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Posts Tagged ‘Bunchberry’

More and more flowers are appearing each day now and the roadsides are beginning to bloom, as these ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) show. This is just a small piece of what was miles of daisies along this road.

Ox eye daisies will always say June to me. I was married in June and because we couldn’t afford flowers from the florist we picked hundreds of Ox eye daisies. They wilted quickly and looked much better in the meadow than in a vase, so I don’t think I’ve ever picked one since. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. I always like to see their spiraled centers.

Blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) are another flower that says June to me. The name “flag” comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves. In this instance they were growing right in the water of a pond, so they don’t mind wet roots.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing its best to just admire this one. It’s an easy thing to admire.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Just like the dogwood tree flower the large (relatively) white bracts of bunchberry surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give it its common name. Even the plant’s leaves show the same veining as the dogwood tree. Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

Dogwood (Cornus) blossoms have 4 large white bracts surrounding the actual small greenish flowers in the center, just like bunchberries. They have just come into bloom.

Every time I look closely at blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) I wonder why they didn’t call it yellow eyed grass, but that’s not all that’s wrong with the name because the plant isn’t a grass at all; it’s in the iris family. Its light blue green leaves do resemble grass leaves though. The beautiful little flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find. I think they must be sun lovers because they’re a little late this year. Some plants liked the cool damp weather, but this wasn’t one of them.

I find goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis) growing in a meadow in full sun and that single spot is the only place I find them. Goat’s beard flowers close up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon,” but I saw these still blooming at around 1 PM. A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify. It is native to Europe but doesn’t seem to be at all invasive here. In fact I often have trouble finding it.

Maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) have just started blooming and I found the one in the above photo  at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does and it blooms later, usually in July. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows. Their colors can vary from almost white to deep magenta. I have volunteers growing in my lawn and I mow around them. They’re too beautiful to just cut down.

Red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) never looks red to me; it always looks purple. But whatever the color it always looks beautiful to me. When I can see it anyway. Red sandspurry was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s but it could hardly be called invasive. It is such a tiny plant that it would take many hundreds of them just to fill your shoe.

This photo of a red sandspurry blossom over a penny that I took two years ago will give you an idea of just how tiny they are. Each one could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. For those who don’t know, a penny is .75 inches [19.05 mm] across. I’m guessing you could fit 8-10 blossoms on one.

Our locust trees are blooming. The one shown here is a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) loaded with white, very fragrant blooms. One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains.

Locusts are in the same family as peas and beans and the flowers show the connection. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well .They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

Bristly locust (Robinia hispida) is more shrub than tree, but it can reach 8 feet. What sets this locust apart from others are the bristly purple-brown hairs that cover its stems. Even its seedpods are covered by hairs. Bristly locust is native to the southeastern United States but has spread to all but 7 of the lower 48 states, with a lot of help from nurseries selling it for ornamental use. The beautiful pinkish purple bristly locust flowers are very fragrant and bees really love them. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge.

In 2015 the highway department replaced a bridge over the Ashuelot River and widened the road leading to and from it. They put what I thought was grass seed down on the roadsides once the bridge was finished, but it was wildflower / grass seed mix containing lupines (Lupinus.) For a couple of years they were growing all along the sides of the road but this year I counted only three small clumps. That could be because they are an aphid magnet and I saw many in this colony covered with the sucking insects. I’ve always loved lupines and I’m always happy to see them come into bloom, but it doesn’t seem like they’ll survive much longer in this spot.

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. This example grows in a local park. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, so another common name is American ipecac. Nobody seems to know the origin of the name bowman’s root or whether it refers to the bow of a boat or the bow part of the bow and arrow. The white flower petals of bowman’s root are asymmetrical and always look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler. But they are beautiful nonetheless, and dance at the end of long stems. And they do dance in the slightest movement of air. Some say that all it takes is the gentle breath of a fawn to set them dancing, and because of that another of their common names is fawn’s breath. I can’t think of a more beautiful name for a flower.

Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) is in full bloom now and is a plant held in high regard for its hard to find clear blue color. This is another tough native plant that bees love. People love it too, and it is now sold in nurseries. The black seed pods full of loose, rattling, seeds that follow the flowers were once used as rattles by children. Not surprisingly, other common names include rattle weed and rattle bush. Native Americans made a blue dye from this native plant that was a substitute for true indigo.

When I was just a young boy living with my father I decided that our yard needed a facelift. We had a beautiful cabbage rose hedge and a white lilac, and a Lorelai bearded iris that my mother planted before she died but I wanted more. I used to walk the Boston and Main railroad tracks to get to my grandmother’s house and I’d see these beautiful blue flowers growing along the tracks, so one day I dug one up and planted it in the yard. My father was quiet until I had planted 3 or 4 of them, and then he finally asked me why I was bringing home those “dammed old weeds.” He also walked the tracks to get to work and back, so he saw the tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants just as often as I did. Though I thought they were lost and needed to be rescued, he thought somebody threw them away and wished they’d have thrown them just a little farther. We had blue flowers in the yard for a while though, and today every time I see this plant I think of my father.  I know I tell this story every year at this time and longtime readers are probably bored with it but there aren’t many flower memories I can associate with my father, so I like to remember him through this one. It’s a beautiful flower that I wish he’d looked at a little more closely.

Plant breeders have been working on tradescantia; I find this purple flowered one in a local park. Interesting but I like the blue that I grew up with best. Bees, especially bumblebees, seem to like this one best though. Why that is, I don’t know.

Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), though beautiful, can overrun a garden. These flowers grow from a bulb and are native to southern Europe and Africa. The bulbs contain toxic alkaloids and have killed livestock, so they are now listed as an invasive species.

To just sit with a fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) admiring its beauty for a while is enough for me sometimes, depending on the day. They’ve just started blooming and they dot the surface of ponds and slow flowing rivers throughout the region. They are such beautiful things with that golden flame burning in the center of each one. And fragrant too; they are said to smell like ripe cantaloupe. I was surprised to see that the new camera actually caught some of the submerged stems and even a round flower bud. I guess I’ll have to take back some of the bad thoughts I’ve had about it because I’ve never gotten a photo of these features before.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder. ~Avina Celeste

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If I’m seeing our beautiful native blue flag irises it must be June. And this year I’m seeing them everywhere, so it must be a great year for them. The name flag is from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed, and which I assume applies to the cattail like leaves of an iris.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing its best to just admire this one.  It’s an easy thing to admire.

Our meadows and roadsides are just coming into bloom and the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does and it blooms later, usually in July. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows. Their colors can vary from almost white to deep magenta. I have volunteers growing in my lawn and I mow around them. They’re too beautiful to just cut down.

In 2015 the highway department replaced a bridge over the Ashuelot River and widened the road leading to and from it. They put what I thought was grass seed down on the roadsides once the bridge was finished, but it was wildflower / grass seed mix containing lupines (Lupinus.) For a couple of years they were growing all along the sides of the road but this year there are just a few. That could be because they are an aphid magnet and I saw many in this colony covered with the sucking insects. I’ve always loved lupines and I’m always happy to see them come into bloom. I hope they survive in this spot.

The lupines come in light and dark shades in this spot, but they also come in pink, white, red, and even yellow.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) blooms among the tall grasses. This plant is originally from Europe and is also called common or grass leaved stitchwort. It like disturbed soil and does well on roadsides, old fields, and meadows. The Stellaria, part of its scientific name means star like, and the common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

I find purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) growing in a local park. It’s a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

I’ve told this story many times but I’ll tell it once more for the more recent readers: When I was just a young boy living with my father I decided that our yard needed a facelift. We had a beautiful cabbage rose hedge and a white lilac, and a Lorelai bearded iris that my mother planted before she died but I wanted more. I used to walk the Boston and Maine railroad tracks to get to my grandmother’s house and I’d see these beautiful blue flowers growing along the tracks, so one day I dug one up and planted it in the yard. My father was quiet until I had planted 3 or 4 of them, and then he finally asked me why I was bringing home those “dammed old weeds.” He also walked the tracks to get to work and back, so he saw the tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants just as often as I did. Though I thought they were lost and needed to be rescued, he thought somebody threw them away and wished they’d have thrown them just a little farther. We had blue flowers in the yard for a while though, and today every time I see this plant I think of my father. I’m sure everyone has plants that come with memories attached, and this is just one of mine.

Though my color finding software sees some purple in the previous tradescantia photo I think it was just the play of light on its petals. This one is the real purple one. I don’t know its name but it grows in a local park. It’s pretty but my favorite is the blue one.

I don’t think I could imagine more beautiful colors and shapes in a flower than those found on the perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a local park.

Dogwood (Cornus) blossoms have 4 large white bracts surrounding the actual small greenish flowers in the center. They have just come into bloom.

Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Can you see the resemblance to the dogwood blossom we just saw?  Just like that dogwood the large (relatively) white bracts of bunchberry surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries which give it its common name.  Even the plant’s leaves show the same veining as the dogwood tree. Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, which you can see in this photo. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned groundcover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe.

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Golden clover (Trifolium campestre) is an imported clover originally from Europe and Asia. It is also known as large trefoil and large hop clover. The plant was imported through Philadelphia in 1800 to be used as a pasture crop and now appears in most states on the east and west coasts and much of Canada, but it is not generally considered aggressively invasive. Each pretty yellow flower head is packed with golden yellow pea-like flowers. I see the plant growing along roadsides and in sandy waste areas.

I know that I just showed blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) in my last flower post but I saw this quite large clump of them the other day and couldn’t resist a photo of it. It’s a very beautiful little flower.

When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia) growing in it but now I hardly see them. The 6-8 foot shrubs are loaded with beautiful flowers right now but I suppose they’re considered old fashioned because you never see them at newer houses.

In Greek the word spirea means wreath, but the plant comes from China and Korea. Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune originally found it in a garden in China in the 1800s but it grows naturally on rocky hillsides, where its long branches full of white flowers spill down like floral waterfalls.

Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. I like its color and it’s nice to see it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses.

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them. John Ruskin

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I’d like to take you for a little walk through December in New Hampshire so those who’ve never been here might know what it’s like. I’m going to start on December 9th, when I was taking photos of Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor.) As any gardener knows these pretty little flowers don’t mind a little cold but still, seeing them blooming in December is rare here.

Even rarer than Johnny jump ups blooming in December is forsythia blooming at any time beyond June, but I found one shrub blooming happily in the warm sunshine on the same day I saw the Johnny jump ups. And it wasn’t just a single blossom; this bush probably had 30-40 flowers on it. Whether or not it will bloom again in the spring like it should is anyone’s guess.

Flowers weren’t the only thing happily carrying on in the warmth; bright yellow lemon drop fungi (Bisporella citrina) decorated the end of a log. They look like tiny drops of sunshine sprinkled over logs and stumps, and are fairly common. Lemon drops are in the sac fungus family, which refers to their microscopic reproductive structures that resemble wineskins. There are over 64,000 different sac fungi, including ear and cup fungi, jelly babies, and the morel and false morel mushrooms.

Lemon drops start life as a tiny 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 will become cup shaped. The citrina part of the scientific name comes from the Latin citrin, and means “lemon yellow.” They are very small; the smallest in this photo would be barely the size of a period made by a pencil on paper, so a hand or macro lens comes in handy.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) is a tease and always reminds me of spring, but it just lies under the snow all winter staying almost as green as it is here. Greater celandine was purposely introduced from Europe and is now considered an invasive plant but nobody really seems to mind it. When I was a boy we called it mustard because of the yellow sap that stained your hands, but it is in the poppy family and has nothing to do with mustard. The sap was once used to remove warts but science has found that it is toxic and can be extremely irritating, especially to the eyes and skin, so its use isn’t recommended.

Sweet little bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is the smallest member of the dogwood family that I know of here in New Hampshire. It gets its name from the bunches of red berries that appear after the flowers are pollinated, and I hoped to get some photos of them for you this year but they are apparently popular with the critters because they disappeared quickly. Instead all I can show is its pretty fall leaves. Bunchberry was an important plant to Native Americans. They made tea from it to treat colds and also dried the leaves for smoking. Ashes from the burned plants were used to treat sores and insect bites and the roots were ground and used to treat colic in infants. The plant has strong antiseptic, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties but I love it for its beautiful pure white, dogwood like blossoms.

I wish I could tell you what this is but I don’t know myself. I found several of them growing in damp, sandy soil in full sun and it says liverwort to me, but I can’t be sure. It is a low growing, flat on the ground plant. When I went back to look a little closer they had all curled up and died from the cold. At least I think so.  If you’ve seen them and know what they are I’d love to hear from you.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, so I wasn’t that surprised to see these blossoms in December. What the real surprise concerning witch hazels was this year was their lack of blossoms. Most of the shrubs that I know of didn’t bloom at all this year, and that’s very strange. In fact I only saw two or three shrubs out of hundreds blooming and I can’t guess what is holding them back, unless it was the unusually cool weather in August. Some Native American tribes steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in their sweat lodges to soothe aching muscles and others made tea from it to treat coughs. As is often the case Natives had a use for virtually every part of the plant and witch hazel is still in use today. It can be found as a lotion in almost any drugstore.

Since I was in the neighborhood I had to stop in to see the only plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) that I know of. It grows in an old stone wall and I like to see its crinkly, foot long evergreen leaves. Each leaf has a prominent midrib and a vein running on either side of it, and this makes identification very easy. I often come to see it in mid spring when it blooms. I wish I’d see more of them but so far in my experience this plant is quite rare here.

Heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) blooms in May and seems like a delicate little thing, but in reality it’s a very tough plant that stays green under the snow all winter. Some foamflower plants have leaves that turn pink and maroon but these examples stayed green. Like many plants that hold their leaves through winter, this year’s foliage will only brown and die back in spring, when new ones will appear. It is thought that some plants stay green in winter so they can get a jump on their competitors by photosynthesizing just a short time earlier. Foamflowers form dense mats of foliage and there is usually nothing else seen growing among them.

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) another of our native evergreens, goes by many other names but to me it will always be the checkerberry. Thanks to my grandmother, who had trouble getting up after keeling and so had me crawl around through the forest looking for its bright red berries, it was the first plant I learned to identify. We loved the minty, spicy flavor of the berries but coming up with only a handful was often difficult. The name checkerberry comes from the chequer tree, which is a mountain ash tree native to Europe and which is thought to have similar berries. From what I’ve seen though the only similarity is the color of the fruit. Oil of wintergreen can be distilled from the leaves of American wintergreen, and they also make a pleasant, minty tea. Native Americans would take a handful of the leaves with them on a hunt and nibble on them to help them breathe easier while running or carrying heavy game.

With a name like evergreen Christmas fern you probably wouldn’t be surprised to see this fern’s green leaves in winter, but these leaves did surprise me because they weren’t the deep green color that they usually have. They were a much paler, blanched green and this is something I’ve never seen before. I can’t even guess what would have caused this nearly indestructible fern to lose its color. Early colonials used to bring the fronds of this fern indoors in the winter, presumably to brighten what must have been a long, cold, dark period for them. If you look closely you can see that each leaf has a tiny “toe,” which makes it look like a Christmas stocking.

You would expect it to get cold in December and we weren’t too deep into the month when I started finding mushrooms like these brown ones frozen absolutely solid, but the cold that froze them was nothing compared to what was to come.

If you want to strike fear into the heart of even the crustiest New Englander just say the words “Ice storm.”  An ice storm coats absolutely everything in ice and as the ice builds up layer after layer on tree branches the branches and sometimes the whole tree will fall, and when they fall they usually take the already weighed down power lines with them. This leaves entire regions; sometimes millions of people, without electricity. Of course it is cold outside as well, and when you don’t have electricity to power your furnace, unless you have a woodstove or fireplace you have only two choices: move or freeze. I have no backup heat source, and all of these thoughts crossed my mind as I walked through the landscape on the morning of Christmas Eve day, right after an ice storm.

An ice storm can be both beautiful and terrible at the same time, but thankfully only a few thousand people lost their power this time and it was restored rather quickly. I’ve known people who have lost their power for close to a month after an ice storm and returned home only to find their house nearly destroyed by frozen and burst water pipes. I don’t think there is any weather event that we fear more.

The ice looked thick on all the trees but in reality was probably only about a quarter inch thick, which isn’t usually enough to cause much damage, thankfully.  Anything above that can mean trouble.

After the ice came about 5 inches of snow on Christmas morning, and this weighed the branches down even more because most of the ice was still on them. Still, though the Christmas tree lights blinked once or twice our power stayed on and I was able to cook our Christmas ham.

After the snow of Christmas day came the cold, and I do mean cold. Record breaking, dangerous cold settled in and hasn’t left yet, nearly a week later. As I write this I’m hoping I don’t wake to -16 °F again tomorrow as I did this morning, because you don’t go outside in that kind of cold, and it’s hard to chronicle what is happening in nature if you can’t get outside. In nearly eight years of writing this blog the weather has never stopped it, but this year could be different. I waited until it warmed to +14 ° and went out to take some photos, but an hour of that was all I could take. I must be getting old or maybe just tired of the cold; when I started this blog I could stay out most of the day if it was above 10 degrees but on this day it was more like work than fun.

But the cold can’t last forever; the earth will continue tilting toward the sun and spring will come once again. Meanwhile I’ll get outside when I can and if I can’t I might have to do a re-blog, which is something I’ve never done and don’t have the slightest idea how to do. It can’t be that hard.

If you’re wondering why I’m showing a photo of an old rock, it isn’t the rock I’m trying to show; it’s the skirt of ice it’s wearing. This stone is in the Ashuelot River and the river has frozen over from bank to bank in places. All I need to see is the river frozen over like that and I don’t need a thermometer to know it has been cold.

I see feathers all the time, but this is the first partridge feather I’ve ever seen. The partridge is an old world game bird that was introduced into the U.S. sometime around 1790. From what I’ve read it hasn’t been very successful here but it can do well on northern prairies and open farmland.  They forage in tall grass and whole flocks of them can often be very close but remain unseen, so that might help explain why I’ve never seen one. I hope they and all the other birds and animals survive this terrible cold. How they do so, I don’t know.

So that’s our look at December in New Hampshire. Maybe January will be warmer so we can all go outside once again.

Ice burns, and it is hard for the warm-skinned to distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost. ~A.S. Byatt

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This is the time of year when some of our most beautiful flowers appear. Lupines are blooming about a week early this year, so they’re in a May post rather than a June one as usual. I’m not sure if this example a native plant or a garden escapee but I was happy to see it blooming along a roadside. It’s such a beautiful shade of blue.

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) flowers have big plum colored anthers and that helps tell them apart from some of our other white flowered trees and shrubs. It is more shrub than tree and is considered an important forage plant. Bear, birds, rabbits, mice, chipmunks, deer, elk, moose, bear, and bighorn sheep eat various parts of the plant and ants, butterflies, honeybees, flies, and hummingbirds drink its nectar. Native Americans used all parts of the plant medicinally. The fruit was used for canker sores and sore throats and the roots were dried, chewed, and placed in wounds to stop bleeding. The stems were boiled to make tea to treat fevers. The small drupes have an edible outer fleshy layer but the single seed contains high levels of hydrogen cyanide and children have died from eating handfuls of them without removing the seed.

The rhododendrons have started blooming and this pink one was the first one I saw one recent rainy day.

After a poor showing last year the sweet little bunchberries (Cornus canadensis) seem to be doing well this year, and that tells me that they must like a lot of rain. This colony grows right up into the V made by the two trunks of this oak tree near my house and it seems to be doing well. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be so others can enjoy it.

 Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The large (relatively) white bracts surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give the plant its common name.  Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves, and this shot took many tries. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. This year they seem to be flowering well, so if that is true I suppose I should lower my expectations for next year. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should never be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive but it does form monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. It grows in the shade of the forest and, as the above photo shows, it does very well there. Its tiny white four petaled flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals, and of course they help its spread.

Though it is banned from being sold or planted here in New Hampshire invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is here to stay. Each tiny greenish flower will became a bright orange red berry that birds love, and they’ve helped spread this invasive shrub far and wide. Burning bush is also called winged euonymus.

Burning bush flowers are what a botanist would describe as insignificant, but the shrub has had a significant impact of the landscape, often growing in large colonies that choke out native plants.

There is a tree in a local park that I’ve wondered about for years. Each spring it is covered with beautiful red and yellow blossoms and I knew it was a horse chestnut but didn’t know anything else about it. Then recently I read on Mr. Tootlepedal’s blog of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) which is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) From what I’ve read I think this one is an example of that same tree. I also read that bees and hummingbirds love the flowers.

I find goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis) growing in a meadow in full sun. Luckily I was there in the morning because goat’s beard flowers close up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify. It is native to Europe but doesn’t seem to be at all invasive here. In fact I usually have trouble finding it.

At a glance it might be easy to confuse the large oval leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) with those of lady’s slippers, but they don’t have the deep pleats that lady’s slipper leaves have, and of course once the flowers appear there is no doubt. The two plants often grow side by side and bloom at the same time. It can take more than 12 years for blue bead lily plants to produce flowers from seed.

It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. Ants like them and they were crawling all over these plants. I like seeing both the pale yellow flowers and the blue berries that follow them. Their color has been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

Pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) have just come into bloom but I’m seeing far fewer of them than I did last year. I have a feeling that the drought last year must have affected them. But at least they’re here; there was a time when these plants were collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If the plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be.

For those who haven’t seen one, a pink lady’s slipper blossom is essentially a pouch called a labellum, which is a modified petal. The pouch has a slit down the middle, which can be seen in this photo. Veins on the pouch attract bumblebees, which enter the flower through the slit and then find that to get out they have to leave by one of two openings at the top of the pouch that have pollen masses above them. When they leave they are dusted with pollen and will hopefully carry it to another flower. It takes pink lady’s slippers five years or more from seed to bloom, but they can live for twenty years or more.

Our native azaleas have also just started to bloom. I haven’t held out much hope for the plant pictured because a tree fell on it two summers ago. It seemed to be hanging on by a thread last year but this year its strong will to live has it blooming beautifully again. It grows in a shaded part of the forest and is called early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination. I don’t know about that but it always makes me smile.

Beautiful little fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers often grow in pairs like those shown in the photo. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings” that give them the name gay wings. The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen.

You can just see in this photo how any weight on the brushy part of the fringed polygala flower would cause it to drop down and create an opening that a bee could crawl into. That pollination happens at all in a fringed polygala seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are more unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

Thanks for coming by.

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Last Sunday I decided to follow a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew had a trestle on it. History and botany are two of my favorite things and I knew I’d find a lot of both here. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and hiking just about anywhere would have been pleasant.

Sometimes the sap of white pines will turn blue in very cold weather but it was warm on this day and the sap was still blue. I wonder if it stays blue once it changes.

I’ve never heard of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) being evergreen but there were several plants along the trail, all wearing their winter purple / bronze color. If this plant looks familiar it’s probably because it is the smallest of our native dogwoods and the 4 leaves look like miniature versions of dogwood tree leaves. Bunchberry gets its common name from its bunches of bright red berries. It is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Something unusual I saw this day was a Canada yew (Taxus canadensis.) It is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy. A man in England died not too long ago from eating yew, so I wouldn’t advise trying to make tea from it. Natives knew how to treat poisonous plants in ways that made them beneficial to humans, but much of that knowledge has been lost.

A yew branch looks very flat and once you get to know what they look like you’ll never mistake it for any other evergreen.

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative. Tell tales are rarely seen these days; the above photo shows the only example I know of.

The Ashuelot River was full in places.

And over full in others. This happens regularly throughout this area and the trees survive it just fine. Many are silver (Acer saccharinum) and red maples (Acer rubrum.)  Another name for them is swamp maple because they often grow in the lowlands along rivers that flood regularly.

The large crimson bud clusters make the maples easy to spot at this time of year but I couldn’t tell if these examples were flowering or not. Many are, now that we’ve had some warmth.

There isn’t a lot of ledge in this section of trail but there is some and it shows the marks of a steam drill.  The railroad workers cut through the solid rock by drilling deep holes into the stone using steam powered drills and then poring black powder into them. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force. Trains first rolled through here in the mid-1850s.

Maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) are beautiful and are definitely worth looking for. I’ve found them growing on maple, oak, beech, and poplars. They are usually quite a different green but the camera didn’t seem to be seeing green very well this day.

You can tell that it’s a maple dust lichen by the tiny fringe around its outer edge.

The trail goes on for many miles and it is wide, flat, and sometimes busy as it was on this day. I saw several people while I was here and I was happy to see them out enjoying nature. I hope they saw as many interesting things as I did.

There was snow for anyone who might want it. I didn’t.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud. Beech bud break doesn’t usually start until mid-May, so I think the example in this photo is a fluke caused by early warmth. Others I saw had not curled yet.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring.

Partridgeberry flowers are fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were. Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. Native Americans ate the berries and made them into a jelly, which was eaten in case of fevers. Partridgeberry is still used in folk medicine today to treat muscle spasms and as a nerve tonic.

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grows along the sides of the trail and its thousands of tiny spore capsules were shining in the sun. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. In the spring 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.  Sometimes the capsules do turn red as they age, so I suppose the name makes sense.

Most of these spore capsules were not quite spherical and that means that they were still immature. When they become spherical the spores will begin to ripen and prepare for the wind to disperse them.

Human history and natural history are visible from rail trails. The old railroad routes through a town can show a lot about how the town developed, what it was like long ago. When you go through a town by bicycle on an old railroad route, the place looks very different than from the customary perspective of the car and the highway. ~Peter Harnick

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Lady Fern

Since we aren’t having the pumpkin festival here in Keene any longer I don’t have any carved Jack O’ Lanterns to show you, but I did see a ghostly lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) on a recent walk in the woods. According to the “Fern Bulletin,” which is a quarterly publication devoted to ferns, fern reproductive systems weren’t understood until the middle of the 16th century, when fern spores were finally studied. Before that time people thought that there were male and female ferns, and that’s how the lady fern came by her common name. There are other stories about the origin of the name but this one seems the most plausible.

2. Howling Stump

How about a scary, one eyed howling stump for Halloween?  No, it wasn’t really howling but it looked like it was about to.

3. Hazel Galls

Jacqueline Donnelly from the Saratoga woods and waterways blog said that cone galls (Hormaphis hamamelidis) on witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) reminded her of tiny witch hats, and I have to agree. These galls are caused by the witch-hazel cone gall aphid. The gall is rich in nutrients and provides both food and shelter for the female aphids. For part of their life cycle these galls are bright red.

4. Willow Gall

The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

5. Turkey Tails

After seeing few turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) over the last couple of years this year I’m seeing them frequently, including the blue / purple ones that I’m always happy to see.  They range from tan to brown to orange, red or blue and purple. I’ve searched for a few years to find out what influenced their color and finally just read that both genetics and environment are determining factors. There are many other fungi that look like this one but the pores on its underside and the colorful banding are the two most reliable identifying characteristics for turkey tails. Turkey tails are saprobic fungi, meaning they decompose dead or decaying organic material. They cause white rot of the sapwood, so having them on a living tree is not good.

6. Blue Crust Fungus

Fungi with a resupinate or flat sheeting habit are sometimes called crust fungi. They often grow on the undersides of logs, which is where I found this blue example. Some crust fungi, like the cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea,) are very beautiful and also very rare. Rolling logs over can be a lot of work but can also reveal hidden and unexpected beauty.

7. Bunchberry

These bunchberry plants (Cornus canadensis) seemed all ready for Halloween. Seeing a forest floor carpeted in drifts of white bunchberry flowers is a delight that is hard to equal. The bright red berries that follow the flowers grow in bunches, and that gives this plant its common name. The berries are loaded with pectin and early settlers put them in puddings to add color and help them jell.

Bunchberry has also been found to be the fastest plant. According to a study done at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts “Tests have shown that the petals of the bunchberry plant’s tiny flowers can move at 22 feet per second when they open with an explosive force. The petals explode open to launch pollen an inch into the air. The pollen is ejected to 10 times the height of the small plant so that it can be carried away on the wind.”

The scientists say in Nature Magazine: “Bunchberry stamens are like miniature medieval trebuchets, specialized catapults that maximize throwing distance by having the payload [pollen in the anther] attached to the throwing arm [filament] by a hinge or flexible strap.”

8. Barberry Stump

A Japanese barberry stump (Berberis thunbergii) bleeds bright yellow. A strong, permanent yellow orange dye can be made from all parts of the barberry. From the Pioneer Thinking Newsletter: “To make the dye chop the plant into small pieces and place them in a pot. Double the amount of water to plant material. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour. Strain. Now you can add your fabric to be dyed. For a stronger shade, allow material to soak in the dye overnight. To fix the color mix 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar. Add fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour. Rinse the material and squeeze out excess. Rinse in cool water until water runs clear.” Maybe dyeing fabrics with it would help control the spread of this invasive shrub.

9. Beaver Stump

The beavers seem to have started a sculpture garden along the banks of the Ashuelot River. Nearby they had felled a large American elm (Ulmus americana.) Anyone who has cut and split wood knows that elm is tough and stringy and hard to do much of anything with, so why beavers would choose it is a mystery.

10. Fungus

This fungus was big-as big as a soccer ball. I thought it might be a black-staining polypore (Meripilus sumstinei) which is related to the hen of the woods. However, since a few cuts on the spore bearing surface showed no black stains I’ll have to keep searching for its identity. It and a few others grew on the roots of a living oak, which does not bode well for the tree.

11. Fly Agaric Mushroom

This fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) was also big; easily the biggest capped mushroom that I’ve ever seen. I put a quarter on its cap to give you a sense of its size. The quarter is about an inch across and I’d guess the mushroom was about 10 inches. It looked like a dinner plate.

12. Mushroom

This mushroom was no bigger than a nickel, but far more beautiful than the two giant ones seen previously. I think that the gills are the most beautiful part of some mushrooms.

13. Feern

This fern came into life curled like the head of a fiddle and left the same way.  Sometimes beauty can be found even in death.

14. Beech

Lest you think that autumn has ended here, the beeches and oaks are now taking center stage. This small beech looked like it was on fire, so brilliant were its leaves.

15. Chair

There’s just no telling what you’ll find in the woods of New Hampshire. What a peaceful place to sit and contemplate the wonder of it all.

The knots in the wood can’t be untied. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Halloween!

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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

Thanks for coming by.

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