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Posts Tagged ‘Cinnamon Fern’

Last Sunday, the first full day of summer, was another hazy, hot and humid day. By the time I had finished this walk on a rail trail in Swanzey my car thermometer said 98 degrees F. That, coupled with no beneficial rain for several weeks, means that many plants are blooming quickly, with their flowers lasting only a day or two in some cases. I thought I’d see what was blooming in the shady areas along the trail.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is one of the plants that is having a hard time. I saw many of them wilted enough so their flowers and leaves were drooping badly. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem and that’s where its name comes from. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It normally grows in dry soil at the edge of forests but as I’ve seen, that soil can be too dry.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) came and went so fast this year I barely had time to see them. All I see now are its tiny seed pods, like the one seen here.

I was surprised to see that there was still a trickle of water running through this old box culvert. Many small streams and ponds have dried up.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is blossoming. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge and I usually find it on the shores of ponds or in wet ditches. The flowers of porcupine sedge are so small they are almost microscopic, but you can see them here. They are the whitish wisps that appear at the ends of the spiky protrusions, which are called perigynia. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds. These were found in the now dry drainage channels along the trail.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have now released their spores and all that remains of that process are the bright red fertile fronds that give the fern its name. Someone once thought it looked like a cinnamon stick.

The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which are tiny spheres where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head and you can see their open halves here. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) looked like it had just finished blooming. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf. I saw many yellow leaves on this day but that isn’t normal for June.

This grass couldn’t have held another flower. I’m not sure what its name is.

I found these hawkweed flowers (Hieracium caespitosum) blooming in the shade, which is odd for a sun lover. Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head is actually a single, complete flower. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Oak apple galls are caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. In May, the female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage.

This apple gall still had a small leaf attached.

A man walking his dog walked by and saw me kneeling at the edge of the trail to get a photo of a flower. “Be careful” he said, “there’s poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) all along here.” He was right and I thanked him for the warning but I know poison ivy well enough not to kneel in it. Usually when I kneel on it it’s early spring before the leaves come out and then I get a rash on my knees from the naked stems, because all parts of the plant are poisonous. Even inhaling the smoke from a fire where it is being burned can cause severe throat issues.

Sweet ferns (Comptonia peregrine) grew here and there and I saw this one was producing nuts. The part that looks like a burr at the top of the plant is actually a cluster of bracts.

Inside these bracts are 4-6 small brown nuts (seeds) that are about 1/4 inch long and oval in shape. They can be just seen here. These seeds form in place of the female flower, which is red, small, and easily missed. Sweet fern foliage is very fragrant but it isn’t a fern; it’s actually in the bayberry family. Native Americans used the fragrant foliage as incense, putting bundles of them on smudge fires. They also made a tea from the leaves and some people still make tea from them today. I’ve heard that a handful of leaves put in a Mason jar full of cool water and left in the sun will make very good tea. “Sun tea,” it’s called.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail, but it’s a long climb down to it. As I walked along I could see large sandbars in the river, and they told the story of how low the water really was.

Before you know it you’re at the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle, which has been refitted for snowmobile travel. We’re lucky enough to find these old trestles still crossing the river on many of our rail trails. It would be costly to replace them but they’re well-built and should last for many years to come.

The great thing about having the rail trails and the trestles is that you can easily get to parts of the river that you would normally never see. I hate to think of how long I’d spend and how much bushwhacking I’d have to do to get to this part of the river without the trail, because the surrounding countryside is about as close to wilderness that you can get.

The water was very low in the river. Only once before have I seen it low enough to expose the fallen trees along the bank like it was this day. It’s hard to get any sense of scale from this photo but some of those trees are mature white pines, which routinely grow to 100 feet or more.

There are lots of silver maples (Acer saccharinum) along the river and some are so close to the trestle you can reach out and touch them, so I plucked a leaf so I could show you the silvery underside, which is what gives the tree its name. A story I’ve heard my whole life is how, when the wind blows and you see the silvery undersides of maple leaves, it means it’s going to rain.

But the clouds obviously haven’t heard the old story of the maple leaves because they haven’t hardly let go a drop of rain in weeks. They say that today and tomorrow we might finally see some rain and everyone seems willing to even give up their weekend outdoors to get it. I know I’ll be happy to see it.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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A cool damp spring like the one we’ve had can make New Englanders out of sorts sometimes and downright grumpy at other times, but a snowstorm in May can seem like a real slap in the face. Just as we were raking all the leaves we couldn’t get raked last fall because of November snows, along comes more snow on May 14th. Luckily this time we only saw about an inch but one year we saw about a foot of snow fall after the leaves had come out on the trees, and it caused an unbelievable amount of tree damage. I was still picking up fallen branches in July.

Luckily most of the leaves appeared after the snow had melted, so it was little bother.

Of course I watched the leaves appear. Beech leaves especially, are very beautiful in the spring. They look like little angel wings.

This photo shows how bud break progresses on a beech tree. Many people think one leaf comes out of each beech bud but in fact all of the current year’s growth for that branch is contained in a single bud. Here you can see at least 4 leaves coming from this bud. The branch will grow and elongate so the leaves are separated just enough so one doesn’t block the sunlight falling on another; just one of the many miracles of nature that so many never see.

A new beech leaf retains its silvery hairs for just a very short time so you have to watch closely to catch it. I try not to offer much advice to the readers of this blog but I know that what works for me might work for others so as I have said before; try to find joy in the simple things in life, because if you do joy will follow you wherever you go. When you find yourself passing up just about anything else to watch the unfurling of a leaf or to sit beside a giggling stream you’ll know you are there. And you’ll want to stay.

Beech isn’t the only tree growing leaves in spring of course. Oak leaves usually start life in some color other than green like red or purple, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen them wearing white.

Maple trees also have leaves that open to something other than green; usually red or orange if it’s a red maple (Acer rubrum.) If it’s cold or cloudy as the new leaves emerge they’ll stay in their non green state but sunlight and warmth will eventually coax the tree into producing chlorophyll and they green up quickly so they can start photosynthesizing and making food.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can be beautiful in the spring; beautiful enough so you want to touch it, but if you do you’ll be sorry. I know the plant well and would never intentionally touch it but I got into it somehow and I’ve been itching for a week. You can get the rash even from the leafless stems and that’s usually where I get it.

There are a few evergreen trees in a local park that produce beautiful purple cones in spring and this is one of them. It’s a spruce tree but I don’t know its name. It’s needles are very stiff and sharp and I actually drove one of them into my finger when I was trying to get this photo.

Many plant parts are purple in spring, including flowers like those on what I believe is sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum.) Grasses can be very beautiful and I hope everyone reading this walks a little slower and looks a little closer so they can see them.

I thought these new tall meadow rue leaves (Thalictrum pubescens) edged in purple were very pretty. This is a fast growing plant which will tower over my head and be blooming on the fourth of July with little orange tipped white flowers that look like bombs bursting in air.

Right after I told Jerry at the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog that I hadn’t seen any butterflies I started seeing them, and that’s the way this blogging thing always seems to work. I don’t dare tell you it will be sunny tomorrow because if I did it would surely rain. Anyhow, this eastern swallowtail landed in a bare spot in a lawn I was standing on and I noticed that it had a large piece of its left wing missing. It was a close call because whatever took its wing just barely missed its body. I’m guessing a bird got it.

By the way, you can find Jerry’s blog over there on the right in the “favorite links” section and you should, because it’s a great nature blog that I’ve enjoyed for many years.

An ant was on a dandelion blossom but when I went to take its photo it crawled off onto a nearby leaf. I never knew they were so hairy.

This swamp is where I find many of the spring ephemeral flowers that you see on this blog. Goldthread, trillium, bloodroot, wild ginger, dwarf ginseng and others grow here. Great blue herons nest here and many types of ducks visit, but they’re very wary and almost impossible to get a good shot of.

Many ferns also grow around the swamp in the previous photo. This cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) was unfurling beautifully one recent day. It’s hard to believe this little thing will be waist high in just a short time.

I find chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) growing in clusters on well-rotted logs, but I don’t think I’ve ever found them in May. This is a pretty little orange mushroom with a cap that might get as big as a nickel, but that’s probably stretching it. These mushrooms show themselves for quite a long time and I often still see them in September.

Fuzzy foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina campanella) are easy to confuse with chanterelle wax caps but they have a dense tuft of orange brown hairs at the base of the stem and these mushrooms didn’t have that. Chanterelle wax caps have pale yellow gills that run down the stem. They also have occasional short gills, which means they stop short of the stem. Both features can be seen in this photo.

The skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) swamp is green with new leaves. Many thousands of plants grow here as they have for who knows how many hundreds or even thousands of years.

I love the spring green of the forest floor seen here. It’s hard to tell but the green comes from many thousands of wildflowers, including sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia.) This forest along the Ashuelot river is where I come to find them each spring.

I also visit the Ashuelot River to watch the buds of shagbark hickories (Carya ovata) break each spring. They’re one of the most beautiful things seen in a New England forest in spring in my opinion, and I wouldn’t miss their opening. I’ve always thought this tree liked lowlands but I recently saw them growing high on a hillside in a hardwood forest.

Indescribable, endless beauty and deep, immense joy. These are what nature offers to those willing to receive them, and all it costs is a little time. I hope you’ll take that time, if you can.

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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Flowers take center stage in spring but they aren’t the only things out there to see because spring is busting out all over. I always love watching for fern fiddleheads like these examples to suddenly appear. Sometimes it seems like they grow inches overnight so you have to watch carefully each day.

Hairy fiddleheads like these belong to either cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) or interrupted fern (Osmundastrum claytoniana.) Both are beautiful right up until fall, when they turn pumpkin orange.

Lady fern fiddleheads (Athyrium filix-femina) are also up. Lady fern is the only fern I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers. They don’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.

I was walking the shores of Half Moon Pond up in Hancock when I saw a curious shrub that I hadn’t ever seen before. It grew almost in the water and leaned quite far out over it. It also had what looked like orange catkins all over it.

Once I got home with the photos it didn’t take long to identify the shrub as sweet gale (Myrica gale,) which is also called bog rosemary. It likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. Though it is a native plant it also grows native in Europe, where it is used as an ingredient in beer making in some countries. It is also used in an ointment used to treat sensitive skin and acne. The catkins shown above are the male catkins. Now I’ve got to go back and look for the beautiful female catkins, which remind me of hazel catkins but look much larger in the photos I’ve seen. I’ll let you know what I find.

We’ve had a lot of rain over the last few weeks so one day I went to see how Beaver Brook was doing. It wasn’t full on this day but it wasn’t exactly placid either.

I went back two days later and Beaver Brook was raging, and there were streams of water pouring off the hillside into it. It’s amazing how this can happen in two short days, but we had about an inch and a half of rain which fell on already soggy ground.

It poured off the hillside in a torrent, making waterfalls where I’ve never seen any.

All of our brooks and streams in this area eventually empty into the Ashuelot River, and if the streams are raging it’s a pretty fair bet that the river is as well. It certainly was on this day, and I saw a beautiful wave form right in front of me.

I should say here that this and several other photos in this post were taken with a new camera. My trusty Canon Powershot SX-40 has given up the ghost, I think. I couldn’t seem to get a sharp photo out of it anymore no matter what I did and with glaucoma I need a camera I can count on, so I bought a Canon EOS T6. I really didn’t want a digital SLR because I didn’t want to have to carry a bunch of lenses around but at $300.00 off it was hard to say no. I think it’s the 6th or 7th camera I’ve used for this blog because they have a tough life in the woods, and simply wear out. I can only hope this new camera does as well as the old Powershot, which was a great camera that took many thousands of photos and more than a few hard knocks. I hope you’ll bear with me while I learn how to wade through its seemingly endless menus. The technical aspect of photography is my least favorite part so it might take a while.

Macro photos like this one of a maple bud will still be taken with my trusty Olympus Stylus TG-870. It is called the “war camera” with good reason. If you’re looking for a camera that can take good macro photos even after it has been dropped and rained on several times, it’s the one you want. It did well to show the beautiful veining on this small bud.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) is an extremely toxic plant but I love the movement that its new spring shoots have. Every time I see them I think how nice it would be to sit beside them and draw them, but I never seem to find the time. This one makes me think of someone contemplating a handful of pearls, which of course are actually its flower buds. Soon it will have a club shaped head of small white flowers. Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots of this plant and used it medicinally to treat pain and other ailments, but no part of it should ever be ingested. In late summer it will have bright white berries with a single black dot that give the plant its common name of doll’s eyes. The berries especially are very toxic.

We have field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) where I work and I was finally able to confirm that yes, they really do come up overnight. I watched this spot each day and they weren’t there and then, one day they were. This is a very interesting plant so I was happy to see them. Thankfully they don’t grow near a garden. If they did I wouldn’t have been quite so happy to see them because they’re close to impossible to get out of a garden.

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.

What I can’t explain about this particular horsetail strobilus are the tiny lozenge shaped bits seen here and there in this photo. I’ve never seen them before but a guess would be that they’re part of the reproductive system, possibly a zygote, which is a fertilized egg cell that results from the union of a female gamete (egg, or ovum) with a male gamete (sperm). If you know what they are I’d love for you to let me (us) know.

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 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 looked up at the sun shining through newly opened horse chestnut leaves. I was hoping to see its beautiful flowers but I was too early, so the new spring leaves were beautiful enough.

Silver maples have given up on flowers and now all their energy is being put into seed and leaf production. What I find interesting is how the leaves come last in the process, which means that stored energy from the previous season must be used to produce this season’s flowers and seeds, since there is no photosynthesis going on at the moment. This samara will quickly lose its red color and become green, and the white hairs will disappear.

Japanese knotweed can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb but I’ve never tried them.

The flowers stalks (culms) of Pennsylvania 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.” They’re pretty little things that I think most people miss seeing.

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 wouldn’t be surprised to see 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 sometimes the preparation method is what makes a toxic plant usable.

The buds have split open on some striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum,) revealing the leaves within. It always amazes me how such large leaves can come out of such relatively small buds. They’re often bigger than my hand.

In my last post I told of how American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl. 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. This photo shows a bud being opened by that tension. Soon the new leaves will emerge, covered in silvery downy hairs that make them look like tiny angel wings. They are one of the most beautiful sights in a New England spring forest.

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

Thanks for coming by. Happy Mayday.

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Every now and then wonder if readers of this blog think that they have to go deep into a forest or climb hills to see the things that I see, so I make a point of doing posts from places like dowtown Keene, or my own yard, or the local college. I do this to show that nature is truly everywhere, even in the heart of a city, so all you really need to do to find it is go outside. This time I’ve chosen roadsides, because just about anyone can walk along a road. It doesn’t have to be a wooded road like the one in the photo. I needed a shot of a road for this post and that one happened to be the most photogenic, but it could be any road anywhere. In fact quite a few of the photos that follow were taken from a two lane blacktop while I waited for my car to be serviced.

I decided that I’d add restrictions and allow myself only a few steps off of whatever road I was on at the time. I thought the white bark of these roadside birches surrounded by all the different shades of spring green made a beautiful scene, and I didn’t even have to step off the road to see it.

Grasses always grow alongside roads and when they flower they can be truly beautiful. I haven’t been able to identify this one but it’s very early flowering for a grass.

In this area common chokecherry trees (Prunus virginiana) are blossoming everywhere along our roadsides and they’re very easy to see. Chokecherries are small trees that sometimes can resemble shrubs when they grow in a group as these did. It took just a few steps off the road to get this photo, but the real story is the incredible fragrance that was coming from the racemes full of flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a dark purple one seeded berry (drupe) which, though edible but can be bitter or sour. Many Native American tribes used the fruit as food and used other parts of the tree such as the inner bark medicinally. They also used the bark in their smoking mixtures to improve the flavor.

Honeysuckles grow mostly in shrub form along our roads, and they are almost always invasive species. I believe this example is Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) which rapidly invades sites that it likes. It grows to about 7 feet tall and is originally from Eurasia. Red berries follow the flowers and birds love them and that of course helps the shrub spread. They grow in large colonies and their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native understory plants can’t gain a foothold. Each plant can produce more than 20,000 seeds and seedling density can be nearly a half million seedlings per acre.

Sometimes I’ll be driving along and see something out of the corner of my eye that bears a closer look, and I’ll have to stop. This happened recently when I found some marsh marigolds, which I’d spent many years looking for. On this day it was the view off to my left, which I had to stop and get a photo of. It would have been far better on a sunny day but if there’s one thing you learn as a nature blogger it’s that you take what nature gives you or you find something else to do.

About 5 or 6 trees in from the right you can see a big old pine tree that has broken off about two thirds of the way up its trunk. We had a confirmed tornado tear through a large swath of the state a couple of weeks ago, and those who didn’t see a tornado still got very high winds. Many trees were broken and many fell.

Part of the undergrowth you can see in the previous photo of the forest is made up of cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) like that in the above photo. They often grow just a few steps from the edges of roads, particularly along stone walls, and are very common. This fern gets its common name from its orangey red fertile fronds, which someone thought looked like cinnamon sticks.

The fertile fronds full of sporangia have just appeared and are still green in these photos. As they ripen they will turn orangey red and when fully ripe will burst and release the fern’s spores. Each tiny sphere seen here is barely bigger than the head of a common pin. Native American used this fern medicinally to relieve joint pain but no part of it is edible.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) love to grow on roadsides that have been mowed and I see a lot of them.

I know of two places where white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) grows along roadsides. The club shaped flower heads stand above surrounding foliage, making them relatively easy to spot. Later on in the fall each white blossom will turn into a striking white berry with a single black spot where the stigma was. In size, color and shape the berries look like doll’s eyes, and that’s how the plant comes by its common name. All parts of the plant and especially the berries are very toxic and should never be eaten.

Flowers aren’t all there is to see along roads. Searching any old log will often turn up mosses, lichens and fungi like this gilled polypore (Lenzites betulina.) Though most polypores have pores there are a few with gills and this is one of them. It is zoned like a turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) but rather than different colors these zones are made up of different textures, like bumps and ridges. It is also very hairy and can turn green with age due to the algae that often grow on them. This example grew on a hardwood log just a few steps off the road I was on.

I saw a beaver lodge off to the side of this road and hardly even had to leave the car for a photo.

A male redwing blackbird watched me from an alder branch while his mate flew away from the nest. These birds are very defensive and they have no problem letting you know that you’re getting too close. I’ve had them flap their wings in my face and hover right in front of me, screeching all the while.

This one did plenty of screeching but luckily it didn’t fly toward me. I took the hint and moved on after a couple of bad photos. I’m not sure why he had a white and red patch rather than an all red patch on his wing. It could just be a blown out highlight because of the bright sunshine that day, but I’m not sure.

The poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) is usually seen in gardens but it has escaped and is naturalizing in some areas. I found this one just a few steps off the road in a field. This is such an ancient plant that many believe that it is the flower that the legend of narcissus is based on. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is hard to confuse with any other because of the red edged, yellow corona. It has a spicy, pleasing scent but its fragrance is said to be powerful enough to make some people sick when they are in an enclosed room with it.

Lilly of the valley plants (Convallaria majalis) had escaped someone’s garden and grew right at the edge of the road, and they were blooming far ahead of others I’ve seen. This European import grows naturally in shaded woodlands there but it doesn’t seem to mind bright sunshine. One of my earliest memories is running up the stairs to my grandmother’s house with fistfuls of wilted lily of the valley and apple blossoms. Though it has a wonderful fragrance lily of the valley is very toxic and no part of the plant should be eaten.

Since I work outside I see many thousands of dandelion blossoms each day and though I love seeing them it’s only occasionally that one will speak to me. This one spoke on this day. It said “I’m not like all of the others,” and it was right.

You can often find the dangling bell shaped flowers of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) just up over your head on many of our less traveled roads. The tree gets its name from its striped bark and needs to be at least 10 years old before it will flower. They like cool, moist woods and their large hand shaped leaves mean they can stand a lot of shade. They’re mostly small understory trees but I’ve seen some get quite big.

Each striped maple flower has 5 green sepals and 5 greenish yellow petals with outward turning lobes that are a bit longer than the sepals. Male flowers have 6-8 stamens like the example above. They’ll never take first prize at a flower show but I think they’re pretty.

So in the end I hope I’ve shown that it isn’t the road that’s important; it’s what you see along it that matters. I hope you’ll have a chance to see what fascinating things there are along the roads near you.

You know more of a road by having traveled it than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world. ~William Hazlitt

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Actually, nothing in any of these photos or any post you may find here is secret or hidden but most people never see these things, and that’s too bad. Just look at how beautiful this young shagbark hickory bud (Carya ovata) was after it opened. A tree full of them looks like a tree full of beautiful flowers and they’re right there in plain sight, so I hope you’ll look for them.

Every bit as beautiful but not quite as colorful is a spring beech bud (Fagus grandifolia) opening. A tree full of these looks like it has been festooned with tiny angel wings and they are one of my favorite things to see in spring. But you have to watch closely because they don’t stay like this for more than a day. A good sign that beech bud break is about to happen is when the normally small, straight buds grow longer and curl like a rainbow. Once that happens they are ready to break and let the leaves unfurl.

A new beech leaf still has some of the delicate silver hairs left from its time in the bud, but it loses them quickly. The orange turns to green quickly too, and then the magic ends for another year.

I saw some beautiful young red buckeye leaves on the Central Ohio Nature blog, a link to which you can find over there on the right in the Favorite Links section. I don’t have the same tree but I do have a bottlebrush buckeye and this photo is of its leaves, which are more of a rosy brown / brick red color.

New oak leaves are covered in soft velvet and come in many colors…

…including hot pink. They also shed water quickly.

Some oaks are already flowering.

According to my color finding software this maple leaf also had pink in it, along with plum purple and fire brick red. I don’t see those colors but I believe the software is accurate.

New poison ivy leaves (Toxicodendron radicans) are often a deep maroon color but these were green with a white fringe. I’ve noticed this year that many new spring leaves that would normally wear various shades of red and bronze are instead shades of green. What this means I don’t know. They seem to want to get a jump on photosynthesizing.

I checked on the field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) each day and there was no sign of them and then overnight there they were, hundreds of them. One little tap and what looks like clouds of pollen float off them but the “pollen” is actually a cloud of microscopic spores.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a field horsetail ends in a light brown 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 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 this photo it has released its spores and will shortly die.

When the fertile spore bearing stems of the horsetail have released their spores the infertile green, photosynthesizing stems pf the plant appear. These shoots are rough and gritty since they contain a lot of silica. In fact they are often used by campers to scrub pots and dishes because they are so gritty. They are also very close to impossible to eradicate from a garden, so this isn’t a plant to wish grew closer to home.

I didn’t see a goldfinch but I knew it had been here. A beautiful gift from a beautiful little bird.

The big buds of Norway maple (Acer platanoides) opened a week or so ago but the flowers still persist on the trees. Last year they were blossoming in late April so they’re clearly late this year. These trees are native to Europe and are considered invasive here. Finding white sap in the leaf stem (Petiole) is one way to identify Norway maple. Sugar maple and red maple have clear sap.

The flower clusters of Norway maples are large and appear before the leaves so they can be seen from quite a distance. Though invasive the trees were once used extensively as landscape specimens and you can find them all over this town. Unfortunately the tree has escaped into the forests and in places is crowding out sugar and other maples. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states and it’s against the law to sell or plant them in New Hampshire.

The new spring shoots of cattails (Typha latifolia) are coming up among last year’s fallen stalks. Science has recorded cattail marshes growing up to 17 feet in a single year, but animals like muskrats often eat the roots and this helps keep them in check. Cattail roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice and they were an important food source for Native Americans. They made flour from the fleshy roots and ate the new shoots in spring. They had uses for every part of the plant, including its pollen. To anyone thinking they’ll go collect a basketful of cattail roots I say be very careful, because blue and yellow flag iris leaves look much like cattails and often grow right along with them, and iris roots are very poisonous. Know your roots!

For a short time between when they appear and when they ripen and fall American elm (Ulmus americana) seeds have a white fringe. When they ripen they’ll become dry and papery and finally fall to the wind. I grew up on a street that had huge 200 year old elms on it and those trees put out seeds in what must have been the millions. I remember how they wreaked havoc with cars by clogging the vents. My father complained about them more than once. Elm seeds contain 45% protein and 7% fiber and in the great famine of 1812 they were used as food in Norway.

I finally found some developing silver maple seeds to show you. Normally when very young they’re bright red with white hairs but these had gone over to green, even though they still had the hair. I’ll have to try again next spring. You really can’t see everything there is to see in spring unless you have all day every day to look, and even then I doubt it would be possible.

Some ferns are just coming up and others are knee high and ready to unfurl. I think these were cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) but they could be interrupted ferns (Osmundastrum claytoniana.) Royal ferns and sensitive ferns are still in the just out of the ground fiddlehead stage.

This isn’t a very good photo because all I had with me was the small camera I use for macro shots, but how often do we get to see baby squirrels playing? These three babies were less than half the size of an adult squirrel and spent quite a lot of time chasing each other in and out of a hollow tree, learning all the while I suppose. I’ve always liked watching squirrels. They’re a lot of fun to watch because they seem to have a lot of fun.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.

~Edna Jaques

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After a cool night or two suddenly the leaves started changing again. And it was sudden; I drive by this spot every day and in just a day or two the colors brightened into what you see here. I used to think that it was day length that made the trees change and that probably does play a large part in the process, but this year has shown that temperature does as well. If the leaves start to change and it gets hot, they stop changing until it cools off again. Meanwhile, they can and do fall while they’re still green.

These opening photos were taken at Howe Reservoir in Dublin, New Hampshire and that’s Mount Monadnock in the background. Mount Monadnock is the second most climbed mountain in the world after Mount Fuji in Japan, and when the foliage changes it is standing room only up there. People come from all over the world to see the leaves and climb the mountain and it gets very busy here, already noticeable in the extra traffic on the roadways.

Speaking of roadways, here is what they look like. It doesn’t matter where this was taken because pretty much every roadside looks like this in this part of the state right now.

If you stop along the road and get out of the car this is usually what you’re faced with; an impenetrable thicket of brush and trees, but a colorful one at this time of year.

Each year I struggle with the question of whether the colors are more vibrant on a cloudy day or a sunny day. I think a cloudy day is best for foliage color but it’s a trade off because it’s darker on cloudy days. That means you have to open up the aperture of the lens to let in more light so the camera can see the foliage colors. When you do that with my camera you get great colors on the trees but the sky is overexposed. You’ve let so much light in that the blue of the sky gets washed out and becomes white, and that is what has happened in many of these photos. There are different ways around the problem but I’m not going to go into all of that technical mumbo jumbo here. A “faster” lens would be the best solution but that means buying a camera with interchangeable lenses, and I can’t swing that right now. This year I didn’t have a choice anyhow, because almost every time I had a chance to get outside with a camera it has been cloudy.

On the other hand, this is what bright sunlight can do. At sunup one morning on Half Moon Pond in Hancock the sun turned all of the trees on the far hillside the same golden color. Most of them are evergreens but there are a few hardwoods in yellow, orange and red, though you’d never know it.

There was some sun in this shot, just kissing the tree tops, and a touch of blue /gray in the sky.

Here is a shot of the Ashuelot River in Keene taken when the sun finally broke through the clouds. For me this shot isn’t as colorful as those shot on cloudy days. It might be colorblindness talking but it looks like all the colors have blended into one color. It all looks kind of orangey to me, even though it didn’t look that way in person. Maybe it’s just that the sun was low in the sky and warmed the colors.

Walking our rail trails at this time of year can be like walking into a kaleidoscope. Everywhere you look there are colors of every hue.

This winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) is a good example of vibrant color. I first found one of these shrubs this past summer and read that it turned a beautiful scarlet red in the fall, so I made sure I went back to see. I wasn’t disappointed.

Winged sumac gets its common name from the wings that form on the stem between each leaf pair. Another name for the plant is flame leaf sumac, with good reason.

But staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) aren’t bad either when it comes to fall color. These were very red.

This shows just how red a staghorn sumac can be in the fall. Some border on purple.

Early settlers noticed this fern’s sensitivity to frost and named it the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis.) Just the slightest touch of frost will turn it completely brown but if the frost holds off like it has this year they will slowly go from green to yellow to finally white. This fern is a favorite of beavers but I’m not sure if they eat it or build beds with it. Last year I saw one swimming down the river with a large bundle of sensitive ferns in its mouth.

My favorite fern in the fall is the cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum,) because they turn pumpkin orange. This is one of my favorite groves of them but this year I was late and most had already gone beyond orange to yellow.

The burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River are turning quickly now and many are that odd magenta pink color that they turn. I’ve never seen one in a garden turn this color but here huge swaths of them all down the river bank can be this color. It’s actually a beautiful and breathtaking sight, but it would be better if these shrubs weren’t so invasive.

If you’re looking for colorful shrubs for the garden our native blueberries are a better choice than burning bushes. I’ve seen blueberries turn every color from yellow to orange and scarlet red to plum purple, as this example was. Not only would the garden have the beautiful fall colors but the gardener would get to eat all the delicious berries.

Birches are usually among the first trees to turn but they’ve been slow this year. Their leaves turn bright yellow but I think most of the color in this photo actually came from the low afternoon sun.

I was really surprised to see how many trees were already bare in this shot of one of our many hillsides.

The cows in this pasture were oblivious to the beauty all around them. Or maybe not. I wish I knew.

I drove all the way over to Perkins Pond in Troy to see my favorite view of Mount Monadnock but it was heavy with clouds and all of the leaves had already fallen. I waited for this cloud to pass and I did get a quick glimpse of the summit just before another cloud came along and covered it again. I think I’ve missed seeing the foliage colors in this spot every single year that I’ve done this blog. I know it happens here because I’ve seen photos of it, but it must happen much earlier than it does everywhere else. I’ve got to make a note to start watching in September next year.

Leaves aren’t the only places to see color. The colors of the rising sun were caught in the clouds early one recent morning. It was a beautiful way to start the day.

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came –
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.
~George Cooper

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Our fall color was off to a good start with a cool end to August but then it got hot, and then it got even hotter until this past week has seen record breaking heat in the 90s F. and tropical humidity. We haven’t had any beneficial rain for a couple of weeks either and all the stones seen in the view of Ashuelot River above show how low the water has gotten. The heat and lack of rainfall seem to have slowed the fall foliage transformation down dramatically but you can see some color along the Ashuelot. The yellow in the tree over on the left isn’t the tree’s color but comes from an Oriental bittersweet vine that has grown up it.

This is what oriental bittersweet can do. What you can’t see is how it wraps itself around the trunk and slowly strangles the tree. The reason I’m showing this is to point out how easy it is to spot this invasive vine at this time of year, and once you’ve spotted it you can eradicate it by cutting it and painting the cut surface with glycophosphate.

This view of the Ashuelot River in north Keene doesn’t show much fall color but it’s a pretty spot that I like visiting at all times of year.

White ash (Fraxinus americana) is one of the first trees to change in the fall and they usually start out bright yellow, but are often multicolored with yellow, orange, red and deep purple all on the same tree.

This photo gives an idea of the range of colors found in white ash trees.

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) is another tree that turns early and is bright yellow. I’m guessing that this one is one of the many thornless cultivars developed from our native trees. Native honey locusts are very thorny, with sharp thorns that can be 4 or 5 inches long.

Though this photo doesn’t show a lot of foliage colors it’s another one of my favorite places, and on this day the trail led to some good color. Unseen just off to the left is the Ashuelot River and this trail follows it. The trail has been here for many years; possibly many hundreds of years, and I’ve been following it since I was a boy. Even so I usually see something here that I’ve never noticed before.

Colorblindness can make blogging difficult at times. I could see the red of the leaves on the red maple tree in the center of this photo just fine in person, but I can’t see them in the photo. They just blend into the other colors for me, but I’m including the photo because I know not everyone is colorblind and I think most of you will see those red leaves. At least I hope so.

Colorblindness can also be very subtle. The red maple in this photo I can see just fine, but I can’t tell you why. It’s something you learn to live with but at this time of year I’m never 100% sure of the colors I see. I once drove to a spot where there were some beautiful flaming orange maples, only to find when I got home and got the shot on the computer that my color finding software saw them as yellow green.

Colorblindness isn’t all bad though; colorblind people can often see camouflaged objects clearly and their services are highly valued by the armed forces. Outlines are clearly defined because they aren’t being blurred or muddled by color. I can see a black chanterelle (Craterellus cornucopioides) mushroom on the forest floor with ease even though many mushroom hunters say they are one of the most difficult to find, but if a red cardinal lands in a green tree it disappears instantly. In fact I’ve never seen a cardinal even when they were pointed out, so if the newer readers of this blog were wondering, that’s why you don’t see many birds in these posts. Or cardinal flowers.

I didn’t have any trouble seeing the pumpkin orange of this cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.) Many ferns are very colorful at this time of year and cinnamon ferns are one of the most beautiful.

For years I’ve said on this blog that lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) were the only ones I knew that turned white in fall, but I was forgetting about the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis,) which often does the same. The above photo is of lady ferns. I haven’t found any white sensitive ferns yet, but they’ll be along.

I found a goldenrod with all of the color washed out of it, which is something I’ve never seen.

This is one of those trees that I saw as orange but fully expected to find out it was green when I got home, so I was happy when my color finding software told me it had orange in it. But it’s a kind of drab orange and some are saying that our fall colors won’t be quite as eye popping as usual this year because of the dryness and the heat. Last year we were in a drought and the colors were still beautiful, but we didn’t have tropical heat and humidity in September. It’s always a guessing game, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Peak color typically happens in mid-October here in the southern part of the state, so stay tuned.

These leaves fell off the tree in the previous photo. It’s amazing how many different colors can be on a maple tree at the same time.

The dogwoods are showing a lot of color this year. This large silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) was a deep maroon and stood out from the surrounding plants like a beacon.

This view of the Branch River in Marlborough is another of my favorites in the fall. Though the color finding software sees a lot of green it also sees red, orange and yellow. And of course the blue of the river. Rivers taught me that if I wanted to have this beautiful blue in a photo of them I had to snap the shutter when the sun was behind me.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) has bright yellow leaves in the fall, and this is how they start to turn. Soon they will be full of small blossoms with yellow, strap shaped petals; our last and latest flower to bloom. Though they usually blossom in October during one mild winter I found them still blooming in January. We also had dandelions blooming in January that year.

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are showing some great color this year, starting out in shades of orange before finally turning several shades of red. Red can be a very hard color to photograph and cameras don’t seem to like it but this appears to be an accurate shot of what I saw.

Crimson is just one of the several shades of red you can see on a staghorn sumac.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is another plant that turns several shades of red but will also occasionally become deep purple. My mother loved this native vine so much that she planted it beside our porch before she died. It grew big enough to provide cool shade in summer and bright color in fall, and it is included in my earliest memories.

Friends of mine have a huge Virginia creeper growing up a tree near their house that has more berries on it than any Virginia creeper I’ve seen, but it refuses to turn red so this will have to do for now. The berries are poisonous to humans but many birds eat them, including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds, turkeys, and chickadees. Mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels and deer also like them so there is plenty of competition for the fruit. I’ve read that birds are more attracted to red berries than the blue-black berries of Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having red leaves and stems in the fall. When the birds land amidst all the red hues they find and eat the berries.  Since thirty five species of birds eat them it must be a successful ploy.

I found this Virginia creeper in a shaded part of the forest. I don’t know if it was ever red, but it was white and pale green when I saw it and I wanted to show it here so you could see how very different the same plants can appear in the fall. Sometimes it takes me a minute or two to figure out exactly what it is I’m seeing.

The New Hampshire bureau of tourism estimates that ten million people will come to see the fall foliage this year and I hope that each and every one of them will be able to see scenes like this one that I saw early one recent morning in Hancock. If you can’t make it to New Hampshire this year I hope you’ll have plenty of colorful foliage to see in your own area.

Why is it that so many of us persist in thinking that autumn is a sad season? Nature has merely fallen asleep, and her dreams must be beautiful if we are to judge by her countenance. Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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For six weeks now we’ve had at least one rainy day per week and often two or three. This has amounted to a drought busting 2-3 inches of rain each week and the water table is again where it should be, if not a little high. Unfortunately along with the rain we’ve had cold and until this past week it seemed that it would never warm up, but warm up it has and temps in the 90s are expected for part of next week. Beaver brook seems happier when it’s full. It cheering chuckles and giggles can be heard throughout the forest and it is a welcome companion when I walk along its shores.

The orangey red fertile fronds of cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have appeared. They once reminded someone of sticks of cinnamon, and that’s how this fern comes by its common name.

A closer look shows that this isn’t cinnamon. The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which is where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Even the seeds (samaras) of red maple (Acer rubrum) are red, and a beautiful red at that. Squirrels love red maple seeds and that’s probably a good thing because our trees produce many millions of them. A single tree about a foot in diameter was shown to produce nearly a million seeds, and red maple is the most abundant native tree in eastern North America. Native Americans used red maple bark to wash inflamed eyes and as a remedy for hives and muscle aches. The tree’s wood was used for tools and its sap boiled into maple sugar, much like the sap of the sugar maple.

One of the things that determines how many acorns an oak will produce is the weather. Since the male flowers release pollen to the wind in the hopes that it will reach the female flowers, rain can have a big impact because it can wash the pollen out of the air. Since we’ve had a lot of rain this spring it will be interesting to see how many acorns we have this fall. The flowers shown are the male catkins of a red oak (Quercus rubra.)

These are the male pollen bearing cones of the mugo pine (Pinus mugo.) Mugo pine is a native of southwestern and Central Europe which is used as a landscape specimen. Its pollen cones closely resemble those of our eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) When the female flowers are fertilized by this pollen they produce the seed bearing pine cones that we are all familiar with. Here in New Hampshire pine pollen is responsible for turning any horizontal surface, including ponds and vehicles, a dusty green color each spring. It also makes some of us have sneezing fits.

I heard that the new spring fiddleheads of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) were purple and, since I’ve never paid attention to them I decided to go and see some. Sure enough they were deep purple. I shouldn’t have been surprised because another name for this fern is flowering fern, because its fertile fronds are purple.

Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) starts out life in spring with its leaves colored red or bronze and people are often fooled by it at this stage. It is a plant that anyone who spends time in the woods should get to know well, but even then you can still occasionally be caught by it. It doesn’t need to have leaves on it to produce a reaction; I usually end up with a rash on my legs each spring from kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of spring beauties. Luckily it doesn’t bother me too much but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it.

This Northern water snake was basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2 feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a good photo of.

Early one morning I saw a dragonfly on a building. I knew it was alive because it was moving one of its legs slowly back and forth. It let me get the camera very close and didn’t flinch even when I turned on the camera’s LED light. I haven’t been able to confidently identify it but I thought it might be a Lancet club tail. I hope someone will let me know if I’m wrong.

I’ve never gotten so close to a dragonfly. Odd that it didn’t fly away.

Tent caterpillars appear in early spring as buds begin to open. They prefer fruit trees but can also be found on maples, hawthorn and others. Their nests are smaller and more compact than fall webworms and are found in the crotch of branches rather than at the ends. Often the caterpillars can be seen crawling over the outside surface of the nest as these were. They feed in morning and early evening, and on warm nights. They do a lot of damage and can defoliate a tree in no time at all. Though the tree will usually grow new leaves it will have been severely weakened and may not bear fruit. As the larvae feed they will make the silky nest larger to enclose more foliage.

A close up look at the tent caterpillars. They can be seen crawling everywhere at this time of year. Tent caterpillars are an important food source for insects, animals and birds. One bear was found to have eaten about 25,000 of them and more than 60 species of birds will eat them. Frogs, mice, skunks, bats, reptiles and 28 different insects help control the population but nothing can stop them. Scientists have found that a severe outbreak can defoliate tens of thousands of acres of forest.

This robin had a beak full of caterpillars but they weren’t tent caterpillars. He didn’t seem real happy to see me.

Some think that without ants their peony blossoms wouldn’t open, but that’s really just an old wive’s tale. Peony buds have very small glands called extrafloral nectaries along the outside edges of their bud scales. These glands produce a mixture of sugar, water and amino acids, and this is what attracts the ants. To repay the peony for its gift of nectar the ants drive off pests that might harm the buds.

Native Americans held turkeys in such high regard they buried the birds when they died, but the turkey’s value was in its feathers, not its meat. The feathers were used to decorate their ceremonial clothing and as arrow fletching to stabilize arrows.  They were also used for winter cloaks because they were lightweight and very warm. A feather from a turkey was powerful medicine thought to symbolize abundance, pride, fertility and wisdom, but the meat was considered starvation food. Early colonials mentioned the small flocks of young turkeys seen near Native villages and how the Natives refused to kill them for food, which they couldn’t understand. Of course Europeans saw little to no value in the feathers.

Why some plants have red or purple leaves in spring isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought that the color helps protect their new, fragile leaves from damaging ultraviolet rays and cold temperatures. It isn’t just trees that use this strategy; many shrubs and plants also have new leaves tinged with red or purple. The rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) in the above photo shows just how purple some new spring leaves can be. Eventually all its leaves will be green but the color won’t disappear entirely; a deep maroon color will be left on their veins, making this a very beautiful plant at any time of year.

The heartwood of oaks and some other tree species have a high tannin content and when iron or steel come into contact with the tannins a chemical reaction takes place. This almost always results in a discoloration of the wood. It is caused by nails, barbed wire, chains, or any one of a hundred other iron or steel objects that can be found in trees. There is even a photo online of a bicycle grown into a tree. This is trouble for loggers, because if the sawmill sees stains like those on the red oak log pictured above they’ll reject the log. Their saw blades are expensive and running them through steel just doesn’t work.

If you happened upon a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree just after bud break it would be easy to believe that you were seeing a tree full of beautiful flowers, but what you saw would be the colorful insides of the newly opened bud scales. What you saw would also be one of the most beautiful things you could find in a New England forest in spring.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts.  ~Susanna Clarke

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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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1-bridge

The last time I talked to anyone at the Keene Middle School about it, it looked like the boardwalk through Tenant Swamp behind the school might be closed in winter, so I was happy and surprised to find it open last weekend. You enter the swamp by crossing this bridge.

2-stream

The bridge crosses over a small stream which on this day had a skim of ice. For a swamp there is remarkably little standing water seen here.

3-boardwalk

I was happy to see that the boardwalk had been shoveled. At least I thought so…

4-boardwalk

Until I walked a little further and saw this. The snow had turned to a solid block about 3 inches thick, but thankfully it wasn’t slippery. On the left in this photo you can see the tall stems of the common reed, which is invasive.

5-phragmites

The invasive reed is called Phragmities australis and has invaded the swamp in several places. Even in winter its reedy stems block the view. Tenant swamp is bisected by a highway (Rte. 12 N.) and you can see large colonies of it from the road. This reed came from Europe and forms large monocultures that even burning can’t control unless it is done 2 or 3 times. Not only does a thick matted root system choke out other plants, but decaying reeds also release gallic acid, which ultraviolet light turns into mesoxalic acid and which means that seedlings of other plants that try to grow near the reed have very little hope of survival. It appears to be here to stay.

6-swamp

I think that even if I was blindfolded and brought here I’d know that I was in a swamp. There just isn’t anything else quite like them and being able to walk through one is a rare opportunity. In 2010 Keene built a new middle school at the edge of Tenant Swamp and the building sits on a high terrace that overlooks it. Before the school could be built however an archaeological sensitivity assessment had to be done, and by the time the dig was completed it was found that Native Americans lived here at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,000-12,000 years ago. The dig also found that the Ashuelot River once ran through here; about a half mile east of where it now flows. Since the site evolved into a swamp it was never farmed or built on so it was valuable enough archeologically to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since then, after much hard work and fund raising, a path and boardwalk leading into the swamp itself was built. It’s the kind of place that people rarely get to experience so it is meant to be a kind of outdoor classroom for anyone who wants to learn more about nature.

7-spruce

One of the most notable things seen here are the many spruce trees, because they aren’t normally plentiful in this area. It must stay relatively cool here because spruce trees prefer the boreal forests further north. There are at least two species here and I think they were probably red spruce (Picea rubens) and black spruce (Picea mariana.) Neither one minds boggy ground.

8-spuce-trees

Many of the older spruce trees are dying but they are pole size and I wouldn’t think that they’d be too old. I can’t even guess what would be killing them.

9-spruce-bark

Something had peeled the outer bark off this spruce to expose its beautiful, colorful inner bark.

10-beard-lichen

The spruce trees are hung thickly with beard lichens (Usnea) in places. These lichens seem to especially like growing on the bare branches of evergreens. I’ve met people who think the lichens kill the tree’s branches but they don’t, they just like plenty of sunlight and bare branches get more of it.

11-winterberries

Winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are a native holly that love wet feet so I wasn’t surprised to see many examples of them here. The berries were a little puckered but birds are probably still eating them because I rarely see any in the spring.  Robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings all eat them.

12-winterberries

The bright red color of winterberries makes them easy to see. There are also many blueberry bushes growing here, but I didn’t see a single berry on them. When I thought about it I realized that this swamp is full of food for birds and animals, and for humans as well.

13-cattail

Cattails (Typha latifolia) were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. Some of the cattails were releasing their seeds, just in time for the return of red winged blackbirds. The females use their fluffy fibers to line their nests. Cattails can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

14-bobcat-tracks

I saw what I think were bobcat tracks meandering around and under the boardwalk. There are many squirrels in this swamp and it might have been hunting.

15-hole-in-tree

This might have been a squirrel’s home, but it was too high up to look into. It might also have been an owl’s home, so it was probably best that I didn’t stick my nose into it.

16-alder-cones

Alders (Alnus) love to grow near water and they are one of the easiest shrubs to identify in winter. This is because the alders, of which there are about 15 species native to the U.S., bear seed pods that resemble miniature pine cones.  These cone shaped seed pods are the fruit of the female flowers and are called strobiles. Many birds eat alder seeds including ducks, grouse, widgeons, kinglets, vireos, warblers, goldfinches and chickadees. Moose and rabbits feed on alder and beavers eat the bark and use the stems to build with. Native Americans used alder as an anti-inflammatory and to help heal wounds. They also made a tea from it that helped cure toothaches. Those allergic to aspirin should not use alder medicinally because the bark contains salicin, which is similar to a compound d found in aspirin.

17-fern

There are many ferns here. When I visited the swamp in the summer I saw some that were easily waist high; mostly cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum,) which love boggy ground. Of course you won’t see any in winter but you can see plenty of signs that they grow here.

18-blue-pine-sap

I’ve seen lots of pine (Pinus strobus) sap turn blue in winter cold but this is the deepest blue that I’ve ever seen it. That’s odd since it really hasn’t been that cold since December. Native Americans used pine sap (or pitch) to treat coughs and pneumonia. It was also used to treat boils, abscesses and wounds.

19-lichen-on-moss

Lichens like plenty of water and mosses soak it up like little sponges, so this friendship between a crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) and a hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) is no real surprise. Hammered shield lichen gets its common name from the netted surface of each of its many lobes. It is also called the wax paper lichen, and if you’ve ever crumpled a piece of wax paper and then flattened it again out you know just what this lichen looks like.

20-swamp

To a nature nut the swamp is like a siren’s call and I would have loved to step off that boardwalk and explore it further, but then I remembered the stories of people getting lost there. A five hundred acre swamp is huge and I’m guessing that I’d probably be lost in under an hour. In November of 1890 George McCurdy went in and never came out alive; he died of exposure. They found him, but I’ve heard stories about another man who went into the swamp and was never found.  As much as I’d love to explore more I think I’ll just stay on the boardwalk for now.

The most primitive places left with us are the swamps, where the spruce still grows shaggy with Usnea (lichen). ~Henry David Thoreau

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