Posts Tagged ‘Early Spring Plants’

Last week’s nor’easter sat up north and just spun in one place for days after it buried parts of New England, and clouds and snow showers filled the air all week. And then finally on Sunday the sun came out. The temperature shot up to a relatively balmy 40 degrees F., and I decided to get into the woods. The plan was to climb the High Blue trail in Walpole to see if any of the coltsfoot that live along the trail were blooming, but Walpole got a lot more snow than I did in my yard and everything was snow covered.

I stopped to admire a snow curl on a branch.

The new way of colleting sap is used here. Or at least it was; this tubing wasn’t being used and these maple trees hadn’t been tapped. The black bit on the left at the end of the blue tubing is the part that would be in the tree if it had been tapped.

Normally I would have taken a left turn and followed the high blue trail to the overlook but nobody else had been here and my trail breaking days through a foot of snow are over. I was really surprised that there was no trail though, because this is a popular spot. I had to come up with a plan B.

Plan B was simply bypassing the left turn onto the high blue trail and staying on the old logging road that leads to it. The snow on the old road had been packed down by snowmobiles but it was still slow going. At the pace I usually walk though slow is the norm, so slipping and sliding in the snow wasn’t really a problem.

There were a few paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera) along the trail and some gray and golden birches as well.

A small stream ran alongside the road and bubbled and gurgled as I walked. Even though I couldn’t sense it the rushing water told me the snow was melting fast.

The little stream slowed and opened up into quiet pools every now and then.

I was hoping to find some evidence of amphibian activity like frog eggs, but all I saw were stones.

When two trees grow close enough together like these two sugar maples did the wind can cause them to rub together enough so their outer bark is rubbed off. If the trees are the same species, when the cambium layer just under the bark touches the two trees can grow together. This process is called inosculation and trees naturally grafted together like these two are called “husband and wife” trees or “marriage trees.” Rarely, trees of different species like red and sugar maple can become grafted, but I’ve never seen it.

I hope I never get too busy to admire a beech tree (Fagus americana) caught in a sunbeam. They’re so beautiful at this time of year.

I looked at many beech buds but I didn’t see any signs of bud break. I didn’t really expect to because it’s really too early, but the warm February could have confused some trees as well as shrubs and other plants. Like the striped maple buds I mentioned in my last post, beech buds breaking is an event I look forward to all winter.

The reason I look forward to tree buds opening in spring is because many of them are as beautiful as any flower. I’ll start looking for them in earnest starting in Late April and early May.

One of the theories of why beech trees hold onto their leaves throughout winter says that deer and moose are afraid of the sound of the papery, dry, whispering leaves and wont browse on the buds.  Deer have bottom incisor teeth that meet a hard pad of cartilage on their upper jaw, so they can’t bite through a twig cleanly. Instead they have to tear it, and this torn twig tells me that this beech bud was taken by a deer so papery leaves or not, deer do indeed browse on beech trees.

The trail opened into a large clearing that offered a few choices of where to go. The snowmobile tracks that went off to the left might circle around and go up to the overlook but they might not, and I might do a lot of trudging through the snow for nothing.  There was already a long walk ahead of me to get back out again, so I had to be careful that I didn’t get tired out walking in. While I thought about it I decided to explore the clearing.

The spore bearing fronds of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) told me that the soil here was wet. Sensitive ferns like damp, sunny places like wet meadows and the edges of forests. Fossils that closely resemble sensitive fern have been found dating back to the time of the dinosaurs, so they have been here for a very long time. Early American settlers gave this fern its common name when they noticed how sensitive they were to frost.

Native river grapes (Vitis riparia) grew up and into the sugar maples and judging from the size of the vines they’ve been doing so for a very long time. I see these grapes growing in wet soil quite often so I think it’s safe to say that they also like damp sunny spots.

River grapes don’t seem to have as many tendrils as other grapes but they have enough to help them climb. This vine’s tendril had wrapped around this maple branch long enough ago so the branch had been growing around it. I see this often with tough vines like oriental bittersweet but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a grape vine do this. The tendrils must be a lot stronger than I thought.

The second way out of the clearing involved climbing a steep hill, so I passed on that option.

The third way out also involved a hill. Less steep but still a hill and I had no idea where the trail went, so in the end I decided to turn around and head back down the old road. I knew a lot more about this area than I did when I started and I got to walk in the winter woods on a warm sunny day, so my time certainly wasn’t wasted.

After stopping for a moment to wonder at the mechanics of another snow curl, off I went.

The world is as large as I let it be. Each step I take into the unknown reveals a thousand more steps of possibility. Earth may not be growing but my world certainly does with each step I take. ~Avina Celeste

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!


Read Full Post »

We had a big storm here last Friday but we saw more rain than snow, and little wind. I’ve heard that upstate New York saw 2-3 feet of snow and in Pennsylvania semi-trucks were blown over by the wind, so we got off relatively easy. We did see flooding in places as this photo of a flooded forest shows, but not enough to cause any real damage. Things may change again today, because the weather people are saying we might see as much as 18 inches of snow from this afternoon through nightfall on Thursday.

The Ashuelot River spilled out into this pasture but this is expected in spring and there are no buildings within the flood zone.

I think it was just 2 weeks ago when I watched people skating on this pond. Now there is open water. I was hoping to see some ducks or spring peepers but I didn’t see either.

Though our days have been warm, mostly in the 50s F, our mornings are still cold enough for puddle ice. This ice is very thin and often white because of all the oxygen bubbles in it, and it tinkles when you break it. Nothing says spring to me quite like puddle ice, because when I was a boy I used to ride my bike through it in the spring as soon as the snow melted. You can see many things in this ice, but on this morning it was a simple starburst.

I noticed that the hairy bud scales on a Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) had opened to reveal the bright yellow flower buds they’ve been protecting. Once pollinated in mid-April the flowers will become sour red fruits that have been eaten by man for about 7000 years. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included Cornelian cherry fruit and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the fruit. I would if I could ever find one but apparently the birds snap them up quickly, because I’ve never seen one.

I’ve been staring at this photo of a crocus blossom trying to figure out exactly what is going on, because you shouldn’t be able to see the central anthers in a closed crocus blossom. I finally realized that it has been cut in half lengthwise, so you can indeed see inside the blossom to the reproductive parts. Why or how anyone would do this while the plant was actually in the ground growing and blossoming is a mystery to me, but it is an interesting look at something rarely seen.

Another plant I was hoping to get a look inside was a skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) so I went to visit them in their swamp and saw that many of the mottled spathes had opened since I was last here. I could see the spadix covered with flowers in this one, but could I get a shot of it?

I was able to, barely. The spadix is a one inch diameter pink or yellow, stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four 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 insects bring in from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this point and it is thought by some that it uses the odor to attract flies and other insects that might pollinate it. Sometimes the spadix is covered with pollen but this one hadn’t seen any yet so the male flowers must have just opened.

I saw some over-anxious daylilies. I hope they know what they’re doing. They could easily find themselves under a foot of snow tomorrow. March can be a fickle month with 50 degrees one day and snow the next and right now the forecast looks wild.

Ever so slowly the buds of red maple (Acer rubrum) are opening. The purple bud scales pull back to reveal the tomato red buds within. It probably won’t be long before they blossom, unless we get a cold snap with the coming storm.

The vernal witch hazels are blooming with great abandon now, even though this day was a cool one. We probably won’t see another display like this one until the forsythias bloom.

I couldn’t tell if this blueberry bud was opening or not but it showed me that spiders are active, even in winter.

It looked like this huge old mother white pine tree held her baby in her arms and it reminded me of the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. I’m reading it now and it’s a book that I’d highly recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about nature.

If a forest is a cathedral, then this is its stained glass.

I saw some beautifully colored turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) Someday I hope to find out what determines their color. They seem to all be different so I would think that the wood they grow on must play a part in their coloration, but I haven’t ever been able to find anything written on the subject.

I was walking the grounds of the local college looking for blooming flowers when I came upon this Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata.) The vine has nothing to do with Boston and it isn’t a true ivy, but it is the reason colleges are called “Ivy League.” Boston ivy is actually in the grape family and originally came from China and Japan.

Boston ivy will climb just about anything by attaching itself with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils. The vine secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to glue itself to whatever surface it grows on, in this case brick. The glue can support up to 260 times its own weight and if you’ve ever tried to pull Boston ivy off a building you know how sticky it is.

I’m not wild about stone walls that were built with mortar but sidewalk firedot lichens (Caloplaca feracissima) sure are. These bright orange lichens love the lime used in cement and can often be found growing on concrete sidewalks, and that’s where their common name comes from. When you find them growing on stone in the woods it’s a great sign that you’re in an area with a lot of limestone, and there’s a good chance that you’ll find other lime loving plants, like many of our native orchids.

Sidewalk firedot lichens appear very granular and often show fruiting bodies but this example was quite dry and I couldn’t see that it was producing spores anywhere.

A pile of fallen fern leaves reminded me of nautili swimming under the sea. It is interesting how nature uses the same shapes over and over, especially spirals. The spiral was considered sacred geometry by ancient civilizations and is still used today. Sacred geometry involves sacred universal patterns used in the design of everything in our reality. Spirals for instance, can be found in everything from the nautilus to the sunflower and from our own DNA to entire galaxies.

Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring. ~Lilly Pulitzer

Thanks for stopping in.






Read Full Post »

Days above freezing (32 °F) and nights below freezing get tree sap flowing from the roots to the branches, and that means a lot of work for maple syrup producers. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup and our season usually lasts only 4 to 6 weeks, so they’re very busy at this time of year. Sugaring season usually starts in mid-February but this year it was slightly ahead of schedule, so we might see a bit more than our average 90,000 gallons.

Of course flowing sap means swelling buds, so I had to go and see what was happening. The elongated buds on this red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) were a surprise because normally they’d be almost perfectly round at this time of year. I have a feeling that they’re opening too soon, but we’ll see. I heard on the news that this February was our second mildest on record, so that might explain a few over anxious buds. When these buds open beautiful deep purple leaves will begin to unfold and then they’ll quickly turn green, so I’ll have to keep my eye on them.

Red maple (Acer rubra) buds have just started to swell a bit, as seen in the bud at about two o’clock there on the right. The outer layer of bud scales have started to pull back on several other buds as well. Red and sugar maple buds tell syrup producers when their time is nearly up, because once the trees start to blossom the sap can be bitter.

Native Americans used to tap box elders (Acer negundo) and make syrup from their sap but I don’t think today’s syrup producers tap them. They’re in the maple family but it seems to me that I’ve read that it takes too many gallons of sap to make syrup, and that isn’t profitable for today’s producers. This example looked like the bud scales might have been just starting to open. The earliest known Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from the wood of a box elder.

The daffodils that came up before the last snow storm didn’t seem to be hurt by it at all, and that’s probably because it was relatively warm when it fell. It doesn’t always have to be below freezing for snow to fall. Last year these bulbs lost almost all of their foliage to cold.

I saw that some reticulated irises had come up too. These are usually the first flowers to bloom, even beating crocuses and snowdrops. I’ve seen snow and ice on their blossoms, and they just shrugged it off.

Odd that I didn’t see any crocus shoots but I did see these tulips. It seems very early for tulips.

In just a week the willow catkins had emerged from their bud scales. When I last checked there was no sign of them.

Before long each “pussy” will be a yellow flower. Male flowers are always brighter yellow than the female flowers. Willows cross breed freely and it’s always hard to tell exactly which species you’re looking at. Even Henry David Thoreau said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused.” I know how he felt.

There isn’t anything special about this photo, other than it shows that ice is melting from our streams and ponds, but I took it because this is where I felt that first warm breath of spring on the breeze. You can feel it and you can sense it and when you do you want to run home and throw open the windows or hug someone or dance in the street; anything to celebrate winter’s few last gasps. We might get more snow and more cold, but there is no stopping spring now.

The Ashuelot River is still alarmingly high and as I write this heavy rain is predicted Friday which, by the time you see this post, will have been yesterday. My plan is to go out today (Saturday) and see what if any damage was done. I grew up just a few yards from the river and each spring it used to do this, and it seemed that there was always a certain tightness in the air while everyone wondered if it would stay within its banks. It usually did.

Plenty of water was flowing over the dam but it wasn’t lowering the water level any. It has to flow down the Ashuelot and Connecticut Rivers before it reaches the Atlantic, and that takes time. I would guess that there are many obstructions between here and there.

At this time of year mud becomes first and foremost in many people’s minds, especially those who live on dirt roads. Mud season is our unofficial fifth season, and in mud season roads can become car swallowing quagmires. Many roads have weight limits imposed on them until the mud dries up, and any deliveries that involve heavy trucks are put on hold, usually until April or May. Some roads may even have to be closed.

According to Wikipedia Mud Season is “a period in late winter/early spring when dirt paths such as roads and hiking trails become muddy from melting snow and rain,” but that isn’t really it at all. Melting snow and rain do indeed make trails muddy, but in a cold winter like the one we’ve had the ground can freeze to a depth of 3-4 feet, and when things begin to thaw in spring they thaw from the top down. The top 16-18 inches of road thaws but all the meltwater has nowhere to go because it is sitting on top of the rock hard frozen ground two feet below. The soil at the surface then liquefies and acts like quicksand, and the above photo shows the result. Note that this car even had chains on the wheels when it got stuck.

Spring is when many animals like squirrels, skunks and raccoons get extra active. Skunks for instance eat grubs they find in the soil, so thawed ground is a magnet for them and you can often wake to a lawn full of small holes where they’ve dug. Unfortunately many people don’t realize that the skunks are doing them a great service by eating the grubs, because the grubs eat the roots of the grass and can kill it. The small holes they dig grow over quickly and by April or May you’d never know they had been there at all. The squirrel was also happy the ground had thawed and it was digging up acorns buried last fall.

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) came up quickly but when I saw them they looked like they had just come up, because the mottled maroon and yellow spathes hadn’t opened yet. Once the spathe opens you can see the spadix within, and that’s where the small greenish flowers grow.

You can just see how this one was starting to open down the split over its length. Since these photos are from last weekend I’m guessing that I’ll find quite a few open today. Hopefully I’ll be able to get photos of the tiny flowers.

Through a process called thermogenesis skunk cabbages can raise their temperature as much as 50 ° F above the surrounding air temperature and in so doing can melt their way through ice and snow. Why they want to come up so early is one of those mysteries of nature. There are very few insects out right now, but I do see them occasionally.

The spring blooming (Vernal) witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) were blooming in a local park. They are one of our earliest flowers and after a long winter much loved. I wasn’t surprised to see them because I’ve seen them blossom even after a foot of snow and near zero temperatures last year. Though they are native to the U.S. they don’t grow naturally this far north, which seems odd since they can stand so much cold.

Witch hazels are pollinated by winter moths which raise their body temperature as much as 50 degrees by shivering. This allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold. I’ve never seen one but I’ve seen plenty of seed pods on witch hazels, so they must be doing their job. These flowers were very fragrant with a clean, spicy scent.

Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men. ~Chinese Proverb

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

It was a nice warm sunny Saturday when I set out for the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene and the weather people said it would be sunny all day, but as soon as I got there clouds moved in and decided to stay for a while. Actually the clouds stayed the entire time I was there and the sun didn’t show itself again until I left.

This was the only blue sky I saw the entire time I was there.

But the trail was well packed down and not really as icy as it looks here.

Beaver Brook was roaring. In the summer it giggles and chuckles along beside you but in the winter it roars, and that’s all you hear. Unless it’s covered by ice; when it’s iced over it whispers and is quieter than at any other time.

The brook hasn’t been completely iced over this winter that I’ve seen, but huge ice shelves had formed here and there. You can see how there is nothing under the shelf but air, so it walking out on it would be a foolish thing to do.

The ice shelves had teeth.

I have a lot of old friends living here along the brook, like this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) I see this lichen just about everywhere I go but nowhere else are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) so blue or its body (thallus) so golden. The gold color comes from the minerals in the stone I think, and the blue color comes from the way the light falls on the waxy coating that covers the apothecia. Whatever it is that causes the colors in this particular place, this lichen is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it look like this.

I also stopped to visit the only example I’ve ever seen of stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens.) This is a boreal moss that grows quite far north into the arctic and I’ve seen it here covered with ice, but it isn’t as delicate as it looks and it always comes through winter unscathed. When it’s dry it has a shiny sheen and that’s most likely why another common name for it is glittering wood moss. New growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s growth and that’s where the “stair step” name comes from. It’s a beautiful moss and I wish I’d see more of it.

The rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) came through winter looking fine and I was glad of that because this is the only example of it I know of. I did find another small patch on a stone in Swanzey once, but I can’t remember where. It’s nice to know there are more of them out there but I’d still have to call this moss rare. I love its little aspirin size rosettes of leaves that someone thought looked like roses. They look more like dahlias or chrysanthemums to me, but they’re beautiful no matter what we choose to call them.

There were some impressive ice formations on the ledges and I was surprised, because they don’t usually grow so big here. With the up and down weather we’ve had this year though, I probably shouldn’t be surprised by anything weather related.

Last time I came here the brook was flooding in places and it was a downright scary thing to see. The water mark on the far embankment showed just how high the water had been, and I’d guess that it was a good 6 feet higher than it was on this day. I met an old timer up here one day who told me that he had once seen the water over the old road. That’s something I hope I never see.

In places the snow had melted and revealed that there really wasn’t that much covering the road. Since we’re supposed to have warm days all week there’s a good chance that the road will be snow free this weekend.

Where the snow had melted you could see part of the old double yellow no passing lines.

Off on the side of the road a branch had fallen, and it was covered by what I thought at first was milk white, toothed polypores.

But the spore bearing surface of this fungus was more maze like than toothed, so that had me confused until I got home and was able to see the photos. After some searching I came up with what I think is a crust fungus called the common mazegill polypore (Datronia mollis.) It may be common in some places but I think this is only the second time I’ve seen it.

A little further up the road I found another fallen branch that was covered with inch in diameter, colorful crust fungi which I think were young wrinkled crust fungi (Phlebia radiata.)  These are winter mushrooms and that’s the only time I ever see them. They aren’t common; I’ve only found them three or four times. As they age the center of the fungus becomes very wrinkled, and that’s where their common name comes from.

There isn’t anything odd or rare about tinder fungi (Fomes fomentarius,) but a closer look at this one revealed something that was both odd and rare, at least in my experience.

There were squirrel teeth marks ( I think) all over one of the colored bands on it. Recently I’ve seen the same thing on a few lichens and have found that squirrels do indeed eat lichens, and I’ve seen them eating mushrooms but I’ve never seen them do this. It made me wonder if it was algae they were after, because algae grow on both lichens and fungi. I can’t imagine what else they’d get out of scraping their teeth over this fungus unless it was to keep their ever growing teeth in check. Tinder fungi are very tough and woody, so maybe the animal was simply trying to wear down its teeth.

Another fallen branch displayed what I thought from a distance were shield lichens but once I got closer I realized they weren’t anything I had ever seen.

They were obviously not lichens at all, but instead some type of hairy fungi.

They grew like bracket fungi and their spore bearing surfaces were maze like and faced outward. Each flower like cluster like the one shown above couldn’t have been more than three inches across, so they weren’t very big. They were pliable and rubbery to the touch, and felt much like an ear lobe. They look very pink to me but my color finding software tells me they’re mostly tan with some peach puff and dark salmon here and there.

They didn’t have to be big to be beautiful and I thought they were very beautiful things, but after looking through 4 mushroom books and spending several hours online I can’t find anything that even looks close to them, so they’ll have to remain a mystery for now. Maybe one of you knows their name. If so I’d love to hear from you.

A path well-traveled may still yield secrets that only one person may discover. ~Anthony T. Hincks

Thanks for coming by.


Read Full Post »

Though this is only the third one I’ve done I’ve come to like these “looking back” posts. They make me  have another look at the past year in photos and I always seem to stumble on things I’ve forgotten. These tiny fungi I saw last January are a good example of that. When I saw them I didn’t know what they were and thought they must be some type of winter slime mold, but then I moved the hand that was holding the branch and felt something cold and jelly like.

And that’s when I discovered what very young milk white toothed polypores (Irpex lacteus) look like. These crust fungi are common in winter but it was the first time I had ever seen the “birth” of a fungus.

February can be a strange month, sometimes spring like and sometimes wintery. This year it was wintery, and this is what Half Moon Pond in Hancock looked like on February 4th. The relatively warm air combined with the cold ice of the pond produced lots of fog and I thought it made for a very beautiful scene.

March is the month when the ground finally begins to thaw and things begin to stir. First the skunk cabbages blossom early in the month and then by the end of the month other early plants like coltsfoot can be seen. Many of our trees and shrubs also begin to bloom toward the end of the month. This shot of female American hazelnut blossoms (Corylus americana) was taken on March 25th. They may not look like much but after a long cold winter they are a true pleasure to see. Just think, March is only 60 days away!

April is the month when many of our most beautiful spring ephemeral wildflowers appear and one of those I am always most anxious to see is the spring beauty (Claytonia virginica.) Each flower is very small; maybe as large as a standard aspirin, but the place they grow in often has many hundreds of flowers blooming at the same time so it can be a beautiful sight. These beautiful little flowers often appear at just the same time maple trees begin to flower. I saw the ones in the photo on April 26th.

Another small but beautiful spring flower that I look forward to seeing is the little fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia.) These plants often grow and flower in pairs as those shown were doing and often form mats that carpet the ground in places where they like to grow. The flowers need a heavy insect like a bumblebee landing on their little fringed third petal, which is mostly hidden. This opens their third sepal and lets the insect crawl into the tubular blossom, where it is dusted with pollen.  They often start blooming in mid-May but this photo is from May 31st. Because of their color at a glance fringed polygalas can sometimes look like violets so I have to look carefully to find them.

Also blooming in May is the beautiful soft pink, very fragrant roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum.)  It is also called the early azalea, even though there are those that bloom earlier. It has a fragrance that is delicate and spicy sweet and the fragrance comes from the many hairs that grow along the outsides of the blossoms. This native shrub grows to about 8 feet tall in a shaded area of a mostly evergreen forest. I found it blooming on May 26th.

One of my favorite finds of 2017 was a colony of ragged robin plants (Lychnis flos-cuculi.) I’d been searching for this plant for many years but hadn’t found it until logging kept a small lawn from being mowed last summer. After a month or two of logging operations the unmown grass had gotten tall, but it was also full of ragged robin plants, and that was a great surprise. I don’t know their status in the rest of the state but they are fairly rare in this corner of New Hampshire. This type of ragged robin is not native; it was introduced from Europe sometime in the 1800s but that doesn’t diminish its beauty. I found these plants blooming on June 28.

Two years ago I was walking through a swamp and lo and behold, right there beside the trail was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen; a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) in full bloom. It was beautiful; like a bush full of purple butterflies. I went back again and again this year to keep track of its progress and on July 12 there it was in full bloom again. I can’t explain what joy such a thing brings to me, but I do hope that everyone reading this will experience the same joy in their lives. It’s a true gift.

August was an unusually cold month; cold enough to actually run the furnace for a couple of days, so I didn’t see many mushrooms in what is usually the best month to find them. I did see these little butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea) one day but all in all it wasn’t a good year for mushrooms and slime molds in this area. Some were held back by the cold and appeared much later than they usually do.

The cool August didn’t seem to discourage the wildflowers any, as this view from August 12th shows. In fact we had a great year for wildflowers, even though some bloomed quite a lot later than what I would consider average. I think the abnormal cold had something to do with that, too.

It was also an odd year for fall foliage, with our cold August tricking many trees into turning early, as this photo from September30th shows. Our peak foliage season is usually about the second week of October and some trees had turned color in mid-September. After that it got very hot and the heat stopped all the changing leaves in their tracks, and nobody knew what foliage season would be like at that point.  Some thought it might be ruined, but all we could do was wait and see.

After seeing few to no monarch butterflies for the past 3 years suddenly in September they appeared. First one or two every few days, then more and more until I was seeing at least two each day. This one posed on some Joe Pye weed on September 16th. I can’t say if they’re making a comeback or not but it was a pleasure to see them again. I didn’t realize how much I had taken them for granted until they weren’t there anymore, and that made seeing them again very special. Not only did their reappearance teach me something about myself, it also taught me that monarchs fly like no other butterfly that I’ve seen.

By mid-October, right on schedule for our peak foliage season, all the leaves were aflame and that put a lot of worries to rest. New Hampshire relies heavily on tourism and millions of people come here from all over the world to see the trees, so a disappointing foliage season can have quite a financial impact on businesses. This view from Howe Reservoir in Dublin with Mount Monadnock in the background is one of my favorite foliage views. It was in the October 14th post and reminds me now how truly lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place.

By November 22 Mount Monadnock had its first dusting of snow, which would melt quickly and show no trace just 3 days later. For those new to the blog, Mount Monadnock is one of the most climbed mountains on earth, second only to Mount Fuji in Japan. Even Henry David Thoreau found too many people on the summit when he climbed it in the 1800s. He, like myself, found the view of the mountain much more pleasing than the view from it. He said “Those who climb to the peak of Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it but to look at it. The view of the pinnacle itself surpasses any view which you get from the summit.” I agree.

I thought I’d end this post with something I just found recently on a rail trail; the prettiest bunch of turkey tail fungi that I’ve ever seen. It’s a perfect example of why I spend so much time in the woods; you just never know what beautiful things you might see. I found these beauties on December 2nd.

Laughter from yesterday that makes the heart giggle today brightens the perspective for tomorrow. ~Evinda Lepins

I hope everyone has a very happy and healthy new year! Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

For six weeks now we’ve had at least one rainy day per week and often two or three. This has amounted to a drought busting 2-3 inches of rain each week and the water table is again where it should be, if not a little high. Unfortunately along with the rain we’ve had cold and until this past week it seemed that it would never warm up, but warm up it has and temps in the 90s are expected for part of next week. Beaver brook seems happier when it’s full. It cheering chuckles and giggles can be heard throughout the forest and it is a welcome companion when I walk along its shores.

The orangey red fertile fronds of cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have appeared. They once reminded someone of sticks of cinnamon, and that’s how this fern comes by its common name.

A closer look shows that this isn’t cinnamon. The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which is where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Even the seeds (samaras) of red maple (Acer rubrum) are red, and a beautiful red at that. Squirrels love red maple seeds and that’s probably a good thing because our trees produce many millions of them. A single tree about a foot in diameter was shown to produce nearly a million seeds, and red maple is the most abundant native tree in eastern North America. Native Americans used red maple bark to wash inflamed eyes and as a remedy for hives and muscle aches. The tree’s wood was used for tools and its sap boiled into maple sugar, much like the sap of the sugar maple.

One of the things that determines how many acorns an oak will produce is the weather. Since the male flowers release pollen to the wind in the hopes that it will reach the female flowers, rain can have a big impact because it can wash the pollen out of the air. Since we’ve had a lot of rain this spring it will be interesting to see how many acorns we have this fall. The flowers shown are the male catkins of a red oak (Quercus rubra.)

These are the male pollen bearing cones of the mugo pine (Pinus mugo.) Mugo pine is a native of southwestern and Central Europe which is used as a landscape specimen. Its pollen cones closely resemble those of our eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) When the female flowers are fertilized by this pollen they produce the seed bearing pine cones that we are all familiar with. Here in New Hampshire pine pollen is responsible for turning any horizontal surface, including ponds and vehicles, a dusty green color each spring. It also makes some of us have sneezing fits.

I heard that the new spring fiddleheads of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) were purple and, since I’ve never paid attention to them I decided to go and see some. Sure enough they were deep purple. I shouldn’t have been surprised because another name for this fern is flowering fern, because its fertile fronds are purple.

Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) starts out life in spring with its leaves colored red or bronze and people are often fooled by it at this stage. It is a plant that anyone who spends time in the woods should get to know well, but even then you can still occasionally be caught by it. It doesn’t need to have leaves on it to produce a reaction; I usually end up with a rash on my legs each spring from kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of spring beauties. Luckily it doesn’t bother me too much but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it.

This Northern water snake was basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2 feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a good photo of.

Early one morning I saw a dragonfly on a building. I knew it was alive because it was moving one of its legs slowly back and forth. It let me get the camera very close and didn’t flinch even when I turned on the camera’s LED light. I haven’t been able to confidently identify it but I thought it might be a Lancet club tail. I hope someone will let me know if I’m wrong.

I’ve never gotten so close to a dragonfly. Odd that it didn’t fly away.

Tent caterpillars appear in early spring as buds begin to open. They prefer fruit trees but can also be found on maples, hawthorn and others. Their nests are smaller and more compact than fall webworms and are found in the crotch of branches rather than at the ends. Often the caterpillars can be seen crawling over the outside surface of the nest as these were. They feed in morning and early evening, and on warm nights. They do a lot of damage and can defoliate a tree in no time at all. Though the tree will usually grow new leaves it will have been severely weakened and may not bear fruit. As the larvae feed they will make the silky nest larger to enclose more foliage.

A close up look at the tent caterpillars. They can be seen crawling everywhere at this time of year. Tent caterpillars are an important food source for insects, animals and birds. One bear was found to have eaten about 25,000 of them and more than 60 species of birds will eat them. Frogs, mice, skunks, bats, reptiles and 28 different insects help control the population but nothing can stop them. Scientists have found that a severe outbreak can defoliate tens of thousands of acres of forest.

This robin had a beak full of caterpillars but they weren’t tent caterpillars. He didn’t seem real happy to see me.

Some think that without ants their peony blossoms wouldn’t open, but that’s really just an old wive’s tale. Peony buds have very small glands called extrafloral nectaries along the outside edges of their bud scales. These glands produce a mixture of sugar, water and amino acids, and this is what attracts the ants. To repay the peony for its gift of nectar the ants drive off pests that might harm the buds.

Native Americans held turkeys in such high regard they buried the birds when they died, but the turkey’s value was in its feathers, not its meat. The feathers were used to decorate their ceremonial clothing and as arrow fletching to stabilize arrows.  They were also used for winter cloaks because they were lightweight and very warm. A feather from a turkey was powerful medicine thought to symbolize abundance, pride, fertility and wisdom, but the meat was considered starvation food. Early colonials mentioned the small flocks of young turkeys seen near Native villages and how the Natives refused to kill them for food, which they couldn’t understand. Of course Europeans saw little to no value in the feathers.

Why some plants have red or purple leaves in spring isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought that the color helps protect their new, fragile leaves from damaging ultraviolet rays and cold temperatures. It isn’t just trees that use this strategy; many shrubs and plants also have new leaves tinged with red or purple. The rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) in the above photo shows just how purple some new spring leaves can be. Eventually all its leaves will be green but the color won’t disappear entirely; a deep maroon color will be left on their veins, making this a very beautiful plant at any time of year.

The heartwood of oaks and some other tree species have a high tannin content and when iron or steel come into contact with the tannins a chemical reaction takes place. This almost always results in a discoloration of the wood. It is caused by nails, barbed wire, chains, or any one of a hundred other iron or steel objects that can be found in trees. There is even a photo online of a bicycle grown into a tree. This is trouble for loggers, because if the sawmill sees stains like those on the red oak log pictured above they’ll reject the log. Their saw blades are expensive and running them through steel just doesn’t work.

If you happened upon a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree just after bud break it would be easy to believe that you were seeing a tree full of beautiful flowers, but what you saw would be the colorful insides of the newly opened bud scales. What you saw would also be one of the most beautiful things you could find in a New England forest in spring.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts.  ~Susanna Clarke

Thanks for Stopping in.

Read Full Post »

The last time I visited the deep cut rail trail that was once part of the northern branch of the Cheshire Railroad there were huge columns of ice hanging from the walls of the manmade canyon. These ice columns start to melt in the spring and can sometimes fall into the trail. Since they’re big enough to crush a person I stay away from this, one of my favorite places, until I’m sure they’ve melted. Though we’ve had a cool May I was sure they had melted by last Sunday, so off I went.

Right off I noticed something disturbing; a rock half the size of a Volkswagen Beetle had fallen from the face of the canyon. Particularly disturbing was how it fell right into the drainage ditch, which is where I am when I want to get close to the liverworts and other plants that grow on these walls. Thoughts of tons of stone whistling 50 feet down through the air certainly captured my attention for a while. It’s going to take a lot more than muscle and pry bars to move this one. I’m not sure that a backhoe could even move it.

As I walked around the stone I saw that more than one had fallen, and when they fell they took down a yellow birch tree about 6 inches across, which someone had cut up. The New Hampshire chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club comes here to train in rock and ice climbing and I hope there wasn’t anyone near here when all of this fell. If anyone were to be hit by even the smallest stone I doubt they would have survived.

Rocks fall here regularly because of the constantly seeping groundwater. In the winter it freezes, and when it freezes the ice in the many fissures inside the stone expands enough to fracture it into pieces, which eventually succumb to gravity. This year there is a lot of groundwater seeping through; all the cliff faces were wet, as the above photo shows. Of course, the plants love it.

Three or four years ago a stream appeared out of nowhere and has run down the rock face ever since, winter and summer. It’s a good thing the railroad dug wide drainage ditches along this section of rail bed, otherwise the place would be flooded and impassable from so much water constantly pouring in. The ditches have kept the rail bed dry for nearly 150 years now.

Apparently I’ve been walking right by mountain maple trees (Acer spicatum) all of my life without realizing it, but now all of the sudden I’m seeing them everywhere I go. That could be because they’re flowering now, and these trees flower like no other maple. All other maple trees have flowers that hang down but mountain maple’s flower clusters stand upright, above the leaves. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum) and I think that’s why I haven’t noticed them; I didn’t look closely. The shrub like tree is a good indicator of moist soil which leans toward the alkaline side of neutral. Native Americans made an infusion of the pith of the young twigs to use as eye drops to soothe eyes irritated by campfire smoke, and the large leaves were packed around apples and root crops to help preserve them.

There might be plenty of fruit to snack on later. Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) bloomed all along the trail but many types of wildlife eat the berries, so I doubt I’ll get any. Wild strawberry is one of two species of strawberry (Fragaria virginiana and Fragaria chiloensis) that were hybridized to create the modern strawberry. Strawberries were an important food for Native Americans and they made a cold tea of mashed strawberries, strawberry juice, water and sassafras tea to drink at their strawberry moon festivals in spring. For that reason it was called strawberry moon tea.

Up ahead a big red maple had fallen across the trail and its top had caught on the opposite rim of the canyon. There are many people who ride and walk along this trail and I hoped there wasn’t anyone near it when it fell. Once again I was dismayed to notice that, same as the stone had, the tree’s butt end fell right into the drainage ditch.

The maple had broken off about 6 feet up its trunk, probably in a good wind. Bark was missing and that’s a good sign that it had died some time before.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grow here by the hundreds but I was surprised to see them because I’ve never noticed them before. I’m guessing that I’ve never come here when many of the plants I saw on this day were blooming. With such a huge variety of plants all growing together it’s a simple thing to miss a leaf or two, even when walking at a toddler’s pace. Before long many of the plants here, like tall meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum,) will be shoulder high.

What I think are marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) grow here by the thousands and I was glad that I got here when they were blooming because it was quite a sight. The 5 petaled flowers stand above the leaves on tallish (6-7”) stems and can be violet, dark blue and sometimes white, They are said to be darker at their center, as these were. Many Native American tribes used violets medicinally for everything from stomach pain to swollen joints. A blue dye was also made from the plants, used to dye arrow shafts blue.

When I look up at the rim of this manmade canyon I don’t think about falling stones or trees; I think about how lucky I am to have found a place so beautiful, where nearly every surface is covered with plants of all kinds. I think of the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote about in Lost Horizon, and imagine that I’ve found it. As a boy I dreamed of being a plant hunter in distant jungles, and this is the closest I’ve ever been able to come. I’ve found many plants here that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll of the algae called Trentepohlia aurea. It is one of the things I found here that I can’t see anywhere else and is one of the reasons I put on my rubber boots and walk in the drainage ditches. Up close it is surprisingly hairy. I keep hoping I’ll see it producing spores but I haven’t yet.

Another plant I’ve never seen anywhere else is the eastern swamp saxifrage (Saxifraga pensylvanica.) In fact this day was the only time I’ve ever seen it, and I think the only reason I saw it at all was because it happened to be flowering. The thick, three foot tall flower stalk is covered in sticky hairs and terminates in several flower clusters. The flowers aren’t really anything to write home about; they’re small and greenish with petals that can be green, white or yellow, and rarely purple.  One plant has a single flower stem and both black bears and deer love to eat it. I know there are deer here so I was lucky to see it.

The big leaves of swamp saxifrage are in a basal rosette, each about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide, widest at or above the middle, with a blunt or sharp point at the tip, tapering at the base, on a short reddish stalk. The leaves and flower stalk are edible and the Native American Cherokee tribe ate the young leaves as salad greens. They also used the plant’s roots in a poultice to treat muscle soreness.

Another plant that grows here that I’ve never seen anywhere else is wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris.) At least I think it is wild chervil; so many plants in the carrot family look alike. Some call it Queen Anne’s lace on steroids but its fern like leaves don’t look anything like queen Anne’s lace leaves to me. This plant is thought to have been introduced to North America from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in many places. Oddly, some of those places are very cold, like Alaska, Iceland and Greenland. It makes sense that it would like this place then, because it gets very cold in winter and has ice columns that grow to unbelievable proportions.  Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been reported to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties against human cancer cells. It is an entirely different species than cultivated chervil, which is an herb used for flavoring soups.

Mosses of every description grow to cover huge areas of the vertical walls because of all the water available. It makes the place seem even more like a lush, verdant paradise.

A little violet grew alone on a ledge where it would be constantly watered by the splashing water. I never knew that violets liked so much water, but I guess names like marsh violet should have been a clue. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water this year.

A dandelion also grew on a ledge near splashing water. I wondered how this plant, which has a long tap root, could grow on a stone that was covered by maybe a half inch of soil.

The beautiful great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. I was surprised last winter to see that many of the plants had turned gray and appeared to be dying. On this day when I walked in the drainage ditch to get close enough for photos I noticed an odor rising from the water with each step, as if it were stagnant, and now I wonder if something in the water is killing them off. Even those that show new growth appear much smaller than in previous visits.

This is the only place I’ve ever seen this beautiful plant so I hope I’m wrong about what I’m seeing. Without knowing much about them it’s hard to say. What I’m seeing could be a natural phase of their life cycle. At least that’s what I’m hoping. I’d hate to see them disappear because they are one of the things that make this place so very special. Their amazing scent is where their common name comes from; if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle.

The photos of the liverworts were taken quickly, rushed because in the back of my mind there were thoughts of things falling from the cliff wall I was standing under at the time. I later stood at what is left of the old lineman’s shack thinking about that but knowing that though there may be danger here, I’d be coming back. For me this is a place of wonder and bliss, a place like no other I know, and I can’t just abandon it because of something that could happen someday.  What I can do though, is stay out of the drainage ditches. That I probably will do, but we’ll see.

Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing. ~Denis Waitley

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »