I wanted to go for a climb last weekend but we’d had a storm that dropped sleet, snow, rain and freezing rain and now the snow is covered in a coat of ice. I had to wear Yaktrax to walk on the old abandoned road through Yale Forest, even though it’s flat and level. What looks like snow here is actually a thick coating of ice on top of the snow, and it was slippery.
This tree stump tells the story.
An evergreen fern was trapped in the snow and ice. It will probably stay that way for a while because every day this week is supposed to be below freezing.
Yale forest is a forest full of young trees, cut and cut again since the 1700s. Once farm land, it is now owned by the Yale University School of Forestry. A forestry school can’t train foresters in proper forest management without a forest, so this is one of the places where they come to train, and part of that training includes how to maintain healthy woodlands. This parcel is mostly red and white pine that was planted or seeded naturally after the hurricane of 1938 blew down many of the trees that stood here, so none of it is original old growth forest.
Evidence of the original use of the land after settlers moved in can be seen in the rusty barbed wire still attached to this big old tree stump. This is hilly, rocky land so it was most likely used for sheep pasture.
The stone walls here are tossed or thrown walls, which is a sign that the farmer wanted to clear the land as quickly as possible. Stones were literally thrown on top of one another without a thought or care about how the wall looked. When you had to grow what you were eating clearing the land quickly was far more important than having a nice looking wall.
Up ahead a tree had fallen across the old road but there was no reason to worry; this road hasn’t seen traffic for quite a while. It was once called Dartmouth College Road because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. When the State Department of Transportation built what is now route 10 this section of road was abandoned and from what I gather by talking to the county forester and others, was taken over by Yale University. It is now considered a private road but Yale University is very good about letting locals use the forest for hiking and biking.
The fallen tree had broken off about 8 feet above the ground and the break was relatively fresh. Its brother on the left had previously broken in almost the same place.
Dried fungi on the trunk spoke of why the tree had fallen. Fungi are a sign of rot in a tree and many can cause rot. Rot makes trees unable to withstand strong winds, and we’ve had a few windy days recently.
I always like to look over the branches in the crowns of fallen trees to see what was growing up so high. This tree had a lot of small, rounded mounds of crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) on its limbs. It’s tightly curled and contorted leaves meant that it was dry. It almost always grows on tree trunks where there is no standing water. Studies have shown that moss spores stick to the paws of chipmunks and squirrels, and that explains how they get their start so high up in trees. Chances are good that lichen and fungus spores are transported in the same way, I would think.
This is a closer look at the crispy tuft moss and its curled leaves, spent spore capsules and new growth. I love how the spore capsules look like tiny Tiffany vases. This comes from their being constricted just below the mouth of the capsule.
Fishbone beard lichen is common on trees and even wooden fences, so I wasn’t surprised to see it here. There are many different kinds of beard lichens and the differences can be subtle, but the fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) stands apart because of its resemblance to the backbone of a fish. This lichen seems to prefer growing on spruce but I’ve seen it on other trees as well. Though it isn’t rare I don’t see it frequently. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.
Netted crust fungi (Byssomerulius corium) are common and grow on the undersides of branches, and this fallen tree had large patches of it on its limbs. The corium part of the scientific name means skin or hide, and refers to the skin-like growth of this fungus. Quite often bracket or shelf like growths will form along its edges. This fungus has tiny net-like ridges in its surface, and that’s how the netted crust comes by its common name.
Its buds told me that the fallen tree was probably a silver maple (Acer saccharinum,) which is one of the weaker “soft” maples. These buds were smaller and more oval than the chubby, round buds on red maples, and didn’t grow in the large bud clusters that I see on red maples. Silver maples get their name from the whitish, silvery undersides of their leaves. The amount of growth that this tree supported along its trunk and limbs was phenomenal.
As I’ve said here many times lichens can be hard to identify because many change color when they dry out. Since it was a dry day I’m not at all positive but I think this one might have been a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris,) which is pale gray even when wet. In any case it was a beautiful example that wasn’t damaged. I often see lichens like this that look torn or one sided and I think it’s because birds have taken pieces of them to line their nests with. I was reading about a study that showed 5 different species of lichens were found in a single hummingbird’s nest.
There is a similar lichen called the slender rosette lichen (Physcia subtilis) but it has pale rhizines and these examples were very dark. Rhizines are a kind of rootlet that look like small hairs on the underside of some lichens that help them hold on to the surface they grow on, like tree bark. You can just see a blurry few of them poking out from under one of the lobes in the lower left of this photo.
A little ice won’t bother pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata.) This lichen likes to grow on moss because mosses retain a lot of water, and these examples grew on the side of a mossy boulder. Though they look like golf tees they are probably a tenth the size. Each stalk like growth (podetia) is less than 1/2 inch tall, and the cups that bear the lichen’s spores are about 1/32 of an inch across.
The scales on the pixie cup’s stalks are leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (Thallus) and some lichens are squamulose, meaning they’re made up of small, leafy lobes. Pixie Cups and other Cladonia species like reindeer lichen contain didymic acid, and they were once used by herbalists to treat tuberculosis. They are called pixie cups because they are said to resemble the tiny cups that pixies or wood fairies sip the morning dew from.
If you walk long enough on the old abandoned road through Yale forest you’ll come to an open swampy area that was once home to beavers. Beavers will move into a place and cut all the trees and then move on. Their pond will eventually drain and new trees will start to grow, and they will move back again to repeat the cycle. I’ve read that it takes about thirty years to go once around the cycle and this area looks as if it’s in the beaver pond draining stage. This photo is of the small stream that they dammed up originally.
Quite a large section of the beaver dam can still be seen but with no maintenance it has fallen into disrepair and no longer holds back any water. Many animals benefit from beaver ponds and swamps, such as insects, spiders, frogs, salamanders, turtles, fish, ducks, rails, bitterns, flycatchers, owls, mink and otters. Great blue herons, wood ducks, and hooded mergansers live in the dead trees that the rising water killed. Their ponds also filter out pollutants carried by runoff and serve as water storage areas, so they benefit man as well. Native Americans used beavers for food, medicine and clothing.
The most surprising thing I saw on this walk was a raspberry with fresh green leaves on it. I hope it knows what it is doing because we’re in for more cold weather. January temperatures ran about 8 degrees above average but in December there were days when we had below zero cold, so I can’t even guess why it would have grown new leaves. Maybe like me it’s hoping for an early spring.
The presence of a path doesn’t necessarily mean the existence of a destination. ~Craig D. Lounsbrough
Thanks for coming by.