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Henry David Thoreau once wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that’s what this little two foot tall shrub does each spring. The flowers usually appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because they aren’t common. 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.

The rhodora flower looks like an azalea blossom but it’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are supposed to be a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but I’ve seen eight petals like the flower on the right in this photo, and I’ve seen many with six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said that it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at, because like many I’ve seen this one has nine petals and nine stamens.  I’m thinking that the 7 rule should be disregarded because I’ve found by looking at many plants that 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

I believe this is purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) “Purple Dragon.” Whatever its name it was 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. That middle flower looks like it has a chicken popping up out of it.

Dogwood bracts have gone from green to white, but the tiny florets at their center haven’t opened yet. I think this tree is the Japanese Kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa) and not one of our native trees.

Nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum) is a little later than the purple trillium and just ahead of the painted trillium. They’re shy little things with flowers that hide beneath the leaves like the mayapple, and this makes them very hard to see. Even though I knew some plants in this group were blossoming I couldn’t see the flowers at all from above. Nodding trillium is the northernmost trillium in North America, reaching far into northern Canada and Newfoundland.

When the buds form they are above the leaves but as they grow the flower stem (petiole) lengthens and bends, so when the flower finally opens it is facing the ground. My favorite thing about the nodding trillium blossom is its six big purple stamens.

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, for some reason both nodding and painted trilliums are blooming at the same time. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three.

I didn’t see it until I looked at the photos I had taken but the painted trillium in the previous photo has a single petal pointed straight down, but in this example it points straight up. Note that the three smaller green sepals behind the petals also changed position. Which is the usual way? I’ve never paid enough attention to be able to answer that question but when you’re this beautiful I don’t suppose it really matters.

A flower that comes with plenty of memories for me is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) My grandmother’s name was Lily and I used to bring her wilting bouquets of them when I was a young boy. She would always smell them before putting them in a jelly jar full of water, all the while exclaiming how beautiful they were. The plant is extremely toxic but, though she didn’t tell me it was poisonous I never once thought of eating it or putting any part of the plant in my mouth. I do remember smelling their wondrous fragrance as I picked them though, and all those memories came back as I knelt to photograph this example. Amazing how memories can be so strongly attached to a fragrance.

Speaking of fragrance, our lilacs are finally blooming. In my April 26th post I showed lilac buds and said lilac blossoms would probably be in my next flower post. So much for prophesying; that was a full month ago and it has taken that long for them to open thanks to the cold and rainy first half of May. Though I like white lilacs I think the favorite by far is the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s also the New Hampshire state flower, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower.

My mother died when I was very young so I never really knew her but she planted a white lilac before she died, so now the flowers and their scent have become my memory of her. Whenever I see a white lilac she is there too.

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.

The leaves are on the trees and that means that the spring ephemeral flowers won’t get the sunlight they need, and we’ve already had to say goodbye to spring beauties, purple trillium, and trout lilies. Now it’s time to say goodbye to the sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia.) The plants usually grow in large colonies and seeing the bell shaped flowers on thousands of plants all moving as one in the breeze is quite a sight. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats. Each 6-8 inch tall plant has a single dangling blossom that is about half an inch to sometimes one inch long.

Though I had the new spring shoots of the plant in the last post the club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) have already appeared, so it’s a very fast grower. This plant is very easy to confuse with red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but that plant’s flower head is spherical rather than elongated.

The flower head of white baneberry is always taller than it is wide and if pollinated the flowers will become white berries with a single black dot on one end. That’s where the common name doll’s eyes comes from. The berries are very toxic and can be appealing to children but luckily they are very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

Another plant with the same type of flower head is the witch alder (Fothergilla major.) The difference is that witch alder is a native shrub related to witch hazel, and is much bigger than baneberry. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They do very well in gardens but aren’t well known. I’m seeing more of them now than in the past though.

Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) is in the euphorbia family, which contains over 2000 species of plants including poinsettia, cassava, and many popular house plants. It’s a plant native to Europe, thought to have been mistakenly imported when its seed was mixed in with other crop seed. It was first seen in Massachusetts in 1827, and from there it spread as far as North Dakota within about 80 years. It can completely overtake large areas of land and choke out native plants, and for that reason it is classified as an invasive species by the United States Department of Agriculture. I find it growing along roadsides and gravelly waste areas but I haven’t seen extremely large colonies of it. All parts of the plant contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts, or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock.

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. ~Marcus Aurelius

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The spring growth on a white pine (Pinus strobus) begins when the terminal bud at the end of a branch forms what is called a “candle.” The cluster of candles in the photo above are new shoots that will bear the tree’s leaves (needles.)  White pine needles grow in bundles of 5 and last for 2 years before turning first yellow and then brown before finally falling off. White pine needles contain five times the amount of vitamin C of lemons and were used by Native Americans to make tea. The knowledge they shared saved many early settlers who were dying of scurvy.

Both the cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) are up and growing quickly. Both have wooly fiddleheads that make them hard to tell apart when young, but there are clues.

If you look closely you might see each fiddlehead is covered by tiny spherical bumps.

These tiny spheres are the fern’s spore bearing sporangia, and of the two ferns only interrupted fern has sporangia on its fronds. Cinnamon ferns grow separate fertile fronds that bear its sporangia and they appear a little later on, so I’d say that these fiddleheads belong to the interrupted fern. In any case neither fern has edible fiddleheads. In fact some ferns have fiddleheads that are carcinogenic, so if you want to eat fiddleheads in spring it pays to learn all you can about them.

As the sun gets brighter and the days grow longer light sensitive tree buds can tell when there is enough daylight for the leaves to begin photosynthesizing, so the buds begin to break. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud” and this can be a very beautiful thing. 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.

When I see beech buds begin to curl I watch them closely, because I know that any time now the new leaves will appear and I wouldn’t want a spring to pass without seeing them. They are silvery and downy and very beautiful at this stage and I’ve lost myself in their beauty many, many times.

The process of bud break in beech trees moves from start to finish very quickly so you have to watch closely but luckily each tree’s buds will break at different times, so you still have a chance to witness it if you live in the Keene area.  Due to the cool rainy weather (I think) some buds are still just starting to curl.

The only example of plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) that I know of grows in an old stone wall and is blooming now. The prominent midrib, two lateral veins, maroon bases, and puckered look of the leaves are all used as identifying features for plantain leaved sedge. The leaves can be up to a foot long and an inch wide and I can’t think of another sedge that has leaves that look quite like these.

The flowers stalks (culms) of plantain leaved sedge are about 4 inches tall and have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the terminal male (staminate) flowers. Sedge flowers are actually called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, hence the old saying “sedges have edges.” I can’t speak for the rarity of this plant but this is the only one I’ve ever seen and it isn’t listed in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high. There is a stream just a few feet from where this one grows.

New spring leaves on many hardwood trees show some amount of red but sunlight and warmth quickly turn them green so they can photosynthesize. When we have a cool, cloudy spring like we’re having this year though, the red stage can last considerably longer. It also seems to depend on the tree; I’ve seen new spring leaves of both red and green on maples.

Oak trees are among our last to leaf out but with the cloudy cool weather holding some trees back it seems to be happening all at once this year. New spring oak leaves are often red but not these examples, even though they still wear their soft downy coatings.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be very beautiful as it spreads its new leaves to catch the sun. Unfortunately it’s also very invasive and almost impossible to control. I’ve seen Japanese knotweed shoots killed to the ground by cold in the past, and within 3 weeks they had come right back and grew on as if it had never happened. The plants grow quickly into large, 4-5 foot tall shrub like masses that shade out natives. I’ve heard that the new shoots taste much like rhubarb, so maybe if we all developed a taste for them we could finally eradicate them, at least from our roadsides.

The shoots of the common or field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) seemed to appear overnight in a large colony that thankfully wasn’t near anyone’s garden. If you’ve ever tried to rid a garden of them, you know what I mean.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a common or field horsetail ends in a cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by the gritty green infertile stems that most of us are probably familiar with. Horsetails were used as medicine by the ancient Romans and Greeks to treat a variety of ailments.

More people are probably familiar with the infertile stems of horsetail, shown here. They grow from the same roots as the fertile spore bearing shoots in the previous two photos and they do all the photosynthesizing.  Horsetails spread quickly and can be very aggressive. If they ever appear in your garden you should remove them as soon as possible, because large colonies are nearly impossible to eradicate.

I was admiring these beautiful spruce tree cones (flowers) when it hit me: Wait a minute, I thought; spruce cones always hang down and fir cones always stand up! Well, yes and no. After quite a lot of research I found that young cones of some spruce and pine trees stand up until they are pollinated. This is because they are pollinated by wind borne pollen, and it’s easier for the pollen to settle onto the open cones while they’re in an upright position like those in the photo. Once pollinated they close up, turn green and grow bigger and heavier until they tip over, where they hang until the seeds mature. Once the seeds mature the cones open and the seeds (or the cones) fall to the ground. So is it true that fir cones always stand up and spruce cones always hang down? As is often the case in nature, if you remove the word always the answer is yes.

I thought that this unfurling shoot of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) was very beautiful. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and I’ve seen others with flower buds already. Native Americans sprinkled the dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but that’s assuming you know how to prepare the roots and young shoots correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant usable.

I love the movement in the young spring shoots of whitebane berry (Actaea pachypoda) and I look for them every spring. They’re such a beautiful and interesting little things, with new leaves that always remind me of prehistoric hands or wings. If I was still drawing they would be one of my first subjects.

Native Americans used a root tea for various problems including pain, colds and coughs but the entire white baneberry plant is extremely poisonous and its berries especially so, so no part of it should ever be eaten. The bitter berries are white with a single black dot that gives them the common name doll’s eyes. In summer the berries follow a raceme of white flowers that is taller than it is wide, and which will grow from the tiny buds seen in this photo.

Each summer for the past two years we saw nothing but wall to wall sunshine, day after day for month after month. Clouds were rare and I complained about how boring it was to see a never ending flat blue sky. This year nature seems to have decided that it was time I learned another lesson; for the first half of May sunny days have been rare. I took this reflection photo on one of those rare days when the sun was shining. It was also very still that day. Days without wind have also been few but things seem to be turning around now. We’ve had four sunny days in a row this week.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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The hand size flower heads on hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) have now fully opened and they are blossoming beautifully this year. I’ve never seen so many; they grow alongside many of our roads and are easily seen. They are one of our most beautiful native shrubs; George Washington thought so highly of them he planted two at Mt. Vernon.

The larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge of the hobblebush flower heads (corymbs) opened earlier and the small fertile flowers in the center have just opened and can now be pollinated. Though very beautiful hobblebush flowers have a bit of an unpleasant fragrance, at least to my nose.

The large sterile flowers do the work of attracting insects but it’s the tiny fertile flowers that do all the work of seed production. Once pollinated they will become berries that turn from green to bright red to deep purple black. Birds help spread the seeds far and wide but it takes two years for them to germinate. Moose and deer will eat the shrub right back to the ground, and ruffed grouse, brown thrasher, Swainson’s thrush, cedar waxwings, red-eyed vireos, and pine grosbeaks eat the berries.

There are thought to be over 200 species of viburnum and one of the most fragrant is the mayflower viburnum (Viburnum carlesii,) named after the mayflower or trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) because of its scent. It is an old fashioned, much loved shrub that is also called Korean spicebush. The flower heads are on the small size, maybe as big as a small tangerine, but the scent from one shrub full of them can be detected anywhere in my yard.

Jack in the pulpit plants (Arisaema triphyllum) have just started blooming. This plant is in the arum family and is similar to the “cuckoo pint” plant found in the U.K. Another name for Jack in the pulpit is Indian turnip, because Native Americans knew how to cook the poisonous root to remove the toxic calcium oxalate crystals. They called the plant “tcika-tape” which translates as “bad sick,” but they knew how to use it so they didn’t get sick. They also used the root medicinally for a variety of ailments, including as a treatment for sore eyes. This plant is also called bog onion because the root looks like a small onion and it grows in low, damp places.

I always lift the hood of Jack in the pulpits to see the beautiful stripes and to see if Jack is being pollinated. Jack is the black, club shaped spadix surrounded by the showy striped spathe, which is the pulpit. The plant has a fungal odor that attracts gnats and other insects and if they do their job Jack will become a bunch of bright red berries that white tail deer love to snack on.

Johnny jump up is a plant that has been known for a very long time and goes by many common names. It’s said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. I think “three-faces in a hood” is my favorite.  In medieval times it was called heartsease and was used in love potions. Viola tricolor is believed to be the original wild form of all the modern varieties of pansy. I’m lucky enough to have them popping up at the edge of my lawn.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is not native to New Hampshire and I have only seen two of the trees growing in this area. Both are on private property but this one has branches overhanging a sidewalk so I’m able to get close to it. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. They’re very pretty trees though, and if I was starting a new garden I think I’d try growing one or two.

I’m always surprised by how small the pea like purple flowers are on a redbud but the tree makes up for it by producing plenty of them.

Lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) and highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are blooming well this year and that means we’ll probably see a bountiful crop of berries, provided we don’t have a late frost. Blueberries are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America. The other two are cranberries and concord grapes, but then I wonder about crabapples, which are also native fruits. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

Red currant (Ribes rubrum or Ribes sativum) bushes were once grown on farms all over the United States but the plant was found to harbor white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola,) so in the early 1900s, the federal and state governments outlawed the growing of currants and gooseberries to prevent the spread of the disease. The fungus attacks both currants and white pines (Pinus strobus,) which must live near each other for the blister rust fungus to complete its life cycle. Black currants (Ribes nigrum) are especially susceptible. The federal ban was lifted in 1966 but some states still ban the sale of currants and gooseberries. The plant’s flowers might not win a blue ribbon for beauty but that’s okay because currants are grown for their berries. Fruits range in color from dark red to pink, yellow, white and beige, and they continue to sweeten on the bush even after they seem to be fully ripe. Though often called “wild currant” red currant is native to Europe and has escaped. I found these examples on land that was once farmland.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms aren’t much in the way of fragrance because of a compound called trimethylamine, which gives the plant a slightly fishy odor, but they’re big on beauty with their plum colored anthers. They are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today.  There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

The flowers of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) look like bells dangling on a cord. They usually hang down under the leaves and can be very hard to get a good photo of unless you can find them hanging over a leaf, and that’s what happened here. The yellowish green bell shaped flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers.

Another view of the unusual striped maple flowers. Each flower has 5 green sepals and 5 greenish-yellow petals with outward turning lobes that are a bit longer than the sepals. Their six to eight stamens show that those in the photo are male flowers. A striped maple needs to be at least ten years old to produce seeds. They like cool moist woods and their large, hand size leaves mean they can take quite a lot of shade, so they grow in the understory. Native Americans are said to have used the wood of striped maple to make arrows and its bark for tea.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed.

Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to an article in the New York Times, it’s delicious.

There are something like 500 plants in the veronica family and they can be tough to tell apart, but I think this one might be slender speedwell (Veronica filiformis.) It’s a tiny thing that I found growing in a lawn and I thought I’d see if my camera was capable of taking its photo. This particular speedwell is native to Europe and is considered a lawn weed but there are many others that are native to the U.S., and Native Americans used some of them to treat asthma and allergies.

The speedwell was growing alongside a dandelion and L thought a photo of both would be a great way to show you just how small the speedwell’s blossoms were. A single blossom could easily hide behind a pea.

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their striking foliage as the flowers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

The small, numerous flowers of foamflower have 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. It is said that the long stamens are what give foamflowers their frothy appearance, along with their common name. Native Americans used the leaves and roots of foamflower medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “coolwort” because the leaves were also used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

Two of my great loves are history and botany, and they come together in the poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus.) It is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on; it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. Its scent is spicy and pleasing but it is said to be so powerfully fragrant that people can get sick from being in an enclosed room with it. I like it because of its historical baggage; it always makes me think of ancient Rome and Greece, where toga wearing poets admired its beauty. It has naturalized throughout this area and can be found in unmown fields, and it’s still just as beautiful today as it was then, over 2,000 years ago.

Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought? ~Sophie Scholl

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Westmoreland lies north of Keene and the soil there is lime rich in certain places which means that you can see plants there that won’t grow in the more acidic soil of Keene, so last Sunday off I went down one of my favorite rail trails. I used to try to ride my bike out here but the gravel of the trail is very soft and I had such a time getting through it that I ended up walking the bike for much of the way anyhow, so now I just walk it. Though it was cloudy it was a great day for hiking with all of the beautiful spring green and singing birds.

This maple was that green that only happens in spring; kind of a yellow green, I guess you’d call it.

Though it doesn’t mind acidic soil red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) does well here in the more alkaline soil.  There were several plants which were flowering well with panicles of whitish flowers growing from the axils of the upper leaves.

Each greenish white flower is about 1/8″ across. They have 5 petals (petaloid lobes) that curve backwards sharply. The flower’s 5 stamens have white filaments and are tipped with pale yellow anthers. There is also a pistil with 3 small stigmata. If pollinated each flower will become a small bright red berry.  Though the plant is said to be toxic many Native American tribes steamed, dried and ate the berries. They are said to be very bitter unless prepared correctly.

There are plenty of reminders of exactly where you are out here, like this old signal base.

When the rails were torn up the railroad left all the ties stacked up along the railbed. People came and took what they wanted but there are still plenty to be seen, slowly rotting into the soil.

The boulder in the previous photo had a golf ball size hole in it, probably made by a steam drill so it could be blasted apart when they were laying the rails. For some reason they decided not to blast it.

Almost there; the dark circle in the distance marks the end of one leg of this journey.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) wears bronze for its new spring coat, but its leaves will green up quickly. Wild sarsaparilla grows all through our forests and is a common sight. The plant sets flower buds quickly just as its leaflets have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from their early deep bronze to green. In botanical terms the “leaves” are actually one leaf with a whorl of 3 compound leaves, which have groups of 3-7 leaflets. People sometimes confuse the plant with poison ivy before the flowers appear because of the “leaves of three” as in leaves of three, let them be. One easy way to tell the difference is by looking for a woody stem; poison ivy has one but this plant does not.

Wild sarsaparilla always starts out with its three compound leaves held vertically and clasping at the very top.

I was surprised to see logging going on in this part of the forest, but not completely. There are many hardwoods here like beech, oak and maple and very few conifers. Hardwood always brings more at the mill.

A logging road had to be built to get to the section of forest to be logged, so huge boulders were bulldozed into a place that needed a retaining wall. These stones are new, meaning they were just dug or cut. You can tell by how clean they are, and by their color. Most stones will turn gray in just a few years.

Here we are at the man made canyon that showed as a dark circle in a previous photo. There are a few of these along this section of trail, and they were all blasted out of the bedrock almost 150 years ago for the Cheshire Railroad.

I don’t know what it is that draws them here, but many interesting plants not easily seen in other places grow on these ledges.

Purple or red trillium (Trillium erectum) grows here in fair numbers. Each flower averages about as big as a quarter, or about an inch across.

Trilliums are all about the number three. Even the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, meaning three. On the purple trillium the three green sepals just are behind the three red petals. Once they open the flowers often nod under the three leaves (actually bracts,) and are mostly hidden from view for a short time before finally standing erect above the leaves. Inside the flower are six stamens and three stigmas. If flies pollinate the flower a three chambered, red fruit will grow.

False Solomon’s seal grows well here. Though it’s too early for their June bloom time the plants were budded. In about three weeks they should have small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of their stems. The blossoms will give way to small but beautiful reddish and tan speckled berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife.

The wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) are what I came here to see and as usual they stole the show. They like to grow on partially shaded rocky slopes so this area is perfect for them. How they got here is anyone’s guess but their numbers have been steadily increasing since I first found them. The rich alkaline soil is very unusual in this part of New Hampshire and many rare plants are known to grow in this area. The trick is in finding them; though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen wild columbine.

They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

I couldn’t stop clicking the shutter, always hoping for a better shot. The wind was blowing through the canyon so I was sure every photo would be blurred. There have been years I’ve had to come back three or four times for that very reason.

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. 5 funnel shaped holes lead to nectar spurs and long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.”
~Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Some of our spring ephemeral flowers are finishing up and others, like goldthread, are just starting. Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. This plant usually grows in undisturbed soil that is on the moist side. I like its tiny styles curved like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club like petals behind. The ends of the golden petals are cup shaped and hold nectar, but it must be a very small insect that sips from that cup. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, and it was most likely sold under its other common name of canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

New goldthread leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and flowers will appear. Their leaves come in threes, and another common name is three leaved goldthread.

The rain and cool weather is keeping dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) blooming in numbers I haven’t seen in a while. I wonder how many realize that each “petal” in a dandelion “flower” is actually a tiny flower (floret) by itself, and what we call the flower of a dandelion is really a flower head, made up of hundreds of individual florets. Before the 1800s (before lawns came along) people would pull grass out of their yards to make room for dandelions and other plants that we call weeds today.

The strange flower heads of sugar maples (Acer saccharum) aren’t as showy as other native maples but they must do their job, because we have a lot of sugar maple trees. These are the male (staminate) flowers in this photo. Sugar maples can reach 100 feet in height and can live to be 400 years old when healthy.

Magnolias seem to be having a great year and I’m seeing them everywhere. Their fragrance is amazing.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in forests so they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They’ll go dormant quickly when it gets hot and they can leave a hole in the garden but that trait is easily forgiven. It’s one of the oldest perennials in cultivation and it is called old fashioned bleeding heart. I’ve always liked them and they were one of the first flowers I chose for my own garden.

The wild plum (Prunus americana) grows in just a small corner of south western New Hampshire, so you could say they are rare here. I’m fortunate to have found three or four trees growing under some power lines, but a few years ago when the powerlines were cleared I didn’t think I’d be seeing them for long. The power company clears the land regularly and cuts every plant, shrub and tree down to ground level. Except these plum trees; they were left alone and unharmed, even though everything around them was cut. I wonder how the power company knows that they are rare enough to leave standing.

How I wish you could smell these plum blossoms. The fragrance is wonderful, and so unique that I can’t think of any other flower fragrance to compare it to. It’s very different than the fragrance of apple blossoms.

I’ve been smelling plenty of apple blossoms too, because old, “wild’ apple trees line our roads and even grow in the forests. In fact entire abandoned orchards, left behind when farms were abandoned in the industrial revolution of the 1800s, can sometimes be found off in the middle of nowhere, still blooming beautifully and still bearing fruit. Apple trees can regularly live for 100 years but 200+ year old trees have been known. There is at least one tree that was planted in 1809 that still lives. These days most of the apples from the old trees are enjoyed by deer and bears in this area.

I wonder if people realize that every apple tree in this country (except crabapples) has been imported from somewhere else or was planted by seed; either by man, bird or animal. That’s why John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) did what he did. There are four species of crabapple native to North America; they are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. I planted the example in the photo but I’ve long since forgotten its name. The crab apple is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. The nine herbs charm was used for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs. The other eight were mugwort, betony, lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, thyme and fennel.

Our native cherries are also blossoming but I liked the red stars in the blossoms of this cultivated variety.

These pretty viola flowers were quite large and I don’t know if they were escaped pansies or large violets but I loved their color and cheeriness so I stopped to get a photo.  Violets are native To North America but plant breeders have made significant changes to color, size and fragrance.

Boxwood is called “man’s oldest garden ornamental.” The early settlers must have thought very highly of it because they brought it over in the mid-1600s. The first plants to land on these shores were brought from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. I found this one blooming in a local park. I don’t think most people pay any attention to its small blossoms.

It’s already just about time to say goodbye to the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum.) Their stay is brief but spring wouldn’t be the same without them.

Trout lily flowers have three petals and three sepals. All are yellow on the inside but the sepals on many flowers are a brown / maroon / bronze color on the outside. No matter how you look at it it’s a beautiful little thing, but I think it’s even more so from the back side.

Unfortunately it’s also almost time to say goodbye to the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) I doubt I’ll see them for another post but you never know; this cool, rainy weather is extending the bloom time of many plants. I’m still seeing forsythia that looks like it just opened yesterday and they’ve been blooming for weeks.

Winter cress, also called yellow rocket, (Barbarea vulgaris) has just started blooming. This plant is native to Africa, Asia and Europe and is found throughout the U.S. In some states it is considered a noxious weed. In the south it is called creasy greens. It is also known as scurvy grass due to its ability to prevent scurvy because of its high vitamin C content. It is very easy to confuse with our native common field mustard (Brassica rapa or Brassica campestris.) Winter cress is about knee-high when it blooms in spring and it stays green under the snow all winter. This habit is what gives it its common name.

What a show the grape hyacinths are putting on this year.  Since blue is my favorite color, I’m enjoying them.

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius) has three leaflets which together make up part of a whorl of three compound leaves. Dwarf ginseng doesn’t like disturbed ground and is usually found in old, undisturbed hardwood forests. I usually find it growing at the base of trees, above the level of the surrounding soil. It is very small and hard to see; the plant in the photo could have fit in a tea cup with room to spare. It had two flower heads, and this is the first plant I’ve ever seen with more than one. It is on the rare side here and I only know of two places to find it. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine so it should never be picked.

Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. Little seems to be known about which insects might visit the plant.

Almost every person, from childhood, has been touched by the untamed beauty of wildflowers. ~Lady Bird Johnson

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You can see a lot of interesting things along rivers, so last weekend I decided to walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene. Archeological digs and radiocarbon dating of artifacts have shown that Native Americans lived alongside parts of this river at least as long as 12,000 years ago. The word Ashuelot is pronounced either ash-wee-lot or ash-wil-lot, and is supposed to mean “place between” in Native American language. Between what, I don’t know; possibly between the hills that surround the Connecticut River valley that it flows through.

There have been trails along this section of river for at least as long as I’ve been around and I used to walk them as a boy, so I know the area fairly well. Still, even though I was born just a few scant yards from the river, almost every time I walk its banks I see things that I didn’t know were there. A river is full of surprises.

There are many side trails that beckon, but there is only so much time in a day.

Most of our red maples have finished flowering and are now in the business of leaf and seed production.

Silver maple seeds (samaras) are losing that crimson red that I like so much but the animals that eat them like squirrels aren’t going to care what color they are. I read once that squirrels can get all the moisture they need from trees and never have to come down for a drink. Eating seems to be another story though.

This section of forest has had all of the brushy undergrowth cleared away for some reason, and it looked as if it had been carpeted with green carpet.

Violets are just one of the plants that make up that green carpet seen in the previous photo.

Sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) also carpet the forest floor, and I saw them by the many thousands. In botanical terms the word sessile describes how one part of a plant joins another. In sessile leaved bellwort the leaves are sessile against the stem, meaning they lie flat against the stem with no stalk. These leaves are also elliptic, which means they are wider in the middle and taper at each end.  New plants, before the flowers appear, can resemble Solomon’s seal at a glance. The plants I find always have just a single nodding, bell shaped, pale yellow flower but they can sometimes have two. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats.

Even as the female box elder flowers still bloom seed production is in full swing. The bright lime green parts are the female flower stigmas and the dark parts are the newly emerging seeds.

Two turtles vied for prime space on the end of a mostly submerged log. The trilling of frogs was very loud here but though I spent I few minutes looking, I didn’t see a single one. When I was a boy there were huge bullfrogs in this river; some as big as cantaloupes.

There are beavers in the river, and they get hungry. This tree was big and I wondered if maybe they had given up. Still, I’ve seen them drop trees even larger than this one many times.

Duckweed was just getting started on the river’s surface.

Native shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) blossomed here and there along the shoreline. They usually stand very straight, reaching up to 25 feet tall. Shadbushes originally got their name from the way they bloomed when the shad fish were running upriver to spawn. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens. The fruit is said to resemble a blueberry in taste, with a hint of almond from the seeds. Native American used the fruit in pemmican, which is made with fat, fruit, and preserved meat. Shadbush wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. It can also be very straight, and Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. They also used its roots and bark medicinally. Shadbush makes an excellent garden shrub or small tree and is easily found in nurseries. It grows naturally at the edge of forests and along river banks.

This was a real head scratcher. There are 3 trees in this tangle, all broken. I’m glad I wasn’t anywhere near them when it happened. I heard one fall very close to me two years ago on Mount Caesar in Swanzey and it must have been big because it made a tremendous crashing sound.

At the start of this post I said that I almost always see something here that I didn’t know was here and this large colony of trout lilies is one of them. Over the course of my lifetime I’ve walked past this spot hundreds of times but I’ve never seen these plants. Why is simple; I’ve just never walked here when they were blooming and I’ve always missed seeing their foliage. The leaves blend into their surroundings quite well when there are no flowers. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food, so they would have been very happy to see them.

Many of these trout lilies had beautiful red anthers. According to a blog called The Trout Lily Project “Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) exhibits striking variation in the color of its anthers & pollen grains.  Anthers that lack red pigment are pure yellow in color, whereas those that produce red pigment range in color from pale orange to deep brick red. Although this variation is well known, its ecological significance remains virtually unstudied.”

New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms, I believe. It can be difficult to tell them apart. Cherry trees usually bloom right on the heels of shadbush but sometimes the bloom times overlap, as they are this year.

Mayapple foliage was easy to see, but there were no flowers yet. The flowers nod beneath the leaves and can be hard to spot but the buds are usually easily seen. I’m going to have to get back here this week for photos of the flowers.

The highbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium corymbosum) had plenty of buds. It looks like it’ll be a good year for blueberries as long as we don’t have a late frost. It is said that blueberries are one of only three fruits native to North America, but the crabapple is a fruit and it is native to North America as well. The others are cranberries and concord grapes. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

On my walk back down the trail I noticed that one of the two turtles that I had seen at the start of this walk had won top spot on the almost submerged log. It crossed its hind legs contentedly as it looked over its (probably) hard won territory.

There is no rushing a river. When you go there, you go at the pace of the water and that pace ties you into a flow that is older than life on this planet. Acceptance of that pace, even for a day, changes us, reminds us of other rhythms beyond the sound of our own heartbeats. ~ Jeff Rennicke

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In my last post I spoke about climbing Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. I took a short detour on the way home that day to see Bailey Brook Falls in Nelson. The brook wasn’t running quite as high as I expected considering the regular rain and all the snowmelt we’ve seen lately. The state says we’re still in a moderate drought because the underground aquifers have been depleted, so hopefully we’ll see our average rainfall this summer. That would help a lot.

This is my favorite view of the falls. Interesting how the brook is always split in two here.

A pileated woodpecker had carved a deep hole out of this white pine (Pinus strobus.) There’s nothing remarkable about that; I see holes like this all the time. It’s what happened afterwards that is worth noting.

The pine tree’s sap had turned a beautiful blue, deeper in color than most I see. I see more blue pine sap in winter than at other times of year so I’ve always assumed that it was the cold that turned it blue, like it does to some lichens, but now that I’m noticing it in warmer weather as well I’m just not sure. Does the cold turn it blue in winter and then it stays that way from then on? I’ve spent many hours searching for the answer and can’t find a single reference to blue pine sap, so I can’t answer the question.

Ninety five percent of the white pine sap I see looks like this; kind of a cloudy tan color, and that’s why blue pine sap is so startling and unusual. Pine sap (resin) has been used by Native American tribes for thousands of years to waterproof just about anything that needed it; baskets, pails, and especially canoes. The Chippewa tribe also used pine sap to treat infections and wounds. The treatment was usually successful because pine sap seems to contain several antimicrobials.

I also saw some resin on a black cherry tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. It was clear and amber colored and very different than pine resin. This is the kind of resin that insects got trapped in millions of years ago and which are found occasionally today, preserved forever just as they were when they became stuck in the sticky sap. There were quite large globs of it here and there on this tree and I wish I had taken one to add to my collection of outdoor oddities.

Because of colorblindness I don’t usually try bird identification but I think I’m safe saying that this is a European starling. European starlings were first introduce into New York In the 1890s. Those original 100 birds have now become  over 200 million, and they can be found from Alaska to Mexico. I saw three birds working this lawn for insects; not exactly a flock. The name starling comes from their resemblance to a four pointed star when they fly.

I’ve read that a starling’s spots are more easily seen in winter and all but disappear in summer, but they were very noticeable on all 3 of these birds. They’re a pretty bird but I understand that a lot of people here in the U.S. don’t like them.

Milk white toothed polypore is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of branches the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it.

The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.”

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is one of our earliest to show in spring but this year it was even earlier than I thought so it got ahead of me. These fiddleheads were already about 6 inches tall. This fern doesn’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. It likes wet or very moist ground along rivers and streams.

I found a beard lichen (Usnea) still attached to a cut log and it turned out to be the longest one I’ve seen. They’re very common on pines and hemlocks in our area. They attach themselves to the bark but take nothing from the tree, much like a bird perching. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” and I can’t think of a better plant to demonstrate it than rhubarb.

There is a very short time when skunk cabbage leaves (Symplocarpus foetidus) actually look like cabbage leaves. I’m guessing that with skunk in their name they don’t taste anything like cabbage though, and I hope I’m never hungry enough to be tempted by them. I’ve heard that bears will eat them when they can’t find anything else.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and in many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This photo from a few years ago shows what the complete ramp looks like. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it has happened.

I think these buds were on a white ash (Fraxinus americana), but it could also be a green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Both are commonly planted along streets and in parking lots and I saw this tree in a store parking lot. One thing that helps identify ash trees are the shape of the leaf scars that appear just below the buds, and I didn’t look at it closely. On the white ash these scars are “C” shaped and on green ash they look like a “D.” White ash leaf scars are also much larger than those on green ash. Ash bears male and female flowers on separate trees.

The beautiful fruits (samaras) of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) start out their lives deep red with a white furry coat. When you see them beginning to form you have to check them frequently to catch them in this stage because it happens quickly and ends just as quickly. The mature seeds are the largest of any native maple and are a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk. Silver maples get their common name from the downy surface of the leaf underside, which flashes silver in the slightest breeze.

The pinkish leaf buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are growing quickly now. They often show hints of orange and are quite beautiful at this stage; in my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year. Branches full of them stop me in in my tracks. There is so much beauty out there; I hope all of you are seeing as much of it as you are able to.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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