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Posts Tagged ‘Hydrangea blossoms’

On Friday the 10th of January it started warming up, and it didn’t stop until the temperature reached 62 degrees F. and all the snow was gone and all the records were broken. January thaws usually last for about a week and temperatures rise an average of 10° F higher than those of the previous week but this was a thaw to remember, with temperatures rising 30 degrees or more. I think of a January thaw as a taste of spring in the dead of winter, and it is always welcome.

Snow was coming off roofs in lacy sheets because of the ice underneath.

I followed an ice covered road by a pond and by the time I walked back, in the space of a half hour most of the ice you see here had melted.

The ice on the pond was melting quickly and was covered with water. When it freezes again it will be a great surface for skating.

On a day like this it was easy to think of red wing blackbirds building nests in the cattails at the pond edges, but they won’t really be back for a couple of months.

North of Keene you could see it was still January on the banks of the Ashuelot River but that snow was thin and I’d guess that it is all gone now.

You can see how thin the snow was in the woods. I’d guess no more than two inches, and two inches melts fast in 60 degree weather.

The high water mark along the river showed that there was plenty of room for all the melting snow.

The Ashuelot River south of Keene looked completely different than the photo I took of it in the north of Keene and they were taken just a few hours apart. This view looks more like March.

The melting ice and snow has uncovered a bounty for animals. It was a good year for acorns.

Spring has always been my favorite season so for me a thaw is also a tease that lights the pilot light of spring fever. Seeing pussy willows in January fuels the flames.

Willows often have pine cone galls on them, caused by a gall midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides). The midge lays an egg in the terminal leaf bud of a willow in early spring and the larva releases a chemical that tricks the willow into creating this gall instead of leaves. The midge spends winter inside the gall and emerges in the following spring, so the entire cycle takes a full year. 

I went to see a witch hazel that I had seen bloom quite late before and there it was, blooming again. This is unusual because it’s a fall blooming witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana.) At this time of year I’d more expect to see a spring blooming witch hazel in bloom.

But no, the spring blooming witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) buds were still closed up tight. They’ll bloom in March, and I can’t wait to see them again.

I was shocked to see what I think are reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) shoots out of the ground. These irises are early, sometimes even earlier than crocuses, but I have a feeling they’ll pay dearly for believing it was spring in January.

The big flower heads of Hydrangeas can usually be seen blowing across the ground like tumbleweeds in spring, but these stayed put.  

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) loses its berries over winter and in the spring you can find the ground under them littered with small blue spheres. These examples were still hanging on tight, so they hadn’t been fooled by the warmth. Boston ivy lends its name to the “ivy league” schools. The odd thing about Boston ivy is its name, because it isn’t from Boston and it isn’t an ivy; it’s a member of the grape family and comes from China and Japan. This vine attaches to just about any vertical surface with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils.  It secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to “glue” the pads to the surface it wants to climb. The glue can to hold up to 260 times its own weight, which is pretty remarkable.

The magnolia flower buds still wore their fuzzy caps and I was glad to see it. I’ve seen lots of beautiful magnolia blossoms browned over the years by opening early and getting frost bitten.

There wasn’t any ice to be seen at Ashuelot falls. The falls are shaded for a large part of the day so any ice that forms here often stays for the winter, but not this time.

The warm spell was a nice respite from the cabin fever that always starts to set in around mid-January. Forty degrees above our average high lets us catch our breath and prepare for more winter weather. We all know there is plenty of winter left to come but for now a taste of spring was just what we needed. Everywhere I went there were people outside, loving it.

The sun came out,
And the snowman cried.
His tears ran down
On every side.
His tears ran down
Till the spot was cleared.
He cried so hard
That he disappeared.

~ Margaret Hillert

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This is another post full of things I’ve seen in the woods which, for one reason or another, didn’t fit into other posts.

1. European  Barberry Thorns aka Berberis vulgaris

Early settlers planted European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) so they could make jam from its fruit and yellow dye from its bark. This plant, along with American barberry (Berberis canadensis) plays host to wheat rust disease and has been slowly but surely undergoing eradication by the U.S. government.  Both plants have clusters of 3 or more thorns, but American barberry doesn’t grow in New England. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), grows in New England but it has just a single thorn under each leaf or cluster of leaves.

2. Boston Ivy Berries

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) looks a lot like English ivy (Hedera helix), but English ivy is evergreen and Boston ivy is deciduous, with leaves that turn bright red in the fall before falling. Both plants will climb trees, brick walls, and just about anything else in their path. This photo shows the plant’s dried (and probably frozen) berries. Interestingly, the plant is from Eastern Asia, not Boston.

3. Hydrangea

Some hydrangea blossoms stay on the plant throughout winter and will eventually come to look “skeletonized” and lace like. I keep checking mine, but it hasn’t happened yet.

 4. Indian Pipe Seed Pod

Indian pipe flowers (Monotropa uniflora) are nodding until they have been pollinated, and then they stand straight up. The seed pods dry that way and take on the look of old wood. This capsule will split down its sides into 5 parts to release its seeds. It is said that Native Americans had a story that this plant first appeared where an Indian had dumped some white ashes from his pipe.

5. Marble Gall on Oak

The hole in the side of this oak marble gall tells me that the gall wasp (Andricus kollari) that lived inside it has grown and flown.

6. Witch's Broom on Blueberry

Witch’s broom is a deformity described as a “dense mass of shoots growing from a single point, with the resulting structure resembling a broom or a bird’s nest.” The example in the photo is on a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum ) and was caused by a fungus (Pucciniastrum goeppertianum). This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea). When it releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, it becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on blueberry bushes and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees and the cycle will begin again. In my experience witch’s broom doesn’t affect fruit production.

 7. Hawthorn Fruit

Hawthorns (Crataegusmight have evolved thorns to keep animals away but they don’t keep birds away. This bush had been stripped of every fruit except one tired old, mummified haw.

 8. Winterberry Fruit

There are still plenty of fruit on the winterberry bushes (Ilex verticillata), but they’re starting to whither a bit too. Winterberry is a deciduous native holly with berries that have a low fat content, so birds tend to leave them until last, when it gets a little warmer.  Even so, it is said that 48 different species of birds and many small mammals eat them. Native Americans used the bark of this shrub medicinally to treat inflammations and fevers, which explains how it came by another of its common names: fever bush. It was also used as a substitute for quinine in parts of the U.S. in the 18th century.

9. Disk Lichen aka Lecidella stigmatea

The body (Thallus) of a rock disk lichen (Lecidella stigmatea) can be gray or whitish, but can also be stained green, red-brown or black, so sometimes it’s hard to know what you’ve found. My color finding software sees gray with green in this example. This lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia) are flat or convex dark brown or black disks. This lichen is similar to tile lichens, but the fruiting bodies on tile lichens are always sunken into the body of the lichen rather than even with or standing above it. The rock it was on was wet and that’s why it’s so shiny.

 12. Small White Cup Shaped Fungi

I think these tiny things might be bird’s nest fungi, but I can’t be sure because there are no “eggs” in them. The eggs are actually fruiting bodies that contain spores and are called peridioles. These peridioles have hard waxy coatings and get splashed out of the cup shaped “nest” by raindrops. Once the outer coating wears away the spores can germinate.

11. Small White Cup Shaped Fungi

If you have ever shot an air rifle (BB gun) and know what a “BB” is, picture a single BB filling one of these cups. For those of you unfamiliar with BB guns, most BBs are 0.171 to 0.173 inches (4.3 to 4.4 mm) in diameter. If you would like to see some great photos of bird’s nest fungi with their eggs,  Rick at the Between Blinks blog just did a post about them. You can get there by clicking here.

13. Oak Leaves

Oak leaves curl into each other in the winter as if to keep warm.  I can’t think of any other leaves that do this.

14. Burdock Seeds

When viewing a seed head from the burdock plant (Arctium species) in an extreme close up it’s easy to see why they stick to everything. When Swiss inventor George de Mestral pulled a bunch of burrs from his pants and looked at them under a microscope in 1940, he came up with the hook and loop system that is called Velcro today. The word Velcro comes from the words velour and crotchet. Not surprising really, since the burr seeds look like tiny crochet hooks.

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. ~Henry Miller

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