Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Black Elderberry’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

 1. Rail Trail

Last weekend really felt like spring with warm sunshine and warm southwesterly breezes blowing, so I decided to walk an old rail trail that runs right behind the house I grew up in. When I was a boy there were railroad tracks here and I spent many hours walking along them. Now snowmobiles get the most use out of the area. I appreciate them packing the snow down so you don’t need snowshoes, but it means that there is far less solitude here than there used to be.

 2. Wild Cucumber

There are many things along this old rail bed that take me back to my childhood, including the wild cucumbers (Echinocystis lobata) that we all used to throw at each other. This is one of the plants that made me want to know more about why and how plants grew the way they did. I had lots of questions and since nobody I knew could answer them, when I got a little older I turned to books like Asa Gray’s Manual of Botany.

 3. Black Raspberry First Year Cane 

By reading Gray’s Manual and other botany books I was able to answer many questions, like why do some plants have this bluish white coating on them? I learned that, in botanical terms, a plant part that looks like this is said to be glaucous, which describes the color. The coating is called bloom and is a wax which can protect the plant from sunburn, prevent moisture loss, or help shed excess water from the leaves.  I see it mostly on plums and blueberries.

In the case of the plant in the above photo the bloom on the cane (along with the prickles) taught me that it was a black raspberry, rather than a red raspberry or a blackberry. I also learned that bloom on canes means that they are first year vegetative canes (primocanes) that would bear no fruit until their second year. There were plenty of others that did bear fruit though, and I used to eat bellyfuls of them.

 4. Winter Woods

At one time there were large fields of corn growing along the rail bed but now some of the land has started reverting back to forest.  Most of the trees seen here can’t be more than 40-45 years old. Knowing that I’m older than the trees brings on kind of an odd feeling.

I learned how badly corn plants can make you itch can be by running through the cornfields that were once here. Each corn leaf has tiny, saw tooth serrations on its edges that can cause quite a rash on exposed skin. Of course I could have prevented it by wearing a long sleeved shirt, but you would have had to have hog tied me to get long sleeves on me in the summer.

 5. Virgin's Bower Seeds

My grandmother taught me about the wind blowing pollen from one corn plant to another, but here on the tracks is where I learned how other plants use the wind. Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) for instance, grows long feathery filaments called styles on its seeds (fruits) so the wind can carry them long distances. Botanically speaking these “seeds” are achenes, which are fruits with one seed. This is a common plant seen draped over shrubs and climbing into trees all along these tracks.

 6. Feathers-2

Every time I see a feather stuck in a bush I wonder what bird left it there. I usually come away scratching my head and this time was no different.  It’s odd that the wind can send clematis seeds flying, but feathers seem to stay stuck fast to whatever they land on.

 7. Ash Swamp Brook in Winter

Ash Swamp brook meanders lazily through Keene before finally meeting the Ashuelot River here.  I spent many happy hours exploring this place as a boy. Coming this far south down the tracks was quite an excursion but it was always worth it. Very near here the banks of the river are high and sandy and bank swallows used to nest there. Watching them come and go was always good for an afternoon’s entertainment.

 8. Willow Branches

Spring never came by the calendar here. I learned early on that plants could tell you more than the calendar ever could. Willows for example, take on a golden hue when they feel spring coming on.

 9. Pinecone Gall on Willow 

The coming of spring wasn’t the only thing willows taught me to see.  Willows often have pine cone galls on them, caused by a gall midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides). The midge lays an egg in the terminal leaf bud of a willow in early spring and the larva releases a chemical that tricks the willow into creating this gall instead of leaves. The midge spends winter inside the gall and emerges in the following spring, so the entire cycle takes a full year. It is fascinating things like this, found all along these railroad tracks, which let nature get its hooks into me early on.

10. American Hazelnut Catkins

This is where I also started paying attention to things like catkins; though half a century later I still struggle with the identity of some of the shrubs and trees I find them on. American hazelnut (Corylus Americana) catkins are easy because of the hairy young twigs they often hang from. These hairs are called stipitate glands. Botanically speaking a stipitate gland is a gland on the end of a stalk (stipe).  If you find a hazelnut that doesn’t have hairy young twigs and leaf petioles, it is a beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta).

11. Elderberry Buds

We used to make small “pipes” by hollowing out an acorn, putting a hole through the side of it, and then inserting a pipe stem. The choice for the pipe stem was always elderberry because it has soft pith that is easily pushed out of the stem with a hardwood twig.  American elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis) pith is white and spongy, so when you pinch its twigs between your thumb and forefinger they will deform. If it doesn’t deform it isn’t elderberry.  It’s a good thing that we kids never smoked anything in these pipes because elderberry is toxic, especially to kids who make whistles and pipe stems from its parts.

12. Puddle Ice 3

Nothing takes me back to my boyhood at this time of year like the white ice on mud puddles. I remember, once the snow melted off the roads, riding my bike to school through the ice covered puddles that froze at night and melted during the day. I can remember how my spirit soared knowing that once the white ice appeared on the puddles it wouldn’t be long until summer because these were special puddles, not caused by rain but by snow melt. Soon the red sox would once again play at Fenway Park, school would be over until fall, and everything would be right with the world. There was as much joy in the anticipation of the event as there was in the event itself. Lately I’ve been feeling that same joy anticipating the arrival of spring.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.  ~ John Burroughs

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »