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Posts Tagged ‘Crab Apples’

Ice storm are two words that can strike fear into the most stouthearted New Englander and last week we had one. Forecasts were for major ice buildup; as much as a half inch of ice on trees and wires. Since it only takes a quarter inch to bring branches down on power lines widespread power outages were forecast. Thankfully the forecasts were wrong, and though we did have an ice storm it wasn’t nearly as bad as people feared.

Of course all anyone could think about was the ice storm of 2008, when millions went without power for weeks in some cases. If you weren’t lucky enough to have a generator you went to a warming shelter and wondered what would become of your home with no heat in January. When water pipes freeze and burst things can seem pretty grim, and memories of going through an ice storm or knowing someone who did are what causes the immediate anxiety when those two words are spoken.

All is quiet while we wait to see what the storm will bring. All that can be heard outside is the steady patter of rain, which freezes on contact. That and the occasional loud crack of a tree branch falling.

Freezing rain happens when warm air sits above cold air. Precipitation falls as rain in the warm layer but freezes on contact with anything in the colder layer at ground level. The accumulating ice weighs everything down; even the goldenrod seen here couldn’t bear it.

Sometimes snow will fall after the ice, weighing tree branches down even more. That is what happened this time so it really is surprising that there weren’t more power outages.

But eventually the sun comes out again as it must, and as the ice melts it falls with strange crinkling, tinkling sounds. But for a brief time before it melts the sun shines on it, and it is like being in a world made of billions of tiny prisms, all shining light of every color of the rainbow in all directions, and it is truly a beautiful sight that many are thankful to have seen no matter how terrible the storm. I’ll never forget driving through the aftermath of the 2008 ice storm. Though trees and wires were down everywhere I went it was easily one of the top 5 most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I wish I could show you more photos of the aftermath of this storm but it wasn’t to be.

This is the view looking out of a vehicle’s icy windshield. Turn on the heat and let it warm up, because no amount of scraping will get this kind of ice off.

Ripples in the snow looked just like ripples in the sand on a lake bottom but these ripples speak of wind, not waves.

Pressure cracks appeared in the new, thin ice of Half Moon Pond in Hancock. There are many names for cracks in ice but in a lake or pond they’re all caused by stress of some kind. These might have been wet cracks, where the cracks are wide enough to have water showing between them.

They might also have been wave break cracks, caused by waves cracking the ice sheet into fairly large pieces. If you walked out there you might have found that you were standing on a large piece of ice which wasn’t attached to anything. The thing I can’t show you here are the sounds that ice makes. Very eerie sounds can sometimes be heard coming off the pond in winter. Some sound like humming, some like booming, some like cracking, but most are indescribable.

This puddle ice had very clear lens like areas in it. This isn’t something I see a lot of and I don’t know what causes it. I do know that the whiter the ice the more oxygen was in it when it formed. Doing this blog has made me learn an awful lot about ice that I wouldn’t have cared enough to even question before.

Many birds, including robins and cedar waxwings, love crab apples so you would think they would be gobbling them as fast as they could, but this tree was full of them, so why aren’t they? Science has shown that birds will leave fruits that are lower in fat for last but are crab apples 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.

The fruits of horse nettle plants are quite pretty against the snow. Carolina horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) isn’t a true nettle but instead is in the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and potatoes and many toxic plants. This plant is also toxic, enough so to be named devil’s tomato. It contains alkaloids that can make you very sick and which have caused death. There are also spines on the leaves which can break off and embed themselves in the skin. Skunks, pheasant, and turkeys are said to eat the fruit but it didn’t look to me like a single one had been touched. Nothing seems to eat the stems or foliage.

I’ve seen lots of seed pods on rose of Sharon plants but when I saw this one I realized that I had never looked inside one.

It was full of flat, dark colored, kidney shaped seeds which were quite pretty. I wondered if they would grow. There must have been thousands of them on this one plant but I’ve never seen a seedling near it.

The seed eating birds have been busy picking all the prickly looking coneflower seeds in my yard. They had eaten about two thirds of this one.

For the first time I’ve seen seed pods on a monkshood plant. If you were found growing monkshood (Aconitum napellus) in ancient Rome there was a good chance that you’d be put to death, because the extremely toxic plant was added to the water of one’s enemies to eliminate them. It was used on spear and arrow tips in wars and in hunting parties. It is also called winter aconite and is so poisonous its aconitine toxins can be absorbed through the skin. People who have mistaken its roots for horseradish have died within 4-6 hours after eating them. It is also called friar’s cap, leopard’s bane, wolf’s bane, devil’s helmet, and queen of poisons. In 2015 an experienced gardener in the U.K. died of multiple organ failure after weeding and hoeing near aconite plants. I didn’t pick the seeds.

This poison ivy was wearing its vine disguise, climbing a tree by using aerial roots which grow directly out of the wood of its stem when it needs them. Poison ivy can appear as a plant, a shrub, or a vine and if you’re going to spend much time in the woods it’s a good idea to know it well. In the winter a vine like this can help identify the plant because of these many aerial roots. It’s best not to touch it because even in winter it can cause an itchy rash.

This poison ivy vine even had a few berries left on it. I was surprised to see them because birds usually eat them right up.

All the freezing rain turned our snow into something resembling white concrete so squirrels, deer and other animals that dig through the snow to find acorns and seeds are having a hard time of it. There is supposed to be a warm up coming though, so that should help. I know that anything that melts all of this ice and hard, slippery snow will be greatly appreciated by humans.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Thistle Seed Head

I wondered during our recent severe cold snap how the birds and animals were getting on. There still seems to be plenty of food for them but they use it up fast in weather that is so cold.  A group of bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) had been picked over but still had seeds in the seed heads. This European native is considered invasive here but many birds eat its seeds and a group of plants is a good place to see goldfinches and juncos. When in flower hummingbirds and bees do a lot to pollinate the plant and ensure there will be another seed crop.

2. Thistle Prickles

The leaves of the bull thistle might have passed but the many sharp spines live on. Prickles on the leaf surface are a good identifying feature of this thistle. It is also called spear thistle, for good reason.

3. Aster Seed Heads

What I think were aster seed heads had been picked clean of seeds but the bracts remained. We call them dead at this stage, but to me they are as beautiful now as they are when they’re blossoming. Goldfinches, cardinals, chickadees, evening grosbeaks, finches, titmice and other birds and small animals eat aster seeds. Native American tribes burned the flowers and leaves and used the smoke in sweat lodge ceremonies. They also had many medicinal uses for the plant and included parts of it in a smoking mixture they called kinnickkinnick.

4. Cedar Seed Cones

I’ve known about the woody seed cones on the northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) for a long time but I didn’t know which birds ate them until recently. Robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds and many small birds use the tree to hide in. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought it was sacred because of its many uses, and maybe it was. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of this tree and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

5. Cedar Seed Cone

Each individual seed cone on the northern white cedar looks as if it was carved out of wood and then polished to a satiny shine. Of course to have fruit on a plant, which is what a cone is, you first have to have a flower. This tree flowers in late May to Early June and the small green, egg shaped female flowers have blue tips on their overlapping scales. They grow in clusters and are easy to find.

6. Cattail Seeds

I solved a year old mystery when I pulled a small tuft of cattail seeds from a seed head and took a photo of it against the black of my glove. I first noticed a long white angle hair like filament with a seed on the end last year. The wind had blown it onto a lichen that grew on tree bark and at the time I thought it was a dandelion seed. Now I know it was a cattail seed. In spring after the male red winged blackbird finds a mate he will line the nest he builds from dried cattail leaves with the plant’s soft seed down.  Man must have learned something by watching the bird because the fluffy seed down was used to stuff mattresses for centuries.

7. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

I thought I’d go and visit a couple of lichen friends recently. This poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza hasseana) grows on a tree at a local shopping mall and is a favorite of mine. I’ve never seen it growing anywhere else. The odd thing about it this year is how few spore bearing apothecia it had. The apothecia are the little cup shaped objects that look like the suckers on an octopus arm and they are usually much bigger and more numerous than what are seen in this photo. Even so it’s still a very beautiful lichen.

8. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Scattered rock posy is another beautiful lichen that I can thank for showing me how fast lichens can grow. When I met this example it could have sat on a dime (.70 inches) but now, about 5 years later, it would take up most of the real estate of a quarter (.95 inches.) Following what I’ve seen in this example I’m guessing that it gains about an inch in diameter every 20 years, so if you found one that was five inches in diameter it would be about 100 years old. Its frilly orange pads are its apothecia, where its spores are produced. The body (thallus) of this lichen is grayish and brain like. It tends to grow in a mound.

9. Orange Wood

The two orange lichens I showed previously aren’t the only orange things I’m seeing this winter; I’m even seeing orange wood. I’m guessing this might be birch, which can sometimes have yellowish wood and reddish heartwood. What made the wood pictured so orange is a mystery. Brazilian satinwood, also called yellow heart, is orange colored but I doubt very much that pieces of it would be lying around in a New Hampshire forest.

10. Oak Leaves

And then there are orange oak leaves, but I think that they’re caused by the sun shining brightly on their normally brownish surface. I’ve also seen pink oak leaves, but I don’t think that their color has anything to do with light. I think pink is a normal for certain oaks.

11. Gouty Oak Gall

While I was admiring oak leaves I saw this gouty oak gall. I wish I’d gotten a better photo of it but at least this one shows the structure fairly well. Gouty oak gall is caused by a wasp called, not surprisingly, the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis quercuspunctata). In spring the wasp lays its eggs in expanding plant tissue and secretes chemicals that will cause the abnormal growth seen in the photo. The gall grows quickly and once the eggs hatch the larvae feed on its tissue. It can take two years or more for the gall wasps to reach adulthood. One adult exits the gall through each hole.

12. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

13. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

This close-up of the willow pine cone gall shows its overlapping scales, which remind me of shingles. Even original ideas come from somewhere and I wonder if mankind didn’t come up with the idea for shingles by studying something like this.

14. Crab Apples

I saw a crab apple tree that was loaded with crab apples that were about an inch in diameter. I think they were probably too big for a bird to eat but I was surprised that deer and other animals hadn’t eaten them. They had hung on the tree for so long they were turning purple. Though we think the apples we’re eating are native, crab apples are really the only apples native to North America. The apples we know originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. Apples are thought to be the first cultivated tree and have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. North American apple cultivation began 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Settlers had come prepared with seeds, cuttings, and small plants from the best European stock and the trees grew well here; by the end of the 19th century 14,000 apple varieties were being grown. Many were inferior varieties and for one reason or another fell out of favor and have been lost to the ages. Today 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the U.S. and 7,500 varieties of apples are grown worldwide.

Thank you to Tim Hensley and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the article A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America, for some of the information used here.

15. Frost Crystals

It is the light that makes frost crystals appear so three dimensional even though they grow flat on glass, so if I were to try to paint them I’d  have to start with a dark canvas. Artists know that there can be no light without darkness, and wise artists know that the same is true in life.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

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