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Posts Tagged ‘Hornet’s Nest’

We were finally able to say good bye (and good riddance) to March last weekend, and this photo sums up why I was happy to see it go. It has been a strange and seemingly backwards  winter, with above average temperatures in January and February bookended by bitter cold and snowstorms in December and March. And ice; most of the trails have been ice covered all winter, which sure takes a lot of the fun out of being in the woods.

In spite of all the snow and ice spring still happens. I saw several reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) blooming in the snow as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.  I’ve read that the plant comes from Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern Iraq and Iran but I know little about what winters are like in such places. They must be very cold.

This one was almost completely buried by snow, but still it bloomed.

American elm buds (Ulmus americana) started to open but then thought better of it and have been at this stage for weeks now. I’m hoping to see its flowers soon. They say we might see 70 degrees next week.

 

A hornet’s nest had fallen out of a tree and it made me wonder what hornets do in the winter. After a little research I found that all but the young queens die and the nests are abandoned in winter. The new, young queens (and their eggs) spend the winter under tree bark or inside warm human habitations. In the spring the queen builds a new nest. That explains the wasp I saw a week or so ago in the shop where I work.

The paper of the hornet’s nest reminded me of natural, undyed wool. They make it by chewing wood into a papery pulp.

I’ve been listening to hear if red winged blackbirds have returned but so far there have been no signs of them in the swamp near where I live. There are plenty of cattails that have gone to seed for the females to line their nests with. This example looked to be soaking wet, but it will dry out.  Native Americans used the roots of cattails to make flour and also wove the leaves into matting. Cattails produce more edible starch per acre than potatoes, rice, taros or yams, and during World War II plans were being made to feed American soldiers with that starch in the form of cattail flour. Studies showed that an acre of cattails would produce an average of 6,475 pounds of flour per year, but thankfully the war ended before the flour making could begin.

Beech leaves still provide a flash of color here and there even though many are falling now. Soon their opening buds will be one of the most beautiful things in the forest. Beech was an important tree to Native Americans. The Iroquois tribe boiled the leaves and used them to heal burns. They also mixed the oil from beechnuts with bear grease and used it as a mosquito repellent. Though the nuts are mildly toxic the Chippewa tribe searched for caches of them hidden by chipmunks. The chipmunks gathered and shucked the nuts and saved the people a lot of work. The Chippewa saw that chipmunks never stored bad nuts, and that’s why they searched for their caches. Rather than make flour from the nuts as they did other species, Natives seem to mostly have used beech nuts medicinally.

The male speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) are still opening slowly but I haven’t seen any signs of them releasing their dusty pollen. The brown and purple scales on the catkin are on short stalks and there are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen. The flower parts are clearly visible here but there is nothing that looks like pollen. It could be because they were very wet.

I finally got a photo of almost fully opened female speckled alder flowers but they’re so small I couldn’t see them when I was taking the photo, so more of them appear in the background than the foreground. The tiny female (pistillate) catkins of speckled alder consist of scales that cover two flowers, each having a pistil and a scarlet style. Since speckled alders are wind pollinated the flowers have no petals because petals would hinder the process and keep male pollen grains from landing on the sticky female flowers. These female catkins will eventually become the cone-like, seed bearing structures (strobiles) that are so noticeable on alders.

I never knew that willow catkins were so water resistant. I was hoping to see them blooming with their yellow flowers but like the elms, they’re waiting for warmth. This week is warmer but with lots of rain. If we ever have a day with both sunshine and warmth I think I might just fall over.

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) is common and I find it on oak and poplar limbs. They have the color of jellied cranberry sauce and the best time to look for them is after it rains or snows, because they can absorb great amounts of water and grow several times bigger than they are when dry. I often find them on branches that have fallen on top of the snow as the oak branch pictured had.

If you look at a jelly fungus carefully you’ll notice that they have a shiny side and a matte finish side. The spores are produced on the shiny side and from what I’ve seen most of their spore production happens in winter. I suppose it could be that they’re simply easier to see in winter because of the lack of foliage, but I rarely see them at other times of year so I think of them as “winter fungi.”

I’ve known that the perfectly round holes I see in pine logs were made by some type of borer but I have never seen the insect, though I’ve even looked into the holes with a flashlight. These chip marks made by a woodpecker most likely explain why.

A branch collar forms where a branch meets the trunk of a tree, and often appears as a bulge at the base of the branch. It is made up of interlocking layers of cells of the branch and the trunk which will grow to help seal off wounds when branches are broken or cut off.  This white pine (Pinus strobus) had a completely intact branch collar on it, which is something I’ve never seen. I can’t imagine what happened to the branch. Pines lose branches regularly but they usually break off and leave a stub on the trunk.

I’ve never seen a bicolored lichen before but here is one. It was very small but I thought I saw a smudge of color on it and sure enough the photo shows a bit of lavender in its upper half. I don’t think I ever come away from studying lichens without being surprised by their variability. I didn’t bother trying to find this one’s name; I just admired it.

I lost myself in the beauty of these fir needles for a time. Though I know they’re fir (Abies) I’m not sure which species. I think it might be a Canaan fir, which is said to display the characteristics of both Fraser and balsam firs.

I’ve been waiting all winter to get a shot of Mount Monadnock with snow on it and after a few wasted trips to Perkins Pond in Troy I finally got one. I think the mountain is at its most beautiful with a snowy cap, especially when seen from Keene in this view that I grew up with. How lucky I was to grow up being able to see every day something that people from all over the world come to see.

Stop every now and then.  Just stop and enjoy.  Take a deep breath.  Relax and take in the abundance of life. ~Anonymous

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1. Pine Bark Beetle Damage

Pine bark beetles (Ips pini) made an intricate design on a white pine (Pinus strobus) limb. These beetles are small and range in size from about 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch in length, but they can do a lot of damage when enough of them are in a forest. They feed on the phloem tissue just beneath the bark and if they girdle the branch it will die. Dead branches mean no photosynthesizing and eventually the tree will die. For those who have never head the term; girdling of a branch or tree happens when the phloem and bark has been cut around its diameter in a complete circle. Native Americans and then early settlers used girdling to remove trees from fields and pastures and it is still used by some today.

2. Reindeer Lichens

I saw a beautiful drift of gray and green reindeer lichens recently. This shrubby lichen gets its common name from the way reindeer and caribou paw through the snow to find and eat it. Reindeer lichen reproduces vegetatively by small growths called soredia that break off and grow new lichens under the right conditions. The soredia are carried by wind, water or animals. Reindeer lichens grow about .31 inches (8 mm) per year so it’s clear that this drift has been here for a very long time. They can live for a century or more and studies have shown that only boiling and radiation caused severe damage to them. There are many who believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore immortal.

3. Reindeer Lichen

Reindeer lichens remind me of corals that you would see under the sea. The grayish white color and the way that the branch tips all point in one direction tell me that this one is gray reindeer lichen (Cladina rangiferina.) I find the biggest colonies of this lichen along the edge of a pine forest, growing in a very thin quarter to half inch of dry sandy soil over granite bedrock. At times they get so dry that if you walk on them it sounds much like it would if you walked on potato chips. I’ve read that reindeer lichens produce a single new branch each year and that their age can be determined by counting the branches. The plants pictured must have been very old indeed. I’m glad that I didn’t have to count their branches.

4. Bittersweet in Tree

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) grew into the top of a tree and then found that it had nowhere else to climb so it massed in the tree top, and its bright red berries show that. Bittersweet is very persistent and will simply grow or hang back down until it reaches the ground and then creep until it finds something else standing vertical. As it grows the vine winds tightly around the tree trunk and doesn’t expand when the tree does, so its wire like strength will eventually strangle the tree. This is why its sale and cultivation are banned in New Hampshire.

5. Blueberry Stem Gall

Blueberry stem gall always reminds me of a kidney bean. This gall forms when a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damages a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responds to the damage by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This example was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) The galls do no real harm to the plants.

6. Witches Broom on Blueberry

This witch’s broom on a highbush blueberry looked very red. It’s interesting that the highbush blueberry’s leaves turn a beautiful red in the fall and the stem galls and witch’s broom are also red. Why so much red present, I wonder. Witch’s broom is a deformity that causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. It’s not caused by an insect but by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) so bushes should never be planted near fir trees. When the fungus releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, the bush becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on the bush and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees, and the cycle begins again. The disease infects the entire plant so pruning off the witch’s broom won’t help. I’ve worked on blueberry bushes that have borne large amounts of fruit even though they had witch’s broom, so I’m not sure how much the deformity harms the plant. I think it’s more offensive to the eye than anything.

7. Waterlily Leaf in Ice

A water lily leaf was trapped in the ice just off shore in a small pond. It tugged at me and I thought it might make a fine picture, but it looked much better in person than it does here.

8. Hornet Nest

Do hornets care that what they build is so beautiful, I wonder?

9. Burl

There was a time that I thought I had some artistic ability and I’d sit for hours drawing and painting. One of the things I loved especially was pen and ink drawing, and that’s what this burl I found on an old tree stump reminded me of. It looked like a Da Vinci sketch in pen and ink with a colored wash over all to add some depth and character, and how beautiful it was. I think the old master himself would have been pleased to see it.

For those not familiar with burl; it’s an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. Bowls and other objects made from it can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

10. Wooly Aphids

I found this colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.

11. Wooly Aphids

Wooly aphids are sap sucking insects that secrete sweet honeydew on branches and leaves of plants. The honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold. Since the mold only grows on the aphid honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. In fact the aphids will do far more harm. I’m not sure if the aphids with dots in this photo always look that way, if they haven’t grown the white waxy covering yet, or if they’ve lost the covering for some reason. They were very small; not even pencil eraser size.

12. juniper Berries

I love seeing juniper berries at this time of year. A waxy coating called bloom makes them a bright and beautiful blue. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat.

13. Unknown Fungi

Part of what I try to do on this blog is show the amazing and beautiful things that are tucked into virtually every nook and cranny of nature and, with nothing but a slower gait and a watchful eye, how easy they are to see. Walking along at a toddler’s pace and looking at logs is just how I found the unknown fungi in the above photo. I knelt to give them a closer look and saw that they were like nothing I’d seen. Finding unexpected beauty like this can take us to that higher place where time seems to stop for a while. Sometimes it’s hard to know how long you’ve been there but that’s okay; as Mehmet Murat ildan said: “If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found.”

14. Mushroom Mycelium

Mushroom mycelium grew on the bottom of a log where it made contact with the soil. It wept golden nectar and its many intricacies reminded me of distant cosmic nebulae where stars and planets are born.

He who does not expect the unexpected will not find it, since it is trackless and unexplored. Heraclitus of Ephesus

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These photos are of what nature has shown me over the last week or so.

1. Hornet's Nest

Piece of a hornet’s nest blew down onto the snow, so I had to get a picture of it. It looks very abstract and I wonder if I would guess that it was a picture of part of a hornet’s nest if I didn’t already know.

2. Hornet's Nest

When I took pictures of it with the new Panasonic macro master camera, it was even more abstract, but also more interesting and beautiful.

3. Goldspeck LichenCommon gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) grows on granite rock in full sun. This crustose lichen grows in small patches in this area so I always need a macro lens for it. The fruit bearing bodies of this lichen are tiny, flat discs-so small that I’m not even sure that I could get a picture of them.

4. Turtlehead Seed Pods

I took a picture of turtlehead blossoms (Chelone glabra) last fall and wrote that I didn’t really see any resemblance to a real turtle’s head. A friend said just the opposite-he thought the blossoms looked just like turtle heads. Now, on the other side of the solstice, the seed pods do remind me of turtle heads- a bunch of hungry, snapping turtle heads. According to the U.S. Forest Service this native plant is also called balmony, bitter herb, codhead, fish mouth, shellflower, snakehead, snake mouth, and turtle bloom.

5. Hawthorn

The hawthorn (Crataegus species) is a tree that doesn’t mess around and is not about to be used as browse for moose and deer. Its 1-1/2 inch long thorns are every bit as sharp as they look, and they keep the browsers away. The unlucky person who finds themselves tangled in a hawthorn thicket will most likely need some new clothes. And maybe some time to heal.

6. Lowbush Blueberry in Snow

I like the way the branching structure of shrubs and trees is so visible in the winter .This is a low bush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) no more than 8 inches tall.

7. Oak Leaf on Snow

Something about this oak leaf on top of the snow grabbed me, but I’m not sure what it was. Maybe that it seemed so alone.

8. Rose Hips

Rose hips are the fruit of a rose. In this case the plant is a multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora,) which is considered an invasive species. Its small red hips are one of the most colorful things in the winter landscape. Unfortunately, birds like them and spread them everywhere. I think I could have worked on the depth of field a little more in this picture, but you get the idea.

 9. Intermediate Woodfern

Intermediate woodfern (Dryopteris spinulosa var. intermedia) doesn’t let a little snow slow it down. This is one of our native evergreen ferns and is also called American shield fern, evergreen woodfern, or fancy fern. This clump I saw growing on a boulder was smaller than my hand.

10. Tall Grass I drive by this clump of tall grass quite often and have admired not only its 4 foot height, but also its resilience. It’s been through two snow storms and still stands proud as the tallest weed in the field. 

11. Oak Leaves Close Up

I took a couple of pictures of a cluster of oak leaves that interested me because of the way they hung-they seemed to all be clasping each other, trying to stay warm. When I got home and looked at the photo though, I didn’t like it. Then I cropped it just to see what would happen, and it became an entirely different picture that I do like.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is, in the eyes of others, only a green thing that stands in the way ~William Blake

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