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Posts Tagged ‘Foam Flower’

The last time I visited the deep cut rail trail that was once part of the northern branch of the Cheshire Railroad there were huge columns of ice hanging from the walls of the manmade canyon. These ice columns start to melt in the spring and can sometimes fall into the trail. Since they’re big enough to crush a person I stay away from this, one of my favorite places, until I’m sure they’ve melted. Though we’ve had a cool May I was sure they had melted by last Sunday, so off I went.

Right off I noticed something disturbing; a rock half the size of a Volkswagen Beetle had fallen from the face of the canyon. Particularly disturbing was how it fell right into the drainage ditch, which is where I am when I want to get close to the liverworts and other plants that grow on these walls. Thoughts of tons of stone whistling 50 feet down through the air certainly captured my attention for a while. It’s going to take a lot more than muscle and pry bars to move this one. I’m not sure that a backhoe could even move it.

As I walked around the stone I saw that more than one had fallen, and when they fell they took down a yellow birch tree about 6 inches across, which someone had cut up. The New Hampshire chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club comes here to train in rock and ice climbing and I hope there wasn’t anyone near here when all of this fell. If anyone were to be hit by even the smallest stone I doubt they would have survived.

Rocks fall here regularly because of the constantly seeping groundwater. In the winter it freezes, and when it freezes the ice in the many fissures inside the stone expands enough to fracture it into pieces, which eventually succumb to gravity. This year there is a lot of groundwater seeping through; all the cliff faces were wet, as the above photo shows. Of course, the plants love it.

Three or four years ago a stream appeared out of nowhere and has run down the rock face ever since, winter and summer. It’s a good thing the railroad dug wide drainage ditches along this section of rail bed, otherwise the place would be flooded and impassable from so much water constantly pouring in. The ditches have kept the rail bed dry for nearly 150 years now.

Apparently I’ve been walking right by mountain maple trees (Acer spicatum) all of my life without realizing it, but now all of the sudden I’m seeing them everywhere I go. That could be because they’re flowering now, and these trees flower like no other maple. All other maple trees have flowers that hang down but mountain maple’s flower clusters stand upright, above the leaves. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum) and I think that’s why I haven’t noticed them; I didn’t look closely. The shrub like tree is a good indicator of moist soil which leans toward the alkaline side of neutral. Native Americans made an infusion of the pith of the young twigs to use as eye drops to soothe eyes irritated by campfire smoke, and the large leaves were packed around apples and root crops to help preserve them.

There might be plenty of fruit to snack on later. Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) bloomed all along the trail but many types of wildlife eat the berries, so I doubt I’ll get any. Wild strawberry is one of two species of strawberry (Fragaria virginiana and Fragaria chiloensis) that were hybridized to create the modern strawberry. Strawberries were an important food for Native Americans and they made a cold tea of mashed strawberries, strawberry juice, water and sassafras tea to drink at their strawberry moon festivals in spring. For that reason it was called strawberry moon tea.

Up ahead a big red maple had fallen across the trail and its top had caught on the opposite rim of the canyon. There are many people who ride and walk along this trail and I hoped there wasn’t anyone near it when it fell. Once again I was dismayed to notice that, same as the stone had, the tree’s butt end fell right into the drainage ditch.

The maple had broken off about 6 feet up its trunk, probably in a good wind. Bark was missing and that’s a good sign that it had died some time before.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grow here by the hundreds but I was surprised to see them because I’ve never noticed them before. I’m guessing that I’ve never come here when many of the plants I saw on this day were blooming. With such a huge variety of plants all growing together it’s a simple thing to miss a leaf or two, even when walking at a toddler’s pace. Before long many of the plants here, like tall meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum,) will be shoulder high.

What I think are marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) grow here by the thousands and I was glad that I got here when they were blooming because it was quite a sight. The 5 petaled flowers stand above the leaves on tallish (6-7”) stems and can be violet, dark blue and sometimes white, They are said to be darker at their center, as these were. Many Native American tribes used violets medicinally for everything from stomach pain to swollen joints. A blue dye was also made from the plants, used to dye arrow shafts blue.

When I look up at the rim of this manmade canyon I don’t think about falling stones or trees; I think about how lucky I am to have found a place so beautiful, where nearly every surface is covered with plants of all kinds. I think of the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote about in Lost Horizon, and imagine that I’ve found it. As a boy I dreamed of being a plant hunter in distant jungles, and this is the closest I’ve ever been able to come. I’ve found many plants here that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll of the algae called Trentepohlia aurea. It is one of the things I found here that I can’t see anywhere else and is one of the reasons I put on my rubber boots and walk in the drainage ditches. Up close it is surprisingly hairy. I keep hoping I’ll see it producing spores but I haven’t yet.

Another plant I’ve never seen anywhere else is the eastern swamp saxifrage (Saxifraga pensylvanica.) In fact this day was the only time I’ve ever seen it, and I think the only reason I saw it at all was because it happened to be flowering. The thick, three foot tall flower stalk is covered in sticky hairs and terminates in several flower clusters. The flowers aren’t really anything to write home about; they’re small and greenish with petals that can be green, white or yellow, and rarely purple.  One plant has a single flower stem and both black bears and deer love to eat it. I know there are deer here so I was lucky to see it.

The big leaves of swamp saxifrage are in a basal rosette, each about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide, widest at or above the middle, with a blunt or sharp point at the tip, tapering at the base, on a short reddish stalk. The leaves and flower stalk are edible and the Native American Cherokee tribe ate the young leaves as salad greens. They also used the plant’s roots in a poultice to treat muscle soreness.

Another plant that grows here that I’ve never seen anywhere else is wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris.) At least I think it is wild chervil; so many plants in the carrot family look alike. Some call it Queen Anne’s lace on steroids but its fern like leaves don’t look anything like queen Anne’s lace leaves to me. This plant is thought to have been introduced to North America from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in many places. Oddly, some of those places are very cold, like Alaska, Iceland and Greenland. It makes sense that it would like this place then, because it gets very cold in winter and has ice columns that grow to unbelievable proportions.  Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been reported to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties against human cancer cells. It is an entirely different species than cultivated chervil, which is an herb used for flavoring soups.

Mosses of every description grow to cover huge areas of the vertical walls because of all the water available. It makes the place seem even more like a lush, verdant paradise.

A little violet grew alone on a ledge where it would be constantly watered by the splashing water. I never knew that violets liked so much water, but I guess names like marsh violet should have been a clue. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water this year.

A dandelion also grew on a ledge near splashing water. I wondered how this plant, which has a long tap root, could grow on a stone that was covered by maybe a half inch of soil.

The beautiful great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. I was surprised last winter to see that many of the plants had turned gray and appeared to be dying. On this day when I walked in the drainage ditch to get close enough for photos I noticed an odor rising from the water with each step, as if it were stagnant, and now I wonder if something in the water is killing them off. Even those that show new growth appear much smaller than in previous visits.

This is the only place I’ve ever seen this beautiful plant so I hope I’m wrong about what I’m seeing. Without knowing much about them it’s hard to say. What I’m seeing could be a natural phase of their life cycle. At least that’s what I’m hoping. I’d hate to see them disappear because they are one of the things that make this place so very special. Their amazing scent is where their common name comes from; if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle.

The photos of the liverworts were taken quickly, rushed because in the back of my mind there were thoughts of things falling from the cliff wall I was standing under at the time. I later stood at what is left of the old lineman’s shack thinking about that but knowing that though there may be danger here, I’d be coming back. For me this is a place of wonder and bliss, a place like no other I know, and I can’t just abandon it because of something that could happen someday.  What I can do though, is stay out of the drainage ditches. That I probably will do, but we’ll see.

Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing. ~Denis Waitley

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1-sign

Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town and traveling it could be rough going. Class 6 roads are also subject to gates and bars. Though they are public ways they are roads that are more or less forgotten except by hikers and snowmobilers. The one I chose to hike on this day is in Swanzey and dates from the mid-1800s.

2-trail

The road itself is wide and flat but can be rocky in places. A vehicle with good ground clearance could easily navigate it, at least until it came to the streams that cross the road. The one bridge that I saw hasn’t been maintained, so stream crossing would be a bit of a gamble. According to the Swanzey Town History the road was originally laid out in 1848 and went from the village of West Swanzey to the Chesterfield town line. From that point the town of Chesterfield took over and continued it up the valley to the “Keene and Chesterfield highway,” which I think must now be route 9 that runs east to west.

3-california-brook

The many small streams and rivulets that drain down from the hillsides empty into California Brook, which runs alongside the road for miles. California Brook is a strange name for a brook in New Hampshire and I’ve tried to find the name’s origin but haven’t had any luck. It has its start in the town of Chesterfield and runs southeast to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. There were at least two mills on the brook in the early 1800s, and it was said to be the only waterway in Swanzey where beavers could be found in the 1700s. They’re still here, almost 300 years later.

4-snowy-log

This was a cold hike; in shady spots there were still traces of the snow that fell several days ago.

5-christmas-fern

Evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) don’t mind a little snow. The tough leathery leaves will stay green under the snow all winter long. In spring they will turn yellow and then brown to make way for new fronds. One story says that the name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations.

6-foamflower-leaves

Foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew along the old road. This plant has hairy leaves that look delicate, but they’re fairly tough and stay green under the leaves and snow all winter. The purple veins in each leaf become more pronounced as the nights cool and sometimes the leaves will have purplish bronze splotches. This plant makes an excellent flowering groundcover for a damp, shady spot in the garden. Plant breeders have developed many interesting hybrids but I still like the native best, I think.

7-frozen-pool

Just off the road a small pool had formed and frozen over. It was much like the vernal pools that we see in spring that are so important to wildlife.

8-bridge

I came out here several years ago and was able to drive over this bridge but I doubt I’d try it now. Part of it looks to be fairly rotten. There’s a drop of 3 or 4 feet to the stream bed under it.

9-bridge

A snowmobile or a 4 wheeler could get over the bridge with no problem in spite of the rotted and missing planks, but it looked like it would be tricky for a wider vehicle. I was glad I decided to hike it, especially since a second bridge further up the road had washed away completely. The flooding that happened here a few years ago must have taken it. Someone had tried to fill the stream bed with crushed stone but it would still be a tough crossing. The flooding also destroyed a beaver dam and the large beaver pond that was out here several years ago has drained away.

10-stone-wall

Moss covered stone walls line the road. They were most likely built in the mid-1700s after the original land grants and years before the road was built. According the town history most traveling was done on foot and bridle paths in the early years of settlement. Stone walls like this one which are all but forgotten are sometimes called “wild” walls.

11-woods

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so much farther into the forest once the leaves have fallen. This view shows that there are a lot of stones that would have to be cleared before this piece of land could become a pasture. Frost brings more stones to the surface each year so clearing them out of a pasture can be a constant effort. Though the trees in this view look young I saw some large examples that were obviously very old.

12-wood-chips-from-woodpecker

Fresh woodchips lay all around the base of a beech tree. I’ve learned to look up when I see this.

13-pileated-woodpecker-holes

Because every time I see wood chips at the base of a tree I see pileated woodpecker holes in it. These were high up, just below where the tree had lost its top. The old dead beech must have been full of insects, probably carpenter ants.

14-scars-on-beech-tree

The tree’s trunk had slashing scars on it, made within the last few years.  According to the town history the largest animals that settlers in this area saw regularly were wolf, bear, catamount (mountain lion), lynx, beaver, otter and deer. Of those wolves and bears presented the most “annoyance.” Since we don’t have wolves any longer and mountain lion sightings happen only very rarely, the only other animal I can think of that is powerful enough to leave marks like this is a black bear. I doubt very much that they were made by a human.

15-scars-on-beech-tree

Just as water will take the path of least resistance black bear, deer and other animals use manmade roads and trails and bears will mark the trees and utility poles along them. I saw several trees with marks like these along this section of the trail but they aren’t something that I see regularly in my travels.

16-black-bear

This might not seem like its best side, but if you meet a black bear in the woods this is the side you want to see. Black bears normally weigh from 135 to 350 pounds, but they can reach 600 pounds. They’re amazingly fast and very strong and you can’t outrun, outswim, or out climb them so your best bet is to avoid them. Bear attacks are rare but they do happen, usually when the bear has been surprised or startled. The area I was in on this day is about as close to a wilderness you can get in this part of New Hampshire and is known bear habitat, so I used my monopod as a walking stick and had a bear bell on it so they’d know I was coming. I also had some bear spray with me. I’d hate to ever have to use it but you never know. This photo was taken by a friend’s trail camera just a month ago.

17-markers

A marker and an arrow on a tree pointed me that way.

18-gate

But there was a gate that way, barring a side road that went sharply uphill. It was unlocked and that seemed odd, but I went through it anyway.

19-brook-near-cave

A still, beautiful pool was just inside the gate. I thought it would make a great place to sit for a while but then I saw something that changed my mind.

20-cave

This cave at the side of the pool looked big enough to walk into by bending a bit, but not small enough to have to crawl into. It looked very inviting and called loudly to the hermit in me but it also looked big enough to hold a whole family of bears and snug enough to be attractive to them, so I decided to go back out through the gate and keep moving. Personally I wouldn’t mind spending some time in the solitude of a cave, but I wouldn’t want to have to tangle with a bear to earn the privilege.

21-tree-eating-branch

Though it might look like some tree cannibalism was going on things like this are easy to explain. The tree with the wound grew up through the branches of the tree on the left and the wind made the wounded tree rub against the other’s branch. Over time the tree grew and its wound got deeper until now it has almost healed over the offending branch. I expect that one day it will heal over completely and look very strange with a foreign branch poking out both sides.

22-trail

The old road went on and on. On a map the distance from Swanzey to Chesterfield is about 18 miles using the highway and, though cutting through the forest like this is probably shorter, at a slow pace of three miles an hour hiking to Chesterfield and back could have taken about twelve hours. Since we only have about 9 1/2 hours of daylight available right now that didn’t seem like a wise decision so I turned around. The days will be longer in summer and it will certainly be warmer.

In our noisy cities we tend to forget the things our ancestors knew on a gut level: that the wilderness is alive, that its whispers are there for all to hear – and to respond to. ~Lawrence Anthony

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1. Stream

There’s a stream near my house that I follow occasionally. It’s not big enough to row a boat up or down, gently or otherwise, but life is often dreamlike when I walk its banks.

2. Ice on a Log

It was a warm, rainy day that was more like fall than winter but ice had formed on the logs overnight and remained there in shadier places. I tried to catch all the colors of the rainbow that the sun made in the ice but once again I was less than successful.

3. Gravel

When the glaciers retreated they left behind huge amounts of sand and gravel in this area and most stream and river beds flow through it. Many animals drink from this stream and the sand bars dotted here and there along its length are great places to look for their tracks, but on this day the rain had been heavy enough to wash them away.

4. Sensitive Fern

It’s easy to see why sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is also called bead fern when you look closely at the shiny black spore cases on its fertile fronds. This fern gets its name from its sensitivity to frost because it’s usually one of the first to brown in the fall. It also likes growing in damp soil and does well along the stream.

 5. Tree Apron Moss  Closeup

It’s not hard to imagine tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) creeping across the bark of its host tree, looking very worm like.

6. Jelly Fungus

This jelly fungus was the color of Vaseline when I saw it on its limb but somehow the color has changed into a kind of yellow-green-orange in the photos. I was all prepared to tell you I’d never seen it before but now it looks like the common witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica.) It’s also called yellow brain, golden jelly fungus, and yellow trembler, and is very common in winter.

7. Script Lichen

I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find script lichens (Graphis) at certain times of year and then I finally realized that they only fruit in late fall and winter in this region, so at other times of year they look like a whitish gray splotch on tree bark. The dark rune like figures are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) and the lighter gray is the body (thallus) of the lichen. There are many different varieties of script lichen, each determined by the shape of its apothecia.

Someday I’m going to find out how releasing their spores at this time of year benefits some lichens. So far I haven’t had much luck.

8. Bitter Wart Lichen

I’ve only seen bitter wart lichen (Pertusaria amara) once before so I was very happy to find this one growing near the stream on an American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) limb. The body (thallus) of this lichen is whitish to greenish gray and its fruiting bodies (apothecia) are the whitish “warts” from which it takes part of its common name. The other part of its common name comes from the fact that it is extremely bitter tasting. It seems to prefer the bark of hornbeams because that’s where it was growing both times I’ve seen it. This lichen seems to have a hard time producing spores, which might help account for its rarity.

9. Foamflower Foliage

Foamflowers are native plants that hold their hairy leaves through winter and like growing in damp shaded soil along streams and rivers. Quite often after it gets cold the leaves will turn a reddish color but this year they’ve stayed green.

10. River Grape Vine

Many wild grapevines grow along this stream and their fermenting fruit perfumes the air heavily each fall. Their tiny flowers are also very fragrant and can be detected from quite a distance. Grapevines are easy to identify because of the way their bark peels in long strips. These grapes are one of our native vines and are called riverbank grapes (Vitis riparia) because that is where they like to grow. They have been known to survive temperatures as low as -70°F and are used as rootstock for several less hardy commercial varieties.  The vine in the photo is an old one, nearly as big around as my leg.

11. Whitewash Lichen

Something made strange marks in this whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena). This lichen is crusty and tough when dry but softens with rain and is easily damaged. I can’t think of any bug, bird or animal that would have made these marks. They were too thin and shallow for a bear and too high on the tree for a bobcat to have made them. Maybe a falling branch made them on its way to the ground.

12. Foam on Pine bark

For years I’ve seen foam at the base of certain white pine trees (Pinus strobus) when it rains. Sometimes it is in just a spot or two and at other times it nearly circles the entire tree. I’ve tried to find out what might cause it for a long time and finally had some luck at the Walter Reeves website recently. The most plausible explanation says that the “foam is caused by the formation of a crude soap on the bark. During drought there is an accumulation of salts, acids and other particles from the air that coat the bark surface (soap is essentially salts and acids). When it rains, these mix with the water and go into solution. The froth (foam) is from the agitation of the mixture when it encounters a barrier (bark plates) during its flow toward the ground.” That makes sense to me.

13. Bark Beetle Damage

If I understand what I’ve read correctly, the deeper channels or galleries seen on this white pine limb were made by the male pine engraver beetle (Ips) and the shallower ones by his harem of females. Eggs are deposited in these shallower galleries and once the larva hatch they create even more galleries. It all ends up looking like some form of ancient script and sometimes I catch myself trying to read it.

Luckily these beetles attack trees that are already damaged or weakened by stress and kill very few healthy trees but still, if you happen to own forested land and have seen evidence of these beetles you would do well to contact a qualified professional forester.  A healthy forest is the best defense against bark beetles and many other pests.

14. Tree Moss aka Climacium dendroides 2

Tree moss grew along the stream embankment close enough to the water to be submerged if it rises very much. I’ve seen it flood here several times, high enough to wash over the road. Apparently the mosses and other plants can take it.

15. Tree Moss aka Climacium dendroides

From the side the tree moss looked even more beautiful and full of life, as if it was glowing with an inner light. Some plants seem to just throb with the excitement of living, and this is one of them. They’re a true joy to behold.

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale

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