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Posts Tagged ‘Blue Cohosh Fruit’

Last Sunday was a beautiful day for a change, with bright sunshine and relatively warm temperatures for November, so I thought I’d hike a rail trail I know of up in Westmoreland. This is the one I travel in May when I want to see the wild columbines in bloom, but I don’t know if I’ve ever come out here in the fall. That’s a shame; I’ve missed a lot of beauty.

I was a little dismayed but not surprised to see water on the trail. We’ve had a deluge of rain over the past few months and there is water everywhere. Usually though, you don’t find it on rail trails because the railroad built drainage ditches along the sides of the rail bed. They never would have put up with seeing this much water here. It’s possible the drainage ditches have failed because of fallen debris in them, but I don’t know for sure.

The forest that the rail trail goes through is mostly hardwoods like beech, oak and maple with few evergreens.

It’s hard to tell from this photo but these ledges are way up on the top of the hillside we saw in that previous shot. With all that stone warmed by the sun it looks like a great place for animals to den up.

Speaking of animals, this is a known bear area. I’m not sure if these marks were done by a bear but they were as big as my hand and they were on several trees.

The glimpses of sunlit beeches were enough to make me just stop and admire them for a while. Beeches are such beautiful trees, from bud break in spring until their leaves finally fall the following spring, they are year round friends.

There is an unusual box culvert out here that had a lot of water running through it due to heavy rain the previous day. I’ve been out here many times but this is the first time I’ve seen this much water here; usually there isn’t any. The box culvert is unusual because its joints are mortared. Almost every other one I’ve seen was laid up dry with no mortar.  The mortar could have been used in a repair years after it was built though, which is what I suspect. You don’t find much mortar in railroad stonework.

I saw some nicely colored turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) decorating a log. There were hundreds of them. I think my favorites are the ones with blue or purple colors in them.

Of course there were stone walls; there are always stone walls in New Hampshire. Property owners almost always built them along railroads to mark the place where their land ended and railroad right of ways began. The walls here are unusual because they were built largely of railroad cast off stone that had been blasted out of the ledges. If the railroad didn’t use it to build with they often simply dumped it in large piles throughout the woods and landowners picked from them. You can tell by the way there is hardly a round corner to be found in a wall.  The stones have square and angular corners and flat faces, though the section in this photo does have more rounded fieldstones than most of the wall did.

If you look closely you can see the hand of man in the stones. These finger size grooves were made by hand with a star drill or possibly a steam drill. You drilled your holes and then tapped small tools called feathers and wedges into them. The pressure exerted by the wedges would break the stone, leaving a flat face with finger shaped grooves. It was a huge amount of work but once the stone was cut the stone masons used it to build culverts, bridges, tunnels, walls and anything else they needed to get the tracks down and moving forward.

And they’re still building walls out here. They recently logged this land and the loggers built a road to where they had to be. The stones are used as a retaining wall to hold the road up and they’re big. They also have that “new” clean look that tells you they haven’t been there long.

We’re almost there. What looks like a dark tunnel up ahead isn’t a tunnel and it isn’t that dark, and that’s where we’re going.

I saw quite a few maple seedlings still hanging on to their colorful leaves.

I think the seedlings were red maples (Acer rubrum) and I think that because larger maples showed target canker which, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, only attacks red maples. It is caused by a fungus which kills the tree’s healthy bark and the patterns of platy bark seen in this photo are the tree’s response to the fungus. It grows new bark each year in the circular patterns seen here to contain the fungus. Usually the fungus will not kill the tree.

More signs of the railroad; a tie plate with a bent spike still in it was beside the trail. You can find a lot of railroad artifacts by walking rail trails.

And here we are at the ledges where the columbines grow, looking back the way we just came. The stone here is very dark but I have a feeling these ledges have limestone in them because of the lime loving plants that live here.

There isn’t much soil on the stones but there is enough to grow columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and in some cases even trees. I was wishing I could have seen some of the beautiful red and yellow flowers but I’ll have to wait until next May for that.

I did see some asters scattered along the trail, and though I don’t know their name they were a welcome sight. Any flower is welcome in November.

I wasn’t expecting to find columbines blooming out here but I was hoping to find blue cohosh berries (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and there they were. I found this plant when I came out here in May to get photos of the columbines and a chance to see the beautiful blue “berries” is what brought me back on this day. The berries are actually brown seeds with a fleshy blue coating that protects them, and the seeds are what are considered the plant’s true fruit, so the plant is a bit unusual. Now that I’ve seen the foliage, flowers and fruit I need to come here in the spring, in April I’d guess, to see the beautiful dark blue spring shoots. They look like tiny blue hands reaching out of the soil.

Blue cohosh fruit is actually darkly colored like a blueberry and like a blueberry the “bloom” made up of waxy white crystals that cover the berries reflect the light in a way that makes them appear lighter colored. Some describe them as “blueberries dipped in confectioner’s sugar.” This plant is very rare in this area so I’m hoping these fruits will grow new plants, but deer love eating the plant so the odds are against it. I should mention that, though Native Americans used the roots of the plant medicinally and herbalists still use it today, science says that it has “poisonous properties” and the “berries” can make you quite sick.

Here is a photo of a blue cohosh flower that I took on May 12th of this year, so it’s an early bloomer. Each of the yellow green striped sepals of the flower contains a nectar gland to attract insects.  6 yellow stamens form a ring around the center ovary and the true petals are the shiny green parts that ring the center between the sepals and the stamens. The word cohosh is believed to be Native Algonquin name used for several different plants with different color fruit so in this case the blue refers to the fruit color, even though all parts of the plant including the leaves and stems have a bluish cast to them in the spring.

The trail went on, north to Walpole before crossing into Vermont, but I did not. I turned around, happy that I had now seen such a rare plant in three stages of growth. This is only the second time I’ve seen it and the first time all I saw were the blue fruits, so the hike was well worth the effort. I’m really anxious to see the dark blue shoots in spring, and that probably means that winter will pass slowly. But then I suppose that it always does.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

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This post is part two of all the things I see that don’t seem to fit in other posts but are too interesting to disregard. This post is more about shapes, colors and textures than anything else.This looks more like a pineapple than a pinecone to me, but it is called a pinecone willow gall. This gall appears at the branch tips and is caused by a midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) laying eggs in them. Once the eggs hatch the larva burrow into the branch tip and the plant reacts by forming a gall around them. This gall was smaller than an egg, but still quite big. This oak gall was fairly fresh-they are a darker brown after they have aged. There are horned oak galls, gouty oak galls, artichoke oak galls, potato oak galls, and oak marble galls. The photo above is of a marble gall and it really is about the size of a marble. These marble galls are usually near perfect spheres but this one looked like it had been stretched a bit. Some galls form on the undersides of leaves, some on the tree’s roots and others, like the one shown, on the twigs and stems. All are caused by different wasps or mites which will only lay their eggs on the leaves, roots, or twigs of their favorite species of oak tree. Native blue cohosh fruit (Caulophyllum thalictroides) couldn’t be mistaken for anything else even though lack of rain dried the plant’s leaves up. You can also see a few of the unripe green fruit in this photo. I tried very hard to find this plant last spring and couldn’t, so this discovery means that I’ll see it next spring if I can get to it. The medicinal qualities of this plant have been known for hundreds if not thousands of years-it was used by Native Americans to ease childbirth. It has since been learned that, though the plant does indeed ease childbirth, it also damages the heart and all parts of it are considered toxic. This burl was on near a large pine tree that had fallen. You can clearly see all the gnarled, swirled grain patterns that burl is famous for and which make it so valuable. I thought it was a beautiful thing and because it was a small, detached piece I brought it home. If you look closely at the right hand edge of the burl you can see bits of blue lichens, which are rare. I wish I’d seen them when I was taking the picture.This burl I saw on a maple tree would most likely look every bit as nice as the previous one once it was taken from the tree, carved and turned on a lathe to create a bowl.Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers seem to turn into fruit so fast that you can almost see it happen as you stand there watching. Those in the photo will eventually become black, shiny, poisonous berries. Pokeberries have long been used as a source of ink-the United States Constitution was written in ink made from them. Native Americans used to make a red dye from the berries that they used to decorate their horses. I took this photo because of the vivid purple stems.Some parts of white cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) have no chlorophyll and this gives it a silvery- gray appearance. This moss, because of its shape and color, is one of the easiest to identify. It is very common in moist, shaded areas.I thought these prickly sow thistle seed heads (Sonchus asper) looked like they were worthy of having their picture taken. I have no doubt that the previous plant was a sow thistle (Sonchus asper,) but I can’t find an example in any book of a sow thistle with plum colored buds like these, which were on the same plant. This plant has been used as a potherb since ancient times. It is native to Europe and Asia. The black seed pods of blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) were once used as rattles by children. Not surprisingly, other common names include rattle weed and rattle bush. Native Americans made a blue dye that was a substitute for true indigo from this native plant.Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) was hit hard by our lack of rain but it can still make you itch, even at this stage.This puffball was about the size of a tennis ball. I can’t come up with an identical match for it, either in books or online, so I’m not really sure what it is.I’ve seen a lot of wild grapes this year. Since there are dozens of species it’s always hard to tell which one it is that you have, but I think these are fox grapes. The fox grape is as big as a nickel, deep purple in color, and said to be the most delicious wild grape in North America. Concord, Isabella, Catawba, Niagara, Chautauqua, and Worden grapes all come from the fox grape. Heavy with not quite ripe, speckled fruit is false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa.) I see large bunches of these berries everywhere I go, so it’s going to be a good year for birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters. When these berries are fully ripe they will be bright red, but I like them speckled too. Soil pH can affect fruit color. Native American’s used all parts of this plant. Its roots contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used.Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) seed heads are more interesting than the flowers, I think. This is our most common native clematis and can be seen on roadsides draped over shrubs or climbing high up in the trees. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings that are just beginning to show in this photo. Clematis can cause internal bleeding, so it should never be eaten.The fuzziness of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina,) on the right, is apparent even in its fruit while smooth sumac (Rhus glabra,) on the left, has smooth fruit. It isn’t just the fruit but the limbs and leaves which are smooth or hairy. Smooth sumac seems to have brighter red fruit. Its leaves are also darker green and shiny. Around here staghorn sumac gets much taller and forms larger colonies than smooth sumac. Smooth sumac trunks are usually much more crooked as well. The leaves of both plants turn brilliant red in the fall.This beech tree looked like it had gone through some tough times but didn’t have any dead branches or appear to be ailing. It looked like someone had wrinkled it up and then hadn’t quite straightened it out again. I couldn’t help wondering what its grain pattern would look like, but I’d bet that a sawyer would love to find out. This tree is on state land however, and will hopefully be protected for its lifetime.

Free your heart from your mind. Embrace wonder for one moment without the need to consider how that wonder came to be, without the need to justify if it be real or not. ~Charles de Lint

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