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Posts Tagged ‘Bunchberry’

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

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1. Common Wintercress aka Barbarea vulgaris

I’m starting off this post with water because there seems to be less and less of it to see each day as the drought goes on. Actually this is a “seep” which usually runs all year long and which hasn’t dried up yet. A seep is a place where water slowly oozes out of the ground and that describes this place perfectly. I thought the yellow of the common wintercress was beautiful against the blue of the water.

2. Common Wintercress aka Barbarea vulgaris

Common wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) is also called yellow rocket and is in the mustard family. It is a biennial plant, meaning it forms leaves during its first year and flowers and then dies after its second year. The first year basal leaves are hardly noticeable but when it blooms you can’t help but see the bright yellow, foot tall plants. It is a native of Europe and Asia and, as the all too familiar story goes, it almost immediately escaped cultivation here and is now found on disturbed ground mostly is waste areas, so it is not that invasive.

3. Blue Eyed Grass

I think I would have named blue eyed grass yellow eyed grass, but that’s just me. No matter what it’s called, blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) has always been one of my favorite wildflowers. It’s in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light green leaves resemble grass leaves.  The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find. Native Americans had several medicinal uses for this plant.

4. Ox Eye Daisy

To me the ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) says that June has come but this year the warmth of May has brought them on a little early. 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.

5. Bunchberry

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) always looks like it has chubby cheeks to me but I can’t explain exactly why. It also always reminds me of dogwood and that’s because it is in the dogwood (cornus) family. It 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.  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.

6. Bunchberry

Bunchberry plants grow right up into the V made by the two trunks of this oak tree near my house. 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.

7. Dogwood

Here’s a dogwood blossom to compare to the bunchberry we saw previously. It has the same 4 larger white bracts with small greenish flowers in the center. Even the leaves show the same veining.

8. Iris

I’m not positive what this irises name is but I found it growing along a path in the woods. I think it might be a dwarf crested Iris (Iris cristada) that has escaped from someone’s garden. It stood only about 6 inches tall. It was very pretty and also unexpected.

9. Rhodora and Bog Laurel

On May 17, 1854 Henry David Thoreau wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that is exactly what this beautiful little plant does. I was kneeling when I took this photo, so though these shrubs look quite tall they really top out at no more than 2 feet.  There are actually 2 shrubs in this photo; one is the rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) and the other is bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia). Both normally grow in standing water and seem to be doing exceptionally well this year in spite of the drought that has left them with dry feet.

10. Rhodora

Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished. Rhododendron canadense was first described and pictured by Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau in the ‘Botanic Garden’ in Paris in March 1756, where it had been brought from Canada. It was a big hit and was introduced to England in 1791. This beautiful little shrub will take all the cold it can get but it has a hard time in hot, dry weather.

11. Bog Laurel

Bog laurel is another very beautiful native shrub but it is on the rare side and I don’t see it that often.  The small, dime size flowers are bright pink and very beautiful. Like many laurels bog laurel is poisonous enough to kill and no part of the plant should ever be eaten.  Legend has it that when a Native American wanted to end his life, this was the plant that was chosen to do the deed. It likes to grow along the edges of cool acidic bogs and often grows in shallow standing water. That makes it harder to get close to and in this case, that might be a good thing.

12. Mayapple

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this is another native plant that is toxic and should not be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

13. Blue Bead Lily

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 once the flowers appear there is no doubt. I saw a lot of plants with leaves but no flowers in this spot. It takes more than 12 years for new plants to produce flowers, so they must all be younger than that. Their cheery yellow flowers really light up the shaded forest floor and I’m always happy to find them.

14. Blue Bead Lily

A close look at the flower shows why blue bead lily is in the lily family; each one looks like a miniature garden lily. The flowers give way to a single electric blue berry, which is toxic. One Native American legend says that, when a grass snake eats a poisonous toad, it slithers in rapid circles around a shoot of blue-bead lily to transfer the poison to the plant. Blue bead lily seeds take 2 years or more to germinate and then another 10 to bloom, so growing this plant from seed would take great patience.

15. Lady's Slippers

Our native pink lady slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) seem to be thriving this year in spite of the dryness, and that surprises me. For centuries this plant has also been known as the moccasin flower, possibly because the Native American Ojibway tribe called it ma-ki-sin-waa-big-waan. Another name is whippoorwill shoes, because an old native legend says that when whippoorwills go courting at night, they wear lady’s slippers as moccasins. This pouch or “moccasin” has a purpose; once a bee gets inside the pouch it has to force its way out and the plant deposits a nice load of pollen on its head when it does. The problem with this strategy is the bees aren’t apt to fall for having to force their way out of the pouch twice because it uses up their energy, so a lot of pollen is wasted. One study in Pennsylvania showed that of 3,300 lady’s slippers only 23 were pollinated.

16. Lady's Slippers

Though the flowers of the lady’s slippers in the previous photo were light colored these were quite dark. Normally that wouldn’t be unusual except that the two groups were growing side by side. Things like that interest me and I always wonder what causes the differences that I see.

17. Lady's Slipper

This photo is for all of you who have never seen a lady’s slipper blossom up close. They’re very beautiful things and people will gladly drive and / or walk miles to see them at this time of year. That makes me feel very grateful to have a few volunteers growing right here in my own yard.

For 99 percent of the time we’ve been on Earth we were hunters and gatherers, our lives dependent on knowing the fine, small details of our world.  Deep inside, we still have a longing to be reconnected with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and dance, our sense of the divine.  ~Janine M. Benyus

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1. Blue Flag Iris

It’s hard to believe that it is iris time already, but here they are. This is a native blue flag (Iris versicolor) that I found growing near a pond. Such beauty, and all to convince the bees that this, more than any other, is the flower that they should visit.

2. Bunchberry Flowers

If, when you look at a bunchberry plant (Cornus canadensis) it reminds you of something else, that’s because it is in the dogwood family. Like a dogwood blossom its large white bracts surround smaller flowers. Even the 2 larger and 4 smaller leaves look like a dogwood. In fact, an old name for the plant is creeping dogwood. They like moist, shady woods.

3. Bunchberry Flowers

A closer look at tiny bunchberry flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a bright red, single seeded drupe, and the plant will then have the bunch of “berries” that give it its common name.

4. Rhodora Blossoms

Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished. On May 17, 1854 Henry David Thoreau wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that is exactly what this beautiful little plant does.

5. Cow Vetch

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.

6. Ox Eye Daisy

I got married in June and we couldn’t afford flowers from a florist so we picked ox-eye daisy blossoms (Leucanthemum vulgare.) That’s when I discovered that they look much better along a roadside than they do in a vase. This one had a visitor.

7. Yellow Hawkweed

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.

8. White Foxglove

I’ve seen foxglove flowers (Digitalis) in the past which, even though they tried very hard to be white, were more off white or pale yellow, but those pictured were definitely white. Though eye catching, all parts of this plant are toxic and eating even a small amount can be fatal.

9. White Foxglove

Though it is said that the spots on a foxglove flower are elfin finger prints, they are actually a kind of guide or “landing strip” for bees. In many foxglove blossoms the spots are fluorescent at night under black light and, since bees see in ultraviolet light, viewing the flowers under black light gives us an idea of what bees must see.

10. Black Locust Blossoms

I love smelling the flowers of the black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia.) I think of them as a kind of poor man’s wisteria because their fragrance seems very similar to me. The flowers might also look familiar to vegetable gardeners because the black locust is in the pea family (Fabaceae.) 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.

11. Purple Robe Black Locust

These flowers also belong to the black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia, ) but I believe that this tree is a cultivar called “purple robe” that has escaped cultivation. I find it in the woods occasionally and have been a little confused about its origin. It lacks the short spines at the base of its leaves and instead has bristly hairs on its stems. It always seems to be growing in small colonies when I see it and I’m hoping that a reader might know more about it. The flowers are very fragrant and bees really love this tree. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge.

Note: Josh from the Josh’s Journal blog has identified this plant as bristly locust (Robinia hispida,) which is a native, shrubby locust. Thanks to Josh for putting several years of wondering about this plant to rest. This is a great illustration of how long it can take to correctly identify plants in rare cases.

12. Blue Toadflax

I recently found the biggest colony of native blue toadflax plants (Nuttallanthus canadensis) that I’ve ever seen growing alongside a road. This plant seems to like sunny and dry, sandy waste areas because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers.

13. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) has many other common names, such as Indian physic or American ipecac, both of which tell me that I don’t want to be eating any of it. Native Americans dried the root and used it as an emetic and laxative so some of its common names make sense, but I’ve never been able to find out where the name bowman’s root originated. This two foot tall native plant makes an excellent addition to a partially shaded perennial border.

14. Bowman's Root

An unusual feature of bowman’s root is how the five petals on the beautiful white, star shaped flowers are never quite symmetrical.

Another common name for this plant is fawn’s breath and, though I don’t know its origin, these flowers sway in the gentlest hint of a breeze and I can imagine someone thinking that it didn’t take more than the breath of a fawn to get them dancing.

15. Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) are one of the most beautiful things you’ll see in the woods of New Hampshire in the spring. Their blooming period has nearly ended for this year, so I thought I’d show one more before next spring. This is the darkest colored one that I saw this year.

I often try to take a photo of the darkest flower in a group and then compare them at the end of the blooming period. I do this with many different kinds of flowers and the differences are sometimes quite surprising.

In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. – Christopher Morley

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This is another of those posts full of all those things that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

1. Staghorn Sumac Fruiting

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) berries are forming. This is an extreme close up of them. The fuzziness is what gives the plant its common name.  I watched these berries closely last fall to see how long it would take for the birds to eat them. Much to my surprise, they weren’t eaten until migrating birds like red winged blackbirds returned in the spring. Birds that stay here year round don’t seem to like them.

2. Blue Bead Lily Fruit

The blue of the berries on a blue bead lily (Clintonia borealis) plant is hard to match anywhere else in nature. It’s a kind of electric, neon blue that is very easy to see in the forest.  Birds and chipmunks love these berries though, so they can be hard to find before they’re eaten.

 3. Blue Bead Lily Fruit

Native blue bead lily is also called corn lily, cow tongue, yellow bead lily, yellow blue bead lily, snake berry, dog berry, and straw lily. Native Americans used this plant treat injuries and bruises.

4. Bunchberry Berries

This bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) had a bunch of red berries.

 5. Nipple Galls or Coneheads on Hazel Leaf caused by aphid Hormaphis hamamelidis

The witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) have nipple galls, made by the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis). These galls won’t hurt the plant, but they do look a little strange. They are also called cone heads.

 7. Indian Pipes 4

When Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) stand up straight from their usual nodding position that means the flowers have been pollinated. Soon after the plants begin to darken as they put all their energy into making seeds.  The plant gets its common name from the way its nodding flowers resemble the peace pipe used by Native Americans. Other names include corpse plant, death plant, ice plant, ghost flower, bird’s nest, fairy smoke, eyebright, fit plant, and convulsion root.

6. Indian Pipe Flower

After fertilization a single seed capsule containing thousands of tiny seeds forms. In spite of its toxicity, Native Americans used Indian pipe medicinally to treat a variety of illnesses. Colonial Americans also used the plant in the same way.

 8. Pinesap

At a quick glance pinesap plants look much like Indian pipes, but a closer look shows that pinesap is a yellow / tan /reddish color compared to the stark white of Indian pipes. Indian pipes also have a single flower and pinesap has several, the buds of which can be seen in this photo. Despite their differences the two plants are closely related.

9. Crushed Glass

I had to go to the local recycling center last week and saw this pile of crushed glass sparkling like gemstones in the bright sunlight. Naturally, I had to get a picture of it.

10.Orange Spindle Coral Fungi aka Ramariopsis laeticolor

This photo of orange spindle coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor) isn’t the sharpest I’ve ever taken, but they are tiny things and it was quite dark where they grew. Soon coral mushrooms of all kinds will be seen all over the forest floor.

11. Blue Slime Mold possibly Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa

This blue slime mold was even smaller than the spindle coral mushrooms and grew in an even darker place. I don’t like to use a flash unless it is absolutely necessary but in this case, it was. Blue is a very rare color among slime molds in this area and I’m always happy to see it. Though I haven’t been able to positively identify it, I think it could be Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.

12. Scrambled Egg Slime Mold

Scrambled egg slime mold (Fuligo septica) looks just like scrambled eggs at this stage in its development.  Tomorrow it could look entirely different or might have disappeared completely.

13. Tiny Orange Waxcap Mushrooms

Wax cap mushrooms prefer areas that have not been worked by man and I find them in the two or three old undisturbed forests that I visit. There are over 250 species of wax caps and all are very colorful. I haven’t been able to identify these except to assume that they are part of the hygrocybe group.

16. Queen Anne's Lace Purple Flower

If you give a Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) flower head (Umbel) a quick glance you might think that there was a small insect right in the middle of it. That’s not an insect though-it’s a tiny, infertile flower that’s less than half the size of a pea. Not all plants have these central florets that can be purple, pink, or sometimes blood red. From what I’ve seen in this area it seems that as many plants have it as those that do not.

15. Queen Anne's Lace Purple Flower

This is a close up of the tiny purple floret that sometimes appears on a Queen Anne’s lace flower head. I’ve heard many theories of why this floret grows the way it does but the bottom line is that botanists don’t really know why.  It seems to serve no useful purpose, but it might have at one time.

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ~ John Muir

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