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Posts Tagged ‘Cattail Seeds’

I don’t have any snow to show you this time but we’ve had cold, as the frosty branches of all these dogwoods show. They looked like they had been painted into the landscape on this cold morning.

Long shards of ice appeared on still waters. It always happens in stillness first; rushing water takes a little longer to freeze.

Puddle ice has fascinated me since I was just a young boy. Ripples frozen in time. I know now that the whiter it is the more oxygen it has in it, but back then all I knew was white ice was higher pitched when you broke it. And I broke it as often as I could by riding my bike through it in early spring. All the snow had gone but there was still puddle ice in the morning.

When it warmed up again mists rolled from the hills to the valleys below, and hilltops looked like islands floating on the clouds. How beautiful it was, but fleeting; only minutes later the scene had evaporated and the hills were just hills once again.

And how beautiful the sunrises have been. I had to stop on my way to work on this day and watch as a bright red finger of light pointed to the sky.

More warmth came and it was welcome. This little stream in the woods has been frozen solid in November not that long ago.

Rains came and went and though this stream looks like it has about all it can take they say we’re still about nine inches shy of average rainfall. Since one inch of rain equals about one foot of snow we’re hoping that nature doesn’t seek to balance it all out this winter.  

Many plants turn their leaves purple in cold weather and American wintergreen  (Gaultheria procumbens) is often one of the first to do so. These leaves also shine like mirrors in the sun and when you drive along on a sunny day then light up the roadsides when they’re in large colonies. Some may know this plant as checkerberry or teaberry.

Some poplars also turn a beautiful, deep purple before they fall.

For about ten years now I’ve wondered what plant the long white seeds with teardrop shaped ends were from and now, thanks to birds pecking them out of this cattail (Typha latifolia), I know. I’ve found those seeds draped over everything from lichens to rosebushes, so the wind must really move them around. If there is one thing nature teaches it is patience, and if you’re patient enough the answers will come.

I still see a few oak leaves with color, especially on young trees.

But most look like this; a very pretty brown. They always look like they’re hugging each other for warmth when it gets colder.

I never knew the leaves of Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) were so colorful until I saw these. Robin’s plantain is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it again in spring.

I think everyone knows that ginkgoes are “fossil trees”, having been around for over 200 million years. But what never clicked for me is the fact that all of the dinosaurs and birds that dispersed the tree’s seeds died off millions of years ago. Before a few thousand years ago nobody knows how the seeds were dispersed but it is believed that only man (and maybe squirrels) have been the sole dispersers of its seeds since. These are tough trees; they were the first trees to begin growing again after the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima. They have been cultivated in China for both food and medicine for at least 1000 years and more recently they have been proven to be about as effective as the leading Alzheimer’s medication at slowing memory deterioration, with fewer side effects.

Is nature is perfect? That simple question could generate a lot of philosophical discussion. I think that people are entitled to believe what they will and I would not argue for or against, but I might take this wasp nest out of my pocket and put it on the table and ask that people look at that one chamber just barely to the left of, and slightly lower than center. Nature simply is, and whether or not we accept it as it is makes no difference.

Pileated woodpeckers are our biggest woodpeckers and they are great at finding trees full of insects. They are determined to get at them too; often determined enough to cut a tree right in half, in fact.

Here is one they cut in half that hasn’t fallen yet.

I often see beautiful grain patterns like this on tree roots that have been worn smooth by years of foot traffic but this beautiful grain was on a fallen tree. The only way I can think of for it to have happened is by it rubbing against another tree in the wind and wearing its bark away. I have a collection of oddities I’ve found in nature, many of them beautiful, and I was wishing I could have added this to it.

I see this very rarely but when I do it always appears on saturated logs right after a heavy rain. I’ve never been able to find out what it is, so if you know I’d love to hear from you.

Lemon drop fungi (Bisporella citrina) always have stems of a sort, but they’re usually so short that they appear stemless. That’s what is so unusual about these examples; they clearly wanted to be tall. Lemon drops are sac fungi with stalked fruit bodies. The term “sac fungi” comes from microscopic sexual structures which resemble wineskins. There are over 64,000 different sac fungi, including cup and “ear” fungi, jelly babies, and morel mushrooms. Lemon drops start life as a tiny yellow disc and look as if they lie flat on the log, but each disc hovers just above the surface on a short stalk. As they age each disc will become cup shaped. The “citrina” part of the scientific name comes from the Latin citrin, and means “lemon yellow.” The smaller ones in the above photo are barely as large as a period made by a pencil on paper. They always look to me like tiny beads of sunshine that have been sprinkled over logs and stumps.

I found that someone (or something) had kicked over a small purple mushroom beside a trail. It was about the size of the button mushrooms you find at grocery stores and it was the first light purple mushroom I’ve ever seen; a very different shade than the darker purple corts that are so common.

It was a very pretty thing. Slightly darker on its underside and sticky enough to have leaves stuck to it. I think it might be one called the amethyst deceiver (Laccaria amethystina) though with that odd color I’m not sure how it would deceive anyone. I’m colorblind but even I can tell it’s very different. It might also be a wood blewit (Clitocybe nuda). But only a spore print would tell for sure because the amethyst deceiver, which tastes like an old cork, has white spores and the wood blewit, a choice edible, has brown spores. This is why you don’t go eating mushrooms when you don’t know for sure what they are. There are purple mushrooms that are deadly.

I know that tussock moth cocoons are very hairy but they’re usually pouch like and lighter colored than the one pictured here that I found on a tree. They are also much smaller than this one, which was as big around as my finger and about two inches long.

I have no idea what insect made this or even if it was alive. It was on an oak tree.

After that last word heavy lichen post I’ve tried to keep this one simple, for all our sakes. I hope you’ve enjoyed just seeing a few beautiful and interesting things without having to think too much about them. I know I’ve enjoyed the lightness of not having to have my nose in a book for hours on end. Like nature itself, it’s all about finding balance.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man. ~Luther Burbank

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Thistle Seed Head

I wondered during our recent severe cold snap how the birds and animals were getting on. There still seems to be plenty of food for them but they use it up fast in weather that is so cold.  A group of bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) had been picked over but still had seeds in the seed heads. This European native is considered invasive here but many birds eat its seeds and a group of plants is a good place to see goldfinches and juncos. When in flower hummingbirds and bees do a lot to pollinate the plant and ensure there will be another seed crop.

2. Thistle Prickles

The leaves of the bull thistle might have passed but the many sharp spines live on. Prickles on the leaf surface are a good identifying feature of this thistle. It is also called spear thistle, for good reason.

3. Aster Seed Heads

What I think were aster seed heads had been picked clean of seeds but the bracts remained. We call them dead at this stage, but to me they are as beautiful now as they are when they’re blossoming. Goldfinches, cardinals, chickadees, evening grosbeaks, finches, titmice and other birds and small animals eat aster seeds. Native American tribes burned the flowers and leaves and used the smoke in sweat lodge ceremonies. They also had many medicinal uses for the plant and included parts of it in a smoking mixture they called kinnickkinnick.

4. Cedar Seed Cones

I’ve known about the woody seed cones on the northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) for a long time but I didn’t know which birds ate them until recently. Robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds and many small birds use the tree to hide in. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought it was sacred because of its many uses, and maybe it was. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of this tree and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

5. Cedar Seed Cone

Each individual seed cone on the northern white cedar looks as if it was carved out of wood and then polished to a satiny shine. Of course to have fruit on a plant, which is what a cone is, you first have to have a flower. This tree flowers in late May to Early June and the small green, egg shaped female flowers have blue tips on their overlapping scales. They grow in clusters and are easy to find.

6. Cattail Seeds

I solved a year old mystery when I pulled a small tuft of cattail seeds from a seed head and took a photo of it against the black of my glove. I first noticed a long white angle hair like filament with a seed on the end last year. The wind had blown it onto a lichen that grew on tree bark and at the time I thought it was a dandelion seed. Now I know it was a cattail seed. In spring after the male red winged blackbird finds a mate he will line the nest he builds from dried cattail leaves with the plant’s soft seed down.  Man must have learned something by watching the bird because the fluffy seed down was used to stuff mattresses for centuries.

7. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

I thought I’d go and visit a couple of lichen friends recently. This poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza hasseana) grows on a tree at a local shopping mall and is a favorite of mine. I’ve never seen it growing anywhere else. The odd thing about it this year is how few spore bearing apothecia it had. The apothecia are the little cup shaped objects that look like the suckers on an octopus arm and they are usually much bigger and more numerous than what are seen in this photo. Even so it’s still a very beautiful lichen.

8. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Scattered rock posy is another beautiful lichen that I can thank for showing me how fast lichens can grow. When I met this example it could have sat on a dime (.70 inches) but now, about 5 years later, it would take up most of the real estate of a quarter (.95 inches.) Following what I’ve seen in this example I’m guessing that it gains about an inch in diameter every 20 years, so if you found one that was five inches in diameter it would be about 100 years old. Its frilly orange pads are its apothecia, where its spores are produced. The body (thallus) of this lichen is grayish and brain like. It tends to grow in a mound.

9. Orange Wood

The two orange lichens I showed previously aren’t the only orange things I’m seeing this winter; I’m even seeing orange wood. I’m guessing this might be birch, which can sometimes have yellowish wood and reddish heartwood. What made the wood pictured so orange is a mystery. Brazilian satinwood, also called yellow heart, is orange colored but I doubt very much that pieces of it would be lying around in a New Hampshire forest.

10. Oak Leaves

And then there are orange oak leaves, but I think that they’re caused by the sun shining brightly on their normally brownish surface. I’ve also seen pink oak leaves, but I don’t think that their color has anything to do with light. I think pink is a normal for certain oaks.

11. Gouty Oak Gall

While I was admiring oak leaves I saw this gouty oak gall. I wish I’d gotten a better photo of it but at least this one shows the structure fairly well. Gouty oak gall is caused by a wasp called, not surprisingly, the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis quercuspunctata). In spring the wasp lays its eggs in expanding plant tissue and secretes chemicals that will cause the abnormal growth seen in the photo. The gall grows quickly and once the eggs hatch the larvae feed on its tissue. It can take two years or more for the gall wasps to reach adulthood. One adult exits the gall through each hole.

12. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

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.

13. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

This close-up of the willow pine cone gall shows its overlapping scales, which remind me of shingles. Even original ideas come from somewhere and I wonder if mankind didn’t come up with the idea for shingles by studying something like this.

14. Crab Apples

I saw a crab apple tree that was loaded with crab apples that were about an inch in diameter. I think they were probably too big for a bird to eat but I was surprised that deer and other animals hadn’t eaten them. They had hung on the tree for so long they were turning purple. Though we think the apples we’re eating are native, crab apples are really the only apples native to North America. The apples we know originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. Apples are thought to be the first cultivated tree and have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. North American apple cultivation began 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Settlers had come prepared with seeds, cuttings, and small plants from the best European stock and the trees grew well here; by the end of the 19th century 14,000 apple varieties were being grown. Many were inferior varieties and for one reason or another fell out of favor and have been lost to the ages. Today 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the U.S. and 7,500 varieties of apples are grown worldwide.

Thank you to Tim Hensley and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the article A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America, for some of the information used here.

15. Frost Crystals

It is the light that makes frost crystals appear so three dimensional even though they grow flat on glass, so if I were to try to paint them I’d  have to start with a dark canvas. Artists know that there can be no light without darkness, and wise artists know that the same is true in life.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

Thanks for stopping in.

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