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Posts Tagged ‘Grape Tendrils’

On Easter Sunday I thought, since it was such a beautiful day, that I’d head up to Westmoreland to see if I could find some of the beautiful blue spring shoots of the blue cohosh plant that grows here. I found them last year but I was about two weeks late because they had already started turning green.

Right off I saw a red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) with flower buds. This was a surprise since the others I’ve seen haven’t even broken bud yet. Had I been earlier the finger like leaves would have been deep purple. The purple flower buds will quickly turn green before blooming into a head of small, white flowers, and if pollinated they will become bright red berries.

I saw lots of railroad artifacts here on this day, including this old signal base.

I was shocked to find the buds of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) showing. I think this is the earliest I’ve seen this happen. As the buds grow they will become beautifully colored in pink and orange.

There are lots of beech trees up here but the buds didn’t show any sign of swelling or lengthening. They will become one of the most beautiful things found in a spring forest when the buds break and the leaves start to show. It won’t be long!

Last year’s beech leaves have turned white and become thinner than paper, and the wind easily strips them from the branches at this stage. There are lots of theories about why beech leaves keep their leaves all winter, including to discourage deer from eating their buds, but nobody really knows for sure.

This pile of old railroad ties brought back memories. I grew up just a few yards from railroad tracks and seeing all the rails and ties torn up after the trains stopped running hit me almost like a death in the family would have. For many years I didn’t go near a rail trail but then, after some gentle prodding by an old friend, I started walking them. I’ve been glad ever since that they are here to enjoy; they’re much easier to hike than the tracks were.

I saw a tie plate lying beside the trail.

Someone had found an old rail anchor and placed it on a stone. Rail anchors were used, as you would guess, to keep the rails from moving. Eight were used on each 39 foot length of track but their numbers were increased as the grade steepened. Four of them in original as found condition will cost you $36.00 online.

There are a few old box culverts out here, still doing their job of keeping streams from washing the railbed away. This stream had dried up but I think it only runs in heavy rains or when the snow melts.

I was a little apprehensive when I reached this point because this is very near where I met up with the biggest bear I ever want to meet in the woods. That happened a couple of years ago on just about this date but on this day the bear had apparently gone over the mountain.

In case you missed it the first time, here is the bear I saw that day. It was big and it just stared, and that was a bit unnerving. Thankfully it let me leave and didn’t follow. I doubt that I’ll ever forget it.

Grapevines were hanging on to any branch they could grab. This is how they climb trees to get into the crown where there is more sunshine.

I was getting close to where the cohosh grows when I stopped to take this shot. There was bright sunshine when I started out but high thin clouds had made the light flat and strange by this time.

Finally I reached the ledges, cut through the hillside by the railroad, and the mosses glowed.

Marks from the old steam drills can be seen here and there. These holes would have been filled with black powder. You basically lit the fuse and ran, and then you cleaned up all the blasted rock.

I was surprised to find icicles on the ledges but it had been a cold night. They were falling fast after a the sun reached them though, so I had to make sure there were none above me when I got close to the ledges. You can just see a wild columbine to the left of the icicle, and that’s why I wanted to get close to the ledges.

I’m beginning to wonder if they aren’t evergreen. I used Google lens on this plant to see if it could identify it and it came back with Aquilegia canadensis, which of course is correct.

Unfortunately it couldn’t identify this moss that you see covering the ledges because it is so tiny I couldn’t get a shot of it with my phone. I’m still looking through my moss books for it. It forms huge mats here on the stones.

I tried Google lens on this fern and it came back with evergreen woodfern (Dryopteris intermedia), which I think is correct.

Its stalk (stipe) was very scaly and I was surprised that I had never noticed this. I’ve seen scales on lady ferns but there are actually three ferns with scales; spinulose ferns also have them. I haven’t seen any fern fiddleheads yet.

I never did find the blue cohosh but trying to remember where a one inch tall shoot once was in such a large area can be difficult, even though I recognized the stone and log it had been growing near. I’m sure I’ll see the plant with its leaves when I come back to see the wild columbines blooming in early May. Purple trillium, Jack in the pulpit, herb Robert, and many other plants also grow here.

Baby tooth moss (Plagiomnium cuspidatum) lit up a bit of ledge. I can’t think of another moss with so many spore capsules. They start off straight up and pointed like toothpicks and then begin to swell and turn downward. I have it growing in my yard and it’s cheering to see how it glows in the afternoon sunshine.

Cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) reminded me of little Miss Muffet’s tuffet. This moss can appear silvery, white, bluish green or grayish green but it always forms a thick cushion and stands out from the mosses that might surround it. It likes plenty of water and shade and grows on rotting logs or on stone when there is enough soil. It is probably the easiest of all the mosses to identify.

How soft and sweet the breeze was, and how warm the sun. I could easily imagine it being an early summer day but anyone who has grown up in New Hampshire knows what a changeable month April can be, and he knows what might seem a soft caress one day could quite likely seem a hard slap the next. Best not to be daydreaming about the coming summer I reminded myself, there was plenty to love about this day.

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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I’ve seen some glorious sunrises lately. This one reminded me of the old “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning” saying, which is based in fact. According to Wikipedia “If the morning skies are red, it is because clear skies over the horizon to the east permit the sun to light the undersides of moisture-bearing clouds.” The concept is over two thousand years old and is even referenced in the New Testament, so sailors have been paying attention to the skies for a very long time.  

I like looking for patterns in ice and I thought I saw the Statue of Liberty’s Crown in this puddle ice. The whiter the ice, the more air bubbles were trapped in it when it froze. That explains the color, but what explains the long, needle like crystals and the strange pinging noise it makes when it breaks? There might be answers to those questions out there, but I still haven’t been able to find them.

Winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are a native holly that love wet feet so I look for them in swamps and along streams.  Conditions must have been perfect for them this year because I’ve seen more berries on them than I ever have. Robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings all eat them so this year they’ll eat well.

Spindle berry is native to Europe but we have a native version called eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus,) and I think this plant is probably the native version. The photo above is of its interesting bright red fruit, which many birds eat. I watched a pair of blue jays eating the fruit just the other day, in fact. Though Native Americans used the bark, leaves and fruits medicinally  all parts of this plant are considered poisonous if eaten. Wahoo was their name for the shrub.

When young yellow hawkweed seedlings (Hieracium caespitosum) look like the above photo; very hairy. And when it gets cold the leaves will turn purple unless covered by snow. When covered the leaves will often stay green all winter and there are thousands of them in a meadow where I work. Hawkweeds were used in Europe to treat lung disorders, stomach pains, cramps, and convulsions. Native Americans used our native hawkweeds in chewing gum.

I know I showed Mount Monadnock in my last post but I’m showing it again because I just heard that a man had to be rescued from the summit recently. Unfortunately this has become a common occurrence that is expensive and dangerous for rescuers. It usually happens because people simply aren’t prepared for the weather conditions up there. They get wet, cold, and find themselves in serious trouble. People have died on that mountain, so if you plan on climbing it please do some research and stay safe. By the way, all the snow in this photo is gone now but it’s still mighty cold up there. For a current forecast visit https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Mount-Monadnock/forecasts/965

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) grows long feathery filaments called styles on its seeds (fruits) so the wind can carry them long distances. Virgin’s bower is our native wild clematis vine that blooms anytime from July through September. Botanically speaking these “seeds” are achenes, which are fruits with one seed. This is a common plant seen draped over shrubs and climbing into trees all along these tracks. What is uncommon is its pretty star shaped seed head. The hairy looking seeds give it another common name: Old Man’s Beard.

I think this is the worst tree wound I’ve ever seen. Though dead now the tree lived like this for many years. It showed me that the natural drive to live is very strong among all living things.

I saw a familiar black growth on a fallen beech limb (Fagus grandifolia) that I recognized as an unusual little fungus that I had seen before.

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to the purplish black color seen in the photo, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. The fruiting bodies seen here are described as “cushion like round or flask shaped masses of fungal tissue with nipple or pustule shaped pores.” It took me about three years to be able to identify this fungus, so you have to be persistent in nature study.

Another black fungus found on trees is the bootstrap fungus. It is caused by honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

Fungal spores can enter trees through wounds in the bark, like sapsucker holes for instance. Yellow bellied sapsuckers are in the woodpecker family but unlike other woodpeckers they feed on sap instead of insects. They drill a series of holes in a line across the bark and then move up or down and drill another series of holes before moving again, and the end result is usually a rectangular pattern of holes in the bark. They’ll return to these holes again and again to feed on the dripping sap. Many small animals, bats, birds and insects also drink from them, so these little birds help out a lot of their forest companions.

Many ash trees have black winter buds, like black ash for instance, but I know this one by its fruit and it is a native mountain ash. It grows in a very un-mountain like wet place and because of that I think it suffers. It seems a weak, sickly tree and I didn’t know that its buds also looked sickly until I took this photo. It does bear a limited amount of fruit though, so it’s obviously trying.

But none of that was the actual point of taking this photo; I took it so I could tell you that the best way to start learning to identify trees when they are leafless is to find a tree with prominent or unmistakable features (like buds) and start there. Once you’ve learned all you can from that tree choose another. Sooner or later you’ll notice similar patterns among tree species and that will make them even easier to identify.

Shrubs too, can teach. I can’t think of another shrub with chubby purple buds like those found on the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa.) In spring the outer purple bud scales will open and show the green inner bud and they will be very beautiful in their purple and green stripes. A bud scale is made up of modified leaves or stipules that cover and protect the bud in winter. Usually the number of bud scales surrounding a bud will help identify a tree or shrub.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open in the spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new leaves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.” An imbricate bud is a bud with numerous scales that overlap each other like shingles. In May they are one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

The inner bark on dead staghorn sumacs can be a beautiful bright, reddish orange color in the winter. I’ve read descriptions that say the inner (live) bark is “light green and sweet to chew on,” but no reference to its changing color when it dries, so it is a mystery to me. The plant is said to be rich in tannins and I do know that dyes in colors like salmon and plum can be made from various parts of the plant, including its bark.

I’ve seen various animals and even beautiful Hindu dancers in grape tendrils but in this one all I see is infinity, because it doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end. A grape tendril is a flower stalk that has evolved into a grasping support to get the vine into the bright life giving sunshine at the tops of trees. They bend in the direction of touch so if the wind happens to blow them against a branch they will twist spirally around it. In a vineyard they usually point to the north.

I like the warm, rich brown of oak leaves in the winter. These were curled together in a hug, as if to keep each other warm.

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) seed pods covered the ground under an old tree and I was glad I wasn’t the one who had to rake them all up. When the seed pods are green the pulp on the inside is edible and very sweet, while the pulp of the very similar black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is toxic. One good way to tell the two trees apart is by the length of their seed pods; honey locust pods are much longer and may reach a foot in length, while black locust pods only grow to about 4-5 inches long. Honey locust seed pods look a lot like giant flat string beans about 9-12 inches long and often curled. Some of them look like polished mahogany and others can be purple. Beautiful white, fragrant flowers cover these trees in late spring. Locusts are legumes, in the pea family. Deer love the seed pods.

Honey locust thorns grow singly and can be 3 to 6 inches long. They will sometimes branch like the example in the photo. These thorns are big and as hard as iron. They can reach 6 inches in length and poke right out of the bark of the tree along its branches and sometimes even the main trunk. They are tough enough to puncture shoe soles and I always watch my step when I walk under one of these trees because thorns like these can cause a nasty wound. In the past the hard thorns of the younger trees were used as nails. Confederate soldiers once used them to pin their uniforms together and survivalists still use them as fish hooks, spear heads, nails, sewing needles and even small game traps. Native Americans used the wood to make bows, and medicines were made from various parts of the plant.

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

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1. Grape Tendril

I thought I saw a beautiful Hindu dancer in this grape tendril.

2. Feather

I see a lot of feathers in the woods. This white one had landed on a hemlock twig.

 3. Stream Ice

Red wing blackbirds have returned and there are buds on the daffodils but after the third coldest March in 140 years, there is still a lot of ice left to melt in the woods.

4. Ashuelot Ice

Where the river sees sunshine the ice is melting at a faster pace.

5. Orange Crust Fungus aka Stereum complicatum

This orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) was so bright on a rainy day that I could see it from quite far away, like a beacon guiding me into the forest.

 6. Slender Rosette Lichen aka Physcia subtilis

Gray rosette lichens are common enough so we often pass them by without a nod but some, like this slender rosette lichen (Physcia subtilis), are worth stopping to admire.

7. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen 3

I don’t know what it is with smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) this year but the wax coatings on their fruiting discs are bluer than I’ve ever seen them. It’s like someone sprinkled candy over the stones.

8. Beard Lichen

Beard lichens (Usnea sp.) always remind me of ancient, sun bleached bones. This one grew on a gray birch limb.

 9. Alder Catkins

Soon these alder (Alnus) catkins will to turn yellow-green and start to release pollen. If you look closely at the catkin on the far right you can see it just beginning to happen.

 10. Stair Step Moss

I’ve been looking for stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) and I think I might have found it. This moss gets its common name from the way the new branches step up from the backs of the old.

11. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss is feathery and delicate and quite beautiful.

At some point in life, the world’s beauty becomes enough. ~ Toni Morrison

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