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Posts Tagged ‘Chaga Fungus’

The highpoint of my fall foliage viewing comes at Willard Pond in Hancock. I usually visit the pond just before Halloween but this year the trees in lower elevations told me I might want to visit a little earlier. Beeches and oaks predominate here and they seemed to be changing earlier in the low places. If I was to go by the road to the pond I had made a good decision, and it was likely to be a very beautiful afternoon.

Willard Pond is a wildlife sanctuary under the protection of the New Hampshire Audubon Society and it is unusual because of the loons that nest here. There are also bears, moose and deer living here, as well as many bird species, including bald eagles. I’ve never seen a loon here but on this day I heard their haunting cries from clear across the pond. There are no motorboats allowed here so it’s always very quiet. All you hear is the wind and if you’re very lucky, a loon or two.

That’s where we’re going; along the shoreline at the base of that hill.

Here’s a closer look at the hill. The oaks and beeches looked to be in peak color.

I had a little friend join me on the trail. Chipmunks often follow along with people, hopping along from rock to log, chipping the whole way. If I was a hunter I wouldn’t like that because they alert all the other forest creatures that you’re coming. We have billions of acorns falling this year so these little guys won’t have to work quite as hard. Maybe that’s why he had time to follow along with me.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in red and striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) in yellow made for a pretty scene along the trail.

Speaking of the trail; in most places along its length it is one person wide because the hillside comes right down to the water. It can be wet at times and is always very rough and rocky, so good hiking boots are a must. You can’t see it very well in this photo, but it’s there.

In places huge boulders seem ready to tumble down the hillside, but they have probably rested in the same spot since the last ice age. This one is easily as big as a one car garage. These huge stones are one reason the trail has to be so narrow; no machine I know of could ever move one. Sometimes you have to weave your way through them to move down the trail.

Last year I was a little late and many of the leaves had fallen but this year even the maples still had leaves and the forest couldn’t have been more beautiful. It’s the kind of place you wish you could spend a week in.

Boardwalks are well placed so your feet stay dry but this year it has been so dry not a trickle came down from the hillside.

The trail I follow is on one side of a U shaped bay so you can look across and see another hillside, just as beautiful as the one you’re on. I don’t know if there is a trail on that side but I’d like to find out one day.

There were kayakers on the pond but they were quiet for the most part. A place like this makes you want to speak in whispers, so I wasn’t surprised.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) still bloomed along the pond edges, warmed by the water I would imagine.

Sometimes the trail leads you to just a few feet from the water’s edge.

Leaves were falling by the hundreds but the trees didn’t seem at all bare.

They certainly weren’t bare on the hill across the bay.

I took far too many photos while I was here but it’s hard to stop. Around every bend in the trail there is more of this.

This burnt looking area on a yellow birch was a chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) that has been here for years. This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

I saw some brightly colored turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) on a log. They were a little dry but pretty nonetheless.

A last look at the amazing colors found in this beautiful place.

The old wooden bench has seen better days but I sat here for quite  a while, listening to the breeze and the loons and the gentle lapping of the water. You can step outside of yourself here without even realizing it because you become totally immersed in the beauty of the place. I find that time often seems to stand still here, and what I think was an hour was often really two or three. That was the case on this day and I got back much later than I thought I would, but that was fine.  

Being in the forest can change everything and it can heal a lot of ills. I hope all of you will have a chance to experience the great joy and serenity found in places like this. 

Time doesn’t seem to pass here: it just is. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

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I was finally able to visit Willard Pond in Hancock last week. The weekend forecast was for rain so Friday afternoon off I went to one of the most beautiful places I know. It is here at Willard Pond where in the fall, nature pulls out all the stops.

That’s where we’re going; to that hillside behind the boulder. It is an unusual forest that is made up of mostly beeches and oaks which at this time of year are at their most colorful. I’ve come here on the last weekend in October for a few years now and I haven’t ever been disappointed.

The trail is one person wide and follows the shoreline of the pond close to the water because the hillside comes right down to the pond. It is rocky and full of tree roots, and it is muddy in spots, so you need good stout hiking boots here. This isn’t the place for sneakers or flip flops.

Beeches turn from green to yellow and then as the yellow fades reds, oranges and finally browns appear.

There is color everywhere here, including on the forest floor. This photo shows yellow beech and maple, red-brown oak, and purple maple leaf viburnums.

From a photography point of view this place is difficult because you can’t ever back up for a wide shot. The pond is right there behind you, so you have to do what you can. You’re literally immersed in the forest that you’re trying to take photos of.

This view looks back on the trail we just followed. It comes through the break between the two boulders over there on the left. There is no real climbing unless you chose to climb Bald Mountain, but you do have to climb over stones and possibly an occasional fallen tree to follow the shoreline trail.

Thankfully you don’t have to climb over anything like this. There are a few garage size boulders here and this is one of them. They tumbled down the hillside to the water’s edge at some point in the past or they could have been left right where they are by a melting glacier.

You might be fooled into thinking these were turkey tail fungi but turkey tails are usually several different colors. In spite of its name the multicolor gill polypore (Lenzites betulina) shown here is varying shades of tan and really not that colorful.

Another way to tell the difference between a turkey tail and this fungus is the appearance of gills on the underside. Turkey tails have pores, never gills. There are a few other gilled polypores but this is the only one with white flesh. It also has true gills, which in this case were very dry and wrinkled, in spite of all the rain we’ve had.

No matter what other interesting and beautiful things you might see here at this time of year the real story is the forest itself, and it’s hard to keep your eyes on anything else. I stumbled a few times because I had my head in the trees instead of watching where I was going.

But I didn’t fall into any of the streams that run from the hillside to the pond. There are a few bridges, some just planks and others like this one more elaborate.

I sat here for a while, enjoying the happy sounds the little stream made. I didn’t think anyone would mind; though there were a few cars in the parking lot I only saw one couple the whole time I was here.

Lots of colorful fallen leaves were on the pond bottom. Most looked like maple leaves which had fallen probably a week or more before my visit.

A very determined birch tree was bent completely in half but still kept growing new branches.

Another fallen birch had chaga fungi (Inonotus obliquus) growing all along it. Chaga has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for many centuries and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life and it has recently shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. The fungi look like burnt, brittle pieces of charcoal.

There was a much larger one on a nearby birch stump. It really does look burnt. Chaga fungi are parasitic and grow on birch and other species. It is black because it contains large amounts of melanin, which is a naturally occurring dark brown to black pigment that colors hair, skin and the irises of the eyes of humans and animals. It is also responsible for the tanning of skin that is exposed to sunlight. I can’t guess what it tastes like.

I’ve never tried very hard to identify these mushrooms but I don’t really need to know their name to enjoy them. They always remind me of puffy soufflés, just out of the oven.

The shadow of a dead bracken fern fell on a stone and reminded me of the humped back skeleton of a triceratops.

The beauty of this place is off the charts and you can’t help being taken up in it; swallowed by it. The towering trees, huge boulders and views of infinity make you feel so small. But feeling small isn’t always such a bad thing. It’s the same feeling that I imagine would come over me if I were in a great cathedral.

Someone had used fallen branches to make a peace sign in the hollow of a tree. I thought it was appropriate, since there is plenty of peace to be found here.

Many times these posts write themselves in my mind as I follow along a trail but this one did not, so I sat here on this wooden bench for a while thinking about what I could write about this place. I quickly realized how hard it would be to explain what a place as beautiful as this can do to a person. I went from amazement to wonder to astonishment, and there was nothing else. It was as if everything else had been stripped away; all the petty worries and cares were gone, and when it comes down to it I suppose that’s why we nature lovers do what we do. These days they call it “being in the moment,” but I never knew “the moment” could be hours long. In any event it was gloriously beautiful and I hope you’ll be able to find a place just like this one.

An autumn forest is such a place that once entered you never look for the exit. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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1-naturally-grafted-maples

Since I live in a forest and work in a forest and spend most of my free time in forests, I see a lot of trees. But I don’t see many like these two. If two trees or parts of trees like limbs or roots of the same species grow close enough together the wind can make them rub against each other, wearing the outer bark away. Once the outer bark wears away and the cambium or inner bark touches, the trees can become naturally grafted together. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. I see at least a couple of self or naturally grafted trees each year. From what I can tell these two maples had limbs that rubbed together and finally grew together years ago.

2-natural-graft-on-maplws

Trees that are naturally grafted together or conjoined are sometimes called “husband and wife” trees, or “marriage trees.” These two young red maples (Acer rubrum) were in the early stages of becoming grafted; it’s easy to see where they rubbed together. This can happen to most species of trees and can sometimes even happen to two trees of different families, like a red maple and a sugar maple.

Man can also graft trees and has been doing so for as long as anyone can remember. Fruit trees, especially apples, are often grafted. Many other plants like roses and grapes are also grafted onto the stronger rootstock of another in the family.

3-entwined-striped-maples

These young striped maples were entwined but not yet conjoined. Though it looks like there are three trees here there are only two. The ones on the right and left come from one stump and the middle tree comes from a separate stump. Why they grew this way is anyone’s guess but I’d say it’s a fair bet that they will all eventually become one tree. You can see how the bark has puckered on the lower part of the tree on the far right, and that’s a sign that they have been rubbing together.

4-lichens-on-tree

Trees support a lot of life on their limbs and bark, like the many lichens pictured here. Since people see lichens growing on the dead branches of trees they think the lichens killed the branch but lichens simply sit on the bark and take nothing from the tree. They are opportunists that like a lot of sunshine though, and the best place to find the most sunshine is on a branch with no leaves on it.

5-script-lichen

I always like to look at trees like the one in the previous photo because the spots on their bark can turn out to be quite beautiful, like the script lichen pictured here. Script lichen looks just like its name suggests but it is a very ancient script, like long forgotten runes. The dark “script” characters are its fruiting bodies that produce its spores. There are many script lichen species and each seems to prefer a certain species of tree. I think this example is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta) which prefers smooth barked trees like maple and beech.

6-maple-dust-lichen

Other spots on trees might turn out to be beautiful maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora.) I don’t have time to look at every tree with lichens on its bark, but I wish I did because when I don’t look closely I feel as if I’m missing something beautiful.

7-target-canker-on-red-maple

Target canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. According to Cornell university: “A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’” Apparently the fungal attacker gives up after a while, because as the tree ages the patterns disappear and the tree seems fine.

8-burl-on-maple-2

Burl is an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tree tissues. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize them highly. I find them more on black cherry than any other tree, but this example was on an old maple. It was as big as a basketball.

9-chaga

Trees of course are very beneficial to mankind in many ways, even medicinally. Chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) is a parasitic fungus that grows on birch and other trees. Though many think that the area that looks like burnt charcoal is the fruiting part of the fungus it is actually the “roots” or mycelium. It is black because it contains large amounts of melanin, which is a naturally occurring  dark brown to black pigment in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals. It is also responsible for the tanning of skin exposed to sunlight. This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

10-bootstrap-fungus

Fungal spores entering a wound on a tree can sometimes mean death for the tree. Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

11-pine-tree-foam

For years I’ve noticed that a soapy foam at the base of certain white pine trees (Pinus strobus) when it rains. Sometimes it is in just a spot or two and at other times it nearly circles the entire tree.  This happens because when there is a drought or dry spell salts, acids and other particles from the air can coat the bark. Soap is essentially made from salts and acids and when it rains, these natural salts and acids mix with the water and begin to froth. The froth (foam) is from the natural agitation of the mixture when it finds its way around bark plates as it flows toward the ground.

12-frost-rib

This hemlock tree had a healed frost crack, called a frost rib. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo.

13-frost-rib

Another example of a frost rib, this time on yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis.) Frost cracks and frost ribs are fairly common.

14-bittersweet-on-elm

Many things can damage a tree. This oriental bittersweet vine was about the same diameter as my little finger and was already strangling a young elm that was wrist size. Anyone who has ever tried to cut or split elm knows that it’s one of the toughest woods, so the bittersweet must be very tough indeed. It’s hard to know which will win this battle; I’ve seen trees with bittersweet vine grooves in their bark live on, and I’ve seen live bittersweet vines on dead trees.

15-bittersweet-berries-2

Oriental bittersweet is all about continuation of the species, so it climbs up trees so it can sit in the crown and gather up all the sunlight so it can flower well. Each pollinated flower means a berry that a bird will come along and eat, and that’s how it multiplies. The young vines are shade tolerant, so when a bird sits in a tree and drops a seed to the ground beneath it the plant can germinate and live on while searching for the best path to the light at the top of the tree. Other vines like our native Virginia creeper, grapes and virgin’s bower also seek light at the tops of trees but they aren’t nearly as aggressive and don’t hurt them.

16-fence-in-woods

One of the strangest things I’ve seen in the woods recently is this old piece of fence connected to a tree. It has been there so long the tree has started to grow over it and if it continues the tree will eventually has a substantial piece of fencing embedded in its wood for its lifetime. Trees seem to shrug this kind of thing off and just keep on growing, no matter what the obstacle might be. The process is known as “compartmentalization of decay in trees,” where the tree uses scar tissue to compartmentalize the section with a foreign object in it. They do the same thing when fighting decay.

17-fence-grown-into-tree

Though trees might easily shrug things like this off,  woodcutters don’t. There’s nothing worse than running into a piece of metal with a chainsaw. Not only does it ruin the chain, it’s also very dangerous. Many things have been found in trees, including screws and nails, signs, pipes, fencing, cannonballs, bullets, beer bottles, hammers, hand saws, horse shoes, chains, ropes, stones, and one arborist even found a Chevy Corvette rim.  It seems that a tree will grow around just about anything.

18-zig-zag-scar

Sometimes scars on trees aren’t easy to explain. I’ve shown this zig zag scar on this old hemlock a few times on this blog and the consensus seems to be that it was made by lightning, but I wonder if we aren’t thinking that simply because both lightning and the scar are zig zagged. In any event I don’t suppose we’ll ever know for sure but it’s fun to guess at its origin. It comes directly out of the ground, straight for about half its length, then it zig zags for the other half. Its total length is about 4 feet.

19-zig-zag-scar

This is a close look at the zig zag scar in the previous photo. It doesn’t look like it was made by a boy with a new pocket knife either. If you’ve ever seen anything like it or know what might have caused it there are several of us who would love to hear from you.

20-beech

I can’t understand how someone can walk out of a forest and say they didn’t see anything, but I’ve heard people say it a few times. “For gosh sakes,” I always want to ask, “what about the trees!?” You don’t need to know anything about burls or frost cracks or inosculation or even what kind of tree you’re looking at to just enjoy their astounding beauty. That’s what I spend a lot of my time in the woods doing, and I hope you will too. I’ve put this post together with the thought that it might make your next journey through the woods a little more interesting.

I did not want to think about people. I wanted the trees, the scents and colors, the shifting shadows of the wood, which spoke a language I understood. ~ Patricia A. McKillip

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1. Oak Leaves

Last Saturday morning I was ready to go to 108 acre Willard Pond in Antrim, NH but frost coated my windshield. While the defroster did its work I took a photo of a cluster of frosty but colorful oak leaves on my lawn.

2. Frost on Window

Before I turned on the defroster I also had to get a few photos of the frost on my windshield.

3. Road

Finally I was on the road to Willard Pond, and what a colorful road it was.  I lived in Antrim years ago but I was too busy with running a gardening business then to enjoy the great riches that surrounded me. A recent post on the Park Explorer Blog reminded me of this place and coming here was almost like going home again. If you’d like to learn more about New Hampshire, especially about its parks and an occasional old forgotten cellar hole, you’d be doing yourself a favor by reading The Park Explorer.

4. Loon Sign

Willard Pond is a wildlife sanctuary under the protection of the Audubon Society and it is unusual because of the loons that nest here. There are also bears, moose and deer living here, as well as many bird species, including bald eagles.

5. Oaks and Beeches

I didn’t see any loons but the rugged, unspoiled beauty that I did see was enough for me. The flaming hillside of beeches and oaks was just amazing.

6. Trail

In this place the hills come right down to the water so there is little flat, level ground to be found but there is a blazed, one person wide trail that I followed. I was glad I wore my hiking boots; this isn’t the place for sneakers.

7. Boardwalk

Boardwalks helped navigate streams.

8. Boulder Fall

Huge boulders have broken away from the hillside and tumbled down, almost to the water in some places. Some were easily as big as delivery vans.

9. Witch Hazel

Witch hazels blossomed in great profusion all along the trail. I love seeing their ribbon like petals so late in the year and smelling their fresh, clean scent.

10. Bench

Benches are placed here and there for those who’d rather not sit on a boulder or tree stump.

11. Foliage

This is one of the views you can see from the bench in the previous photo. The morning sun was just kissing the tops of the trees. Many were already bare.

12. Hardwood Forest

If you turn 180 degrees you can also see this view from the bench. It’s hard to decide which is more beautiful, but being under these old oaks and beeches certainly made my spirits soar. Thornton Wilder once said “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. “ I was conscious on this day, and felt extremely alive.

13. Hollow Tree

I always peek into hollow trees and I was glad I did this time because there was an unexpected surprise waiting.

14. LBMs InsideTree

Little brown mushrooms grew in the leaf litter that had gathered in the hollow of the tree. I take a tip from the mycologists and skip trying to identify little brown mushrooms because there are just too many of them that look alike. They lump them all together and call them LBMs, xo I will too.

15. Bordered Thyme Moss

There are many streams and rivulets running down the hillsides into the pond and mosses grow all along them. I saw many examples of the beautiful little bordered thyme moss (Mnium marginatum.) A translucent, sometimes reddish border encircles the tapering leaves, which have tiny teeth along their upper margins. Each small rosette of leaves seen here could have easily hidden behind a pea. I love how this moss seems to glow with its own inner light and though I passed it by several times it kept pulling at me, as if wanting to be admired. Finally it was, and very much so. It’s a beautiful little thing.

16. Chaga Fungus

I’m fairly sure that this burnt looking area on a yellow birch was a chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus.) It’s certainly not a burl and chaga is the only other thing I can think of that looks like burnt charcoal and grows on birch.  This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

17. Pattern on Log

I think that these marks on the cut end of this log were caused by bluestain, which is also called sapstain because of the way it stains the sapwood of logs. If this log were sawn into planks unsightly stains could show on the surface of one or more of them, and this lowers the price of the log. Both deep and surface bluestain can be caused by fungi called Ophiostoma minus and others, which all seem to be collectively called bluestain fungi and which can eventually kill the tree. It is thought that bark beetles and mites help it spread.

18. Hardwood Forest

I couldn’t stop taking photos of the amazing trees. They were so beautiful and several times they enticed me off the trail for a better view so I could try to show you what being here was really like. Finally I realized that I had lost all sense of time and had no idea what time of day it was. Nothing that I’ve experienced can compare with total immersion in nature but it was Halloween and I had candy to hand out to the little ghosts and hobgoblins that would soon come knocking, so I had to climb back into myself and leave this wonderful place.

19. Serenity

I don’t usually feel a need to name photos but when I saw this one I knew it had to be called serenity because more than anything else, that’s what I found here. I hope you’ll find it too.

Go in the direction of where your peace is coming from. ~C. Joybell C.

Thanks for coming by.

 

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