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Posts Tagged ‘Goldthread’

Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum), one of our prettiest spring flowers, has just come into bloom. The hook shaped parts are its tiny styles, curved like long necked birds. The male stamens are too numerous to count and white tipped, so I’d guess the pollen must be white. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny, golden yellow true petals behind. The ends of these golden petals are spoon shaped and hold nectar. You can see how an insect would have a hard time sipping the flower’s nectar without bumping into the stamens and carrying off a load of pollen. All of this is going on in a flower just about the size of a standard aspirin.

If you’re looking for goldthread you can find it even in winter, because its shiny leaves are evergreen.

The first blueberry blossoms I’ve seen this year were on a lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium). Though the berries are usually close to the same size, lowbush blueberries rarely get more than 2 feet tall while 15-foot-tall highbush blueberries have been seen. I usually find them at about six feet or less. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

Coltsfoot leaves (Tussilago farfara) have appeared and, though they have the same color and sheen when young as a wild ginger leaf they’re much bigger and are shaped like a colt’s hoof rather than heart shaped like ginger.

With coltsfoot plants once the leaves appear the flowers pass on, but they had a good run this year. They liked the cool weather and bloomed for weeks. The seed heads are much furrier looking than a dandelion.

But at this time of year flowers come as quickly as they go, and it’s time for the shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) to bloom. This scene is a classic shadbush scene, because they almost always bloom along the edges of forests under the taller trees. They are a spring ephemeral shrub / small tree so the flowers will disappear as soon as the leaves come out on the taller trees.

Shadbushes originally got their name from the way they bloomed when the shad fish were running upriver to spawn. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens. The fruit is said to resemble a blueberry in taste, with a hint of almond from the seeds. Many birds, such as cedar waxwings, love the fruit. Native American used the fruit in pemmican, which is made with fat, fruit, and preserved meat. Shadbush wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. Native trees can also be very straight, often reaching 25 feet, and Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. They also used its roots and bark medicinally.

Shadbush makes an excellent garden shrub or small tree and they are easily found in nurseries. This photo shows a cultivar I found at the local college. Cultivars have a much heavier bloom than natives.

Along with the shadbushes our native cherries start blossoming. New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms. Choke cherries will bloom any time now. Just after, or sometimes along with the cherries will come apples and crabapples.

Sedges are still flowering. I think this one was Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that. They usually bloom when trout lilies bloom and that’s just what has happened this year.

But while the sedges are having a good year, so far the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have made a poor showing. The spot I go to see them has many hundreds of plants in it but there were only three or four blossoms. I’m hoping I was just too early, so I’ll go back. Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow but quickly turn reddish brown and start shedding pollen. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and it attracts several kinds of bees.

You can tell by the dark anthers that this flower has been open longer than the one we saw in the previous photo. It’s hard to get a shot of them when they don’t have swept back petals because it happens almost immediately after they open.

One of my favorite things about a trout lily blossom is the coloring on the back. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food.

The trees are quickly leafing out already and that means less sunshine each day for spring ephemeral flowers like spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana). I’m seeing fewer blossoms each time I go to see them and this time I had to search for them, so I think it’s getting time to say goodbye to them for another year. I hope I’m wrong though because I love seeing them.  

I’ve noticed some fading petals on some of the red / purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) as well but I hope that doesn’t mean they’re already done for the year. I don’t think they’ve been blooming more than two weeks. This one didn’t look too bad.

I see many hundreds of this very small white violets and I always wonder if they could be northern white violets (Viola pallens) but I always forget to look for a spur on the back of the lower petal. They are half the size of the violets that I usually see.

The insect guides are deep purple and the side petals may or may not have hairs on this generally non-hairy violet. They’re pretty little things and they’re everywhere right now.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) is native to North America but it acts like an invasive somewhat, because it just pops up in lawns everywhere in this area. Here it was growing in the lawn of an abandoned house. It is sometimes called moss phlox or moss pinks and luckily it doesn’t seem to mind being mowed. Many people wait until it’s done blooming to do their first spring mowing.

Another plant called creeping phlox is Phlox stolonifera that has much the same habit, but it is native only as far north as Pennsylvania. One way to tell them apart is by the darker band of color around the center of the flower; if it is there your plant is Phlox subulata and if it isn’t it is Phlox stolonifera.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) have just come out and they were beautiful. I was just reading that this is a member of the poppy family, which I hadn’t heard before. It is native to Siberia, China, Korea and Japan, and I didn’t know that either. My son just returned from Korea and he says it’s beautiful there. With flowers like these, I’d bet that it is.

I liked the color of this tulip. Tulips seem to be having a good year this year.

Lilacs are taking their time but it shouldn’t be too much longer before we can smell their wonderful fragrance again.

I don’t know what was going on with this dandelion but it takes first prize for the strangest dandelion blossom I’ve ever seen. All the parts are there but they’re all discombobulated. Maybe it is a sport, which is a genetic mutation. Sports are very important to the nursery trade and we unknowingly grow a lot of them in our gardens. This dandelion appears to be trying to become a double flower. I applaud its nonconformity but I’m sure many will see it as an ugly thing. As a gardener I met many people who thought they hated dandelions, but there was a time in years past when grasses were dug up so that dandelions would have more room to grow, so it’s all in how you look at it. Personally I like to see them for what they are, which is just a pretty yellow wildflower. It’s the only flower I’ve found blooming in all twelve months of the year.

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom.  They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful.  ~Jim Carrey

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I’ve been walking each day since the day after I retired and it has made my lungs feel so much better, so I thought I’d tackle climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. It was a beautiful spring day of the kind where it really doesn’t matter where you are or where you go, as long as you are outside.

I didn’t know it at the time I started the climb but this would be a day of firsts, and the first first was seeing goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) growing beside the trail. I can’t remember seeing it here before, though I’ve come here countless times. Any time now I should be seeing its tiny but very pretty white flowers. Once collected almost to the point of extinction, it has made a good comeback and I was happy to see that it had found its way here.

I’ve never seen a striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) here before either but here was a small tree, quietly lengthening its velvety buds. Those buds are one of the most beautiful sights in the forest in the early spring, in my opinion.

I don’t remember why I took this photo. Maybe to show what a beautiful day it was.

I stopped along the trail for a moment and happened to glance down and saw some small, hard black, cup shaped fungi that I’ve since found are called ebony cup fungi (Pseudoplectania nigrella.) The smallest one was about the size of a pencil eraser and the biggest maybe a half inch across. According to Wikipedia they like to grow in groups on soil, often amongst pine needles and short grass near coniferous trees, and that was the situation here except for mosses instead of grass. Wikipedia also says that they have a worldwide distribution, but are hard to see because of their small size and dark color. I wondered how many times I had walked by them without seeing them. It was just luck that I saw them on this day.

I’ve read that jays, nuthatches and even chickadees stash acorns in holes in trees. This wasn’t a hole but I guess it was good enough for stashing acorns in.

This trail is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep until you near the summit. I think most people could go up and down in an hour or less, as long as they didn’t stop to see anything. Since I stop to see everything, it takes me twice as long.

Here was something I’ll probably never see again. This branch fell from one of those maples and got stuck just as it is. I looked it over and there were no nails or screws, just fate and branch forks in the right places. All it needed was a sign hanging from it.

I was happy to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) growing along the trail. It wasn’t showing any flower buds but this wasn’t a very big plant, so they’ll come along in the future. This is another plant that is making a comeback after being collected almost into oblivion.

A huge tree fell long ago and I always stop here to catch my breath before I reach the steepest part of the trail. I didn’t see them at the time but now that I see the photo my question is, how did those stones get inside the log?

This isn’t just any old log; it has lots of interesting things to see on it no matter where you look, and one of those things is a fungus called ceramic parchment fungus (Xylobolus frustulatus.) Apparently it prefers shade because it only grows on the shaded surfaces of the log, like under that branch stub.

Here is a closer look at the fungus. I’ve never seen anything else like it but a helpful reader identified it the last time I showed it here. Its common name comes from the way it resembles broken ceramic tiles, put back together with black grout. I’ve read that it is found on the dry, well-decayed wood of oaks, so this must be an oak log. What a gigantic tree it must have been.

Here was the steepest part of the trail. I didn’t fly up it but I have to say that all the walking I’m doing has improved my lung power greatly over what it was just a short time ago. I didn’t have to take anywhere near as many breaks as I did the last time I climbed here.  

And here was the granite bedrock of the summit itself, where you realize that you’ve been climbing a huge granite dome covered by just a thin skin of soil.

I thought that I might see the red haze caused by millions of red maple flowers from up here but I couldn’t see any at all.

Instead I saw red maple flowers right here on the summit. Some of them can be seen on that tree on the right in this photo I took of clouds.

There weren’t a lot of red maple flowers up here but what were here seemed well balanced between male and female flowers.

The male red maple flowers had that beautiful light, what I call the light of creation, shining out of them. I’ve come to believe that everything created has that light. Sometimes it is dim and other times it shines brightly as it did here, but everything (and everyone) has it.

Staghorn sumac also grew on the summit. They seem to be slow to get going this year, or maybe it is just impatience on my part. They have nice red new leaves coming out of the buds in spring that I’d like to see.

If, when you’re in nature, something catches your eye, just sit with it for a while. While you’re sitting with the thing that interests you, be it a flower or a leaf or a stone or a toadskin lichen, study it. Get to know it. Study it as if you were going to have to write a paper describing it. See every little nuance, its color and shape, feel its texture, hear it whisper or see the movement it makes when the wind blows over it. Just let yourself fall into it. Forget about naming it, forget about missing the game yesterday or going to work tomorrow and just be there with it, without a thought of anything but what is there in front of you.

Take some photos or take some notes, and when you get home look them over. If you do this, before long you’ll know the thing that caught your attention better than you ever thought possible, and doing this regularly will mean the end of your looking but not seeing. Before long you’ll see with new eyes, and you’ll want to see more. Fortunately there is always plenty more to see.

I once met two college age girls coming off a trail. When I asked them if they had seen any wildflowers both said they hadn’t seen a single one. As soon as I had followed the trail for just a few yards I started seeing flowers everywhere. They were small but they were there, and I realized that day that even though some people look, they just don’t see. Don’t be one of them. You’ll miss so much of the beauty in this world.

I took the trail east from the summit for a few yards to see Mount Monadnock. I hope I wasn’t as close to the edge of that cliff as it appears when I took this photo, because it’s a long way down.

That’s better. I cropped the cliff out because heights give me the heebie jeebies and also, we can see the mountain a little better now. Henry David Thoreau said he’d rather see Mount Monadnock from a distance rather than see out from its summit because it was far more beautiful from a distance, and I agree. Once you’re up there it doesn’t look much different than right here does, and this is a much easier climb.

As I started back down the trail three mourning cloak butterflies spun in a whirlwind above my head and then disappeared. Or so I thought; this one landed on a fallen branch just out ahead of me. It sat there with its wings folded, so I waited for them to unfold. They would unfold and then quickly fold back together, and I would miss the shot. I tried and missed several times-anyone who has ever tried to photograph a butterfly knows what I mean-but then finally the beautiful wings opened and stayed open, just long enough to get what you see here.

A little further down the trail there was another one sunning itself on an outcrop. I’ve read that these butterflies mate in spring, which might account for the whirlwind behavior that I saw happening several times. They’re very pretty and I was happy to have seen them. Usually the way it works with me is, once I see something I begin to see it everywhere, so hopefully I’ll see more of these beautiful creatures.

I thought I’d leave you with some good advice I found on the summit. I find these painted stones just about everywhere I go these days.

Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well. ~Naya Rivera

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We’ve had more ice than snow here so far this winter and if there is one thing that will strike fear into the most winter hardened New Englander, it is an ice storm. Trees, weighed down by ice, fall and take wires down with them, and there have been times here when the power has been out for weeks. No power when it’s cold means you move, unless you happen to have a non electric heat source or a generator. In any event I wanted to take a walk after a recent ice storm because though terrible, on a sunny day ice can also be beautiful.

The trouble was, there wasn’t much sunshine to make the ice sparkle like prisms, and instead of clear and beautiful some of the ice was kind of slushy, as the ice on this beaver cut tree shows.

This clear, hard ice covered every exposed twig and branch but luckily, I saw only a few that had fallen. There was no sunlight to make it sparkle.

Even the beech leaves had a coating of ice, and that made them even more beautiful. Simple, everyday natural beauty is available to everyone at any time but we can’t just look. We need to see.

That’s ice, not a water droplet. Sometimes it seemed like every living thing must be coated in ice on this day.

This puddle ice was unusual. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a puddle do that.

The sun and clouds just couldn’t decide who would win out and I found that trying to time my shutter clicks to when the sun did shine was fighting a losing battle so I just enjoyed the day, sun or clouds.

Pretty little goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves grew in a crook made by pine roots. You wouldn’t think such a tender looking plant would be evergreen but they are. In spring the leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots.

I saw a single small jelly crep growing on a log. Jelly creps (Crepidotus mollis) are small, quarter sized “winter mushrooms” that like to grow on hardwood logs. They are also called soft slipper mushrooms and feel kind of spongy and flabby, much like your ear lobe. When they grow in groups, they grow with an overlapping shelving habit like shingles.

Here are the jelly crep’s gills. This mushroom was only about half an inch across so this was a tough shot to get.

A small bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) somehow remained ice free. Determination, I thought.

There was sunlight at the end of this tree tunnel.

If you follow the trail long enough you find the closeness of the forest opens up into quite a large expanse of wetland, which is home to fish, frogs, beavers, herons and other critters. I’ve seen some beautiful sunsets right here in this spot as well. I’m glad there are laws that prevent the filling in of wetlands now. When I was a boy, I saw load after load of concrete rubble and just about anything else you can think of dumped into wetlands to fill them so they could be built on.

The stream in the previous photo goes under a road and though it looked like spring on that side of the road I found winter on this side. It seemed odd to have such a change happen over such a short distance.

This is the only gray birch I’ve ever seen with inner bark that color. It is beautiful and so bright, the first time I saw it I thought it was a plastic marker. I was glad that it wasn’t.

There was quite a large clear spot under some pine trees and I knew what that meant.

The pine’s branches had taken on the weight of the ice. This is why limbs break off and take down power lines. Ice can be very destructive.

I looked at the gray birches (Betula alba var. populifolia) in a small grove to see if all the seeds had been eaten yet.

There were quite a few left but they were being eaten. Ripe female catkin-like strobiles like the one seen here resemble small cones. Fruit (seeds) are blown about by the wind in late fall and winter. Unless that is, birds get to them. Many songbirds love them. You can often find the snow under a gray birch littered with hundreds of tiny winged seeds. Seeds can persist for years in the soil and will grow if the soil is disturbed.

I wanted to show you a gray birch seed so I brought home a strobile and put a single seed on a white background. They are very small and I couldn’t think of anything to compare them to, so I put a period on the paper with a blue pen. Each tree must produce hundreds of thousands of these seeds, which are technically called nutlets.

This is a gray birch catkin. A true catkin is really just a long string of small flowers spiraling around a central stem, and these will open in May.

I saw what looked like a stream through the woods but it was actually a giant puddle. Quite a beautiful reflecting pool, I thought.

Their deep warm color, the shine of their icy coating, and the the way that the soft light falling on them seemed to caress them made these oak leaves a thing of great beauty. As I’ve said before; if you can find joy in the simple things in life, joy will follow you wherever you go. These beautiful leaves certainly put a smile on my face on such an icy day.

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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I was happy to wake up one morning and see a thick mist rolling across the landscape. This isn’t rare here but it is rare to have it happen on a day off when I have time to run out and play in it. That’s why you see so few misty blog posts here. I quickly got myself together and off I went, into the mist.

At first being in such heavy mist seemed a bit like trying to breathe under water and I wondered if my weakened lungs would stand for it, but as usual seeing the beauty of the forest took me away to that magical place where there are no cares, and I quickly forgot about breathing issues. If, when you come out of the forest, you immediately give attention to your time spent there, you find that there were no problems to solve while you were there, no yesterdays or tomorrows to worry about, only the joy of what was happening right then and there. Nothing else existed for you. This is why, I believe, people seek out wild places, and this is why people like Jane Goodall say things like “It was in the forest that I found the peace that passeth all understanding.”

And the beeches might have seemed more beautiful than you had ever imagined they could be. How could you have missed such beauty, such serenity, and such sheer joy for so long, you might wonder. Don’t wonder; just be thankful that you have found what you have, because now, as John Muir said: “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

The sun kept trying to break through the mist and I kept trying to get a shot of it happening, but neither of us had much success.

What I believe was a crust fungus called Phlebia radiata, or wrinkled crust fungus, had formed a cup and it was holding water. In fact the mist was so thick on this day that everything was wet and dripping.

I admired the perfectly round holes an insect had made in a pine tree, which was now a log. I once knew what made these pencil size holes but I have forgotten, and it really doesn’t matter anyhow. At least to me it doesn’t matter. It might matter quite a lot to the forestry students at Yale University who come out here to practice their craft.

Wood ear fungi (Auricularia auricula-judae) listened to the silence. This “winter mushroom” is usually found on fallen branches in winter and early spring. It’s one of the jelly fungi and it feels just like your earlobe. They can have some color but these examples were fairly pale. My color finding software sees “peach puff.”

I saw that the mist seemed far off now. It wasn’t as close or as thick as when I had started.

And over there bright sunshine was falling on the beaver swamp. It was luminous, and it reminded me of the luminists; those American painters who tried to capture the quality of light.

Here is a fine example of a luminist painting. It was painted in 1875 by by Frederic Edwin Church, who called it “Autumn.” Luminism shared an interest in the quality of light with impressionism but that was about all they shared. There were a lot of technical differences like the quality of brush strokes between them, but I won’t go into all of that. Luminism lasted from about 1850 to 1870, and was concerned not only with light, but mood as well. Luminist paintings are calm and tranquil, with soft hazy skies and reflections in the water, just like what I found here in Yale Forest.

But here in Yale Forest all thoughts of Luminism quickly evaporated because the sun had won out and the misty atmosphere had left the place. I supposed I’d have to turn to the impressionists for the rest of my walk. It really is amazing how fast mist can disappear. I’ve raced up hillsides hoping to get shots of mist in the valley below, only to find no mist and the sun shining brightly when I reached the summit.

I found quite a few partridge berries (Mitchella repens) that the turkeys had missed at the the base of a tree. They are interesting so they’re worth a closer look.

What is amazing about these small berries is how a single berry originates from two flowers. The ovaries of the two flowers join and form one berry that contains 8 seeds, and the two dimples found on the berries tell the story of where the flowers once were. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high.

I saw a fungal garden growing on the end of a log.

And I saw some more pixie cup lichens forming. Isn’t it funny how you can go all of your life without seeing something but then when you finally do see it, you start seeing it everywhere?

There are still lots of fallen trees out here. The wind has really ravaged the place over the last couple of years, it seems.

But there was little wind on this day. It was still early in the morning and it was a beautiful day to be outside. I wasn’t too far from the beaver pond when I took this photo.

You have to cross what was a small stream to get to the beaver pond. It has gotten wider over the years so what I was once able to step over I now have to jump over. I’m always a little wary of jumping when I’m off in the woods alone but I came back unscathed. I’d rather jump than try to walk across on slippery rocks. I have a friend who tried that and ended up nursing cracked ribs for a few months.

I saw that someone had pulled the beaver dam apart again. This might seem cruel to some but it is neccessary when beavers build dams too near human structures. There is a busy road near here that has nearly flooded due to beaver dams, so the highway department keeps a close eye on them.

I’ve taken beaver dams apart and taking apart even a small one like this is hard work. They use stones, mud and branches to weave a very strong dam. It would easily take two men all afternoon just to do what we see here.

The stone wall going down into the beaver pond says two things; that this was once farmland and that the beavers came along after the wall was built.

The beaver pond drains off into the woods and the woods are turning into a swamp. Along this stream is where I come in spring to find the beautiful woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.)

I also come out here to see hundreds of goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum) in bloom in spring. Their shiny evergreen leaves make them easy to find at any time of year.

A cinnamon fern hung on to one last leaf.

But I’m sure it must be part of this pile by now.

As I was leaving I saw an old man, asleep in a pine branch, with a jelly fungus for moustache. I took a couple of quick shots and let him sleep. I hoped his dreams were pleasant ones.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

Thanks for coming by. I hope this post helped make your day a little brighter, and I hope everyone will have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

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Last spring when I visited Yale Forest in Swanzey I stumbled upon one of the prettiest horsetails I had ever seen, the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.) I have since read that it is indeed considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails and I wanted to see it again, so on a recent beautiful spring day off I went, back into Yale Forest. My chances of finding a single plant in such a huge forest might seem slim but I knew this horsetail liked wet feet, and I knew where the water was. 

An old road winds through this part of the forest and there is still plenty of pavement to be seen. Yale University has owned this parcel of land since the 1930s and allows public use. The old road was once called Dartmouth Road because that’s where it led, but the state abandoned it when the new Route 10 was built and it has been all but forgotten ever since.

Cheery little bluets (Houstonia caerulea) grew along the sides of the old road.

Many thousands of violets also grow alongside the old road. They reminded me that I have to get up to the Deep Cut rail trail in Westmoreland to see all the violets that grow there. It’s a beautiful sight.

Fern fiddleheads were beautiful, as always.

New oak leaves were everywhere, and they were also beautiful. New leaves are one of the things I love most about spring.

New oak leaves are multi colored and soft, like felt.

Beeches were also opening up for spring. This one showed how all of the current season’s leaves and branches grow out of a single small bud. The miracle that is life, right here for everyone to see.

There are lots of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) out here and many were showing off their new spring flowers. They’re pretty, the way they dangle and move with the breeze.

It was such a beautiful day to be in the woods. The only sounds were the bird songs, and they came from every direction.

Sarsaparilla leaves (Aralia nudicaulis) still wore their spring reds and purples when I was here. At this stage they are often mistaken for poison ivy and that’s another reason to know what poison ivy looks like. From what I’ve read the color protects young leaves from strong sunlight. After a time as they become more used to the light they slowly turn green.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew here and there in small groups and I would guess if it were left alone it might one day carpet the forest floor as I’ve seen it do in other places.

I saw an old dead tree, or what was left of it.

As I’ve said here before; you can find beauty even in death.

I was hoping I’d find some mallards in the beaver pond but instead I found that someone had taken apart the beaver dam. I’ve done it and it’s hard work but sometimes it is very necessary.

It was certainly necessary in this instance; the beavers had miscalculated and built the dam too high and the water finally spilled over the banks of the small pond and into the old road. If something hadn’t been done this whole area could have flooded. I’m all for letting animals live in peace without being disturbed but there are times when you have to do something to persuade them that maybe they haven’t made the best choice.

Shadbushes ( Amelanchier canadensis) grew by the beaver pond but they were about done flowering and their fruits, called June berries, were beginning to form.

It looked like the beavers had built their lodge partially on land, which I don’t see them do very often. I have a feeling this might be a young male beaver just starting out on its own, hoping a mate will come swimming upstream.

But I couldn’t concern myself with what the beavers were doing. It isn’t my land so I have to let them and Yale University straighten it out. I headed off into the woods, following the outflow stream from the pond. Right off I saw hundreds of goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum,) most still in in flower.

What pretty little things they are, just sitting and waiting for an insect to stop by and sip their nectar. Which they can’t do without getting poked by one of those long anthers. A dusting of pollen for a sip of nectar sounds like a fair trade.

Water plantain (Alisma subcordatum) grew by the outflow stream. I’ve read that it is also called mud plantain and its seeds are eaten by waterfowl. Something also must eat the leaves because they looked fairly chewed up. Maybe deer or bear. Native Americans cooked and ate its roots but I haven’t found any information about them eating the foliage. Though it is a native plant I rarely see it.

NOTE: I was thinking of another plant I’ve seen with huge leaves like this one when I wrote this; swamp saxifrage, but this is not that plant and neither is it water plantain. The swamp saxifrage I’ve seen had leaves that were chewed just like these but these leaves are very different when I compare the two photos. This could be skunk cabbage but I’ve never seen it out here and I’ve never seen its leaves get this big. I’m sorry for any confusion this might have caused.

And then there it was; the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.) Its foliage is very lacy; different somehow than that of other horsetails, and it is this laciness that makes it so beautiful. In the garden horsetails can be a real pest but out here where they grow naturally they’re enchanting.

I got my knees and pant legs soaking wet taking these photos but it was worth it to see such a rare and beautiful thing. Or I should say, rare in my experience. I’ve never seen it anywhere else but it is said to grow in the U.K and Europe. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forests,” and that’s where the title of this post comes from.

Landscapes have the power to teach, if you query them carefully. And remote landscapes teach the rarest, quietest lessons. ~David Quammen

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We’ve had a colder week with daytime temps in the 40s and nighttime temps in the 20s and though it has slowed a lot of flowers down it hasn’t stopped them, as this new red trillium (Trillium erectum) blossom shows. Red (or purple) trilliums are our earliest, followed by nodding and then painted trilliums. Red trilliums are also one of our largest spring ephemeral flowers. Everything about them is in threes.

From one of the largest spring ephemerals to one of the smallest; goldthread plants have just started blooming. The shiny, three part leaves and small, aspirin size flowers are sure signs that you’ve found goldthread.

There’s a lot going on in a goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) blossom, despite its small size. The tiny styles curve like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens fill the center of a goldthread blossom. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club-like true petals behind. The ends of the petals are cup shaped and hold nectar.

I was dismayed to find that, as I was crawling around trying to get a photo of goldthread, my foot inadvertently pulled up a plant. Well, I thought, at least we’ll be able to see the golden root, and here it is in the photo above. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. I can tell you that many tens of thousands of plants would have had to have been destroyed to make up a pound of roots, because this one weighed next to nothing. Dry, it would have weighed even less. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) blossomed in a sunny spot on a lawn. Ground ivy was introduced into North America as an ornamental and medicinal plant as early as the 1800s, when it immediately began taking over the continent. But nobody seems to mind. The purple flowers have a very light minty scent that isn’t at all overpowering unless you mow down a large patch that has taken over the lawn. This is one of those flowers that takes me back to my childhood, because it grew everywhere that I did.

I don’t remember ever seeing henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) when I was a boy but it must have been here. It was reported in New York’s Hudson valley in 1751. It is another annual in the mint family and is edible.

I’ve read that small birds love the seeds of henbit and hummingbirds love their nectar. They always seem a bit clownish to me; like a cartoonist had drawn them.

If only you could smell these magnolia flowers. If the afterlife is scented surely one of those scents will come from magnolias. To sit outside on a warm spring evening with their scent in the air is something you just never forget.

As you can imagine you see a certain amount of death when you spend a lot of time in nature. Every now and then I stumble upon something that is as beautiful in death as it was in life; insects, mushrooms, and this magnolia blossom that looked as if it had been carved out of wood. I hope you too can appreciate its beauty.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is a trailing plant from Europe. It is also invasive but has been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship though. In the 1800s Vinca was a plant given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three still blooming beautifully near old cellar holes off in the middle of nowhere, as the plants you see here do. it is nowhere near as aggressive as many non-natives so we enjoy its beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

Another name for vinca is Myrtle and that’s what I’ve always called it. It has a flower of sixes, double that of trillium.

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis ) has just started blooming. Other than spring bulbs, this perennial is one of the earliest to bloom in spring. It prefers shady places so it is valuable in gardens that get little sun. During the middle ages in Europe lungwort, which is another name for the plant, was considered dangerous because the grey spots on its leaves were associated with an infected lung. Later, it was used to treat lung disorders. The scientific name Pulmonaria comes from the Latin pulmo, meaning lung.

Dandelions are having a great year so far. I’ve never seen them bloom so profusely.

Just look at all of those seed heads in waiting.

I’m seeing more and more trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) each year and that’s a good thing, because it was once over collected almost to the point of oblivion. My grandmother always called this, her favorite flower, mayflower. She always wanted to show it to me but back then it was so scarce we could never find any.

Violas are loving the cool weather. All plants in the pansy family can take a lot of cold and that’s why they’re an early spring staple for window boxes and flower pots. They chase away the winter blues that so many seem to suffer from.

Here is another look at the beautiful bulb bed that I showed in the last flower post. It’s just about done now.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) has just come into bloom and before long it will be in bloom everywhere I go. Creeping phlox is native to the forests of North America. Another plant called creeping phlox is Phlox stolonifera, native to the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia.

One way to tell Phlox subulata from stolonifera is to look for the darker band of color around the center of each flower; only Phlox subulata has it. Creeping phlox is also called moss phlox or moss pinks.

Hellebores are another plant that can stand a lot of cold. Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. I can’t even guess how such a belief would have gotten started.

This is a fine example of why I can sometimes kneel in front of a flower and have no idea how long I’ve been there.

My grandmother taught me that it was best to cut lilacs and bring them to her when the flowers just started to open. In that way all the  other buds would open inside so she could enjoy their fragrance longer. I would watch them closely and when just a few blossoms showed I’d bring them in to her. They seem to be doing well this year. In fact many plants are doing better than they have in a long time.

It’s time to say goodbye to the vernal witch hazels. What joy they’ve brought to spring,

A redbud tree (Cercis Canadensis) showed me how it got its name. Eastern redbud  is not native to New Hampshire but I do find them here and there. Do to the cold weather this one has refused to go beyond bud. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted.

I hoped to show you some trout lily blossoms in this post but they’re being stubborn so instead I’ll show you the spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) that grow with them. They’re with us just a very short time so I hope you won’t get tired of seeing them.

This is what a forest floor covered by spring beauties looks like. It’s a rare sight, and is one I’ve been wanting to show you for years. It isn’t a great shot but it gives you an idea of what forest flowers look like. Once the leaves come out on the trees, their short lives are over. And I will miss them.

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.  ~John Milton

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I thought I’d start this post about evergreens with something you probably don’t associate with the word, but in fact we do have a few ferns that stay green all winter and are considered evergreen. Some more common ones are the Eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis), Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), Polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) and a few others. As this post will show, if you are willing to look closely you’ll find that there is quite a lot of green still out there in winter.

Clubmosses are one of our most noticeable evergreens in winter once it snows, but they 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. But that was a very long time ago; the tree clubmoss (Lycopodium dendroideum) in the above photo is barely 3 inches high. It shows the upright yellow spore bearing strobili, sometimes called candles or clubs that give the plants their common names. The plant is also called ground-pine because of its resemblance to the pine tree. Clubmoss spores have been collected and dried to make flash powder for many years. They are high in fat content and when mixed with air become highly flammable. They’ve been used in fireworks and explosives for years, and also as camera flashes before flash bulbs were invented. These days they are still used in magic acts and chemistry classes. They also repel water, so if dip your finger in a glass of water that has spores floating on it, your finger will come out dry.

Fan shaped clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum.) was once used as a Christmas decoration (and still is in some places.)  These forest floor evergreens were collected by the many thousands to make Christmas wreaths and they are still rarely seen here because of it. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all but do produce spores and are called “fern allies,” which are vascular plants that don’t produce seeds. I think fan shaped clubmoss is the most elegant of any of the clubmosses and I’m always happy to see it, especially in winter. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed.

Something that is always a surprise to see in the woods here is a northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis.) I don’t know if it was a garden escapee or not but they don’t grow naturally here that I know of. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many uses. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with its leaves and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and that’s how Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

Canada yew (Taxus canadensis) is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. This plant was a small seedling barely 6 inches tall. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy.

New goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its also being nearly collected into oblivion like trailing arbutus and others. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant. It has made a good comeback now and I see lots of it.

Usually when I do an evergreen post in winter I don’t show the flowers but that leaves me feeling like I’ve cheated you, so this time I’ll show you the flowers. All the flower photos were taken previously, of course. I like the tiny styles curved like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens on a goldthread blossom. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club like petals behind. The ends of the petals are cup shaped and hold nectar, but it must be a very small insect that sips from that cup. 

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This plant was once collected into near oblivion but these days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. That’s true of many of these native evergreens, in fact.

The reason trailing arbutus was collected so much was because of its small pink to white, very fragrant flowers. My grandmother loved this plant and she always wanted to show it to me but we could never find it back then. I see it now here and there.

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which stay green under the snow all winter. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow.

Swamp dewberry’s flower is quite pretty but its fruit is said to be sour and that is the reason it isn’t cultivated. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its name is fun to say. It’s a Native American Cree word meaning “It-breaks-into-small-pieces.” This is because it was used as a treatment for kidney stones and was thought to break them into pieces.

I think I actually gasped the first time I found this large colony of pipsissewa in bloom. I remember kneeling there admiring the rare and beautiful sight for quite some time. It is things like this that keep me wandering through the woods, never knowing what I might stumble across.

Pipsissewa flowers often show a blush of pink. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of our other native wintergreens. Pipsissewa and some other native wintergreens form a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and are 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 native orchids.

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.

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, gets its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments.

Shinleaf’s nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June or into July. I find them in sandy soiled forests under pines.

American wintergreen is probably the easiest of all the forest floor evergreens to identify because it is so common. It is also called teaberry, and that name comes from a pleasing tea that can be made from the leaves. The leaves contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin though, so anyone allergic to aspirin should leave them alone. Though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. 

American wintergreen’s blossoms look a lot like tiny blueberry blossoms.

Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox, deer and bears eat the berries. If you’re really lucky you might get to eat a small handful before the critters find them. They were one of the first wild fruits I ever ate and I still remember what they taste like; Clark’s Teaberry Gum.

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) loses its chlorophyll and turns deep purple in winter but as of this photo it hadn’t happened to this plant yet. This plant is relatively rare here and though I’m finding small numbers most of them flower but don’t set seed.  The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love,) so it loves winter and does not die from the cold.

The flowers of striped wintergreen stand out and help me locate the well camouflaged plants, so I begin looking for them in mid-July just as shinleaf is ending its bloom period.

The flower of striped wintergreen has 5 petals that are swept back, as if it had seen a strong wind. It also has 10 anthers but its style is very blunt. I’m hoping the small fly on the blossom was pollinating this plant.

Leatherleaf is a knee high shrub that gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides and turn purple in the winter. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. 

At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf  for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat fevers, headaches and inflammation but it is said that the leaves contain a toxin called andromedotoxin which is released when they’re heated so they’re probably best left alone.

Well, if nothing else I hope this post has expanded your idea of what an evergreen is. Though many of us think of trees like the young spruce in the above photo when we hear the word evergreen the list of plants that can be called evergreen is quite long and involves many species. We even have evergreen orchids.

It is only in winter that the pine and cypress are known to be evergreens. ~Confucius

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Leaves on the coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) means it’s time to say goodbye to this spring ephemeral. The flowers appear before the leaves, sometimes weeks before. Coltsfoot is said to be the earliest blooming wildflower in the northeast but there are many tree and shrub flowers that appear earlier, so I suppose “earliest” depends on what your definition of a wildflower is. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was brought over by early settlers who used it medicinally. This plant’s common name comes from the shape of the leaves, which are said to look like a colt’s hoof.

Seeing coltsfoot leaves means you should also see seed heads, and here they were. They look very different than a dandelion seed head; much more cottony. Coltsfoot plants have composite flowers, which is a larger flower head made up of many smaller flowers, in this case central disc florets and thin, radial, ray florets. If you turn clockwise at just about 11:30 you can see what a single tiny coltsfoot flower looks like.   

These hobblebush flowers had just opened and you can tell that from the yellow blush on each of the normally pure white flowers. Hobblebush flower heads are made up of small fertile flowers in the center and large infertile flowers around the perimeter. The infertile flowers are there to attract insects to the much less showy fertile ones and it’s a strategy that must work well because I see plenty of berries in the fall. They start out green and go to bright red before ripening to a deep purple color. The outer infertile flowers always seem to open before the fertile ones. Hobblebushes are one of our most beautiful native shrubs.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is up and already budded. Often I’m just as surprised by what I’ve missed than what I’ve seen and, though I’ve seen this plant thousands of times, I never knew how quickly the flower buds appeared until I saw these. Each year the above ground stem leaves a scar, or “seal” on the underground stem, which is called a rhizome. Counting these scars will reveal the age of the plant.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) is a tiny flower that you often have to sprawl on the ground to get a photo of, but the shiny 3 lobed leaves make this one easy to spot. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. This plant usually grows in undisturbed soil that is on the moist side. I often find it near swamps.

I like the tiny styles curved like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens of goldthread. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club like petals behind. The ends of the golden true petals are cup shaped and hold nectar, but it must be a very small insect that sips from that cup. 

Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is a striking spring wildflower. It is also called bog onion or Indian turnip. The striped outer “pulpit” is a spathe, which is essentially a sheath that protects the flowers.  “Jack,” who lives under the pulpit just like an old time New England preacher, is a spadix, which is a fleshy stem that bears the flowers. Few actually see the small flowers of a Jack in the Pulpit because they form down inside the spathe. 

I usually open the pulpit for a moment just to see what Jack is up to. This early in the year Jack has just come up and is waiting for fungus flies who think they smell mushrooms to come and fertilize his flowers. If they do the spathe will die back and a cluster of green berry-like fruit will form where the flowers were. These will turn bright red after a time and a deer might come along and eat them, helping to spread the seeds.  The root, which is a corm, may be eaten if it is cooked thoroughly and prepared correctly but is toxic when uncooked. 

Pussytoes (Antennaria) are popping up everywhere. There are close to 45 species of pussytoes, which makes identifying them more difficult.  Pussytoes are a favorite of many butterfly species. Another common name for the plant is everlasting. They like to grow in dry, sandy or rocky soil.

The flowers of the pussytoes plant are said to look like cat’s paws but I’ve never thought so. Someone also thought the stamens on a pussytoes flower looked like butterfly antennae and that’s where the Antennaria part of the scientific name came from. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat coughs, fevers, bruises, and inflammations.

I’m seeing more bluets (Houstonia caerulea) this year than I ever have and, though I often show it here I realized that I’ve never mentioned how what looks like a four petaled flower is actually a single, tubular, four lobed “petal.” However you describe them they’re pretty little things.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) have just started blooming and because of the cold, cloudy weather finding the flowers open has been a real treasure hunt. These low growing plants often grow in large colonies and the flowers can be pink or white. They have 5 (usually) white sepals and no petals. Because of the way they tremble in the slightest breeze anemones are also called wind flowers. From seed to flower takes about 4-5 years. An unusual habit is how the plants completely disappear in summer.

I gave up on showing most small yellow flowers on this blog long ago because many look so much alike that it can take quite a long time to identify them, but this one grew all alone in a big field  so I took its photo. I think it’s a common cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex) but it could also be the European cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans.) They’ve just opened this past week.

Though I’ve never seen it in a forest creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) is native to the forests of North America and has just started blooming. Another plant called creeping phlox is Phlox stolonifera, native to the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia. One way to tell the two plants apart is to look for the darker band of color around the center of each flower; only Phlox subulata has it. Creeping phlox is also called moss phlox or moss pinks. April’s “pink moon” got that name from the way the “moss pinks” bloom in that month. It’s a plant that loves growing in lawns as it is here and luckily it doesn’t seem to mind being mowed. Even so many people wait until it’s done blooming to do their first spring mowing.

That darker band around the center of the flower tells me this is Phlox subulata. Most people see the beauty in the mass display but not the individuals responsible for it in creeping phlox.

Dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) flowers are so small that even a cluster of them is hardly bigger than a nickel, and the entire plant could easily fit into a teacup. One interesting thing about this little plant is how some plants have only male flowers while others have perfect flowers with both male and female parts. Each plant can also change its gender from year to year. This photo also shows where the trifolius part of the scientific name comes from. Three to five leaflets each make up the whorl of three compound leaves. Dwarf ginseng doesn’t like disturbed ground and is usually found in old, untouched hardwood forests. It is on the rare side here and I only know of two places to find it. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine.

What is most unusual about this particular plant is how the flower head is misshapen. Usually the flower heads form a near perfect globe but I saw several plants on this day with out-of-round flower heads. Each flower is about 1/8 inch across, with five white petals. The three stamens on these flowers tell me they were perfect, with both male and female parts. Nothing is known about the insects that pollinate them but since I have found seed capsules on these plants something does.

We have a peach tree at work that has just come into bloom, quite early I think. This tree grows peaches but they’re more seed than fruit and they fall from the tree uneaten. Peach trees and their buds are very tender and do not like cold but peaches are grown in southern New Hampshire where there are a few pick your own peach orchards.

For years I’ve heard that flies are drawn to red trilliums (Trillium erectum) because of the carrion scented flowers and finally, here was a small fly on one.  It’s there on the left side of the bottom petal. This plant is also called stinking Benjamin and is said to be pollinated by flies as well.

I went back to the ledges in Westmoreland on a windy, snowy day to see the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) blooming and thankfully they were. I was afraid they might have all died from frost bite but they were all unharmed, so I think maybe they aren’t quite as delicate as they appear.

I always gently bend a stem down onto the soft moss so I can get a shot looking into a blossom for those who have never seen what they look like. Columbines are all about the number 5. Each blossom has 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip and forms a long funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. Long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe the holes for nectar. The oval sepals are also red and the anthers are bright yellow. All together it makes for a very beautiful flower and I was happy to see them again.

Almost every person, from childhood, has been touched by the untamed beauty of wildflowers. ~Lady Bird Johnson

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Last Sunday I decided it was time to give my tired lungs a little more exercise by climbing 962 foot Mount Caesar in Swanzey. This is the longest climb that I do these days. I’ve done it many times, but not lately. The COPD I have makes it a little more difficult but I believe lungs are just like any other body part; they need to be used. This photo shows the start of the trail. The end of the trail at the summit is also granite bedrock. In fact after you’ve climbed it you realize that you’re on a huge granite outcrop with a little bit of soil on it.

Did you see that depression in the granite in that first photo? For years I’ve wondered if it was natural or man-made. “Man” would have been the red man; Native Americans had been here for thousands of years before Europeans and according to the town history of Swanzey, they are said to have used this mountain as a lookout. The Native Squakheag tribe (I think) burned the town to the ground in the 1740s but it was rebuilt some time later.

There are lots of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) here. Huge drifts of them line both sides of the trail at its start. These lichens are quite fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades to reappear. I’m guessing the large colonies found here must be hundreds of years old. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

I was surprised to see that native evergreen goldthread had melted its way through the ice in a shaded spot. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

When I see soil configurations like this I know what to look for…

…Ice needles. I just talked about them in a previous post so I won’t go into great detail but as they grow up out of the soil they push up and lift any soil in their way, and you can tell you’re walking on them by the crunching sound the soil makes.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I doubt that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well and often only one stone has done this. I think the ground must have heaved up and lifted all the soil that surrounded it. I saw that this had happened in several places along the trail. It’s a common sight in the spring.

It was a beautiful day to be in the woods. I saw many friendly people (and their dogs) and we all said the same thing; We were glad to see the end of winter.  

The beeches backlit by the sun made me want to just sit and admire them. They’re so beautiful at all times of year but especially in the spring and fall.

I didn’t see any signs of movement in beech buds but it won’t be long. By mid-May the newly opened buds will be the most beautiful things in the forest. It’s something I look forward to all year.

The old stone walls that line the trail tell a lot about the history of the place. At one time the flanks of this mountain were cleared of trees, most likely for sheep pasture. When the industrial revolution came along and farmers went to work in the mills all of that hard won pasture reverted back to forest. This means that most of the trees here aren’t much older than the mid-1800s, if that. They may have been cut again and again since that time.

There are still a few big trees left though; pines and an occasional oak. This huge old white pine was emptying itself of all the rotted wood within. I’m guessing that it’s probably full of carpenter ants but it can still stand and live for years, even when completely hollow. I wouldn’t want to be near it in a windstorm.

These seed heads at the edge of the trail caught my eye.

I moved a few leaves aside and found the orchid the seed heads were attached to; downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens.) There are about 800 different species of Goodyeara orchids and telling them apart can be tricky because they cross pollinate and create natural hybrids. These leaves look fragile but they’ll remain green throughout winter. They’re a very pretty but also very small plant. Many aren’t more than two inches across.

In places the trail gets steep and an occasional side trail veers off, but all in all it’s an easy trail to follow. I’ll never forget the day I saw a high school aged boy run up the trail to the top and then he ran back down, all before I could even reach the summit. I think that I could have done it at his age but not now.

Signs help show you the way.

There is a an old , very large log near the summit and I often pretend that I’ve seen something interesting on it so I can stop and catch my breath. On this day I didn’t really have to catch my breath but I did see something interesting on it.

The green bits in the photo are eastern hemlock needles. If you know that tree that should give you an idea of how small these unusual growths were. A lichenologist friend looked at this photo and he said he’s quite sure they aren’t lichens. I’ve looked through every one of my mushroom books and haven’t found anything there either, so if you should happen to know what they are I’d love to hear from you. I used to collect cacti and succulents and they remind me of the succulent called “living stones” (Lithops) but of course they aren’t those.  

NOTE: A kindly reader has identified this mystery being as the Ceramic parchment fungus (Xylobolus frustulatus.) Many thanks to all of the kindly readers out there. You’ve been a lot of help over the years!

The views were hazy on this day, a good illustration of why I don’t climb for the view.

I was surprised to find that I had no fear of falling when I took this shot. Since I fell out of a tree and fractured my spine when I was a boy I haven’t been a great fan of heights, but I thought this cliff face was interesting enough to chance a couple of shots. I didn’t look down but if you look over to the bottom left corner of the photo you’ll get an idea of how high this was. You don’t want to go back down that way.  

When the light is right there’s a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey from up here. Of course the best photos are found where you have to dance a little closer to a cliff edge than I like.

All in all this day was as close to perfect as one could get. Full sunshine, warm temperatures, easy breathing and getting to see a whole solar system in a toadstool lichen no bigger than a penny would be hard to beat. I hope all of you will have such a day in your near future.

Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

Thanks for stopping in.

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Last Sunday was a beautiful but chilly day at about 30 degrees F. After almost two weeks of cold weather I thought I’d visit a local beaver swamp to see how they were doing. If beavers haven’t stored enough food underwater before their ponds freeze they can be in serious trouble, and this year the ponds have frozen earlier than average.

What might look like water is actually ice; very smooth ice, but also thin. I walked out on it and didn’t get too  far before it started creaking and cracking, so I quickly returned to shore.

There is a trail of sorts that leads a little way around the swamp. There were lots of fallen trees out here but they were caused by wind and old age, not beavers.

This one broke off about 10 feet up, making it a challenge for a chainsaw. Widow makers they call these, and for good reason.

Stone walls tell me someone used to live out here and farm this land before the beavers took it over. Nobody did the back breaking labor of clearing stones from the land unless it was absolutely necessary, so this wall wasn’t built here for the fun of it. I’m guessing it probably dates from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Many farmers went off to work in factories in the mid-1800s after the industrial revolution and gave up farming, and their pastures slowly returned to forest.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is one of the plants you often find near old stone walls and cellar holes. Others are wild roses, lilacs and peonies. All were passed from one neighbor to another. This colony is one of the largest stands of vinca I’ve seen and it still grows and blooms beautifully after hundreds of years. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the plant’s wiry stems do.

I was going to say that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky but there was one shy one hiding behind some trees.

Not all the water here was frozen. This is a seep, which happens when ground water reaches the surface. They are like puddles that never dry up and they don’t flow like a stream or brook. In my experience they don’t freeze either, even in the coldest weather. They are always good to look at closely, because many unusual aquatic fungi like eyelash fungi and swamp candles call them home. They’re also an important water source for many small animals and birds.

Stilted trees grow from seeds that fall on a rotted log or stump and grow their roots around the stump or log. Once the stump or log rots away what is left is a tree that looks like it’s standing on stilts. The strange thing about this stilted tree though, is how it grew over a stone. I don’t see them do that very often. I’m guessing that, probably over centuries, enough leaves fell on that stone to eventually turn into humus. Enough at least for a tree seed to sprout.

This is more what I’d expect from a stilted tree. Whatever it grew on has rotted into the soil and now it looks like it’s running away.

This beaver pond has two beaver lodges in it and this is one of them. I don’t know if that means there are two families of beavers or if one family uses both lodges. Beavers will move into a place, dam a stream to make a pond, and cut all the nearby trees and then move on. Their pond will eventually drain and new trees will start to grow, and then they will move back again to repeat the cycle. I’ve read that it takes about thirty years to go once around the cycle. I’m not sure what stage of the cycle this pond is in but I’ve never seen freshly cut trees here.

There are lots of standing deadwood here and that usually means it’s a good place for great blue herons to nest. I’ve seen the big birds fishing here but I’ve never seen one of their huge nests in any of the trees. What struck me most about this place was the quiet. I heard a bird or two but for the most part it was absolutely still, and that’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Here was a sign of beavers. I think that dark line of ice was made by beavers trying to keep their channel from freezing. But freeze it did, later than the rest of the pond, and that means thinner, darker ice.

Much of the ice was made up of large crystals.

Leaves were frozen into the ice in places and they were white with rime.

Scratches on a tree were too small for a bear. I’d guess it was a bobcat because I found wild turkey wings very close to this spot one day. Bobcats are one of the most common predators of wild turkeys. According to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game “Based on observation reports occurring over the previous 20 years, bobcat numbers appear to have increased in New Hampshire. They  take advantage of environmental conditions, such as winter snow depth, to kill large prey, such as deer and turkey.”

Seeing green goldthread leaves was enough to have me longing for spring, even though winter hasn’t yet arrived. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

Many mosses will grow on wood, stone or soil and delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) is one of them. Delicate fern moss is a beautiful little thing that isn’t as delicate as its name implies, but it certainly is fern like. The leaves of this moss are often bright yellow green in fall and are dull rather than shiny. It is fairly common and easy to find because it often forms very large mats. It grew on many of the logs here.

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) is also called teaberry or checkerberry and it is the first wild plant that I learned to identify, with the help of my grandmother. We used to love to eat the bright red minty tasting berries. It’s probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong, minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it much like we use aspirin. Its leaves often turn purple as the nights get colder, as these plants show. The name teaberry comes from a pleasing tea that can be made from the leaves. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox, deer and bears eat the berries.

There is a much studied phenomenon called the Red Bark Phenomenon, and scientists have devoted much time studying trees with colored bark all over New England. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. It affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species. I’ve seen it here and there on tree bark and after a lot of research a few years ago I found that it was caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. So if you see a tree with red bark there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just algae looking for a place to perch.

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. ~Henry David Thoreau

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