Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Crab Apple Fruit’

I’d like to take you for a little walk through December in New Hampshire so those who’ve never been here might know what it’s like. I’m going to start on December 9th, when I was taking photos of Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor.) As any gardener knows these pretty little flowers don’t mind a little cold but still, seeing them blooming in December is rare here.

Even rarer than Johnny jump ups blooming in December is forsythia blooming at any time beyond June, but I found one shrub blooming happily in the warm sunshine on the same day I saw the Johnny jump ups. And it wasn’t just a single blossom; this bush probably had 30-40 flowers on it. Whether or not it will bloom again in the spring like it should is anyone’s guess.

Flowers weren’t the only thing happily carrying on in the warmth; bright yellow lemon drop fungi (Bisporella citrina) decorated the end of a log. They look like tiny drops of sunshine sprinkled over logs and stumps, and are fairly common. Lemon drops are in the sac fungus family, which refers to their microscopic reproductive structures that resemble wineskins. There are over 64,000 different sac fungi, including ear and cup fungi, jelly babies, and the morel and false morel mushrooms.

Lemon drops start life as a tiny yellow disc and look as if they lie flat on the log, but they actually hover just above the surface on a short stalk. As they age each disc will become cup shaped. The citrina part of the scientific name comes from the Latin citrin, and means “lemon yellow.” They are very small; the smallest in this photo would be barely the size of a period made by a pencil on paper, so a hand or macro lens comes in handy.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) is a tease and always reminds me of spring, but it just lies under the snow all winter staying almost as green as it is here. Greater celandine was purposely introduced from Europe and is now considered an invasive plant but nobody really seems to mind it. When I was a boy we called it mustard because of the yellow sap that stained your hands, but it is in the poppy family and has nothing to do with mustard. The sap was once used to remove warts but science has found that it is toxic and can be extremely irritating, especially to the eyes and skin, so its use isn’t recommended.

Sweet little bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is the smallest member of the dogwood family that I know of here in New Hampshire. It gets its name from the bunches of red berries that appear after the flowers are pollinated, and I hoped to get some photos of them for you this year but they are apparently popular with the critters because they disappeared quickly. Instead all I can show is its pretty fall leaves. Bunchberry was an important plant to Native Americans. They made tea from it to treat colds and also dried the leaves for smoking. Ashes from the burned plants were used to treat sores and insect bites and the roots were ground and used to treat colic in infants. The plant has strong antiseptic, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties but I love it for its beautiful pure white, dogwood like blossoms.

I wish I could tell you what this is but I don’t know myself. I found several of them growing in damp, sandy soil in full sun and it says liverwort to me, but I can’t be sure. It is a low growing, flat on the ground plant. When I went back to look a little closer they had all curled up and died from the cold. At least I think so.  If you’ve seen them and know what they are I’d love to hear from you.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, so I wasn’t that surprised to see these blossoms in December. What the real surprise concerning witch hazels was this year was their lack of blossoms. Most of the shrubs that I know of didn’t bloom at all this year, and that’s very strange. In fact I only saw two or three shrubs out of hundreds blooming and I can’t guess what is holding them back, unless it was the unusually cool weather in August. Some Native American tribes steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in their sweat lodges to soothe aching muscles and others made tea from it to treat coughs. As is often the case Natives had a use for virtually every part of the plant and witch hazel is still in use today. It can be found as a lotion in almost any drugstore.

Since I was in the neighborhood I had to stop in to see the only plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) that I know of. It grows in an old stone wall and I like to see its crinkly, foot long evergreen leaves. Each leaf has a prominent midrib and a vein running on either side of it, and this makes identification very easy. I often come to see it in mid spring when it blooms. I wish I’d see more of them but so far in my experience this plant is quite rare here.

Heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) blooms in May and seems like a delicate little thing, but in reality it’s a very tough plant that stays green under the snow all winter. Some foamflower plants have leaves that turn pink and maroon but these examples stayed green. Like many plants that hold their leaves through winter, this year’s foliage will only brown and die back in spring, when new ones will appear. It is thought that some plants stay green in winter so they can get a jump on their competitors by photosynthesizing just a short time earlier. Foamflowers form dense mats of foliage and there is usually nothing else seen growing among them.

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) another of our native evergreens, goes by many other names but to me it will always be the checkerberry. Thanks to my grandmother, who had trouble getting up after keeling and so had me crawl around through the forest looking for its bright red berries, it was the first plant I learned to identify. We loved the minty, spicy flavor of the berries but coming up with only a handful was often difficult. The name checkerberry comes from the chequer tree, which is a mountain ash tree native to Europe and which is thought to have similar berries. From what I’ve seen though the only similarity is the color of the fruit. Oil of wintergreen can be distilled from the leaves of American wintergreen, and they also make a pleasant, minty tea. Native Americans would take a handful of the leaves with them on a hunt and nibble on them to help them breathe easier while running or carrying heavy game.

With a name like evergreen Christmas fern you probably wouldn’t be surprised to see this fern’s green leaves in winter, but these leaves did surprise me because they weren’t the deep green color that they usually have. They were a much paler, blanched green and this is something I’ve never seen before. I can’t even guess what would have caused this nearly indestructible fern to lose its color. Early colonials used to bring the fronds of this fern indoors in the winter, presumably to brighten what must have been a long, cold, dark period for them. If you look closely you can see that each leaf has a tiny “toe,” which makes it look like a Christmas stocking.

You would expect it to get cold in December and we weren’t too deep into the month when I started finding mushrooms like these brown ones frozen absolutely solid, but the cold that froze them was nothing compared to what was to come.

If you want to strike fear into the heart of even the crustiest New Englander just say the words “Ice storm.”  An ice storm coats absolutely everything in ice and as the ice builds up layer after layer on tree branches the branches and sometimes the whole tree will fall, and when they fall they usually take the already weighed down power lines with them. This leaves entire regions; sometimes millions of people, without electricity. Of course it is cold outside as well, and when you don’t have electricity to power your furnace, unless you have a woodstove or fireplace you have only two choices: move or freeze. I have no backup heat source, and all of these thoughts crossed my mind as I walked through the landscape on the morning of Christmas Eve day, right after an ice storm.

An ice storm can be both beautiful and terrible at the same time, but thankfully only a few thousand people lost their power this time and it was restored rather quickly. I’ve known people who have lost their power for close to a month after an ice storm and returned home only to find their house nearly destroyed by frozen and burst water pipes. I don’t think there is any weather event that we fear more.

The ice looked thick on all the trees but in reality was probably only about a quarter inch thick, which isn’t usually enough to cause much damage, thankfully.  Anything above that can mean trouble.

After the ice came about 5 inches of snow on Christmas morning, and this weighed the branches down even more because most of the ice was still on them. Still, though the Christmas tree lights blinked once or twice our power stayed on and I was able to cook our Christmas ham.

After the snow of Christmas day came the cold, and I do mean cold. Record breaking, dangerous cold settled in and hasn’t left yet, nearly a week later. As I write this I’m hoping I don’t wake to -16 °F again tomorrow as I did this morning, because you don’t go outside in that kind of cold, and it’s hard to chronicle what is happening in nature if you can’t get outside. In nearly eight years of writing this blog the weather has never stopped it, but this year could be different. I waited until it warmed to +14 ° and went out to take some photos, but an hour of that was all I could take. I must be getting old or maybe just tired of the cold; when I started this blog I could stay out most of the day if it was above 10 degrees but on this day it was more like work than fun.

But the cold can’t last forever; the earth will continue tilting toward the sun and spring will come once again. Meanwhile I’ll get outside when I can and if I can’t I might have to do a re-blog, which is something I’ve never done and don’t have the slightest idea how to do. It can’t be that hard.

If you’re wondering why I’m showing a photo of an old rock, it isn’t the rock I’m trying to show; it’s the skirt of ice it’s wearing. This stone is in the Ashuelot River and the river has frozen over from bank to bank in places. All I need to see is the river frozen over like that and I don’t need a thermometer to know it has been cold.

I see feathers all the time, but this is the first partridge feather I’ve ever seen. The partridge is an old world game bird that was introduced into the U.S. sometime around 1790. From what I’ve read it hasn’t been very successful here but it can do well on northern prairies and open farmland.  They forage in tall grass and whole flocks of them can often be very close but remain unseen, so that might help explain why I’ve never seen one. I hope they and all the other birds and animals survive this terrible cold. How they do so, I don’t know.

So that’s our look at December in New Hampshire. Maybe January will be warmer so we can all go outside once again.

Ice burns, and it is hard for the warm-skinned to distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost. ~A.S. Byatt

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

1. Barred Windows

I’m forever telling people that they don’t really have to go anywhere to see nature because it’s all around them, so I thought I’d take a wander around town just to see if I knew what I was talking about. Another reason I went to town was because the sidewalks were plowed and I didn’t have to wade through knee deep snow.

I started out at these barred windows because somebody used to grow beautiful heavenly blue morning glories on the bars and I always thought it would make a great photo. Unfortunately when I finally got a decent camera they stopped growing the morning glories. The windows are barred because this used to be a bank and now is a jewelry store. I wonder if the bent bar means someone tried to get in, or out? I also wonder who could be strong enough to do such a thing.

2. Boston Ivy Fruit

Since I can’t see morning glories I’ll just have to settle for the beautiful cornflower blue of Boston ivy berries. We have a lot of brick buildings here in Keene and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) grows well on them. As I usually do when I talk about Boston ivy, I should say that it isn’t from Boston and isn’t an ivy. It is in the grape family and comes from eastern Asia. In the fall its red leaves are one of the most beautiful things in town but since the vines grow mostly on the rear of buildings few notice them.

3. Blue Spruce

A Colorado blue spruce poked its colorful branches out of the deep snow. Snow won’t hurt this tree any; it was found growing on Pike’s Peak in 1862 up in the high country, so it’s perfectly cold hardy. Its silvery blue color comes from the waxy coating on its needles, which is similar to the bloom on blueberries and plums. This coating helps its needles (actually leaves) to minimize moisture loss in winter when there is little water available to its roots. Some western Native American tribes used the tree medicinally to treat colds and stomach ailments but today its value comes from its popularity as a landscape specimen.

4. Fringed Candleflame Lichens on Crabapple

This crabapple tree was encrusted with what I believe is fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa.) The city of Keene uses in-ground sprinklers in the summer and the spray keeps the trunks of these trees moist to about 5 feet off the ground and that’s just where these water loving lichens grow. Some trees are so covered with them that it looks as if someone painted them bright yellow.

5. Fringed Candleflame Lichen Fruiting

My book Lichens of North America says that fruiting bodies (Apothecia) are commonly seen on fringed candle flame lichens, but this is the first time I’ve seen them.  They are the cup shaped parts, which were extremely small and difficult to get a good photo of. I think the largest one seen in this photo was probably only 1/16 of an inch across. This lichen is said to be very sensitive to air pollution, so seeing it is a good sign that our air quality is good.

 6. Star Rosette Lichen

What I believe were star rosette lichens (Physcia stellaris) grew among the fringed candle flame lichens.  Star rosette lichen gets its common name from the way its lobes radiate outward like a star. This photo doesn’t show that feature well though, because I was trying to get a shot of the Apothecia, which I’ve never seen on this lichen either. I was excited to see so many lichens fruiting, but it made me realize that the reason I haven’t seen them fruiting before was because I was looking at them in the summer. Does anyone know why so many lichens (and mosses) produce spores in winter? It seems an odd time for a plant to want to reproduce and I’m not sure what the advantages would be.

7. Crabapple

I’ve read that there are fruits, especially those that grow on imported plants, that birds will simply refuse to eat and apparently these crab apples are one of them. Birds won’t eat other crab apple varieties until they have frozen and thawed several times, but those pictured must have done that many times this cold winter. This tree was absolutely loaded with fruit and not a single piece had been eaten. It seems a shame that a more bird friendly variety couldn’t have been planted.

8. Common Green Shield Lichen

There are shield lichens, starburst lichens, candle wax lichens, and ruffle lichens and they all look very similar, but I think this one might be a common green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata.) This is a good example of a lichen which can reproduce itself vegetatively; the granular looking bits toward its center are called soredia. Soredia are meant to fall off and start new lichens, and many lichens use this method of reproduction in addition to producing spores. If you look to the upper left corner of this lichen you will be able to see the size difference between it and the fringed candle flame lichen shown previously.

9. Jumanji Sign

Anyone who has seen the film Jumanji with Robin Williams has seen downtown Keene but they probably didn’t even know it. Many of the exterior scenes, including the animal stampede on Main Street, were filmed here. The film crew painted this sign for a business that never existed on the wall of a downtown building and after Robin Williams died a large memorial covered the entire sidewalk for a few weeks. He was a nice guy who truly enjoyed meeting people, and he became friends with some of our local residents. Next time you watch the movie watch for this sign and you’ll know that you’re seeing downtown Keene.

10. Old Coke Sign

I wonder if the film crew got the idea for their make believe sign from this one, which is the real thing. There is another similar one on the side of another building and both have been here for at least as long as I have. This building housed a well-known drug store for many years and when I was a boy I used to save up my money and buy my grandmother a box of Russell Stover chocolates from them on Valentine’s Day. Of course she would always share them with me and that usually meant that I’d get to eat three to her one. I always looked forward to Valentine’s Day back then.

 11. Ice Cairns

Someone had some time on their hands. And probably gloves, too.

 12. Rose of Sharon Seed Pod

This rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) was loaded with seed pods. I wonder if their seeds are viable; I can’t remember ever finding a seedling. This shrub is in the mallow family and its flowers resemble those of hibiscus, hollyhocks, and mallows. I always think of it as a hardy hibiscus, probably because I pruned hundreds of hibiscus when I worked as a gardener in Florida. That’s probably also why you won’t find a rose of Sharon growing in my yard.

13. Magnolia Buds-2

The magnolias had their winter fur coats on. They are of course bud scales that protect the tender bud within from the cold.  Though some people think that shrubs and trees grow buds in the spring the buds are actually set during the previous year’s growth and only swell up and open in spring.

14. Barberry Fruit

I thought the red of these barberry berries (Berberis) would be appropriate for Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure which plant it is but I am sure that it’s an ornamental rather than an invasive species.  Birds had eaten most of the fruit but there were a few left.

All of the plants and lichens in this post (and many more) grow in plain sight on the streets of Keene, but I doubt that most of the hundreds of people who pass them by every day even know that they’re there.

The most beautiful things in life go un-noticed. ~Omar Hickman

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Read Full Post »