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Posts Tagged ‘False Hellebore’

Forsythias are blooming on nearly every street in town now, and it’s like they’re shouting that spring is finally here.

Magnolias are also blooming and so far they aren’t looking frost bitten. This one was intensely fragrant.

I saw some glory of the snow (Chionodoxa forbesii,) which is a plant that hasn’t ever appeared on this blog because I don’t see it. These were a surprise and blossomed in a couple of different colors. They remind me of scilla but the flowers are twice the size. I’ve read that they come from south-west Turkey. Though they are said to be one of the earliest blooming spring bulbs I’ve seen quite a few others that are earlier.

There are lots of tulips blooming now. This one was one of my favorites because of the color.

I also love the color of this hyacinth. I’ve seen this flower in only one spot and it’s the only one I’ve ever seen with such loosely spaced flowers along the stem. I’m beginning to wonder if it even is a hyacinth.

Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are finally blooming. Cornelian cherry is in the dogwood family. Its common name comes from its small tart, cherry red fruit which man has eaten for thousands of years, especially in Mediterranean regions. It is one of our earliest blooming shrubs, but the buds can open slowly as they did this year. I think from the time the bud scales opened to reveal the yellow buds until bloom time was almost a month this year. They teach patience to someone who can’t wait for spring.

Common blue violets (Viola sororia) have just appeared, much to the displeasure of many a gardener, I’m sure. Though pretty, these little plants can over take a garden in no time at all if left to their own devices. Violets are known for their prolific seed production. They have petal-less flowers called cleistogamous flowers which fling their seeds out of the 3 part seed capsules with force. They do this in summer when we think they aren’t blooming. Personally I tired of fighting them a long time ago and now I just enjoy them. They’re very pretty little things and their leaves and flowers are even edible. Though called “blue” they’re usually a shade of purple but since I’m colorblind blue works for me.

A clump of sedge doesn’t look like much until you look closely. I think most people see it as just another weed that looks like coarse grass, but it can be beautiful when it flowers.

Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) usually blooms when trout lilies bloom but this single clump was early this year. It must have just bloomed too, because all I saw were the male flowers shown here. The female flowers look like tiny, wispy white feathers and they appear lower down on the stem, beneath the male flowers. What is odd about this plant is that the female flowers usually appear before the cream colored male flowers. That’s to ensure that they will receive pollen from a different plant and be cross pollinated. 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 beautiful little flower that is well worth a second look.

This is the first trillium I’ve seen this year. It had no flower bud yet and it’s leaves were just unfurling, but I was happy to see it. It is a purple trillium (Trillium erectum,) which are also called red trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent. “Benjamin,” according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word benjoin, which was an ingredient in perfume that came from a plant in Sumatra. I’m not sure I’d call this scent a perfume.

False hellebore (Veratrum viride) shoots always look like rocket ships to me when they first come up.

Unfortunately false hellebore is also one of the most toxic plants to grow in a New England forest and people have died from eating it after mistaking it for something else. Even animals won’t eat them, but certain insects or slugs will, and usually by July the plant’s leaves look shot full of holes. They do have small green flowers later in summer but I think the deeply pleated oval leaves are also quite pretty when they first come up in spring.

Ornamental cherry trees are blooming and I’ve seen both white flowers and the nice pink ones seen here. These trees often blossom far too early and end up getting frost bitten. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this year. Our native cherries will be along in May.

When I was looking at some box elder trees I looked down and found dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) blooming all around me, which was a surprise since I’ve been visiting the trees for years and have never seen dead nettle there before. This plant is originally from Europe and Asia but has made itself right at home here. The leaves on the upper part of the stem usually have a purplish cast and the small purple flowers grow in a cluster around them. It’s a pretty, orchid like flower but so small that I can barely see it without a macro lens.

I went to the spot where bloodroot grows just to see if had come up yet. Since it was a rainy day I didn’t expect to see any flowers so I was surprised to find them blooming and very wet. Anyone who knows bloodroot knows that the flowers fold up at the slightest hint of clouds so to find them blooming in the rain was a first for me. Like other spring ephemeral flowers bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) isn’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. I think it’s blooming about two weeks early this year.

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. This shot is of the flowers just as they appeared.

This view is of the female flowers fully opened. They’re very pretty things that many people miss seeing. Several Native American tribes made sugar from box elder sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from long filaments. Each reddish male flower has tan pollen-bearing stamens that are so small I can’t see them. The pollen is carried by the wind to female trees. Once they shed their pollen the male flowers dry up and drop from the tree. It’s common to see the ground covered with them under male trees.

Female silver maple flowers (Acer saccharinum) have started turning into seeds, which are called samaras and are the tiny fuzzy white bits seen here. They’re very pretty little things but I doubt many people ever even notice them.

Red maple samaras (Acer rubrum) look quite different but silver and red maples will bloom at the same time and the flowers look a lot alike until they reach this stage. I hope everyone will have a chance to see these beautiful little bits of nature.

A heavy rain finished the season for this willow’s male flowers, by the looks. If the pollen was washed away before it could ride the wind to the female blossoms future generations might suffer.

The trees are quickly leafing out already and that means less sunshine each day for spring ephemeral flowers like spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) They’re with us just a very short time so I hope you won’t get tired of seeing them. I visit them every other day or so because I love seeing them, and I take a lot of photos. I’ve read that these flowers are an important early spring source of nectar for pollinating insects, mostly small native bees and some flies and I’ve noticed lots of insects flying around them.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

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Flowers aren’t the only beautiful things to appear in spring. Fern fiddleheads can also be beautiful as this lady fern fiddlehead (Athyrium filix-femina) shows. Lady fern is the only ferns I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers.

I came very close to stepping on this small garter snake because I didn’t see it until the last moment, but it didn’t move. In fact it let me take a few photos and walk away and when I went back later it was still there soaking up the sun. It’s a good thing my grandmother wasn’t with me because she would have been up the nearest tree, so great was her fear of snakes. She knew garter snakes weren’t poisonous, but she was still afraid of them.

Garter snakes might not be poisonous but false hellebore (Veratrum viride) certainly is. In fact it’s one of the most toxic plants to grow in a New England forest and people have died from eating it after mistaking it for something else. Even animals won’t eat them, but certain insects or slugs will, and usually by July the plant’s leaves look shot full of holes. I think the deeply pleated oval leaves are quite pretty when they first come up in spring.

It’s hard to believe that a plant with flowers that look as delicate as those on heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) can make it through a winter but these plants are evergreen and because of that are photosynthesizing far ahead of their competition. Their pretty 4 inch tall racemes of small white flowers will appear in mid-May. Sometimes these leaves are mottled with purple or have dark purple veins. Some Native American tribes used the mashed roots of foamflower in a poultice on wounds and used an infusion of the dried leaves to relieve sore eyes.

Japanese knotweed can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb, so maybe we could defeat it by eating it.

Speaking of rhubarb, it has just come up. This one was just unfolding a new leaf and had a tomato red bud just waiting. Rhubarb is a native of China, and though its leaves are poisonous it was used medicinally there for centuries.

Though these plants looked like ferns I’m not sure if they are. If they are they’re the earliest to leaf out that I’ve seen.

Beaver brook wasn’t showing any signs of new leaves on the trees that arch out over it but I don’t think it’s going to be long before they appear. We saw 90+ degree temperatures this week.

While at beaver Brook I visited the plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) to see if its flower buds had opened. They were open but only the cream colored male stamens were showing. This is odd because female sedge flowers usually appear first.  In any case I’m sure it knows what it’s doing better than I and I would bet that by now the female flowers are out and waiting to be pollinated.

How I wish you could have heard all the spring peepers chirping and trilling away in this beaver swamp. It’s a sound that many of us here in New England long to hear once March and April come along.  For those not familiar with them, spring peepers are small frogs with a loud voice and sometimes a pond full of them can be almost deafening on a warm spring evening. They are brown with a darker X shape on their backs and large toe pads for climbing. The “peep” is a mating call that comes from the male, which of course is trying to attract a female.

I went to the beaver pond looking for the bloodroot flowers that grow there but they hadn’t come up yet. Instead I saw some of what I think were Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica) flowers. It’s too bad that many people never see these tiny blooms. They stand about 4 inches tall and grow from a clump of what looks like coarse grass, but what is actually a sedge. Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like female pistillate flowers. The female flowers usually open first so they can receive pollen from another plant and avoid self-fertilization. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. Though it looks much like the plantain leaved sedge flowers we saw earlier these flowers and plants are much smaller.

What look like giant pussy willow catkins are actually the catkins of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides.) Quaking aspen is the only poplar tree with catkins like these that doesn’t also have sticky bud scales. If the shiny brown bud scales were sticky it would be a balsam poplar(Poplar balsamifera.) These long catkins fall from the trees and get stuck in other tree’s branches and in shrubs. They can make quite a mess for a short time.

Though these tiny stigmas looks like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) they are actually the flowers of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta,) which grows in areas north and east of Keene. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clamshell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth like the one shown.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) is an extremely toxic plant but I love the movement that its new spring shoots have. Every time I see them I think how nice it would be to sit beside them and draw them, but I never seem to find the time. Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots of this plant and used it medicinally to treat pain and other ailments, but no part of it should ever be ingested. In late summer it will have bright white berries with a single black dot that give the plant its common name of doll’s eyes.

When you see white fur like that in this photo appear on female silver maple buds, this means the seeds (samaras) are just about to appear. For just a very short time they’re deep red with a furry white fringe, and they’re beautiful enough to watch each day so you don’t miss them. I hope to have a chance to catch them in all their glory this year.

The stamens of male box elder flowers (Acer negundo) hang down from the buds on long filaments and sway in the breeze. Box elder is in the maple family but its wood is soft when compared to other maples. Several Native American tribes made syrup from its sap and the earliest example of  a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Once the leaves start to show on a box elder it’s time for the lime green female flowers to appear.

Here’s a closer look at the female box elder pistils just starting to show. They’re very pretty things but they don’t last long. Soon the seeds will form and there will be no need of flowers.

The flower buds of the American white ash (Fraxinus americana) appear before the leaves and can be colorful sometimes and at other times be as black as blackberries. The Native American Wabanaki tribe made baskets from ash splints and some tribes believed the wood was poisonous to rattlesnakes, and used canes made of ash to chase them away.

The beautiful pink and orange buds of striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) have appeared but I was a little late in seeing them because many had already opened so the leaves could unfurl. Their opening signals that it’s time to now watch beech buds, which should open at any time. Beech bud break is another very beautiful forest treat that many people miss seeing.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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In my last post I spoke about climbing Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. I took a short detour on the way home that day to see Bailey Brook Falls in Nelson. The brook wasn’t running quite as high as I expected considering the regular rain and all the snowmelt we’ve seen lately. The state says we’re still in a moderate drought because the underground aquifers have been depleted, so hopefully we’ll see our average rainfall this summer. That would help a lot.

This is my favorite view of the falls. Interesting how the brook is always split in two here.

A pileated woodpecker had carved a deep hole out of this white pine (Pinus strobus.) There’s nothing remarkable about that; I see holes like this all the time. It’s what happened afterwards that is worth noting.

The pine tree’s sap had turned a beautiful blue, deeper in color than most I see. I see more blue pine sap in winter than at other times of year so I’ve always assumed that it was the cold that turned it blue, like it does to some lichens, but now that I’m noticing it in warmer weather as well I’m just not sure. Does the cold turn it blue in winter and then it stays that way from then on? I’ve spent many hours searching for the answer and can’t find a single reference to blue pine sap, so I can’t answer the question.

Ninety five percent of the white pine sap I see looks like this; kind of a cloudy tan color, and that’s why blue pine sap is so startling and unusual. Pine sap (resin) has been used by Native American tribes for thousands of years to waterproof just about anything that needed it; baskets, pails, and especially canoes. The Chippewa tribe also used pine sap to treat infections and wounds. The treatment was usually successful because pine sap seems to contain several antimicrobials.

I also saw some resin on a black cherry tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. It was clear and amber colored and very different than pine resin. This is the kind of resin that insects got trapped in millions of years ago and which are found occasionally today, preserved forever just as they were when they became stuck in the sticky sap. There were quite large globs of it here and there on this tree and I wish I had taken one to add to my collection of outdoor oddities.

Because of colorblindness I don’t usually try bird identification but I think I’m safe saying that this is a European starling. European starlings were first introduce into New York In the 1890s. Those original 100 birds have now become  over 200 million, and they can be found from Alaska to Mexico. I saw three birds working this lawn for insects; not exactly a flock. The name starling comes from their resemblance to a four pointed star when they fly.

I’ve read that a starling’s spots are more easily seen in winter and all but disappear in summer, but they were very noticeable on all 3 of these birds. They’re a pretty bird but I understand that a lot of people here in the U.S. don’t like them.

Milk white toothed polypore is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of branches the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it.

The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.”

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is one of our earliest to show in spring but this year it was even earlier than I thought so it got ahead of me. These fiddleheads were already about 6 inches tall. This fern doesn’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. It likes wet or very moist ground along rivers and streams.

I found a beard lichen (Usnea) still attached to a cut log and it turned out to be the longest one I’ve seen. They’re very common on pines and hemlocks in our area. They attach themselves to the bark but take nothing from the tree, much like a bird perching. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” and I can’t think of a better plant to demonstrate it than rhubarb.

There is a very short time when skunk cabbage leaves (Symplocarpus foetidus) actually look like cabbage leaves. I’m guessing that with skunk in their name they don’t taste anything like cabbage though, and I hope I’m never hungry enough to be tempted by them. I’ve heard that bears will eat them when they can’t find anything else.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and in many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This photo from a few years ago shows what the complete ramp looks like. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it has happened.

I think these buds were on a white ash (Fraxinus americana), but it could also be a green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Both are commonly planted along streets and in parking lots and I saw this tree in a store parking lot. One thing that helps identify ash trees are the shape of the leaf scars that appear just below the buds, and I didn’t look at it closely. On the white ash these scars are “C” shaped and on green ash they look like a “D.” White ash leaf scars are also much larger than those on green ash. Ash bears male and female flowers on separate trees.

The beautiful fruits (samaras) of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) start out their lives deep red with a white furry coat. When you see them beginning to form you have to check them frequently to catch them in this stage because it happens quickly and ends just as quickly. The mature seeds are the largest of any native maple and are a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk. Silver maples get their common name from the downy surface of the leaf underside, which flashes silver in the slightest breeze.

The pinkish leaf buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are growing quickly now. They often show hints of orange and are quite beautiful at this stage; in my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year. Branches full of them stop me in in my tracks. There is so much beauty out there; I hope all of you are seeing as much of it as you are able to.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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There are spring haters out there. I know there are because I’ve talked to some of them. They complain of dirty snowbanks, brown grass, bare trees, wind and cold, and just the blah-ness of it all. No color, they say. Well, this post is designed to show them how wrong they are. Spring shouldn’t be about seeing tulips and daffodils out of the car window as you drive past. It should be about walking slowly, looking closely, and marveling at what is in my opinion the most beautiful season of all. It should be about seeing the incredible beauty of nature, and witnessing the miracles that happen each and every day. It’s hard to deny the beauty of red maple blossoms (Acer rubrum) for instance, as we see in this photo. Though this shot is from last year they have started blooming now. The blooming period doesn’t last long, so now is the time to look for them. You won’t have to look hard though, because these trees are everywhere.

Silver maple flowers (Acer saccharinum) look a lot like those of red maples, but the fruits (samaras) of silver maple are far more beautiful, in my opinion. You can find these in mid-May here and no, you don’t need to be able to tell a silver maple from a red maple; all you need to do is look closely, regularly.  These samaras look like this for only a day or two.

American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americana) have also just started to bloom. These beautiful, rarely seen things are very small, so if your eyes are as old as mine you might want to carry a loupe or macro lens. Or, there are also free magnifying glass apps that you can get for a cell phone. I have one and it works well. I took this photo at just about this time last year. Hazelnut shrubs grow along rail trails, roadways, and in waste places.

Other tiny flowers are those of the speckled alder (Alnus incana.) The cylindrical flower clusters are long and thin and often appear in groups at the ends of branches. They are called catkins or aments. Each flower cluster has many crimson, thread-like female stigmas just poking out. Don’t be afraid to grab a branch of a tree or shrub and pull it toward you so you can see better; you won’t hurt the plant at all. This photo was taken on March 26th of last year and I’ve already seen hints of them this year, so the time to look is now in this area. Alders get little hard black cones called strobiles on their branch ends and usually grow near water.

If you can’t find anything to marvel at on shrubs or trees check the stones. They’re often covered with lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) shown here. Unless the stones are covered with snow there are always lichens to see and they can be very beautiful.

If there aren’t any stones look in the bushes. You might be astonished by what you find. These robin eggs hatched in May two years ago.

The leaves of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) look like tiny fingers as they pull themselves away from their protective covering of the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub; this photo was taken in mid-April of 20105. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers, followed by bright red berries. One of life’s simple pleasures is watching buds like these open and it costs nothing but a few minutes of time each day.

On every stone, on every branch and in every puddle, the beauty of spring can be found. Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid-May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them in this photo from May 17th of 2014. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

Leaves can also be beautiful, as this photo of the deeply pleated leaves of false hellebores (Veratrum viride) from mid-May of 2015 shows. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants we have here, so you’re probably better off just admiring rather than touching this one. They like low, moist areas along streams and rivers.

The point of all this is to learn to see rather than to simply look. There is a difference; one day I met two college age girls on a woodland trail. They complained that they hadn’t seen a single wildflower, though the area was known for them. When I walked the same trail I saw flowers everywhere. They were small yes, but they were there. So how can this be? I’m guessing that they probably walked too fast and thought more about the end of the trail than what they might see along it. A toddler’s pace and a willingness to look a little closer would have let them see beautiful things that they probably hadn’t even imagined were there. Beautiful little Pennsylvania sedge flowers like those shown here are barely 4 inches tall, so you have to look the ground over carefully for them. They’ll appear along woodland edges and roadsides in mid-April, coming up out of what look like little tufts of course grass.

Orangey pink striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) are a good example of why, when a bud or flower catches your eye in the spring, you should watch it every day because changes come quickly. In a day or two your beautifully colored bud might have become leaves. The tree or shrub you happen to be looking at wants food, and food means leaves that can photosynthesize. There is no benefit to keeping its leaves tightly wrapped in the bud unless it is to protect the tender new growth from cold. If it is warm they’ll open quickly.

Box elder (Acer negundo) is in the maple family but it’s a “soft maple” and in this area is considered a weed tree because of how they come up everywhere. A box elder was the first tree I ever planted when I was a boy though, so they’re special to me. I think they’re at their most beautiful in April when they flower. The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers seen in this photo appear along with the tree’s leaves, just a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike a lot of other maples. The earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Fern fiddleheads just out of the ground are some of the most beautiful things to see in spring. One of my favorites is the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina.) Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams.

If you’re in a moist, loamy area looking for lady ferns you might as well look for some horsetails too. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by an infertile stem. I find these at around the end of April.

I know what the big buds of shagbark hickory look like when they open but even so, they’re so beautiful they always stop me in my tracks and make me stand there with my mouth hanging open. They are easily one of the most beautiful things in the spring forest and I start watching for them in mid-May. I usually find them growing near water; along river banks or near lakes and ponds.

So why  should you bother looking for all this stuff in spring? Well, why should you bother going to an art gallery, or listen to music, or read a book? We do these things to enrich our lives, to help renew and rejuvenate our minds and spirits; to make ourselves more comfortable with the unknown; more at peace, and more creative. Nature will do all of this for us and more. Nature, from my own experience, is very healing. If you face a rough spot in life try just walking alone on a favorite woodland path each day. In no time at all your problems will seem to have been solved with very little effort. I would never tell you this if it wasn’t true; it has happened in my own life again and again. I think it’s because nature study makes us meditate quite naturally, so we don’t even realize we’re doing so. It’s hard to worry and fret when something captivates your attention so just look at all that’s happening in the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) shoot above. Just up out of the soil and it’s already amazing. When I see it I want to draw it, and I think I could sit and look at it all day.

A large part of why I spend every free minute in nature is because of the incredible beauty I see. It’s amazing to think that so much beauty has been in plain sight all along. For a large part of my life I never took the time to see it and I hope you won’t make the same mistake. Everyone knows where there is a beech tree. Just start watching the branch tips around the first week in May. You’ll see the long, pointed buds begin to curl quite severely and then a day or so later miracles will happen; it will look like a host of angles has swooped down and shed their downy wings. Even the gloomiest among us will feel their pulse quicken and magically, a smile will appear on their face. If they spend time with nature it will be there for a while, so they’d better get used to it.

So here we are at the end of this post and until now we haven’t seen a flower with petals on it, so if you’re one of those people who think the beauty of spring means tulips and daffodils I hope I’ve changed your mind. But, if it is still flowers you want try a woodland walk in mid-April. If you’re lucky you might just find some spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) like those in this photo. All of what you’ve seen here and so very much more is just starting to happen, so I hope very much that you’ll get out there and see it for yourself.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

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1. Rhubarb

I saw a great example of bud break in this rhubarb plant. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” but there is often far more to it than that. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more crinkly leaf.

2. Gritty British Soldier Lichen

At first I thought these were British soldier lichens but something about them didn’t seem quite right. They seemed almost gritty, and that’s because they’re gritty British soldiers (Cladonia floerkeanna.) They like to grow on well-rotted wood or soil and I found this example on very old wood. The stems are covered with granules and squamules, which are lobed, scale like growths on the body of a lichen.

3. Birds Nest Fungus

Fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) grew in the mulch at a local park. The tiny funnel shaped nests are the spore producing fruiting bodies of this fungus and are called peridia. Their shape makes them splash cups and when a raindrop falls into one it splashes out the eggs (peridioles), which contain the spores. Unfortunately the eggs had already been splashed out of these examples, but I’m hoping they might produce another crop.

4. Birds Nest Fungus

This view of the bird’s nest fungus shows the funnel shape and inside flutes. The flutes on the inside and brown hairs on the outside are identifying features. Each one is about .39 inches (1 cm) tall. They are very hard to spot since they are so small and essentially the same color as the wood that they grow on, and this is only the second time that I’ve ever seen them. They felt quite tough and almost woody.

5. Great Blue Heron

Even though I was sitting in my truck taking photos through the windshield this great blue heron was determined to keep as many cattails between us as he could. Then just for a few seconds he stepped out into the open to catch a spring peeper and was caught in the above photo. The small pond is full of spring peepers and he was doing his best to clean it up. He caught a few while I watched but I couldn’t catch the action with the camera. The pond also has some big snapping turtles in it but I don’t know if they’d bother a bird this big.

6. Canada Geese

Along the Ashuelot river the Canada geese came as close to shore as I’ve ever seen. Normally they stay well out in the middle but on this day for some reason they had no fear. They were also very quiet and didn’t honk once the entire time I was there, which is also unusual. They’re usually quite loud.

7. Canada Goose

This one kept a wary eye on me as if wondering just what I was up to. Or it could have been that he was hoping for a few crumbs of bread, but I didn’t have any.

8. Striped Maple

The buds of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) have just started to break. These are among the most beautiful buds in the forest, covered in soft down which is sometimes orange and sometimes pink, and often both together. They are worth looking for, and now is the time. Soon two other beautiful leaf bids will open; beech and shagbark hickory. Those are events I never miss.

9. Woodpecker Tree

I’m guessing that this tree is a woodpecker’s equivalent to the corner convenience store. I’ve never seen a tree so full of holes, and they went all the way up the trunk. It must be full of insects.

10. Colonial Coin

You might think I’m straying far from the forest when you see this coin but since it was found in the forest I’m really not straying far. I show it here for the history buffs out there and because it’s a very important coin; the first official copper one cent piece ever minted in the Colonial United States. It was designed by Benjamin Franklin and is called the Fugio cent because of its image of the sun shining down on a sundial in the center with the word “Fugio” on the left. Fugio is Latin for “I flee / fly,” which when shown with the sundial reminds the bearer that time flies. On the right is the date 1787 and at the bottom are the words “Mind Your Business.” A coworker found it near an old cellar hole in the woods. To hold something over 200 years old that Benjamin Franklin had a hand in was a rare treat.

11. Colonial Coin Reverse

The reverse side of the coin has the words “We Are One” in the center, surrounded by the words “United States.” A chain with 13 links symbolizes the 13 original states. I wonder how much it must have hurt to lose this coin in 1787. At about the diameter of a Kennedy half dollar (1.2 inches) it is large for a cent.

12. Ramps

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

13. Ramp Bulbs

This is what the complete ramp looks like. I foolishly pulled these two plants three years ago before I knew they were being threatened. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

14. False Hellebore

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m really surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it does happen.

15. Willow

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a willow more colorful than this one was. A kind of orange red, I think.

16. Robin

This robin watched me watch him. He was only about two feet away and just sat quietly while I took his photo. I said thank you and told him that his photo would be seen all around the world. He didn’t seem at all impressed and went back to seeing what he could find to eat.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man. ~Luther Burbank

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1. Red Maple Flowering

Before our recent 5 inch snowstorm and two nights of record breaking cold I thought I’d try again to get a decent photo of a red maple (Acer rubrum) in flower. The above is my latest attempt. If you can imagine the scene repeated thousands of times side by side you have an idea what our hillsides and roadsides look like now. It appears as a red haze in the distance.

2. Red Maple Flowers

The female red maple flowers are about as big as they’ll get and if pollinated will now turn into winged seed pods called samaras. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

3. Red Elderberry Bud

The leaves of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) look like fingers as they pull themselves from the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers soon, and they’ll be followed by bright red berries. The berries are said to be edible if correctly cooked but since the rest of the plant is toxic I think I’ll pass.

4. Daffodil

Last spring the first daffodil blossom didn’t appear on this blog until April 18th. This year they are over a month earlier, but the snow and colder temperatures have fooled them. Plants don’t get fooled often but it does happen.

5. Pennsylvania Sedge

I was surprised to see Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) in full bloom because when I went by here a week ago there wasn’t a single sign of flowers. This sedge doesn’t mind shade and will grow in the forest as long as it doesn’t get too wet. It likes sandy soil that dries quickly.

6. Pennsylvania Sedge

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 beautiful little plant that is well worth a second look.

7. Female Hazel Flower

Our American hazelnut (Corylus americana) shrubs are still blossoming as the above photo of the female blooms show. They are among the smallest flowers I know of, but getting a photo so you can see them up close is usually worth the effort.

8. Hyaxinths

The local college planted a bed of hyacinths. I love their fragrance.

9. False Hellebore

I like to see the deeply pleated leaves of false hellebore (Veratrum viride) in the spring. This is another plant that seemed to appear overnight; last week there was no sign of them here. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants known, and people have died from eating it by mistaking it for something else. It’s usually the roots that cause poisoning when they are confused with ramps or other plant roots.

10. Skunk Cabbage Leaf

There is a very short time when the first leaf of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) really does look like cabbage but you wouldn’t want it with your corned beef. It comes by its common name honestly because it does have a skunk like odor. Whether or not it tastes like it smells is anyone’s guess; I don’t know anyone who has ever eaten it. I’ve read that eating the leaves can cause burning and inflammation, and that the roots should be considered toxic. One Native American tribe inhaled the odor of the crushed leaves to cure headache or toothache, but I wonder if the sharp odor didn’t simply take their minds off the pain.

11. Trout Lily Leaf

I was happy to see trout lily leaves. Surely the yellow bronze buds and the spring beauties can’t be far behind. I learned by trying to get a sharp photo of this leaf that it couldn’t be done, on this day by my camera anyhow. Though everything else in the shot is in focus the leaf is blurred and it stayed blurred in close to twenty shots. I wonder if it isn’t the camouflage like coloration that caused it. I’ve never noticed before if they did this or not and I’d be interested in hearing if anyone else had seen it happen.

12. Forsythia

On the day of our recent snowstorm forsythia was blooming well, but on the day after not a blossom could be seen. Luckily most of the shrubs hadn’t bloomed yet, but I don’t know if the cold nights hurt the buds or not.  I’ll check them today.

13. Forsythia

Forsythia is over used and common but it’s hard to argue that they aren’t beautiful, and seeing a large display of them all blooming at once can be breath taking.

14. Box Elder Flowers

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) often appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. In the examples shown here they were just starting to poke out of the buds. They’re beautiful when fully open and I hope to see some this weekend. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

15. Lilac Bud 3

Lilac leaf buds are opening but I haven’t seen any colorful flower buds yet.

16. Beech Bud

In the spring as the sun gets brighter and the days grow longer light sensitive tree buds can tell when there is enough daylight for the leaves to begin photosynthesizing, so the buds begin to break. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud” and this can be a very beautiful thing. American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud. Last year beech bud break didn’t start until May, so I think the example in this photo is a fluke. Others I saw had not curled yet.

17. Hobblebush Leaf Bud

The buds of our native viburnum that we call hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) has naked buds, meaning that there are no bud scales encasing the leaf and flower buds to protect them. Instead this shrub uses dense hairs. As the weather warms the leaf buds grow longer and the flower buds swell, and the above photo shows a growing and expanding leaf bud.

18. Magnolia

I love the color of the flower buds on this magnolia. It grows at the local college and I don’t know its name. As magnolias go it’s a small tree.

19. Striped Squill

One of the spring flowering bulbs I most look forward to seeing each year is striped squill. The simple blue stripe down the middle of each white petal makes them exceedingly beautiful, in my opinion. The bulbs are hard to find but they are out there. If you’d like some just Google Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica and I’m sure that you’ll find a nursery or two that carries them. They 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. The example pictured here grows in a local park and they were blooming a full month earlier than last year. I’ll have to go see what the cold did to them, if anything.

20. Snow on Seed Head

I’ve heard that Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and virtually all of New England are having the same on again / off again spring with snow and cold, so we all just wait confident that it will happen eventually. In 1816 there was a “year without a summer” when snow fell in June and cold killed crops in July, but that was an anomaly caused by volcanic activity that will surely not happen again. At least we hope not.

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

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1. Sign

I have helpers that readers of this blog don’t ever hear from and who I don’t thank enough. They send me corrections when I’ve misidentified plants, reveal the names of plants that I don’t know, and pass along tips about places that might be worth a visit. One of the places mentioned recently was Dickinson Memorial Forest in Swanzey, which was once owned by a prominent local family. Since I’d heard of it but had never been I decided to visit.

2. Gate Posts

When you’ve reached this point you have a choice to make; you can turn right and follow the trail into the forest or you can follow this old road into Muster Field, so named because volunteer firemen used to muster and train here. I followed both but my first choice was through these old gate posts.

3. Road

I chose the old road because it follows the Ashuelot River which is off to the right, and because this is just the kind of place that I spent large parts of my boyhood exploring. Before I left this place my spirits had soared and I was feeling like a kid again and smiling from ear to ear. I’ve returned several times since because for me being out here is like walking into a time machine.

4. Striped Wintergreen

Old friends like striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) told me that this land has been this way without being disturbed for a very long time. I’ve read that this plant won’t grow on land that has been disturbed within the last century. It grows either in the woods or just at their edges; places where the plow wouldn’t have gone. I rarely see it and I think this is only the third or fourth place that I’ve found it. It’s very happy here and is going to bloom soon.

5. Shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, grew in a large colony here. This plant’s common name comes from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. It contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. The nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and very hard to get a good photo of.

6. River Bank

The river is doing what rivers do, which is eat away at their banks. Large sections of the silty embankment in this area have fallen into the river several times recently by the looks. In one spot it has fallen away right to the edge of the road. I drove out here one day not realizing just how close to the road the undercut embankment was, and I’m very lucky that my truck and I didn’t end up in the Ashuelot. Since then I haven’t driven past the gate posts in the second photo, but someone really should put signs warning people not to drive out here.

7. Canada Liliy

The reason I drove out here that day was because I was short on time and I wanted to see if the Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) that I saw on a previous visit were blooming. They weren’t then but they eventually did. I think that these plants succeed so well because they get tall enough to rise up above the surrounding vegetation to where the sunshine is. They soar to 7 feet tall sometimes and remind me of chandeliers at this stage.

In 1857 Henry David Thoreau was told by a Native American guide how the bulbs of this plant were cooked with meat in soups and stews to thicken them, much like flour does. Henry dug some and ate them raw, finding that they tasted somewhat like “raw green corn on the ear.” I’ve always been told that lilies were toxic when eaten so I’d say Henry was a lucky man. Cooking must remove the toxicity, which would explain how natives ate them regularly.

8. Canada Liliy

It’s nearly impossible to confuse the beautiful flowers of Canada lily with any other. Its large size, spotted throat, large red anthers and bright yellow petals and sepals make it unique among wildflowers in this area. We do have another native lily called the wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum,) but its blossoms are orange and point to the sky rather than nod like these do.

9. Canada Geese

A family of Canada geese relaxed on the far bank of the Ashuelot. This photo shows how low the water level is.

10. Turtle

A turtle was out for a stroll on the old road. She didn’t say where she was going but I’m assuming that she was looking for a suitable place to lay her eggs. She must have had quite a struggle to get up here from the river.

11. Spangled Fritillary

A spangled fritillary hid in the tall grass at the edge of the road. They and many other large butterflies love Canada lilies and like me were probably waiting impatiently for them to blossom.

12. Fallen Tree

In the Dickinson forest a dead tree had fallen across the trail and was hung up on some hemlock branches. This is a dangerous situation and I hope whoever maintains these trails will remove it. It wouldn’t take much of a breeze to blow it down and I hope there isn’t someone under it when it falls.

13. Bridge

A boardwalk and footbridge crossed a seasonal stream, which just a muddy ditch at this time of year.

14. Deer Print

I didn’t see any deer but I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw me. This hoof print looked very fresh.

15. Whorled Loosestrife

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) grew all along the river. This pretty little flower has quite a long blooming season and it and its cousin the swamp candle (Lysimachia terrestris) can be seen in moist areas throughout the hottest months. Its common name comes from the way its flowers and leaves grow in a whorl about the stem. Native Americans brewed a medicinal tea from the stem and leaves of whorled loosestrife to alleviate kidney ailments.

The plant also played an important part in the American Revolution. According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffee “With the Revolution came the refusal to drink the tea of commerce and our four leaved loosestrife, being dried and steeped, was used in its stead.” And that’s why another common name for the plant is “liberty tea.

16. False Hellebore

The biggest surprise here was finding false hellebore. It grew quite a distance from the river, which I thought was odd because it usually grows as close to water as it can. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in our forests. Eating just a small amount can be lethal and people have even gotten sick from drinking water that it grew in.

17. False Hellebore

Even more surprising than finding the false hellebore was finding that it was flowering. That told me that these plants had grown here undisturbed for quite a while. Only mature plants will blossom and can take 10 years or more to do so. The bright yellow anthers were missing so I knew these flowers had nearly gone by. I never realized that the flower’s green petals and sepals are as pleated as the leaves are. There are pairs of nectar glands at their bases and ants visit the flowers to feed on their sweet treats.

18. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots lined the river bank. There were thousands of them, far more than I’ve ever seen in one spot. Forget me nots or no, I won’t forget this place. In fact I’m having a hard time staying away.

A ditch somewhere – or a creek, meadow, woodlot or marsh…. These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.… Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches and the field, the woods, the ravines – can teach us to care enough for all the land. ~ Robert Michael Pyle

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