Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Frosted Comma Lichen’

For a few years now I’ve thought that if anyone came to my door wanting to see a plant that I’ve shown on this blog I’d be able to lead them right to it. I don’t think my memory is any better than anyone else’s but I do believe that I remember where most of the special or unusual things I feature here grow because I visit them as often as I can. But I don’t know that for sure, and I sometimes wonder if I really could lead you to a sweet gum tree, (which isn’t even supposed to grow here) so last Sunday I decided to test myself. Somewhere along this rail trail is a red maple tree with a beautiful lichen on it. It’s grayish white and has blue fruiting bodies (Ascomata) and after my last post about lichens I wanted to see it again, so off I went.

This was a blue day because everywhere I looked I saw blue, like the beautiful blue of the sky’s reflection in the flooded area beside the trail.

There are lots of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) growing along this trail and their catkins had me longing for spring, when the tiny scarlet threads of the female flowers will appear. They’re a sure sign that spring is upon us, but I won’t be seeing them for a while.

Here was more blue; the beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes (Rubus occidentalis.) When I was a boy I used to pick and eat handfuls of them along the tracks that used to be here.

The blue color is caused by the way light is reflected off the powdery, waxy white crystals that cover the canes. The crystals are there to protect the young canes from moisture loss and sunburn and many other plants including blueberries, plums, grapes and blue stemmed goldenrod also use the same strategy. The color in this instance was much like that of a blue jay.

There are also wild grapes growing along the trail and most of them were fermenting up in the trees, so the smell of grape jelly was heavy in the wind.

I saw a squirrel up ahead working furiously at something and as I got closer it ran off with a corn cob in its mouth. When I looked at the place it had been I found a pile of corn. It had been stripping the kernels from the cob, and I wondered why it didn’t do it in its nest.

In fact this trail is overrun with squirrels and I’ve never seen so many squirrel nests in one place. The trees were full of them and I’d bet that I must have seen 30 or 40 on this walk. Nests start with a woven twig floor and then damp leaves and moss are packed on top. A spherical framework is woven around the floor and leaves, moss and twigs are stuffed into it until a hollow shell of about 6-8 inches across has been formed. Gray squirrels can have nests that are up to two feet wide and though they look like they’re open to the sky from below, they aren’t.

Some of the trail sides were covered by newly fallen maple leaves and I’m sure the squirrels are using them for nest building. I’ve watched them build nests before and have seen them gather up a bunch of leaves, tuck them up under their chin and hold them there with one front paw, and then run up the tree with the other three paws. They will also carry leaves in their mouth but they can’t seem to carry as many that way.

In spite of the drought last spring the corn grew well this year. I lived very near here when I was a boy and back then the Boston and Maine Railroad ran through here twice each day. There were extensive corn fields all along the railroad tracks in those days, and not much else. These days there are shopping malls nearby and the college has grown more than anyone thought it would. I used to sit out here all day and not see a soul but these days the trail is like a city sidewalk. College students, joggers, walkers, bicyclists and snowmobilers all use it regularly.

The farmer was harvesting his corn while I was there. This is silage for cows, what we used to call “cow corn,” so the entire plant except for the roots is chopped up and blown into 10 wheel dump trucks to be taken off to the farm. The stubble that is left will get tilled under in the spring and then the field will be planted again. These fields aren’t watered so it all depends on weather.

The farmer wasn’t the only one harvesting the corn. His crop must support hundreds of squirrels, and that explains why there are countless squirrel nests here even though there are no oak trees for acorns and very few pine trees for pine seeds.

There is a good view of Mount Monadnock from here, and on this day it was very blue. Since it was easy to see all over town this is the view I grew up with and it comes to mind whenever anyone mentions the mountain. It was from right here when I was probably 14 or so that I hatched a plan to identify and catalog all the wildflowers on the mountain. Henry David Thoreau started doing just that in the 1800s but never finished. I thought I will finish what Henry started, but when I finally got to the mountain I saw how foolish the plan was because this mountain is huge, and it might take ten lifetimes to do what I thought would be a lark. It’s no wonder that Henry never finished.

We’re almost there. That big thing in the center of the photo is a bridge.

And the bridge goes over a very busy highway, built so Keene State College students and others could cross safely. If you’re interested I wrote about it in a post I did last year called “Bridging a Dangerous Crossing.” When I was a boy the highway was just a road so I don’t think it was quite so busy as it is now, but over the past few years you often had to stand and wait for a while before being able to cross.

When I see the bridge I know I’m very close to the maple tree with the beautiful lichen on it, but on this day I got distracted by these married maples. A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. I see it happening more all the time.

I knew when I was near the bridge that the tree with the lichen on it would be on the left side of the trail, just a few yards from the bridge. It was a maple but they were all maples and all about the same size, so I had to look at each tree. Actually I had to inspect each tree with my camera because the lichen I was looking for is only about as big as a dime. If you look at all the white spots on the married trees in the previous photo you’ll see what I was up against; those are all lichens.

But after about half an hour of searching I found the frosted comma lichen (Arthonia caesia) I was looking for, so my memory hadn’t completely failed me. Why did I want to find a dime size white spot on a tree? Because it’s a beautiful thing and this is the only example of it I’ve ever seen. The only other lichen I know of with blue fruiting bodies is the smoky eye boulder lichen and that one has blue apothecia only in a certain light. The spherical fruiting bodies on this lichen, called ascomata, are blue in any light and they don’t change color when they dry out. They are also very small; each blue dot is hardly bigger than a period made by a pencil on a piece of paper, so lichen hunters need to carry a good loupe or a camera that is macro capable.

As I walked back down the trail I wondered how and when all the grass grew along the sides of this rail bed. It wasn’t here when I used to come here as a boy. Back then all you saw here were sharp black clinkers, which were basically boiler slag and ash. They were the ballast that the tracks were laid in and it must have been an awful lot of work to get rid of them, but I do like the result. Those clinkers were hard things to take a fall on, which I seem to remember doing quite regularly as a boy.

As I was walking back this birch tree caught my eye. I like to look at the inner bark of trees because sometimes it can be quite beautiful. The inner bark of staghorn sumac can be bright red for instance, after it has peeled and been exposed to light and air. This birch had a deep wound, right down to the wood, and the peeling bark was thick. I thought I saw color there so I had to have a look.

I never expected to see anything like this on the inner bark of a gray birch. The only thing I could think of is the tree’s sap might have turned blue in the cold, because the blue bits weren’t lichens. I can’t think of anything else that could explain so much color. White pine tree sap turns a beautiful blue when it gets cold and on this day it was in the 30s F. with a biting wind. Whatever caused it, it was beautiful and I was happy to see it. As I said it was a blue day and, since blue is my favorite color, I wasn’t at all blue.

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. ~Linda Hogan

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

This post was supposed to be part 2 of a lichen post I did back on November 29 but I’ve dilly dallied so long it would probably be hard for all of us to remember what was in that one, so I’ll just start anew. I do these lichen posts because people seem to be mystified by lichens and afraid they won’t be able to identify them. I’ll be the first to admit that identifying lichens isn’t easy, but I try to show lichens that are easier to identify than other species in the hope that you’ll give them a try. Often times when I go hunting lichens I start with a smooth barked tree like that in the above photo. As you can see it’s absolutely peppered with them and I can tell without even zooming in that there are at least 3 different lichens in that photo.

One of the lichens on that tree was this script lichen. Script lichens are easy to identify as such but breaking them down into species can be difficult. I think this one is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta.) Script lichens seem to be fussy about what kind of trees they grow on and the common script lichen prefers trees with smooth bark, like maple or beech.

The script lichen’s common name comes from its apothecia, which are its fruiting bodies where its spores are produced. They look like ancient runes that someone has scratched into the body of the lichen (Thallus.) Some appear as horizontal lines, some can be vertical or angular but most appear random like those in the photo. Some, like the asterisk lichen can be very beautiful but even though I’ve searched for an example for many years I’ve never seen one.

This script lichen had a very dark thallus and isn’t like any other that I’ve seen. I’m not sure what would make it so dark, but it might have been the cold. I’ve seen cold change the color of other lichens from gray to blue. From what I’ve seen of script lichens the body of the lichen is there year round, but only when it starts to get cold in the fall do the fruiting bodies appear. Many lichens choose to produce their spores in the winter and I’ve never been able to find out why.

One of the most common lichens seen on trees in this region is the common green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata.)  They are large, leafy, round or oval lichens that are kind of a yellow green color, and colonies of them can cover nearly the entire trunk of a tree. They are usually very wrinkled and in fact the caperata part of the scientific name means wrinkled.

Seeing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) on green shield lichens is rare in my experience but they always seem to have abundant soredia, which are tiny, powdery vegetative reproductive bodies that can be carried off by the wind or rain to form new lichens. The soredia form on the body (Thallus) of the lichen in pustule like areas called soralia. They are very similar to other vegetative reproductive growths called isidia, which are stalked growths on the thallus. Some Native American tribes dried and crushed this lichen into a powder and used it to treat burns.

Bottlebrush shield lichen (Parmelia squarrosa) is very common but is also easily passed by because it often grows quite small and I find that its pale gray color blends well with the color of the bark of the trees that it grows on, like smooth barked maples. You can just see small shiny spherical dots on a few of its lobes in this photo. These are granular vegetative reproductive structures called isidia. When a squirrel runs up a tree and breaks these granular parts of it off, the broken parts will start new lichens. Lichens books say that fruiting bodies (Apothecia) are common on this lichen but I’ve never seen them.

The bottlebrush part of this lichen’s common name comes from its dense, dark mat of rhizines on its undersides. These rhizines can be thought of as tiny rootlets which help anchor the lichen to the bark of trees. When they are branched like a bottle brush they are said to be squarrose. This lichen will also grow on mossy rocks and likes shaded, humid places.

Yet another shield lichen usually found on trees is the hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata.) Its common name comes from the way its network of sharp ridges and depressions makes it look like it has been hammered out of a sheet of steel. Fruiting bodies are said to be rare on this lichen, which explains why I’ve never seen them. Instead it relies on powdery, whitish soredia to reproduce. It also has rhizines like the bottlebrush shield, but they don’t seem as bushy and noticeable. Hammered shield lichens are relatively small and though the book Lichens of North America says they can even be weedy, I don’t see them very often.

It’s very common to be walking through the woods and find twigs and branches with large, leafy (Foliose) lichens like the one pictured growing on them. These lichens can be difficult to identify because they change color drastically when they dry out. Though this one appears on the gray side its normal color when wet would be a deep, olive brown. I think this one is in the Tuckermannopsis group, probably the fringed wrinkle lichen (Tuckermannopsis ciliaris.) Lichens in this group often have “wrinkled” in their common name because that’s the way they look. They’re very pretty and easy to see and I often find them on birch and white pine branches.

Fruiting bodies (Apothecia) are common on the fringed wrinkle lichen. They are also quite large and easily seen; shiny and brownish green. Tiny bead like structures called pycnidia line the margins of the apothecia. They are yet another type of vegetative reproductive structure that will form new lichens if they break off. This lichen or family of lichens is very common and I see them almost every time I go into the woods.

There are many beard lichens and many are abundant in this region, but one that I don’t see quite as often as others is the fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula.) It grows high in the treetops and when I find it it’s almost always on a fallen branch, as this one was.

The fishbone beard lichen gets its common name not surprisingly, from its resemblance to the skeleton of a fish. Lichens in this genus contain usnic acid and have strong antiseptic and antibiotic properties. They’ve been used medicinally since ancient times throughout the world to stop bleeding and heal wounds, and also against lung and fungal infections. Native Americans moistened the lichens and used them as a poultice for boils and wounds.  Beard lichens are still used today in antiseptic skin creams, deodorants, and mouth washes. It is said that about 50% of lichen species have antibiotic properties and research to develop medicines from them is ongoing worldwide.

Man isn’t the only one who uses lichens. This bird’s nest had many beard lichens woven into it. One study that I read about said that 5 different species of lichen were found in just a tiny hummingbird’s nest.

Concentric boulder lichen (Porpidia crustulata) gets its name from the way its black apothecia grow in concentric (or nearly so) rings around their center. The gray body of the lichen forms a crust on stone and that makes it a crustose lichen. This lichen is relatively rare here and I only see them once in a blue moon. They grow in sun or shade and don’t ever seem to change color.

Another shield lichen that’s very common in this area is the peppered rock shield (Xanthoparmelia conspersa.) It grows on stone in full sun and I usually find it on old stone walls. It’s a big lichen, often 10 inches or more across, that seems to be almost always fruiting, with crinkly brown fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) Though it must produce an abundance of spores this lichen also reproduces vegetatively, again by the granular vegetative reproductive structures called isidia, like the bottlebrush shield lichen we saw earlier. When bits of the lichen are broken off the isidia increase its chances of starting a new colony. Isidia also increase photosynthetic efficiency.

Here is a closer look at the peppered rock shield’s apothecia. They are big enough to see without any magnification and are an orangey brown color.  You can also see bits of the insidia. It’s clear that this lichen is all about continuation of the species and it does well at it. One stone wall I know of has them on almost every stone in the wall.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. They grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. The one in the photo was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone. It is a crustose lichen, so removing it from any kind of stone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially.

Rock foam lichens (Stereocaulon saxatile) grow directly on stone in full sun. When dry this lichen is very stiff and brushy and almost seems as if it would cut you but caribou will eat it when they can’t find reindeer lichens. This lichen is often used by prospectors because a simple lab test on it will show what type of stone it was growing on and what minerals, like copper for instance, are in the stone.

Lichens, as I hope these lichen posts have shown, can be very beautiful, and one of the prettiest I’ve seen lately is the frosted comma lichen (Arthonia caesia.) Its blue gray apothecia against a yellowish gray body make it easy to identify but you have to look closely to see these features. This one was no more than a half inch across and the blue apothecia were about the size of a period made by a pencil on paper.  I hope you’ll take the time to look for it and other lichens on your next nature walk. They can be found virtually anywhere at any season, and are always interesting and often beautiful.

We keep seeing things all our life, yet seldom do we notice them. ~Avijeet Das

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

Read Full Post »

1-trail-closed-sign

When I was a boy growing up in Keene, New Hampshire I spent a lot of time following the railroad tracks that ran just a few yards behind my house. These tracks crossed a lot of roads if you followed them long enough but the hardest one to get across was always route 101, a main artery which runs the width of the state, east to west from Keene to the seacoast. A lot has changed since then; the railroad tracks are now a rail trail and the highway has become so busy that you can hardly get across it.

2-trail

This view of the rail trail looks north toward the house I grew up in, but also toward Keene State College. Off to the right, unseen in this photo, is the college athletic complex. The students use the rail trail as a convenient way to reach the athletic fields without having to drive to them, so this trail can get very busy in warmer months. Of course all those students have to cross the very busy route 101 to get here and that can be dangerous, so the town came up with a solution: build a bridge over the highway, and this section of rail trail has been closed while that project is completed.

3-side-trail

A side trail leads from the rail trail to the athletic complex, but most enter by way of a gate a little further down the trail.

4-wires

Long before the college built their athletic complex the electric utility ran their high voltage wires through here. I used to spend hours playing under and around these power lines when I was a boy and never gave them a thought, but in April of 2014 one of the wires fell to the ground and tragically, a college employee was electrocuted. For me, who once spent so much time here, the news was a real blow and woke me up to the dangers I faced as a boy without even realizing they existed. I told myself then that I’d never walk under these power lines again and I haven’t but many, especially dog walkers, still do.

5-hazel-catkins

Hazel catkins danced in the sunlight. They are the male flowers of the hazelnut shrub, in this case American hazelnut (Corylus americana.) The tiny crimson threads of the female flowers won’t appear until late March and by then the male catkins will be showing signs of shedding pollen.

6-hazel-catkin

One of the catkins was deformed and looked like a cartoon animal paw.

7-virgins-bower

The seed heads of the native clematis that we call virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) decorated a fallen tree. Chances are it once grew to the top of the tree and fell with it. This vine is toxic enough to cause internal bleeding but it was used it as a pepper substitute and called was called “pepper vine” by early pioneers. Native Americans used it to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and for skin infections. Herbalists still use it to treat the same illnesses today.

8-bittersweet-in-dead-elms

There are many elms along this trail that have died of Dutch elm disease and invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) vines grow into their tops and slowly pull them down. The bittersweet wants full sunshine and it climbs to the tops of trees to get it; it doesn’t care if the tree is living or not. There are several broken limbs hanging from vines in this view and many downed trees buried in vines along the trail.

9-bridge

In what would have been a short while if I hadn’t kept stopping to look at things I reached the bridge, which is still closed while the freshly poured concrete deck cures. The deck is wrapped in plastic and gets heat pumped up to it from truck sized heaters on the ground below.

10-bridge

I had to wait a while before I could get a shot of the bridge without cars under it. I drive this way each morning on the way to work and I can vouch for the busy-ness of this road. Traffic is almost nonstop at any time of day and I can imagine it being very hard to walk across. It was hard enough when I was ten. I didn’t know it until I saw this photo but the center of the bridge is far to right of the center of the road from this vantage point. It was built in I think 4 pieces and lifted into place by crane.

11-burning-bush-fruit

An invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) still had plenty of fruit on it. I was happy to see that the birds weren’t eating it and helping it spread. Studies have shown that 170- 700 seedlings per acre can grow from a single fruiting shrub. If you have hundreds of them fruiting then you have a real problem, and we do. The shrubs get large and shade out native plants and since deer won’t eat them they have virtually no competition or control, so they’re free to form large monocultures where nothing else grows. That’s why planting and / or selling them is banned in New Hampshire.

12-mealy-firedot-lichen-caloplaca-citrina-on-cherry

The bark of this black cherry tree had large areas covered with mealy firedot lichen (Caloplaca citrina.) This yellow to yellow-orange crustose lichen grows on wood or stone and the book Lichens of North America says it is very common lichen that rarely produces spores. The mealy part of its common name comes from the numerous granular soralia, which are used as a vegetative means of reproduction. They are meant to break off and start new lichens.

13-mealy-firedot-lichen-caloplaca-citrina-on-cherry

As you can probably imagine if you brushed against this lichen tiny pieces of it would easily fall from the tree and might even stick to your clothing for a while so you could transport them to another place. Many lichens use this method of reproduction and it appears to be very successful.

14-hillside

This view across a cornfield faces west toward Brattleboro, Vermont and I had forgotten how the wind comes howling over that hill. I used to walk south from my house to a friend’s house on the road that is in front of the hill but can’t be seen, and my right ear would feel just about frozen by the time I got there. When I went back home it was my left ear. Of course it wasn’t cool to wear a hat in those days, but I was wearing one when this photo was taken.

15-milkweed

The wind had torn the seeds out of this milkweed pod. It’s not too late; milkweed seeds need at least 3-6 weeks of cold to grow to their best.

16-corn

There were a few cobs left on the corn plants and they were at just the right height for Canada geese, which land here in quite large numbers in the fall.

17-drainage-ditches

Keene sits in a bowl with hills as the rim on land that was once swampy ground, so farmers dug drainage ditches to dry out the fields. They were a ten year old boy’s dream come true and I still walk along them occasionally even today. There are some beautiful wildflowers that grow on their banks, including some of the darkest purple New England asters I’ve seen.

18-nest

I saw one of the tiniest bird nests I’ve ever seen. It could have just about hidden behind a hen’s egg and I have no idea what bird might have built it. A hummingbird maybe?

19-frosted-comma-lichen-arthonia-caesia

A dime size (.70 in) spot of white on a tree caught my eye and when I moved closer I saw that it was covered with blue dots. It was a beautiful sight and I didn’t know it at the time but its name is (I think) the frosted comma lichen (Arthonia caesia.) The unusual spherical blue dots are its Ascomata.

20-frosted-comma-lichen-arthonia-caesia-close

Ascomata are the fruit bodies of lichens and contain the spores, which can number in the millions.They are most commonly bowl-shaped (apothecia) but may take a spherical (cleistothecia) or flask-like (perithecia) form. This lichen has spherical ascocarps so they must be cleistothecia. They’re also very beautiful, and are the only truly blue fruit bodies I’ve seen on a lichen. Some, like those on the smoky eye boulder lichen, can be blue due to the slant of the light falling on them and I found a completely blue lichen recently but it had turned blue because of the cold. This one is naturally blue and I loved seeing it.

I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road. ~Stephen Hawking

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »