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Posts Tagged ‘Blackberry’

Every year when the leaves change I get the urge to see them from above, believing that somehow the colors will be better up there, but so far seeing fall color from above hasn’t really proven worth the climb. Still, I keep trying and last weekend I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard because of its 360 degree views. There is a fire tower on the summit so the trail is actually an access road, which is wide but also steep and rocky near the summit.

Many of the trees along the old road had already lost their leaves and they crackled under foot. I wish you could experience the smell of walking through thousands of dried leaves. It’s an earthy, burnt marshmallow type of smell that is impossible for me to accurately describe but once you’ve smelled it you never forget it. It always takes me back to my boyhood.

Powdery mildew on some of the oak leaves told climbers the story of how warm and humid it has been recently and reminded them how glad they should be that it wasn’t humid on this day. I for one was very happy that it wasn’t.

The old stone walls along the access road reminded me of the Pitcher family who settled here on the mountain in the 1700s and farmed it. At one time much of the mountain had most likely been cleared for sheep pasture, which was very common in those days.

The rock pilers had been here but this time they used rocks small enough so I could have hidden this pile behind my hand. What they get out of doing this, other than cluttering up the landscape and spoiling the views, I’ll never understand. I refuse to call them cairns because cairns are useful things that help travelers along their way, but these piles of stone are of no use at all.

I can’t say how many times I’ve made this climb and failed to see the Scottish highland cattle that I know live here but this time there they were. I watched them for a while but when number 10 noticed me and started acting interested I thought of the old saying “be careful what you wish for” because all that separated us was a flimsy little electrified fence that I wasn’t sure was even turned on. Luckily the hairy beast was more interested in its stomach than me and it went back to munching grass. It wasn’t until I saw the photo that I realized how cute it was. Kind of cuddly, for a cow.

The highland cattle were very close to one of my favorite places and might have wandered over this ridge. I like this spot because after living in a forest for so long it seems vast and infinite, and void of distractions. It’s just the earth the sky and you and, for a while, blissful emptiness.

Once I had pulled myself away from the edge of infinity and started climbing again a monarch butterfly came flying hurriedly down the mountain and almost flew right into my face. It was in such a hurry that I never did get a photo of it, but it was nice to see it just the same.

As you near the summit big old mountain ash trees (Sorbus americana) appear along the trail. This is the only place I’ve ever seen these native trees in their natural habitat. I’ve seen lots of others but they have all been used as ornamentals.

My favorite thing about mountain ash trees are their big purple-black buds.

The Pitcher family or a subsequent land owner must have had an apple orchard up here because as you near the summit there are also quite a few apple trees in the area. They still bear abundant fruit as the one in the above photo shows. The bears, deer and other apple eaters must be very happy.

I was going to take a rest on the porch of the old ranger cabin but hornets swarmed all around it. The unattended building must be full of them. I wouldn’t want to be the one chosen to find out.

I call the old fire tower, built to replace the original 1915 wooden tower that burned in 1940, a monument to irony. The Stoddard-Marlow fire that took it was the biggest fire in this region’s history, destroying 27,000 acres of forest, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit. It left the summit with an unbroken 360 degree view which is very popular with hikers of all ages. When the fire tower is manned climbers can go up for a look and I’ve seen many families do so.

Many ferns become very colorful before they go to sleep for the winter. I liked the orange / brown of these marginal wood ferns (Dryopteris marginalis.) Marginal wood fern gets its name from the way its spore cases (sori) grow on the leaf margins.

The view wasn’t really hazy but the light had a warm feel and the colors were also on the warm side of the wheel. We’re well on our way to the warmest October since records have been kept, so this was no surprise.

The summit was full of people, and that was a surprise. The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway trail passes over the summit and hikers often stop to rest here, but I’ve never seen so many at one time. I made my way around them and the fire tower to my favorite view of what I call the near hill. As I stood looking out over the landscape I couldn’t help but hear a conversation which was dominated by a woman lamenting the fact that she had never been “in the moment” and had no idea how to be. She went on to list those times she thought she had been close, but hadn’t quite made it. My thoughts about it were kept to myself because I don’t know much about the subject but if I had to guess I’d say that to be “in the moment” you would have to stop talking, especially about what has happened in the past, and just sit and enjoy the incredible beauty before you. Stop talking and worrying about being in the moment and just be right here, right now. It sounds very simple to me.

Color wise the views weren’t quite as spectacular as they were last year but the foreground colors were good. The shrubs are mostly blueberries and dogwoods and the trees are mixed hardwoods and evergreens. Pitcher Mountain is famous for its blueberries and many people come here to pick them. What I’d guess is that many who pick the fruit don’t realize how beautiful the bushes are in the fall.

Another look at the summit colors.

I was able to see the windmills on Bean Mountain over in Lempster. I discovered recently that I’ve been calling this mountain by the wrong name for years, because when I first read about the windmill farm I thought the text said it was on Bear Mountain. I think it looks more like a reclining bear than a bean, but maybe a family named Bean settled there. Or something.

I loved the deep purple of these blackberry leaves. I wouldn’t want to see a whole forest that color but it’s very pretty dotted here and there in the landscape. Virgin’s bower, blueberries, bittersweet nightshade and quite a few other plants turn deep purple in the fall. I’ve read that the first photosynthetic organisms were purple because they relied on photosynthetic chemicals that absorbed different wavelengths of light. A green plant only appears green because it doesn’t absorb the sun’s green light. Instead it reflects it back at us, so I’m guessing that purple must work the same way.

I always thought of these natural water catching basins that appear here and there in the granite bedrock as birdbaths, and then last year I saw a bird using one for just that purpose. I like the way they catch the blue of the sky and darken it a shade or two. There always seems to be water in them, even during the drought we had last year.

I couldn’t make a climb on any hill or mountain without taking a look at the lichens. There are several species up here but the common yellow goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) pictured was the most prevalent. It is on the rocks all over the summit. This crustose lichen is very easy to find and will almost always be found growing on stone. I also see it on headstones in cemeteries quite often. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

With one last look out over the vast forest I started the climb down. It’s almost always harder on the way down than on the way up, and this trip was no different. I don’t know if the trail is getting steeper or if I’m just getting older.

We don’t stop hiking because we grow old-we grow old because we stop hiking. ~Finis Mitchell

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1. Trail Start

In 2010 Keene built a new middle school at the edge of a 500 acre wetland called Tenant Swamp. The building sits on a high terrace that overlooks the swamp. it can be seen to the left in this photo. Before the school could be built however an archaeological sensitivity assessment had to be done, and by the time the dig was completed it was found that Native Americans lived here at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,000-12,000 years ago. The dig also found that the Ashuelot River once ran through here; about a half mile east of where it now flows. Since the site evolved into a swamp it was never farmed or built on so it was valuable enough archeologically to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since then, after much hard work and fund raising, a path and boardwalk leading into the swamp itself has been completed. As a certifiable nature nut I couldn’t wait to get into this swamp, so I went to see it right after all the fanfare had died down. It’s the kind of place that people rarely get to experience so it is meant to be a kind of outdoor classroom for anyone who wants to learn more about nature.

2. Blackberries

The first thing I noticed were all the blackberries blooming along the hillside above the swamp. The bears will eat well this year.

3. Bridge

A sturdy bridge was built over a small seasonal stream.  The paths are well packed and plenty wide enough even for wheelchairs, and in fact I saw a man in a wheelchair here on my second visit. He looked very happy.

4. Stream

A small stream feeds this side of the swamp, but one of the things I found most surprising about this place was the lack of very much standing water. I’m not sure if it has to do with the drought we had in May or if it’s always this way.

5. Boardwalk

The 850 foot boardwalk is sturdy and well-built and about a foot or two off the ground. When it was being installed 9-12 feet of peat was discovered in some places. Two feet of peat takes about a thousand years to form so this peat has been here for a very long time. I’m tempted to call this a peat bog because of these discoveries but technically because it is forested, the correct term is swamp.

6. Bunchberries

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) grows well here. I wasn’t too surprised to see it because it likes cool, moist woods and will not grow where soil temperature exceeds 65 degrees F. According to Nature Magazine the tiny flowers have hinged flexible anthers that act like tiny catapults to eject their pollen to ten times the plant’s height so it can be carried by the wind. Once pollinated the flowers, which are actually in the center of the four white bracts, will become a bunch of red berries, and that’s how this pretty little creeping dogwood comes by its common name. Some Native American tribes preserved the berries in bear fat. They’re high in pectin and make excellent jelly.

7. Arrowheads

The roots of arrowhead plants (Sagittaria latifolia) look like small, purplish potatoes and were a very important food crop for Native Americans. They are said to taste like potatoes or chestnuts and can be sliced, dried and ground to make flour, or eaten in the same ways that potatoes are. This plant likes to grow in shallow water that has little or no current and can form very large colonies. Ducks love the seeds and beavers, muskrats and porcupines will eat the whole plant.

Note: Sara has pointed out that this plant is actually Halberd-leaved tearthumb (Polygonum arifolium.) I’m sorry for any confusion. That’s what comes from rushing!

8. Royal Fern

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) has a strong presence here, along with cinnamon and sensitive fern. There is a rumor that ostrich fern grows here as well but I didn’t see any. Royal fern is one of the most beautiful of our native ferns in my opinion, but often fools people by not really looking very fern like. Royal fern is in the family Osmundaceae, and fossils belonging to this family have been found in rocks of the Permian age, which was about 230 million years ago. There is also a European species of royal fern called Osmunda regalis.

9. Viewing Platform

There are viewing platforms meant for birders, painters, photographers, or anyone who just wants to sit and enjoy nature. They haven’t been installed yet but there will be many benches for people to sit on. I have a feeling that this will become a bird lover’s paradise because the amount of birdsong here is incredible. It’s really a wonderful experience that I hope all of the townspeople will enjoy at least once…

10. Swamp View

…but I hope they’ll stay on the boardwalk when they do. 500 acres of swamp boggles my mind and I know that if I hopped off the boardwalk and bush wacked my way into the swamp, I’d probably be lost in under an hour. Once you get turned around and start wandering in circles it’s all over, and in November of 1890 that’s exactly what happened to George McCurdy, who died of exposure. I’ve heard stories about another man who went into the swamp and was never found, so as much as I’d love to explore the entire area I think I’ll just stay on the boardwalk.

11. Beard Lichen

There are some fine examples of beard lichen growing on the spruce trees; I think this one is bristly beard (Usnea hirta.) That’s another thing I noticed as I entered the swamp; there are many spruce and balsam fir trees here, which is unusual because they like it cool and normally grow further north. You rarely see them growing naturally in this area so when you do you know that you’re in a special place.

Henry David Thoreau said “The most primitive places left with us are the swamps, where the spruce still grows shaggy with usnea,” and he was right.

12. White Admiral

A white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) landed on the boardwalk and said “Go ahead; take my picture,” so I did. I wish he’d landed in a somewhat shadier spot but you can’t have everything. I also saw a lot of dragonflies but of course they wouldn’t sit still. I was hoping to see some of the rare salamanders that the schoolkids have found but so far I haven’t seen a one.

13. Red Squirrel

I’m not sure what this red squirrel was doing but he stayed just like that for a while and seemed to want his picture taken too so I obliged, even though he was really out of comfortable camera range. As soon as I took a couple of steps toward him though he was off like a shot, running up one tree and jumping into the crown of another. Two or three red squirrels followed me all through the swamp on this day and even climbed the hill as I was leaving, making sure to stay just out of camera range the entire time. That was really odd because I rarely see red squirrels; gray squirrels are much more common here. I’m not sure the reds know what to make of this sudden increase in human activity; they seem very curious.

14. Phragmities

I wasn’t happy to see this invasive reed called Phragmities australis here but I had a feeling that it would be. Tenant swamp is bisected by a highway (Rte. 12 N.) and you can see large colonies of it from the road. This reed came from Europe and forms large monocultures that even burning can’t control unless it is done 2 or 3 times. Not only does a thick matted root system choke out other plants, but decaying reeds also release gallic acid, which ultraviolet light turns into mesoxalic acid and which means that seedlings of other plants that try to grow near the reed have very little hope of survival.

15. Phragmities

This is a glimpse of a monoculture known as a reed bed. Some have been known to reach nearly a square kilometer in size. There are no other plants to be seen among the reeds in this photo.

16. Winterberry

I met a lady who works at the middle school and who was instrumental in getting the boardwalk project up and running. Unfortunately I never got her name but she said the boardwalk was going to be open in the winter. I was hoping it would be because there are more winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) here than I’ve ever seen in one place, and the red berries against the white snow are really beautiful. This photo shows what the flower buds look like. Each one will open to a tiny white flower and then become a red berry.

17. Sphagnum Moss

I always thought that peat bogs or swamps were made up almost entirely of sphagnum mosses but I found by researching this post that mosses are just one component. Many other plants contribute to the overall mass.  Not only do plants fall into the mix but so does their pollen, and scientists can look back at thousands of years of plant growth and the environment they grew in by studying it.

18. Unknown Tree

You can’t have a swamp without a little mystery to go with it, and here it is. I think this tree is some type of sumac, but it isn’t staghorn (Rhus typhina) or smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) Those are the two most common sumacs in these parts but their flower buds look nothing like those pictured here. It isn’t winged (or shiny) sumac (Rhus copallinum) because there are no wings on the branches and the leaves aren’t shiny. I wondered if it was Chinese sumac (Ailanthus altissima), an invasive also called tree of heaven, but another name for that tree is stinking sumac and this small tree doesn’t really stink. I found that out by crushing a leaf and holding it up to my nose, and that’s when I remembered that poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) grows in swamps in this area. But that doesn’t fit either because it’s been a week since I crushed that leaf and I haven’t gotten a rash on my hand or nose, so I’ve run out of likely choices. If you know what it is or even want to guess I’d love to hear from you.

19. Unknown Tree Flower

This tree’s flowers are very small; no bigger than a BB that you’d put in an air rifle. If they turn into white berries I’ll know that this is poison sumac, and I’ll wonder why I’m not itching.

If you’d like to visit the middle school’s website and see photos of the boardwalk being built, trail maps and many other interesting things, just click on the word here. This boardwalk was built for the people of Keene as well as the school children, and I think we all owe the school and all of the donors a real big thank you. Being able to visit a place like this is a very rare opportunity.

To love a swamp is to love what is muted and marginal, what exists in the shadows, what shoulders its way out of mud and scurries along the damp edges of what is most commonly praised. And sometimes its invisibility is a blessing. Swamps and bogs are places of transition and wild growth, breeding grounds, experimental labs where organisms and ideas have the luxury of being out of the spotlight, where the imagination can mutate and mate, send tendrils into and out of the water. ~Barbara Hurd

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Even in winter there is still plenty to see in the woods. These are a few of the things I’ve seen lately that didn’t fit into other posts.

1. Foliose Lichen On Birch

I don’t know the name of this beautiful foliose lichen but I found it in a birch tree that I’ve visited many times.  I thought I had examined every lichen  within reach in that tree but I was obviously mistaken. My failure to see it even after so many visits helps illustrate the difference between seeing a thing and knowing it. I would have told you that I knew this birch tree like the back of my hand, but now I wonder what else I’ve missed.

2. Blackberry Thorns

Another illustration. This one shows why it’s best to wear old clothes when picking blackberries.

3. Motherwort Seed Head

The tiny pink flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) grow in circular tufts spaced up the length of the stem. Each flower produces 4 triangular brown nutlets, and in this instance the birds have eaten almost all of them. The scientific name cardiaca means “for the heart” and motherwort was once used to remedy nervousness and dizziness.  Whether it has any medicinal effect on birds is anyone’s guess.  The male black capped chickadees seem very excited this year so it doesn’t seem to be calming them down any.

 4. Purple Coneflower Seed Head

Birds have also been after the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds.  This is one reason I let plants go through their natural cycle and don’t cut them back until spring. Another reason is plain old laziness, which I’m sure the birds appreciate.

 5. Squirrel Tracks

If the question is “Does a squirrel slip in the woods?” the answer has to be yes.

6. Black Sooty Mold from Beech Wooly Aphid

Wooly aphids are sap sucking insects that secrete sweet honeydew on branches and leaves of plants. The honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold. Since the mold only grows on the aphid honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. In fact, the aphids will do far more harm. This mold feels hard and brittle when dry and soft and pliable after a rain. The example in the above photo was growing on alder, but it can also be found on beech, magnolia, maple, oak, elm, basswood, willow, walnut, white pine and hemlock.

7. Barberry Fruit

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is native to Japan. In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, recently “barberry has been implicated in the spread of Lyme disease. Researchers have noted higher densities of adult deer ticks and white-footed deer mice under barberry than under native shrubs. Deer mice, the larval host, have higher levels of larval tick infestation and more of the adult ticks are infected with Lyme disease. When barberry is controlled, fewer mice and ticks are present and infection rates drop.”

8. Foliose Lichen

I think this might be a tube lichen (Hypogymnia physodes) but I find that these gray / green lichens are one of the hardest to identify. Identification is made even more difficult by their habit of changing color between their wet and dry state. When wet the algae in some lichens (known as chlorolichens) “bloom” and turn the body of the lichen green. The algae are the photobiont part of the fungal and algal symbiotic pair that makes up a lichen, which means that the algae do all the photosynthesizing.

9. Green Shield Lichen

This common green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) lives on an old hemlock tree just outside my back door, so I know it well.  The recent rain and snow have got it looking just about as good as it ever does so I thought I’d take its photo. Lichens have several ways of reproducing and one of them is vegetatively.  The granular bits in the center of this lichen are called soredia, and are made up of intertwined fungi and algae granules. They will eventually fall to the ground and will be blown or carried to another place where, if all goes well, another lichen will grow.

In the book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer mentions an experiment that showed that many mosses spread by sticking to the bottoms of the tiny feet of chipmunks. I wouldn’t be surprised if lichens were spread in the same way.

10. Honey Locust Seed Pods

The ground beneath an old honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) was littered with thousands of long, flat seed pods. Considering that each one of these was once a flower, this tree must have been very beautiful last June. The reason I was surprised enough by these to take a photo is because the seed pods when fresh contain sweet pulp that is loved by animals, including livestock. Native Americans used the pulp for food as well. Some say it is very sweet and tastes like the fig in a Fig Newton cookie. You do not want to just go munching on seed pods to find out though-black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) seed pods are very toxic.

 11. Honey Locust Seed Pod

Honey locust seed pods look a lot like giant flat string bean about 9-12 inches long and often curled. Some of them look like polished mahogany and others can be purple.

12. Unusual Jelly Fungus

I’ve seen two red jelly fungi in my life and this is one of them. I should say red-ish, my color finding software sees salmon pink, dark salmon, rose, orange, rosy brown, and chocolate brown. I think it might be a purple jelly disc (Ascocoryne sarcoides) but I’m not completely sure. Whatever it is, it is rare here.

 13. Snow Cone

Here is a question to ponder: How does the wind sculpt a perfectly circular feature in the snow? Wouldn’t it have to blow from every direction at once to do so?

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~ Anaïs Nin

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When I take pictures for this blog I don’t usually have a “theme” in mind or any pre conceived notion of what the post will contain. I just take pictures of things that interest me, and that I think might interest you. In this post something different happened and many of the things photographed ended up having something in common. I wonder if you can guess what that is before you get to the end.

 1. Smooth Sumac Berries

Birds like cardinals, bluebirds and robins will eat the berries (drupes) of smooth sumac, but these berries seem to be an emergency food because they can usually still be seen in spring. Smooth sumac berries are covered in small, fine hairs that make them very tart. Cleaned seeds can be ground and used as a spice in place of lemon seasoning, and Native American people used the berries to make a drink similar to lemonade. The dried wood of sumacs will fluoresce under a black light, which is an odd but reliable way to identify them.

2. Sugar Maple Buds

The way to tell if you’re tapping a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is to look at the buds, which are pointed and sharp looking. The two lateral buds on either side of the terminal bud are always directly across from each other.  If you have a good memory you can check the tree in the fall-sugar maple is the only native maple to be dropping seeds in late summer and fall. Above freezing daytime temperatures along with below freezing nights gets tree sap flowing. In New Hampshire this usually happens in February, but I haven’t seen any sap buckets yet.

3. Red Maple Buds

Sap from other maples can be used to make maple syrup but the sugar content isn’t as high, so it means more boiling. Sugar maple has the longest period of sap flow before its buds break, so its sap output is greater than in other trees. The red maple buds (Acer rubrum) pictured are clearly very different than those of the sugar maple in the previous photo. Sap from red, black, and silver maples might cloud the finished syrup, but it is still perfectly edible.

4. American Wintergreen

I was surprised to see that the leaves of this American wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) had turned red. The leaves of this evergreen plant often get a purplish color in cold weather but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them quite this red. This plant is also called teaberry and was once used to make teaberry gum. It was also used as a pain killer in the same way aspirin is by Native Americans.  If you know the taste of American wintergreen you can easily identify the black birch (Betula lenta,) because its young twigs taste the same.

5. Rose Hip 2

I found a rose hip that the birds and animals missed. Rose hips are the fruit of the rose plant. Fresh hips are loaded with vitamin C and make great jams and jellies, and once dried they can be used in tea. The hips should be cut in half and cleaned well before they are dried because they contain seeds and small hairs that shouldn’t be eaten.

 6. Rose Hip Inside

The inside of a rose hip shows the tiny hairs that should never be eaten.  Not only do these hairs cause digestive irritation and upset, but they cause also cause something that Native Americans called “itchy bottom disease.” The French call them “scratch butt. “ I’m sure you get the idea.

Itching powder is made from the hairs in rose hips and when I was a boy you could find ads for it in the backs of comic books, right next to the sea monkeys and genuine monster kits. The ads used to encourage you to “Amuse your friends!” They probably should have said “Lose your friends!” because nobody likes having itching powder dumped down their shirt.

7. Crab Apple

Rose hips are in the same family (Rosaceae) as crabapples and have the same tangy-sweet flavor. To be classified as a crab apple the fruit has to be less than 2 inches in diameter. Anything greater than 2 inches is considered an apple. The fruit pictured is less than half an inch in diameter and is the only fruit on my tree that the birds didn’t eat. It has been hanging there like this all winter. Crabapples are a little too sour to eat raw but they make an excellent jelly. Four species of crabapple are native to North America and have been used by Native Americans for thousands of years.

 8. Puddle Ice Patterns

I stopped at the post office one day and found this amazing ice on a mud puddle there. I don’t know what caused the strange patterns on the ice but I’ve read that the clarity of ice is determined by how much oxygen was in the water when it froze. Oxygen means bubbles and more bubbles mean more imperfections, which in turn mean whiter ice. In fact, the secret to perfectly clear ice cubes involves boiling the water before freezing it, because boiling removes the oxygen. Clarity of ice I can understand, but I don’t know what would have caused all of the little “cells” that are in this puddle ice. I’ve never seen anything like them. I boosted the contrast on this shot so you could see them better.

 9. Birch Catkins at Sundown

The swelling catkins on this birch tree shout spring, in spite of the snow and cold. Birch catkins release their pollen before the leaves appear so the leaves don’t interfere with pollen dispersal.  Leaves limit the distance that the wind can carry the pollen, reducing the chances of successful fertilization between trees. We might be getting blasted by snow and cold, but this tree tells me that spring is coming.

 10. Blackberry Cane

 Were you able to guess what the accidental ‘theme” of this post was? It’s the color red! I didn’t realize until I put it together how much red can be found in the winter landscape. From sumac berries to crab apples to teaberry leaves to the blackberry cane shown in the above photo-they’re all different shades of red. My color finding software that I use to cheat color blindness sees dark red, fire brick red, and even plum in this small section of cane.  I see a nice fat bud that is another sure sign of spring!

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand. ~Neil Armstrong

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There are still plenty of wildflowers blooming.  In fact, they come and go so quickly that I can barely keep up with them, but here are a few that I was lucky enough to find. Autumn Olive (iElaeagnus umbellate) is still blooming. This shrub’s fragrance is amazing even as you ride by in a car if you have the windows open. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shrub attract as many insects as this one does. Autumn olive is originally from Asia and is considered an invasive species. The fruit is edible. It looks like it will be a good year for most berries.  Both blackberry (pictured above) and raspberry canes are loaded with blossoms. Blue Toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis ) has just started blooming. These small sky blue and white flowers bloom on wiry stems, starting at the bottom and working their way up. The native plants prefer dry, sandy soil and are often seen on roadsides, which is where these were. The more common and well known butter and eggs plant is also a toadflax. The name “toadflax” was supposedly given to the plant because toads liked to hide “among its branches.” Since none of the toadflax plants that I’ve seen over the years had branches, this must have been a difficult thing for the toads to do. Canada Mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense ) are still blooming. Their blooming season seems to be extended this year as it is with many other plants. As a gardener I can say that this is one of the worst plants to allow in your garden beds because once it is in, it is there to stay. When pulled it breaks off at ground level and the root lives on to grow new plants and it stands up quite well to herbicides. If Canada mayflower is allowed to grow in a garden before too long the garden will look like this. Note the almost complete lack of other species. The white, flat topped flower clusters and feathery leaves of common yarrow can be seen everywhere on roadsides now. Yarrow must take the prize for the plant with the most common names, because it is also called–are you ready? Bad man’s plaything, bloodwort, carpenter’s grass, carpenter’s weed, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, dog daisy, fern weed, field hoop, herb militaris, knight’s milfoil, little feather, milfoil, nosebleed, old man’s pepper, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort, squirrel tail, staunch grass, staunch weed, thousand-leaf, thousand-seal, thousand-weed, and yarroway. Whew! This plant and all of its baggage in the form of names originally came over from Europe. Plant breeders have been working with it for years and have produced many beautiful cultivars for the garden. This plant has been used medicinally for many centuries-remains of yarrow were even found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Native Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) isn’t one of those showy wild flowers. If you weren’t looking for it you might never even see it because of the flower’s greenish yellow color. I look for the leaves rather than flowers to find it, because its leaves grow in (usually) two whorls around the stem. The edible roots are eaten raw and are said to taste like cucumber, but this plant is scarce and shouldn’t be dug up. It should also never be confused with the similar looking Whorled Pogonia, which is poisonous. This maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) grows in my backyard and has just started blooming. Over the years I’ve watched as it has increased to a sizeable colony and I’m happy to have its white flower clusters light up the dark edges of the forest. These plants are very useful because they do well in shaded, dry, poor soils like that usually found at forest edges. In the fall the leaves turn a deep, reddish purple and dark blue, almost black fruit clusters hang where the flowers were. Opposite leaves, five petals and five stamens help identify viburnums. The leaves of American high bush cranberry (Viburnum opulus) are very similar, but that plant has red berries. There are over 100 species of viburnum, but only 15 of those are native. I finally found a 4 flowered starflower (Trientalis borealis) plant! Actually, 3 flowers and a bud, which I’m sure has become a flower by now. That might not seem like a lot to crow about but I’ve never seen more than 3 flowers on a single plant.Showy yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis,) also known as meadow salsify, has the odd habit of closing its flowers at around noontime each day. This gives it the strange common name of Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon. Aids in identification are how the large, 2 inch flowers follow the sun so that they are always facing it and petals that have 5 notches on their outer edges. Also, the seed heads look like a large dandelion seed head and a white latex sap will ooze from the stems if they are broken. The plant shown here was about 3 feet tall and was found at the local landfill. There is also a very similar western yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon dubius.) The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is by the green bracts, which are shorter than the petals on Tragopogon pratensis and longer than the petals on Tragopogon dubius. This plant is originally from Europe. Showy Yellow Goat’s Beard Bud. Showy Yellow Goat’s Beard seed head. These are big-just slightly smaller than a baseball. I don’t haveto go far to find Yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum)  because it grows in my yard. This plant is in the sunflower family and is related to the dandelion. One flower head can produce as many as 50 seeds and the plant can also spread by underground stems called rhizomes. This plant is all about reproduction and it does it well-I’ve never seen as much of it as I have this year. Yellow hawkweed has a familiar story; it was introduced from Europe as a garden ornamental, escaped, and is now trying to take over the world. This plant is much harder to control than dandelions. This Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea ) had a friend visiting when I took its picture. This small flowered plant likes to hide in among the tall grasses at the edges of mown fields and roadsides.  It blossoms on a weak, wiry stem that tends to flop around every which way, so it’s hard to tell where it begins. The white, half inch flowers look like they have 10 petals but actually have only 5 that are deeply split or cleft. Each flower stays open for three days, but there are many of them. This plant that I walk by everyday bloomed only for about a week. It is native to Britain. Tall Meadow Rue (Thalictrum pubescens) probably gets mistaken for columbine quite often when it isn’t blooming because the foliage resembles that of columbine.  Once it blooms though, there can be no mistaking the quarter sized, petal-less flowers that are made up of long, thin stamens if it is a male plant and pistils with just a few stamens if it is female. These plants get quite tall-I’ve seen them at about 4 feet but the books say they can reach 6 feet and a few web sites say 9 feet. I have a cultivated version of this native plant in my garden that has much larger, purple flower clusters. Bees and butterflies love these plants.

None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones ~Forbes Watson 

Next time I may have to do a post with more wildflowers because there are so many blooming. Thanks for stopping in.

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