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Posts Tagged ‘Fiddleheads’

1. Silver Maple Seeds

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

2. Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads

I joined a professional ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddlehead forager earlier to see where the ferns grow along the Connecticut River. There were many thousands of ferns there-so many that I don’t think a busload of people could have picked them all. I also saw some of the biggest trees that I’ve ever seen that day. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are considered a great delicacy by many and many restaurants are happy to pay premium prices for them at this time of year. I’ve always heard that ostrich fern is the only one of our native ferns that is safe to eat. They like to grow in shady places where the soil is consistently damp. They really are beautiful things at this stage in life.

3. Lady Fern Fiddleheads

Though I’ve heard that ostrich fern is the only fern safe to eat many people eat lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) fiddleheads as well, and gourmet restaurants in Quebec will pay as much as $10.00 per pound for them. Both ostrich and lady fern fiddleheads are considered toxic when raw and should be boiled for at least 10 minutes, according to one chef. After they are boiled they are sautéed in butter and are said to hold their crispness. They are also said to have the flavor of asparagus, but more intense. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks.

 4. Cinnamon Fern Fiddleheads

Both cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted ferns (Osmunda claytoniana) have wooly fiddleheads that taste very bitter and are mildly toxic. Some fern fiddleheads, like those of the sensitive fern, are carcinogenic so you should know your fern fiddleheads well before picking and eating them or you could get very sick. I’ve known the fern in the photo for a few years now and know that it is a cinnamon fern, but if I hadn’t seen its fertile fronds in the past I wouldn’t know for sure. The fertile fronds that will appear a little later on once reminded someone of a stick of cinnamon, and that’s how it comes by its common name.

5. Interrupted Fern

The interrupted fern gets its common name from the way its green infertile leaflets are “interrupted” about half way up the stem by the brown, fertile leaflets. The fertile leaflets are much smaller and their color makes them stand out even at a distance. This fern doesn’t seem to mind dry, sunny spots because that’s usually where I find them.

6. Interrupted Fern Fertile Frond

Though usually brown the fertile leaflets on this interrupted fern were bright green and I wonder if they change color as they age; I’ve never paid close enough attention to know for sure. In any event, the fertile leaflets are covered with tiny, round spore producing sporangia. They will release their spores through tiny openings and then the fertile leaflets will fall off, leaving a piece of naked (interrupted) stem between the upper and lower infertile leaflets.

7. Algae

Last year at about this time I found this greenish stuff seeping out of the rocks on a rail trail and, not knowing what it was, called it rock slime. It looked slimy but if you put your finger in it, it felt like cool water and wasn’t slimy at all. Now this year I seem to be seeing it everywhere, but still seeping out of rocks. Luckily last year our friends Zyriacus, Jerry, Laura, and others identified it as a green algae of the genus Spyrogyra.  Zyriacus said that some 400 species of this genus are known, and they thrive in freshwater. It’s great having knowledgeable friends-just look at the things we learn from each other!

 8. Beaver Tree

Beavers started cutting this tree, but they don’t seem to be in any hurry to see it fall because it has been this way for a while. The only part of the tree’s trunk they eat for food is the inner bark, called the cambium layer, so maybe they were just snacking.

9. Beaver Tree Closeup

A beaver’s teeth really do make it look like someone has been chiseling the tree. If they have a choice they’d rather tackle trees less than six inches in diameter but they can fell trees up to three feet in diameter. The Native American Cherokee tribe has a story that says that the beaver collects the baby teeth of the tribe’s children, and will give a child good luck in return for a song.

10. White Baneberry

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) has so much movement and interest in its spring shoots. They remind me of tiny bird claw-like hands and always make me wish that I had brought a pencil and a sketch pad so I could draw them. Later on this plant will produce bright white berries, each with a single black spot, and that is how it got the common name doll’s eyes.

11. Striped Maple Bud Opening

We’re having some unusual spring warmth and it seems to be speeding up events that normally take a few weeks. I took this photo of a striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) bud breaking on April 30th. On May 10th I was taking photos of striped maple flowers. From no leaves to flowering in just 10 days seems quite remarkable to me.

 12. Shagbark Hickory Bud Break

As you walk the trails along the Ashuelot River you might see what look like large pinkish orange flowers on the trees and think gosh, what beautiful things. If you get closer you will see that the colors are on the insides of the bud scales of the shagbark hickory tree, and aren’t flowers at all. And then you might wonder why such beautiful colors would be on the inside of a bud where nobody could ever see them, and as you walk on you might find yourself lost in gratitude, so very thankful that you were able to see such a thing. And later on, you might wonder if this chance meeting might have been an invitation.

 13 Beech Bud

In the spring as the sun gets brighter and the days grow longer light sensitive tree buds can tell when there is enough daylight for the leaves to begin photosynthesizing, so the buds begin to break. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud” and this can be a very beautiful thing, as we just saw with the shagbark hickory. American beech bud (Fagus grandifolia) break is every bit as beautiful and begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.

 14. Beech Bud Break

Now we know how beech buds open, but who can explain why they’re so beautiful when they do? Maybe it’s just another invitation. These invitations come so unexpectedly. Art, music, the beauty of a leaf or flower; all can invite us to step outside of ourselves; to lose ourselves and walk a higher path, at least for a time. It’s an invitation which if accepted, can be life changing.

One who not merely beholds the outward shows of things, but catches a glimpse of the soul that looks out of them, whose garment and revelation they are–if he be such, I say he will stand for more than a moment, speechless with something akin to that which made the morning stars sing together. ~George MacDonald

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 1. Sap Buckets

People who collect maple sap the old way in buckets like these are becoming a rare breed. The sap is flowing but syrup producers say it’s coming slowly, in fits and starts, because we’ve had so many cold days. Daytime temperatures need to be in the mid-forties and nighttime temps at around 28 degrees  for optimal sap flow. Though some days and nights have been perfect it hasn’t been consistent. We’re still seeing below zero nights and, since the 4-6 week season ends in early April, each cold snap brings a renewed sense of urgency. Last year New Hampshire produced 176,000 gallons of syrup. In the abnormally warm winter of 2012 producers didn’t even see half that amount, and this year it might be cold that hinders production.

 2. Muddy Road

When we have the kind of cold we’ve had this year it drives the frost deep into the ground. In spring when the soil begins to thaw the water can’t seep into the frozen ground so it sits on top, saturating the soil to the point where it can’t hold any more water. When the soil in question happens to be a road, things can get very interesting. Here in New England we call it “mud season” and when I drove over the road in the above photo I knew it was upon us, because it felt like I was driving on gelatin. Our roads become quaking quagmires that have been known to swallow even 40 foot long school buses.  If you’d like to see some photos of mud season in all its muckiness, just click here.

 3. Peat Mosses

In the swamps, peat mosses aren’t wasting any time. They seem to green up almost immediately after the snow melts. I just read that scientists took a piece of moss from part of an Arctic ice core sample that was over 1000 years old. When they exposed it to light and warmth the ancient moss grew just fine. This moss that is now green once again was alive when Rome was in its infancy. This is why some people wonder if mosses and lichens ever really die.

 4. Skunk Cabbage 

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are growing fast in spite of the cold nights. Since they produce their own heat through a process called thermogenesis, they don’t care how cold it is. This photo shows skunk cabbage spathes partly out of the soil. Once they reach full size they will open so flies can visit the flower covered spadix within.

 5. Vernal Witch Hazel 

The vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) keep poking out their strap like petals, only to roll them back up again because of the cold. They, like the maples, are going through fits and starts this year.

 6. Red Maple Buds

Red maple (Acer rubrum) and other tree buds are swelling and the hills off in the distance have taken on a reddish haze that is impossible for me to take a photo of, so I settled for a branch. Red maples are one of the first trees to flower in spring and I always look forward to seeing them because they are very pretty. The sap can be made into syrup just like that of sugar maples but it turns bitter when the buds start to break. Since they appear earlier than those of sugar maples, the season doesn’t last as long.

 7. Red Maple Buds

Both red and sugar maple buds are high energy foods and eastern gray squirrels eat them in spring. These buds also have high moisture content and that means that squirrels don’t have to leave a tree for a drink at this time of year.

 8. New Fern Growth 

I spotted this fern growing on a boulder. The cluster of round buds in its center will grow into new shoots, called fiddleheads, before too long. The only fern in this area with fiddleheads that are safe to eat is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are considered an early spring delicacy but they need to be prepared and cooked correctly or they can make you sick. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has investigated a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness cause by raw and undercooked fiddleheads. They should always be boiled for at least 15 minutes.  Some say you can also eat lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) and bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) fiddleheads but there is a great debate raging about the safety of eating them, so I can’t say for sure if you should or shouldn’t.

 9. Trailing Arbutus

The snow has melted enough to reveal the tough, leathery, evergreen leaves of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). My grandmother always called this plant mayflower but I’ve found its fragrant pinkish flowers much earlier in April. Because it has been so cold this year though, it might live up to its common name. I usually find it in mixed forests growing on sunny embankments.

 10. Oak Leaf on Snow

Last year’s oak and beech leaves are starting to fall. More signs of spring.

 11. Grasses in the Sun

The afternoon sun catching these dry grasses looked very spring like, but the scene looked better in person than it does in the photo.

12. Melting Snow

Sometimes spring comes creeping in quietly and slowly and is hardly noticeable, so we seem to go from winter right into summer. I have a feeling that this year will be that way.

Tomorrow, the first day of spring, will mark the 3 year anniversary of this blog. I remember wondering how I’d ever get through 6 months of it, so thanks go to all of you who have kept it going.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.  ~Henry Van Dyke

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I was going to do a post on spring ephemerals, but not all of the plants that follow are true spring ephemerals. Some plants however-even shrubs and trees-can have flowers that fit the definition of ephemeral, which is simply “lasting for a very short time.”

1. Bloodroot

Our native bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ) has just started blooming.  This is one of my favorite spring flowers. If we’re lucky and the temperatures don’t get too warm we might see two weeks of bloom.

 2. Bloodroot

A closer look at bloodroot. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful or perfect flower.

 3. Trout Lily

Yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum ) has also just started blooming.  These flowers have three petals and three sepals. All are yellow on the inside but the sepals have brown / bronze on the outside. Trout lily blossoms open in the morning and close in the evening, so you have to time your visits accordingly. The place that I go to see them has many thousands of plants there and I’m hoping to see great masses of them all blooming at once this year.

 4. Trout Lily

Trout lilies might stand 5-6 inches tall so getting a peek inside the nodding flower can be difficult, but I always try. The flowers are pollinated by ants, so they don’t have to raise their faces to the sky.

5. Trailing Arbutus Flowers

The tiny pinkish white blossoms of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) are also just starting to open. These are one of the most fragrant flowers in the woods and are the favorite of many a grandmother.  Mine called them mayflowers and she loved them. This plant isn’t a true ephemeral because its leaves appear year-round, but its flowers are fleeting.

 6. Fly honeysuckle aka Lonicera canadense

Native fly honeysuckle (Lonicera Canadensis) is one of the earliest shrubs to blossom. Its greenish yellow flowers are interesting because of the way they are joined. The flowers give way to oval red fruits which are also joined, but don’t share a single ovary like those of partridgeberry. Each blossom lasts only one day. The National Park Service uses this small shrub quite a lot to improve wildlife habitat, but in my experience they are rarely seen in local forests.

 7. Spring Beauties

 Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) are going strong after a slow start. I’m hoping to see large masses of these soon. Depending on how quickly it warms up, these flowers might appear for only a week. I’ve noticed that they do not like hot weather.

 8. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is another plant that seems to dislike hot weather. Dryness is also a potential problem for spring ephemerals as the wilting stems in this photo show. We haven’t had the usual April showers here this spring, so we might be in for a dry summer.

 9. American Elm Flowers

I think I’ve had more trouble getting a decent picture of American elm (Ulmus Americana) flowers than I ever have with any other flower. I know of only one tree with flowers on it and every time I go near it either the light isn’t right or the wind is blowing a gale. I’m going to keep trying but meanwhile this shot will have to do.

10. Fiddleheads

Ferns may not fit anyone’s description of ephemeral, but anyone who has tried to find the spring shoots, called fiddleheads, knows that it isn’t long before they have turned into fully formed fronds. We’ve had some warm weather recently and in just the last few days ferns have suddenly started growing fast. I think the ferns pictured are common ladyferns (Athyrium filix-femina.)

 11. Bluets

 Our native bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are always a welcome sight in spring but they usually come up in lawns so they get mowed off before they mature. In my lawn they have time to mature though, because I mow around them. These tiny flowers usually range from white to pale blue, but every now and then a clump of darker blue can be found. These were growing beside a road. Though bluets are categorized as ephemerals in some books I’ve seen them blooming throughout summer in cool, shaded areas.

 12. Trillium

Red trillium (Trillium erectum) has many common names. Some call it purple trillium and some flowers seem to be more purple than red, like the plum colored one in this photo was.  Another common name is wake robin, because the flowers are supposed to appear at the same time as robins do. Yet another name is stinking Benjamin, and I remembered why it had that name when I was taking this photo-phew! Red trilliums are pollinated by flies and one scent that is attractive to flies is rotting meat, and that’s what they smell like. It’s a beautiful sight, but don’t stand down wind.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.~Annonymous

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