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Posts Tagged ‘Big Leaf Aster’

Last weekend I remembered that I hadn’t climbed any hills in a while so I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. The trail starts in a meadow / hayfield and I was surprised to see a path starting to wear into the grass. I suppose it must be becoming a popular climb even though I rarely meet anyone here.

There was a nice display of big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) and gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) along the edge of the field. The big, hand sized, heart shaped leaves helped me identify the asters.

The trail starts out narrow and level but before long it widens and angles uphill.

A ray of sunshine had found a colony of shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) and made it shine even more. This clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina cristata) grew on the side of the trail. Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips and these tips will often turn brown, but these examples were still nice and white. It had rained all day the day before so it might have been very fresh. I’m not sure what the tiny yellow fungus in the background was.

The names pinwheel and horsehair mushroom are interchangeable and go by the scientific name of Marasmius rotula. They grow on decaying leaves and decaying wood and can appear overnight after a good rain. They are very small and rarely grow larger in diameter than a pea. This one grew on last year’s leaves and was easily the largest I’ve ever seen with a diameter equal to that of an aspirin.

Another record mushroom in my book was this hemlock varnish shelf fungus (Ganoderma tsugae.) It was larger than a dinner plate and I’d guess quite old. Its common name comes from its shiny cap which usually looks like it has been varnished, but this example was very dirty. This mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

The trail goes gently uphill until we near the summit where the grade is steep. It’s very dark through this section of forest because of the overspreading evergreen branches of pines and hemlocks.

If you look closely at the tree to the left of the trail in the previous photo you can see that it is full of woodpecker holes. This photo shows how the wind carried mushroom spores into one of those holes and they grew there, fruiting on this day or the day before. This is how fungi infect and almost always kill the trees they grow on. All it takes is a small wound, and that’s why wounds on expensive ornamental or fruit trees should be quickly treated.

When trees die they eventually fall and I saw several down across the trail. This hemlock was the largest. Note all the tree roots on the trail where the soil has washed and worn away. They can be very slippery after a rain and I slipped on them a few times on my way down the hill.

Hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) and crowded parchment fungi (Stereum complicatum) battled for space on a fallen limb. There was plenty of room for both to the right and left but crowded parchment fungi often covers entire logs, so it wants all the space.

Yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia) gets its common name from the yellow bits of the universal veil on its orange cap. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it eventually breaks through the membranous veil and pieces of it are left behind on the cap. Rain can wash them off so I was surprised that they have stayed in place on this example. This mushroom is in the amanita family and is considered toxic. The amanita family contains some mushrooms that can kill if eaten, so I never eat any mushroom that I’m not 110% sure is safe. In truth I’m not crazy about mushrooms anyhow so their toxicity is a non-issue for me.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) was showing its fall colors. This plant has small black berries but this example didn’t have any. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber. I accidentally scared a turkey away and I wondered if it was that bird eating all the berries. I also saw plenty of blueberry bushes but not a single one had a berry.

This fungus grew right on the ground and looked like it was pretending to be a pizza. I haven’t been able to identify it.

I didn’t expect the views to be very good due to the previous day’s heavy rain, so I wasn’t disappointed when they weren’t. It was very hazy but you can still see the trees; countless thousands of them. I didn’t see much leaf color yet though some seemed to be lightening up to a yellow green.

Out of several shots of the views I took this is probably the best as far as lack of haze.

As I stood scanning the trees for signs of fall color a large shadow crossed over me and when I looked up I saw a flock of what I think were turkey vultures circling silently above me. They looked to be huge, and there had to have been 7 or 8 of them. Big birds flying across the skies; throwing shadows on our eyes. These words from Neil Young’s song Helpless played in my mind as I watched them soar.

These aren’t very good photos but my getting-photos-of-birds-in-flight skills are just about nonexistent. What struck me most about these birds other than their large size was how absolutely silent they were. They never made a sound the whole time I watched them; there wasn’t even the sound of wind in their feathers even though they flew so close once or twice it seemed like I could have reached out and touched them.

Because of the previous day’s rain many of the little toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) that live up here were their natural green color and plump with plenty of moisture. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present in the lichen comes through on the surface. The tiny black specks in its lower left corner are its disc shaped fruiting bodies, called apothecia, where its spores are busily being produced so a new generation of toadskins can get their start.

When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily.  Like many lichens they also change color when they dry out, like the dry example in the above photo shows. The warts on its surface are called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. Each lichen is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, so this is an umbilicate lichen. This example’s belly button is the bright spot that looks like a sun in a solar system.

I’ve written several posts about Tippin Rock, which is the 40 ton glacial erratic that lives up here, so I was going to just pass it by without taking a photo, but then I saw something I hadn’t seen before. At first I thought I had come upon one of those benevolent forest sprites whose job is guiding creatures who pass through the woods and protecting the forest, but instead it was Gus. “Are you tipping that rock?” I asked, and Gus giggled and said no, it was his father making it tip. Gus is a happy little guy who was overcome by bursts of great joy each time his father made Tippin Rock tip. It’s truly amazing to see 40 tons of granite rock gently back and forth like a baby cradle and Gus was having a ball riding the huge stone but truth be told, his dad was looking a little winded. From what I gathered Gus and his dad and their dog Annie had come up here specifically to tip the rock, and tip it did, again and again and again. Once I thought it might actually tip off its natural keel and never move again but Gus rode it out and everything was fine.

I don’t get many chances to show a person’s size in relation to the big boulder so I was grateful when Gus’s father graciously said that I could take a few photos. Gus is a very bright, joy filled five year old who is as cute as a button. He told me that he likes school and loves his teacher very much, and I told him that I’d bet that his teacher loved him right back. Gus also told me that he and his family were having a dinner party the following evening and said that I should come so he could show me around, but I left the family to their fun and headed off down the hill.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how I harp about people getting into the woods so it was a real pleasure meeting Gus and his dad and their dog Annie up there; easily the high point of my entire weekend. I hope Gus grows up to be a great lover of nature; he’s certainly off to a great start.

If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.  ~Richard Jefferies

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1. NE Aster

Some of you might be thinking what, another aster? Well yes, asters are everywhere at this time of year and though I showed a New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) in my last flower post it was much lighter in color than this example. I like the dark colored ones, but they’re much harder to find than the lighter colors. It’s said that if you rub the flower heads of this plant between your fingers they’ll emit an odor similar to that of camphor or turpentine, yet the Native American Ojibwe tribe smoked the root to attract game. I’m guessing that the smoked root didn’t smell like camphor or turpentine.

2. Bladderwort

The swollen, air filled, modified leaf stems of the native small floating bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) radiate out from a point on the stem like the spokes of a wheel and keep the flower above the water while currents carry it over the surface of ponds. The parts of the plant that trail under the water look like roots and are where the bladders are located. Each bladder has small hairs on it which, when touched by an insect, trigger a trapdoor that opens quickly and sucks the insect inside. Once trapped inside there is no escape, and the insect is slowly digested.

According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffee, Henry David Thoreau didn’t think very highly of this plant. He wrote that it was “A dirty conditioned flower, like a sluttish woman with a gaudy yellow bonnet.” That’s a side of Thoreau that I’ve never seen and it seems an odd reaction for a nature nut like him to have had. I would think he’d have happily studied and written about such an unusual plant.

3. Bladderwort

Gaudy or not bladderwort flowers are among the most challenging to get a good photo of, both because yellow is a challenging color to begin with and the plants float offshore, often just out of reach. Luckily the wind pushed this example very close to shore. You can get to these plants by kayak or canoe but even so, it’s a job to get a good photo.

4. Big Leaf Aster

Big leaf asters are never going to win a blue ribbon at a flower show but I enjoy a special bond with them because they were the subject of the first flower photo that I ever sold, and the biology textbook publishing people who bought it wanted it because it showed both the flowers and leaves. Since the leaves are almost ground hugging and the flowers rise up on 2 foot tall stems, showing both isn’t as easy to do as it might sound. Depth of field is important in the world of flower photography and both the leaves and flowers should be shown whenever possible. This plant’s large leaves are used for gathering as much light as possible because it grows in shade, usually on forested slopes. It can form huge colonies of several thousand plants.

5. Creeping Bellflower

Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in dry places that get full sun. This is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom, so I was surprised to see it. It is an invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It will choke out weaker native plants. I usually find it on forest edges.

6. Soapwort

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) blossoms quite late along the river. It always seems fitting to me that a plant that can produce a soapy lather should grow so near water. This introduced plant doesn’t seem at all invasive; in fact I often have a hard time finding it. It’s a plant that always seems to look a bit ragged and weedy and is probably ignored by most that frequent the riverbank, but I like seeing its simple, beautiful white flowers when little else is blooming.

7. False Dandelion

I see false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) almost everywhere I go at this rime of year. If you look at the yellow flowers on tall wiry stems without paying attention to the foliage this plant might look like hawkweed, but its leaves are very different and look more like narrow dandelion leaves.

8. False Dandelion

Both dandelions and false dandelions have a rosette of edible leaves and a central taproot. The flower stems of false dandelion are solid, tall and wiry while those of true dandelions are hollow and much shorter.

9. Pink Turtlehead

No matter how often I look at turtlehead plants (Chelone) I don’t see turtle heads, but I know that a lot of people do. This pink flowered plant was given to me by a friend years ago and I’ve divided it and given pieces away several times, so it has brought pleasure to many. Our native turtleheads (Chelone glabra) are white. Since I don’t know the history of this plant I don’t know if it’s a pink version of the native or if it’s a cultivar.  Butterflies and hummingbirds love these flowers so it’s a good addition to a garden. The plant is also maintenance free. In the time I’ve had it I’ve done nothing to it but divide it up to give away.  Native Americans thought highly of this plant and used it medicinally to cure a variety of sores and miscellaneous external ailments.

10. Beechdrops

Beech drops (Epifagus americana) grow in deep shade and can be hard to photograph, but a sunbeam came along and lit this one up for me. This plant grows near beech trees and is a parasite that fastens onto the roots of the tree using root like structures called haustoria. It takes all of its nutrients from the tree so it doesn’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. These plants are annuals that die off in cold weather.

11. Beechdrops

Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish stripe are the only things found on a beech drop’s leafless stems. On the lower part of the stem are flowers that never have to open because they self-fertilize. They are known as cleistogamous flowers. On the upper part of the stem are tubular Chasmogamous flowers, which open and are pollinated by insects and are shown in the above photo. Science doesn’t know much about which insects pollinate this plant. Sitting and watching a group of these plants and recording which insects visit them would be a good project for a budding biologist, but they would have to know their insects well or be very fast on their shutter button.

12. Tearthumb

Native arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open I’ve discovered recently that they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible.

13. Tearthumb Stem

But that isn’t all there is to the story of tearthumb. It comes by that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its red stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. It actually uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I find it near ponds, blooming quite late in summer.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

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1. Touch me not

Except for very late bloomers like witch hazel, late September is really more about which flowers are still blooming rather than which are just starting. Spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis) is a good example of flowers that will bloom right up until a good frost. As day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

2. Touch me not

When spotted touch-me-not flowers first open they are male, but then change to female. The way to tell is by looking for white pollen. If white pollen is present the flower is male. Female flowers will have a small green pistil in place of the pollen seen in this photo.

3. Black Eyed Susan

I used to think that black eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia hirta) were the longest blooming of any wildflower but once I started paying attention I found that wasn’t true. But it is a marathoner rather than a sprinter and can bloom from June right up until a hard frost.

This plant was always believed to have been given its common name by English colonists, but that caused a real conundrum among botanists who all agreed that it was a prairie native. Though everyone still agrees that it is a prairie native, recent research has shown that it was growing in Maryland in the 1600s. In other words it was most likely growing in all parts of the country then, just as it does today. I can’t understand why botanists thought that a prairie native would simply stay there. Why wouldn’t it have spread far and wide, just like plants do today?

4. Knapweed

Knapweed is terribly invasive and hated by pasture owners but even though I know all of that its flowers win me over every time. This was one of just a few left in a large group of plants that had all withered and turned brown.

5. Mullien

I was surprised to see this mullein (Verbascum thapsus) plant blooming so late in the year. I wonder if it will have time to set seeds. Mullein is a biennial and flowers and dies in its second year of growth. It is considered a weed but if all of its flowers opened at once along its tall flower stalk it would be a prized garden specimen.

6. Big Leaf Aster

By the time I got to the spot along the Ashuelot River in Gilsum where big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) grow they had almost all gone by, but I did find one or two that were still hanging on. The big leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify.

This plant taught me a good lesson; the photo I took of it last year was chosen by the State of Georgia for inclusion in its new wildflower guide because it showed both the flowers and leaves, so if you think that you might like to sell your wildflower photos try to include some foliage whenever possible.

7. Phlox

Even phlox, a plant known for its late bloom period, has almost gone by now. There are many varieties of phlox but I think the one pictured is Phlox paniculata, which is native to the eastern United States.

8. Tear Thumb

Arrow leaved tear thumb (Polygonum sagittatum) has small tufts of pinkish white flowers at the ends of long, weak stems. It is usually found sprawling on and around other stronger stemmed plants that help support it. It loves to grow near water.

9. Tear Thumb Stem

The reddish, 4 sided stems of arrow leaved tearthumb have tiny, backward pointing prickles that the plant uses to hang onto other plants when it crawls over them in search of more sunlight. These prickles are plenty sharp enough to tear into the flesh of your thumb (or any other body part) if you try to pull at the plant without gloves on, and that’s where the common name comes from.

10. Yarrow

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has a period of bloom in June through August and then rests for a while before giving it another go.  Mankind has had a relationship with this plant since before recorded history and dried sprigs of it have been found in Neanderthal graves. The ancient Greeks used it on wounds to staunch blood flow and so did Native Americans.

According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffey, in England if a boy put a sprig of yarrow in his nostril and twisted it around three times and got a nosebleed, he was sure to win his sweetheart. It is said that the boys in Suffolk call the plant green ‘arrow and recite the following rhyme:

Green ‘arrow, green ‘arrow you bears a white blow;
If my love love me, my nose will bleed now;
If my love don’t love me, it won’t bleed a drop;
If my love do love me, ‘twill bleed every drop.

11. Purple Morning Glory

I know that this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) isn’t a wild flower but I had to sneak it in because of the amazing light that seemed to be shining from it.

Autumn asks that we prepare for the future —that we be wise in the ways of garnering and keeping. But it also asks that we learn to let go—to acknowledge the beauty of sparseness. ~Bonaro W. Overstreet

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