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Posts Tagged ‘Coneflower Seedheads’

We haven’t been seeing a lot of sunshine yet this year but I did see a bit of it caught in the Ashuelot River recently.

By the time I pointed the camera at the sky though, it was gone.

We’ve seen slightly above average snowfall for the season and to show you how deep it is now I took a shot of this fire hydrant, which actually should have been shoveled out in case of fire. Anyhow, the snow is melting again now and by the time you see this quite a lot of it should be gone.

The weather hasn’t been all snow and cold all the time. We’ve had very up and down temperatures and a few days that were warm enough to send me out looking for witch hazel, which is our latest (and earliest) blooming flower. I found some color, but it came from what looked like two or three blossoms that had lost the battle to the cold. That was probably the last chance I’ll have to see our fall blooming witch hazel flowers (Hamamelis virginiana,) but the spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) will be along next month.

I went to see if there was any sign of willow buds swelling but instead of seeing furry gray catkins I saw furry gray willow pine cone galls. These galls appear at the branch tips and are caused by a midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laying eggs on them. Once the eggs hatch the larva burrow into the branch tip and the plant reacts by forming a gall around them. The galls are about as big as the tip of a thumb.

I saw this spider indoors at work one day and took a couple of photos and then let it be. Hours later at home it felt like something was crawling on my lower leg so I stamped my foot hard and out fell a spider that looked exactly like this one. I doubt very much that a spider could have been on my leg all day without my knowing it, but I still had to wonder where and when it had decided to hitch a ride with me. It’s possible that it was in my car but that sounds doubtful too. Maybe it was right here at home and I just didn’t see it. I guess I’ll never know. I haven’t had any luck identifying it, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

A waxy coating called bloom on juniper berries reflects the light in a way that makes the deep, purple black berries appear to be a bright and beautiful blue. This waxy coating is common on fruits like blueberries, on black raspberry canes, and even on some lichens. Though the fruit is called a berry botanically speaking it is actually a seed cone with fleshy, merged scales. Birds love them and I was surprised to see them so late in the season.

Many gin drinkers don’t realize that the flavor of gin comes from the juniper plant’s berry. It is the unripe green berry that is used to make gin. The ripe berry is the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice. Whole and / or ground fruit is used on game like venison, moose, and bear meat, and man has used juniper for a very long time. The first record of usage appears on an Egyptian papyrus from 1500 BC. Egyptians used juniper medicinally and Native Americans used the fruit as both food and medicine. Stomach disorders, infections and arthritis were among the ailments treated. Natives also made jewelry from the seeds inside the berries.

The maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) in my yard had a single, dark purple berry left on it. I was surprised how textural it was when I saw the photo. Birds seem to love these berries and most of them go fast, but I always wonder why they leave the ones that they do. They obviously know something that I can’t fathom. The shrub is also called arrow wood and some believe that Native Americans used the straight grained wood for arrow shafts.

This is the way the rest of the maple leaf viburnum looked; picked clean.

There are plenty of coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds left so the birds must be happy. I always let plants go to seed in my own yard because I don’t use bird feeders due to occasional visits from bears, and they feed a lot of birds. Speaking of bears, state biologists say the acorn crop was large enough to feed bears through the winter, so many of them aren’t hibernating. I can’t say that was wonderful news, but at least the bears aren’t starving.

The motherwort seeds (Leonurus cardiaca) have all been eaten now. A helpful reader told me that she has seen goldfinches eating the seeds of motherwort, so they must be doubly happy because they eat the coneflower seeds too. I hope one day to be able to see them doing so. They must come when I’m at work because I never see them.

I saw a young, beautifully colored hemlock varnish shelf bracket fungus (Ganoderma tsugae) growing at the base of a young hemlock tree. This mushroom has been used medicinally in China for centuries and is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese herbal medicine, including even ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential. The number of beneficial things growing in the world’s forests that we know nothing about must be mind boggling.

Honey mushrooms (Armillarea mellea) once grew on this tree and I know that because their long black root like structures called rhizomorphs still clung to the dead tree. Honey mushrooms are parasitic on live wood and grow long cream colored rhizomorphs between the wood and its bark. They darken to brown or black as they age, but by the time we see them the tree has died and its bark is falling off. The fungus is also called armillarea root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees. Fallen logs will often still have the black rhizomorphs attached to them.

A couple of posts ago I talked about poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and how it can grow as a shrub, creep along the ground, or climb like a vine. When the plant climbs as a vine it holds onto what it climbs with masses of roots all along the stem, but the example I showed in that post had only a few roots showing. The example above is more typical of what I see, with matted roots all along the stem. I can’t think of another vine that does this so I think it’s a good way to identify poison ivy.

It’s a good idea to leave any vine that looks like this one alone.

I saw this yellow something on the bark of a dying black cherry tree and at first thought it might be a large lichen colony, but it didn’t look quite right for lichen. I knew it wasn’t moss either, so that left one possibility: algae. A few posts ago I showed a hemlock trunk that was all red and another helpful reader helped identify it as a red algae growth, so after some research I found that there is also yellow-green algae, and this example is possibly one called Desmococcus olivaceous, which is also called Pleurococcus vulgaris.

Pleurococcus algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, and on rocks and soil and sometimes even on walls if they’re damp enough. Their closest relatives grow in lakes and rivers but they can withstand dryness. There is fossil evidence of algae colonies existing even 540 million years ago so they’ve been here much longer than we have, and they haven’t changed much in all that time.

Raccoons, so I’ve always thought, are nocturnal animals rarely seen during the day, so my first thought when I saw this one was that it might be sick. Unfortunately they can and do get rabies and it isn’t all that uncommon in this area to hear of people or pets being attacked by rabid raccoons. But this one was eating and after I thought about it I didn’t think if it were sick it would be eating with such gusto. After a little research I found that raccoons often go out in search of food and water during the daytime, especially nursing mother raccoons, usually in the spring.

From what I’ve read you can tell that a raccoon is sick because it will look sick. They’ll be lethargic and stagger when they walk and sometimes will even fall over. If they look alert and bright eyed and run and walk normally then you can be almost certain that they don’t have rabies. I saw this one walking around and it looked fine so I doubt that it was sick. I couldn’t tell if it was a mother raccoon or not but it sure was cute with its little hands looking as if it were begging for more food. For those who’ve never seen one raccoons are slightly bigger than an average house cat. Maybe a chubby house cat; males can weigh 20 pounds. I’m sorry about the quality of the photos of it. All I had for a camera when I saw it was the small point and shoot I use for macros so they aren’t great, but since they’re the only shots I’ve ever gotten of a raccoon they’ll have to do.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-stream-ice

I visited the otter pond recently, trying to figure out how he would come and go. This small stream feeds into the pond but it’s too shallow and narrow for an otter to swim in. It had some beautiful patterns in its ice though.

2-icy-pond

The reason I wondered about the otter is because its pond is completely frozen over with no holes like there were the last time I saw it in December. Where do otters go when this happens, I wonder?

3-stress-cracks

All of the thawing and re-freezing has left the ice as smooth as glass, but the warm weather has made it too thin to skate on. The two dark spots show little to no thickness and there were thin ice signs where people skate. I’m sure there are a few dozen frustrated skaters it town because of it.

4-burdocks

I saw some burdocks and remembered how Swiss engineer George de Mestral got the idea for Velcro from the sticky burrs lodged in his dog’s coat. I wondered why I didn’t think of such things.

5-burdock

This is where the hook part of the “hook and loop” Velcro fasteners came from. I’ve never seen it happen but I’ve heard that small birds can get caught in burdocks and then can’t escape. That could be why there were no seeds missing from these examples; maybe the birds have learned to stay away. According to John Josselyn, a visitor from England in 1672, the burdock came to this country as burrs tangled in cow’s tails, but if that is true then how did Native Americans know the plant so well? They used the entire plant as food or medicine and made a candy-like treat from burdock roots by slicing them and boiling them in maple syrup. They stored much of it for winter.

6-coneflower-seed-head

Birds aren’t staying away from coneflower seeds. I always let coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) go to seed. Goldfinches, cardinal, blue jays and other birds love to eat them. I’ve never seen a bird on them but the seeds disappear and there is often a pair of blue jays in the yard.  Many butterflies and bees also love its flowers, so if you’re looking to attract the birds and bees, this is one plant that will do it. The Echinacea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word echinos, which means hedgehog, and refers to the spiny seed head.

7-british-soldier-lichen

An old pine stump was red with British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella.) This lichen also grows on bark or soil and is often seen where people live because it is extremely tolerant of pollution. Because of that and its bright red color it is said to be the best known lichen in the eastern United States. I’ve even seen it growing on buildings.

8-british-soldier-lichen

The spore bearing apothecia of the British Soldier is very red with a matte rather than shiny surface. The biggest among this grouping could have easily hidden under a pea.

9-sidewalk-firedot-lichen

If you spend time walking along stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it. This is the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it.

10-sidewalk-firedot-lichen

A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was made up of mostly irregularly shaped fruiting bodies, so it was making plenty of spores. I think this is the first time I’ve seen it do so.

11-scattered-rock-posy-2

I had to visit my old friend the scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) that I’ve been watching grow for several years now. It has gone from penny to quarter size (0.75-0.95 in) and is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) I always find them growing on stone in full sun. This is a lichen that never seems to stop producing spores; its orange pad like apothecia are always there.

12-blueberry-buds

If you’re stuck in the winter doldrums and feel the need for some color, just find a blueberry bush; everything about them is red, except the berries. Part of the reason the earliest English settlers survived New England winters in Plymouth was because the Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe showed them how to dry blueberries for winter use. Natives used the dried berries in soups and stews and as a rub for meat. They also made tea from the dried leaves. More than 35 species of blueberries are native to the U.S.

13-amber-jelly

Amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) have started to appear on downed trees and limbs. You can’t tell from this photo because these examples were frozen solid but this fungus has a shiny side and a matte finish side. The spores are produced on the shiny side and if I understand what I’ve read correctly, this is true of most jelly fungi. This one has the color of jellied cranberry sauce. Jelly fungi can absorb up to 60 times their weight in water, so if a weakened branch is covered with them as this oak limb was, it doesn’t take much of a wind to bring the heavily weighted branch and the jelly fungi to the ground. Jelly fungi are a signal that the tree’s health isn’t good.

14-indian-pipe-seed-head

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) seed pods look like beautiful carved wooden flowers that have been stuck into the snow. Most have split open by now into 5 separate parts to release tens of thousands of seeds to the wind. Each individual seed is only ten cells thick. Indian pipes are parasitic on certain fungi, which in turn are often parasitic on the roots of trees so in a roundabout way they get their food from trees.

15-tinder-fungi

Tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius), also called horse hoof fungus, grew on a fallen log, but didn’t grow on the tree while it was standing. I know this because their spore bearing surfaces pointed towards the ground. If they had grown before the tree fell then their spore bearing surfaces would appear perpendicular rather than parallel to the ground. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that as many as 800 million can be produced in a single hour. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by none other than the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE).

16-twisted-log

I’ve searched and searched for the answer to why some trees twist when they grow and the short answer seems to be; nobody really knows. What is known is that the wood is often weaker and boards cut from spiral grained trees often twist as they dry, yet while the tree is standing it is more limber than a straight grained tree and is better able to withstand high winds. Scientists have also found that spiral growth can be left or right handed and both can sometimes appear on the same tree. Though spiral growth appears in the trunk, limbs and roots of some trees you often can’t see it until the bark comes off.

17-ice-on-a-log

It’s easy to believe that a fallen tree is just an old dead thing that is slowly rotting away but as the icicles on this example show, there is life in it yet.

18-raspberry-cane-2

It’s always a pleasure to see the beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes in winter. The color is caused by a powdery wax which can protect the plant from sunburn, prevent moisture loss, or help shed excess water. In botanical terms, a plant part that looks like this is said to be glaucous, which describes the whitish blue color.

19-blue-jay-feather

The blue of this blue jay feather rivaled that of the black raspberry cane. I don’t see many blue feathers so I was happy to see this one.

20-blue-jay-feather

I was even happier when I looked a little closer. Seeing it up close revealed many things about blue jay feathers that I didn’t know. Chief among them was how very beautiful they are.

To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.  One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. ~ Oscar Wilde

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