Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Clubmosses’

Last Saturday morning it was cold at about 3 degrees F. so I had to wait for it to warm up a bit before going out. My camera doesn’t perform well at anything below 10 degrees and neither do I, so I waited until the thermometer read 20 degrees before visiting a local swamp. I was hoping to show you the flock of mallards that swam here seconds before I clicked the shutter but apparently they thought my collapsible monopod was a gun, because as soon as I went to extend it off they flew. I was at the crest of the hill shown here and they were far below, but they still saw my every move.

So instead of the wildlife I concentrated on the plants that grow here, like these winterberries. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native plant in the holly family and is toxic, but birds snap up the berries fairly quickly so I only saw a handful of rather puckered fruit. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

I come to this swamp specifically because it is the only place I know of to find skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) which is usually our first flower to appear in spring. But as the above photo of its shoots shows the plants are there all winter, just waiting for the sign that it is warm enough to begin growing again. That date is usually in early March and the plant, through a process called thermogenesis, will grow through any amount of ice and snow to bloom. It can do that because it produces heat and can raise its temperature as much as 60 degrees F. above the surrounding air temperature. The splotchy maroon and yellow spathes are always a treat to see because they mean that spring is here, no matter what the calendar says.

Another sign of spring I watch for is when the catkins of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) start to turn golden yellow. This is a sign that they are producing pollen and that means that the tiny scarlet threads that are the female flowers must also be showing. The bud on the right is a female bud and the tiny female flowers will grow from it in early to mid-April. A good way to tell that you have an American hazelnut and not its cousin the beaked hazelnut is by the very hairy stem seen here. Only American hazelnut has hairy stems.

The forest was nearly free of snow but the trail through it had a light coating. That’s probably because it was well packed and icy.

It hasn’t been easy to find much snow in this part of the state this year and I’m not complaining about that at all. The weather people are hinting that a stormier pattern will crop up towards the end of the week.

There was one spot in the forest that had a measurable amount of snow and I wondered why only this spot had so much.

That was because there weren’t many evergreens overhead. Evergreen trees keep an amazing amount of snow from reaching the ground.

The shiny evergreen leaves of pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) poked up out of the snow. This plant is one of our native wintergreens and it likes to grow in undisturbed, sandy woodland soil that is on the dry side. It was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its common name comes from the Native American Cree tribe, who used it medicinally to treat kidney stones. It was thought to break them up into pieces. Even though pipsissewa photosynthesizes it supplements its diet by taking certain nutrients from fungi, and for that reason it is considered partially parasitic.

The pretty little seedpods of pipsissewa persist through the winter and poke up out of the snow. They are woody and split open into 5 parts to release the tiny seeds. Each capsule is about a quarter inch across. They remind me of the seedpods of the Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora,) in some ways.

When I finally got my driver’s license at 16 I would give my grandmother rides to the cemetery to visit the family graves. Near there was a wooded area and we would walk through the woods looking for checkerberries, which we had done since I was just a small boy. I can remember her always hoping we’d find some mayflowers so she could show me what they looked like, but we never did see any. That’s because their very fragrant flowers were collected for nosegays to such an extent the plant became almost impossible to find. Another name for mayflowers is trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens,) and my grandmother would be happy to know that I’ve found several large colonies. Many plants come with memories attached and for me this one comes with some strong ones.

I saw a very large witches’ broom on a blueberry bush. This deformation is caused by a fungus and causes a very dense cluster of branches to form. Though they might look unsightly they don’t seem to harm the plant. I picked berries for many years from a bush that had a large witches’ broom on it.

One part of the swamp had frozen into a pebbled, textured pattern.

We had a small ice storm that coated the trees with ice. The sun came out but the temperature dropped so as the sun melted the ice on the trees it fell into water that was freezing below, and that’s what made these patterns in the ice. I know that because the same thing happened where I work and, since I spend a lot of time outside, I watched (and felt) it happen. Millions of pieces of ice fell from the trees, rattling and tinkling as they fell. If they hit you in the face, they hurt.

Clubmosses grew up out of the ice. These little evergreen plants are vascular so they aren’t mosses at all, but someone must have thought so at one time. They are also called princess pine, ground pine and ground cedar but they have no relationship to those trees either. Clubmosses are considered fern allies, which are vascular plants that produce spores. Horsetails and Spikemosses are also in the same family. Clubmosses were used in a medicinal tea by Native Americans and the dried spores were once used to produce the flash in photography. They are very flammable when dry.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

I finally saw some more blue / purple turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They can be beautiful at times; like little painted fans.

The small stream that brings water from the upper part of the swamp to the lower was strangely colored orangey brown on this day. I wondered if it was some type of algae that colored it this way; I’ve never seen this here before.

Maybe it was all of the leaves in the stream that gave it its odd color, I don’t know.

A spruce tree had quite a large wound on it and a lot of resin around it. If you gently heat the resin, which is called spruce gum, of the black spruce tree (Picea mariana,) it will melt down into a liquid which can then be strained and poured into a shallow pan or other container to cool. After about half an hour it will be hardened and very brittle, and when broken into bite sized pieces it can be chewed like any other gum. Spruce gum is antiseptic and good for the teeth. It has been chewed by Native Americans for centuries and was the first chewing gum sold in the United States.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

I don’t know why but every now and then I’ll feel a pull from a certain place, almost like I imagine a salmon must feel when it has to return to the stream it was born in. On this day the pull came from the High Blue trail in Walpole. I know better than to try to ignore the pull because it’ll just get stronger as time goes by, so off I went to Walpole. The strongly contrasted, sun dappled woods were just what my camera can’t seem to cope with so some of these photo are poor, like the one above of the trail.

I forgot to take more photos of the trail because I gained some helpers along the way and they kept me preoccupied with a hundred different things; everything from chasing chipmunks to stopping and pricking up our ears to listen to whatever was going on in the woods. One helper was a black Labrador retriever and the other…

…was a chocolate lab, apparently the black lab’s sister or maybe his girlfriend, I don’t know. They were very friendly these two, but only the chocolate lab would let me pet her. The black lab would stand close enough to touch but wouldn’t let it happen, so I let him be and just talked to him.

Every time I stopped to take a photo they came running back down the trail and whirled around me like a dust devil before racing back up the trail. They were trying to hurry me along, even though I told them several times that I was here to take photos and see the countryside. It was a cool morning and I don’t know if there was heavy dew on this grass or leftovers from the previous day’s rain, but I’m surprised that this photo came out at all since I had a cold wet nose in my ear when I snapped the shutter.

There are a lot of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) along the trail and they were showing their fall colors. Hobblebush is one of our most beautiful native flowering shrubs in the spring, and they aren’t bad in the fall either.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) were wearing their fall pale greens and whites.

I took a left at the sign and my new friends ran ahead as if they knew the place better than I did.

But they didn’t know everything. They both stopped suddenly at this spot and froze, pricked up their ears and stared into the woods before bounding off toward whatever it was they heard. The black lab went in first and the chocolate followed and I stood with all my senses on high alert. There are bears up here and though I had a can of bear spray with me I was still a bit apprehensive.

Last year I found that a lot of corn had been eaten from this cornfield and there were a lot of bear droppings in the area, so I pay real close attention to my surroundings when I’m up here. I was glad to have the dogs with me. I doubt a bear would have tangled with two dogs unless it was protecting cubs.

The corn was ripe and ready, but since it’s used for silage it can be cut and processed at any time. Animals will take a lot of it if this year is anything like last. Bears, deer, raccoons and many other animals and birds love corn.

Something big and heavy had flattened a few cornstalks.

The dogs finally came back and seemed fine but I noticed that some of the frolic appeared to have gone out of them. Maybe they were just getting tired; they had been doing a lot of running. While they were out carousing I had been taking photos. I think this one shows a calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum,) which is one I’m trying to learn this year. I figure if I learn one new one each year by the time I’m 80 I might know them all. Of course by then I probably won’t be in the woods and won’t care anyway. This aster is difficult because it resembles a couple of others, but of course that’s true with many asters.

Before you know it you’re at the 1,588 foot high overlook that looks out over the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont. I could see Stratton Mountain clearly so there was no haze. The last time I was here in June it was so hazy I could barely see beyond the valley. I was hoping for a white puffy cloud kind of day so I could take photos of cloudscapes as well as landscapes, but instead it was a ragged purple cloud day. Two of them stayed in place as if someone had pasted them on the sky.

The light seemed a little flat to the camera, apparently. I could see the shading between the hills that I like so much but the camera couldn’t catch it. Luckily the dogs had found a chipmunk hole under a boulder out in the woods and were digging away, furiously. Silly dogs; I’ve never seen or heard of a dog actually catching a chipmunk. They’re very smart little animals and the bite on the nose that the unlucky dog would get wouldn’t be worth it.

I could see the ski trails on the right side of the mountain but thankfully they weren’t white. I suppose before too long it will be cold enough for them to start making snow. I’m hoping the natural kind will wait a few more months or stay on that side of the river. Odd that you can’t see a single colored leaf in this shot, though there must have been thousands out there.

I had to visit the small pond that lives up here before I went back down the mountain. As I expected it was covered completely in duckweed. Covered until the dogs decided to go for a swim, that is. But that was fine because they broke up the mat of green and let some blue in.

Clubmosses have grown their clubs and that means they are busy producing spores. There are lots of clubmoss plants up here and I think at last count I had seen 4 different species. I think this one is ground pine (Lycopodium dendroideum,) but despite the name the plant has nothing to do with pines or any other tree. Each leaf looks more like a scale than a leaf and is called a microphyll. A microphyll is a leaf with a single, unbranched vein. Clubmosses won’t grow where the temperature is too warm so when you see them in the forest you know you’ve found a relatively cool spot. They have been on earth for about 200 million years, and once grew to tree size. The spores and a tea made from the leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans to treat headaches, nosebleeds, skin ailments, and to aid digestion.

Clubmosses are vascular plants that produce spores instead of flowers in yellowish club shaped structures called strobili. The spores can take up to 20 years to germinate, but the plants also reproduce by long horizontal underground stems. When the spores are ready to be released each triangular scale will open along the length of the strobilus, and the wind will do the rest.

I saw a lot of beech drops (Epifagus americana) here. These plants are parasitic on the roots of American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and take all of their nutrients from the tree. Because of that they don’t need leaves, chlorophyll, or sunlight so what you see is a naked stalk with tiny blossoms on it.

Tiny pinkish purple beech drop flowers have a darker purple or reddish stripe. This one had a yellow pistil poking out of it but most don’t. I think this is only the second time I’ve seen this. Beech drops are annuals that grow new from seed each year but scientists don’t know much about how the flowers are pollinated.

I think the strangest thing I saw on this hike was this lichen I found on a tree. Something had scratched or chewed through the white outer layer to the reddish brown layer beneath. There are animals that eat lichen like reindeer, moose, and even white tailed deer, but none of them did this. This lichen was small at maybe a half inch across, so whatever made these marks was also quite small, like a mouse or a bat, or a chipmunk.

Once I saw the marks in the lichen in the previous photo I started looking a little closer and here was another one with the same kind of marks. I’ve never seen this before and I can’t even guess how the marks were made.

The dogs have an owner and she was waiting for us when we reached the trailhead; not looking very happy. I explained that her dogs had been keeping me company but it was an old story for her. They live close by and apparently every time the dogs hear a car they run off to see who it is. I didn’t say anything but it is legal in this state to shoot dogs that are loose in the woods, because they can form into packs and chase down and kill white tail deer. Letting dogs run loose is illegal and if caught dog owners can be fined big money. I’m sure the owner of these dogs knows all this but I’m not sure how the dogs keep getting loose. I think I’d tie them up or walk with them. I’d hate to see such friendly and beautiful dogs come to harm.

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring—it was peace. ~Milan Kundera

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

Here in the northeast if you walk through the woods at this time of year-after a hard freeze but before snow covers the ground-you will find many evergreen plants growing on the forest floor that are very hard to see at other times of the year. One of these low growing plants might appear to be a small evergreen tree, but if it looks like the plant in the photo it is in the clubmoss family (Lycopodiaceae.) Though some club mosses look enough like evergreen seedlings to be called princess pine, ground pine, and ground cedar they bear no relation to pines or cedars.

Clubmosses don’t flower like pines and cedars but instead produce spores like a fern. Spores form in spike-like structures called sporophylls, which are the 2 yellowish “clubs” seen at the top of the plant in the photo. They reproduce by their spores, which can take 20 years to germinate, and by horizontal underground stems. If you look closely you can see that the leaves, called microphylls, resemble scales more than actual leaves. Clubmosses can be hard to identify-there are over 400 species-but I think the one I took the photo of is Lycopodium obscurum, or ground pine. Clubmosses will not grow where the temperature is too warm, so if a large colony is found in the forest that spot is very likely to be shaded and very cool. This is good to know when hiking on a hot August day.

Clubmosses have been around for awhile; fossil records show that they were here 200 million years ago and that some now extinct species reached 100 feet tall. They are thought to be the source of the coal that we burn today. More recently, the spores were used to control bleeding and the plants used in a medicinal tea by Native Americans. The spores contain a wax like substance that repels water and have also been used to soothe diaper rash and other skin ailments. Dried spores are extremely flammable and will explode in a blinding flash when lit. They are the source of the flash powder used in some stage pyrotechnics and were used in photography as an early form of what later became the flash bulb. The long and quite strong underground stems can be used in place of string or twine in emergencies. They become even stronger if allowed to dry.

I remember, not too far in the past, people collecting club mosses to make Christmas wreaths and earn extra money. Unfortunately that led to over collecting and club mosses are now on the endangered species list in many states. Two species of clubmoss, Sitka Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum sitchense) and Slender Bog Clubmoss (Lycopodiella appressa) are listed as “critically imperiled” in New Hampshire. Since it can take up to 20 years for spores to germinate-and they will only germinate under ideal conditions-clubmosses are plants that are better left alone.

Read Full Post »