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Posts Tagged ‘Honey Locust Thorns’

I didn’t realize, until I started cleaning it up, how much stuff falls from trees. There must be tons of it raining down; it falls 24 hours per day seven days per week. Eastern forest broadleaf trees alone, it is estimated, can drop 2 to 3 tons of leaves per acre in the fall. And then there are the branches, seed cones, acorns and everything else that falls. If it wasn’t for the animals, bacteria and fungi that process it we would surely be buried under it all.

The tiny black specks you see here are seeds of the gray birch (Betula populifolia). Tiny yes, but there must have been millions of them in this small birch grove. Pine siskins, chickadees, and other songbirds eat them. Deer, moose and rabbits eat gray birch twigs.

I thought the brown on the snow in this shot must be dust like seeds but I suspect it was just dust.

Eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) drop an incredible amount of material each year; large branches, needles, cones and bark all end up on the forest floor.

Whenever I see a fallen pine branch I check it for lichens and probably 8 out of 10 times there are lichens on it. I believe this foliose example is in the Tuckermanopsis family, possibly Tuckermanopsis americana. It was quite dry even though it was on the snow, so I’d guess that its color had lightened.

After branches pine cones are probably the things that fall out of pine trees the most. They are everywhere, but they don’t always fall end first into the snow like this one had. The heavy end falls first sometimes like this one did but I’ve also seen them turned 180 degrees with the lighter end in the snow.

Usually when you see a fallen pine cone they look like this, but this one has done something special; the sun had heated it enough for it to melt its way into the snow. I’ve seen oak leaves melt into the snow in the same way.

When I see good size fallen pine limbs I always look for bark beetle damage. Bark beetles usually attack weak or dying trees but they can also kill healthy trees by girdling them.  Adults bore small holes in the bark and lay eggs in a cavity. Once the larvae emerge from the eggs they make tunnels in the inner bark, like those seen here. Once they stop feeding they will pupate at the end of these tunnels. The pupae then become young adults and fly off to find another tree. These beetles carry spores of various fungi which can grow on the outer sapwood and stop the upward flow of water to the crown. Bark Beetles include over 100 species and it is said that their work is like a fingerprint for the species. They can create such beautiful patterns in wood that it looks as if a calligrapher has taken up a chisel instead of a pen.

Mosses of course, are also common on fallen branches. These were very dry but the shield lichen next to them didn’t look too bad. I think it was a common greenshield (Flavoparmelia caperata) , which is indeed very common. They often have patches of granular soredia on them as this one did in its center.

If white pine branches are the most common on the forest floor then eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) branches are the second most common. The difference about hemlock branches though, is how they are almost always small enough to decompose quickly.

Both pines and hemlocks catch much of the snow on their branches, and underneath them the ground is often bare or nearly so in all but the snowiest winters. These bare spots are often full of small birds like juncos scratching around for seeds.

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) seed pods are pretty things. 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, which often fall in such abundance they cover the ground under the trees.

You want to watch where you walk under a honey locust because fallen branches can be very thorny. 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 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.

The orangey color of these leaves caught my eye. I think they may have been American hornbeam leaves (Carpinus caroliniana). This tree is also know n as muscle wood, ironwood, hornbeam and blue beech, and younger trees will often hang onto their leaves quite late into the year.

In the fall shortening day length tells most deciduous trees that it’s time to stop growing, so the tree forms a layer of waxy, corky cells at the base of each leaf. This is called an abscission layer, and it slows and finally stops the flow of sap to the leaf. In some trees like oak (Quercus), beech (Fagus), and hornbeam (Carpinus), this abscission layer forms much later, so even though the leaves might freeze dead and turn completely brown they still cling to the branches. Pin oaks (Quercus palustris) don’t form an abscission layer until spring, so their leaves stay on the tree all winter. This retention of dead leaves is known as marcescence. When I start seeing lots of beech leaves blowing around in late winter I get excited, because that means spring isn’t far off.

I think this pile of beech leaves, blown by the wind, was fairly recent.

I see a lot of woodchips around dead and dying trees, almost always left there by woodpeckers. These small bits of wood disappear quickly.

Trees losing their bark isn’t anything strange but there were a lot of animal tracks around this tree and it looked like an animal might have pulled this piece of bark off. Porcupine maybe?

This white pine had lost some of its bark but it wasn’t lying on the ground anywhere near the tree that I could see. Wounds like this are how fungi can get into a tree and start things like heart rot.

I was surprised to see a virgin’s bower vine (Clematis virginiana) on the ground. This vine can climb high enough to make it into the trees occasionally but usually it just drapes itself over shrubs and hangs on tight. It’s more likely to decompose right there on the shrub than to fall on the forest floor. Those long feathery filaments called styles are on its seeds (fruits) so the wind can carry them, but that can’t happen if they’re on the ground.

This switch grass did most certainly not fall from a tree but its delicate beauty caught my eye so I’ve put it here. I hope you enjoy seeing it as much as I did.

Anyone who thinks fallen leaves are dead has never watched them dancing on a windy day. ~Shira Tamir

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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. Yellow Slime Mold

We’ve had some rainy weather here along with enough heat and humidity to get slime molds growing. I think this one might be Physarum polycephalum. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. From Mushroom Expert. Com : “Slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil at the rate of as much as an inch per hour, growing and eating.” I think that they are very beautiful things and I always look forward to seeing them after a good summer rain storm.

2. Coral Fungus with Slime Mold

The slime mold had a friend growing nearby on the same log. I think it might be crown coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) Crown coral branches at right angles like a candelabra and each branch ends in a tiny little crown, just like what is seen here. Black eyed Susans haven’t even blossomed yet so it seems very early to be seeing both slime molds and coral fungi, but there they are. Whether I understand it or not, nature has its way.

3. Brittle Cinder fungus aka Kretzschmaria deusta

Brittle Cinder fungi (Kretzschmaria deusta) in this stage are stunning, in my opinion. I like the powder gray against the bright white. However, since it causes soft rot and will kill a tree, it isn’t something I like to see growing on living, healthy trees. Later on the fruiting bodies will turn into a brittle black crust.

 4. Bug on a Maple Leaf

This crane fly sat still long enough for me to admire its stained glass like wings and get a couple of photos. Many young birds have been raised on these harmless insects that are often mistaken for mosquitos.

5. Gall on Maple Leaf caused by maple bladdergall mite  V. quadripedes 2

I’m colorblind and have a lot of trouble with red and green, but even I could see these bright red galls on this maple leaf. They were the size of the BBs that are used in BB guns and each one sat on a tiny stalk. They were caused by a member of the maple bladder gall mite family called Vasates quadripedes. Galls are unsightly on ornamental trees but they don’t hurt the tree at all.

 6. Beech Seedling with Seed Leaves

Unless you own a nursery or spend a good deal of time in the woods, there’s a good chance that you’ve never seen the seed leaves of an American beech tree (Fagus grandifolia.) Seed leaves are called cotyledons and appear before a plant’s true leaves. If the plant has 2 seed leaves it is called a dicot (dicotyledon), and if only one it is called a monocot (monocotyledon.) The cotyledons are part of the embryo within the seed and contain stored food that the young plant needs to grow. As the food stores are used up the cotyledons might either turn green and photosynthesize, or wither and fall off. That’s the quick botany lesson of the day.  It’s hard to make it any more exciting.

7. Beech Seed Leaves

Seed leaves, as anyone who has ever started vegetables from seed knows, often look nothing like the true leaves.  In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves and feel tough and leathery. If you know of a beech tree that produces nuts, take a look underneath it in the spring for seedlings that still have their seed leaves. They are a rare sight.

8. Honey Locut Thorn

I once read a story by a Massachusetts man who said he took great delight in running through the forest. Not on a trail-just through the forest-and I shiver a bit when I think of all of the reasons that one shouldn’t do such a thing. One of those reasons is the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos.) Its thorns grow from the bark of the branches and trunk and can reach up to 8 inches long. They are also very hard and sharp enough to pierce flesh. Thorns on fallen branches could also puncture some shoe soles, so it’s best to be aware of your surroundings when near this tree. Admire it but don’t meet it accidentally.

 9. Shining Bur Sedge aka Carex intumescens

Many sedges, rushes and grasses are flowering now. This is shining bur sedge (Carex intumescens,) which is also called bladder sedge. The tiny white bits are its flowers. Most sedges like moist soil and I usually find them near ponds and streams. When trying to identify something that looks like grass I always feel the stem first. There is an old saying that says “sedges have edges” because of their triangular stems. Grasses have round stems.

10. Porcupine Sedge

Sedges can also have funny names. This one is (I think) called porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina.)

11. Panicled Bulrush aka Scirpus microcarpus

Every summer for the past three years I’ve tried to get a decent photo of panicled bulrush (Scirpus microcarpus) where it didn’t fade into the background. Finally, by using the flash on a bright day, its panicles of flowers and leaf like bracts stand out from the background cattails and silky dogwoods. This plant has a triangular stem, so it is in the sedge family. It is also called small fruited bulrush. Though they aren’t related and don’t even look very much alike these plants always remind me of papyrus, which reminds me of the pyramids of Egypt and what you could see floating down the Nile. Sometimes the mind wanders as you walk along.

 12. Flowering Orchard Grass

According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.” I just like to look at its flowers but it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who thinks grasses are exciting.

 13. Wool Sower Gall Wap Gall on White Oak

I’ve never seen anything quite like this gall on an oak limb. It was createdd by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and was the size of a ping pong ball but felt like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls.

14. Royal Fern

Royal fern (Osmunda spectablis v. regalis) is one of the easiest plants in the forest to identify because nothing else looks quite like it. It has a light and airy appearance and is almost always found growing near water. The Osmunda part of the scientific name is believed to come from Osmunder, which is one of the Saxon names for the Norse god Thor. Royal fern is one of the oldest, largest and most beautiful ferns.

15. Ganoderma tsugae on Hemlock

Nature can show the brightest colors in the oddest places and I always wonder why. What benefit can this stalked bracket fungus called hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) gain from all of that color? Do the colors relate to the minerals it is absorbing from this old hemlock log? And why do the colors change over time?

These are the kinds of questions that come to me as I wander through the woods, even though I don’t really expect to ever find the answers to them. Maybe there are no answers-maybe the colors are there just so we can admire them for a time and feel grateful to be alive in the midst of all of the natural beauty that surrounds us.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

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