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Posts Tagged ‘False Solomon’s Seal’

We were having some “triple H” weather here last weekend, which means hazy, hot and humid, so I wanted to get to a shady forest. I chose High Blue trail in Walpole because I was fairly sure that there would be a good breeze on the summit, which faces west. The trail starts out following an old logging road.

I started seeing things of interest almost as soon as I reached the old road. False Solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) bloomed all along it. Some grow close to three feet tall but most are less than that; about knee high. False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California used crushed false Solomon’s seal roots to stun fish. Others used the plant medicinally.

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) in this stage are stunning, in my opinion. I like the powder gray against the bright white margin. As they age they blacken and look like burnt wood and become very brittle and are easily crushed. They grow on dead hardwoods and cause soft rot, which breaks down both cellulose and lignin. In short, this is one of the fungi that help turn wood into compost.

This photo taken previously shows what the brittle cinder fungus will become; a black lump. Younger examples have a hard lumpy crust or skin, a piece of which can be seen in the upper left of the example in the photo. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same fungus that’s in the previous photo.

Grasses are flowering nearly everywhere I go now and I like looking at them closely. I don’t know this one’s name but I’ve learned enough about grasses to know that the yellow bits at the top are the male pollen bearing flowers and the wispy white bits on the lower half are the female flowers.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinite) grew in wet spots along the road. It’s a large sedge that grows in big, 2 foot tall clumps. I like its drooping habit and I’m not the only one, because it has become a popular garden plant. Many animals and waterfowl eat different parts of sedge plants, especially the seeds. Other names for this plant are drooping sedge and long-haired sedge.

The trail does a loop but I always take the left at the High Blue sign and walk in and out.

From here the logging road narrows down into little more than a foot path. The sunlight was dappled and my camera doesn’t do dappled well, so this isn’t the best photo I’ve ever taken.

Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) does well up here and grows in large colonies all along the trail. I like the repeating patterns that they make. This fern likes shade but will tolerate extreme dryness well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. This fern does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

Last year the meadow suddenly became a cornfield and the corn attracted animals of all kinds, including bears. I’ve seen a lot of bear droppings all over this area ever since, so I carried a can of bear spray. Thankfully I didn’t have to use it.

Our brambles are coming into bloom and it looks like we might have a good blackberry harvest. Easy to pick blackberries can be found along virtually any rail trail and many woodland trails. Blackberries have been eaten by man for thousands of years. The discovery of the remains of an Iron Age woman called the Haraldskær Woman showed that she ate blackberries about 2500 years ago. The Haraldskær Woman is the body of a woman found naturally preserved in a peat bog in Jutland, Denmark in 1835. Native Americans made a strong twine from fibers found in blackberry canes, and they used piles of dead canes as barricades around villages. I’m guessing that anyone who had ever been caught on blackberry thorns wouldn’t have tried to make it through such a barricade.

Orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) was dotted here and there in the meadow. I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed plant and I’m not sure why that is. The plant might be from Europe but it’s far from invasive in this area. Maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. Orange Flowers do reflect ultraviolet light though, so that means that some insects must find them.

As I usually do when I come here, I had to stop at what’s left of the old foundation. I’m not sure who lived up here but they had plenty of courage and were strong people. All of this land would have been cleared then and sheep would probably have lived in the pastures. It was a tough life in what the Walpole Town History describes as a “vast wilderness.” But it was populated; many Native Americans lived here and they weren’t afraid to show their displeasure at losing their land.

One of the reasons I chose this place was because there is a small pond on the summit and I wanted to see if it was covered with duckweed yet. I wanted to take a close look at the tiny plants but about all I could see was pine pollen floating on the surface.

There was some duckweed but it was too far off shore to be easily reached. This pond must be spring fed because it never dries up completely, even in last year’s drought when streams were disappearing. I always wonder if it was the family’s water source.

There are an estimated 259,000 miles of stone walls in the northeastern U.S., most of which are in New England, and many are here in New Hampshire. The stones were found when the recently cleared pastures were plowed and they were either tossed into piles or used to build walls, wells, foundations and many other necessities of the day. Sometimes entire houses were built of stone but wood was plentiful and easier to work with, so we don’t have too many stone houses from that time. Most of what we see is used in stone walls like this one, which cross and crisscross the countryside in every direction.

I always take a photo of the sign when I come here, but I’m not sure why. What it means is that at 1588 feet above sea level the summit is higher than the surrounding terrain, and the view is always blue.

As I thought it would be the view was very hazy on this day, but there was a nice cool breeze blowing and that alone made the short hike worth it on such a hot humid day.

It was so hazy I couldn’t even see Stratton Mountain over in Vermont, which is just across the Connecticut River Valley seen here.

The stone pile builder has been busy. I’ve wondered why anyone would carry stones all the way up here just to build an eyesore like this, but on this day I realized that it was much more likely that these stones are being taken from the stone wall we saw 4 photos back. I wonder if this person knows that taking stones from stone walls is a crime, punishable by having to pay three times the cost of restoring the wall, plus legal costs. This is because many of these old walls mark boundary lines and are recorded as such in property deeds. I’m not sure why anyone would risk it just to put piles of stones in other people’s way, but to each their own.

We’ve had a lot of rain recently but I was still surprised to see a slime mold growing on the side of a log. The book Mushrooms of Northeast (no, not northeastern) North America-Midwest to New England by George Barron has quite a good section on slime molds and it starts off with one called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa. I believe that the photo above shows the cylindrical white fruiting bodies of Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa. There is a second variety of this slime mold called porioides, and the fruiting bodies look like tiny white geodesic domes. The fruiting bodies shown are so small and so fragile that one swipe of a finger can destroy hundreds of them.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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Westmoreland lies north of Keene and the soil there is lime rich in certain places which means that you can see plants there that won’t grow in the more acidic soil of Keene, so last Sunday off I went down one of my favorite rail trails. I used to try to ride my bike out here but the gravel of the trail is very soft and I had such a time getting through it that I ended up walking the bike for much of the way anyhow, so now I just walk it. Though it was cloudy it was a great day for hiking with all of the beautiful spring green and singing birds.

This maple was that green that only happens in spring; kind of a yellow green, I guess you’d call it.

Though it doesn’t mind acidic soil red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) does well here in the more alkaline soil.  There were several plants which were flowering well with panicles of whitish flowers growing from the axils of the upper leaves.

Each greenish white flower is about 1/8″ across. They have 5 petals (petaloid lobes) that curve backwards sharply. The flower’s 5 stamens have white filaments and are tipped with pale yellow anthers. There is also a pistil with 3 small stigmata. If pollinated each flower will become a small bright red berry.  Though the plant is said to be toxic many Native American tribes steamed, dried and ate the berries. They are said to be very bitter unless prepared correctly.

There are plenty of reminders of exactly where you are out here, like this old signal base.

When the rails were torn up the railroad left all the ties stacked up along the railbed. People came and took what they wanted but there are still plenty to be seen, slowly rotting into the soil.

The boulder in the previous photo had a golf ball size hole in it, probably made by a steam drill so it could be blasted apart when they were laying the rails. For some reason they decided not to blast it.

Almost there; the dark circle in the distance marks the end of one leg of this journey.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) wears bronze for its new spring coat, but its leaves will green up quickly. Wild sarsaparilla grows all through our forests and is a common sight. The plant sets flower buds quickly just as its leaflets have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from their early deep bronze to green. In botanical terms the “leaves” are actually one leaf with a whorl of 3 compound leaves, which have groups of 3-7 leaflets. People sometimes confuse the plant with poison ivy before the flowers appear because of the “leaves of three” as in leaves of three, let them be. One easy way to tell the difference is by looking for a woody stem; poison ivy has one but this plant does not.

Wild sarsaparilla always starts out with its three compound leaves held vertically and clasping at the very top.

I was surprised to see logging going on in this part of the forest, but not completely. There are many hardwoods here like beech, oak and maple and very few conifers. Hardwood always brings more at the mill.

A logging road had to be built to get to the section of forest to be logged, so huge boulders were bulldozed into a place that needed a retaining wall. These stones are new, meaning they were just dug or cut. You can tell by how clean they are, and by their color. Most stones will turn gray in just a few years.

Here we are at the man made canyon that showed as a dark circle in a previous photo. There are a few of these along this section of trail, and they were all blasted out of the bedrock almost 150 years ago for the Cheshire Railroad.

I don’t know what it is that draws them here, but many interesting plants not easily seen in other places grow on these ledges.

Purple or red trillium (Trillium erectum) grows here in fair numbers. Each flower averages about as big as a quarter, or about an inch across.

Trilliums are all about the number three. Even the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, meaning three. On the purple trillium the three green sepals just are behind the three red petals. Once they open the flowers often nod under the three leaves (actually bracts,) and are mostly hidden from view for a short time before finally standing erect above the leaves. Inside the flower are six stamens and three stigmas. If flies pollinate the flower a three chambered, red fruit will grow.

False Solomon’s seal grows well here. Though it’s too early for their June bloom time the plants were budded. In about three weeks they should have small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of their stems. The blossoms will give way to small but beautiful reddish and tan speckled berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife.

The wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) are what I came here to see and as usual they stole the show. They like to grow on partially shaded rocky slopes so this area is perfect for them. How they got here is anyone’s guess but their numbers have been steadily increasing since I first found them. The rich alkaline soil is very unusual in this part of New Hampshire and many rare plants are known to grow in this area. The trick is in finding them; though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen wild columbine.

They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

I couldn’t stop clicking the shutter, always hoping for a better shot. The wind was blowing through the canyon so I was sure every photo would be blurred. There have been years I’ve had to come back three or four times for that very reason.

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. 5 funnel shaped holes lead to nectar spurs and long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.”
~Robin Wall Kimmerer

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1. Coral Fungus

We had a couple more quick moving thunderstorms roll through and they dropped enough rain to get a few fungi stirring, as this yellow spindle coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor) shows. These fungi aren’t very big; close to the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti, but they can reach 3 or 4 inches tall. They have the odd habit of growing in the packed earth of trails so I often find that they have been stepped on and broken. I’ve watched these beautiful little fungi come back year after year in the same spot. I think of them as bright but tiny flames burning up out of the soil and always look forward to seeing them.

2. Berkeley’s polypore

Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) grew at the base of a tree. These are some of the biggest mushrooms that I’ve seen. Though they can reach as much as two feet across the examples above were only about the size of a 33 1/3 record album, if anyone remembers those. This large bracket fungus grows on the roots of hardwood trees and causes butt rot in the tree’s heartwood. The wood turns white before rotting away and leaving a standing hollow tree.

3. Mushroom on Tree

A limb fell off a tree and left a wound big enough for fungus spores to settle in and this is what they grew into. It must have been moist in there; I’m sure more moist than our soil is right now. I haven’t tried to identify the mushroom, but extreme longevity doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the tree. Mushrooms growing on live trees is never a good sign.

4. Jelly Babies

I have a special fondness for jelly baby fungi (Leotia lubrica) because they taught me just how small things in nature can be. One day I sat on a stone and looked down, and there they were; tiny colorful beings. The largest one pictured in the center of the above photo is smaller than the diameter of a pea, and the smallest are so small that I can’t think of anything to compare them to. They taught me to see with new eyes and a new understanding, and I’m very grateful. Since that day I’ve found that there is an entire Lilliputian world in nature that I never knew existed, and that makes me wonder what I’m missing without a microscope. The urge is to go ever smaller to see if and when the smallness ever ends.

5. Great Blue Heron on Log

I saw a great blue heron standing on a log in a pond one evening with his back to the sun. He had company.

6. Great Blue Heron and Wood Duck

As I zoom out you can see that the heron shared his log with a female wood duck. Wood ducks are very skittish here and I don’t see them very often. The males are a very colorful, beautiful duck but I didn’t see one in the area.

7. Wood Ducklings

I did see a clutch of wood ducklings though. There were 8 or 9 of them and they easily won that day’s award for cuteness.

8. Wood Duck Mother and Ducklings

Unfortunately my presence apparently made mama duck nervous, because after a minute or two she and her ducklings swam off into the setting sun. I was sorry that I had disturbed them but when I saw the log from a distance all I could see was the heron and I didn’t know the ducks were there. As they swam off all I could think of were the very big snapping turtles that live in this pond.

9. Great Blue Heron on Log

 I withered under the heron’s harsh, I’m-very-disappointed-in-you glare.

10. Gall on Maple Leaf

As if nature wanted to teach me a lesson for disturbing the ducks a clenched, fist like bladder gall rose up out of the tissue of a maple leaf. I thought it was bit much; after all I didn’t ask the ducks to do anything they wouldn’t normally do.

11. Pinecone in Knotweed Leaf

A pinecone had fallen through a knotweed leaf heavy end first, but with only enough momentum to go through the leaf for half its length it was stuck there. Nature could have just as easily dropped it on my head but the only things falling from the trees that day were hard little unripe acorns, and a few of them did hit me. They are falling unripe because the oaks are protecting themselves. Ripening a tree full of acorns takes a lot of energy and because we haven’t seen beneficial rain for over a month the trees will shed them to conserve energy. The same is true with pines and other trees. This cone was also unripe. The animals might have to tighten their belts this winter.

12. Feather

Some believe that different kinds of feathers have different meanings and that they are found in one’s path to relay a message. A black feather with purple iridescence for example, is said to represent a deep spiritual insight and finding one is supposed to be taken as a mystical sign. I’ve always seen them as just feathers that a bird dropped and never knew that they meant anything. I usually see at least one each day so I must have a lot of messages being conveyed that I can’t yet decipher. I wonder if finding a great blue heron feather would mean that I would learn great patience. I could always use more of that.

13. Purple Grass

I’ve tried for years to get a decent photo of the purple topped grasses that grow here and I think I might have finally done it with this purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall.

14. Juniper Haircap Moss

Splash cups on juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) aren’t seen that often in this area but you can find them if you know where to look. Mosses in the Polytrichum genus have male and female reproductive organs on separate plants, and when you see these little flower like cups you know you’ve found male plants that are ready to reproduce. Juniper haircap moss grows on every continent, including Antarctica.

15. Juniper Haircap Moss

The male juniper haircap moss produces sperm in these tiny splash cups (perigonial rosettes) and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If there is enough water for them to swim in, they will then swim to the female plant and fertilize the eggs. Each cup, about half the diameter of a pencil eraser, looks like a tiny flower with its rosettes of leaves surrounding the reproductive parts.

16. Juniper Haircap Moss Spore Capsule

The female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. I’m guessing that at this stage the capsule is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti.

17. Juniper Haircap Moss Spore Capsule Without  Calyptra

When the time is right the end cap (operculum) of the reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind.

18. False Solomon's Seal

Spring starts on the forest floor, and so does fall. By the time we see the colorful tree leaves many leaves have already put on their fall colors in the understory, among them those of false Solomon’s seal, which are some of the earliest. It marks the passage of time and though I like to see what their turning leaves will look like this year, I’m not ready to see them just yet. It seems like spring was just last week.

19. False Solomon's Seal Fruit

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. 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.

20. Branch Collar

I know I shouldn’t but when I think of fall I can’t help thinking about what follows. Thankfully though, things like this old pine log remind me that I’ll see beautiful things, even in winter. Sun, wind, rain and snow have smoothed and polished its wood and made it very beautiful, and in my opinion worthy of being exhibited in any museum. Nature is filled with things every bit as beautiful and I hope everyone will be able to see them. All it takes is a walk outside.

In summer, the song sings itself. ~William Carlos Williams

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1. Meadow

The tree leaves have fully unfurled and the forests are shaded, and that means it’s time to get out of the woods and into the meadows where the sun lovers bloom.

2. Vetch

There aren’t many flowers that say meadow quite like vetch. I think this example might be hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa,) which was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire. I think of vetch as very blue but this example seemed purple so I checked my color finding software. It sees violet, plum, and orchid, so I wasn’t imagining it. Maybe it is cow vetch (Vicia cracca,) which is kind of violet blue.

3. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. This example grows in a local park. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, and another common name is American ipecac. Nobody seems to know the origin of the name bowman’s root or whether it refers to the bow of a boat or the bow part of the bow and arrow.

4. Bowman's Root

The white flower petals of bowman’s root are asymmetrical and always look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler. But they are beautiful nonetheless and dance at the end of long stems. And they do dance in the slightest movement of air. Some say that all it takes is the gentle breath of a fawn to set them dancing, and because of that another of their common names is fawn’s breath. A beautiful name for a flower if there ever was one.

5. False Solomon's Seal

I missed getting a photo of Solomon’s seal this year but there are plenty of false Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) blooming right now. The largest example in this photo was close to three feet tall; one of the largest I’ve seen.

6. False Solomon's Seal

False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California used crushed false Solomon’s seal roots and used them to stun fish. Others used the plant medicinally.

7. Yarrow

Humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

8. Goatsbeard

After not seeing any goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis,) for a couple of years I recently found a good stand of it growing in a meadow in full sun. Luckily I was there in the morning because goat’s beard closes up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify.

9. Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They grow at the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. This plant is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed, but there are over 50 different chickweeds. The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals. This is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The flowers of greater stitchwort are also larger.

10. Bittersweet Nightshade

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine, which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

11. Wood Sorrel

I can’t say if wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) is rare here but I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grew in a wet area near a stream. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger.

12. Tradescantia

My grandmother had a great love of flowers that rubbed off on me at an early age. I used to walk down the railroad tracks to get from her house to my father’s house and when I did I saw flowers all along the way. One of those was spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana,) and I loved them enough to dig them up and replant them in our yard, despite my father’s apparent displeasure. He didn’t care much for the plant and he often said he couldn’t understand why I had to keep dragging home those “damned old weeds.” He said he wasn’t pleased about a stray cat that I brought home either but it wasn’t a week later that I saw the cat on his lap with him stroking her fur, so I think he really did understand why I kept dragging those damned old weeds home. Though he could have he never did make me dig them up and get rid of them. That’s why spiderwort became “dad’s flower,” and why every single time I see one I think of him.

13. Purple Tradescantia

Spiderworts can be blue, pink, purple, or white so I don’t know if this one growing in a local park is a native natural purple flowered variety or if it’s a purchased cultivar. It’s nice but I like the blue best.

14. Peony

While I was at the park visiting the purple tradescantia I saw this saucer sized peony blossom. It was a beautiful thing to stumble upon and very easy to lose myself in for a while.  When you’re taking photos of a flower or object it’s easy to become so totally absorbed by the subject that for a time there is nothing else, not even you.

15. Rose

Do roses smell like peonies, or do peonies smell like roses? Either way we win, but I smelled a rose before I even knew what a peony was because we had a hedge full of them.

16. Fringe Tree

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that few people grow. It’s one of the last to leaf out in late spring and its fragrant hanging white flowers give it the name old man’s beard.  Male flowered trees are showier but then you don’t get the purple berries that female flowered trees bear. Birds love the fruit and if I had room I’d grow both. I’ve read that they’re very easy to grow and are pollution tolerant as well.

17. Blue Eyed Grass

I showed a photo of blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) recently but here is one with seed pods. I’ve never seen them. Blue eyed grass is in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light blue green leaves resemble grass leaves. The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find.

18. Maple Leaf Viburnum

Our viburnums and native dogwoods are just coming into bloom. The flowers above are on the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) Each flattish flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

19. WNE

I thought I’d tell local readers that the new wildflower guide by Ted Elliman and the New England Wildflower Society is in stores. I got my copy about a week ago and I find it really clear and easy to read. It also has photos rather than line drawings, which I like and another thing I like about it is how some of the more common non-native plants are also included. Some of my own photos can be found in it as well, and I feel honored to have had them included. I hope everyone will want a copy.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

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1. Blue Dragonfly

The beautiful blue of this dragonfly dazzled me for a few moments one recent day. I’m not sure but I think it might be a blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis.) Its color reminded me of the blue stemmed goldenrod, which appears at this time of year.

NOTE: A reader says that this looks like a slaty skimmer. Any thoughts on that?

2. Blue Jay Feather

The blue of the blue jay feather matched that of the dragonfly. This shade of blue seems to appear in unexpected places in nature, like on smoky eye boulder lichens, cobalt crust fungi and first year black raspberry canes.

3. Turtles

There were two painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) on a log one day and the big one looked to be scratching the little one’s back. Or maybe he was trying to push the little one off the log, I don’t know.  They looked like happy turtles, whatever they were doing.

4. White Caterpillar

The hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) is black and white and can cause quite an itchy rash, from what I’ve read. The nettle like hairs can break off and stick in the skin and they are said to bother some people enough for them to be hospitalized, so it’s probably best to look and not touch this one.

5. Salamander

New Hampshire has eight native salamanders including the red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens.) I found this one under a log and I think it must be a juvenile red-spotted newt, which is called a red eft. It was bigger than many adults I’ve seen of that species but it was bright red as red efts are supposed to be.

NOTE: A reader has confirmed this salamander as an erythristic red-back salamander. Erythristic means that it has more red pigment, like a red headed person. Red back salamanders are the most common salamander in the northeast and usually found under logs, so everything fits this example.

6. Salamander

The salamander was cooperative and let me take several photos until finally quickly ducking under a leaf.

7. Hemlock Growing out of Stump

I saw that a Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) seed had fallen onto a rotten hemlock stump that was apparently dirt like enough to let the seed grow. And grow it did, until its roots encircled the rotten stump and reached the ground. When the young tree is grown and the stump has rotted away this hemlock will look as if it’s standing on stilts.

8. Fern

Before they go dormant for the winter some ferns turn white, and if you catch them at just the right time they can be very beautiful.

9. Fern Shadow

Other ferns command my attention for different reasons.

10. Smooth Sumac Berries

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) berries are ripe and red. These berries don’t get anywhere near as hairy as staghorn sumac berries do but the plants still look alike and are easy to confuse if you don’t look closely for the hairy stems of staghorn sumac. Smooth sumac leaves turn bright red in the fall and produce a rich brown dye. Birds love them.

11. Staghorn Sumac Berries

Staghorn sumac berries, like the rest of the plant, are very hairy. They are an important winter emergency food for many types of birds including Robins, Evening Grosbeaks, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Scarlet Tanagers. After a thorough soaking and washing, the berries were made into a drink resembling pink lemonade by Native Americans. In the Middle East they are dried and ground into a lemon flavored spice.

12. Sumac Pouch Gall

Since I’m speaking of sumacs I might as well give you an update on the sumac pouch galls that the Smithsonian Institution is coming to harvest. They’re looking for winged adult sumac gall aphids (Melaphis rhois) so they asked me to cut a gall open. These galls turn tomato red as they age but as the photo shows this example looked more like a blushing potato.

13. Sumac Pouch Gall Inside

All I found inside were green aphid larva. They need to grow a bit but since I don’t know much about their life cycle I’ll let the Smithsonian people decide when to come. They’re researching the coevolution of Rhus gall aphids and their host plants. Science has found that this relationship between the aphids and the sumac has been going on for at least 48 million years, with no signs of stopping. The galls are surprisingly light; they are really just bags of air.

14. False Solomon's Seal

When false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe they will be bright red, but I like them speckled like they are at this stage too. I’ve read that soil pH can affect 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.

15. Solomon's Seal Berries

Dark blueish purple true Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) berries dangle under the leaves and look like grapes-quite different than the false Solomon’s seal berries in the previous photo. The berries and leaves of this plant are poisonous and should not be eaten. Solomon’s seal and its variants are great plants for a shaded woodland garden.

16. Burning Bush

Most burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) are still green but every now and then just one branch will turn this orchid color, as if it can’t wait to announce summer’s passing. Though they are very invasive they can also be beautiful. They have taken over the understory of a strip of forest along the Ashuelot River and when the hundreds of shrubs all turn this color it becomes a breathtakingly beautiful sight.

One very important aspect of motivation is the willingness to stop and to look at things that no one else has bothered to look at. This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity. ~ Edward de Bono

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1. The Group

Last Saturday afternoon the weather cooperated and after 2 or 3 false starts the Pathfinders finally made it to Keene for their tour of the old abandoned road that follows Beaver Brook. Their group was much smaller than what had been originally planned last winter, but I hope that the ones who couldn’t make it can come another day. When I took this photo of them walking up the old road I thought oops, I forgot to tell them to wear long pants. The road is covered with poison ivy along one side and it’ll be a miracle if none of them starts itching.

2. Poison Ivy

I was busy showing them the mosses, lichens and liverworts that they had come to see and didn’t take many photos so I went back the following day after it had rained to get more shots of the poison ivy and other things that we saw. That’s why it’s going to look dry in some of these photos and wet in others.

I pointed the poison ivy out to the Pathfinders right away but I didn’t need to because they all knew it well. I forgot that they are called “Pathfinders” for a reason and probably know the woods as well as I do.

3. Jewelweed

Many think that jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) gets its common name from its spotted orange or yellow flowers but the name actually comes from the way the waxy coating on its leaves makes rain water bead up and sparkle like jewels. The pathfinders noted that the plant always seems to grow near poison ivy, and how its sap has been used since before recorded time by Native Americans to alleviate the rash brought on by its toxins. It’s as if nature put the illness and the cure side by side.

4. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Everyone was impressed by how the spore bearing apothecial disks of the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) looked blue gray in certain light but more blue in a photo. They have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries and that makes them appear blue in the right light. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen but they are still very small.

The Pathfinders needed to find 5 lichens, 5 mosses, and a liverwort (I think) to earn their badges in one of the nature categories, similar to what the Boy Scouts do, by the sounds of it. In the end they found all they needed and more.

5. Dryad's Saddle Fungus

I saw some dryad’s saddle (Polyporus squamosus) bracket fungi on a dead elm. I was surprised to see them since May had been such a dry month. These mushrooms get quite large and are fairly common on dead hardwood trees and stumps in the spring and fall. They are often funnel shaped rather than flat and saddle shaped like the example above.  The squamosus part of the scientific name means scaly and this mushroom almost always has brown scales on its cap. By the way, a dryad is a tree nymph or female tree spirit from Greek mythology. They were considered very shy creatures but I suppose even shy creatures need somewhere to sit down every now and then.

6. False Solomon's Seal

There were many false Solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum) blooming along the roadsides. This common plant grows in every state except Hawaii and is also called treacle berry because its ripe red fruit tastes like molasses. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for the plant including as a cough suppressant and a treatment for sunburn. They say that the young spring shoots taste like asparagus but there are other poisonous plants with shoots the look much the same, so I think I’ll just let them grow.

7. False Solomon's Seal

Each tiny false Solomon’s seal flower is slightly more than an eighth inch across and made up of 6 tepals, 6 stamens, and a central pistil with a short pudgy style. The word tepal is used when a flower’s petals and sepals look enough alike to be nearly indistinguishable, as they do in this case.

8. Forest Tent Caterpillar

The forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria Hübner) is found in hardwood forests across America and is especially abundant here in the east. Though their preferred foods are sugar maple, aspen, cherry, apple, oaks, birch, ash, alder, elm, and basswood this one had been munching on a flowering raspberry leaf (Rubus odoratus.) They hatch near the time of bud break and eat both flower and leaf buds along with mature foliage. If they happen to defoliate the same tree more than 2 years in a row they can kill it. I’m not crazy about it defoliating trees but I love the beautiful sky blue color of its stripe.

9. Rose Moss

I was able to show the pathfinders a few rare mosses including rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum). I think it was their favorite, judging by the amount of photos being taken. It’s a beautiful thing that isn’t often seen in this area. It isn’t normally so shiny; the shininess of it in this photo is because it had rained.

10. Polypody Fern Sporangia

We spent a little time talking about polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum) and I showed them what the sporangia, where the spores are produced, looked like. They grew on the boulders all around us and explained very nicely why “rock cap fern” is one of their common names.

11. Polypody Fern

Polypody ferns are one of our few evergreen ferns. They love to grow on boulders and could be seen topping many of the larger stones. They have a very tough, leathery feel, not delicate at all.

12. Beaver Brook

Beaver brook was little more than a trickle in places; so low that I don’t think a beaver could have swam in it without first damming it up. In a normal spring with normal rainfall I would have been swept downstream if I had tried to stand where I was when I took this photo.

 13. Falls

All but one of us made the slide / climb down to the falls. The light was all wrong for a good photo but the bright sun brought out the pinks and tans in the microcline feldspar that is so prevalent here. The brook was low enough to walk across so some of the kids crossed over and had some fun splashing around in the small pool at the base of the falls (and almost losing shoes.)  I’ve never seen these falls with so little water flowing over them, even in July. It was really surprising and drove home the point that rainfall is down nearly 6 inches from March first. The Pathfinders wanted to know if you could swim here. I told them that people used to but nobody did.

14. The Road Dark

The Pathfinders are polite, well behaved, fun, happy, and all around good kids. I really enjoyed my time with them and I hope we can get together again sometime. Though this old road leads nowhere these days, I have a strong hope that the experiences they had on it will help lead them to a love of nature that will stay with them throughout their lives.

Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives. ~ Thomas Berry

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Here are a few more of those odd and unusual things that I see that won’t fit into other posts.

1. Big Bluestem Grass aka Andropogon gerardii

I like discovering grass flowers and this one is a beauty. The flowers of native big bluestem grass (Andropogon gerardii) grow in pairs of yellowish male anthers and feathery, light purple female stigmas. This grass gets its name from its blue green stems. It is the dominant grass of the tall grass prairie in the U.S.  Before Europeans arrived this grass had a quite a range; from Maine to the Rocky Mountains and from Quebec to Mexico. At one time it fed thousands of buffalo. Because of its large root system, early settlers found it was an excellent choice for the “bricks” of sod houses.

 2. Club Coral Fungi Clavariadelphus truncatus

Some coral fungi come to a blunt, rather than pointed end and are called club shaped corals. I thought these might be Clavariadelphus truncatus but that mushroom has wrinkles down its length and these are smooth, so I’m not sure what they are. More often than not I find these growing in the hard packed earth near trails and they have usually been stepped on. The broken one in the photo shows that these are hollow. They were no more than an inch tall.

 3. Curly Dock Seeds aka Rumex crispus

The seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus,) when the sun is shining just right, look like tiny stained glass windows.

4. Silky Dogwood Berries aka Cornus amomum

The berries of silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) start out porcelain white and slowly change to dark blue. The birds love these berries so they don’t decorate the shrubs for long. This is a large shrub that grows in part shade near rivers and ponds. It gets its common name from the soft, silky hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans smoked the bark like tobacco. They also twisted the bark into rope and made fish traps from the branches.  I wonder if the idea for blue and white porcelain dishes first made in ancient China came from berries like these.

 5. Sumac Red Pouch Galls caused by Melaphis rhois

Red pouch galls on stag horn sumac (Rhus typhina) are caused by the sumac gall aphid (Melaphis rhois.) These galls look like some kind of fruit but they are actually hollow inside and teeming with thousands of aphids. They average about golf ball size and change from light yellow to pinkish red as they age. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. The galls can also be found on smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) They remind me of potatoes.

 6. Wolf's Milk Slime Mold

At a glance wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) might fool you into thinking it was just another brownish puffball but, if you try to make it “puff,” you’ll be in for a surprise. The diameter of the one in the photo is about the same as a pea.

 7. Wolf's Milk Slime Mold

This is the surprise you get when you try to make wolf’s milk slime mold’s “puff ball” puff-you find that it is a fruiting body full of plasmodial orange slime. This is also called toothpaste slime mold but on this day the liquid inside the sphere was nowhere near that consistency. It was more like chocolate syrup. This slime mold is found on rotting hardwood logs and is one of the fastest moving slime molds, clocked at 1.35 millimeters per second.

John Tyler Bonner, a slime mold expert, says slime molds are a “bag of amoebae encased in a thin slime sheath, yet they manage to have various behaviors that are equal to those of animals who possess muscles and nerves with ganglia–that is, simple brains.”

 8. Puffball

Here is a real puffball-at the size of an egg many hundreds, if not thousands of times bigger than the wolf’s milk slime mold. I think this example might be a pigskin puffball (Scleroderma,) which is poisonous.

 9. Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa Slime Mold

The honeycombed domes of the Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa variety porioides slime mold make it one of the most beautiful, in my opinion. Unfortunately it’s also one of the smallest, which makes getting a good photo of it almost impossible. After many attempts, this was the best I could do. The little black bug on one of the fruiting bodies is so very small that I didn’t see it until I saw this photo.

 10. Purple Cort Mushroom

Here in New Hampshire white and brown mushrooms can be found at almost any time, but the really colorful mushrooms usually start in about mid-July with yellows and oranges. There can also be occasional red ones but orange dominates the forest until the purples appear. Once the purple ones appear there are fewer and fewer orange ones seen.  I’ve watched this for 2 years now and it shows that mushrooms have “bloom times” just like flowers do. In the case of mushrooms, it’s actually fruiting time. I think this one is a purple cort (Cortinarius iodeoides.)

 11. False Solomon's Seal Foliage

The berries have formed on false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum ) so the leaves aren’t needed anymore. Fall begins at the forest floor.

 12. Pokeweed Berry

The rounded, five lobed, purple calyx on the back of a pokeweed berry (Phytolacca americana) reveals what the flower once looked like. The berries and all parts of this plant are toxic, but many birds and animals eat the berries. Native Americans used their red juice to decorate their horses and early colonial settlers dyed cloth with it.

 13. White Baneberry Plants

One rainy afternoon I drove by these plants that were loaded with white berries and had to turn around to see what they were. They turned out to be white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) but I’ve never seen that plant have as many berries as these did. These black and white berries are highly toxic but fortunately they also reportedly taste terrible and are said to be very acrid.

 14. White Baneberry Berries

Another name for this plant is ‘doll’s eyes” and it’s easy to see why. The black dot is what is left of the flower’s stigma. The black and white berries with pink stems are very appealing to children and it is thought that only their terrible taste prevents more poisonings than there are.

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.  ~Lao Tzu

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