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Posts Tagged ‘Flat Leaved Scalewort’

In 1906 Albert Proell, manager of the Keene Forestry Association, was allowed to start a tree plantation on unused land near what is now the Keene airport. Trees, chiefly Scot pine and Norway spruce, were grown from seed to be used in reforestation projects. The spruce trees have done well but the Scot pines have not; neither the soil nor climate is right for them. Many of the spruce trees are still here and, as the above photo shows, are tall but have no real girth because they were meant to be transplanted into other areas, not allowed to reach full size. They are too close together and cast such deep shade that nothing but a few mosses and fungi will grow beneath them.

This view looking up shows how the trees are more poles than trees.

The plantation trees often die young as this one did.

But the near sterile tree plantation is only part of the story, because not all of the trees in this forest were planted. In fact most of them weren’t and some have been here for a very long time. Many old and large white pines (Pinus strobus) grow here, as well as hemlocks, larches, birches, beeches, maples, oaks and poplars.

Beech leaves glowed in the sun. I watch these leaves in winter because when they start falling from the trees spring isn’t far off. This is a tree that brings me year round pleasure, from its beautiful new leaves in spring until the last leaves fall in the following spring. I just read that beech trees were a sign of soil fertility for early settlers moving west, and when they found a good stand of beech that’s where they would start their farms. It’s also a very important tree to woodland creatures and everything from mice to black bears eat its nuts.

A large part of this land is swamp, and this is where I come to see skunk cabbage, wild azaleas and many other plants I don’t find anywhere else.

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are just waiting for it to warm up a bit and at the end of February or early March they’ll start to bloom. They’re one of our earliest spring blooming plants, if not the earliest.

I was happy to see seed pods on a few of the native roseshell azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum.) If a plant is producing seed it is happy, and these native shrubs are hard to find. The fragrant pink flowers are among the most beautiful found in the spring forest.

The shiny evergreen leaves of pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) are quite easy to see in winter. They’re one of our native wintergreens and they like to grow in undisturbed, sandy woodland soil that is on the dry side. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its common name comes from the Native American Cree tribe, who used it medicinally to treat kidney stones. It was thought to break them up into pieces. Even though pipsissewa photosynthesizes it supplements its diet by taking certain nutrients from fungi, and for that reason it is considered partially parasitic. This is one of a very few places I’ve seen it. 

The pretty little seedpods of pipsissewa persist through the winter and poke up out of the snow. They are woody and split open into 5 parts to release the tiny seeds. Each capsule is about a quarter inch across. They remind me of the seedpods of the Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora,) in some ways.

Another rarity in this forest is striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata.) I’ve found 5 or 6 examples here, all growing in the same general area. Striped wintergreen has a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like our native orchids. It also explains their rarity. I read recently that the plant is considered rare in both New England and Canada. I’ve also read that it won’t grow on land that has been disturbed in the last 100 years.

A yellow area on a tree had me thinking I knew what it was, but then I looked closer…

…and I realized that I had no idea what it was. But I thought that it must be a liverwort and after some digging I came up with a liverwort called flat-leaved scalewort (Radula complanate.) It is said to be relatively common on trees and rocks but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. It doesn’t like direct sunlight and it certainly wouldn’t have gotten any where I found it growing.

Another of our native evergreen’s leaves were buried under the snow but I didn’t need to see them to identify this plant. The big J shaped flower styles of shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) are unmistakable, even on its winter seedpods. Shinleaf is quite common in this area and can form large colonies. It seems to be more successful than some other wintergreens. Shinleaf and other plants in the wintergreen family contain compounds that are similar to aspirin and shinleaf was used by Native Americans as a poultice on injured shins and other parts of the body. That’s how the plant comes by its common name. Shinleaf leaves form a rosette at the base of the single, 4-5 inch tall flower stalk.

I’ve seen a lot of holes in trees but this was more of a slit than a hole and I haven’t a clue how it came to be. It was in an old white pine that was hollow inside. There are an amazing number of hollow trees in forests but it takes a long time; a hundred years or more, for a tree to become hollow so most of them are quite large. Many birds, animals, and even frogs and snakes live in tree hollows, so they’re important to wildlife but they can also be dangerous if they’re near buildings. I saw a big old white pine that had fallen and cut a barn right in half. It was hollow inside.

Amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) looked like stained glass. Being in the snow meant these examples had absorbed plenty of water so they were pliable and rubbery, like your ear lobe. I see this fungus everywhere, especially on fallen oak limbs but also on alder and poplar as well.

A tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) looked older than the tree it grew on but of course that isn’t possible. These bracket fungi produce spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that they can produce as many as 800 million spores in a single hour. Its common name comes from its usefulness as tinder for starting fires.

Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) are some of the most colorful in the forest. For years now I’ve wondered what determines the colors that turkey tails display. Why are some brown and others blue? Or orange? Or purple?  If the question has an answer I haven’t found it, but I have found that they are full of antioxidants and contain many immune boosting properties. In fact studies have shown that they can boost the effectiveness of cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

Lots of clubmosses grow here and fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum) is one of my favorites. The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180 degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered fern allies. Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly and grow in the dark places in the forest. They can get away with doing that because they don’t photosynthesize, but they do have flowers and when the flowers are pollinated they stand straight up toward the sky. This tells me that the flower seen here either wasn’t pollinated or didn’t see any need to stand up straight like all of its cousins. The seeds are fine like dust and I think the flower standing up straight must have something to do with rain being able to splash the seeds out of the capsule. Many plants and mosses use the same strategy for seed and spore dispersal. Fresh Indian pipe plants contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems, and the common name comes from the plant’s resemblance to the pipes they smoked.

That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself then how to come pliantly back to life again. ~Ali Smith

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1-half-moon-pond

After an extended nice warm January thaw we were brought back to reality by a sleet / freezing rain / snow/ rain storm that immediately froze into concrete like ice, making it treacherous to walk just about anywhere. This was the view across Half Moon Pond in Hancock to Mount Skatutakee, taken by cell phone the next morning. The pond Ice was cold but the air was warm, and that meant fog.

2-monadnock

It wasn’t fog but a cloud that tried to hide the summit of Mount Monadnock at Perkin’s Pond in Troy recently. There is still very little snow on this, the sunny side of the mountain. Every time it snows up there the sun melts it before it snows again, resulting in the least snowy Monadnock summit I’ve seen in a while.

3-puddle-mud

My thoughts turned from the lofty heights of mountaintops to the lowly depths of puddle mud when I found this. I don’t know if the mud froze and made these patterns or if ice on the puddle made them before it melted and then evaporated. Mud puddles can be very interesting things.

4-white-cushion-moss

The white cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) growing on a boulder made me want to reach out and pet it, and so I did. Though it looks like it might be stiff and prickly it’s actually quite soft. White cushion moss gets its common name from the way it turns a whitish color when it dries out so even though it was surrounded by ice this one was very dry. A perfect example of the winter desert when, though there is plenty of snow and ice, it’s too cold for any melt water to benefit plants.

5-crowded-parchment

Crowded parchment fungus (Stereum complicatum) lived up to its name on this log. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself.” This fungus often grows on fallen oak limbs and parasitizes some types of jelly fungi. It causes white rot of the heartwood when it grows on standing trees.

6-milk-white-toothed-polypore

I spoke about finding a very young milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) in my last post. Since then I’ve seen older ones and this is one of them. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.” Look for them in the undersides of tree branches.

7-turkey-tails

I’ve been looking for turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) that were wearing something other than brown all year and I finally found some that looked bluish gray. They were a little dry I think, because of their wilted looking edges, or maybe they were just old. This fungus been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years and the FDA has approved them for trials on cancer patients. They’re found in forests all over the world from Europe to Asia in the US and Russia.

8-unknown-fungi

These mushrooms were well past their prime but I didn’t care because I loved their color and texture and the way they looked as if they had been sculpted and bronzed. In death they were far more beautiful than they had been in life.

9-sumac-berries

Birds aren’t eating staghorn sumac berries but they never seem to in this area until the end of winter. I’ve heard that birds shun them because they’re low in fat, but I wonder if that’s true of all birds because when birds like red winged blackbirds return in spring the berries disappear quickly. It’s a head scratcher because Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog in Michigan says that the birds there gobble them up.

10-rose-hips

Birds haven’t eaten these rose hips either but they were as big as grapes, so maybe swallowing them is a problem. Fresh or dried rose hips are higher in vitamin C than citrus fruits and they can be used in many recipes, including a tea that is very soothing for a sore throat. The seeds inside rose hips should always be removed before use though, because they have a hairy covering that can be irritating. They can cost as much as $25.00 per pound in health food stores, which is more than the price of a rose bush, so it is worth growing your own if you have a fondness for them. The best time to harvest rose hips is after the first frost because frost removes some of the tartness. Choose fruit that is firm and has good, deep color. These examples were not firm but they had plenty of color.

11-cherries

These cherries were the size of peas, so it wasn’t size that turned the birds away from them. I think they were chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) which are dark purple / black when ripe, but I wonder if these might have frozen before they had a chance to ripen. Robins, thrushes, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, jays, bluebirds, catbirds, kingbirds, and grouse eat chokecherries, and so do mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, foxes, deer, bear, and moose. The inner bark of the chokecherry was used by Native Americans in the smoking mixture known as kinnikinnick to improve the taste of the bearberry leaf, which was the chief ingredient for many tribes.

12-red-elderberry-buds

I don’t see many red elderberry bushes (Sambucus racemosa) but I’m always happy when I do because then I get to see their chubby plum colored buds, which are some of my favorites. Later on the plant will have bright scarlet fruits that birds love. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

13-poplar-sunburst-lichen

I had to go and visit one of my favorite lichens; the poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza hasseana.) It grows on a tree near a retention pond in Keene, right next to a shopping mall. I’ve visited it off and on for years now and it has never stopped producing spores. The sucker like, cup shaped bits are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) where the spores are produced. Will it ever stop producing spores? After watching it do so for about 4 years now, I doubt it. In fact, it could go on for millennia:

Another sunburst lichen, the elegant sunburst (Xanthoria elegans) was exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for one and a half years and when it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened. Many believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as close to immortal as any earthly being can be.

14-star-rosette-lichen-physcia-stellaris

As I finished admiring the poplar sunburst lichen my attention was drawn to another lichen that seemed to be winking at me. It was a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris), which has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to a white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on blueberries, plums, and first year black raspberry canes. I’ve noticed by watching smoky eye boulder lichens, which also have pruinose apothecia, that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue. These examples were kind of blue gray but it was a cloudy day.

15-black-birch-witchs-broom

I keep running into black birches (Betula lenta) with what appears to be a deformity in their buds. I wouldn’t call it witches broom but the buds grow in a tightly packed cluster which isn’t normal, judging by the other buds on the trees. I haven’t been able to find out anything about it from any source, so if you happen to know I’d love to hear from you.

16-black-birch-bud

This is what a normal black birch bud looks like. Birch beer was once made from the black birch and so was oil of wintergreen. If you aren’t sure if the tree you see is a black birch just chew a twig. If it’s a black birch it will taste like wintergreen. So many trees were taken to make oil of wintergreen that black birch is still hard to find in many areas today.

17-liverwort

I saw something on a tree that seemed very pale for this time of year. Most mosses are a deep green in winter so this chartreuse color really stood out. After a little research I think it is a liverwort called flat-leaved scalewort (Radula complanata.) I’ve read that it is common on trees and shrubs but I’ve never seen it. Plants are usually flattened, either forming patches like the one seen above or single stems creeping among mosses.

18-liverwort

A closer look at the liverwort shows round, flattened, overlapping leaves which are quite small. Each one is no more than 1/16  of an inch across. The even smaller, darker leaves look to be part of the same plant but I can find very little information on this liverwort. It is said to like sunny, sheltered, moist conditions and will sometimes grow on streamside rocks. Liverworts are epiphytes that take nothing from the trees they grow on. I’ve read that they were the first land plants to evolve about 500,000 million years ago and are the oldest living land plants.

19-twilight

The days are finally getting longer but it’s still too dark to do any serious photography before or after work. I took this shot of ice covered Half Moon Pond in Hancock at 7:30 one recent morning and it looks like the sun was setting rather than rising. The lack of light on weekdays leaves only weekends for taking photos and lately you can barely find the sun, even on a weekend. Our weather predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil just predicted six more weeks of winter (which just happens to coincide with the six weeks of winter left on the calendar) but the days are getting longer and not even old Punxsutawney Phil can stop that. I’m very much looking forward to being able to spend more time in the woods.

The days are short
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.
 ~John Updike

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