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Posts Tagged ‘Blueberry Witch’s Broom’

Each of the past two years, on the last weekend in October I’ve made the trip to see the fall foliage at Willard Pond in Antrim so, not wanting to break tradition, I visited the pond last Saturday. As this shot of the road to the pond shows, a lot of the leaves had already fallen, but the bare trees are maple trees and I was here to see the beeches and oaks.

I wasn’t disappointed. These beautiful beech trees greeted me as I pulled into the parking area.

Willard pond is a wildlife refuge so it wasn’t surprising to see a sign like this. I wish I could see the actual loons instead though.

I always walk by the actual trail head and go down to the boat landing because you get a good view of the hillsides from here. The trail I’ll follow will hug the shoreline in the distance over a large part of its length. I was hoping the pond would have a mirrored surface but it was breezy and you can’t have everything.

From here the trees didn’t have quite the same eye popping color that they’ve had in previous years and I wondered if the warm October weather had held them back a little.

The colors seemed a little more intense when the sun shined directly on the trees. They looked to be mostly beech, oak, and many bare maples. I’ve decided I’ll come here earlier next year to see the maples and then again later on to see the beeches and oaks. I’d love to see all the colors of those maples.

My favorite view of a forest is from the inside, so down the trail I went.

The beeches and oaks were absolutely beautiful. This is why I come here at this time of year, every year. I can’t think of another forest that is dominated by beech, oak, and maple like this one is. As is always the case when I come here I couldn’t stop taking photos of the trees.

There are hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) all along the trail and many had beautiful red leaves, which is something I’ve never seen on this native viburnum. Usually the leaves are splotchy maroon and green or yellow but never red that I’ve seen, not even here at the pond. This shrub has a good name because it grows long stems close to the ground that crisscross each other and get covered by fallen leaves, and if your feet get tangled in them they will hobble you and you could find yourself face down on the ground rather quickly. It has happened to me a couple of times so I don’t walk through them now. I always walk around them.

Another native shrub with a lot of red in it is the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum.) Even the witch’s broom that grows on them is red when young. Witch’s broom is a deformity that is described as a “dense mass of shoots growing from a single point.” When witch’s broom grows on blueberries it is caused by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on balsam fir (Abies balsamea.) When it releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry it becomes infected. It overwinters on blueberries and again releases its spores in the spring, and these will infect more balsam ferns and the cycle will begin again. I’ve worked with infected blueberry bushes and in my experience the witch’s broom doesn’t harm the plant.

But I wasn’t thinking about witch’s broom or fungal spores on the trail. I was admiring the beauty of the blueberry foliage, which in this case was orangey red. It can be anything from yellow to deep purple and is one of our most beautiful native shrubs for fall color.

There are many small streams flowing down the mountainside to the pond and they cross the trail, and that reminds me to tell you that you should wear good stout hiking boots when you come here. There are many stones, roots and other obstacles in the trail so this is not the place for sneakers or flip flops. I have waterproof boots, and they’re even better here.

When the streams are too wide to step across bridges help make the hike easier, but other than a bridge or two, blazed trees, and the marks of a saw on a tree that might have fallen across the trail, there are few signs of man here. It is for the most part natural and rugged. And very beautiful.

Several species of sphagnum moss grow along the trail, as if to remind you how very moist the soil is. These plants, approximately 380 species according to Wikipedia, can absorb 16-26 times their own dry weight in water. They are called peat mosses and are found in peat bogs, forests and tundra in both the north and south hemispheres. I see them everywhere but don’t usually say much about them because they can be very difficult to identify accurately. Because of its great absorbency peat moss was used as diaper material by Native Americans. It has also been used for centuries as a wound dressing, due to its natural ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. Peat bogs were also once used to preserve food, and 2,000 year old containers of things like butter and lard have been found in them.

Motor boats aren’t allowed on Willard Pond but these two kayakers made me wish I had brought my own kayak. How beautiful it must be to see these flaming hillsides from the water.

There are some huge boulders here and by huge I mean house size. They’re bigger than any I’ve seen anywhere else and it makes me wonder why. They’ve tumbled almost right down to the water and there are places where you have to squeeze through a two boulder pinch point. They’re fascinating things to look at because they have all kinds of things growing on them.

One thing you can find growing on the boulders is polypody ferns (Polypodium virginianum.) Polypody fern is also called the rock cap fern, for good reason. I’ve never seen them growing anywhere but on stones. They are evergreen and very tough, and can be found all winter long.

The spores of polypody ferns grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia, which are the receptacles in which the spores are formed. The sori are naked and lack the protective cap (insidium) found on many ferns. The sori are often a beautiful orange color and look like tiny baskets of flowers but it looked as if these examples had already released their spores and were going by.

If this boulder isn’t called table rock it should be. It was big, and flat enough to build an average size garden shed on.

Fern roots reminded me of a porcupine’s tail. I think it might have been a sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) but I don’t see many of these so I’m not 100% sure.

There is a new thing, or maybe it’s a very old thing with a new name, called forest bathing. To practice it you go into a forest and walk slowly. You breathe in the forest air and open all of your senses and just be part of the forest. Once again I find that I’ve been doing something for my whole life without knowing it had a name, but practitioners say that forest bathing reduces blood pressure, improves mood, increases your ability to focus, and accelerates recovery from surgery. All of these benefits have been studied quite extensively, and there is even evidence that trees give off compounds that boost our immune system to help with things like fighting cancer. They also say that being in a forest gives you a deeper and clearer intuition, an increased energy level, and an overall increase in your sense of happiness. I’d have to agree. I’ve always believed that nature has very strong healing powers, and to reap its benefits you need do nothing more than just go and walk or sit in the woods.

This is the view from the little bench in the previous photo. It’s a beautiful place to sit and soak in the beauty. In general it is very quiet and serene at Willard Pond; much more so than the other ponds I visit. All you hear is birdsong and the lapping of the waves.

If you sit on the bench and turn around 180 degrees, this is what you see.  It’s hard to say which view is more beautiful. I like them both and I could sit and stare at either one for hours.

This place takes me out of myself more than any other that I visit regularly, and every time I’ve come here I’ve been shocked by how much time had passed. On this day I was here for a good part of the day, and it seemed like only an hour or two.  If you let yourself go and let yourself become immersed in your surroundings, that’s often what happens. It’s very refreshing, as if you’ve recharged your batteries.

I hope that everyone has their own special forest that they can easily get to. If you can, try to make regular visits to it. Don’t turn it into a job; just walk through and relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. After just a surprisingly short time I think you’ll notice that you’re becoming a different kind of person. Happier, more at ease, more energetic, and less stressed. You might notice that you are beginning to see with different eyes, and that your mind has quieted. One of the benefits I most enjoy from being in the forest is the seemingly endless supply of simple joy. I do hope you’ll find the same in your own forest.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Pine Bark Beetle Damage

Pine bark beetles (Ips pini) made an intricate design on a white pine (Pinus strobus) limb. These beetles are small and range in size from about 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch in length, but they can do a lot of damage when enough of them are in a forest. They feed on the phloem tissue just beneath the bark and if they girdle the branch it will die. Dead branches mean no photosynthesizing and eventually the tree will die. For those who have never head the term; girdling of a branch or tree happens when the phloem and bark has been cut around its diameter in a complete circle. Native Americans and then early settlers used girdling to remove trees from fields and pastures and it is still used by some today.

2. Reindeer Lichens

I saw a beautiful drift of gray and green reindeer lichens recently. This shrubby lichen gets its common name from the way reindeer and caribou paw through the snow to find and eat it. Reindeer lichen reproduces vegetatively by small growths called soredia that break off and grow new lichens under the right conditions. The soredia are carried by wind, water or animals. Reindeer lichens grow about .31 inches (8 mm) per year so it’s clear that this drift has been here for a very long time. They can live for a century or more and studies have shown that only boiling and radiation caused severe damage to them. There are many who believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore immortal.

3. Reindeer Lichen

Reindeer lichens remind me of corals that you would see under the sea. The grayish white color and the way that the branch tips all point in one direction tell me that this one is gray reindeer lichen (Cladina rangiferina.) I find the biggest colonies of this lichen along the edge of a pine forest, growing in a very thin quarter to half inch of dry sandy soil over granite bedrock. At times they get so dry that if you walk on them it sounds much like it would if you walked on potato chips. I’ve read that reindeer lichens produce a single new branch each year and that their age can be determined by counting the branches. The plants pictured must have been very old indeed. I’m glad that I didn’t have to count their branches.

4. Bittersweet in Tree

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) grew into the top of a tree and then found that it had nowhere else to climb so it massed in the tree top, and its bright red berries show that. Bittersweet is very persistent and will simply grow or hang back down until it reaches the ground and then creep until it finds something else standing vertical. As it grows the vine winds tightly around the tree trunk and doesn’t expand when the tree does, so its wire like strength will eventually strangle the tree. This is why its sale and cultivation are banned in New Hampshire.

5. Blueberry Stem Gall

Blueberry stem gall always reminds me of a kidney bean. This gall forms when a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damages a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responds to the damage by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This example was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) The galls do no real harm to the plants.

6. Witches Broom on Blueberry

This witch’s broom on a highbush blueberry looked very red. It’s interesting that the highbush blueberry’s leaves turn a beautiful red in the fall and the stem galls and witch’s broom are also red. Why so much red present, I wonder. Witch’s broom is a deformity that causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. It’s not caused by an insect but by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) so bushes should never be planted near fir trees. When the fungus releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, the bush becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on the bush and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees, and the cycle begins again. The disease infects the entire plant so pruning off the witch’s broom won’t help. I’ve worked on blueberry bushes that have borne large amounts of fruit even though they had witch’s broom, so I’m not sure how much the deformity harms the plant. I think it’s more offensive to the eye than anything.

7. Waterlily Leaf in Ice

A water lily leaf was trapped in the ice just off shore in a small pond. It tugged at me and I thought it might make a fine picture, but it looked much better in person than it does here.

8. Hornet Nest

Do hornets care that what they build is so beautiful, I wonder?

9. Burl

There was a time that I thought I had some artistic ability and I’d sit for hours drawing and painting. One of the things I loved especially was pen and ink drawing, and that’s what this burl I found on an old tree stump reminded me of. It looked like a Da Vinci sketch in pen and ink with a colored wash over all to add some depth and character, and how beautiful it was. I think the old master himself would have been pleased to see it.

For those not familiar with burl; it’s an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. Bowls and other objects made from it can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

10. Wooly Aphids

I found this colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.

11. Wooly Aphids

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. I’m not sure if the aphids with dots in this photo always look that way, if they haven’t grown the white waxy covering yet, or if they’ve lost the covering for some reason. They were very small; not even pencil eraser size.

12. juniper Berries

I love seeing juniper berries at this time of year. A waxy coating called bloom makes them a bright and beautiful blue. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat.

13. Unknown Fungi

Part of what I try to do on this blog is show the amazing and beautiful things that are tucked into virtually every nook and cranny of nature and, with nothing but a slower gait and a watchful eye, how easy they are to see. Walking along at a toddler’s pace and looking at logs is just how I found the unknown fungi in the above photo. I knelt to give them a closer look and saw that they were like nothing I’d seen. Finding unexpected beauty like this can take us to that higher place where time seems to stop for a while. Sometimes it’s hard to know how long you’ve been there but that’s okay; as Mehmet Murat ildan said: “If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found.”

14. Mushroom Mycelium

Mushroom mycelium grew on the bottom of a log where it made contact with the soil. It wept golden nectar and its many intricacies reminded me of distant cosmic nebulae where stars and planets are born.

He who does not expect the unexpected will not find it, since it is trackless and unexplored. Heraclitus of Ephesus

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Blueberry Stem Gall

It might look like a fermented kidney bean on a stick but this is actually a blueberry stem gall. Last summer a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damaged a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responded by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This plant was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) These galls do no real harm to the plants.

2. Witch's Broom on Blueberry

Witch’s broom on highbush blueberry is a deformity that causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. It’s not caused by an insect but by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) so bushes should never be planted near fir trees. When the fungus releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, the bush becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on the bush and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees, and the cycle begins again. The disease infects the entire plant so pruning off the witch’s broom won’t help. If you have a blueberry plantation and want to keep other plants from becoming infected then any bushes with witch’s broom need to be removed and destroyed.

3. Oak Apple Gall

The first recorded mention of ink made from oak galls and iron was by Pliny the Elder (23 -79 AD). Tannic acid extracted from fermented oak galls was mixed with scrap iron, gum arabic, and water, wine, or beer to make a dark black ink that was used for many centuries in virtually every country on earth. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Johannes Sebastian Bach, Victor Hugo, George Washington and countless others wrote, sketched, and composed with it. The Constitution of the United States was written with it and the U.S. Postal Service even had its own iron gall ink recipe. Chemically produced inks became widely available in the mid-20th century and oak galls went from being prized and sought after to those strange growths seen on forest walks.

4. Willow Pine Cone Gall

If you can stand hearing about one more gall, the willow pine cone gall is an interesting one that isn’t seen that often. The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

 5. Fishbone Beard Lichen

Fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) is one of many different beard lichens that we have here in New Hampshire. It is a forest species that seems to prefer growing on spruce limbs and anyone who has ever deboned a bony fish like perch will understand where its common name comes from. The main branches are covered with shorter, stubby branches and the whole thing looks a lot like fish bones. One of the ways I find lichens in the winter is by picking up and looking at fallen tree branches. They almost always have lichens on them.

6. Powdered Ruffle Lichen

This powdered ruffle lichen (Parmotrema arnoldii) grew into a V as it followed the shape of the forked branch it grew on. This is a beautiful foliose lichen  that I don’t see very often because it seems to grow high in the treetops and the only way that I can find it is by inspecting fallen branches. Features that help identify this lichen are the black hairs on the lobe margins, which are called cilia, and the black to brown undersides. There are several similar lichens with the same common name but different scientific names.

7. Sidewalk Firedot Lichen

Sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) gets its common name from the way it likes to grow on concrete. In this photo it is growing on the concrete between the stones in a stone wall. If it is seen on stones it’s a good indication that they are limestone or contain some lime because this lichen almost always grows on calcareous substrates. Something unusual about it is how it is made up almost entirely of tiny, almost microscopic fruiting bodies (Apothecia) and doesn’t appear to have a thallus (body) like most lichens.  Firedot lichens can be red, orange, or yellow. There are also granite firedot lichens (Caloplaca arenaria) and sulfur firedot lichens (Caloplaca flavovirescens).

 8. Frost Crack on Gray Birch

A couple of posts ago I talked about frost cracks on trees. Here’s a severe example on a gray birch which probably happened a year or two ago and never healed and which, in this case, will probably kill the tree. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night.

9. Frost Rib on Red Oak

Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo. It almost looks as if a young tree has somehow grown onto the side of an older tree but that’s only because of the differences in the age of the bark, which of course is much younger on the healed frost crack.

Thanks very much to Michael Wojtech’s book Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast for helping me identify and understand this process. If you are serious about nature study this book is a must have.

10. Polypody Ferns

Though it might seem like polypody fern fronds curl in response to the cold in winter, it is really dryness that makes them curl. Polypody ferns are one of a few vascular plants that can rehydrate after drying, much like non vascular lichens and mosses do. Once the soil thaws they will begin to once again absorb water and will return to normal.  When they curl like this it’s a good time to study the spore cases (sori) on the leaf undersides, and a good time to reflect on how dry winter soil can be even though it might be covered by 3 feet of snow.

 11. Woodpecker Holes

 

Long, rectangular holes with rounded corners are made by a pileated woodpecker, probably looking for carpenter ants. It’s hard to tell which woodpecker made the round holes but I’m guessing it was the same pileated woodpecker because they were quite big.

12. Woodpecker Holes

One of the smaller woodpeckers made these holes; maybe a hairy woodpecker. They looked fairly fresh and there were wood chips on the snow so I probably scared this one away.

 14. Beech Bud

The tips of the bud scales on American beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) show just a small hint of the gray, hairy edges that will be on the leaves to come. It is thought that these leaf hairs keep caterpillars and other insects from eating the newly opened leaves, but they also make them something worth watching for. The long feathery hairs disappear quickly once the leaf opens, so you have only a short time to see how very beautiful they are.

13. Beech Bud Break from May 2014-2

I don’t usually reuse photos but since I was on the subject of how beautiful beech buds are when they break I thought that a picture might be worth a thousand words. This is one of the most beautiful things that you’ll ever see in a New England forest in my opinion, and it is just one reason I spend so much time in the woods. It won’t be so very long before we see them again-this was taken in late April last year, just when the spring beauties bloomed.

Natural objects themselves, even when they make no claim to beauty, excite the feelings, and occupy the imagination.  Nature pleases, attracts, delights, merely because it is nature. We recognize in it an Infinite Power.  ~ Karl Humboldt

Thanks for coming by.

 

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