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Posts Tagged ‘Flowering Grasses’

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

Thanks for stopping in.

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I’ve been wanting to show you something so last Sunday I decided to climb Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey to see if I could see what I had in mind. Usually when I think of climbing a hill to show you something it doesn’t work, but I’ll keep trying. We start by crossing this hay field / meadow.

There were violets in the grass. There were also buttercups but my photos of them aren’t good enough to be shown here. I think this is a dog violet (Viola conspera) but I usually avoid trying to identify violets because there are so many and they all seem to look alike.

The grasses are starting to flower. Many grasses are beautiful and interesting when they flower, but it’s an event that I fear most of us miss.

Once we’re through the meadow and into the woods everything becomes very green, including the light through the new spring leaves.

There were thousands of starflowers (Trientalis borealis) along both sides of the trail. They are a woodland plant that doesn’t mind shade, so the leaves overhead don’t bother them.

I saw my first mushroom of the year but I don’t know its name. Someone wrote in once with a positive identification of this one but I can’t remember the name they told me or the date of the post it appeared in. There are an awful lot of mushrooms on this blog but finding a specific one can be tedious if you don’t have a name to search for.

Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) were growing here and there. The plant gets its common name from its small white, carrot shaped edible root, which tastes like cucumber. Native Americans used it for food and also used it medicinally. The Medeola part of the plant’s scientific name is from Medea, a magical enchantress from Greek Mythology. It refers to the plant’s magical curative powers. These should be flowering in early July.

Botanically speaking a whorl is an “arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem,” and nothing illustrates this better than Indian cucumber root. Its leaves wrap around the stem arranged in a single flat plane, so if you saw them from the side theoretically you would see an edge, much like looking at the edge of a dinner plate. If any leaf or leaves in the arrangement are above or below others it’s not a true whorl.

I saw a few pink lady’s slippers budded but they usually won’t bloom until June. Some think they’ve found a pale yellow lady’s slipper when they see the buds are at this stage. This native orchid is our state wildflower.

As we get deeper into the forest it gets darker because of the canopy, and there is much less undergrowth.

There is a surprising openness in a dark forest overshadowed by evergreen hemlock and pine branches. I’ve heard that the same is true of jungles, because very little sunlight reaches the forest floor.

I saw a hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) with some young hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on it. This mushroom’s common name comes from its shiny cap which will come later, and which looks like it has been varnished. You can tell that they’re young because of the white / tan color on their outer edges. As they age they will lose the whitish color and become deep, shiny red. This mushroom has been used medicinally in China for thousands of years. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

This hemlock didn’t have any fungi on it but it must have had insects inside it because the woodpeckers were having their way with it. A while ago I split a log that had thousands of big black carpenter ants in it and for a woodpecker they’re a delicacy.

The bedrock forms ledges here that appear to have risen from the surrounding terrain, creating caves under the overhangs. They aren’t big enough for bears but a porcupine, raccoon or even a bobcat might call them home.

When the trail reaches its steepest you know you’re very near the summit.

I gave a nod and a click of the shutter to Tippin Rock as I passed. The 40 ton erratic gets its name from the way it will “tip” if shoved in the right spot. It actually rocks back and forth very slowly, like a pendulum. I didn’t have time to wrestle it on this day but if you’re interested you can just type “Tippin Rock” in the search box over on the top right and you’ll be taken right to all the posts I’ve done about it.

This is what I wanted to show you; the forest canopy awash in spring greens. With the oaks and hickories finally chiming in all of the trees now have their new leaves. This is why the spring ephemeral wildflowers are done blooming in the forests. From now on it will be mostly meadow and roadside flowers.

We aren’t in the clouds up here but we are in the tree tops. How many shades of green can there be?

The forest seems to go on forever. Sitting alone up here with the breeze and birdsong I often find myself wondering what the early settlers might have thought when they looked out over something so vast and unbroken. I also wonder if I would have had the courage to face it. There were no houses out there, no stores, and no roads. Only what you carried; that and your own ability were all you could really rely on.

I sit with my back against the little toadskin lichen’s (Lasallia papulosa) boulder when I take photos of the views, so of course I have to spend some time with them. Most were surprisingly dry in spite of all the rain but still beautiful nonetheless.

Some plants seem to shine with the light of creation and some lichens are no different. Sometimes you can see entire solar systems on the face of a toadskin lichen.

It looks like Mister Smiley Face is growing a mossy beard. I hope it doesn’t get too out of control. We always smile at each other on my way down.

I hope you enjoyed seeing the spring forest from above.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.

~Ron Akers

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Trail Start

Last Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far, with plenty of tropical humidity as well. Puffy white clouds floated slowly through the sky and if you hadn’t known it was May you’d have sworn it was August. When I was a boy I used to love such days, when you could see the shadows of the clouds moving across the distant hills, so I decided to climb one of those hills to see those shadows again. Since it was so hot I decided on an easy climb and chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. You start by crossing the meadow in the above photo. I saw that someone had been there before me; maybe another cloud lover.

2. Grass Flowering

Grasses were flowering. It’s too bad that so many miss them, because they can be very beautiful when they blossom.

3. Blue Eyed Grass

Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) wasn’t a surprise; meadows like this one is where it loves to grow. Despite its name this little beauty isn’t a grass at all; it’s in the iris family. Wild turkeys love its seeds.

4. Trail

I knew if I didn’t stop dawdling among the meadow flowers I’d never get to the top of the hill, so I set off up the trail.

5. Lady's Slipper

But there were more flowers there to dawdle over. Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids, bloomed alongside the trail. Native Americans called it moccasin flower, for obvious reasons. They used the plant medicinally as a nerve tonic and a pain reliever.

6. Wooly Oak Gall

Further up the trail I found a woolly oak gall, created by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator.) It was a small example about the size of an acorn, but I’ve seen them as big as ping pong balls. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls.

7. Oak Apple Gall

Oak apple galls fall from the trees regularly at this time of year. Theses galls are caused by a gall wasp known as Biorhiza pallida laying an egg inside a leaf bud. Tissue swells around the egg and a gall is formed.

8. Oak Apple Gall Inside

The gall wasp larva lives in the very center of the gall. Once they develop into an adult wasp they make a hole through the side of the gall and fly (or crawl) off to begin the cycle again. A web of spokes keeps the hollow sphere from deflating by connecting the inner hub to the outer shell.

9. Tippin Rock

When you see the 40 ton glacial erratic called Tippin rock you know the climb is just about done. This rock gets its name from the way it can be rocked or tipped when pushed in the right spot, but I’ve never found the spot. Anyhow, this wasn’t what I had come to see so I took a quick photo and moved on. The climbing might be over but the hiking to the scenic overlook isn’t.

10. View

I came hoping to see puffy white clouds casting shadows on the hills, and though I saw plenty of puffy white clouds I didn’t see any shadows. That’s because the clouds were off to the left and the sun was on the right. I find that usually when I go into the woods expecting to see a certain thing I don’t usually see it. Focusing on just one thing can make you miss a lot of what nature has to offer, so that’s why when I go into the woods I try to strip myself of all expectations and just enjoy whatever happens to be in my path. I saw many other interesting things so a lack of cloud shadows wasn’t disappointing. There will be other days with puffy white clouds.

11. View

Some of the puffy white clouds were becoming puffy dark gray clouds, and I wondered if we might see a thunderstorm. I hoped not since I was carrying three cameras (2 in pockets) with no way to protect them.

12. View

This view probably comes closest to what I was trying for, but it’s still not it.

13. Clouds

This shot, taken earlier on the same day at a different location, is what started it all, and shows what I was hoping to see on the hilltop. I might have done better just staying in the low lands.

14. Toadskin Lichen

But if I hadn’t climbed I wouldn’t have gotten to see my old friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa,) because they only grow on hilltops. Their warty projections are called pustules and if you look at the back of this lichen there will be a corresponding pit for every pustule. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present comes through but when dry they can be very ashy gray. They are also very brittle when dry, like a potato chip.

16. Rock Tripe Lichens

Growing right alongside the toadskin lichens is rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) which is kind of like a toadskin without the warts. It attaches to the rock in the same way and also gets brittle when dry. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

17. Toadskin and Rock Tripe Lichens

In this photo the green rock tripe lichens are smaller than the gray toadskin lichens and that’s unusual, but it’s because the rock tripe lichens in this photo are babies. I’ve seen rock tripe lichens as big as my hand but have only seen toad skins about 2 inches across, which is what I’d say the biggest examples in this photo were.

18. Toadskin Lichen

Each lichen, both rock tripe and toad skin, is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. I hope everyone reading this will make lichens one of the things they look for when outdoors. They’re fascinating, beautiful things that grow virtually everywhere; even in cities if the air is clean. Cemeteries are a good place to look for those that grow on stone.

19. Smiley Face

Mr. Smiley face was happy as always because that’s what happens when you spend all of your free time outside. You become filled with more joy than you ever thought possible.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Ashuelot River on 5-23-15

The month of May has been very warm and dry so far in this part of the state and we are now officially in a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rainfall was down by 5.17 inches since March first at last look. It seems odd since we had record breaking snowfall last winter, but they say all of the water from winter has now dried up. To illustrate the dryness, this view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey shows the many stones that aren’t usually visible until July. The water in this spot is shallow enough to allow walking across the river without getting your knees wet right now, but normally attempting that at this time of year would be foolish.

2. False Hellebore

Even tough plants like false hellebore (Veratrum viride) are slowing down. I was struck by the lack of insect damage on the beautiful pleated leaves of these plants. Though very toxic their leaves usually look like they’ve been shot through by buckshot at this time of year.  I’ve read that the roots of this plant can be ground and used in a spray form to keep insects away from garden plants so I can’t imagine what insect actually eats it, but whatever it is doesn’t appear to be very hungry this year.

A word of warning: if you think you might want to grind the roots of false hellebore and make a spray for your own garden you should be aware that this plant is extremely toxic. Native Americans once made poison arrows from its sap, and knowing that is enough to make me stay away from damaging it in any way.

3. Ginko Leaves

I don’t see many ginkgo leaves (Ginkgo biloba) so I have to take photos of them when I do. The order ginkgoales first appeared around 270 million years ago but almost all of its species had become extinct by the end of the Pliocene; wiped out during the ice ages by advancing ice. Ginkgo biloba, which is only found in the wild in China, is the single surviving species. The tree is an actual living fossil; fossilized leaves look much like those in the photo. Extracts made from this tree have been used medicinally for over 3000 years.

4. Grass Flowering

Grasses are starting to flower. Many grasses are beautiful and interesting when they flower, but it’s an event that most of us miss. If only we had the time to slow down a little and look a little closer at the things around us, how much more interesting this world might be.

5. Dandelion Seed Head

Dandelions aren’t wasting any time in their quest for world domination, though they do seem to be blooming later in spring here each year. Dandelions are apomictic plants, meaning they can produce seeds without being pollinated. They produce somewhere between 54 to 172 seeds per seed head and a single plant can produce more than 2000 seeds per season, all without the help of insects.

6. Haircap Moss

Common hair-cap moss (Polytrichum commune) is tending to perpetuation of the species which, if you know anything about the way this moss reproduces, is odd, considering the lack of rain.

7. Haircap Moss Splash Cup

Male and female plants of common hair cap moss grow in separate colonies but the colonies are usually quite close together. Male plants have splash cups like that shown in the above photo where sperm are produced. In spring, raindrops splash the sperm from the male shoots to the female plants where they then swim to the eggs.

8. Haircap Moss Spore Capsule

Common hair cap moss gets its name from the hairs that cover, or cap, the calyptra where each spore case is held, and which can just be seen in the above photo. Once the male sperm reaches the eggs and fertilizes them spores are produced in the capsules. Later on in the summer the capsules will open and the wind will carry the spores to new locations where they will germinate so the process can begin again. But none of this can happen without rain; rain to splash the sperm out of the splash cups and moisture on the plants for them to swim in to reach the eggs.  Maybe they know it’s going to rain.

9. New Oak Leaves

The gall insects aren’t wasting any time, as these new oak leaves show; hardly unfurled and already galled. Oak apple galls are usually found on the midrib of an oak leaf so these might be them just beginning to form. Galls can be unsightly but don’t hurt the tree and the best thing to do about them is to just let nature take its course.

10. Japanese Andromeda Leaves

The new leaves on this Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica) were a startling shade of red. Chlorophyll absorbs red and blue light and reflects green so leaves look green, but most plants also have other pigments present. Carotenoids are usually yellow to orange and anthocyanins are red to purple. Only one pigment usually dominates, so a plant with red leaves probably has higher than usual amounts of anthocyanins. Chlorophyll is still present even in leaves that aren’t green, and if a plant like this Andromeda normally has green leaves chlorophyll will eventually dominate and its new red leaves will soon turn green. Thanks go to Susan K. Pell, director of science at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for explaining that so well.

11. Poison Ivy

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also starts out life in spring with its leaves colored red or bronze and people are often fooled by it at this stage. It is a plant that anyone who spends time in the woods should get to know well, but even then you can still occasionally be caught by it. It doesn’t need to have leaves on it to produce a reaction; I got a blistering rash on my lower leg this spring from kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of spring beauties. Even burning the plants and inhaling the smoke can be dangerous; having the rash inside your body can lead to a hospital stay.

12. Robin Eggs

Friends of mine have robins nesting in their holly bush again this year, so they must have had success there last year. It might have something to do with their little dog Minnie, who spends much of her time just a few feet from the nest and keeps the cats away.

13. Snapping Turtle

I asked this snapping turtle to smile for the camera but this was the best he could do. He doesn’t have to worry about me dangling my toes in his pond. I think the yellowish string like objects are floating pine needles that somehow came out looking vertical.

14. Spring Peeper aka Pseudacris crucifer

This tiny little spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) was hopping through the dry forest litter and I wondered if he was looking for water. Most of the smaller forest pools and brooks have dried up, so he might have a hard time finding it. They say that we might see thundershowers every afternoon this week but showers don’t usually help much.

Man – despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments – owes his existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. ~Anonymous

Thanks for coming by.

 

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