Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Goldthread’

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

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Our cool wet weather has held many flowers back from blooming but shadbushes are right on time. The plant is actually more tree than bush but they’ll start blooming when they’re quite small and at that size they do look like a bush. Shadbush is our earliest native white flowered tall shrub, blooming along the edges of woods just before or sometimes with the cherries. Another name for it is serviceberry, which is said to refer to church services. One story says that its blooming coincided with the return of circuit preachers to settlements after winter’s end and the resumption of church services. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens.

Shadbush gets its common name from the shad fish. Shad live in the ocean and much like salmon return to freshwater rivers to spawn. Shad was a very important food source for Native Americans and for centuries they knew that the shad were running when the shadbush bloomed. In late June they harvested the very nutritious shad fruit, which was a favorite ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of dried meat, dried fruit, and animal fat.

The month of June was known to many Native American tribes as the “Strawberry Moon” because that was when most strawberries began to ripen. The berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to pemmican, soups, and breads. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons,) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454.

If you have dandelions and violets in your lawn, there’s a good chance that you also have wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana.) If the pollinators do their job each of these flowers will become a small but delicious strawberry. My kids used to love them, and they’d eat them by the handful.

Violets are having a rough time this spring because it seems like every time they open their flowers it rains. I’ve had quite a time getting a photo of one fully opened.

I did find a white violet fully opened. Native Americans had many uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers.

I’ve never seen Forsythias bloom like they are this year. The cool weather seems to be extending their bloom period. This one was in an old unused parking lot.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a plant you have to watch closely if you want to see its flowers, because it can produce leaves and flowers in just days. You can see how its unusual brownish flower rests on the ground in this photo. This makes them difficult to get a good shot of.

For the first time ever I was early enough to see the round hairy buds of wild ginger. The bud splits into three parts to reveal the reproductive parts within.

Because they grow so close to the ground and bloom so early scientists thought that wild ginger flowers must be pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but we now know that they self-pollinate. The flowers have no petals; they are made up of 3 triangular calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. Though flies do visit the flowers it is thought that they do so simply to get warm. Native Americans used wild ginger roots as a seasoning, much like we would ginger root, but science has shown that the plant contains carcinogenic compounds that can cause kidney damage.

At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. The flower type must be very successful because it is used by many other plants, from blueberries to heather. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to reduce inflammation and to treat fevers, headaches and sprains.

Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. It likes to grow in moist undisturbed soil in part shade. Native Americans used the plant to treat canker sores and told early settlers of its medicinal qualities, and this led to its being over collected into near oblivion. Luckily it has made a strong comeback and I see quite a bit of it. There’s a lot going on in a little goldthread flower. The white petal like sepals last only for a very short time before falling off. The actual petals of the flower are the tiny golden club like parts just above the white sepals. These are cup shaped and hold nectar for what must be very small insects, because the whole flower could hide behind an aspirin. My favorite parts are the yellow green, curved styles, which always remind me of tiny flamingos.

Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) is very similar to false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum.) Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) which is also similar, also grows in New Hampshire, which complicates being able to identify these plants. While false rue anemone is native to the eastern U.S., the USDA and other sources say that it doesn’t grow in New England, so that leaves wood anemone and rue anemone. False rue anemone always has 5 white sepals, while wood anemone and true rue anemone can have more.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is another plant that has had a rough spring because of all the cloudy, cool days. It likes sunshine but hasn’t seen much, and I’ve had quite a time finding one that was both dry and open. They have a very short flowering period so I doubt I’ll see many more, but you never know.

The flower shape of blueberries must be highly successful because many plants, like this Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica,) use the same basic shape. This evergreen shrub is usually planted among rhododendrons and azaleas here and as an ornamental is quite popular. Some call it the lily of the valley shrub, for obvious reasons. I like how the pearly white flowers look like tiny gold mounted fairy lights. In japan this shrub grows naturally in mountain thickets.

The small fertile flowers in the center of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) flower heads haven’t opened yet but the larger, sterile flowers around the outer edges have. Technically a hobblebush flower head is a corymb, which is just a fancy word for a flat topped, usually disc shaped flower head. It comes from the Latin corymbus, which means a cluster of fruit or flowers. All flowers in a hobblebush cluster, both fertile and infertile, have 5 petals.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) blossom by the thousands here so I thought I’d see how the new camera’s depth of field did. It wasn’t bad but it could have been better. In a forest with fallen logs and other obstacles it’s hard to get a very long shot. But the story isn’t about camera tricks, it’s about thousands of trout lilies that go on and on and not being able to show them properly. I’ll keep trying because I’d really like you to see what I see on this blog.

I’d guess that most people would find a flower like this one beautiful; or at least pretty. Multiply that by thousands and you have beauty that is close to indescribable.

Here is another try at depth of field, which did work but the flowers are so small you can hardly see them.

The tiny white flowers in the previous photo were of course spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,)and I fear we may have to say goodbye to these beautiful little things soon, but maybe the cool wet weather predicted for next week will keep them blooming a little longer. I hope all of you had a chance to see them, or at least something as beautiful.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Spring is happening, but ever so slowly this year. April showers have come along right on schedule and though they’ll take care of the remaining snow they’ll also enhance mud season, which has already been a bear. The ground froze deeply this year and the deeper the freeze the worse the mud. None of this has anything to do with the above photo of juniper berries but I love their color and I was surprised that the birds hadn’t eaten them yet.

From a distance I saw what looked like a patch of small yellow flowers. I couldn’t even guess what yellow flowers besides maybe coltsfoot or dandelions, would be blooming in March.

But they weren’t flowers at all. They were the fruit of horse nettle plants, hundreds of them. Carolina horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) isn’t a true nettle but instead is in the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and potatoes and many toxic plants. This plant is also toxic, enough so to be named devil’s tomato. It contains alkaloids that can make you very sick and which have caused death. There are also spines on the leaves which can break off and embed themselves in the skin. Skunks, pheasant, and turkeys are said to eat the fruit but it didn’t look to me like a single one had been touched. Nothing seems to eat the stems or foliage.

I saw these pretty buds on a small ornamental tree in a local park. It had a weeping habit and couldn’t have been more than six feet tall with many weeping branches. I thought it might be some type of elm but elm buds are flattened, not round, so in the end I’m not sure what they were.

This shows what happens when a sap spigot, actually called a spile, isn’t removed from the tree after sap season. The tree has almost grown completely over this one and has squeezed what should be round into a teardrop shape. The crushing power of the wood must be incredible.

This photo that appeared in a previous blog post shows what a spile looks like when the tree hasn’t grown over it. Things like this inside trees are a woodcutter’s nightmare. Spiles started out as simple wooden pegs which were hammered into a hole in the tree to direct the sap into the buckets which were hung from them but these days they are made from galvanized steel.

I found this mullein plant (Verbascum thapsus) growing up through the pavement in an old abandoned parking area. It’s in the process of shedding its large old, outer leaves from last year to make room for the its new leaves. This plant stays green all winter long under the snow and starts growing quickly in spring as soon as it melts. Another name for this plant is flannel leaf because of its large soft, fuzzy leaves. Pliny the elder of ancient Rome used the warmed leaves as poultices for arthritis and Roman legionnaires dipped the long stalks in tallow and used them as torches. The plant is originally from Europe and is considered invasive.

I see this plant in a flower bed every time I go looking for spring bulbs blooming at the local college, but I’ve never seen it bloom. I think it’s a hollyhock but I’m not sure, whatever it is it’s very tough and stays green all winter long. I like the pebbly texture of its leaves.

I’ve written about Edgewood Forest in past posts. It lies near the Keene airport and there always seems to be a controversy boiling over the trees there. The Federal Aviation Administration says the trees are tall enough to pose a hazard to planes, but the original documents that deeded the land to the city says that the land should be left as is, with no cutting of trees. What this has amounted to is trees being cut all around the deeded parcel called Edgewood Forest, leaving it a kind of forested island. The place shown in the above photo was forested until not too long ago but then all the trees were cut, all the stumps pulled and this-whatever it is- was built. Picnic tables were placed here and there. Apparently the higher powers thought that people would flock there and love it enough to even want to picnic there, but I’ve been by it hundreds of times and have never seen a soul there, picnicking or otherwise. Since there are hundreds of trees that are taller very nearby this seems like a total waste of effort and money to me.

This kind of thing is happening all over and town governments can’t seem to get the fact that people go to these places to enjoy nature. They stand and scratch their heads, wondering why the people don’t still flock to the same places after they’ve been “improved” like this one. Instead of attracting people they are driving them away, and I’m sure the income from tourist dollars is going to start reflecting that, if it hasn’t already. Meanwhile we’ll have monuments like this one to shake our heads at as we pass by in search of places that are more open and welcoming to nature lovers.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) is one of the plants that grew in that forest before it was turned into a lawn. Luckily I know where there are more of them. Native Americans showed the early settlers how to use goldthread to relieve the pain of canker sores and it became an extremely popular medicine. At one point in the 1800s more of it was sold on the docks of Boston than any other plant and that meant that it was severely over collected. Now, 200 years or so later It has made a good comeback and it will always be with us if we stop turning forests into lawns. It gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. It will bloom in late April with a pretty little white flower. I love its leaves, which look like they were hammered out of sheet metal.

When a sunbeam picks out something specific in nature I usually pay close attention, thinking that maybe I’m supposed to see that thing for whatever reason. On this day a sunbeam picked out this beech leaf, which was perfect and unblemished. It was a beautiful thing, as the things picked out by sunbeams almost always are. A sunbeam showed me how incredibly beautiful a red clover blossom was once and completely changed my opinion of what I always considered an ugly, unwanted weed.

A sunbeam also fell on this single turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) and its dominant blue color just happened to be my favorite. Turkey tails can vary greatly in color and I think I’ve seen them wearing just about every shade this year.

I’m hoping this is the last of this winter’s ice I’ll have to show here. Both day and nighttime temperatures are rising and ever so slowly the white is disappearing.


If you’ve never looked through a knothole this photo is for you. Knotholes like these happen when branches die and their wood shrinks faster than the surrounding wood of the tree. Eventually they fall off the tree, leaving a hole behind. The part of the tree that protrudes and surrounds the branch is called the branch collar and it should always be left intact when pruning. As can be seen, the tree leaves it behind naturally.

Other “improvements” I’ve seen lately involved cutting all the alders and other native shrubs from the banks of a small local pond, but since this pond is used as a water source in case of fire I can understand the thinking behind wanting to keep the brush cut back. I thought this stump, cause by two young alders growing together, looked like the face of an owl.

I had the face of this barred owl to compare the stump to. A few years ago I met a barred owl sitting in the middle of a trail. It just sat there, staring directly into my eyes while I walked to within 5 feet of it. I stood for several minutes, feeling as if I was being drawn into those big brown eyes that were much like my own, until I finally turned and left. The last time I saw that owl it still sat on the ground, which is a very odd thing for an owl to be doing. It was a strange experience and seeing this owl reminded me of it. This owl was much bigger than that one but sat quietly in the same way, letting me take as many photos as I wanted. The photos would have been much better had it been a sunny day but you can’t have everything, and being able to look into the eyes of an owl should be enough.

If you’d like to see what it’s like to stare into the eyes of an owl, look at the beautiful photo of a saw-whet owl that Montucky recently posted on his blog. You can see it by clicking on the word HERE. Its eyes are yellow instead of brown like a barred owl, but the effect is the same.

Just a note: This post is the first I’ve done on my new computer and I’m having trouble getting photos to look right on the new monitor, so if things look a little stranger than usual that might be why. It’s a nice big monitor that’s easy to see but it’s also very bright so photos look like they were overexposed. I hope you’ll bear with me.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Last Saturday morning it was cold at about 3 degrees F. so I had to wait for it to warm up a bit before going out. My camera doesn’t perform well at anything below 10 degrees and neither do I, so I waited until the thermometer read 20 degrees before visiting a local swamp. I was hoping to show you the flock of mallards that swam here seconds before I clicked the shutter but apparently they thought my collapsible monopod was a gun, because as soon as I went to extend it off they flew. I was at the crest of the hill shown here and they were far below, but they still saw my every move.

So instead of the wildlife I concentrated on the plants that grow here, like these winterberries. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native plant in the holly family and is toxic, but birds snap up the berries fairly quickly so I only saw a handful of rather puckered fruit. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

I come to this swamp specifically because it is the only place I know of to find skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) which is usually our first flower to appear in spring. But as the above photo of its shoots shows the plants are there all winter, just waiting for the sign that it is warm enough to begin growing again. That date is usually in early March and the plant, through a process called thermogenesis, will grow through any amount of ice and snow to bloom. It can do that because it produces heat and can raise its temperature as much as 60 degrees F. above the surrounding air temperature. The splotchy maroon and yellow spathes are always a treat to see because they mean that spring is here, no matter what the calendar says.

Another sign of spring I watch for is when the catkins of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) start to turn golden yellow. This is a sign that they are producing pollen and that means that the tiny scarlet threads that are the female flowers must also be showing. The bud on the right is a female bud and the tiny female flowers will grow from it in early to mid-April. A good way to tell that you have an American hazelnut and not its cousin the beaked hazelnut is by the very hairy stem seen here. Only American hazelnut has hairy stems.

The forest was nearly free of snow but the trail through it had a light coating. That’s probably because it was well packed and icy.

It hasn’t been easy to find much snow in this part of the state this year and I’m not complaining about that at all. The weather people are hinting that a stormier pattern will crop up towards the end of the week.

There was one spot in the forest that had a measurable amount of snow and I wondered why only this spot had so much.

That was because there weren’t many evergreens overhead. Evergreen trees keep an amazing amount of snow from reaching the ground.

The shiny evergreen leaves of pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) poked up out of the snow. This plant is one of our native wintergreens and it likes to grow in undisturbed, sandy woodland soil that is on the dry side. It was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its common name comes from the Native American Cree tribe, who used it medicinally to treat kidney stones. It was thought to break them up into pieces. Even though pipsissewa photosynthesizes it supplements its diet by taking certain nutrients from fungi, and for that reason it is considered partially parasitic.

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.

When I finally got my driver’s license at 16 I would give my grandmother rides to the cemetery to visit the family graves. Near there was a wooded area and we would walk through the woods looking for checkerberries, which we had done since I was just a small boy. I can remember her always hoping we’d find some mayflowers so she could show me what they looked like, but we never did see any. That’s because their very fragrant flowers were collected for nosegays to such an extent the plant became almost impossible to find. Another name for mayflowers is trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens,) and my grandmother would be happy to know that I’ve found several large colonies. Many plants come with memories attached and for me this one comes with some strong ones.

I saw a very large witches’ broom on a blueberry bush. This deformation is caused by a fungus and causes a very dense cluster of branches to form. Though they might look unsightly they don’t seem to harm the plant. I picked berries for many years from a bush that had a large witches’ broom on it.

One part of the swamp had frozen into a pebbled, textured pattern.

We had a small ice storm that coated the trees with ice. The sun came out but the temperature dropped so as the sun melted the ice on the trees it fell into water that was freezing below, and that’s what made these patterns in the ice. I know that because the same thing happened where I work and, since I spend a lot of time outside, I watched (and felt) it happen. Millions of pieces of ice fell from the trees, rattling and tinkling as they fell. If they hit you in the face, they hurt.

Clubmosses grew up out of the ice. These little evergreen plants are vascular so they aren’t mosses at all, but someone must have thought so at one time. They are also called princess pine, ground pine and ground cedar but they have no relationship to those trees either. Clubmosses are considered fern allies, which are vascular plants that produce spores. Horsetails and Spikemosses are also in the same family. Clubmosses were used in a medicinal tea by Native Americans and the dried spores were once used to produce the flash in photography. They are very flammable when dry.

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.

I finally saw some more blue / purple turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They can be beautiful at times; like little painted fans.

The small stream that brings water from the upper part of the swamp to the lower was strangely colored orangey brown on this day. I wondered if it was some type of algae that colored it this way; I’ve never seen this here before.

Maybe it was all of the leaves in the stream that gave it its odd color, I don’t know.

A spruce tree had quite a large wound on it and a lot of resin around it. If you gently heat the resin, which is called spruce gum, of the black spruce tree (Picea mariana,) it will melt down into a liquid which can then be strained and poured into a shallow pan or other container to cool. After about half an hour it will be hardened and very brittle, and when broken into bite sized pieces it can be chewed like any other gum. Spruce gum is antiseptic and good for the teeth. It has been chewed by Native Americans for centuries and was the first chewing gum sold in the United States.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Anemones have now joined trout lilies, spring beauties, and coltsfoot in carpeting the forest floor and they’re putting on a beautiful display this year. I’m looking at the abundance of blooms as nature balancing out what was a long cold winter.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) seem to close whenever they feel like it but especially on cloudy days, so I was lucky to find them open. This native plant is said to be closely related to the European wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa.) Because they tremble in a breeze they have also been called windflowers. Not only do the flowers pass quickly but so do the plants. There will be no sign of them by midsummer. Though these plants are in the buttercup family and are toxic Native Americans made an anemone infused tea to relieve many different ailments, including lung congestion and eye disorders.

I thought the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) were  a little late this year so I looked back to when I found them blooming last year. Last year they bloomed on April 23rd, so they are indeed a little late.

These blossoms hadn’t been open long and you can tell that by the yellow male stamens in the center. As the blossoms age the 6 stamens quickly turn red and then brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect female stigma will catch any pollen an insect brings by. 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. If pollination is successful a 3 part seed capsule will appear. The seeds are dispersed by ants, which eat the rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds behind to grow into bulbs.

Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take from 7-10 years to produce flowers from seeds, so if you see a large colony of blooming trout lilies you know it has been there for a while. This colony has tens of thousands of plants in it and I’ve read that colonies of that size can be as much as 300 years old. The first settlers of Keene could have very well admired these same plants, just as I do today.

A reader wrote in to say that she had spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) in her lawn and they were mowed once they were done flowering. I had never seen them in a lawn until I saw these on this day. I hope whoever mows the lawn will wait for them to finish blooming. I couldn’t mow down something so beautiful.

Goldthread usually waits until other spring ephemerals have finished before its flowers appear above the evergreen leaves but the weather has a few plants confused this spring. Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. It likes to grow in moist undisturbed soil in part shade. Native Americans used the plant to treat canker sores and told early settlers of its medicinal qualities, and this led to its being over collected into near oblivion. At one time more goldthread, then called “canker root,” was sold in Boston than any other native plant. Luckily it has made a strong comeback. I see quite a bit of it.

There’s a lot going on in a little goldthread flower. The white petal like sepals last only for a very short time before falling off. The actual petals of the flower are the tiny golden club like parts just above the white sepals. These are cup shaped and hold nectar for what must be very small insects, because the whole flower could hide behind an aspirin. My favorite parts are the yellow green, curved styles, which always remind me of tiny flamingos.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is an invasive plant from Europe, but it was brought over so long ago that many people think it’s a native. In the 1800s it was given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies and I’ve found all three still blooming beautifully around old cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the plant’s wiry stems do. They grow quickly into an impenetrable wiry mat that other plants can’t grow through and I’ve seen large areas of nothing but vinca in the woods. Still, it is nowhere near as aggressive as many other invasive plants and people enjoy seeing its beautiful violet flowers in spring. Another name for it is Myrtle.

Wild ginger is a plant you have to watch closely if you want to see its flowers, because it can produce leaves and flowers in just days. In fact, everything seen in this photo appeared in 3 days from what was a mass of roots (rhizomes) under last year’s leaves.

Because they grow so close to the ground and bloom so early scientists thought that wild ginger flowers must be pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but we now know that they self-pollinate. The flowers have no petals; they are made up of 3 triangular calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. Though flies do visit the flowers it is thought that they do so simply to get warm. Native Americans used wild ginger roots as a seasoning, much like we would ginger, but science has shown that the plant contains carcinogenic compounds that can cause kidney damage.

The full moon in the month of June was known to Native Americans as the strawberry moon because that was when most strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) began to ripen. The small but delicious berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to soups, pemmican and breads.  Strawberries were so plentiful that early settlers didn’t even think of cultivating them until the early 1800s. They grow thickly in my yard and my kids used to love looking for and eating the small, sweet berries.

At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. The flower type must be very successful because it is used by many other plants, from blueberries to heather. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to reduce inflammation and to treat fevers, headaches and sprains.

Little Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have done just that. This wild form of the modern pansy has been known and loved for a very long time. It is said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heart’s ease and was used in love potions. Stranger names include “three faces in a hood.” Whatever it’s called I like seeing it appear at the edge of my lawn in spring. I always try to encourage it by letting it go to seed but it never seems to spread.

Like other spring ephemeral flowers bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) isn’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. Still, with the summer heat coming on so early I’m guessing that it’s probably time to say goodbye to this little beauty for another year.

But just as it becomes time to say goodbye to one spring blossom it becomes time to say hello to another, and trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just come into bloom. These small but fragrant flowers were once over collected for nosegays and when I was a boy they were very hard to find, but now I know of several large colonies so they seem to be making a comeback. They are protected in some states as well, and this helps. People need to understand that the plants are closely associated with fungi in the soil and unless the fungi are present these plants will not live, so digging them up to put in gardens is a waste of time.

I didn’t notice at the time but a tiny piece of lichen had fallen on the blossom over on the left. Native Americans used trailing arbutus medicinally and it was considered so valuable it was thought to have divine origins. Its scent is certainly heavenly and my grandmother loved it very much. I spent many hours as a boy trying to find the flowers for her but back then they were almost impossible to find. Thankfully that has changed.

One of the most unusual flowers to bloom in spring, and one that few people see, is the fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis.) It’s unusual because its flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs. The flowers form on branch ends of small shrubs and many songbirds love the berries, so it would be a great addition to a wildlife garden. Look for the flowers at the end of April on the shaded edges of woods.

So far all of the flowers we’ve seen are relatively small, but not purple trillium (Trillium erectum.) These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. This is one of our showiest spring wildflowers.

Imagine my surprise when, while driving down a road that I had driven thousands of times, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that I had never seen. I’ve searched for marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) for many years and have never found a single one but on this day there it was, growing in a roadside ditch. I pulled over, threw the car in reverse, and jumped out to see if I could believe my eyes. It grew in water so I couldn’t get close enough for a close up of the flowers but there is no doubt that it was a marsh marigold. How or when it got there is anyone’s guess, but they are rare here in my experience and I was very happy to finally see one. I can now cross it off my still very long list of plants I hope to see one day.

Flowers construct the most charming geometries: circles like the sun, ovals, cones, curlicues and a variety of triangular eccentricities, which when viewed with the eye of a magnifying glass seem a Lilliputian frieze of psychedelic silhouettes. ~Duane Michaels

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »

We had another couple of warm days last weekend with temps in the high 40s F, so I decided to go and check on the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) to see how they were doing. They are our earliest flowers, often flowering in March, and they grow around the swamp in the above photo, which is one of only two places I’ve seen them.

I doubted I’d see any since it’s only January but there was a single green shoot, probably still there from last fall. This is not a flower bud though, it is a leaf bud. Skunk cabbage is an arum and the actual flowers are hard to see because they blossom inside a spathe. A spathe is a modified leaf which in skunk cabbages usually is colored a splotchy, mottled yellow and maroon. True leaves appear around mid-April when the plant is done flowering.

Do cattails (Typha latifolia) produce new shoots in the fall or in spring? I wondered when I saw these. When I looked them up I read that new shoots appear in spring, but this is January. I have a feeling they appeared last fall and are just biding their time until it warms up. Native Americans wove cattail leaves into waterproof mats and used them on their lodges.

The approach to the swamp is through the woods shown here and then down the steep embankment in the distance, so I was glad there wasn’t much snow to slip and slide in.

I saw a bird’s nest and wondered, because of the way it hung from branches, if it was a Baltimore oriole’s nest. It was about as big around as a coffee mug and hung in a shrub at about waist high, which seems much too low for an oriole’s nest. The ones that I’ve seen have always been quite high up in the trees. Maybe there are other birds that weave nests that hang.

This photo shows how the bird hung the nest in the V shaped crotch of a branch. It is hung from 3 points for stability. Grasses, cattail leaves and birch bark is what the nest was mostly woven from. I wonder if Native Americans first learned to weave baskets by studying bird nests.

The shiny evergreen leaves of goldthread appeared by the place where skunk cabbages grow and surprised me, because I’ve never seen them here. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its name from its bright yellow, thread like root. Tiny but beautiful white flowers will appear in late April. Native Americans chewed the roots of goldthread to treat canker sores, which is why the plant is also called Canker root. The natives shared the plant with the English settlers and it became such a popular medicine that by 1785 shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for it dried, which meant people dug up all they could find. At one time there was more goldthread sold in Boston than any other native plant. Luckily after a couple of centuries the plant has recovered enough to be relatively common once again.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is a native plant that makes a good garden groundcover. Small, heart shaped leaves on creeping stems grow at ground level and you can mow right over it. In spring it has white trumpet shaped flowers that grow in pairs and in the fall it has bright red berries which are edible but close to tasteless. I leave them for the turkeys, which seem to love them. My favorite parts of this plant are the greenish yellow leaf veins on leaves that look as if they were cut from hammered metal. I have several large patches of it growing in my yard.

The small blackish bead-like sori that make up the fertile fronds of the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) will open to release the spores soon. Sensitive fern is another good indicator of moist places, so I wasn’t surprised to see it here. Its common name comes from its sensitivity to frost, which was first noticed by the early colonials. I just read that turkeys will peck at and eat the sori, and that is why sometimes you find the fern’s spores lying on the snow around the plant.

These oak leaves were pretty amazing for January, warm day or not. I’m not sure how they did this; most other oak leaves I’ve seen this winter have been brown, or sometimes pinkish brown. Maybe these were flash frozen in November, I don’t know, but it was a pleasure to see them.

We saw more pine cones fall from the white pines (Pinus strobus) this year than most of us have ever seen and the squirrels are reaping the harvest. They pull the cones apart scale by scale and eat the seeds, and big piles of scales are a common sight in the woods. Squirrels like to sit up higher than the surrounding landscape when they eat and often sit on stones or logs.

This is what’s left of a white pine cone when a squirrel is finished with it. Not much.

There are plenty of goldenrod and other seeds to keep the birds happy this year as well.

American hazelnut (Corylus americana) catkins are a common enough sight in the winter but I’m not sure what these examples were doing. They usually hang straight down but a couple of these decided to be different. These are the male flowers of the hazel shrub and before long, usually in mid-April, they will begin to show pollen and turn golden yellow.

Turkeys, squirrels and many other birds and animals usually eat hazelnuts up quickly so I was surprised to see quite a few nut clusters still hanging from the branches. It could be that the bumper crop of acorns is keeping the animals busy.

Blackberry seed gall is caused by the blackberry seed gall wasp (Diastrophus cuscutaeformis.) These very small, round hollow galls look like seeds and form in clusters around blackberry stems. Each tiny gall has a stiff, hair like spine and together they form a hairy mass like that in the photo. They start out bright yellow-green and mature to brownish red. This one was about as long as your index finger.

I hoped the vine I saw up in a tree was American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), but it turned out to be just another invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus,) which is quickly outpacing the natives. That’s mainly because its berries are more enticing to birds and its seeds germinate much faster. The easiest way to tell American bittersweet from Oriental is by the location of the berries on the vine; American bittersweet berries grow on the ends of the vines and Oriental bittersweet berries grow all along them. While both vines climb trees and shrubs, American bittersweet is less likely to strangle its host like Oriental bittersweet will.

I keep seeing this red inner bark on some dead staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) and each time I see it I try to find out why it would be red, but so far I’ve never found an answer. It’s always surprising that such a beautiful color would be hidden from sight. Or maybe it turns red as it peels away.

There are often ducks here in this part of the swamp but they probably heard me long before I could have seen them and swam off. Soon this will be a very busy, growing place full of nesting red winged blackbirds, snapping turtles, herons, ducks, and frogs but for now it is simply open water and quiet and for me, that was enough.  I hope you have a nearby swamp or wetland that you can visit, because they’re fascinating places that are full of life.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

Some of our spring ephemeral flowers are finishing up and others, like goldthread, are just starting. Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) 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 like its tiny styles curved like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens. 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 petals are cup shaped and hold nectar, but it must be a very small insect that sips from that cup. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, and it was most likely sold under its other common name of canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

New goldthread leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will 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 flowers will appear. Their leaves come in threes, and another common name is three leaved goldthread.

The rain and cool weather is keeping dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) blooming in numbers I haven’t seen in a while. I wonder how many realize that each “petal” in a dandelion “flower” is actually a tiny flower (floret) by itself, and what we call the flower of a dandelion is really a flower head, made up of hundreds of individual florets. Before the 1800s (before lawns came along) people would pull grass out of their yards to make room for dandelions and other plants that we call weeds today.

The strange flower heads of sugar maples (Acer saccharum) aren’t as showy as other native maples but they must do their job, because we have a lot of sugar maple trees. These are the male (staminate) flowers in this photo. Sugar maples can reach 100 feet in height and can live to be 400 years old when healthy.

Magnolias seem to be having a great year and I’m seeing them everywhere. Their fragrance is amazing.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in forests so they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They’ll go dormant quickly when it gets hot and they can leave a hole in the garden but that trait is easily forgiven. It’s one of the oldest perennials in cultivation and it is called old fashioned bleeding heart. I’ve always liked them and they were one of the first flowers I chose for my own garden.

The wild plum (Prunus americana) grows in just a small corner of south western New Hampshire, so you could say they are rare here. I’m fortunate to have found three or four trees growing under some power lines, but a few years ago when the powerlines were cleared I didn’t think I’d be seeing them for long. The power company clears the land regularly and cuts every plant, shrub and tree down to ground level. Except these plum trees; they were left alone and unharmed, even though everything around them was cut. I wonder how the power company knows that they are rare enough to leave standing.

How I wish you could smell these plum blossoms. The fragrance is wonderful, and so unique that I can’t think of any other flower fragrance to compare it to. It’s very different than the fragrance of apple blossoms.

I’ve been smelling plenty of apple blossoms too, because old, “wild’ apple trees line our roads and even grow in the forests. In fact entire abandoned orchards, left behind when farms were abandoned in the industrial revolution of the 1800s, can sometimes be found off in the middle of nowhere, still blooming beautifully and still bearing fruit. Apple trees can regularly live for 100 years but 200+ year old trees have been known. There is at least one tree that was planted in 1809 that still lives. These days most of the apples from the old trees are enjoyed by deer and bears in this area.

I wonder if people realize that every apple tree in this country (except crabapples) has been imported from somewhere else or was planted by seed; either by man, bird or animal. That’s why John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) did what he did. There are four species of crabapple native to North America; they are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. I planted the example in the photo but I’ve long since forgotten its name. The crab apple is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. The nine herbs charm was used for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs. The other eight were mugwort, betony, lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, thyme and fennel.

Our native cherries are also blossoming but I liked the red stars in the blossoms of this cultivated variety.

These pretty viola flowers were quite large and I don’t know if they were escaped pansies or large violets but I loved their color and cheeriness so I stopped to get a photo.  Violets are native To North America but plant breeders have made significant changes to color, size and fragrance.

Boxwood is called “man’s oldest garden ornamental.” The early settlers must have thought very highly of it because they brought it over in the mid-1600s. The first plants to land on these shores were brought from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. I found this one blooming in a local park. I don’t think most people pay any attention to its small blossoms.

It’s already just about time to say goodbye to the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum.) Their stay is brief but spring wouldn’t be the same without them.

Trout lily flowers have three petals and three sepals. All are yellow on the inside but the sepals on many flowers are a brown / maroon / bronze color on the outside. No matter how you look at it it’s a beautiful little thing, but I think it’s even more so from the back side.

Unfortunately it’s also almost time to say goodbye to the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) I doubt I’ll see them for another post but you never know; this cool, rainy weather is extending the bloom time of many plants. I’m still seeing forsythia that looks like it just opened yesterday and they’ve been blooming for weeks.

Winter cress, also called yellow rocket, (Barbarea vulgaris) has just started blooming. This plant is native to Africa, Asia and Europe and is found throughout the U.S. In some states it is considered a noxious weed. In the south it is called creasy greens. It is also known as scurvy grass due to its ability to prevent scurvy because of its high vitamin C content. It is very easy to confuse with our native common field mustard (Brassica rapa or Brassica campestris.) Winter cress is about knee-high when it blooms in spring and it stays green under the snow all winter. This habit is what gives it its common name.

What a show the grape hyacinths are putting on this year.  Since blue is my favorite color, I’m enjoying them.

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius) has three leaflets which together make up part of a whorl of three compound leaves. Dwarf ginseng doesn’t like disturbed ground and is usually found in old, undisturbed hardwood forests. I usually find it growing at the base of trees, above the level of the surrounding soil. It is very small and hard to see; the plant in the photo could have fit in a tea cup with room to spare. It had two flower heads, and this is the first plant I’ve ever seen with more than one. 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 so it should never be picked.

Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. Little seems to be known about which insects might visit the plant.

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

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »