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Posts Tagged ‘Cattails’

Back a few years ago I had the luxury of working from home, telecommuting in a way. At times it could get slightly monotonous so to break up the monotony I took a walk at lunch time each day. Of course I had a camera with me and many of the photos I took on those lunchtime walks appeared here on this blog. The above photo shows the road I walked on, what we always called the “dirt road,” because it was a dirt road for many years until the town came along and paved it.

To the right of the road is a small pond where Canada geese used to swim but now it is home mostly to frogs, snapping turtles, and muskrats.

The muskrats eat the cattail roots. The snapping turtles eat the frogs, and the frogs eat up a lot of mosquitoes, for which I am very grateful. I’m looking forward to hearing the spring peepers start singing again in March.

To the left of the road is a large alder swamp where in the spring red wing blackbirds by the many hundreds live. They don’t like people near their nesting sites and when I walked by here they always let me know how disappointed they were with my walking habits. Just out there in the middle of the swamp was an old dead white pine I used to call it the heron tree, because great blue herons used to sit in its branches. Since it fell I haven’t seen as many herons fishing here.

The alders were heavy with dangling catkins, which in this case are the shrub’s male (Staminate) flowers. I believe that most of the alders here are speckled alders (Alnus incana) but I can’t get close enough to most of them to find out, because this swamp never freezes entirely.

The beautiful alder catkins, each packed with hundreds of male flowers, will open usually around the last week in March to the first week of April. When the brownish purple scales on short stalks open they’ll reveal the golden pollen, and for a short time it will look as if someone has hung jewels of purple and gold on all the bushes. That’s the signal I use to start looking for the tiny crimson female (Pistillate) flowers, which will appear in time to receive the wind born pollen. They are among the smallest flowers I know of and they can be hard to see.

The female alder flowers become the hard little cones called strobiles which I think most of us are probably familiar with.  These strobiles have tongue gall, which is caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the developing cone and causes long, tongue like galls called languets to grow from them. I’m guessing that the fungus benefits from these long tongues by getting its spore bearing surfaces out into the wind. They don’t seem to hurt the alder any. In fact most galls don’t harm their hosts.

Medieval writers thought witch’s brooms were a bewitched bundle of twigs and called them Hexenbesen, but witch’s brooms are simply a plant deformity; a dense cluster of branches caused by usually a fungus but sometimes by a parasitic plant like mistletoe. Witch’s broom can sometimes be desirable; the Montgomery dwarf blue spruce came originally from a witch’s broom. This example is on an old dead white pine (Pinus strobus) and is the only one I’ve ever seen on pine.

A colorful bracket fungus grew on a fallen log. Or maybe I should say that it was frozen to it, because it was rock hard. My mushroom book says that this fungus can appear at all times of year though, so it must be used to the cold. It’s described as hairy with ochre to bright rust yellow and rust brown banding and if I’ve identified it correctly it’s called the mustard yellow polypore (Phellinus gilvus.) That’s an odd name considering that it has very little yellow in it but even the photo in the book shows only a thin band of yellow.

This bracket fungus was very thin and woody and grew in several examples around the perimeter of a fallen tree. I think it’s probably the thin maze polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa,) which is fairly common.

This photo is of the maze-like underside of the thin maze polypore. This is a great example of how some mushrooms increase their spore bearing surfaces. When fresh the surface is pale gray and turns red when bruised. This fungus causes white rot in trees.

Despite having more cold days than warm days the sun is doing its work and melting the snow in places with a southerly exposure. Our average temperature in February here in southern New Hampshire is 35 degrees F. so try as it might, winter can’t win now. It can still throw some terrible weather at us though; the average snowfall amount is 18 inches but I’ve seen that much fall in a single February storm before. We are supposed to see 10-12 inches later today, in fact.

The reason the area in the previous photo is so clear of growth is because a large stand of bracken fern grows (Pteridium aquilinum) there. Bracken fern releases release chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants and that’s why this fern grows in large colonies where no other plants or trees are seen. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns, with fossil records dating it to over 55 million years old. Though they usually grow knee high I’ve seen some that were chest high.

Down the road a ways a large colony of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) grows. Since this was the first plant I learned to identify I’m always happy to see it. It is also called teaberry or checkerberry and those who have ever tasted Clark’s Teaberry Gum know its flavor well. Oil of wintergreen has been used medicinally for centuries and it is still used in mouthwash, toothpaste, and pain relievers. Native Americans carried the leaves on hunts and nibbled on them to help them breathe easier when running or carrying game. The leaves make a pleasant minty tea but the plant contains compounds similar to those found in aspirin, so anyone allergic to aspirin shouldn’t use this plant.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) has also been used medicinally for centuries in Europe and its leaves were used as a tea substitute there. Though it isn’t really invasive it is considered an agricultural weed. It forms mat like growths like that seen in the above photo but sends up vertical flower stalks in May. Each flower stalk (Raceme) has many very small blue flowers streaked with dark purple lines. They are beautiful little things, but they aren’t easy to photograph.

Yet another plant found in large colonies along the road is yarrow (Achillea milefolium.) Yarrow has been used medicinally since the dawn of time, and bunches of the dried herb have been  found in Neanderthal graves. It is one of the nine holy herbs  and was traded throughout the world, and that’s probably the reason it is found in nearly every country on earth. I’ve never looked closely at its seed heads before. I was surprised to see that they look nothing like the flowers. If it wasn’t for the scent and the few dried leaves clinging to the stem I’m not sure I would have known it was yarrow.

In one spot a small stream passes under the road. Strangely, on this side of the road it was frozen over…

…while on this side of the road it was ice free. That shows what a little persistent sun or shade can do at this time of year.

This is the tree that first got me wondering why some Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) had red on their bark when most didn’t. I’ve never been able to answer that question so I don’t know if it’s caused by algae, or is some type of loosely knitted lichen, or if it is simply the way the tree’s genes lean.

My lunchtime walk sometimes found me sitting in the cool forest on an old fallen hemlock tree, with this as my view. Just over the rise, a short way through the forest, is a stream that feeds into the swamp we saw previously. This is a cool place on a hot summer day and one that I used frequently. Sometimes it was hard to go back to work but you need discipline when you work from home and I always made it back in time. It was fun taking this walk again for this post. So many good memories!

The walks met a need: they were a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and once I discovered them as therapy they became the normal thing, and I forgot what life had been like before I started walking.  ~ Teju Cole

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We had another couple of warm days last weekend with temps in the high 40s F, so I decided to go and check on the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) to see how they were doing. They are our earliest flowers, often flowering in March, and they grow around the swamp in the above photo, which is one of only two places I’ve seen them.

I doubted I’d see any since it’s only January but there was a single green shoot, probably still there from last fall. This is not a flower bud though, it is a leaf bud. Skunk cabbage is an arum and the actual flowers are hard to see because they blossom inside a spathe. A spathe is a modified leaf which in skunk cabbages usually is colored a splotchy, mottled yellow and maroon. True leaves appear around mid-April when the plant is done flowering.

Do cattails (Typha latifolia) produce new shoots in the fall or in spring? I wondered when I saw these. When I looked them up I read that new shoots appear in spring, but this is January. I have a feeling they appeared last fall and are just biding their time until it warms up. Native Americans wove cattail leaves into waterproof mats and used them on their lodges.

The approach to the swamp is through the woods shown here and then down the steep embankment in the distance, so I was glad there wasn’t much snow to slip and slide in.

I saw a bird’s nest and wondered, because of the way it hung from branches, if it was a Baltimore oriole’s nest. It was about as big around as a coffee mug and hung in a shrub at about waist high, which seems much too low for an oriole’s nest. The ones that I’ve seen have always been quite high up in the trees. Maybe there are other birds that weave nests that hang.

This photo shows how the bird hung the nest in the V shaped crotch of a branch. It is hung from 3 points for stability. Grasses, cattail leaves and birch bark is what the nest was mostly woven from. I wonder if Native Americans first learned to weave baskets by studying bird nests.

The shiny evergreen leaves of goldthread appeared by the place where skunk cabbages grow and surprised me, because I’ve never seen them here. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its name from its bright yellow, thread like root. Tiny but beautiful white flowers will appear in late April. Native Americans chewed the roots of goldthread to treat canker sores, which is why the plant is also called Canker root. The natives shared the plant with the English settlers and it became such a popular medicine that by 1785 shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for it dried, which meant people dug up all they could find. At one time there was more goldthread sold in Boston than any other native plant. Luckily after a couple of centuries the plant has recovered enough to be relatively common once again.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is a native plant that makes a good garden groundcover. Small, heart shaped leaves on creeping stems grow at ground level and you can mow right over it. In spring it has white trumpet shaped flowers that grow in pairs and in the fall it has bright red berries which are edible but close to tasteless. I leave them for the turkeys, which seem to love them. My favorite parts of this plant are the greenish yellow leaf veins on leaves that look as if they were cut from hammered metal. I have several large patches of it growing in my yard.

The small blackish bead-like sori that make up the fertile fronds of the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) will open to release the spores soon. Sensitive fern is another good indicator of moist places, so I wasn’t surprised to see it here. Its common name comes from its sensitivity to frost, which was first noticed by the early colonials. I just read that turkeys will peck at and eat the sori, and that is why sometimes you find the fern’s spores lying on the snow around the plant.

These oak leaves were pretty amazing for January, warm day or not. I’m not sure how they did this; most other oak leaves I’ve seen this winter have been brown, or sometimes pinkish brown. Maybe these were flash frozen in November, I don’t know, but it was a pleasure to see them.

We saw more pine cones fall from the white pines (Pinus strobus) this year than most of us have ever seen and the squirrels are reaping the harvest. They pull the cones apart scale by scale and eat the seeds, and big piles of scales are a common sight in the woods. Squirrels like to sit up higher than the surrounding landscape when they eat and often sit on stones or logs.

This is what’s left of a white pine cone when a squirrel is finished with it. Not much.

There are plenty of goldenrod and other seeds to keep the birds happy this year as well.

American hazelnut (Corylus americana) catkins are a common enough sight in the winter but I’m not sure what these examples were doing. They usually hang straight down but a couple of these decided to be different. These are the male flowers of the hazel shrub and before long, usually in mid-April, they will begin to show pollen and turn golden yellow.

Turkeys, squirrels and many other birds and animals usually eat hazelnuts up quickly so I was surprised to see quite a few nut clusters still hanging from the branches. It could be that the bumper crop of acorns is keeping the animals busy.

Blackberry seed gall is caused by the blackberry seed gall wasp (Diastrophus cuscutaeformis.) These very small, round hollow galls look like seeds and form in clusters around blackberry stems. Each tiny gall has a stiff, hair like spine and together they form a hairy mass like that in the photo. They start out bright yellow-green and mature to brownish red. This one was about as long as your index finger.

I hoped the vine I saw up in a tree was American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), but it turned out to be just another invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus,) which is quickly outpacing the natives. That’s mainly because its berries are more enticing to birds and its seeds germinate much faster. The easiest way to tell American bittersweet from Oriental is by the location of the berries on the vine; American bittersweet berries grow on the ends of the vines and Oriental bittersweet berries grow all along them. While both vines climb trees and shrubs, American bittersweet is less likely to strangle its host like Oriental bittersweet will.

I keep seeing this red inner bark on some dead staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) and each time I see it I try to find out why it would be red, but so far I’ve never found an answer. It’s always surprising that such a beautiful color would be hidden from sight. Or maybe it turns red as it peels away.

There are often ducks here in this part of the swamp but they probably heard me long before I could have seen them and swam off. Soon this will be a very busy, growing place full of nesting red winged blackbirds, snapping turtles, herons, ducks, and frogs but for now it is simply open water and quiet and for me, that was enough.  I hope you have a nearby swamp or wetland that you can visit, because they’re fascinating places that are full of life.

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. ~Henry David Thoreau

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Well, we survived the coldest stretch of weather I’ve ever seen and now we’re in the midst of a January thaw, but I didn’t think I’d ever thaw out after going out on January 7 th to take many of these photos. It was a brisk 14°F but the sun was shining and I didn’t think it would be too bad, but it still felt frigid because of a breeze. Anyhow, anyone who lives here would know how cold it must have been just by seeing this photo of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey frozen from bank to bank. I think this is the first time in two or three years that this has happened.

Downstream from the previous photo ice shelves were forming but the river was open.

You could see how much ice had formed since the last snow. But the last snow was just 3 days before this photo was taken.

Close to a foot of snow fell and plowing it made mountain ranges.

After the snow storm dragged down more arctic air it got even colder; too cold to be outside for more than just a few minutes.

On New Hampshire’s tallest peak Mount Washington, a tie score for the second coldest place on the planet was recently recorded. At -36 ° F. with a wind chill of -94 °F. it was just two degrees warmer than Yakutsk Russia. What an honor.

Birches bent under the weight of the snow, which fell on top of the ice from the December ice storm. It has been so cold that the ice from that storm weeks ago has never melted.

The birches were giving up their seeds to the wind and to the birds too, probably.

Birds are definitely eating the seeds from eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) cones. Chickadees, pine siskins and other small birds eat them, and several species of warblers nest in the dense foliage. Larger birds like turkeys, owls, and grouse will often roost in the branches, possibly because hemlocks are excellent at shedding water. You can stand under large hemlocks in a pouring rain and barely feel a drop. Deer will eat the foliage.

By September the small cones and seeds of eastern hemlock are ripe but are still green, wet and oily. Once the cones begin to turn brown the seeds will be dry and birds can get at them as soon as the cone opens like the one pictured. Hemlock seeds are often lacking in viability, with less than 20% of them viable. Hemlock trees can live to 800 years old and reach a height of 175 feet. Native Americans used the inner bark, roots, and needles of hemlocks medicinally. They contain antiseptic properties and were used to treat wounds and in sweat lodges to treat colds and rheumatism. When food supplies were low the inner bark was often eaten.

Bird tracks under the hemlocks reveal their value to wildlife.

The birds have eaten all the coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds. Since these coneflowers were mostly planted by the birds the seeds belong to them and I don’t cut them or other plants back until spring. The more seeds they eat and spread around the yard, the more plants I’ll / we’ll have.

A motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) stem poked up from the snow and I thought it was interesting how I could see where all the little tufts of tiny flowers had been much easier without its leaves in the way. Of course the flowers are now seed pods. Though I’ve searched to find out which birds eat the seeds of motherwort I didn’t have any luck at all. It could be because the plant isn’t native, coming originally from Asia. It was brought here because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is said to be useful as a heart medicine, hence the cardiaca part of its scientific name. It has a sedative effect and is also said to be useful to treat anxiety and muscle spasms.

The ice on most lakes and ponds is safe now, probably thicker than it’s been in years, and fishermen have begun setting up their bob houses. Some of these small, garden shed size buildings are quite elaborate, with all the comforts of home included. This fisherman built his out of clear corrugated plastic, probably hoping for some solar gain. I’d have to want to catch a fish pretty badly to stand on the ice all day, even if it was in a bob house.

When you approach a frozen over pond with snow covered ice you often can’t tell where the land ends and the water begins, so I look for cattails (Typha latifolia.) They always tell me right where the water starts.

Japanese knotweed stems (Fallopia japonica) looked red in the bright sunshine. It’s too bad this plant is so invasive, because it is pretty through much of its life cycle.

Milk white toothed polypores are resupinate fungi, which means they look like they grow upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. This is a common winter fungus with “teeth” that are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and break apart and turn brown as they age. This fungus can be found on the undersides of hardwood tree branches. They don’t seem to mind the bitter cold temperatures we’ve had.

When I was in high school I had an art teacher who knew how to paint winter scenes. She taught me how to paint snow on tree branches and have it look realistic, and how to paint snowy landscapes. She was a professional artist as well as a teacher so she knew her way around an easel, but I still questioned her when she said that my gray winter shadows should be blue. I told her I painted them as I saw them, and I saw gray. I don’t know if it was colorblindness or some other reason that I saw gray but whatever it was has corrected itself and now I see blue winter shadows, just as Miss Safford said they should be. What makes them blue? The ice crystals that make up the snow reflect the ambient blue light from the sky. The color of a shadow is determined by the amount of light reaching the area that is in shade and light from the blue sky will even illuminate shaded areas. If the sky is gray, the shadows will appear gray.

It was so cold on this day that even the window frost seemed contracted, like each crystal had been held back by an icy grip, so instead of large, elaborate and beautiful frost feathers what formed were blocky, clunky crystals.

Here is an extreme close up of some window frost crystals. They didn’t have the beauty of frost feathers but this example reminded me of Aztec and Inca carvings I’ve seen photos of. It looks like a figure with a headdress, a long nose or beak, and wings. Or maybe it just looks like ice. I’ll let you decide.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt, and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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Yes, I know I’ve shown photos of snow here already this season, but those were of conversational snow that didn’t really count. We often start the season with small snowfalls that cause a lot of talk but no action and the last one was one of those. This time though, the snow piled up to about 8-11 inches in two back to back storms and required considerable effort with plows and shovels to get it out of the way. This photo shows what I saw last Sunday morning in my own back yard.

A local trail that I follow sometimes was as snowy as it ever gets. It’s no secret to readers of this blog that I’m not a great lover of winter because of all the added work it heaps upon me, but I can’t deny its beauty, and when I’m not working because of it I love being out in it.

The breeze picked up and snow fell from the trees, creating what I call snow smoke. It’s like seeing through a veil of snowflakes and if you’re walking the trail when they fall it feels the same as being caught in a snowstorm. There was so much falling from the trees that day I had to put my camera in a plastic bag. I always carry one in winter and summer.

The skies were changeable; one minute sunny and the next cloudy. The bane of photography, because you have to keep changing your settings according to the amount of light coming through the lens, and if you don’t pay attention your photos will come out too dark like this one did.

The horses in the pasture in the previous photo pawed at the snow to get at any green shoots and ignored the skies above them.

I love how water looks so dark when surrounded by white but just when I didn’t want the sun to come out it did and kind of spoiled the blackness of the stream.

Photos of white snow on red fruit have become common enough to be a cliché, but I was there and the rose hips were there and I had a camera, so there you are. But my thoughts were not of red fruit in white snow. I wondered why the birds never seem to eat these native Alberta rose hips (Rosa acicularis)  even though they’ve taken every hip off the invasive multi flora roses (Rosa multiflora.) It could come down to size, since these rose hips are much larger than those of the multiflora rose.

Snow covered every single thing, including these beech leaves.

A small pond was slushing over, and I saw more snow smoke coming from the trees over on the left.

The red wing blackbirds will have plenty of nesting material in the spring. These birds are very defensive of their nesting sites and have no problem letting you know when you’re too close. They’ll fly right in your face and hover there. They also chase hawks and eagles, so they have no fear.

The trees told me which way the wind had blown during the storm.

The trail around the pond was very snowy but it wasn’t too deep to manage. When it is deep I let snowshoers and cross country skiers break the trail and then I follow. If I’m lucky a snowmobile will have gone through first, but they aren’t allowed on this trail.

Sometimes without warning you can be sent off into a dream by nature and that’s what happened on this day when I saw this stone surrounded by the pristine white snow. I’ve walked this trail hundreds of times and I’d be willing to bet that I’ve tripped over this stone and have probably even cursed it, but on this day it sang to me and I loved it enough to take over 30 photos of it from different angles. It was so dark and perfect surrounded by such whiteness, and I’ve purposely over exposed this photo so you can see what I saw. It looked as ancient as the earth itself, and was beautiful.

There was fun to be had and people of all ages were having it. There was a lot of sledding going on, some on snow shovels.

I walk by this exposed bit of bedrock quite often but only in winter do I notice all its folds and wrinkles. For the geology nerds among you, the bedrock in this area consists of medium-grained light to dark-gray granodiorite and quartz diorite. (Basically granite) This is composed of oligoclase-andesine, quartz, biotite, muscovite and potash feldspar. The bedrock is fractured and has areas that have been split by the shearing motion of moving rock. This information comes from a natural resources inventory completed in 2009 by our local university.

A couple of our evergreen wood ferns grow out of cracks in the bedrock but they must be starved for nutrients because I’ve known them for years and they never get any bigger. But they are always green and any green thing is welcome in winter.

Icicles hanging from the stone outcrop told the story of the cold the evergreen ferns were experiencing.

Brooding. That’s what this scene says to me. A brooding landscape means that it’s “darkly somber,” and that’s how it looked to me when the clouds began to fill in. Winter it seems, might be here to stay.

Snow or not this is where I’ll be, every chance I have. I hope you have something every bit as wonderful in your life.

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found? ~ J. B. Priestley

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We were finally able to say good bye (and good riddance) to March last weekend, and this photo sums up why I was happy to see it go. It has been a strange and seemingly backwards  winter, with above average temperatures in January and February bookended by bitter cold and snowstorms in December and March. And ice; most of the trails have been ice covered all winter, which sure takes a lot of the fun out of being in the woods.

In spite of all the snow and ice spring still happens. I saw several reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) blooming in the snow as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.  I’ve read that the plant comes from Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern Iraq and Iran but I know little about what winters are like in such places. They must be very cold.

This one was almost completely buried by snow, but still it bloomed.

American elm buds (Ulmus americana) started to open but then thought better of it and have been at this stage for weeks now. I’m hoping to see its flowers soon. They say we might see 70 degrees next week.

 

A hornet’s nest had fallen out of a tree and it made me wonder what hornets do in the winter. After a little research I found that all but the young queens die and the nests are abandoned in winter. The new, young queens (and their eggs) spend the winter under tree bark or inside warm human habitations. In the spring the queen builds a new nest. That explains the wasp I saw a week or so ago in the shop where I work.

The paper of the hornet’s nest reminded me of natural, undyed wool. They make it by chewing wood into a papery pulp.

I’ve been listening to hear if red winged blackbirds have returned but so far there have been no signs of them in the swamp near where I live. There are plenty of cattails that have gone to seed for the females to line their nests with. This example looked to be soaking wet, but it will dry out.  Native Americans used the roots of cattails to make flour and also wove the leaves into matting. Cattails produce more edible starch per acre than potatoes, rice, taros or yams, and during World War II plans were being made to feed American soldiers with that starch in the form of cattail flour. Studies showed that an acre of cattails would produce an average of 6,475 pounds of flour per year, but thankfully the war ended before the flour making could begin.

Beech leaves still provide a flash of color here and there even though many are falling now. Soon their opening buds will be one of the most beautiful things in the forest. Beech was an important tree to Native Americans. The Iroquois tribe boiled the leaves and used them to heal burns. They also mixed the oil from beechnuts with bear grease and used it as a mosquito repellent. Though the nuts are mildly toxic the Chippewa tribe searched for caches of them hidden by chipmunks. The chipmunks gathered and shucked the nuts and saved the people a lot of work. The Chippewa saw that chipmunks never stored bad nuts, and that’s why they searched for their caches. Rather than make flour from the nuts as they did other species, Natives seem to mostly have used beech nuts medicinally.

The male speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) are still opening slowly but I haven’t seen any signs of them releasing their dusty pollen. The brown and purple scales on the catkin are on short stalks and there are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen. The flower parts are clearly visible here but there is nothing that looks like pollen. It could be because they were very wet.

I finally got a photo of almost fully opened female speckled alder flowers but they’re so small I couldn’t see them when I was taking the photo, so more of them appear in the background than the foreground. The tiny female (pistillate) catkins of speckled alder consist of scales that cover two flowers, each having a pistil and a scarlet style. Since speckled alders are wind pollinated the flowers have no petals because petals would hinder the process and keep male pollen grains from landing on the sticky female flowers. These female catkins will eventually become the cone-like, seed bearing structures (strobiles) that are so noticeable on alders.

I never knew that willow catkins were so water resistant. I was hoping to see them blooming with their yellow flowers but like the elms, they’re waiting for warmth. This week is warmer but with lots of rain. If we ever have a day with both sunshine and warmth I think I might just fall over.

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) is common and I find it on oak and poplar limbs. They have the color of jellied cranberry sauce and the best time to look for them is after it rains or snows, because they can absorb great amounts of water and grow several times bigger than they are when dry. I often find them on branches that have fallen on top of the snow as the oak branch pictured had.

If you look at a jelly fungus carefully you’ll notice that they have a shiny side and a matte finish side. The spores are produced on the shiny side and from what I’ve seen most of their spore production happens in winter. I suppose it could be that they’re simply easier to see in winter because of the lack of foliage, but I rarely see them at other times of year so I think of them as “winter fungi.”

I’ve known that the perfectly round holes I see in pine logs were made by some type of borer but I have never seen the insect, though I’ve even looked into the holes with a flashlight. These chip marks made by a woodpecker most likely explain why.

A branch collar forms where a branch meets the trunk of a tree, and often appears as a bulge at the base of the branch. It is made up of interlocking layers of cells of the branch and the trunk which will grow to help seal off wounds when branches are broken or cut off.  This white pine (Pinus strobus) had a completely intact branch collar on it, which is something I’ve never seen. I can’t imagine what happened to the branch. Pines lose branches regularly but they usually break off and leave a stub on the trunk.

I’ve never seen a bicolored lichen before but here is one. It was very small but I thought I saw a smudge of color on it and sure enough the photo shows a bit of lavender in its upper half. I don’t think I ever come away from studying lichens without being surprised by their variability. I didn’t bother trying to find this one’s name; I just admired it.

I lost myself in the beauty of these fir needles for a time. Though I know they’re fir (Abies) I’m not sure which species. I think it might be a Canaan fir, which is said to display the characteristics of both Fraser and balsam firs.

I’ve been waiting all winter to get a shot of Mount Monadnock with snow on it and after a few wasted trips to Perkins Pond in Troy I finally got one. I think the mountain is at its most beautiful with a snowy cap, especially when seen from Keene in this view that I grew up with. How lucky I was to grow up being able to see every day something that people from all over the world come to see.

Stop every now and then.  Just stop and enjoy.  Take a deep breath.  Relax and take in the abundance of life. ~Anonymous

Thanks for coming by.

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1-trail

We’ve had two good snowstorms recently about six days apart. The first dropped about six inches and the second about seven inches, so unless we get some rain or warm weather I think it’s safe to say that we’ll have a white Christmas. This view shows a trail around a pond that I follow quite regularly. I wasn’t the first one here on this day.

2-pondside

The pond is frozen but isn’t safe for skating yet. This is a very popular skating place and once the ice is thick enough the City of Keene will plow it so it can be used. Hopefully the ice will be thick enough to plow; the plow truck has ended up on the pond bottom several times over the years. Luckily it isn’t that deep.

3-cattails

Cattails tell you where the solid ground ends and the pond begins. This is a good thing because often unless you know the place well you can’t tell where the land meets water when it’s all covered in snow. That’s especially true along rivers; one year I realized that I was standing on an ice shelf quite a few feet out over a river. Once I stopped shaking I was able to get back on land without getting wet. I’ve made sure never to make that mistake again; people drown by doing such foolish things.

4-pondside

Because it was so cold when it fell the snow was light and fluffy and easy to shovel. Since all it takes is a light breeze to blow such powdery snow around I didn’t think my chances of seeing snowy trees was very good, but thankfully there was no breeze and the trees stayed frosted. In the woods every single thing was covered by a coating of snow.

5-otter

But wait a minute; what is that dark object out there on the ice?  I know this pond well enough to know that there shouldn’t be anything sticking up out of the water in that spot.

6-otter

It was the otter, and this makes the second terrible photo that I’ve taken of it. My camera simply isn’t made for such long shots but I keep trying anyway. Odd that this animal would live here all alone. At least, I’ve never seen more than a single one at a time. I thought they were very social animals and I’m surprised that it hasn’t gone off in search of a mate. It stayed just long enough for a single photo before slipping through a hole. I wondered how it was able to make a hole. Maybe the ice is thin there. The snow plow driver might want to take note.

7-shadows

This view of some blue shadows was taken the day before the latest storm, when the sun was shining.

8-rail-trail

There were snowmobile tracks on this rail trail but snowmobiles must be getting lighter because the snow wasn’t packed down and each step was more of a slide, because there was ice under the snow.

9-snowmobiles

But the snowmobiles weren’t having any trouble. I’m  grateful for snowmobile clubs because if it wasn’t for them many of these trails would have grown over with brush and trees years ago.

10-oak-leaves

I always see pink in certain winter oak leaves and orange in others. My color finding software sees salmon pink in some of these leaves and tan in others.

11-ashuelot-river

I can’t say that I often feel aghast but I felt just that when I saw the Ashuelot River frozen from bank to bank in this spot, because in all the years I’ve been doing this blog it has never frozen here this early. In fact it’s rare for it to freeze here at all, mostly because of the fast current, I think. Apparently below zero temperatures work quickly; we’ve only had one night where they dropped that low.

12-ashuelot-on-12-11-16

This photo was taken just five days before the previous one. Hard to believe I know, but true. As Mark Twain once said: “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

13-snowy-branches

The snow on these oak branches told me that there hadn’t been a puff of wind along the river either.

14-asters

What was left of the asters bent under the weight.

15-river-stones

I like how water turns so dark in the winter. I don’t know if the white of the snow makes it seem darker or if it’s a play of the light.

16-swamp

Sharp eyed longtime readers might notice something missing in this shot. There used to be an old dead white pine in this swamp that I called the heron tree.

17-blue-heron-tree

This was what the heron tree looked like on Thanksgiving Day in 2014.  Later, one day I looked for it and it was gone without a trace, as if someone had plucked it like a flower.

18-gb-heron

And this view of the first snow in December of 2013 shows why I called it the heron tree. Herons sat in it regularly and I wonder if they miss it as much as I do.

19-sunlight

No matter how dark the sky is the sun always shines again and the clouds broke on this day to let it shine for all of about 5 seconds while I was out.

There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance. ~William Sharp

Thanks for coming by. Happy winter solstice!

 

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1. Island

On Sunday some friends and I decided to take our kayaks out for the first time this season. The water in Wilson Pond in Swanzey was warm enough for a dip, in case a mishap should happen and one of us got wet. We started our journey by paddling past the island in the pond.

2. Chop

It was a beautiful day and the sun felt hot as we paddled, but luckily there was a stiff breeze that cooled us. Though welcome, it also made the water quite choppy and would blow your kayak across the water as if it were a sailboat if you stopped paddling.

3. Channel

Secluded coves and channels meant we could find some shade and get away from the wind for a while. The water in some of these channels is very shallow; I’m not sure you’d even get your knees wet if you walked them. Last year there were a lot of ducks here but on this day we didn’t see a single one.

4. Beaver Birch

Beavers had cut down many of the white birch trees along the shore but they left them behind and didn’t even eat the new twigs on their crowns, which seems odd behavior for a beaver. Some trees were hard to paddle around.

5. Cove

I’ve never seen any white water lilies in this pond but yellow pond lilies (Nuphar lutea) like to grow in coves where the water is relatively shallow and calm.

6. Bullhead lily Seed Pod

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.

7. Pickeral Weed

Native pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) blossomed in small colonies just off shore. If you see pickerel weed you can expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid. These examples were only about two feet high but I recently saw others that were as tall as a great blue heron.  I didn’t know that they grew so tall.

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Pickerelweed’s common name comes from the pickerel fish because they were once thought to breed only under its leaves. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. Though humans can eat the seeds and new spring shoots of this plant there is no record that I can find of Native Americans using it for food.

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Maleberrry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrubs look much like a blueberry, even down to their flowers, but these flowers are much smaller than those of blueberry. I’d guess barely half the size of a blueberry blossom. The two shrubs often grow side by side and look so much alike that sometimes the only way to tell them apart is by the maleberry’s woody brown, 5 part seed capsule. These seed capsules stay on the shrub in some form or another year round and are helpful for identification, especially in spring when the two shrubs look nearly identical.

10. Maleberry Seed Capsules

I’ve included this photo of the maleberry’s seed capsules that I took earlier so you could see what they look like. They are very hard and woody and appear near the branch ends.

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Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shoreline. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

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Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

13. Swamp Roses

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) bloomed in great numbers on the hummocks along the shoreline but I had trouble getting close to them. The 2 inch flowers are very fragrant and though the plant prefers wet to moist soil it will also grow in dry ground. It would be an excellent choice for a home pond or near a stream.

14. Bur Reed 2

Bur reed is another plant found growing just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

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The female flowers of bur reed are less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

16. Pipewort

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area and doesn’t grow in this pond, but I’ve included it because it’s an unusual aquatic that isn’t often seen. In fact, I know of only two ponds that it grows in. The plants grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers.

17. Pipewort

Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I’ve found that its flowers are close to impossible to get a good photo of.

18. Lobelia

When I found a new spot for pipewort plants this year I also found a new plant that I’d never seen; water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna.)  I can’t speak for its rarity, but I’ve never seen it in any pond I’ve visited. It’s said to be a more northern species, so that could be why. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands.

19. Lobelia Blossom

The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl.

20. Cattails

Cattails (Typha latifolia) formed an impenetrable wall and soared overhead in some places along the shoreline. They must have been 8 feet tall or more.

21. Going Back

As the old saying goes all good things must come to an end and before we knew it, it was time to turn for home. I’ve found that an hour or so in a kayak is about all my back can take, but what a fun filled hour it can be. It’s an excellent way to get close to aquatic plants.

We are but a speck in the universe
Oh, but what a lucky speck to be.
~Kehinde Sonola

Thanks for coming by.

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