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Posts Tagged ‘Cornelian Cherry’

It’s that time of year when spring ephemeral flowers appear to live out their short lives before the leaves appear on the trees. Once that happens the trees will cast shade deep enough to keep most flowers from blossoming so they grow, bloom and go dormant in about a month’s time. Vernal pools like the one in this photo are good places to look for wildflowers. And frogs and salamanders too.

I find spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) near a vernal pool like the one in the previous photo. They seem to appear overnight, so at this time of year I check the spot where they grow every couple of days. I’m always surprised to see them, because just a day or two earlier there was no sign of them. This photo is of a very unusual spring beauty, like none I’ve ever seen. The white petals usually have purple stripes the same color as the purple anthers in this example, but this one had none. Each flower blossoms for just three days, but the stamens are active only for a day. The stamens consist of, in this case, a white filament tipped by a violet anther. The stamen is the male part of a flower and produces pollen. In a spring beauty the female part of the flower is in the center of the blossom and is called the pistil. It terminates in a three part (tripartite) style.

This example looks more like the spring beauties I know. I always try to find the flower with the deepest color and this was it on this day. I’ve read that it is the amount of sunlight that determines color in a spring beauty blossom. The deeper the shade, the more intense the color, so I look for them in more shaded areas. The Native American Iroquois tribe used the powdered roots of this plant medicinally and the Algonquin people cooked them like potatoes.

I usually see trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) blooming with spring beauties but on this day all I could find were the leaves, which are speckled like the body of a trout. The flowers will probably have appeared by next weekend and there should be many thousands of them in this spot.

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) are late this year; I often see them in March but these are the first I’ve seen this year. They like moist to wet soil and these examples were in a roadside ditch. Coltsfoot flowers would be hard to confuse with dandelion but I suppose it happens.

Coltsfoot flowers are flat and dandelions are more mounded. Dandelion stems are smooth and coltsfoot stems have scales. Coltsfoot is said to be the earliest blooming wildflower in the northeast but there are many tree and shrub flowers that appear earlier, so I suppose “earliest” depends on what your definition of a wildflower is. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

After having their flowers frostbitten again and again the red maples (Acer rubrum) are finally free to let go and open all of their blooms, as this photo of the male blossoms shows. Each tiny red anther will become greenish yellow with pollen, which the wind will then carry to the female blossoms.

These are the female (pistillate) flowers of the red maple, just emerging. They are tiny little things; each bud is hardly bigger than a pea and each crimson stigma not much bigger in diameter than an uncooked piece of spaghetti. Once the female flowers have been dusted by wind carried pollen from the male flowers they will begin the process of becoming the beautiful red seeds (samaras) that this tree is so well known for. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

Each tiny female red maple flower (stigma) sparkles as if it had been dipped in sugar. They must be very sticky.

American elm (Ulmus americana) flowers form in small clusters. The flower stems (pedicels) are about half an inch long so they wave in the slightest breeze and that makes them very hard to get a good photo of. They are wind pollinated, so waving in the breeze makes perfect sense. Each tiny flower is about an eighth inch across with red tipped anthers that darken as they age.

The whitish feathery bit is the female pistil which protrudes from the center of each elm flower cluster. If the wind brings it pollen from male anthers it will form small, round, flat, winged seeds called samaras. I remember them falling by the many millions when I was a boy; raining down enough so you couldn’t even see the color of the road beneath them.

I finally found a pussy willow (Salix) that was showing some color but I don’t know if it was coming or going. This example looks a lot like the seed pods I see when they’re done flowering, but the gray fuzz hints at its just opening. I’ll have to go back and see it again.

I saw enough crocus blooms on Saturday to fill this entire post with nothing but crocuses, but I thought I’d restrain myself and show just this one, which was my favorite.

I also saw my first daffodil blossom on Saturday. Unfortunately I also saw many with frost bitten buds and leaves that won’t be blossoming this year. It’s a shame that so many were fooled by the early warmth.

The Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are finally blooming. The buds have been showing color for over a month but they refused to bloom until they were sure it was warm enough, and that was probably wise. This shrub is in the dogwood family and gets its common name from its red fruit. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years. The Persians and early Romans knew it well and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the sour red, olive like fruit, which is high in vitamin C. Cornelian cherry often blooms at just about the same time as forsythias do. Its yellow flowers are very small but there are enough of them to put on a good show.

Japanese andromeda blossoms (Pieris japonica) look like tiny pearlescent glass fairy lights topped with gilded ormolu mounts, worthy of the art nouveau period. Japanese andromeda is an ornamental evergreen shrub that is very popular, and you can see why. Some think the blossoms resemble lily of the valley so another common name for the plant is lily of the valley shrub. Some varieties have beautiful red leaves on their new shoots.

I don’t know what it is that grabs me about a white flower with a simple blue stripe down the center of each petal but striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica) has it. The flowers are much like the scilla (Scilla siberica) that most of us are familiar with in size and shape, but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often and border on rare in this area. They’re worth looking for because they’re very beautiful.

Scilla (Scilla siberica) are also called Siberian squill and they are doing very well this year. Both striped squill and scilla grow to be about ankle high.  Scilla will spread and grow in lawns quite freely, so it’s wise to be careful when planting it. In some places it is considered invasive, but I haven’t ever seen that here. People usually plant it knowing that it will spread into large blue drifts.

Scilla has stripes on its petals and sepals much like striped squill but as far as I can tell they aren’t related. They look great planted together though.

Friends of mine grow hellebores that are very beautiful and when I see them I always wonder why, of all the people I gardened for, not one of them grew hellebores. I can’t even remember anyone asking about hellebores, and that seems odd considering their great beauty. Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. Maybe that’s why nobody I gardened for grew them.

I’ve seen flowers that were as beautiful but it’s hard to name one that could surpass the beauty of this hellebore blossom. It’s hard not to stare at it even here in a photo. it’s the kind of thing that I find very easy to lose myself in; mesmerizing, almost. I wonder how someone cannot love a life that is filled with things like this.

The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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1-lilac

I’ve spent many winters watching the buds of trees and bushes, especially those right around my house like the lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo. I check it regularly starting in February for signs of swelling. In winter buds are my connection to spring and I love watching the bud scales finally open to reveal tiny leaves or flowers. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate with scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud. The lilac bud above is a good example of an imbricate bud.

2-rhody

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds like lilacs fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds. This one was half the length of my thumb.

3-cornelian-cherry

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. I was surprised to see the bud scales on this example opening already. We can still get below zero cold.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

4-nannyberry

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) are also examples of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. The bottom bud scale was broken on this one. Nannyberry is another of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit. Native Americans ate them fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally.

5-staghorn-sumac

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) have no bud scales so their naked buds are hairy and the hairs protect the bud. Another name for staghorn sumac is velvet tree, and that’s exactly what its branches feel like. Native Americans made a drink from this tree’s berries that tasted just like lemonade, and grinding the berries produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice.

6-hobblebush

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is another native shrub with naked buds. This photo shows that the flower bud in the center and the two leaf buds on either side are clothed more in wool than hair, but there are no scales for protection. Still, they come through the coldest winters and still bloom beautifully each spring.

7-magnolia

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds,” which means that instead of using scales or hairs they use both. The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Meanwhile, the bud stays wrapped protectively in a fur coat.

8-red-oak

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

9-sugar-maple

Terminal buds appear on the end or terminus of a branch and nothing illustrates that better than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) The large, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by smaller lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. In 2016 New Hampshire produced 169,000 gallons of maple syrup but the season only lasted through the month of March due to the warm weather. The average cost per gallon in 2015 was $59.40. I’m guessing it went up in 2016.

10-striped-maple

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) have colorful twigs and buds and are among the easiest trees to identify no matter what time of year because of the green and white vertical stripes on their bark. Their terminal buds have two scales and are valvate like the nannyberry buds. Striped maple is very fussy about where it grows and will not stand pollution, heat, or drought. It likes cool, shady places with sandy soil that stays moist. They bloom in June and have very pretty green bell shaped blossoms.

11-striped-maple-bark

Striped maple bark makes the trees very easy to identify when they’re young, but as trees age the bark becomes uniformly gray.

12-beech

The bud I’m probably most looking forward to seeing open in spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.”

13-gray-birch

It was about 15 degrees and snowing when this photo was taken and you can see the frozen gummy resin that glues some bud scales together on this gray birch (Betula populifolia) bud and male catkin on the right. Ruffed grouse will eat the buds and catkins and. pine siskins and black-capped chickadees eat the seeds. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap and I’ve seen beavers take an entire clump of gray birch overnight, so they must be really tasty. Deer also browse on the twigs in winter.

14-sweet-birch

Black birch buds (Betula lenta) don’t have as many bud scales as gray birch buds and the bark doesn’t look at all like other birches, so it can be hard to identify. Another name for the tree is cherry birch and that’s because its bark looks like cherry bark. It is also called sweet birch because it smells like wintergreen, and I always identify it by chewing a twig. If it tastes like wintergreen then I know it’s a black birch. Trees were once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen. So many were taken that they became hard to find, but they seem to be making a good comeback.

15-catalpa

Everything about the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) tree is big. It grows to 70-100 feet and has huge heart shaped leaves. Great trusses of large white orchid like flowers blossom appear on them in late spring, and even the seedpods look like giant string beans. But then there are its buds, which are tiny. In this photo the brown leaf bud appears just above the suction cup like leaf scar, which is where last year’s leaf was. Each tiny bud has about six small pointed scales. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew large plantations of them to use as rail ties. It has also been used for telephone poles. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe.

16-catalpa-leaf

Catalpa trees have the biggest leaves of any tree I know of. This shot of my camera sitting on one is from a couple of years ago. It’s amazing that such a big thing can grow from such a tiny bud.

17-white-pine

Clusters of small, sticky buds appear at the ends of white pine branches (Pinus strobus.) They are sticky because they’re coated with pine sap, which we call pine pitch. They aren’t sticky when it’s cold though; the white platy material is frozen pine pitch. Once the weather warms it will go back to being a thick, amber, sticky fluid that doesn’t easily wash off.

I have to apologize for the quality of some of these photos. With it dark before and after work these days photography can only happen on weekends and if it’s dark and cloudy on those days then I have to assume that nature is giving me a lesson in great patience and I just have to do what I can with the camera.

Despite the poor photos I hope this post has shown how interesting and beautiful buds can be, and I hope you’ll have a look at the buds in your own yard or neighborhood. You might be very surprised by what you find.

Leaves wither because winter begins; but they also wither because spring is already beginning, because new buds are being made. ~Karel Capek

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1. Dandelion

I saw my first dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) of the season last Saturday. It was beautiful as they always are, and very welcome.

2. Dandelion Seed Head

But the dandelion that I saw wasn’t the first dandelion of the season. This seed head surprised me.

3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) still seem a little reluctant to bloom heavily but I do see them. They like moist to wet soil and these two were in a roadside ditch. Coltsfoot flowers would be hard to confuse with dandelion but I suppose it happens.

4. Coltsfoot From Side

Coltsfoot flowers are flat and dandelions are more mounded. Dandelion stems are smooth and coltsfoot stems have scales. Coltsfoot is said to be the earliest blooming wildflower in the northeast but there are tree and shrub flowers that appear earlier, so I suppose “earliest” depends on what your definition of a wildflower is.

5. Crocuses

Crocuses are blooming well now, and I saw a couple of open daffodils but I couldn’t get close to them because they were in the middle of large beds and I couldn’t step on the other plants.

6. Crocuses

I was able to get closer to the crocuses. I used to work for a lady who had quite a few crocuses and also many squirrels and chipmunks and we used to laugh each spring at the odd places that crocus bloomed. They came up in places where neither of us would have planted them so we always blamed the squirrels and / or chipmunks for moving the small bulbs around. It isn’t odd or unusual for flowers to come with memories and I think of her every time I see crocuses. They bring so much pleasure and ask for nothing in return.

7. Reticulated Iris

These reticulated iris had some amazing color, I thought.  My color finding software says the color is orchid in light, medium and dark tones. The yellow is perfect with it.

8.  Cornelian Cherry

In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years. The Persians and early Romans knew it well and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the sour red, olive like fruit, which is high in vitamin C. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is in the dogwood family and is our earliest blooming member of that family, often blooming at just about the same time as forsythias do. Its yellow flowers are quite small.

9. Hellebore

Friends of mine grow hellebores and this was the first to bloom. I love its beautiful dark color. Since Lent ended on Thursday, March 24 this plant lived up to its common name of Lenten rose. There is one called “Dark and Handsome” that looks much like this one, but I’m not sure if this is it. It’s a beautiful thing.

Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. I’ve never seen an eagle near these plants but I haven’t dug one up either.

10. Skunk Cabbage with Foliage

Skunk cabbages seemed to be having a hard time producing pollen this year but I’ve seen a few with pollen now that the maroon and yellow splotched spathes have started opening. They were holding back for a while as if not sure whether they should open or not. This one had a new green leaf shooting up beside it but its spathe was still tightly closed. There is a time when they’re young that the leaves do look somewhat cabbage like but they grow quickly and lose any resemblance once they age.

11. Skunk Cabbage Spadix

Inside the skunk cabbage’s spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. In 1749 in what was once the township of Raccoon, New Jersey they called the plant bear’s leaf because bears ate it when they came out of hibernation. Since skunk cabbage was and is the only thing green so early in the spring so the bears had to eat it or go hungry.

12. Male Willow Catkins

Our willows (Salix) finally bloomed after what seemed like a prolonged gray, fuzzy stage. Or maybe I was just impatient, because I always love seeing them in early spring. The male (Staminate) flowers are shown in the above photo. The inner bark and leaves of some willows contain salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Native Americans chewed or made tea from the willow’s leaves and inner bark to relieve fever or toothaches, headaches, or arthritis, and that is why the willow is often called “toothache tree.” It was a very important medicine that no healer would have been without.

13. Female Willow Catkin

The female willow flowers aren’t quite as showy as the male flowers but I’m happy to see them nonetheless. Tomorrow and Monday are supposed to be cold and snowy and it might harm a few flowers. We’ll have to wait and see; early spring flowers are fairly tough.

14. Squill

In my own yard the Scilla has started blooming. This fall planted bulb with small blue flowers is also called Siberian squill and comes from Russia and Turkey. It spreads quite quickly and is a good flower to grow in a lawn because it usually goes dormant before the grass needs to be cut. I grow it because it takes care of itself and is my favorite color.

Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music.  They relax the tenseness of the mind.  They dissolve its vigor. ~Henry Ward Beecher.

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1. Forsythia

I’ve heard all the arguments against forsythia and I agree with most of them, but you have to admit that spring would be very different without their cheery blooms.

2. Forsythia

Forsythias shout that spring has arrived and it’s hard to ignore them because they are everywhere. I think you’d have a hard time finding a street in this town that doesn’t have at least one.

3. Magnolia Blossom

It’s great to stop for the daily paper and see this beautiful pink magnolia on my way into the store. Every time I do I feel like I should thank the owner for planting it.

4. Reticulated Iris

Someone at the local college must like reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) because hundreds of them grow there. They’re a very early spring flower that does well in rock gardens and goes well with miniature daffodils like tete-a-tete.

5. Cornelian Cherry Flowers

I’m interested in both botany and history and they come together in the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas). This under used shrub is in the dogwood family and is our earliest blooming member of that family, often blooming at just about the same time as forsythias do. The small yellow flowers will produce fruit that resembles a red olive and which will mature in the fall. It is very sour but high in vitamin C and has been used for at least 7000 years for both food and medicine. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry, and the Persians and early Romans also knew it well. As you look at its flowers it’s amazing to think that Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius most likely did the same.

6. False Hellebore Shoot

The shoots of false hellebore (Veratrum viride) rise straight out of the damp ground and look like a rocket for a short time before opening into a sheaf of deeply pleated leaves.

7. False Hellebore

I can’t think of another plant that false hellebore really resembles but people occasionally poison themselves by eating it. When it comes to poisonous plants false hellebore is the real deal and can kill, and it’s not a good way to go. In 2010 five people who had been hiking the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska had to be evacuated by helicopter for emergency medical treatment after they ate false hellebore roots. Luckily they all survived, with quite a tale to tell.

Native American used the plant medicinally but they knew it well and dug the roots in the winter when their toxicity was at its lowest level. There is a legend that says the plant was used in the selection of new chiefs, and by the sounds of it anyone who lived through the experience was thought of as chief material.

8. Wild Leeks

Wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) come up at the same time as false hellebore and in fact I found these growing very near the false hellebore plants shown previously. But how anyone could confuse the two is beyond me, because they look nothing like each other. Even the leaf color is different. Wild leeks, also called ramps, are edible and considered a great delicacy, and each year there are ramp festivals all over the world.  These plants lose their leaves before they flower in midsummer and that makes the flowers very hard to find, so this year I’m telling myself that I’m going to put marking tape on the trees near where these plants grow so I can finally get photos of the flowers later on.

9. Hellebore

Some friends of mine have this beautiful hellebore growing in their garden and I wanted to get a shot of the flower to see if it looked anything like the flowers of false hellebore. False hellebore flowers bear a slight superficial resemblance, but they are much smaller and are green, and the leaves look nothing like a true hellebore. Nobody seems to know how the name false hellebore came about. If it wasn’t because of the flowers or leaves, what could it have been? Maybe because true hellebores are also poisonous?

Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore he (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle.

10. Spring Beauties

There are plants that can take me out of myself and cause a shift in my perception of time so that I often have no idea how long I’ve been kneeling before them, and spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is one of them. How could you not lose yourself in something so beautiful?

11. Spring Beauty Just Opened

I’ve read that spring beauties that grow in the shade are the most colorful and for the most part I’ve found that to be true, but this year I noticed that the newly opened flowers were also more colorful than those that were fully opened. Just look at this example’s deep color and near perfect form. To me it’s everything a flower should be and though I can think of many flowers that are as beautiful, I’d have a hard time naming one that was more beautiful.

 12. Trout Lily Budded

I know a place where hundreds of thousands of trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) grow but each year I find a single one that buds before all of the others. Though I didn’t mark it I think this is the same one that budded first last year. I think that because of its being located to the right of a path near a small pond, and this year I want to mark the location. This plant gets its common name from its leaves, which are said to resemble the side of a trout. A brook trout maybe, but not a rainbow.

13. Bloodroot

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is another of our beautiful native wildflowers that I wanted to show you but it was cloudy, cold and windy on the day that I went to take their photo and they don’t like that kind of weather any more than we do, so they all closed up and wrapped themselves in their leaves. Earlier in the week they weren’t even showing yet, so they’ll be around long enough to give me another chance. Bloodroot’s common name comes from the poisonous blood red juice found in its roots. Native Americans once used this juice for war paint.

14. Red Elderberry Buds

The bud scales of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) have opened to reveal lilac like flower buds. They are handsome at this stage but the whitish, cone shaped flowers are less than spectacular. Though this plant’s bright red berries are edible when cooked I’ve heard that they don’t taste very good. The leaves bark and roots are toxic enough to make you sick, so this shrub shouldn’t be confused with common elderberry (Sambucus nigra) which is the shrub that elderberry wine comes from.

15. Sedge

You might think this was just an old weed not worth more than a passing glance but if you did you’d be wrong, and you’d miss one of the high points of early spring in New England.

16. Sedge Flowering

Most people never see the beautiful flowers of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) that appear on the weedy looking plant in the previous photo in mid-April. Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like, white female pistillate flowers but the female flowers always open first to receive pollen from a different plant. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. It’s a plant that is well worth a second look.

The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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1. Crocus Blossoms on Easter

I finally saw some crocus blossoms on Easter morning. They bloom in what was once a flower bed by a now vacant print shop and I was very happy to see them. Passers by might have wondered what I was doing kneeling there in the leaf strewn soil beside a busy street rather than on a prie dieu on Easter morning, but what better way to show your appreciation of the artist than by losing yourself in the beauty of his art.

2. Witch Hazel Blooms

The spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis) in a local park have finally blossomed. I’ve been watching them for about two weeks and have noticed that they’ve been really shy about opening this year.

3. Feather on Cornelian Cherry

I went to see if the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) that lives near the witch hazels was blooming yet, but instead of flowers I got feathers. The bud scales have started opening though, so it won’t be long. This ancient plant is from Europe and is in the dogwood family and I look forward to seeing its small, bright yellow blossoms.

4. Alder Catkins

The brown and purple bud scales on the male catkins of speckled alders (Alnus incana) are opening wider to show the flowers beneath. These scales are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers covered in yellow pollen. If you watch them closely at this time of year you can see more of the yellow pollen appearing each day.

 5. Skunk Cabbage

The skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) seem to be doing really well this year. The clumps are larger with more plants and there are more clumps in this spot than I’ve seen in the past. The green shoots seen in front of the mottled spathes in this photo are future leaves which, for a short time as they begin to unfurl, will resemble cabbage leaves. You wouldn’t want to taste them though, even if you could get past the skunk like odor, because the plant contains calcium oxalate crystals which can cause a severe burning sensation of the mouth and tongue. Deer and black bears seem to be about the only ones immune to it. Another good reason to not eat skunk cabbage is because the very deadly false hellebore (Veratrum viride) often grows right beside it. Personally I don’t know why anyone would want to eat skunk cabbage but if you don’t know how to tell it from false hellebore it’s best to just leave both plants alone.

7. Skunk Cabbage Flowers

Like most arums, inside the spathe is the spadix, which in the case of skunk cabbage is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. Some describe the odor as rotting meat but it always smells skunky to me.

6. Yellow Skunk Cabbage

I’ve been seeing more yellow green skunk cabbage spathes this year than I ever have. I’m not sure what determines their color but the yellow ones appear right beside the darker red / maroon ones, so it doesn’t seem like it would be anything in the soil or water.

8. Muddy Road

Here in northern New England we have a fifth season that we call mud season, and it is now upon us. I heard on the news the other day that the mud is 12-16 inches deep in parts of the state, but I haven’t seen it that bad here yet except on logging roads. Quite often the mud gets bad enough to close unpaved roads and the logging industry virtually grinds to a halt until things dry out. When the frost is 3 or 4 deep in the ground and the top two feet of a road thaws the melt water is sitting on frozen ground and has nowhere to go, and this results in a car swallowing quagmire that acts almost like quicksand. Those who live on unpaved roads have quite a time of it every year at this time.

 9. Brittle Cinder Fungus

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) starts life as a beautiful soft gray crust fungus with white edges. As they age they blacken and look like burnt wood and become very brittle and are easily crushed. They grow on dead hardwoods and cause soft rot, which breaks down both cellulose and lignin. In short, this is one of the fungi that help turn wood into compost. Younger examples have a hard lumpy crust or skin, a piece of which can be seen in the upper left of the example in the photo.

10. Brittle Cinder fungus aka Kretzschmaria deusta

Here is a photo from last June which shows how beautiful the brittle crust fungus is when it’s young. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same fungus that’s in the previous photo.

11. Annulohypoxylon cohaerens Fungi

 Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to a purplish black color, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. They were one of the hardest things to identify that I’ve ever found in nature and I wondered what they could be for a few years. They have no common name that I can find.

12. Bigtooth Aspen Bud

Since I’m color blind I often confuse red and green so even though this aspen bud looked red to me by the time I got home I’d convinced myself that it had to have been green. Once I saw the photo it still looked red, so as usual I let my color finding software have the final say and it sees orange, brown and red. I never knew aspen buds were so colorful, and it seems that I just haven’t been paying attention. I think the tree was a bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata) which gets its common name from the sharply pointed teeth on its leaves.

13. April Great Blue Heron

I was surprised recently to see a great blue heron hunting last year’s cattails (Typha) in a small pond beside the road. I knew if I made a move he’d fly away, so I took this shot through my passenger window.  Most of the larger lakes and ponds are still ice covered, so I think he’s a little early. I’ve heard red winged blackbirds but no frogs yet, so he’ll probably have a fish diet for a while.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.

~Edgar A. Guest

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Snowy April Scene

After reaching nearly 80 degrees last Monday, on Wednesday we woke up to this. Who says Mother Nature doesn’t have a sense of humor?

2. Daffodil

I saw some daffodils blooming before the snow fell.

3. Iris Reticulata

I also saw some beautiful reticulated iris (Iris reticulata). These miniature irises are early bloomers and an excellent choice for rock gardens, especially when planted with a miniature daffodil like Tete-a-Tete. The reticulated part of the name comes from the net-like pattern on the dry bulbs.

4. Forsythia Blossoms

The Forsythia has just started blooming. Soon we’ll see it on every street in town. Such an uncommon display by a common, often ignored shrub.

5. Striped Sqill  aka Puschkinia scilloides, variety libanotica

One of my favorite cultivated spring flowers is striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica), which is a spring flowering bulb planted in the fall. It seems amazing that an ordinary white flower could become so extraordinarily beautiful just by wearing a simple blue stripe on each of its petals.

6.. Cornelian Cherry Buds

The Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) had an ice cap on its buds. Soon these buds will turn into small yellow flowers that resemble those of dogwoods, and that’s because this shrub is in the dogwood family. The flowers will produce fruit that resembles a red olive and which will mature in the fall. It is very sour but high in vitamin C, and has been eaten throughout recorded history. The Persians, ancient Greeks and Early Romans all knew this plant. It is a living glimpse into ancient times.

7. Icy Lilac Buds

There was also ice on the lilac buds, but it won’t hurt them any.

8. Ice on Red Maple Flowers

More ice dripped from the female red maple (Acer rubrum) blossoms. It looks like the cold might have burned them a little. Red maples are prolific enough to have many consider them a weed tree, so fewer seeds might be seen as a welcome change.

9. Snowy April Scene

It just didn’t seem right to see snow under such a bright, warm sun but it was beautiful, right or not.

10. American Elm Flowers

A little snow and cold didn’t hurt the American elm (Ulmus americana) flowers any. It seems a shame that such beauty goes unnoticed by so many.

 11.Willow Flowers

The willows (Salix) have just started blossoming. The snow and cold won’t hurt them either. They were looking a little damp, but beautiful nonetheless. I find them near ponds and swamps, and on river banks.

12. Willow Flower Closeup

Male willow anthers rely on the wind to carry away their millions of pollen grains.

To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty . . . it beholds every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happy Easter, everyone. Thanks for coming by.

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 1. Keene State Plaque

Recently a little birdie told me that some of the students in a certain biology class at a certain college were saying that it was “too cold” and that they “couldn’t walk in the snow.” And how were they supposed to find anything anyway when there’s “snow everywhere?”

Just for fun I decided to return to college myself just to see how valid these complaints were.

 2. Keene State Parker Hall

This was my chosen starting point on the campus of Keene State College. The great thing about nature study is it doesn’t matter which path you take. Nature will have something interesting to show you no matter where you go. With a willingness to participate and a little extra attentiveness you will learn things that you’ve never even imagined.

Oh-you will notice that the snow isn’t “everywhere.”

 3. Boston Ivy Berries

My first stop was the ivy covered walls of Parker Hall shown in the above photo. This photo is of Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), which lends its name to the “ivy league” schools. The odd thing about Boston ivy is its name, because it isn’t from Boston and it isn’t an ivy; it’s a member of the grape family and comes from China and Japan. This vine attaches to just about any vertical surface with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils.  It secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to “glue” the pads to the surface it wants to climb. The glue can to hold up to 260 times its own weight.

4. Crabapples

If you are a biology student reading this blog then this photo should have you asking questions like why haven’t the birds eaten these crabapples?  You can see the hundreds of them in the background on the snow even though many birds, including robins and cedar waxwings, love crabapples. In a winter as harsh as this one you would think they would be gobbling them as fast as they could, so why aren’t they? Science has shown that birds will leave fruits that are lower in fat for last but are crabapples low in fat? The answers are simple; many crab apples are ornamental cultivars that birds just don’t like. Some other cultivars have fruit that birds will eat only after it has frozen and thawed several times.  If you want to attract fruit eating birds with crab apples (Malus) the choice of cultivar requires some research.

 5. Lilac Buds 

One of the ways to identify trees and shrubs in winter is by their buds. The size and placement of buds as well as the number of bud scales can all help with identification. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some just one scale called a cap, and some buds have none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate and have scales that overlap like shingles. The lilac buds in the above photo are good examples of imbricate buds.

 6. Cornelian Cherry  Bud  aka Cornus mas

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

 7.  Powdery Goldspeck Lichen aka Candelariella efflorescens 

Powdery goldspeck lichens ( Candelariella efflorescens) grow on tree bark of all kinds. The round, flattened, yellow patches are very small but grow in large colonies that make them easier to see.  Winter is the perfect time to look for lichens because they aren’t hidden by foliage. I saw plenty on this campus.

Lichens are great indicators of air quality because they refuse to grow where the air is polluted. There was a famous study done by schoolchildren in the United Kingdom in the 1960s. They produced a “mucky air map” that showed the absence of lichens from areas polluted by coal burning. Such a study (on a much smaller scale) done on a college campus might be a real eye opener. The lichens wouldn’t even have to be identified; simply recording their presence is enough. The absence of lichens is not a good thing.

 8. Lenticels in Bark

The Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula Tibetica) is also called the paper bark cherry because of the way its bark peels as it ages, much like a birch. It is used as an ornamental tree as much for its bark as for its flowers. The mahogany bark has very long, closely spaced lenticels that give it an unusual appearance. Lenticels are corky pores that allow gases like oxygen to reach the living cells of the bark. Without enough oxygen, bark can die.

9. Sweet Gum Pod

I was surprised when I finally realized that these were sweet gum seed pods, because Massachusetts is the northernmost point that sweet gum grows naturally in the U.S. and, though it is native to the east coast, it is considered a “southern tree.” But, there is an old (often risky) trick that landscape designers will sometimes use if a client is determined to have a certain plant that isn’t hardy-they use masonry. If a plant that isn’t reliably hardy is planted near masonry it will often survive lower temperatures than it would otherwise because the masonry absorbs heat from the sun during the day and releases it slowly at night, keeping the plant warm enough to survive. There were several of these sweet gum trees near a massive wall of brick, and they were protected from wind by other buildings.

10. Sycamore Fruit

I’ve never heard of a dwarf sycamore tree but this is an empty sycamore seed head that I plucked from a tree with very mottled sycamore bark that stood no more than 7 feet tall. There are a large number of ornamental trees on this campus and I’m not sure how I would identify them all without occasionally asking the head gardener.

 11. White Rot Fungus aka Fomitiporia punctata

White rot fungus (Fomitiporia punctata) covered this fallen oak limb. There are many species of white rot fungi and they play a major part in wood decomposition. Scientists have discovered that they will also biodegrade environmental pollutants and certain chemical wastes. Researching that might be very interesting.

 12. Amber jelly Fungus

Amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) were on the same fallen oak limb, but frozen solid by the looks. This is the first time I’ve seen these growing on oak. I usually find them on alder. Some jelly fungi are also good at helping wood rot. This one fruits in late fall and winter and is a true winter fungus. I’ve always wondered why certain fungi only fruit in winter.

13. Barberry Berries

I was surprised to see this very invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii ) growing as a hedge but as I think about it I shouldn’t have been. I’ve planted barberry hedges myself back when we didn’t realize how invasive it was.  I also saw burning bushes used in a hedge. Also called winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus), they are also very invasive and until recently were widely used. The final invasive that I found was oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). These were growing near a chain like fence-right where a bird might sit for a while after eating its berries.

Exploring their campus for invasive species would be a good project for a biology class and could be done at any time of year. The results might be surprising for those in charge of such things since, in this instance, this is a state college and the state has banned selling or importing these invasives.

 14. Daffodils 

The most satisfying thing I found on this campus was the little taste of spring provided by these inch high daffodil shoots. I was surprised since we had just seen a temperature of 7 below zero the night before.

So, if anyone reading this happens to be a student attending a certain biology class in a certain college, this post is for you. All of these photos and at least twice as many more were taken in less than an hour while meandering around the Keene State College campus and I didn’t once have to step in snow deeper than the soles of my hiking boots. It was cold but I dressed for it. That’s what we have to do to keep warm in a New England winter.  I hope this post has shown how easy it is to find things in nature with very little effort.

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.  ~Henri Poincaré

Thanks for coming by.

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