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Posts Tagged ‘False Solomon’s Seal Fruit’

We’re still very dry here and I haven’t seen hardly any of the mushrooms I’d expect to see but here was a dead birch tree full of golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella) just like it was last year. I thought that’s what they were until I smelled them but these examples had no citrus scent, so I’d say they must be Pholiota aurivella which, except for its smaller spores and the lack of a lemon scent, appears identical.

The frustrating thing about mushroom identification is how for most of them you can never be sure without a microscope, and that’s why I never eat them. There are some that don’t have many lookalikes and though I’m usually fairly confident of a good identification for them I still don’t eat them. It’s just too risky.

One of my favorite fungal finds is called the tiger’s eye mushroom (Coltricia perennis.) One reason it’s unusual is because it’s one of the only polypores with a central stem. Most polypores are bracket or shelf fungi. The concentric rings of color are also unusual and sometimes make it look like a turkey tail fungus with a stem. The cap is very thin and flat like a table, and another name for it is the fairy stool. They are very tough and leathery and can persist for quite a long time.

I found it this hen of the woods fungus (Grifola frondosa,) growing at the base of an old oak tree. This edible polypore often grows in the same spot year after year and that makes it quite easy to find. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. Though they’re said to be brown I see green.

I saw a young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) in a lawn recently. I love the metallic yellow color of these mushrooms when they’re young. They’re common where pine trees grow and this one was under a pine. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic. Vikings are said to have used it for that very reason.

I don’t see many stinkhorn fungi but I hit the stinkhorn jackpot this year; there must have been 20 or more of them growing out of some well rotted wood chips. I think they’re the common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) and I have to say that for the first time I smelled odor like rotting meat coming from them because these example were passing on.  

Here was a fresher example. The green conical cap is also said to be slimy but it didn’t look it. This mushroom uses its carrion like odor to attracts insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores. I saw quite a few small gnat like insects around the dying ones.

At this time of year I always roll logs over hoping to find the beautiful but rare cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea,) but usually I find this lighter shade of blue instead. I think it is Byssocorticium atrovirens. Apparently its common name is simply blue crust fungus. Crust fungi are called resupinate fungi and have flat, crust like fruiting bodies which usually appear on the undersides of fallen branches and logs. Resupinate means upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to be. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of logs the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it. They seem to be the least understood of all the fungi.

Some slime molds can be very small and others quite large. This one in its plasmodium stage was wasn’t very big at all, probably due to the dryness. When slime molds are in this state they are usually moving-very slowly. Slime molds are very sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night, but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. I think this one might be spreading yellow tooth slime (Phanerochaete chrysorhiza.) Slime molds, even though sometimes covering a large area, are actually made up of hundreds or thousands of single entities. These entities move through the forest looking for food or a suitable place to fruit and eventually come together in a mass.

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are ripe and red, waiting for a deer to come along and eat them. Deer must love them because they usually disappear almost as soon as they turn red. All parts of the Jack in the pulpit plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable, and that’s why another name for the plant is “Indian turnip.”

False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe and are now bright red instead of speckled. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the drooping stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is a native tree but you’re more likely to find them growing naturally north of this part of the state. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. Their red orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made them a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll see most of them here though they prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000 foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Kousa dogwood fruit looks a little different but it’s the edible part of a Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa.) This dogwood is on the small side and is native to Asia. I don’t see it too often. It is also called Japanese or Korean Dogwood. Kousa Dogwood fruit is made up of 20-40 fleshy carpels. In botany one definition of a carpel is a dry fruit that splits open, into seed-bearing sections. Kousa dogwood fruits are said by some to taste like papaya.  

In my own experience I find it best to leave plants with white berries alone because they are usually poisonous, and no native plant illustrates this better than poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans.) Though many birds can eat its berries without suffering, when most humans so much as brush against the plant they can itch for weeks afterward, and those who are particularly sensitive could end up in the hospital. I had a friend who had to be hospitalized when his eyes became swollen shut because of it. Eating any part of the plant or even breathing the smoke when it is burned can be very dangerous.

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red flesh of the berry, which is actually a modified seed cone. The seed within the seed cone is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as 3 of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 a man named Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever been able to figure out why he did such a thing but the incident illustrated how extremely toxic yews are.

Beavers are trying to make a pond in a river and they had dammed it up from bank to bank. It wasn’t the biggest beaver dam I’ve seen but it was quite big. The largest beaver dam ever found is in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and spans about 2,800 feet. It has taken several generations of beavers since 1970 to build and it can be seen from space. Imagine how much water it is holding back!

Eastern or Virginia carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) are huge; at least as big as half my thumb. They also look very different than the bumblebees that I’m used to. These bees nest in wood and eat pollen and nectar. They don’t eat wood but they will excavate tunnels through rotten wood. The adults nest through winter and emerge in spring. Though it is said to be common in the eastern part of the country I I see very few. I’ve read that they can be up to an inch long and this one was all of that. Females can sting but they do so only when bothered. Males don’t have a stinger.

Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will not be very mild because this wooly bear has more black than brown on it. In any event this caterpillar won’t care, because it produces its own antifreeze and can freeze solid in winter. Once the temperatures rise into the 40s F in spring it thaws out and begins feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually it will spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live.

The upper surface of a painted lady’s wings look very different than the stained glass look of the undersides but unfortunately I can’t show that to you because the photos didn’t come out. This painted lady was kind enough to land just in front of me on a zinnia. It’s the only one I’ve seen this year.

There is little that is more appropriate than a bee sleeping on a flower, in my opinion. Here in southwestern New Hampshire we don’t see many wildflowers in October, but every now and then you can find a stray something or other still hanging on. The bumblebee I saw on this aster early one morning was moving but very slowly, and looked more like it was hanging on to the flower head rather than harvesting pollen. Bumblebees I’ve heard, sleep on flowers, so maybe it was just napping. I suppose if it has to die in winter like bumblebees do, a flower is the perfect place to do that as well. Only queen bumblebees hibernate through winter; the rest of the colony dies. In spring the queen will make a new nest and actually sit on the eggs she lays to keep them warm, just like birds do.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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I know of only three places to find gentians and only one place to find bottle or closed gentians, and that place is along the Ashuelot River in Keene. Last year I got upset when I went looking for them and found that the Keene Parks and Recreation Department had sent someone out here with a weed wacker, and that person had cut down countless beautiful wildflowers all along the trail, including the gentians. I didn’t know what I would find this year but last Saturday down the trail I went.

One of the first things I noticed was how ripe the false Solomon’s seal fruit (Maianthemum racemosum) was getting. It goes from mottled to solid red and many of these were red. They’re very pretty berries that are said to taste like molasses.

Virginia bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus) bloomed all along the trail. This is a close relative of water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and looks much like it except for its purple tinged leaves.

It was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods and I petted dogs, talked to strangers, and was happy to be in a place I’ve known since I was about 10 years old. To think I was walking a trail which was, in high probability, a Native American fishing trail which has probably changed little in thousands of years. Remains of settlements dating back 12,000 years have been found very near here and it boggles the mind to think about all that might have gone on in this place.

I always seem to see something I haven’t seen before out here, even though I’ve walked this trail for over 50 years. On this day it was a nice colony of one of our prettiest native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule.) I wonder if I’ll remember where they are next June when they’re in bloom.  

One of the lady’s slippers still had last year’s seed pod on it, and on that was a spider’s egg sac.

The branches of this fallen tree always make me think of the ribs of an ancient sunken ship. Indeed, at one time sections of this river were dredged so that river boats could navigate it, but the railroad coming to town put a stop to that.

Other trees might add to the hazards in the river; I could see right through this hollow red maple (Acer rubrum.)

There was lots of duckweed on the backwaters where the current is almost nonexistent.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) grew on the sunny parts of the riverbank. The skullcap part of the common name comes from the calyx at the base of the flower, which is said to look like a medieval skull cap. The plant was once thought to cure rabies, and that is where the “mad dog” part of the common name comes from. There is powerful medicine in many skullcap species and when Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. The small blue and white flowers always grow in pairs in the leaf axils on mad dog skullcap but you have to look closely because sometimes one bloom will fall off before the other, which is what has happened with this example.

The seed pods of fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) are unusual and hard to confuse with any other plant. I saw hundreds of seedpods but only one flower left, growing out of reach down the river bank.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) hasn’t changed into its fall yellow yet. When they are near a water source royal ferns can grow quite large and appear to be a shrub, but this one was young and on dry ground so it wasn’t very big. The royal fern is found on every continent except Australia, making 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 believed to be able to live for over 100 years. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are also in the Osmundaceae family and also grow here. It is thought that the genus might have been named after King Osmund, who ruled in the British Isles in the eighth century. Royal ferns are one of my favorites because they are so unlike any other fern.

I think, in the eight years I’ve been doing this blog, that I’ve only show beech nuts (Fagus grandifolia) one other time and that’s because I rarely see them. But on this day I stumbled onto hundreds of them that must have just fallen, because many of the kernels were still inside the prickly looking husks seen here. If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards.

I put a kernel on a penny so you could get a sense of scale. A penny is 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Chipmunks and squirrels and even bears love the kernels, so you usually find more empty husks than anything else.

As I’ve said so many times, spring and fall really begin on the forest floor, much earlier than many of us realize. This wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is a good example of that. It might be leafless before many of the trees it grows under have even started to turn color. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There was a single blossom on what looked like an all but dead St. John’s wort plant (Hypericum perforatum.) I haven’t seen these blossoms for a few weeks now so I’m going to say this may be the last one I see this year. It’s a beautiful thing. This plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun but will stand some shade as it did here.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) climbed up over the shrubs along the trail. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers a bit of shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem.

When those maples on the other side of the river turn scarlet in the fall this is an awesome view, but it isn’t really so bad in green either.

I saw a single New England aster blossom (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) As I’ve said in previous posts, they are our biggest, most showy aster. Some tower up over my head but this one had bent down to about knee level.

I was very surprised to see turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) blooming out here. I’ve never seen them here before this day.

And there they were; one of my favorite shades of blue is found on bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but I don’t see many because they are quite rare here. This is the only place I can find them so you can imagine my delight when I found that they hadn’t been cut down again. When they start to go by theses flowers become even more beautiful by turning very dark blue and then a kind of purple. They closely resemble narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) but that plant has much narrower leaves. Why anyone would cut such a rare and beautiful thing is beyond me.

I’ve been here enough times to know that the only thing beyond this bridge is a highway, so this is where I turn and go back. As I chose what photos to use for this post I was amazed that I saw so much on what is a relatively short walk of only an hour or so, and once again I was thankful that it hadn’t all been cut down again, because it’s a beautiful walk.

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring- these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ~ John Burroughs

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Last Saturday I went into the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland to see if I could find some turtlehead blossoms. I know two or three places where they grow but when I checked the other locations I didn’t even see the plants, much less the blossoms. This man made canyon was blasted out of the bedrock in the mid-1800s by the railroad and it has become a hidden gem of nature, with plants growing here that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The section shown above is the northern section; what I think of as the “sterile” part, where it’s too dark for all but a few mosses to grow. I had to boost the ISO on my camera as high as it would go just to get this shot, and it was a sunny, bright day.

When I enter the trail I turn south to follow the part of the trail seen here. It starts with huge retaining walls on both sides of the trail, and they answer the question of what the railroad did with all the stone they blasted out of the canyon. This is a good lesson for all the wall builders out there; you can see how the wall tilts back into the hillside, usually at about 10-15 degrees. This adds to the strength of the wall. Behind most retaining walls here in the northeast you’ll find sand, gravel or other porous material so water will drain away from the wall. In this climate the last thing you want behind your wall is wet soil, because when it freezes and expands in the winter it will tear your wall apart. These walls have stood for 150 years and I’m guessing they’ll still be here hundreds of years from now if people leave them alone.

Lush growth is what you find when you walk south on this trail. Every inch of the trail is filled with plants and it doesn’t end there, because the canyon walls are also covered with plants of all kinds.

One of the first thigs I found was a big, yellow spider. I think it was one of the orb weaver spiders (Argiope.)

Possibly a marbled orb weaver, but I haven’t been able to pin it down. It was weaving with plenty of silken threads as I watched. I know that  some of you get creeped out by spiders but if you can just try to put that aside for a moment and just appreciate their various forms and colors and the intricacies of their webs, and realize that they have a right to a place in this world as much or maybe even more than we have, maybe someday you will be able to get along. With me it isn’t spiders but rats, and I’m trying too.

I saw lots of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) along the trail and I noticed that the flowers with the deepest shade of blue were those that grew in the deepest shade. The ones that grew in the sunnier spots were much lighter in color. I’ll have to remember that when I look for them next year.

There are also lots of purple flowering raspberry plants (Rubus odoratus) here. Because they have large light gathering leaves they can grow in surprisingly shaded places, and even bloom as this one was doing.

The fruit of the purple flowering raspberry looks, not surprisingly, like a giant raspberry. They’re about the size of the tip of your thumb. I’ve heard that it is close to tasteless but some say if you put a berry on the very tip of your tongue it will be delicious, so I tried it. I can’t say it was tasteless but it seemed a bit sour, with a flavor that is hard to describe. It didn’t taste like a raspberry and I can’t say it was delicious, but that might have been because I was chewing peppermint gum, which I often do on hikes to give my breathing a boost. The gum is very sweet and that might account for the sourness of the berry. I’ll have to try again without the taste of peppermint fresh in my mouth.  

And I saw turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia); in fact I saw more blooming plants than I’ve ever seen anywhere else, so they obviously like it here. Turtlehead plants seem to have a problem with diseases and pests. Quite often I see the leaves and flower buds at the top of the plant curl and deform, and there are at least two different species of sawfly larvae that feed on the plant, but nothing seems to bother them much here.

The turtlehead plant gets the first part of its scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. I have a friend who said he immediately thought of a turtle when he saw these flowers but for some reason I never see a turtle when I look at them. I’ve always thought it was interesting how two or more people could look at the same thing and give very different descriptions of what they had seen.

In my last flower post I showed hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata) blossoms. What I didn’t mention was how I had to search high and wide to find them in bloom, and here they were blooming more prolifically than I’ve ever seen. Great handfuls of the small flowers hung from the undersides of the vines.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) turn from green to red and for a short time they are speckled with both colors, as these were.  I’ve read that soil pH can affect the fruit color. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

Can you be happy and heartsick at the same time? If you’re a summer lover who has just found New England asters blooming the answer is yes, because though the flowers are beautiful they also mean that fall is very near. It’s a season that always seems to sneak up on me and I’m not sure that I’ve ever really been ready for it.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are our biggest and showiest native aster and the large, inch and a half diameter blossoms come in varying shades of purple. Some can be almost white and some are very dark. I like the dark ones but I don’t need to see them right away.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) also bloom here in great profusion. Though it is very wet here this plant is known for its drought tolerance, and it will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant. The small, half inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

When I was a boy I loved to read about far off jungles and I dreamed of being a plant hunter. Off I’d go to places no one had ever heard of and I’d bring back plants so beautiful tears of joy would fall when people saw them, and mere words couldn’t describe them. One of the places I read about was fictional but it was still my kind of place, and this place reminds me of it; the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote about in his book Lost Horizon. He described Shangri-La as an earthly paradise, and that’s what this place seems to me. It sends me away; out of myself into a waking dream, and the beauty and the dream draw me back here again and again.

This is a place where coltsfoot grows on stone, and it can do that because of the constant drip of groundwater. Every plant here has a never ending supply of rich minerals and water, and that’s what makes the place so lush.

The smaller plants growing around the coltsfoot in the previous photo are great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum,) and they grow here by the thousands. They are one of the plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and they’re one of the reasons I come here.

To get close to the liverworts you have to be willing to walk in the drainage ditches and I wear rubber boots to get through them, but there’s nothing I can do about the falling rocks. You can see them scattered around in this photo and apparently they fall quite regularly. I’ve only seen them fall a couple of times though so I cross my fingers and don’t dilly dally when I’m near the liverwort ledges; a couple of quick photos and I’m out of there.

And then I can come home and admire these beautiful things in a photo. The reptilian appearance is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

The great scented liverwort is like one of those plants I used to dream I’d bring back from far away places. It’s such a beautiful thing and it somehow manages to look both plant and animal at the same time. Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and I saw lots of it.

I’ve walked this trail a hundred times I’d bet, and in all those times I’ve never seen white snakeroot growing here. It wasn’t flowering but that doesn’t matter, because I’d like you to see its leaves. Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.

Individual white snakeroot flowers are small, bright white, and fuzzy, much like those of the boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) flowers shown here. But look closely at the leaf shape and then scroll up and look at the leaves of white snakeroot again and you’ll see that they’re very different. The reason I’m harping about this is because boneset is used medicinally, and if you mistake snakeroot for boneset you could find yourself in dire straits, even in Shangri-La.  

I wonder if everyone who comes through here marvels at the staying power of the old lineman’s shack. It has been slowly picked apart over the years by those wanting boards to bridge the drainage ditches and every time I come here I expect it to be down, but here it stands to this day, over a hundred years later. It’s a testament to the quality workmanship of the railroad workers who once populated this place.

I know paradise has many gates, just as hell does. One has to learn to distinguish between them, or one is lost. ~Henning Mankell

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It takes about a half hour to get there from my house but the trip to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is always worth the effort at this time of year. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and is one of those places that approaches what true wilderness must have looked like before European settlers arrived. It is a botanical park; the only one of its kind in the state. People from all over the world come here to see the native rhododendrons (Rhododendron maxima) that grow here. The park contains the largest grove of these rhododendrons known to exist in New England. Common in south eastern states, they have reached the northernmost point of their growth here. Rhododendron state park was even designated a national Landmark in 1982.

This native rhododendron isn’t like others; it blooms in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since Captain Samuel Patch settled here in 1788. The higher surrounding land was farmed but not where the rhodies grew. In 1901 a subsequent owner almost had the land logged off for timber but instead it was bought and given to the Appalachian Mountain Club with the stipulation that it be protected and open to the public forever after.

The National Park Service calls them pink, but I see white when I look at the blossoms and though most of these plants are quite tall it is still easy to get close to them. Though the plants are much bigger than your average rhododendron the flowers and flower clusters are pretty much the same size as those found on other rhododendrons.

I did see lots of pinks and purples on some of the buds, and on the backs of some of the blossoms.

Included in the park is the center chimney cape that Captain Samuel Patch built with his son sometime before he died in 1817. Captain Patch served in the Revolutionary war and took part in the battle of Bunker Hill and, though his house has changed hands a few times since being built, it looks to be true to its original footprint. Surrounding it are a few garden beds containing various plants, including this moth mullein. Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) gets its common name from the way the flowers’ stamens resembled moth antennae to the person who named it. This plant was introduced from Europe and found in Pennsylvania in 1818 and immediately escaped gardens to become a roadside weed now found in every state except Wyoming and Alaska. It isn’t very common in this area however. I only know of two plants and they grow right here at the old Patch place. Its flowers can also be white.

If you visit the park be prepared to be surprised. I remember being shocked at the size of the rhododendrons the first time I came. People are interested; the parking lot was full of cars on this day. I saw many children on the trails too, and since getting children on the trails is one of the main things this blog is about, I was very happy to see them.

The big plants tower overhead in places and in a good year the white blossoms are everywhere you look. Anyone who loves rhododendrons or serious collectors of the shrubs should definitely see this.

Of course, rhododendrons aren’t all there is to see. There is a wildflower trail here as well and I saw many plants here that I had never seen before the first few times I came. Wildflowers bloom throughout the 2,723-acre park from early April into October. False Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) like the one in this photo are through blooming but they have plenty of fruit at this time of year. They can reach three feet tall where they’re happy.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal turn from green to red and for a short time they are speckled with both colors.  I’ve read that soil pH can affect the fruit color, but I think that means a deeper or lighter red. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) is one of our native wintergreens. It get its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. Its nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June. I find them in sandy soil in forests under pines.

I saw the fruiting bodies of a coral slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, V. porioides.) These objects that resemble geodesic domes are so small that I can’t see any of the detail until I zoom in on them with a camera. They are very fragile; a single swipe of a finger can destroy hundreds of them.  According to my mushroom books this slime mold is “very common and fruits in scattered clusters on well-rotted logs.”  That’s exactly where these grew.

Also known as rosebay and great laurel, these rhododendrons normally reach a maximum height of 15 feet but may become “tree like.” In the park their branches intertwine as they grow and for the most part you wouldn’t ever get through the thicket they’ve formed.

You may feel a bit small as you wander through and under these giant plants. Visitors might find that the common landscape shrubs they are used to seeing never seem the same again. 

A 0.6 mile-long, wheelchair accessible trail meanders around and through the grove and allows visitors close up access to these beauties. This is a good viewing spot, and popular; I had a hard time getting a photo of it with no people on it.

This is one of the views from the bridge in the previous photo. Rhododendrons as far as the eye can see.

There are also Mountain Laurels here but they bloom as much as a month earlier than the rhododendrons.

A hoverfly worked over a dewberry blossom and didn’t seem to mind me watching.

Other insects went unseen but their pathways told their stories. The thought of an insect so small that in can eat its way between the upper and lower surface of a leaf boggles my mind, but I see leaf miner trails everywhere I go.

Rhododendron State Park is open all year during the daytime but isn’t maintained in winter. During the summer months from May through October, you may find a State Park Ranger at the park. He or she is there to answer questions and to collect the $4.00 per visitor admission fee. When there isn’t a ranger on duty you can find the collection box shown above near the trailhead. Part of the money collected I assume is used for trail maintenance, so it’s important. I saw several trees that had fallen across the trail and had been cut up. Children and seniors are admitted for free. Pets are not permitted on the wild flower trail or other nature trails, but I think they can still be taken to other parts of the park. Just follow the instructions on the many signs and maps found throughout the park. The best time to see these spectacular rhododendrons in full bloom is mid-July.

On my way hone I stopped in the town of Troy to admire one of my favorite views of Mount Monadnock. I’m sure there were plenty of sightseers over there too; it is said to be the second most climbed mountain, after Mount Fuji in Japan.  

I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.
~Jack Kerouac

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As I said in my last post, it rained here every day for a week. The mushrooms are almost jumping up out of the ground and I hope to find enough for a full fungus post in the near future. Meanwhile here is what I think are yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) but since my fungi identifying skills aren’t what they should be I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Yellow patches gets its common name from the yellow bits of universal veil on its cap. You can just see them on the smaller example. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As it grows it eventually breaks the veil and pieces of it are left on the cap. Rain can wash them off and I’m guessing that’s what happened on the larger example. The rains have been torrential.

Without any human intervention trees get wounded in the forest. It can happen when one tree falls and hits another or sometimes when a large branch falls. Squirrels chew bark, woodpeckers drill holes. In any event a wounded tree is not that unusual, even when it is black and weeping like the wound on this oak was, but what caught my eye were those tiny yellow-orange dots in the upper center of this photo.

I was very surprised to find that the tiny dots were eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata.) This is only the third time I’ve seen them and I don’t know much about them, but I thought they only lived on dead wood. Very well soaked dead wood, in fact; the two previous examples I saw were growing on twigs lying in the standing water of a seep. Eyelash fungi are in the cup fungus family. The hairs on them can move and curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body.

I walked through a field of milkweed looking for monarch butterflies or their caterpillars. I never did see the monarchs but I saw an amazing amount of other insects, including hundreds of bumblebees.

An eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was on a milkweed plant but flew off to a Queen Anne’s lace blossom before I could get a photo. These butterflies have been skittish all summer and have hardly sat still at all for me, so I was a bit befuddled when this one finally let me take as many shots as I wanted.

I’ve had quite a time trying to identify what I thought was a common butterfly. It was a small one; much smaller than a swallowtail, maybe about the size of a cabbage white. It liked hawkweed and flew from blossom to blossom in a patch of panicled hawkweed. I think it was a silvery checker spot; at least, that’s the closest I could come by looking at similar examples. It was a pretty little thing, whatever its name.

A Japanese beetle looked like a shiny jewel on a milkweed leaf. These beetles do a lot of damage here but this year they don’t seem to have the staggering numbers they’ve had in the past.

Red spotted milkweed beetles hid on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The scientific name of this beetle, Tetraopes, means “four eyes” in Greek. This longhorn beetle is unusual because of the way the base of its long antennae bisect its eyes. The antennae actually splits each eye in two, so they do indeed have four eyes. It is thought that these beetles ingest toxins from milkweed plants to protect them from predators, just like monarch butterflies do. The red and black colors are also there to warn predators.

I thought a milkweed leaf had a tiny gall on it, but when I tapped on it with my fingernail it started to move.

And it moved pretty fast. That’s because it was a snail and not a gall. I’ve never seen snails on milkweed before but we’ve had snail-ish weather this summer with very high humidity, so maybe that has something to do with it. I believe these are called blunt amber snails. They were almost translucent and quite small.

A fly was on the same milkweed plant that the snails were on and it agreed to sit for a photo shoot. I think it was a tachinid fly. From what I’ve read there are over 1300 species of tachinid fly, so I’m not even going to try to come up with an identification. It reminded me of that movie The Fly with Vincent Price.

What I think was a slaty skimmer dragonfly showed signs of age with pieces missing from its wings, but it was still a beautiful blue. It let me get just one shot before it flew off.  I’ve read that mature males are dark blue with black heads, so I’d guess that this is an example of a mature male.

A beautiful blue river of pickerel weed flowed through a ditch next to a cornfield. When I see things like this I have no choice; I have to stop and admire them because they are so unexpected. It’s as if they were put there specifically to be admired. These are the things that can take you outside of yourself and let you walk in a higher place for a time. As Amit Ray once said: Beauty is the moment when time vanishes.

A great blue heron wanted to be a statue in its own hidden patch of pickerel weed, and it made a good one. I didn’t have time to wait for it to move; that can sometimes take quite a while.

A yellow bellied sapsucker left its neat rows of holes in a hawthorn. Many other birds, bats, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.  But why does the pattern have to be so neat? I wonder.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time before becoming brilliant red. The plant is called treacle berry because the fruit is said to taste like bitter molasses, which is also known as treacle. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy. They have also been known to act as a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas and also inhaled the fumes from burning roots to treat headaches and body pain.

Though I don’t see a banner year for blueberries this year the crop doesn’t look too bad. I think there will be enough to keep both bears and humans happy. One of the best places to pick blueberries that I’ve seen is from a boat, canoe or kayak, because blueberries grow on the shores of our lakes and ponds in great profusion and the bushes often hang out over the water. You can fill a small bucket in no time.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries start out green and then turn orange before finally ripening to red. They are pretty things but they can be mildly toxic to adults and more so to children, though I’ve never heard of anyone eating them. Tatarian honeysuckle is considered an invasive shrub. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, so the land around dense colonies is often barren.

The seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus) start out looking like tiny seed pearls before ripening to the pretty things seen here. Curly dock is in the rhubarb family and is originally from Europe. The small seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C and were used by many as a green vegetable during the depression. Its common name comes from the wavy edges on the leaves.

What does all this ripening mean? I don’t want to be the one to say it but I shouldn’t have to; just looking around will tell the story.

So many hues in nature and yet nothing remains the same, every day, every season a work of genius, a free gift from the Artist of artists. ~E.A. Bucchianeri

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It was another of those hot, humid July days last Sunday so I decided to see if the air conditioner was running up in the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It was, and the relief was immediate. This man-made canyon creates its own breeze and the air blowing over the moist canyon walls usually runs about 10 degrees cooler than it is “out there” in the world. It was wonderful to stand there and be cooled but taking photos was a chore because it was very dark due to all the overhanging trees. I had to use the flash to get this photo, which is the mediocre best of a poor lot. But it does show you what I’m talking about and I guess that’s the point.

The railroad used a lot of the stone they blasted out of the bedrock in the previous photo to build walls, and as a dry stone wall builder myself I can say that they’re impressive. This example is a massive retaining wall, built to keep the hillside from flowing onto the rail bed. You can’t tell from the photo but it tilts back into the hillside at about 10 degrees, just as any good retaining wall should. It’s probably also much thicker at the base than at the top. Not quite Mayan joints but close enough for me; these walls have stood without losing a stone for over 150 years.

I stopped to look at what I thought were intermediate wood ferns (Dryopteris intermedia.)

A look at the back of the leaf confirmed that they were indeed intermediate wood ferns. The tiny spore bearing sori are part way between the central vein and the outer edges of the pinnules. A pinnule in botanical terms is a secondary division of a pinnate leaf, but I usually just think of them as leaflets and in my own mind don’t pay much attention to the fancy (but correct) terminology. It just doesn’t seem as important as it once did. The beauty of it all is enough these days.

And I saw plenty of beauty here, like these fern like leaves of wild chervil, which grows along the trail. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been shown to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. It isn’t the same plant as cultivated chervil used to flavor soups though, so it shouldn’t be eaten.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) had a visitor so I didn’t want to intrude. There are an amazing amount of insects here.

What I think was a cabbage white moth rested on a leaf in a shaft of sunlight. Ancient superstition said that a white moth embodied the soul of a loved one. This came from the ancient belief that the night is a dwelling place for souls and it is also the realm of the moth.

In winter this place is like a frozen Arctic wasteland but in summer it becomes a lush paradise with an incredible variety of species growing on every square inch of ground.

Plants, mosses, liverworts, fungi, and algae all grow on the stone walls of the canyon and add to the lushness. In summer this place reminds me of the Shangri-La described by James Hilton in his novel Lost Horizon. For someone who dreamed of exploring the Amazon Jungle as a boy, it’s the next best thing.

One of the most unusual things growing here are these green algae, called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the algal cells called hematochrome or beta-carotene color the algae orange by hiding their green chlorophyll.  It is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color.

The algae are surprisingly hairy and in some cases can produce enough spores to color the rain. When you hear of a red, black, or green rain falling algae spores are almost always the reason why. I’ve never seen these examples producing spores but then I wonder if I’d even know that they were doing so. The spores must be microscopic. Everything you see here would fit on a penny with room to spare.

Much of the growth along the side of the trail is spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis.) Jewelweed doesn’t mind shade and many thousands of plants grow here.

Out of all the many thousands of jewelweed plants I saw just one with a flower, and this is it. The white pollen at the top of the opening tells us that this is a male flower. Soon there will be many thousands of flowers, both male and female.

There are also many flowering raspberry plants growing here and many were still blooming. Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is in the rose family and it isn’t hard to tell by the flowers, but the big light gathering leaves look more like a maple than a rose. The big leaves give it a certain tolerance for low light, and that’s how it can grow here so well. The fruit looks like a giant raspberry, about the size of the tip of your thumb. I’ve heard that it is close to tasteless but some say if you put a berry on the very tip of your tongue it will be delicious. I keep forgetting to try it.

Other berries found here include those of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum.) These berries turn bright red but before they do they are speckled red and green for a time. The plant is also called treacle berry because the berries taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative so moderation is called for. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from burning roots to treat headache and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

The railroad dug drainage ditches on either side of the rail bed and because the groundwater constantly seeps through the stone the ditches always have water in them, no matter how hot or dry it has been. I always wear rubber boots when I come here so I can walk in them and get closer to the canyon walls when I need to. I have to be quick though because stones of all sizes fall from the walls. For the first time I actually heard one fall on this day. It must have been small because it made a clacking sound. Thankfully it didn’t fall near me.

One of the reasons I like to walk in the drainage ditches is because greater scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) grow on the stone and I like to see them up close. Two winters ago I saw an alarming amount of them turn an ashy gray and they appeared to have died, but since then the many colonies seem to have bounced back. Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day most of them looked good and healthy.

This is one of the most beautiful liverworts in my opinion because of its reptilian appearance, which is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

In this photo you can see how wet the stones are from the ever dripping groundwater. All that water means that many plants with tap roots or extensive root systems like dandelions and even shrubs and trees can grow in the thin soil that is found on horizontal surfaces. This photo shows a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) that has grown on the stone and fallen over. Though it’s growing on stone it’s perfectly healthy and even has produced berries. Jack in the pulpits have corms for roots. A corm is a kind of flattened bulb and other plants like crocus and gladiolus grow from them.

I saw many Jack in the pulpits here and most had berries that hadn’t ripened yet. When ripe these berries will be bright red and shiny like they’ve been lacquered. Deer love them and will chomp off the entire stalk of berries when they can. That’s why it’s so hard to show you a photo of ripe Jack in the pulpit berries.

I finally reached my turn around spot, which is the old lineman’s shack at one end of the deep cut canyon. I usually dawdle here for a while, marveling at how a building that has so many missing pieces can still stand. So many boards have been taken from it there isn’t much left, but so far it still makes it through our snowy winters. It fits the very definition of well built, but that’s how they did things in those days.

This is where the planks from the lineman’s shack end up; as bridges across the drainage ditches. They do come in handy but I’d still rather see them on the lineman’s shack.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long.
~John Moffitt

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Or at least this post is. As this early morning view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows, our trees are starting to change into their fall colors. The trees on the far side of the pond start very early and that’s my signal to start watching for color wherever I go. Our foliage colors usually peak around the first week of October, but warm weather can slow down the process and cool weather can speed it up.

Right now the colors are spotty and seen just here and there but changes can happen fast so I usually keep a camera close at this time of year. I thought this red maple was worth a photo or two.

Another maple was yellow. Maples are usually our most colorful trees in the fall and come in reds, yellows and various shades of orange.

I could see the sky and the clouds and the earth and the shining sun in this mussel shell. Raccoons regularly fish in the Ashuelot River and one of them probably ate the mussel and left the shell for anyone who happened along to admire. Its colors were beautiful.

Also beautiful are pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana) when they ripen to their deep purple-black. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Heavy with ripe red fruit is false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa.) I see large bunches of these berries everywhere I go, so it’s going to be a good year for birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters. These berries are bright red when fully ripe and speckled green and red as they ripen. You can still see 3 or 4 unripe berries in this bunch. Soil pH can affect fruit color and not all berries will be the same shade of red. Native American’s used all parts of this plant.

Most staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are still green but this one had already gone to red. Sumacs are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between.

The reason invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) have been so successful at spreading throughout the countryside is because people have planted them extensively for fall color, making it easy for birds to find the berries for food. Most burning bushes start out red like this example.

As fall progresses burning bushes in the wild will turn from red to a pinkish magenta…

..and will finally turn the palest pastel pinkish lavender just before the leaves fall. These three photos of burning bush foliage were taken at the same time and place but the 3 branches were on different plants.

Our native highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are a good alternative to invasive burning bushes. They also often turn bright scarlet in the fall, but will also show shades of orange, yellow and plum purple. Purple is a common color in the fall. A Washington Post article last year said that “Studies have suggested that the earliest photosynthetic organisms were plum-colored, because they relied on photosynthetic chemicals that absorbed different wavelengths of light.”

Even poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) turns purple occasionally but it is more common to see it wearing red in the fall.

Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) go from green to white and then from white to blue. Once they are blue and fully ripe birds eat them up quickly, so I was surprised to see them.

Bright red bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny Roma tomatoes, but they’re very toxic and shouldn’t be eaten. Red has the longest wavelength of all the colors and it is the easiest color to distinguish, unless you happen to be colorblind.

Blue is my favorite color and I was able to see plenty of it in this view from a cornfield in Keene. I read recently that 40 percent of people choose blue as their favorite color. Purple is next with only 14 percent.

There are other places to see the color blue as well; many plants like the black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) pictured here use the same powdery, waxy white bloom as a form of protection against moisture loss and sunburn. On plants like black raspberries, blue stemmed goldenrod, smoky eye boulder lichens, grapes and plums, the bloom can appear to be very blue in the right kind of light. Finding such a beautiful color in nature is always an unexpected pleasure.

The bloom on grapes and plums can mean they’re ripe, and these grapes were. Soon the woods will smell like grape jelly from all the fermenting grapes.

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) isn’t offered by nurseries but I’ve always though it should be. It’s a very low growing shrub; I think the tallest one I’ve seen might have reached 3 feet. It has white flowers at the branch ends in the spring but I’ve always thought that fall was when it was most beautiful because of the amazing range of colors in its leaves.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) has started its long, slow change from green to red. Though some trees and bushes seem to change color overnight, Virginia creeper won’t be rushed. This example was just entering its bronze stage.

This beautiful shade of red is what most Virginia creeper vines will look like before their leaves fall.

This pale tussock moth caterpillar was very hairy, and very beautiful. I don’t see as many of these as I do the hickory tussock moth caterpillar. That one is everywhere this year and I see several whenever I go out for a walk.

I’m happy to say that, over the past 3 or 4 weeks, I’ve seen many monarch butterflies. I can’t say if they’re making a comeback but I’ve seen more this year than I have in the past 5 years combined. I’ve seen at least one each day for the past couple of weeks.

I think that to one in sympathy with nature, each season, in turn, seems the loveliest. ~Mark Twain

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