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Posts Tagged ‘Brocade Moss’

It’s a shame how some people think winter is a ‘dead time’ when there is nothing to see outside. I challenge anyone to find a scene more alive than this one at any time of year, or more beautiful. This, to me, is a little slice of paradise. But it is also a place of mystery; on this little hill grow possibly hundreds of species of mosses and I can’t know them all, but I can know a few and each year I try to learn at least one more new one. I hope you’re interested enough to meet the ones I do know.

One of my favorite mosses is the delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) because though it turns lime green in cold weather colorblindness makes it look bright orange to me, and what could be better than orange moss? It grows in my lawn so it’s very easy to find. It’s very pretty, especially in the fall, and I wouldn’t really mind if the lawn went away and the moss took over.

Many mosses will grow on wood, stone or soil and delicate fern moss is one of them. It’s is a beautiful little thing that isn’t as delicate as its name implies, but it certainly is fern like. The leaves of this moss are often dull rather than shiny. It is fairly common and easy to find because it often forms very large mats. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.

Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens) is very shiny and sometimes has an orange brown color. It often forms very large mats as it did here, covering this entire log.

Brocade moss gets its common name from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically.

The name medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) comes from the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. It is also called white tipped moss, because its branch tips are often bright white as they are in this photo. This moss is fairly common and I find it mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It always seems to be very happy and healthy.

White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) can appear silvery, white, bluish green or grayish green but it always forms a thick cushion and stands out from the mosses that might surround it. It likes plenty of water and shade and grows on rotting logs or on stone when there is enough soil. It is probably the easiest of all the mosses to identify.

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) doesn’t look like very many other mosses so it’s relatively easy to identify. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.

Big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) is a very common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning other mosses. In fact I’ve never seen a moss grow as fast as this one. It should be obvious how big red stem comes by its common name but I don’t see any red. I’ve looked through two moss books and countless photos on line though, and all examples of big red stem look like this example. That makes me wonder if its stem isn’t red for part of the time. Mosses do change color.

Tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) does just what its name sounds like it would; it grows at the base of trees and makes them look like they’re wearing green stockings. It can also grow on soil or stone and can form extensive mats. Tree skirt moss looks like it’s made up of tiny braided ropes when it’s dry. It is normally deep green but sometimes dryness can affect its color and shape. After a rain each tiny leaflet will pull away from the stem, giving the moss a slightly fluffy appearance.

Juniper haircap moss plants (Polytrichum juniperinum) look like tiny green starbursts. This moss grows on soil and is also very common in this area. I see them just about everywhere I go. Wet or dry, they always seem to look the same, even though many mosses change their appearance when they dry out.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. You can’t see it in this photo because it has fallen off already but it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square, as seen here.

If your camera can do this, you’d better hang onto it because it’s a good one. I’ve gotten a useable shot of the end of a juniper haircap moss spore capsule exactly twice over too many tries to count. This photo shows it is still covered by a thin lid of tissue. What looks like notches around its perimeter are slots that fit over specialized teeth called peristome teeth at the mouth of the capsule. These teeth move with changes in humidity and spread in dry conditions to release the spores, which are taken by the wind. The spore capsule’s diameter at this stage is less than the diameter of a piece of uncooked spaghetti. I wish I had a microscope so I could get even closer.

Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum,) grows on stone and is another of my favorites. This pretty little leafy moss likes limestone so when you see it you know you’re in an area where you might find other lime loving plants, like many of our native orchids. It forms dense mats and gets its common name from the aspirin size rosettes of leaves that terminate each stalk. They look like tiny flowers. This is the only example of rose moss that I’ve ever seen and I think it’s probably quite old.

Blackish male organs produce sperm which will be splashed out of the center of the rose moss rosettes by rain drops, and when they land on female structures that produces egg cells, called archegonium, a drooping, pear shaped spore capsule (sporophytes) will grow. Rose moss also reproduces by horizontal underground stems so spore capsules are rare. This is why new clumps of this moss are so hard to find.

Another leafy moss which I have to hunt high and low for is the Appalachian penny moss (Rhizomnium appalachianum) but it’s worth it because it’s so pretty and unusual. Though some mosses like this one can resemble vascular plants, mosses have no xylem and phloem, or vascular tissue. This is why mosses are classified as Bryophytes; plants that have no roots, leaves, or stem. They also have no flowers or seeds and reproduce through spores. Since mosses have no roots they need to grow in areas with adequate moisture. This one grows in soil that was dripping wet.

This moss is easily confused with red penny moss (Rhizomnium punctatum) so you have to look at the stems. Only the stems of Appalachian penny moss will be hairy over their entire length as seen here.

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is a very beautiful moss that grows on stones and looks quite fragile, but I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it so I can say with certainty that it’s a lot tougher than it looks. That is most likely why it grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It seems fairly rare here; this is the only example that I’ve seen, and it doesn’t seem to be spreading.

When dry stair step moss has a slight satiny sheen to it, and that’s probably how it came by its other common name of glittering wood-moss. The name stair step moss comes from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. It is said that you can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps.

Any moss post I do usually has at least one unknown but I often delete them before you see them. I left this one in because I like its happy, curly appearance. Though it fills this photo it is the tiniest moss in this post at about 1/2 an inch across. It grew on tree bark.

I like to visit my friends the tree mosses (Climacium dendroides) every now and then but it’s getting harder to get to them. What was once a streamside trail has become a brushy maze that I had to weave my way through. They are cheery mosses that look like little palm trees, and they always glow with a beautiful inner light, so they’re worth the effort. By this stream is the only spot I’ve ever found them so they aren’t common here, but I was happy to see that they’ve spread quite well where they grow. They must not mind being under water for a time because their stream floods once or twice a year.

You’ll notice that many of the mosses shown here like rose moss and tree moss are hard to confuse with other mosses, but some like that little unknown moss could be any one of three or four different mosses. They can be very difficult to identify but I try to do it because I’m a nature nut. You don’t have to be a nature nut though; you can enjoy the beauty of these beings without knowing a single one of their names. When you see a scene like the one above you can simply go and sit with them for a bit, and just admire them. They’re a fascinating and important part of nature.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics; it also grows on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. It is a resurrection engine. A single clump of mosses can lie dormant and dry for forty years at a stretch, and then vault back again into life with a mere soaking of water. ~Elizabeth Gilbert

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I planned last weekend to show you the last of the fall foliage colors but a freeze the night before finished that plan and all the leaves had fallen by the time I was able to get to one of my favorite rail trails. But, and this is a big but; just because all the leaves have fallen doesn’t mean you can’t still see colors. They’re always there, but in some months you just have to look a little closer to see them.

When I set out the fallen leaves were edged in frost. It had been a cold night.

These little red mushrooms didn’t seem to mind the cold. I don’t know what their name is but that doesn’t matter. I can admire and enjoy them without knowing it.

Little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) glowed a luminous pink in the sunshine.

It is the seed heads on little bluestem that catch the light as they ripen. This grass is a native prairie grass which grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington. According to the USDA its appearance can vary in height, color, length of leaves, flowering, and clump diameter from location to location. It is also grown in many gardens.

When you’re on a rail trail and you see a stream running under it, that’s the time to climb down the embankment to see what kind of culvert it runs through.

As I expected, this one was an old box culvert built by the railroad about 150 years ago, and still working just fine.

Down by the culvert a boulder was covered by moss.

Most of it was brocade moss (Hypnum imponens.)  This pretty moss  is very shiny and sometimes has an orange brown color. Its common name comes from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically.

I saw quite a few small tree stumps with beaver teeth marks in them, meaning they came quite a way from the river to get them.

Winterberries (Ilex verticillata) also told me there was water nearby. I often see this native holly growing in standing water but I’ve heard that it will grow in drier soil. Birds love its bright red berries. These shrubs are dioecious, meaning they need both a male and female plant present to produce seed. If you have a yard with wet spots winterberry is a great, easy to grow native plant that won’t mind wet feet and will attract birds as well.

I think every time I’ve seen lemon drop fungi (Bisporella citrina) they were growing on a smooth surface; often the cut end of a log or the smooth debarked surface, but here they were growing on a craggy old stump. Lemon drop fungi start life as a tiny bright yellow disc and look as if they lie flat on the log, but they actually hover just above the surface on a short stalk. As they age each disc becomes cup shaped. The Citrina part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Citrin, which means “lemon yellow.” They are very small, so you’ll need a loupe or a macro lens to see them properly.

You might see dark green or purple spots on the bark of smooth barked trees like maple and beech and think you are seeing moss but this is a liverwort. There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. As it gets colder they turn color until they become a dark purple; almost black, so they are much more noticeable in winter than in summer when they’re green. Some can get fairly large but this example was about an inch across.

The tiny leaves of frullania liverworts are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but the few that I have remembered to smell didn’t seem to have any scent at all. This liverwort can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) has been seen on loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with it on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs with liverworts on them.

If you see a flat, whitish bracket fungus on an oak or other hardwood you might think it wasn’t very interesting but you could be seeing a thick walled maze polypore (Daedalea quercina,) which is actually quite interesting.

The Daedalea part of the scientific name comes from the Daedalus of Greek myth who designed the labyrinth that hid the Minotaur, so it makes sense that you’d find a maze on the underside of this polypore. Of course the maze is simply this mushroom’s way of increasing its spore bearing surfaces. The more spores it produces the better its chance of continuing the survival of the species, and the survival of the species is of prime importance. The quercina part of its scientific name refers to the oaks it prefers but it will also grow on other hardwoods. It appears in the colder months and causes brown rot in the tree. Fresh example are white and older examples more grayish brown, or even black.

There were fence posts along an old stone wall, and that told me that animals were probably kept here at one time.

The fence posts were strung with barbed wire as I suspected. You can leave a trail at any time and just walk into the woods, but you had better know what you’re doing and you had better watch where you’re going because much of what is now forest was once pasture and there is barbed wire everywhere. I still shudder when I think of the book I read once by a man in Massachusetts who said one of his favorite pastimes was running through the woods at night. Good luck to him is about all I can say.

This oak seedling was wearing its fall best and I thought it was a beautiful thing.

A wasp nest was somehow damaged and part of it had blown into the trail. It was a fascinating thing to see, with its multicolored ribbons of paper.  According to what I’ve read “paper wasps gather fibers from dead wood and plant stems, which they mix with saliva, and use to construct water-resistant nests made of gray or brown papery material.” Usually the ones I see show swirls of various shades of gray but this one was quite colorful.

There are people who seem to think that a plant’s buds magically appear in spring but the buds are there now, just waiting for spring. This photo shows the male catkins of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana.) A hazelnut catkin more or less, is a string of flowers which will open in a spiral pattern around a central stem. The pollen these flower produce will be carried by the wind to the sticky female flowers and we’ll have another crop of hazelnuts.

Before I knew it I was at one of the many old railroad trestles that cross the Ashuelot River. I stopped for a while and admired the view of the river that I’d probably never see if this rail trail wasn’t here. I’m very thankful for these trails. They get me quite far out into the woods without having to do a lot of work bushwhacking my way through.

So in the end we’ve seen quite a lot of color even though it wasn’t in the form of flowers or leaves. All seasons have their own beauty; who can deny the blue of the river, always seemingly darker than the blue of the sky? My hope is that readers will get outside in all of their seasons, whether they have two or four, and enjoy the beauty that will be there waiting.

Nature conceals her secrets because she is sublime, not because she is a trickster. ~Albert Einstein

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The days have lengthened enough now so I can once again get outside after work and that’s always a relief. Having to take enough photos on a weekend for two blog posts can be a challenge, especially when it rains or snows on one of those weekend days. It gets dark at about 5:30 pm now and that means an hour or so to get into the woods. Not much time, but when you live in the woods you don’t have to go far. On this day I chose a bit of woodland near my house that has an old dirt road running through it.

The sun was low and the light was just right to show you the shiny ice that covers the snow. This ice makes breaking a trail through the snow difficult, at best. I can remember how hard it was even at 10 years old.

But someone had driven down this old road with a 4 wheeler or something and that broke the icy crust and packed down the snow, so walking here was a breeze.

A young white pine (Pinus strobus) had fallen across the road and someone had come along and cut it up. We’ve lost a lot of trees to the wind this year but most were dead or dying. This looked like a healthy young tree.

There is a small stream out here that feeds into a large swampy wetland. I was surprised to see it so free of ice.

It was obvious that a large flock of turkeys had been through here. Turkeys are very active in winter and I see them everywhere, but I always seem to be driving at the time so getting photos has proven harder than it should be.

Turkeys have big feet that they use to scratch up forest litter with as they look for food. They’ll get under a stand of evergreens where the snow is thin and scratch up large areas looking for acorns, beech nuts, grapes, or berries they’ve missed on previous hunts. When spring comes they’ll eat buds, fresh grasses, roots, and new leaves. In summer they’ll eat a lot of insects, including ticks.

Mosses look so delicate but they’re very tough and will weather the ice and snow like it wasn’t even there. This is one of my favorite mosses. I like the way its fingers reach out to find new spaces to grow in.

Though there may be snow everywhere you look winter can actually be a very dry season, and this moss was so dry it’s hard to tell what it is but I think it might be brocade moss (Hypnum imponens.) Brocade moss is often very shiny and can have an orange brown color. Its common name comes from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it grows on.

As I stopped to take photos I could hear a pine tree creaking as a breeze blew it gently back and forth. It was easy to believe that the sound would be the same on the deck of a wooden ship but it would be the mast creaking there, rather than the tree that it was made from. When this land was first colonized tall, straight pines were prized by the Royal Navy, and cutting any tree marked with the King’s broad arrow mark meant certain death. The trees became known as mast trees and the practice of the King taking the best trees led to the Pine Tree Riot in 1772. In an open act of rebellion colonists cut down and hauled off many marked mast pines in what was just a taste of what would come later in the American Revolution.

I stopped to admire the structure of a beech branch that stood out so well against the snow. Each twig is placed perfectly so one leaf doesn’t block the sunlight reaching another.

A golden puddle on the road told me the sun was quickly getting lower in the sky. This time between day and night is when the night creatures take over. I know this area well and I’ve seen some big bears near here but, though I’ve seen skunks coming out of hibernation already I doubt the bears are awake yet. It won’t be long though.

The old road leads to and around a large swamp. The breeze blew stronger here in this big open space but it was still fairly warm for February. It’s easy to imagine voices on the winds in such a place, whispering softly. For me it’s a peaceful, comforting sound but sometimes it can be a lonely one. I’ve heard that the wind drove early settlers on the Great Plains to madness but I think it was the loneliness more than the wind. It was the voices on the wind, sometimes whispering and sometimes howling, that told them how alone they really were. With a phone in my pocket I could talk to anyone anywhere at any time but they could not. Marty Rubin once said solitude is where one discovers one is not alone, but solitude is experienced differently by different people. For me it is simply a part of who I am and it brings me great joy, but I can understand how it might seem like a burden to others.

The southwest side of this sugar maple had sunscald, which is very different than frost cracking. Sunscald happens when southwest facing bark freezes at night after high daytime temperatures. Direct sunlight or sunlight reflecting off the snow can heat the bark during the day and bring it out of dormancy, and then when it freezes at night the active tissues are killed, resulting in the kind of wound seen here. Cracking and peeling bark is a sure sign of what is also called southwest disease. If this were a frost crack the crack in the bark would be absolutely vertical. This one curves like a snake and the dead bark around it covers a large area.

I’ve never seen witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blossoming out here but here was a large shrub with the telltale cup like bracts on it. It even had the petals still coming out of the bracts but they were still there from last fall and were frozen. Native witch hazels can bloom on a warm day in January but I’ve never seen one blooming this late. The spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) will be starting to bloom any time now.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly and grow in the dark places in the forest. They can get away with doing that because they don’t photosynthesize, but they do have flowers and when the flowers are pollinated they stand straight up from the shepherd’s crook shape seen here. This tells me that the flower seen here either wasn’t pollinated or didn’t see any need to stand up straight like all of its cousins. The seeds are fine like dust and I think the flower standing up straight must have something to do with rain being able to splash the seeds out of the capsule. Many plants and mosses use the same strategy for seed dispersal. Fresh Indian pipe plants contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems, and the common name comes from the pipes they smoked.

This is what the stained glass looks like in the cathedrals I visit.

I followed my own footprints back down the old road and saw how they meandered from this side of the road to that; a puddle of footprints where I stopped to admire something. This is how it should be for one who studies nature; meander like a toddler and be interested in everything. You see all the small, hidden jewels of the forest that way.

And find joy in the beautiful, simple things that make you smile, like a stream of molten gold weaving its way through a forest.

All this beauty, all this wonder, is right there in my back yard, and it’s in yours as well. I hope you’ll have a chance to get out and see it.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan watts

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In New Hampshire a class six designation means a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town, so it could be rough going. I don’t know if this road actually has that designation but I do know that it can be impassable in winter, so whether or not you will make it over its entire length is anyone’s guess.

Since we have had very little snow this winter I doubted there would be much snow on it and I was right. There was a dusting but nothing that needed plowing.

If anything would give a driver trouble on this day it was ice; the road was like a skating rink so I walked on the edges, which is where I would have walked anyway. It’s hard to see anything interesting from the middle of a road.

The road was also heavily rutted. I’ve driven over it in spring and between the ruts and the washboards, sometimes you feel like the teeth will rattle right out of your head.

It’s common in this area to see huge boulders right on the very edge of the road. That’s because in the 1700s when many of these roads were laid out stones this big were impossible to move and it was too much work to drill and blast them, so the road was simply built around them. And there they still sit to this day. This one was easily as big as a delivery truck.

I loved the beautifully bright green brocade moss (Hypnum imponens) that grew on a log. This pretty moss gets its common name from the way it looks like it has been embroidered on whatever it grows on. I’ve searched high and low for it so I could include it in my moss posts, but I never could find any.  Now all I need to do is remember where it is.

There was a lot of logging going on out here last summer. It looks like they left a lot of the deciduous trees and took mostly evergreens, probably hemlock and pine.

The logging was being done on a tree farm, which in New Hampshire means a privately owned forest managed to produce timber with, according to the New Hampshire Tree Farm Program, “the added benefits of improved wildlife habitat, water quality, recreation, and scenic values.”

A small stream had formed a pool and it was covered over by what I call puddle ice. It’s that brittle white ice full of oxygen bubbles that makes tinkling sounds when you break it. Seeing it always takes me back to my boyhood when I would ride my bike through puddles covered by it in spring. I’ve thought of it as a sign of spring ever since, even though I see it in fall and winter too.

The little stream also had some beautiful ice formations in it as well.

If you know where to look you can find a winding trail through the woods that leads to a beaver pond.

It’s a large pond, several acres in size.

This shows what happens when a forest is flooded by beavers; what trees they don’t cut down drown and die. Areas like this often become rookeries for great blue herons because they’re full of frogs and small fish. I’ve seen herons here before but I haven’t seen a nest yet.

There are several beaver lodges here and the open water near this one suggests beaver activity. They work hard to keep channels open in winter. This lodge doesn’t look like most I’ve seen. It looks as if it has had a lot of mud added to the outside, which is something I haven’t seen.

This is more what I think of when I imagine a beaver lodge. They usually look like a pile of sticks, but the one in the previous photo looks more like a pile of dirt.

I think this one might have been abandoned. It had a light coating of snow on it and from what I’ve seen beaver lodges aren’t snow covered for very long unless we’ve had heavy snows. Heavy snow helps insulate the lodge and sunshine helps warm it. The temperature at water level in a beaver lodge is usually about 32 degrees F. but it might fluctuate a bit due to outside temperature and body heat generated by the beavers themselves. They have to leave the lodge to eat but they lose body heat quickly in the cold water, so they aren’t very active in winter if it is very cold. So far this winter they’ve had it easy but that’s about to change, with wind chills of -14 degrees F. expected on Monday.

I thought these were rabbit tracks but I think the smaller front feet should be directly in front of the larger rear feet, not off to the side like what is seen here. Maybe it was a turning rabbit.

I can’t even guess what made these swishy tracks. I’ve looked at examples of both animal and bird tracks and nothing comes close to matching. And it’s too cold for reptiles, so I’ve struck out.

Someone lost their hat and a kind soul picked it up and put it on a mossy rock. You meet very few unkind people in the woods, I’ve found.

The reminders of the terrible winds we had last summer are all around me each time I go into the woods, in the form of tangled blowdowns like these. In fact I saw several just like it in these woods. I think thousands of trees must have fallen in this area but I also think that the trees that were already weekend by disease were the ones that fell. You can see bracket fungi all over the largest of these and that’s a good sign of a sick tree.

I’ve spoken about how water resistant oak leaves are on this blog for years, but now I can show it. Oak leaves can take a year or more to decompose because they are leathery and contain a lot of woody substances like lignin and cellulose, and I’ve always believed that it is also because they don’t absorb water as readily as leaves from other trees. This photo shows how water will puddle on an oak leaf.

There are roads known by everyone and there are roads known by no one. Choose the second, the mysterious one where many glories are hidden. ~Mehmet Murat Ildan

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Note: This is part two of a two part post. If you’d like to see part one you can scroll down to it.

1. Beaver Dam

If you walk long enough on the old abandoned road through Yale forest in Swanzey you’ll come to an open swampy area that was once home to beavers. Beavers will move into a place and eat all the trees and then move on. Their pond will eventually drain and new trees will start to grow, and they will move back again to repeat the cycle. I’ve read that it takes about thirty years to go once around the cycle and this area looks as if it’s in the beaver pond draining stage. Now trees need to grow so the beavers will come back. The above photo shows the old dam which isn’t really holding back any water now, judging by the force of the stream that runs through here.

2. Beaver Swamp

The height of the embankment in the background of this photo shows that the beavers chose a natural bowl shaped area for their pond, but the grasses in the foreground show that the pond is now mostly dry.

3. Beaver Dam

This is another look at the dam. It was long but not real high; maybe 4 feet. I’ve seen them high enough to be taller than I am, holding back an incredible amount of water. The biggest beaver dam on record is one in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada that is 2,790 feet long and can be seen in satellite footage from Google Earth. Explorer Rob Mark was the first human to reach it in July of 2014. I hope I’m never near a beaver dam if it lets go.

4. Beaver Tree

There was plenty of evidence of beaver activity but it happened a while ago. This beaver stump is beginning to blacken, as were all the others I saw.

5. Log Pile

Tree cutters of a different kind were also in evidence. I don’t know why they left these logs there. The wood must have been sub-par in some way.

6. Log

A couple of the logs showed signs of fungus infection. This one had signs of what looked like it might have been blue stain fungus (Ophiostoma,) which is usually transmitted by bark beetles. It is also called sap stain because it discolors the sapwood, along with any boards that are cut from it. This lowers the value of the log considerably; possibly enough so it wasn’t even worth the fuel it would take to truck it to the mill yard.

7. Pine Bark Beetle Damage

There was plenty of evidence of bark beetles on pine limbs. Not only do they transmit disease, if they chew one of their channels completely around a branch it will die from being girdled.

8. Claw Marks on Log

Another log had claw marks on it. They puzzled me because the snow was ice covered and too hard for an animal to have left prints. I’m guessing raccoon or maybe a bobcat; they were quite small, but bigger than a housecat would have left.

9. Club Moss

Clubmosses held their heads up above the snow. This one looked like Lycopodium obscurum, commonly called ground pine, even though it has nothing to do with pines. It is also called rare clubmoss though I don’t know why, because it is everywhere.

10. Fern in Snow

The evergreen ferns are showing great fortitude this year. When I see one this way it looks so delicate but the snow and ice surrounding it tell a story of unsuspected toughness. They’re very beautiful against the white snow and add so much to the winter landscape. I’m glad they’re so tough.

11. Dead Ferns

Even dead ferns add interest to the winter landscape. I like seeing their deep reddish brown color against the lighter tans of the grasses. It’s a simple thing that brings joy and puts a spring in my step.

12. Pixie Cup Lichen

Pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) poked up out of the hair cap moss like tiny golf tees. I was hoping they would be fruiting so I could show you how they reproduce, but not yet. They, like many lichens, produce spores in the winter but it must happen later on. I’m not very good at keeping track of such things.

13. Striped Maple Bark

Striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) has striped bark but I’ve never seen it come with blue stripes and I can’t find any reference to blue stripes on line. They are usually a cream / white color but will eventually disappear as the tree ages. I took this photo to show how dark the reddish brown bark of striped maple is when compared with other trees, such as the one on the right. This maple often grows in the form of a shrub here and might reach 15 feet tall on a good day. Another name for it is whistle wood because whistles are easily carved from the wood of its branches.

14. Striped Maple Buds

I knew that the buds and young twigs of striped maple were often tomato red but I’ve never seen spots on a bud before. This isn’t a very sharp photo but at least you can see the spots.

15. Brocade Moss

It looked like someone had embroidered this brocade moss (Hypnum imponens) on the log it grew on, and that’s how it comes by its common name. It’s a shiny, feathery moss that forms large mats, usually on wood but sometimes on soil. I’m not sure what the small blue bits are. It must have been ice reflecting the blue of the sky. I didn’t see them in person so I’m surprised that the camera did.

16. Turkey Feather

I was expecting to see some turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) but this turkey feather was a surprise. There is a story behind it, but it’s one I’ll never know.

17. Oak Leaves in Ice

I was also hoping to see some crystal clear ice but it had been snowed on and re-froze with a textured surface more like pebbled glass than crystal, but I could still make out the shapes and colors of the oak leaves under it.

18. Stream Ice

The ice on the stream that used to feed the beaver pond was paper thin and wind sculpted. The animals are still having an easy of time finding water but are probably having a hard time getting around on the icy, crusted snow.

19. Pool of Reflections

A few woodland pools were ice free. They reminded me of the forest walks I’ve taken on moonlit nights when the moonlight shimmers and swims in the dark water of pools like this one. It’s something I haven’t seen in a long time but I’ve had an itch to try night time photography, so it might happen when the moon is full enough to light the way.

Some journeys take you farther from where you come from, but closer to where you belong. ~Ron Franscell

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1. Rose Moss

I haven’t said much about mosses lately but since now is the time they are most easily seen I thought I’d get out there and see what I could find. Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is one of the most beautiful mosses in my opinion, and gets its common name from the way that each plant looks like a tiny rose blossom. Rose moss is also a good indicator of your surroundings because it prefers growing in lime rich soil or on limestone boulders.

2. Rocky Hillside

Can you tell which of these boulders have limestone in them? I can’t either but rose moss can, and it grows on just two of them.

3. Stairstep Moss

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is another very pretty moss that looks quite fragile, but I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it and I can say with certainty that it’s a lot tougher than it looks. That is most likely why it grows as far north as the arctic tundra. When dry this moss has a slight satiny sheen to it, and that’s probably how it came by its other common name of glittering wood-moss.

4. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss gets its name from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. You can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps.

 5. Yellow Feather Moss aka Homalothecium lutescens

What I think is yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) always looks pale and kind of sickly, but if you look closely at its growing tips and new spore capsules you’ll find that it quite healthy. If you see it at all, that is; I know of only one small colony that grows on the very end of a log with a diameter of an average doughnut, and I’ve never found it anywhere else.

6. White Tipped Moss aka Hedwigia ciliata

It’s easy to see how white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) got its common name. This is a fairly common moss that seems to like to hang from the sides of boulders and ledges. Another name for it is Medusa moss, because when dry its leaves press close to the stem and it takes on a very wiry, string like appearance. Its ball shaped orange spore capsules (sporophytes) are hidden among the leaves on very short stalks, so they’re hard to see. This moss will even grow on asphalt roofs, so it is a perfect choice for green roof projects.

7. Delicate Fern Moss aka Thuidium delicatulum

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) is another pretty moss but I’m not sure how it comes by its common name because it is far from delicate. I have a few patches of it growing in my back lawn that get mowed and walked on regularly and they thrive in spite of the abuse. The leaves of this moss grow more horizontally than vertically and it often forms very low, dense mats on logs or the forest floor in damp, shaded places.

8. Greater Whipwort

Some “mosses” might have to be looked at a little closer.The growth on this stone isn’t a moss at all, though from a distance it looks just like one. It’s actually a liverwort called greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) and it grows right alongside mosses.

9. Greater Whipwort

Up close greater whipwort looks as almost if it has been braided. Each leaf on this leafy liverwort is only about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of the scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.”

10. Rock Foam Lichen

Something else often found growing on boulders right beside mosses is rockfoam lichen (Stereocaulon saxatile.) Mosses soak up moisture like a sponge when it rains and then release it slowly and lichens often take advantage of this. The best time to search for both lichens and mosses is after a rain because both are at their best when wet.

11. Haircap Moss aka Polytrichum commune

Haircap moss (Polytrichum commune) gets its name from the hairy covering (calyptra) on its spore capsules (sporophytes). It is a very common moss that grows in dense colonies of 2-4 inches tall, often mounded in the center. The sheaths on its leaves can be golden yellow and shiny and give this moss another common name of goldilocks. I see it almost everywhere I go.

12. Haircap Moss Capsule

Haircap moss spore capsules start life round bat as they age become almost square and winged. The example in this photo still has its end cap or lid, called an Operculum, in place. This means that it hasn’t released its spores yet. I’m not sure what caused the blue color but this is the only blue spore capsule that I’ve seen.

13. Possible Narrow Leaved Beard Moss aka Helodium paludosum

One reason I don’t do more posts on mosses even though they fascinate me is because they can be difficult to identify without a microscope and many of them look very similar. A good example of that is what I think is this narrow leaved beard moss (Helodium paludosum.) It looks a lot like the Hedwigia ciliata we looked at earlier, but without the white tips.

The reason I wanted to show this moss is because of the immature spore capsules (sporophytes). When young the sporophyte is completely surrounded by a tough protective covering called the calyptra. The calyptra is what gives the spore capsules in the above photo their whitish color. As the sporophytes grow their skin-like calyptras will be shed, revealing their reddish brown color. So, if you find a moss with white spore capsules you know that you are actually seeing its immature capsules.

14. Brocade Moss aka Hypnum imponens

Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens) is very shiny and sometimes has an orange brown color. Its common name comes from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically, as seen in the above photo.

15. Lime Green Moss

Mosses often change color when it gets colder and this delicate fern moss surprised me with what I thought was its bright orange color. My color finding software told me it was just my color blindness again, because it is really lime green. It is a very bright lime green though, and was shining like a beacon.

I hope I didn’t bore all of you to tears talking about mosses. Soon there will be very little besides moss that is still green, and for me there are few things more pleasurable than walking through the snowy winter woods with a bright blue sky overhead and the sunshine falling on some of the only green things to be seen. Mosses, lichens, liverworts, and a few evergreen ferns are part of what make nature study fun even in winter.

Nature conceals her secrets because she is sublime, not because she is a trickster. ~Albert Einstein

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After over a year of using my moss identification guides to identify various mosses, I think I’m ready to do at least one post on them. I’m fairly confident that the following plants are what I think they are, but I don’t have access to a microscope so none of this information should be taken as absolute gospel. Information about the guides I’ve used can be found under the “Books I Use” tab at the top of the page.

1. Rocky Hillside

My thoughts usually turn to mosses and other forest floor dwellers at this time of year because they’re so easy to see with no leaves in the way. Instead of roots mosses have small, thread like rhizoids. Since they can’t take up water like vascular plants they absorb it like a sponge over their entire surface, and when they’re seen in abundance as in the above photo, it’s a fair bet that the soil is either quite moist or the area is shaded enough to keep  them from drying out between rains. Though some mosses can go for quite a while with no water, most need regular replenishment. Like lichens, mosses can look very different when they are dry, so serious moss hunters like to do their hunting after a rain.

 2. Rose Moss aka Rhodobryum roseum

Since I’ve never paid very close attention to mosses I never realized that some of them, like rose moss, had leaves that are quite big-easily big enough to be seen with the naked eye-and can be quite beautiful. Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) gets its common name from the way its rosettes of leaves look like tiny flowers. When rose moss dries out its leaves contort and fold upward like petals of flowers that close at night. I found a large colony of this moss growing on a boulder.

 3. Maidenhair Pocket Moss aka Fissidens adianthoides

Pocket moss gets its common name from the way the lower lobe of its leaf curls around its stem to form a pocket. That feature can’t be seen in the photo and neither can the way the central nerve, or vein of each leaf stops before it reaches the leaf tip, but those two features plus the fact that the example in the photo was constantly dripped on by ground water tell me that this is maidenhair pocket moss (Fissidens adianthoides).

4. Maidenhair Pocket Moss Sporophytes aka Fissidens adianthoides

The capsules where some mosses produce spores are called sporophytes. In the case of maiden hair pocket moss the capsules are like a tiny barrel that is covered on one end by a calyptra, which is a piece of tissue that looks like a stocking cap. When the spores mature the calyptra dries out and falls off, but before it does the fruiting bodies of this moss remind me of cranes. Or herons.  Under the tiny stocking cap is a lid (operculum) that also comes off so the spores can be released. This happens at different times of year for different mosses.

 5. Medusa Moss aka Hedwigia ciliata

The name medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) comes from the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. This moss is fairly common but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it grow quite as long as it was here. It was obviously in a good location for optimum growth.

 6. Medusa Moss aka Hedwigia ciliata 2

This is a closer look at the Hedwigia ciliata in the previous photo. It is also called white tipped moss and is almost always found growing on large boulders in the woods.

 7. Membranous Dog Lichen aka Peltigera membranacea 3

The last time I saw a dog lichen it was growing on a rotting stump but this one, Peltigera membranacea, was growing on a mossy boulder. Dog lichens are associated with mossy area because the mosses provide the moisture that they need. This is known as a membranous lichen, which simply means that it is thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen, meaning that it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined as seen in the photo. This lichen was large and easy to see. It was also probably quite old.

 8. Membranous Dog Lichen aka Peltigera membranacea

The white “roots” on the underside of the lichen body are called rhizines. On some lichens these can be quite bushy but on Peltigera membranacea they are narrow, thin and “fang like”. They are one of the identifying characteristics of this lichen along with its thin, flexible, undulating thallus.

I’ve heard another theory behind the name “dog lichen.”  It says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the fang like rhizines look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire lichen body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears.

 9. Fan Shaped Club Moss

Fern allies are “seedless vascular plants that are not true ferns, but like ferns, disperse by shedding spores.” Mosses don’t fit this description because, though they produce spores, they are not vascular. Club mosses fit the description perfectly and are called “club” mosses because their fruiting structures (strobili) are club shaped. These club shaped, cone-like structures are where the spores are produced. The club moss in the photo, known as fan shaped club moss (Diphasiastrum digitatum), doesn’t have any strobili showing. In fact, as I was choosing the photos for this post I realized that I have never seen this club moss in its fruiting stage.

 10. Running Club Moss

Another club moss that I have never seen fruiting is running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum). This plant gets its name from the way it sends out long, horizontal stems. All along the horizontal stem erect stems form at intervals and roots form where it touches the ground. I had to brush the leaves away from the horizontal stem so we could see it, because when it’s buried it’s difficult to tell this club moss from others. I can’t say that these plants are rare here, but I don’t see them too often.

 11. Baby Tooth Moss aka Plagiomnium cuspidatum

Baby tooth moss (Plagiomnium cuspidatum) doesn’t look like a moss at all to me, with its long, vining habit and (relatively) large leaves, but it is one. Though far too small to be seen in the photo, this moss gets its common name from the way the upper margins of the leaves are toothed. The cuspidatum part of the scientific name comes from cuspid, which comes from the Latin cuspis and which means a tooth with a single point, like a canine tooth. It is said that this moss is very common in eastern North America, but I can’t remember ever seeing it before I took this photo. It grows in moist hardwood forests on stones, logs, or soil.

12. Brocade Moss aka Hypnum imponens

Brocade is a “heavy fabric interwoven with a rich, raised design” and that description really fits brocade moss (Hypnum imponens), which always looks to me like it was embroidered by elves or some other forest dwellers. This moss, with its orange, yellow, and brown highlights and fern or feather like shape is one of the easiest to identify. It forms dense mats on moist ground. This moss was once used as stuffing for mattresses and pillows and the Hypnum part of the scientific name comes from the word Hypnos, name of the Greek god of sleep.

 13. Plaited Shaggy Moss aka Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus

A good example of why botanists use scientific names instead of common names is this moss, Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus. Its common names are shaggy moss, plaited shaggy moss, big shaggy moss, rough goose neck moss, rough neck moss, and even electrified cat’s tail moss. I kid you not. Apparently someone thought that if you somehow plugged in a cat its tail would look just like this moss.

 14. Yellow Feather Moss aka Homalothecium lutescens

When I saw how pale this yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) was I thought it was sick, but this is the way it is supposed to look. It has kind of a loose, airy look that I like. It’s also called ragged yellow moss and fossil evidence has been found that dates it as far back as the Pleistocene epoch, from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago.

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale

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