why the buds on a black birch will suddenly form a cluster of buds like that in the above photo. It’s almost like a witches’ broom but not quite because they don’t seem to grow after they knot up like this. Actually I think they die.

This is what a normal, healthy black birch bud (Betula lenta) looks like. The young bark of these trees looks a lot like cherry bark but if you nibble a twig and taste wintergreen, it’s a black birch. It’s also called sweet birch and cherry birch, and birch beer was once made from it and so was oil of wintergreen. In fact so many trees were taken to make oil of wintergreen for many years the trees were very hard to find. This is the only birch that I’ve seen the strange bud clusters on.

Another mystery is why birds don’t eat sumac berries until spring in this part of the country. I’ve heard that in other parts of the country they snap them up as soon as they ripen but here they’re still on the bushes even into April in some years. I’ve heard that they’re low in fat and not very nutritious so that might have something to do with it, but why wouldn’t that be true everywhere? The berries seen here are those of the smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) but smooth or staghorn sumac berries, most will still be there in spring.

Another mystery is how can a river look frozen solid in one place and then be free of ice less than a mile downstream. It could have something to do with restricted flow, I think. The place where I took the photo of the iced over river has a kind of S curve and an island, and both would slow down the flow.

I had to have a look at the shagbark hickory buds (Carya ovata) while I was here. There is no sign of any movement yet but come mid-May they’ll open to reveal some of the most beautiful sights in the spring forest.

I did see some movement in some of the beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) I looked at though it was almost imperceptible. You can just see how some of the silvery white tips of the bud scales have barely pulled away from the bud. Soon they will start to grow and lengthen and then in May will finally open, and then the trees will look as if they’ve been hung with tiny angel wings.

In places the woods were full of ice.

And in other places they were nearly ice free.

The drainage ditches that were dug by the railroad 150 years ago were still working fine, though they were ice covered.

What interests me most about this ice is the oak leaf shape in the lower left corner. I can’t even guess how that would have happened. Ice is such fascinating stuff.

There are lots of old stone walls out here. They are “tossed” or “thrown” walls, where the stones were literally just thrown on top of one another, because the object was to get them out of what would become cropland as quickly as possible. I know this wall is quite old because of the lichens and mosses on the stones. Walls I built 45 years ago still don’t have any mosses or lichens on them and the stones haven’t even grayed yet. I’d guess this one must be at least 200 years old, built even before the railroad came through.

This boulder pile shows what those who first cleared the land faced. Left here by the last glacier, they had to be moved if you were going to plant crops.  I’ve collected stones to build walls with and I can say that it is backbreaking work.

I hoped to see some signs of hazelnut catkins opening but these were still closed tight. It won’t be long now though.

Distances seemed longer and time passed much slower when I was a child and this walk seemed very long indeed, but for the first time I had actually left my town and crossed into another: Swanzey, and that was quite a feat in my opinion. Swanzey lies to the south of Keene and it isn’t very far but I remember feeling so tired that day when I came to this road, and I had the walk home still ahead of me. I could have waited for the Boston and Maine freight and hopped it, but my grandmother told me in graphic detail what can happen to little boys who try to hop on trains. Of course she did that to keep me from hopping the trains I saw creeping by twice a day, and it was very effective. I wanted badly to try, but I never did.

So I walked back home dog tired but elated, and as I retraced those steps on this day once again I realized how very lucky I was to have had this place to grow up in; to be able to run and play in the fields and forests along the river, surrounded by and immersed in nature. It was such a glorious life and if I ever had a choice of where and when I could return to it would be that place and that time, because for me there is simply nothing better. I really do hope that all of you have a place that you feel the same about, and I hope you’re lucky enough to be at least able to revisit it occasionally.

A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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This relatively warm weather and rain we’ve had for weeks now have left me with a longing for spring but it is only January, so about this time every year I scratch my itch for spring by looking at buds. Being able to identify trees and shrubs by their buds can come in handy, especially in winter, and it is a skill that any serious nature lover should have in their bag of tricks. It adds another dimension to nature study and makes it even more interesting. The bud shown above is from a speckled alder (Alnus incana,) and it has two bud scales. Bud scales protect the bud within and keep it from freezing. Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate buds. The scales meet but usually do not overlap.

A catkin like this one on the same speckled alder is simply a long string of buds, in this case male buds, and each purple bit is a bud scale. I took this photo because it shows the gummy resin that fills the spaces between the scales of many buds. This makes the bud waterproof and this is important, because if water reaches the bud and freezes the bud will die.

This Cornelian cherry bud is another 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. 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. It has a long history with mankind; its sour red fruit has been eaten for over 7000 years, and the Persians and ancient Romans knew it well.

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds.” The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Just as the plant flowers the ground under it will be littered with these hairy caps for a short time.

I saw something on the magnolia that I’ve never seen before; seed pods. At first I thought it was some type of gall.

I’ve done bud posts before but this year I wanted to show some buds I hadn’t shown before. The alder is one and this sweetgum bud is another. If you know anything about sweetgum trees or how cold it can be here in New Hampshire you are probably wondering how I took a photo of a sweetgum bud without driving south. After all, the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) reaches the northernmost limits of its natural range along the coast just above of New York City, but these trees grow near a massive wall of brick and that keeps them warm enough to thrive here in the cold. Buds with many scales that overlap like shingles are called imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof on northern trees, but I’m not sure how the sweetgum buds waterproof themselves.

The identification of the sweetgum trees came easily because of their strange seed pods. I’ve read that the infertile seeds found in each of these gummy pods are a source of shikimic acid, which is one of the main ingredients in Tamiflu, so if you had a flu shot and get through winter without getting the flu this year you can thank a sweetgum.

The leaves of the sweetgum seem almost evergreen but I’m really not sure if they are or not because they aren’t supposed to grow this far north. I wonder if the radiant heat from the mass of brick they grow near has them completely baffled. By the way, if you have green plants by the foundation of your house in January the same thing is happening, but it’s your furnace instead of the sun that supplies the radiant heat. It’s fairly common in cold climates.

The oddest thing about the sweetgum tree in my opinion is its strange flattened branches. The first description of the sweetgum tree came from Spanish conquistadors who wrote of its use by the Aztec chief Montezuma. He was using the tree’s resin to flavor a pipe full of tobacco, which was another plant the Spaniards had never heard of. It must work well because it is still used to flavor tobacco today.

The lilac buds (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo are another good example of imbricate buds. Lilac buds are very red and in spring once the plant begins taking up water again they can swell quickly enough to notice, if they’re regularly watched. I’ve watched lilac buds in spring since I was just a small boy and it has always been one of my favorite things to do in the spring. They aren’t swelling yet but it won’t be long before spring is here.

Some 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. The closest I can come is Gray’s hawthorn (Crataegus flabellata.) I know the tree in the photo well so I know that its blossoms will be white. 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.

If you can’t identify a hawthorn by its buds then its thorns will help. On this example they were about 2 inches long and just as sharp as they look. Native Americans made fences around their settlements with brambles and thorny branches like those from hawthorns. They also made very sharp awls and fish hooks from hawthorn thorns.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open 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.

Box elder buds (Acer negundo) and young twigs are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are often pruinose.

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. Even squirrels don’t like these trees; last fall over several days I watched five or six squirrels cut all of the unripe seeds from a Norway maple. In just a few days the ground under the tree was littered with them and there wasn’t a seed left on the tree. 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.

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 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.

Mountain ash buds (Sorbus americana) often look like they have a single cap like bud scale but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. You have to look closely at buds to see what is really going on, so it helps to have a loupe or a macro lens.

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds that are large enough to see without magnification. Bud scales are modified leaves and 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.

I hope this little foray into the world of buds has left you wanting to go out and start looking a little closer at the branches of trees and shrubs in your own neighborhood. I started looking at our local trees years ago; right after the little paperback booklet in the above photo was published in 1968. I carried it in my back pocket and started trying to identify common trees that I already knew something about, like apples and maples. The booklet is still being published today and costs little, especially if you find it in a used bookstore. It is also online in PDF format.

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

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After putting together a post like the last one I did on lichens I needed to free up my mind a bit so I headed into the woods of Walpole to climb the High Blue trail. I had just been here in October but it wasn’t that cold then. My mission on this day was to see if the ski areas had started making snow.

It was definitely cold enough here to make snow. This shot is of some of the many bubbles I saw in the ice of a mud puddle.

Intermediate wood ferns (Dryopteris intermedia) were still nice and green but that was no surprise because it is one of our native evergreen ferns. It is thought that evergreen ferns get a jump on the competition in spring by starting photosynthesis earlier than their cousins.

A large tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius) grew on a trail side tree. These bracket fungi produce spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that they can produce as many as 800 million spores in a single hour. Its common name comes from its usefulness as tinder for starting fires. The 5000 year old “iceman” found preserved in ice and snow in the Italian Alps carried pieces of this fungus with him. It is also useful medicinally and is known to stop bleeding, so he might have used it both ways.

The small reflectors put on the trees by hunters reminded me that I probably wasn’t the only one in these woods. I was glad that I remembered to wear my bright orange hat and vest.

There are people who think that plants grow their buds when it warms up in the spring but most plants actually plan ahead and grow their spring buds in the fall. This hobblebush bud (Viburnum lantanoides) already has all it needs to produce a pair of new leaves and a beautiful head of white flowers next spring. Hobblebush buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect them from the cold, and that’s why they are furry. Hobblebushes are one of our most beautiful native viburnums and there are many of them in these woods.

Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) also have their spring buds at the ready. They’re small now but they’ll grow bigger when it starts to warm up. When they break in spring beech buds are one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a New England forest.

The farmer has cut all his corn for silage. This was a meadow for many years and it’s always a bit surprising for me to find a cornfield here now. The corn attracts bears and last year I saw several piles of their dung, but this year I didn’t see any. I’m hoping they found a different corn field.

There are game trails that lead from the meadow / cornfield into the woods. Do you see this one? It’s just a narrow trail but it is used regularly, especially by deer. When I come here in winter there are deer tracks everywhere up here.

I followed the game trail into the forest to see what I’d see and found a huge quartz boulder sitting on top of an old stone wall. How anyone ever lifted it up there is beyond me. It was at least 4 feet long and must have been very heavy.

There were also a lot of ears of corn along the game trail and even entire corn stalks pulled up by the roots. This is obviously where the animals come to eat it after they take it from the cornfield. I don’t know if a deer could pull up a cornstalk but a bear certainly could. I was hoping it was cold enough for them to be sleeping by now.

Back on the main trail the sun was shining brightly but not providing much warmth. It was probably about 40 degrees F. and that isn’t bad for the end of November but it still felt cold. November is said to be the cloudiest month but we’ve been lucky this year and have had quite a few sunny days.

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so deeply into the forest now that there is no foliage to block the view. One of the things that is much easier to see now is the old stone wall that snakes through the woods. It’s a “tossed wall,” meaning that the stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. Stones were not nice to plows and farmers wanted to get them out of their fields as quickly and efficiently as possible, and ringing the fields with them was the easiest way. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England. It’s hard to hike through a piece of forest these days without seeing at least one wall.

Walpole is famous among stone wall builders for its ledges which, with little effort, break into nice, flat slabs. The fractures happen naturally, as can be seen on this outcrop. This is very easy stone to build with and it makes a great looking wall.

This stone was taken from the ledge in the previous photo at some point in the past. It hasn’t been cut; this is how it comes right out of the ledge, and that’s what makes it so special. Building a wall with stone like this is a real pleasure but it doesn’t happen often. Usually the stones are rounded, so it takes much more time and effort to build with them.

The small pond on the summit was frozen over as I thought it would be. I used to think that the animals would suffer when the pond froze but there are many small streams nearby that run year round so they always have a place to get a drink.

The sign at the granite overlook tells you that you’ve arrived. High means the spot is higher than the surrounding terrain and blue means the view is very blue, and it always is.

It was a bit humid on this day and as it did the last time I was up here a haze blanketed the landscape, so even though the view across the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont was blue it wasn’t that good. Still, you could see Stratton Mountain so I couldn’t complain. The question was, would my camera be able to cut through the haze so I could see the ski area?

So far so good. Sometimes the camera really goes bonkers up here and I’m shocked by what I see when I get home, so I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of those days. I put it on “auto” for a few shots just to give it a chance to do what it wanted. It seems to have a mind of its own sometimes when capturing landscapes.

Though it is a blotchy photo it showed me that there was indeed snow on the ski trails, so after sitting and admiring the view for a bit, down I went. Before long this entire landscape will be snow covered and there won’t be any snowmaking required, so I was happy that I was still walking in crunchy leaves rather than squeaky snow. You know it’s cold when the snow squeaks underfoot.

Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood. Andy Goldsworthy

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1. Christmas Fern Fiddlehead

Evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) have just come up and this is one of the spring fiddleheads that I must have never paid attention to, because I was surprised to see it covered with silver hairs. I think its spiral shape is beautiful but it’s also common; spirals are used over and over in nature. Prehistoric people carved spirals into the walls of their caves and we have tiny spirals in our ears. Snail shells grow in spirals, millipedes curl into spirals, sunflower florets, grape tendrils and even entire galaxies are spirals. And no one knows why.

2. Spotted Salamander

Spotted salamanders are burrowing creatures that spend much of their lives in burrows or under leaf litter, coming out only to eat and mate. I happened to be doing some digging at work and uncovered the salamander in the above photo. They like rainy weather in the spring, so they must be very pleased with this month so far. I left this one alone and it burrowed right back into the soil after a few moments.

3. Chipmunk

It’s nice to see the chipmunks again. They’re very curious little creatures and will often follow along as you walk wooded trails. They live in stone walls when they can and when they hear you they’ll often come out of their burrows to see what you’re doing. That’s just what this one was doing when I took his photo. He sat there until I started walking and then hopped from rock to rock following me.

4. False Morel

Fungi have started to make an appearance and the first I’ve seen is this brain fungus (Gyromitra esculenta) which is a false morel that often grows very near true morels. This is a problem because false morels can be toxic and true morels are not, so if you are a mushroom forager you’ll want to know each one well. An easy way to tell them apart is by the way the cap attaches to the stem. The brain fungus cap attaches only at the top of the stem, and a morel’s cap attaches to the stem over its full length. Cutting one in half lengthwise will tell the story. The brain fungus gets its common name from its reddish brown cap that resembles a brain.

5. White Pine

White pines (Pinus strobus) seem to be doing well this year, showing plenty of new growth. The buds seen in this photo are called candles and will grow on to become new branches and needles. White pines are very common native trees here in New Hampshire. There are records of early colonial settlements being entirely wiped out by scurvy before Native Americans showed the settlers how to make tea from white pine needles. They are one of the richest sources of vitamin C found in nature. Native Americans used all parts of the tree and were said to value pines above any other plant.

6. Ash Flowers

Flowers usually appear just as leaf buds break but before the leaves fully develop on green ash trees (Fraxinus pennsylvanica.)  I think the ones shown here are male, because they are typically shorter and less showy than the female flowers. They have a tubular calyx and 2 stamens and are often purple tipped as those in the photo. Ash trees are sensitive to pollution, so seeing them is a good sign of clean air.

7. Female Box Elder Flowers-2

I’ve already shown photos of female box elder (Acer negundo) flowers recently but I turned a corner and there they were, hanging at eye level. I didn’t mind because I think the sticky lime green pistils are beautiful. One of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen was a box elder growing on the banks of the Connecticut River and that was odd because they’re considered a relatively short lived tree.

8. Unknown Sedge Flowers

As I become more familiar with sedges I’m seeing more and more of them. I found the one in the above photo near a local pond. The male flowers are the creamy yellow parts at the top and the female flowers are the wispy white filaments along the bottom. The female flowers bloom first to catch pollen from other plants and then a few days later the male flowers start to shed pollen so the wind can take it to another plant. This ensures cross pollination and guards against self-fertilization. Sedges look like course tufts of grass but the flower stalks are triangular instead of round, and this leads to the old saying “sedges have edges.” They are gaining popularity as garden plants and some even use them in place of a lawn. I haven’t been able to identify this one yet.

9. Tent Caterpillars

Tent caterpillars were just leaving their nest when I happened along. The moth that laid the eggs on this tree was a species of moth in the family Lasiocampidae, which lays its eggs almost always on plants in the rose family, like cherry and apple trees. The eggs hatch just as the new buds appear on the tree and the caterpillars feed three times each day, just before dawn, at midafternoon, and in the evening after sunset. Cherry leaves contain toxic compounds that the caterpillars absorb so most birds won’t touch them, and that’s the reason for their great success. They can defoliate a tree and this will weaken it, because without leaves it can’t make the food it needs. Most trees will recover, but they won’t look too good while they do.  People often confuse tent caterpillars with fall webworms, but fall webworms don’t cause any real damage because the trees they appear on have usually stopped photosynthesizing and no longer needs the leaves that the caterpillars eat.

10. Ladybug

I noticed that this ladybug on a beech bud had a large black spot on the rear of its shell that looked like damage. I tried to find information on ladybug diseases but didn’t have much luck.

11. Ladybug

Here’s another look at the damaged ladybug. Not only did its shell have a black spot, it looked like it had been dented as well. Ladybugs eat many insects that can damage plants so I hope there aren’t any diseases spreading among them. Maybe a bird caused the damage. Whatever it was didn’t seem to hinder its movement; it crawled along the beech bud as if the wind were at its back. When it reached the very tip it turned and went back just as quickly, and I wondered if what was damaged was its sense of direction.

12. New Beech Leaves

The reason I found the ladybug was because I was in the woods looking for one of the most beautiful signs of spring. Angel wings are what newly unfurled beech leaves (Fagus grandifolia) remind me of, with their fringe of soft silvery, downy hairs. Each spring I check the buds once or twice a week to see if the typically arrow straight buds are curling, because that’s the sign that they’ll open before long.  After they’ve started to curl they’ll also start to swell up, and that’s when I start checking them every other day. This beauty happens quickly and is easily missed.

13. New Beech Leaves

Beech (and other tree) bud curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud, as can be seen in the above photo. It’s incredible to think that all of that growth came from a single bud in just a matter of days.

14. New Oak Leaves

Oak leaves are usually one of the last to appear, so I was surprised to see these new leaves. The weather is fooling us all I think, but it’s a great opportunity to see what in nature is triggered by warmth and what is triggered by day length.

15. Maple Leaf

The woods are full of beautiful things that you’ve never seen and won’t ever imagine and I hope you’ll have a chance to go and see them for yourself.  As I’ve said here before; I can’t tell you what you’ll see but I can guarantee that you’ll never regret seeing it.

Some of the best advice you will ever hear will come from the forest. ~Dacha Avelin

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1. Red Maple Flowering

Before our recent 5 inch snowstorm and two nights of record breaking cold I thought I’d try again to get a decent photo of a red maple (Acer rubrum) in flower. The above is my latest attempt. If you can imagine the scene repeated thousands of times side by side you have an idea what our hillsides and roadsides look like now. It appears as a red haze in the distance.

2. Red Maple Flowers

The female red maple flowers are about as big as they’ll get and if pollinated will now turn into winged seed pods called samaras. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

3. Red Elderberry Bud

The leaves of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) look like fingers as they pull themselves from the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers soon, and they’ll be followed by bright red berries. The berries are said to be edible if correctly cooked but since the rest of the plant is toxic I think I’ll pass.

4. Daffodil

Last spring the first daffodil blossom didn’t appear on this blog until April 18th. This year they are over a month earlier, but the snow and colder temperatures have fooled them. Plants don’t get fooled often but it does happen.

5. Pennsylvania Sedge

I was surprised to see Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) in full bloom because when I went by here a week ago there wasn’t a single sign of flowers. This sedge doesn’t mind shade and will grow in the forest as long as it doesn’t get too wet. It likes sandy soil that dries quickly.

6. Pennsylvania Sedge

Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like, white female pistillate flowers but the female flowers always open first to receive pollen from a different plant. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. It’s a beautiful little plant that is well worth a second look.

7. Female Hazel Flower

Our American hazelnut (Corylus americana) shrubs are still blossoming as the above photo of the female blooms show. They are among the smallest flowers I know of, but getting a photo so you can see them up close is usually worth the effort.

8. Hyaxinths

The local college planted a bed of hyacinths. I love their fragrance.

9. False Hellebore

I like to see the deeply pleated leaves of false hellebore (Veratrum viride) in the spring. This is another plant that seemed to appear overnight; last week there was no sign of them here. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants known, and people have died from eating it by mistaking it for something else. It’s usually the roots that cause poisoning when they are confused with ramps or other plant roots.

10. Skunk Cabbage Leaf

There is a very short time when the first leaf of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) really does look like cabbage but you wouldn’t want it with your corned beef. It comes by its common name honestly because it does have a skunk like odor. Whether or not it tastes like it smells is anyone’s guess; I don’t know anyone who has ever eaten it. I’ve read that eating the leaves can cause burning and inflammation, and that the roots should be considered toxic. One Native American tribe inhaled the odor of the crushed leaves to cure headache or toothache, but I wonder if the sharp odor didn’t simply take their minds off the pain.

11. Trout Lily Leaf

I was happy to see trout lily leaves. Surely the yellow bronze buds and the spring beauties can’t be far behind. I learned by trying to get a sharp photo of this leaf that it couldn’t be done, on this day by my camera anyhow. Though everything else in the shot is in focus the leaf is blurred and it stayed blurred in close to twenty shots. I wonder if it isn’t the camouflage like coloration that caused it. I’ve never noticed before if they did this or not and I’d be interested in hearing if anyone else had seen it happen.

12. Forsythia

On the day of our recent snowstorm forsythia was blooming well, but on the day after not a blossom could be seen. Luckily most of the shrubs hadn’t bloomed yet, but I don’t know if the cold nights hurt the buds or not.  I’ll check them today.

13. Forsythia

Forsythia is over used and common but it’s hard to argue that they aren’t beautiful, and seeing a large display of them all blooming at once can be breath taking.

14. Box Elder Flowers

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) often appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. In the examples shown here they were just starting to poke out of the buds. They’re beautiful when fully open and I hope to see some this weekend. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

15. Lilac Bud 3

Lilac leaf buds are opening but I haven’t seen any colorful flower buds yet.

16. Beech Bud

In the spring as the sun gets brighter and the days grow longer light sensitive tree buds can tell when there is enough daylight for the leaves to begin photosynthesizing, so the buds begin to break. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud” and this can be a very beautiful thing. American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud. Last year beech bud break didn’t start until May, so I think the example in this photo is a fluke. Others I saw had not curled yet.

17. Hobblebush Leaf Bud

The buds of our native viburnum that we call hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) has naked buds, meaning that there are no bud scales encasing the leaf and flower buds to protect them. Instead this shrub uses dense hairs. As the weather warms the leaf buds grow longer and the flower buds swell, and the above photo shows a growing and expanding leaf bud.

18. Magnolia

I love the color of the flower buds on this magnolia. It grows at the local college and I don’t know its name. As magnolias go it’s a small tree.

19. Striped Squill

One of the spring flowering bulbs I most look forward to seeing each year is striped squill. The simple blue stripe down the middle of each white petal makes them exceedingly beautiful, in my opinion. The bulbs are hard to find but they are out there. If you’d like some just Google Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica and I’m sure that you’ll find a nursery or two that carries them. They are much like the scilla (Scilla siberica) that most of us are familiar with in size and shape but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often and border on rare in this area. The example pictured here grows in a local park and they were blooming a full month earlier than last year. I’ll have to go see what the cold did to them, if anything.

20. Snow on Seed Head

I’ve heard that Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and virtually all of New England are having the same on again / off again spring with snow and cold, so we all just wait confident that it will happen eventually. In 1816 there was a “year without a summer” when snow fell in June and cold killed crops in July, but that was an anomaly caused by volcanic activity that will surely not happen again. At least we hope not.

Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring. ~Lilly Pulitzer

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1. Shagbark Hickory Bud

Each year at around this time I get an urge to start looking at the buds of our trees and shrubs to see if there are any signs of swelling. 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. Since I read in a local paper that maple sap had started flowing because of a warm December I had to go see for myself. 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.

2. Shagbark Hickory Bud Break

Why do I care about watching buds swell? Because beautiful things come from them, like the newly opened bud of the shagbark hickory in the above photo shows. This photo is from a previous blog post of nearly 2 years ago. Unfortunately I won’t get to see this in person again until about mid-May but since it’s one of the most beautiful sights in the spring woods, it’s worth waiting for.

3. Shagbark Hickory Bark

If you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is a shagbark hickory bud just look at the bark. It’s obvious where the name shagbark comes from.

4. Hawthorn Bud

Hickory buds are some of the largest buds I’ve seen but some of the smallest 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. The closest I can come is Gray’s hawthorn (Crataegus flabellata.) I know the tree in the photo well so I know that its blossoms will be white.

5. Hawthorn Thorn

If you can’t identify a hawthorn by its buds then its thorns will help. On this example they were about 2 inches long and just as sharp as they look.

6. Lilac Bud

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 that have several scales are called imbricate with scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud. The lilac bud (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo is a good example of an imbricate bud.

7. Blueberry Buds

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) buds are also imbricate buds. It’s interesting that almost everything about the blueberry is red except for its berry. The new twigs are red, the bud scales are red, and the fall foliage is very red.

8. Cornelian Cherry Bud

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.

9. Nanny Berry Bud

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) are also examples of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. I think I might have misidentified several nannyberry berries as shadbush berries earlier last fall, so I’m counting on the buds to tell me for sure what they are. If they look like the above example they are sure to be nannyberry. If it wasn’t so icy right now I’d go and find out.

10. Magnolia Bud

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds.” The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming.

11. Red Maple Buds

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.  I didn’t see any sign of these buds swelling but I hope they will soon. 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.

12. Box Elder Buds

Box elder buds (Acer negundo) and young twigs are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are often pruinose.

13. Beech Bud

Another bud I’m looking forward to seeing open 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.”

14. Witch Hazel Buds

I went out to look at buds but never expected to see any of them actually opening on January 30th, so you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found this vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis) with its petals just peeking out of its flower buds. We’ve had above average temperatures every month since November and have been 6 degrees above normal for January, but I think this shrub might be jumping the gun just a bit. It lives in a local park and I don’t know its name, but it’s a real beauty when it’s all in bloom in the spring. Since it’s blooming now the question is will it still bloom in spring?

15. Daffodil Buds

As if the witch hazel blossoms weren’t enough there were daffodils out of the ground a short distance away, and I started feeling like I had fallen down the rabbit hole. Plants can and do get fooled but not often. Right now most of the signs are pointing to an early spring and even Punxsutawney Phil, the weather predicting groundhog in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania, says spring is right around the corner.

16. Winter Tree Finder

I hope this little foray into the world of buds has left you wanting to go out and start looking a little closer at the branches of trees and shrubs in your own neighborhood. I started looking at our local trees years ago; right after the little paperback booklet in the above photo was published in 1968. I carried it in my back pocket and started trying to identify common trees that I already knew something about, like apples and maples. The booklet is still being published today and costs little, especially if you find it in a used bookstore. It is also online in PDF format, and you can find it by clicking on the word HERE.

Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart. ~Victor Hugo

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