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Posts Tagged ‘Black Raspberry Canes’

For a few years now I’ve thought that if anyone came to my door wanting to see a plant that I’ve shown on this blog I’d be able to lead them right to it. I don’t think my memory is any better than anyone else’s but I do believe that I remember where most of the special or unusual things I feature here grow because I visit them as often as I can. But I don’t know that for sure, and I sometimes wonder if I really could lead you to a sweet gum tree, (which isn’t even supposed to grow here) so last Sunday I decided to test myself. Somewhere along this rail trail is a red maple tree with a beautiful lichen on it. It’s grayish white and has blue fruiting bodies (Ascomata) and after my last post about lichens I wanted to see it again, so off I went.

This was a blue day because everywhere I looked I saw blue, like the beautiful blue of the sky’s reflection in the flooded area beside the trail.

There are lots of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) growing along this trail and their catkins had me longing for spring, when the tiny scarlet threads of the female flowers will appear. They’re a sure sign that spring is upon us, but I won’t be seeing them for a while.

Here was more blue; the beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes (Rubus occidentalis.) When I was a boy I used to pick and eat handfuls of them along the tracks that used to be here.

The blue color is caused by the way light is reflected off the powdery, waxy white crystals that cover the canes. The crystals are there to protect the young canes from moisture loss and sunburn and many other plants including blueberries, plums, grapes and blue stemmed goldenrod also use the same strategy. The color in this instance was much like that of a blue jay.

There are also wild grapes growing along the trail and most of them were fermenting up in the trees, so the smell of grape jelly was heavy in the wind.

I saw a squirrel up ahead working furiously at something and as I got closer it ran off with a corn cob in its mouth. When I looked at the place it had been I found a pile of corn. It had been stripping the kernels from the cob, and I wondered why it didn’t do it in its nest.

In fact this trail is overrun with squirrels and I’ve never seen so many squirrel nests in one place. The trees were full of them and I’d bet that I must have seen 30 or 40 on this walk. Nests start with a woven twig floor and then damp leaves and moss are packed on top. A spherical framework is woven around the floor and leaves, moss and twigs are stuffed into it until a hollow shell of about 6-8 inches across has been formed. Gray squirrels can have nests that are up to two feet wide and though they look like they’re open to the sky from below, they aren’t.

Some of the trail sides were covered by newly fallen maple leaves and I’m sure the squirrels are using them for nest building. I’ve watched them build nests before and have seen them gather up a bunch of leaves, tuck them up under their chin and hold them there with one front paw, and then run up the tree with the other three paws. They will also carry leaves in their mouth but they can’t seem to carry as many that way.

In spite of the drought last spring the corn grew well this year. I lived very near here when I was a boy and back then the Boston and Maine Railroad ran through here twice each day. There were extensive corn fields all along the railroad tracks in those days, and not much else. These days there are shopping malls nearby and the college has grown more than anyone thought it would. I used to sit out here all day and not see a soul but these days the trail is like a city sidewalk. College students, joggers, walkers, bicyclists and snowmobilers all use it regularly.

The farmer was harvesting his corn while I was there. This is silage for cows, what we used to call “cow corn,” so the entire plant except for the roots is chopped up and blown into 10 wheel dump trucks to be taken off to the farm. The stubble that is left will get tilled under in the spring and then the field will be planted again. These fields aren’t watered so it all depends on weather.

The farmer wasn’t the only one harvesting the corn. His crop must support hundreds of squirrels, and that explains why there are countless squirrel nests here even though there are no oak trees for acorns and very few pine trees for pine seeds.

There is a good view of Mount Monadnock from here, and on this day it was very blue. Since it was easy to see all over town this is the view I grew up with and it comes to mind whenever anyone mentions the mountain. It was from right here when I was probably 14 or so that I hatched a plan to identify and catalog all the wildflowers on the mountain. Henry David Thoreau started doing just that in the 1800s but never finished. I thought I will finish what Henry started, but when I finally got to the mountain I saw how foolish the plan was because this mountain is huge, and it might take ten lifetimes to do what I thought would be a lark. It’s no wonder that Henry never finished.

We’re almost there. That big thing in the center of the photo is a bridge.

And the bridge goes over a very busy highway, built so Keene State College students and others could cross safely. If you’re interested I wrote about it in a post I did last year called “Bridging a Dangerous Crossing.” When I was a boy the highway was just a road so I don’t think it was quite so busy as it is now, but over the past few years you often had to stand and wait for a while before being able to cross.

When I see the bridge I know I’m very close to the maple tree with the beautiful lichen on it, but on this day I got distracted by these married maples. A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. I see it happening more all the time.

I knew when I was near the bridge that the tree with the lichen on it would be on the left side of the trail, just a few yards from the bridge. It was a maple but they were all maples and all about the same size, so I had to look at each tree. Actually I had to inspect each tree with my camera because the lichen I was looking for is only about as big as a dime. If you look at all the white spots on the married trees in the previous photo you’ll see what I was up against; those are all lichens.

But after about half an hour of searching I found the frosted comma lichen (Arthonia caesia) I was looking for, so my memory hadn’t completely failed me. Why did I want to find a dime size white spot on a tree? Because it’s a beautiful thing and this is the only example of it I’ve ever seen. The only other lichen I know of with blue fruiting bodies is the smoky eye boulder lichen and that one has blue apothecia only in a certain light. The spherical fruiting bodies on this lichen, called ascomata, are blue in any light and they don’t change color when they dry out. They are also very small; each blue dot is hardly bigger than a period made by a pencil on a piece of paper, so lichen hunters need to carry a good loupe or a camera that is macro capable.

As I walked back down the trail I wondered how and when all the grass grew along the sides of this rail bed. It wasn’t here when I used to come here as a boy. Back then all you saw here were sharp black clinkers, which were basically boiler slag and ash. They were the ballast that the tracks were laid in and it must have been an awful lot of work to get rid of them, but I do like the result. Those clinkers were hard things to take a fall on, which I seem to remember doing quite regularly as a boy.

As I was walking back this birch tree caught my eye. I like to look at the inner bark of trees because sometimes it can be quite beautiful. The inner bark of staghorn sumac can be bright red for instance, after it has peeled and been exposed to light and air. This birch had a deep wound, right down to the wood, and the peeling bark was thick. I thought I saw color there so I had to have a look.

I never expected to see anything like this on the inner bark of a gray birch. The only thing I could think of is the tree’s sap might have turned blue in the cold, because the blue bits weren’t lichens. I can’t think of anything else that could explain so much color. White pine tree sap turns a beautiful blue when it gets cold and on this day it was in the 30s F. with a biting wind. Whatever caused it, it was beautiful and I was happy to see it. As I said it was a blue day and, since blue is my favorite color, I wasn’t at all blue.

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. ~Linda Hogan

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Last weekend I decided to go and see a bridge I wrote a post about in January of 2017 called Bridging a Dangerous Crossing.  They were still building it then but have since finished it, so I thought I’d go and see what crossing it was like. It just happens to be on the same rail trail that I grew up walking as a boy so not only would I see the bridge, but I’d see pieces of my past as well.

Back then the rail trail was a working railroad with Boston and Maine trains passing my house twice each day. I used to play in the cornfield in the above photo, which runs alongside the trail. There were lots of crows in it on this day and you can see a couple of them flying there on the right. In the fall after the corn is harvested hundreds of Canada geese also visit these fields. They’ve been doing so at least as long as I’ve been around.

If you know where to look there are good views of Mount Monadnock along the rail trail. When I was a boy it was my favorite mountain because it was always just over my shoulder no matter where I went. When I was still quite young I foolishly came up with the idea of cataloging all the plants on the mountain. In my teen years I still had the dream but I was sure someone else must have already done it. Sure enough, Henry David Thoreau had started an inventory of the mountain’s plants and it was fairly extensive, and that’s how I first discovered Henry David Thoreau. When I found that we seemed to think a lot alike I immediately read everything I could find that he had written. But I never did catalog the plants of Monadnock. The closest I came was helping the ladies of the Keene Garden Club plant wildflowers on its flanks. I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing today but at the time it seemed the right thing to do.

Along these tracks is where my curiosity about the things I was seeing in nature grew until I couldn’t stand not knowing any longer, so I began reading to find answers to the many questions I had, like why is a young black raspberry cane blue? The answer is the same waxy “bloom” found on plums, grapes, and other fruits and plants. They and other plants along these railroad tracks were what prodded me into reading books like “Grays Manual of Botany.” Easily the driest book I’ve ever read, but I learned a lot from it. I began to visit used book stores and usually spent any money I earned on botany and gardening books, and that and a plant loving grandmother is what started me on the path to professional gardening.

I didn’t always have my nose in a book; somewhere along this rail trail my own initials are carved into the bark of a maple, much like these are.

In no time at all here was the bridge, open at last. The arch of the thing was startling because from the side it looks almost level.

Here is the bridge from the side in a photo taken in January 2017 as the concrete deck was being poured. This is why the arch in the previous view was such a surprise; I’m not really seeing such a pronounced arch from here.

Here it is again, closer to the center of the span. It’s very strange that it could look so level from the side.

Up here I was closer to the red maple (Acer rubrum) buds; thousands of them, just starting to open. If you’re looking for red maple flowers as I do each spring, look for a maple with these kinds of round bud clusters on its branches.

Red maples can look a lot like silver maples (Acer saccharinum) but if I understand what I’ve read correctly, only red maples get target canker, which causes platy bark to appear in circular target-like patterns like that seen here. Silver maples prefer damp swampy areas while red maples are more likely to grow in drier places.

The bridge was built so local college students could cross this very busy highway safely. They walk through here constantly to get to the athletic fields which lie beside the rail trail. There is a sister bridge that crosses another nearby highway, and that was originally built because someone was killed trying to cross that road. Nobody wanted to see that happen here so it was agreed that another bridge should be built. These days traffic is very heavy and I’ve waited for quite a while trying to get across. When I was a boy I could walk across this road without having to hurry at all because on many days there was hardly a car to be seen.

Once you’ve crossed the new bridge you come to the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle. When I was a boy you could sit here all day and not see a soul, but now there’s a steady stream of college students walking across it so it took a while to get shots of it with nobody on it. When this was built there was nothing here; it was just another trestle in the middle of the woods, but now it has all grown up and there’s a huge shopping center just behind and to the left of this view. The college takes up all the land to the right, and if you follow the rail trail straight ahead you end up in downtown Keene. These days this is a very busy spot.

The railroad tracks are gone now and this portion of the rail trail has been paved, and it even gets plowed by the looks. Up just a short distance to the left is the house I grew up in, built in 1920 and changed many times since. Pass that and cross a street and you would have been at my Grandmother’s house, which is now a parking lot. Back in the film camera days when I used to sell photos I always heard that you needed the owner’s permission to publish a photo of a residence so I didn’t take a photo of my old house, but I saw that the box elder tree that I planted when I was about 10 years old is still there. It’s huge now and still shades the porch, just like I planted it to do.

This side view of the trestle shows the wooden rails that have been put up on most of these trestles by snowmobile groups. You wouldn’t want to drive a snowmobile off the edge of a trestle. This view also shows how much land the trestle covers on each end. That’s because this area floods regularly and I’ve seen the Ashuelot River rise almost to the bottom of this bridge many times.

This is “my view” of the river that I grew up with. It looks placid now but when it floods the river can swallow the land seen on the left. The local college foolishly built a student parking lot there and I’ve seen cars floating there in the not so distant past. It’s hard to tell from the photo but the land on the right where my old house still stands is slightly higher than the land on the left, so the flood waters never reached the house that I know of. The cellar sure got wet in the spring though.

Seeing this granite abutment almost completely underwater and the river pouring over the land beyond was a scary thing to a boy living just feet from the river and it has stayed with me; I still get a bit nervous when I see high water, even in photos. The granite in the abutment was harvested locally, most likely in Marlborough, which is a small town slightly west of Keene. It was brought here and laid up dry, with no mortar. It has stood just as it was built for nearly 150 years.

I spent a lot of time under the old trestle as a boy and this view looks up at it from the underside. You can see the original wooden ties, now covered by boards. When I was small I was afraid of the spaces between the ties but before too long I could almost run across, even in the dark. In fact this is where I learned that darkness comes in different shades.

I spent a lot of time sitting and watching the river from this spot beside the old trestle. It might not look like much but it was a wonderful, magical place to grow up. I was lucky that my father let me run and explore and explore I did, and I learned so much. My early years here were so enjoyable; if I had a chance to go back to any time and place I would choose this place in my childhood years, without a second thought. I hope readers with children will please let them explore nature as well. It’s what childhood should be all about.

I was surprised and happy to see that the old path from my house to the rail trail was still there and still being used, apparently. I would have given anything to have followed it home but I know that this home exists only in my memory now.  And what a memory it is. I hope you all have such great memories.

I hope you didn’t mind this little diversion from the botanical to the mechanical. I don’t mention it often but I’m a mechanical engineer as well as a gardener, so bridges and such things can give me a thrill. No thrill is as great as the one that comes with spring though, and I’ll get back to it in the next post.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a happy Easter!

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Last Saturday the plan was for a quick visit the Ashuelot River to see if the burning bushes had all turned pink. I thought it would take no more than a half hour but nature had other plans, and I was there all morning. We’ve had close to ten inches of rain recently so as this photo shows, the river was quite high.

High water means good waves and since I Iove trying to get a good curling wave photo they drew me like a magnet.

Taking wave photos takes a while because the first step for me is watching and letting myself find the rhythm. Rivers have a rhythm which, without trying too hard, you can tune into. Once you’ve found the rhythm you can often just click the shutter button again and again and catch a wave almost every time. But they won’t all be perfect or blog worthy. This one was my favorite for this day.

This is what they look like when they’re building themselves up, getting ready to curl and break. My trigger finger was a little early in this case but you can’t win them all, even when you’re in tune with the river.

I finally remembered why I came and pulled myself away from the waves to see the burning bushes (Euonymus alatus.) They were very pink but not the soft, almost white pastel pink that I expected. They still had some orange in them, I think.

Though some leaves had gone white and had fallen from the bushes most looked like these. You have to watch them very closely at this time of year because hundreds of bushes can lose their leaves overnight. With it dark now when I get home from work it could be that I won’t have another chance.

They are very beautiful and it’s too bad that they are so invasive. As these photos show you can see hundreds of burning bushes and not much else. That’s because they grow thickly enough to shade out other plants and form a monoculture. Rabbits hide in them and birds eat the berries but few native plants can grow in a thicket like this. Their sale is banned in New Hampshire for that very reason.

The burning bushes grow all along this backwater that parallels the river. I don’t know how true it is but I’ve heard that this is a manmade channel that was dug so boats could reach a mill that once stood at the head of it, which is where I was standing when I took this photo. There is a lot of old iron and concrete rubble here, so it could be what’s left of the old mill. I had quite a time getting through the rubble and the brush to get to this spot but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, so I was determined.

On the way out a beautiful young beech lit by a sunbeam caught my eye.

It was a cool morning and several large mullein plants (Verbascum thapsus) looked to be an even lighter gray than usual with a light coating of frost.

Despite the cold, the mullein bloomed.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) grow along a path that follows the river and though I followed it I didn’t see a single witch hazel blossom, but I did see these beautiful witch hazel leaves. Witch hazels don’t seem to be having a good year in this area. I’ve only seen three or four blossoms.

This was surprising. The bit of land I had been walking on has always been a long, narrow peninsula; a sharp finger of land pointing into the river and surrounded on three sides by water, but now the river has made the peninsula’s tip an island. When I was a boy I knew of a secret island in the Ashuelot which I could get to by crossing a fallen oak tree. The last time I visited that spot I found that the river had washed the island away without a trace, and I’m sure that the same thing will happen to this one eventually. I was a little disappointed; there was a large colony of violets that grew right at the base of that big tree on the right, and I used to visit them in the spring when they bloomed.

I saw the startling but beautiful blue of a black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) at the edge of the woods. It’s a color you don’t expect to see unless there are blue jays nearby. On this day there did just happen to be a blue jay there and he called loudly the entire time I was looking at the black raspberry. I wondered if he was jealous.

The river grapes (Vitis riparia) looked like they were becoming raisins, but this is normal. The birds don’t seem to eat them until they’ve been freeze dried for a while. River grapes are also called frost grapes because of the extreme cold they can withstand. Many cultivated grape varieties have been grafted onto the rootstock of this native grape and it’s doubtful that cold will ever kill them. River grapes have been known to survive -57 degrees F. On a warm fall day they can make the forest smell like grape jelly, and often my nose finds them before my eyes do. Native Americans used grape plants for food, juice, jellies, dyes and basketry. Even the young leaves were boiled and eaten, so the grape vine was very important to them.

I missed a blooming dandelion but I was able to enjoy its sparkling seeds.

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) bloomed everywhere near the river, even though slightly frost covered. The rabbits that live here come out in the evening to feed on these clover plants and their constant pruning makes for healthy, bushy clover plants.

The goldenrods (Solidago) were still blooming here and there but they’re looking a little tattered and tired.

A few Queen Anne’s lace plants (Daucus carota) were also still blossoming and looked good and healthy but the flower heads were small. I didn’t see any bigger than a golf ball, but they still provide for the few insects that are still flying.

Most Queen Anne’s lace flower heads looked like this. Nearly stripped of seeds already, even though I’ve read that the seeds are saturated with a volatile oil which smells faintly of turpentine and which discourages birds and mice from eating the seeds. The seeds are carried by the wind and snow.

I thought I saw a feather on a twig but it turned out to be a milkweed seed blowing in the wind. The wind was quite strong but the seed refused to release its hold.

So much for a quick trip to the river. Instead I got another lesson in letting life happen instead of making it happen. It’s always good to let nature lead because when you do you are often drawn from one interesting something to another, and time spent in this way is never wasted.

There is always another layer of awareness, understanding, and delight to be discovered through synchronistic and serendipitous events. ~Hannelie Venucia

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1. Foggy Morning

I have a new job and the road that leads to it is lined with things that I’ve never seen before. Half-moon pond is one of them and this is what it looked like early one recent foggy morning. I don’t know the name of the hill but I’d like to climb it to see what the pond looks like from up there. It’s supposed to be shaped like a half circle.

2. Sun Through the Trees

I had to drive through this on the same morning that the first photo of the pond was taken. Maybe this is a special place; I’ve seen this happen several times now but only right here at this spot and nowhere else.

3. Riverbank Grape

River grapes (Vitis riparia) have that name because they like to grow on riverbanks. They are also called frost grapes and have been known to survive temperatures as low as -70°F. Because of their extreme hardiness they are used as rootstock for several less hardy commercial varieties. The grapes are small but birds and animals love them. I like them because of the way they make the woods smell like grape jelly on warm fall days. There is a good crop this year, so I should get my fill of that.

4. Autumn Olive Fruit

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) was imported for cultivation from Japan in 1830 and is one of the most invasive shrubs we have. It’s a plant that’s hard to hate though, because its berries are delicious and their content of lycopene is 7 to 17 times higher than tomatoes. Also, the pale yellow flowers are very fragrant just when lilacs finish blooming. It is a very vigorous shrub that is hard to kill but birds love its berries and spread it far and wide. Cutting it only makes it come back twice as bushy so digging it out is the way to go. The sale of this plant is prohibited in New Hampshire but that will do little good now that it grows along forest edges almost everywhere you look.

5. Black Raspberry

Many plants like the first year black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) pictured here use the same powdery, waxy white bloom as a form of protection against moisture loss and sunburn. On plants like black raspberries, blue stemmed goldenrod, smoky eye boulder lichens, and the river grapes seen previously, the bloom can appear to be very blue in the right kind of light. Finding such a beautiful color in nature is always an unexpected pleasure.

6. Flying Machine

I heard a loud droning buzz when I was exploring the edges of a swamp recently and before long this –whatever it is- came into view. What is it, a flying machine or maybe an ultralight? I’m not sure what I should call it but there were two people in it and now I know how the people who watched Wilbur and Orville Wright fly that first plane felt: flabbergasted.

7. Jack in the Pulpit Berries

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are turning from dark green to bright red, and when they’re all nice and ripe a deer will most likely come along and eat the whole bunch of them, frustrating nature photographers far and wide.

All parts of this plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable.

8. Pokeweed Berry

I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana.) They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses.

9. Milkweed Aphids

I went to visit my favorite swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) recently and found it covered in bright orange milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii). Since I didn’t have a hose to wash them off with I had to let nature run its course.

10. Milkweed Aphids

Milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii) or any other aphid will literally suck the life out of a plant if they appear in sufficient numbers. When conditions get crowded and there are too many milkweed aphids females will grow wings and fly off to find another plant, which is what I think might have been happening here. Swamp milkweed is one of my favorite flowers and I really look forward to seeing them each summer, so I hope the aphids won’t weaken this plant too drastically.

11. Winged Sumac Aphids

While we’re on the subject of aphids, by an unfortunate coincidence the Smithsonian Institution people who wanted to collect sumac pouch galls sent me an email to tell me they were coming just as I changed my service provider. They were here and I didn’t know it but they found the galls they wanted and all is well. For those who haven’t heard, the Smithsonian is studying how staghorn sumacs and sumac gall aphids (Melaphis rhois) have co-evolved, and they have been collecting sample pouch galls from several states around the country. Science has shown that the sumacs and aphids have had an ongoing relationship for at least 48 million years. This photo shows the winged adult aphids that have emerged from the pouch gall, which is the thing that looks a bit like a potato. It’s hard to comprehend being able to see the very same thing now that could have been seen 48 million years ago.

12. Orange Xeromphalina kauffmanii Mushrooms

It’s amazing what you can see on an old rotten tree stump. The small orange mushrooms covering this one were enough to get me to stop. And then I started to look a little closer…

13. Slug

and saw that slugs were feeding on the mushrooms…

14. American Toad

and then I saw that American toads were there too, hoping to eat the slugs. Can you see the scary face on its back?

15. Orange Mushroom Gills

The mushrooms that caught my eye in the first place were cross-veined troop mushrooms (Xeromphalina kauffmanii,) which grow in large groups on hardwood logs and stumps. At least I think that is what they were. There is another nearly identical mushroom called Xeromphalina campanella which grows only on conifer logs and stumps. Whatever their name they are pretty little things, even when upside down. The largest was hardly the size of a penny.

16. Frog

The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) is vernal pool-dependent here in New Hampshire but its numbers are said to be in decline due to habitat loss. As dry as it has been here for the last couple of months it’s just not a good time to be a little wood frog. I hope this one found a pond.

17. White Pine Bark

Something (or someone) peeled some of the outer bark from an old white pine tree (Pinus strobus) and exposed its beautiful inner bark. I stood and admired its beauty, running my hand over it and thinking that it looked just like stained glass, and how fitting it was to find it here, in this outdoor cathedral.

It was in the forest that I found “the peace that passeth all understanding.”  ~Jane Goodall

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