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Posts Tagged ‘Bristly Beard Lichen’

Some people think that once the leaves have fallen there is nothing left to see outside until spring, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Lichens for instance, are there year round and unless you live in a place with poor air quality they are everywhere; on trees, on stones, on the ground, and even on buildings, roofs, windows, and sidewalks. They are like small jewels that have been sprinkled throughout nature. Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) for instance, are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. It’s a very artistic lichen and I like the patterns that it makes. I see it on gravestones quite often.

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describe the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, but this one appeared to have a few. The bluish color in the background is the slate that it grows on.

This is an odd lichen with large white fruiting bodies (apothecia) that look like they just erupt anywhere on the body (thallus) but also look like they are stalked, depending how you look at them. Some are convex and some concave and some have rims and some don’t. The white apothecia and green body with flattened strap like branches tell me that it’s probably the tufted ramalina lichen (Ramalina fastigiata.) A lichen guide from 1902 says this lichen is “very common in New England” but I know of only one place it grows. It is apparently very sensitive to air pollution as many lichens are. If you live in a place with a lot of lichens, breathe happily.

Bright yellow fringed candle flame lichens (Candelaria fibrosa) will often cover entire tree trunks. It must like a lot of water because I see it a lot on the lower parts of trees that grow near irrigation systems, with trunks that are almost always wet in warmer months. Seen up close this lichen always reminds me of scrambled eggs. I call this the “downtown” lichen because I see it a lot there.

It’s interesting how nature seems to use the same shapes over and over again in different ways. The round fruiting cups, called apothecia, of the Poplar Sunburst Lichen (Xanthoria hasseana) remind me of the suckers on an octopus or squid. Instead of latching onto things however, this lichen uses its cups for spore production. To give you a sense of scale-the largest of those in the photo is about an eighth of an inch across. The entire lichen might have been an inch long.

This example was even smaller at about the size of a penny (.75”) and was more apothecia than thallus. Spore production is what it’s all about because that’s what ensures continuation of the species.

The apothecia on this star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris) are a good example of how colors can change, even on the same lichen. This lichen has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to the white, waxy, powdery coating. You’ve no doubt seen examples of this waxy “bloom” on blueberries and plums. I’ve noticed by watching lichens that have pruinose apothecia that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue, and sometimes even black. The apothecia on this lichen often show a range of colors, from brown to light blue. The way the sunlight strikes it has a lot to do with its colors.

I think this is the smallest example of a Cumberland rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia) that I’ve ever seen, but even at its tiny 1/2 inch size it was beginning to produce spores in its brown apothecia. This lichen likes to grow on boulders or other stone. The body (Thallus) is described as being “yellow-green to sometimes bluish green” and the fruiting discs (Apothecia) are “cinnamon to dark brown.” The body of this lichen always looks like someone dripped candle wax on the stone to me. This one was very symmetrical but they are usually asymmetrical.

Smokey eye boulder lichen apothecia (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are usually a smoky gray color, which is where their common name comes from, but they can also have a bluish tint because of the way their waxy (pruinose) coating reflects sunlight. In this case the body of the lichen is a grayish color but it can also be a brownish gold color. One of the things that can make lichen identification difficult is the ability of some lichens to change color in different light, and this is one that does that. It can look very different from just a few feet away. This is a crustose lichens and it forms a kind of crust on the substrate that it grows on. The bond between a crustose lichen and its substrate is so strong that it can’t be removed without damaging the substrate.  

British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) like to grow on damp wood like rotted stumps and logs, but I’ve found them on buildings, fence posts, and built up forest litter on boulders. At this time of year I don’t pass too many mossy old tree stumps without having a glance for British soldiers. Their bright red apothecia make them easy to see, even if you’re colorblind.

Shrubby little beard lichens are fruticose lichens, and fruticose lichens have upright or pendulous branches. I think this one is a bristly beard (Usnea hirta) but it might also be a young fishbone beard lichen. Though it grew on the shadier side of a tree it was caught in bright sunlight, and I’d guess that it must get an hour of sunlight a day. One way beard lichens reproduce is by fragmentation. Pieces break off and are carried by the wind or maybe animal fur to another spot to colonize. There are many of these high up in the trees and they come down, often still attached to the branch they grew on, during a good wind. I’ve found as many on the ground as I have on trees.

I’ve been trying to identify this beard lichen for years with no luck. Maybe it’s just a different colored example of the bristly beard seen previously?

Common greenshield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) is indeed very common. It’s a large lichen and colonies of them often grow big enough to cover entire trees. They often wrinkle like the example seen here. Like many lichens they change color, and go from grayish when dry to yellow green when wet. This example was dry. This lichen also taught me that many lichens prefer growing on the shady side of trees, presumably so the sun doesn’t dry them out quite so fast.

Hammered shield lichens (Parmelia sulcata) are on the rare side here but I see them occasionally, always on trees. There didn’t seem to be anything special about the deciduous tree they were on, this time but it was in a sheltered spot like the last tree I found them on. Hammered shield lichen is said to have a large variety of named varieties and forms, so it can be tough to pin down.

Hammered shield lichens are silvery gray and their many sharp ridges and depressions makes them look like they’ve been hammered out of a piece of steel. Fruiting bodies are said to be rare and I’ve never seen them. It is said to have powdery, whitish soredia but I’ve never seen them either. Soredia are tiny packages of both fungus and alga that break off the lichen. They are simply another means of reproduction.

I find pebbled pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata) growing on soil or rotting stumps and logs, and occasionally on stone. Pixie cups look like tiny golf tees or trumpets. They are squamulose lichens, and the golf tee shapes arise from leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (thallus,) and  squamulose lichens have small, leafy lobes like those at the base of this example. The cup is so small even a pea would seem huge in comparison.

Though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are its podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. This example has some almost microscopic dots around the rim, which are its apothecia. Finally, frucitose means a lichen has a bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen.

If you spend time walking along old stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it and it will probably be the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was very dry. Lichens are at their best when they are wet because that’s when they’ll show their true colors and size, so that’s when serious lichen hunters look for them. A misty or drizzly day is perfect but we haven’t had one in a while.

Some lichens might look like they have little spiders on them, or maybe as if they had been carved with a pocket knife but no, the squiggly lines are the apothecia of the script lichen (Graphis scripta.) This lichen usually prefers trees with smooth bark so I was surprised to see it on this rough barked tree. From what I’ve seen they only produce spores in winter. You can walk right by a tree full of script lichens in summer and see only grayish spots with no apothecia at all. In fact many lichens seem to prefer winter for spore production and I’ve never been able to find out why.

Next time you find yourself walking outside after a rain I hope you’ll take the time to look a little closer at all those colored spots you’ll see on the trees, stones, soil, and even sidewalks. If you do a whole new world of nature study will open for you.

There is a low mist in the woods. It is a good day to study lichens. ~Henry David Thoreau

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1. Ice in Field

Last Sunday I decided to give climbing a try in spite of the icy trails. I chose Hewe’s hill in Swanzey because snowbanks usually cover the parking area and it’s rare to be able to climb it in winter. This year our lack of snow meant the parking area was clear, so off I went. I was a little disheartened when I saw all of this ice in the field I had to cross to get to the trail.

2. Trail

The ice has been very bad on many trails this year so I really didn’t know what to expect, but thankfully this trail was ice free.

3. Beard Lichen

It had been windy and I found many things that had fallen out of the trees, including this bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta.) Lichens don’t look like they’d be very nutritious but many are high in protein and many animals eat them. Reindeer and caribou, snub-nosed monkeys, mountain goats, black tailed deer, musk oxen, lemmings, voles, marmots, squirrels, camels, llamas, and even red crabs will all eat lichens. Many birds and some squirrels also line their nests with lichens to camouflage them. Usually when I find these lichens they are still attached to the branch they grew on but this one was loose, just lying on the leaves. They always remind me of sun bleached dinosaur bones.

4. Orange Jelly

An orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus) had also fallen from its branch. This brain like fungus grows mostly on conifers like white pine and eastern hemlock and there are a lot of both trees in this forest. Though it is said to be tasteless this jelly fungus is supposed to be edible. I’m not sure I would eat it but it is eaten in China, where it is believed that jelly fungi improve circulation and breathing. Certain species of jelly fungi are also thought to have a blood thinning effect.

5. Yellow Jelly

Yellow jelly fungi (Tremella mesenterica) grow on hardwoods like oak, but almost always on dead branches. This example grew on a live tree, which probably doesn’t bode well for the tree. The jelly fungus doesn’t harm the tree because it is parasitic on crust fungi in the genus Peniophora, but the crust fungi do harm the tree. This example was very dry and had lost much of its volume. Jelly fungi swell up after a rain and can add 60 percent or more to their volume. I usually see most jelly fungi in winter, though I’m not sure why.

6. Rock Melting Frost

Each spring some of our rocks either sink into the ground or the frost heaves the soil up around them. My theory says that the sun heats the stone and the warm stone melts the frozen soil beneath it, sinking in as it does so, but I don’t know this for certain. The size or weight of the stone doesn’t seem to matter. This one was about the size of my foot.

7. Hemlock with Healed Scar

It isn’t often that I run into a tree that’s all puckered up for a kiss, but that’s what this eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) seemed to be doing.  Actually it’s the tree’s wound cork that has grown over a scar. According to the book Bark, by Michael Wojtech, eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeast that grows wound cork in annual increments, and because it does so it can be counted just like the tree’s growth rings. From what I’ve counted this scar took about 15 years to heal. It was about the same size as a large grapefruit.

8. Hemlock with Burl

This is another hemlock but instead of a scar it has what I believe might be the start of a burl, which is a rounded growth on a tree that contains clusters of knots made up of dormant buds. It is said that burls form on trees that have seen some type of stress, and though scientists aren’t 100 percent sure it is believed that they are caused by injury, a virus, or fungi. Once the tree grows and the burl grows along with it, it becomes more valuable. Larger burls can sell for many hundreds of dollars because its grain is beautiful and highly prized by cabinet makers and wood turners.  I’ve seen hundreds of burls but they are always quite large. I’ve always wanted to see what one looked like when young.

9. Ice Fall

It seemed a little strange to be seeing ice flowing over the ledges with no snow on the ground. In summer I’ve walked by this spot many times and had no idea that so much groundwater seeped over the ledges. On this day it looked like a water pipe had burst.

10. Tippin Rock

Those who have read this blog for any length of time will recognize Tippin Rock. For those who don’t, the rock is a 9 foot high, 18 foot long, 9 foot wide, 40 ton erratic that a glacier parked near the top of Hewe’s hill untold eons ago. Its name comes from how it can be tipped when pushed in the right place. A friend who was at a dedication ceremony in this place tells me that a group of schoolchildren once climbed up on it and had it rocking like a cradle. I’ve never been able to move it a whisker, but I’ve only tried on one climb.

11. View

Low clouds had turned the sky to milk. A blue sky with white puffy clouds would have made for a better view but since I don’t climb for the views I didn’t mind. This is a timeless, peaceful place where I rarely see anyone else so I come to sit in the quiet for a while, listening to the breeze whisper through the trees. The unbroken forest seems as vast as the sky from up here.

12. View

On his blog Mike Powell recently told of the reverence, awe, and peace that came over him as he watched the rising sun wash the forest in golden light one morning. I thought he described perfectly what often happens in nature in a way that I haven’t been able to. To his description I would add gratitude because it often fills me up, especially as I leave the forest. I always feel very thankful for having been able to see the things I’ve seen; so many others aren’t able to.

13. Rock Outcrop

Once you think that you’ve reached the top of Hewe’s hill because of the views if you keep walking in the right direction you find that there is still more to climb, if you wish. I thought these stone outcrops would be covered in ice but there was very little to be seen.

14. Ice Fall

These ice falls were the most noticeable but at only about ten feet across they weren’t anywhere near the size of some that I’ve seen.

15. Toadskin Lichen

I couldn’t come up here without stopping to say hello to my friends the toadskin lichens, which are one of the most beautiful in my opinion. They are also one of the rarest, at least in this area. They grow on the faces of rocks and in dry spells will turn an ashy gray / dark green color like those pictured. I know of only 2 or 3 hilltops that they grow on and I’ve only found them on hilltops, so if you want to see them you have to climb.

16. Toadskin Lichen

But isn’t finding a solar system on the face of a lichen worth a climb?

17. Toadskin Lichen

When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present comes through on the surface of toadskin lichens. Each lichen is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, and that makes it an umbilicate lichen. The warts are called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. The black dots are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) A very similar lichen called rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) can be seen surrounding the toadskin lichen in this photo. Rock tripe is like a toadskin without warts. When wet both lichens are very rubbery and pliable and feel a lot like your earlobe, only thinner.

18. Turkey Tails

On the way back down some beautifully colored turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) decorated a log. I’ve seen quite a few blue, purple, and orange turkey tails this winter and they are always a welcome sight.  These examples felt like parchment.

19. Smiley Face

The little smiley face that the trail blazer painted on this slab of wood says it all: Joy. That’s what you’ll find here, because that’s always what the reverence, peace, awe and gratitude found in nature add up to; a deep, abiding joy.

Touch the earth, love the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and the dawn seen over the ocean from the beach. ~Henry Beston

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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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1. The Tree

A few posts ago Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog and I were talking about how much there is to see on the bark of trees. Almost like an entire world in one square foot of tree bark, we agreed. Of course that got me thinking that it might be interesting to see what I could actually find on a square foot of tree bark, and the above photo is of the tree I chose. It’s nothing special; just a tree in a local shopping mall, but I’ve had trouble figuring out what it is. Landscape architects have hundreds if not thousands of trees to choose from these days, so it could be from virtually any place on earth. Its bark and shape look a lot like hop hornbeam, but I don’t think that’s what it is. Anyhow, this post isn’t about the tree.

2. Miniature Garden

This post is about the gardens that grow on trees, and this particular specimen had so much growing on it that you could hardly see its bark in places. To give you some idea of the scale of what we’re looking at, that little tuft of moss in the center of the photo is roughly the same diameter as a quarter, or slightly less than an inch (24.26 mm).

At this point I should say that, though many people think that lichens, mosses, and algae growing on a tree will harm the tree, that isn’t true. These growths are epiphytes and take nothing at all from the tree. They are simply looking for a convenient place to perch, much like a bird, and get everything they need from the sun, rain and air. However they do like high humidity and still air and their presence might be a sign that the tree should be in a drier place with better air circulation, but if a tree seems sick we shouldn’t automatically blame what’s growing on it. Instead we should call a certified arborist and find the true cause.

3. Moss

Trees have natural channels in their bark that channel rain water down to their roots, and mosses and lichens often take advantage of that. Both lichens and mosses like lots of water and can usually be found growing along these tiny streams. This photo is a closer look at the moss in the center of the above photo. I’m fairly certain that it’s called Lyell´s bristle-moss (Orthotrichum lyellii.) In this photo it was good and wet.

 4. Moss

It’s hard to believe that this is the same moss that’s in the previous photo, but it is. The difference is this photo shows what it looks like when it dries out. I took these photos over a few days so I could show you the changes that these plants go through between their wet and dry states. This is a good illustration of why serious moss and lichen hunters do so immediately after it rains.

5. Penny on Tree

I finally figured out how to make a penny defy gravity so we could get an even better idea of the scale of some of these lichens. For those of you not familiar with the size of a penny, they are 3/4 of an inch (19.05mm) in diameter. Unfortunately, though I can show you this lichen’s size I can’t tell you its name. There are a few poplar sunburst lichens in this area but I’ve never seen one as flat or as round as this one, so I’m not sure if that is what it is.

6. Unknown Yellow Shield Lichen

Whatever it is it was producing spores, as its tiny round fruiting bodies (apothecia) show. They’re the parts that look like tiny suction cups. For now I think I’ll just call it a yellow shield lichen. I know where it lives so I’ll watch it over time to see how it changes.

7. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

I have no doubt that this lichen is a poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthoria hasseana.) Its growth habit is much different than the flat, round example seen previously. Virtually every photo I’ve seen of this lichen shows the mounded, irregular shape seen here.

8. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

Poplar sunburst is a beautiful lichen and one of my favorites. It seems to never stop producing spores as the many fruiting bodies (apothecia) in this photo shows. You would think that such a prolific lichen would show up just about everywhere, but this is the only place I’ve ever seen it. That makes me wonder about the viability of its spores and how far they really travel on the wind.

9. Star Rosette Lichen

This lichen almost had me fooled into thinking that it was a black eyed rosette lichen (Physcia phaea) but the photo clearly shows that its “eyes” (apothecia) are more bluish gray than black. For that reason I believe that it’s a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris), which has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to a white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on blueberries, plums, and first year black raspberry canes. I’ve noticed by watching smoky eye boulder lichens, which also have pruinose apothecia, that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue.

10. Powder Edged Ruffle Lichen aka Parmotrema stuppem

The uniform pale gray color, broad rounded lobes with erect edges, and soralia on the lobe edges all point towards this being a powder edged ruffle lichen (Parmotrema stuppeum). In this example the soralia are white and granular and make the lichen look like its edges have been dipped in sugar.  Soralia are meant to fall or break off a lichen and are used as a vegetative means of propagation. Another feature used to identify this lichen is its black to brown undersides, which aren’t visible in this photo.

11. Rimelia Reticulata Lichen

Here is another example of soralia (aka soredia) on the lobe edges of a lichen but these are much larger and more noticeable than those in the previous photo, and it’s easier to imagine them breaking off when a chipmunk runs over them. I’m fairly certain that this is a netted rimelia lichen (Rimelia reticulata) because of its soralia, but also its black undersides and root like rhizines, which are hard to see in this photo but are there. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this lichen and the previous powder edged ruffle lichen, so I’ve learned a lot from that tree.

12. Hammered Shield Lichen

This lichen I have seen before but only once or twice. Because it looks like its lobes were hammered out of a sheet of steel it has the not so surprising name of hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata). I’m glad that I found so many different gray lichens. At a glance it’s easy to think ho hum, another gray shield lichen, but I hope this post might convince people that it really is worth taking a moment to get a closer look. Even gray lichens can be surprisingly beautiful.

 13. Unknown

Here is something that has had jerry and I scratching our heads and wondering about for over a month now. Jerry first noticed that his lichen photos showed some kind of white, thread like filaments on them and when I went back and looked at my photos I saw that some of the lichens showed the same thing. The fact that they were on moss in this instance almost fooled me, because the club shaped objects in the photo look much like the spore capsules on a moss called puckered tuft moss (Ulota coarctata) and for a short time I thought I had solved the puzzle.

14. Unknown Seed

This photo shows a single tiny club shaped object from the mass in the previous photo. It is so small that I can’t even think of anything to compare it to. Human hair might be best, but the club like end has a greater diameter. It can’t be a moss spore capsule because if it were there would be an opening in the end nearest us for the spores to escape through. Since there is no opening it must be something else. I think that the shiny, hair-like filaments at the far end show that it is a seed of some kind, and those shiny filaments are the seed’s crushed “parachute.” It’s very similar to a dandelion seed but I don’t know if that’s exactly it. There are many other plants with cottony seeds in the area including willows, asters, cattails, milkweed, yellow goat’s beard and others, but none of them are an exact match. If you are reading this and know what plant it came from I’d be very grateful if you filled me in. I’m sure that Jerry would thank you too.

15. 800px-Dandelion_seed_-_May_2012

This excellent photo by Wolfgang Arnold on Wikipedia Commons shows the “parachute” part of a dandelion seed looking like we would expect it to, but what would it look like after being stuck to a tree all winter?  And what happens when the brown seed falls off or degrades? Does it leave a white, club shaped end like we see in the previous photo? As often happens nature brings more questions than answers, but we can learn a lot by solving the riddles that are presented to us. I’m anxious to see dandelions bloom again.

 16. Bristly Beard Lichen aka Usnea hirta

There were some very healthy looking examples of bristly beard lichens (Usnea hirta) on this tree, and If you look closely at the lower right side of this one you’ll see how the white filaments catch on lichens and show up so clearly in photos.

I’m sorry that this post turned out to be so long but that’s what happens sometimes when you stop to look at a tree-whole new worlds open up unexpectedly and you see things that you’ve never seen before. I hope you’ll find that out for yourself one day soon.

Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve. ~Max Planck

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Here in the southwest corner of New Hampshire we’re getting into three straight weeks of cloudy weather. When the sun peeks out from behind the clouds everyone seems to stop-as if they need a moment to remember what it is.

1. Red Winged Blackbird Tree

One day while I was out walking the clouds parted long enough to get a teasing glimpse of blue sky and sunshine. This tree is a favorite perch for red winged blackbirds. I didn’t see any in the tree but I could hear several, so that’s a good sign.

 2. Black Witch's Butter

I saw some black jelly fungi nearby (Exidia glandulosa.) With its matte finish and pillow like shapes it doesn’t look like other jelly fungi, but that’s what it is. I find it on alders and oaks in this area. It’s called black witch’s butter or black jelly roll.

 3. Orange Jelly Fungus

Orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus) seems to seep out from beneath tree bark, which makes sense since jelly fungi are actually parasites that grow on the mycelium of other fungi. Jelly fungi can be found throughout the winter. This one grew on a fallen hemlock limb.

4. Scilla Shoot

The scilla I planted 2 years ago has come up already, but I was even more surprised to see roots already coming from acorns that the squirrels buried last fall. Scilla is also called Siberian squill (Scilla siberica.) The small blue flowers will be a welcome sight.

 5. Beard Lichen on Birch

Bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta) is common and can be seen on birch limbs or growing directly on the trunk of pine trees in this area. It likes the high humidity found near ponds and streams.

6. Hazel Nut Husks

The husks of hazel nuts (Corylus) make good, dry homes for spiders, apparently. A large, shallow pit full of the remains of hundreds of thousands of burned hazelnut shells, estimated to be 9,000 years old, was found in Scotland in 1995. Man has been enjoying eating these nuts for a very long time.

7. Cushion Moss aka Leucobryum

 In cushion mosses (Leucobryum) each cushion shaped group is made up of thousands of individual plants. The leaves of these plants have outer layers of cells that are dead and which fill with water. This water filled outer coating helps protect the living cells by slowing dehydration. When the cushion does dry out it turns a much lighter green and can even look white.

8. Turkey Tails

Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) have been peeking out from under the snow for weeks now-the snow is melting very slowly.

9. Frosted Grain-Spored Lichen

This frosted grain-spored lichen (Sarcogyne regularis) has reddish brown discs that have waxy, reflective crystals dusted (or frosted) over their surfaces. The crystals are called pruina and make the discs appear bluish gray. At a glance they appear to be Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) but there are differences.

10. Thistle in Winter

Its sharp thorns couldn’t protect this thistle from winter’s wrath, but it wasn’t eaten.

11. Sunset Through Pines

Glimpses, that’s all we’ve see of the sun-just long enough to feel a little of its warmth and then it’s gone again. The weather people have been promising all week that we will see sunshine all weekend. It’s too early right now to tell what today will bring, but I hope their prediction is accurate.

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens.

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This post contains some of the things I’ve seen that haven’t fit into other posts for whatever reason.

 1. Holes in Snow

I wonder what caused these evenly spaced, rectangular holes in the snow. It must have been the wind. After a warm day and very warm, rainy night all of this snow is gone now.

 2. Frullania Liverwort

I’ve wondered for a long time whether these growths on the bark of trees were mosses or lichens. It turns out they are neither; according to the book Outstanding Mosses and Liverworts of Pennsylvania and Nearby States they are liverworts.  The book says that fall through spring, when rain is plentiful, is the best time to find liverworts.

 3. Frullania Liverwort

A closer look at this liverwort. There are mosses that resemble the Frullania liverwort, but this plant is easily identified by its small scaly leaves.  This is the only liverwort that thrives in dry locations. A few others can survive in very sheltered parts of dry areas, but most grow in damp forests or on stream side rocks. Like mosses and lichens, liverworts are found on rocks, trees, rotting logs, and bare soil.

 4. Fringed Wrinkle Lichen

There is no doubt that this is the fringed wrinkle lichen (Tuckermanopsis Americana.) It grows near my house and is one of my favorites. I visit it often and the changes I see it go through are amazing. One day it can be completely dried out and drab looking and then, after a rain, plump right back up again and look more colorful. I think that watching this lichen has taught me more about lichens than my lichen book.

 5. Beard Lichen

This beard lichen grows near the fringed wrinkle lichen but after watching it for almost 2 years I can see that its changes are far more subtle. Unlike its neighbor it doesn’t change color or shape when it dries out. It does become brittle though, so it takes a light touch to tell when this one needs rain. By paying attention to where I find them I’ve learned that many lichens prefer places that are high in humidity or are near a source of water, like a lake or stream. These two are no different-there is a wetland nearby. I’m still not sure exactly what this one is, but I think it might be a bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta ) because it grows on a birch tree.

 6. British Soldier Lichens

I was very happy to see the bright red caps of these British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) poking up out of the snow near my house recently. Certain lichens prefer certain substrates and many will only grow on their favorite type of stone, wood or earth.  I always find these tiny lichens growing on rotting logs.

7. Foamflower Leaves

Heart-leaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is a native plant that grows in great abundance on an embankment under some maples near here. The leaves of foamflower are evergreen and hold their fall color all winter long. In May these plants will be covered in 6 inch tall spikes of tiny white flowers that some say resemble foam-hence their common name.

 8. Birch Polypore

Birch polypore fungi (Piptoporus betulinus ) seem to be everywhere this year, but it’s probably just because it’s so much easier to see them with no leaves on the underbrush.

 9. Bracket Fungus

This dried out bracket fungus reminded me of stained glass.

 10. Bird's Nest

I was surprised to see this small bird’s nest for the first time-right next to a trail I’ve followed hundreds of times. It was built only a foot or so off the ground and must have been very well camouflaged. I know that I’ve looked at this very spot countless times and never saw it or the birds that used it.

 11. January 19th Witch Hazel

On January 19th the witch hazel near the Ashuelot river still bloomed in spite of a few nights of below zero temperatures. Since the river water is warmer than the air, it must have some effect on this plant for it to be blooming so late in the year.

 12. January 26th 2013 Full Moon

A clear cold night and the full wolf moon marked the last weekend of January. I can’t say that I’m sorry to see it go.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness ~John Muir

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We’re on a temperature roller coaster here in southwestern New Hampshire, with temps in the low 20s one day and high 30s the next. This weekend they say we might hit 50 degrees, so the ice and snow will be melting fast.

1. 1-5-13 River

Watching water freeze probably wouldn’t be considered high excitement, but if the above shot is compared to the one in last Saturday’s post, taken from the same spot, the slow buildup of ice in the Ashuelot river can be seen.

2. 1-5-13 River Ice

Last Saturday none of this ice was here.

3. January Witch Hazel

While I was at the river I walked along the banks to my favorite grove of witch hazel shrubs (Hamamelis virginiana.) I found one blooming here on the day before Christmas, and here it is still blooming. It is supposed to be a late fall bloomer-one of the latest-but seeing it blooming this late is strange. It is only one plant out of many that is doing this, and I’d bet that plant breeders would love to get their hands on it and develop an “ever blooming” witch hazel.

4. January Witch Hazel Bracts

This is what one would expect an American witch hazel to look like at this time of year. The small cups are formed by four bracts that curve back. The petals unfurl from these cups on warm fall days. It takes about a year for the plant to form seeds.

5. Alder Strobiles

Alder (Alnus) fruits come in the shape of small cones, called strobiles, which contain even smaller seeds, called nutlets. These flat, triangular seeds are an important food source for small birds like chickadees. Alders like a lot of moisture and can be found on the banks of ponds, rivers and streams in full sun.

 6. Alder Catkins

These are the male staminate flowers of the alder, called catkins, which will open in the spring and release pollen to fertilize the female flowers. The female flowers will then produce the strobiles shown in the previous picture.

7. Beard Lichen 7

Lichens are much easier to see in the winter. This is bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta) I think. I’m beginning to see that, though they grow almost anywhere, many lichens seem to prefer growing near a water source like a river or a lake. Ledges that trickle groundwater are another good spot to find them. 

8. Dried Burning Bush Fruit

I’ve never noticed before that the bright red fruits of the burning bush (Euonymus alatus) seem to turn to a kind of orange jelly in the winter. I’m surprised there were any fruits left because birds love them. Burning bush, also called winged euonymus, is one of our most invasive plants and the woods near the river are full of them. 

9. Whitewash Lichen aka Phlyctis argena

It’s easy to see how whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena) got its name because it looks like somebody took a paintbrush to the tree trunk that it grows on. This crustose lichen almost always grows on deciduous trees like red maple but can occasionally be found on conifers. It is also called blemished lichen. 

10. Seed Head

I liked these furry looking seed heads but couldn’t figure out what plant they were on. It had a woody stem and stood about a foot and a half tall. 

11. Hoar Frost 3

Hoar frost is also called rime and forms when water vapor contacts surfaces which are below freezing. The sun melted the snow around this clump of grass, but then frost formed on it quickly. This frost usually happens when the sky is clear and is also called radiation frost for the radiational cooling that takes place before it forms.

Wilderness touches the heart, mind and soul of each individual in a way known only to himself ~Michael Frome

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