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Posts Tagged ‘Ice Baubles’

I didn’t think I saw Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) until April but I checked back on previous blog posts and found that I did see them in bloom on March 28 once. Because of that I can say that this is the earliest one I’ve seen since doing this blog. The hardy little plants were introduced from Europe so long ago that they are thought to be native by many. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant. The flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. The word pansy comes from the French pensée, which means thought or reflection. I’m not sure what thought has to do with it but folklore tells us that, if the juice from the plant is squeezed onto the eyelids of a sleeping person, they will fall in love with the next person that they see. Another name for it is love in idleness, and it can be found in its love potion form in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Not too many people have heard of this non-native, early blooming shrub called Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) but it hails from the Mediterranean regions and was well known to Ancient Greeks and Romans. Archeological digs show that it’s small, tart, cherry red fruits have been eaten by man for thousands of years. It has quite small bright yellow, four petaled flowers that bees absolutely love. The flowers aren’t spectacular but they are a sure sign of spring and I always check to see how they’re coming along. The bright yellow flower buds are just showing between the opening bud scales but it might still be 2 weeks before they’re in full bloom.

I thought I’d go and see how the red maple buds (Acer rubrum) were coming along and you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found flowers instead of buds. These are the female (pistillate) flowers of the red maple, just emerging. They are tiny little things; each bud is hardly bigger than a pea. Once the female flowers have been dusted by wind carried pollen from the male flowers they will begin the process of becoming the beautiful red seeds (samaras) that this tree is so well known for. If you’re lucky you can often find male and female flowers on the same tree. I didn’t see a single male bud open though, and I wasn’t surprised because maple flowers usually appear in April.

I thought I’d show you some ice baubles I saw at the river just before I saw the red maple flowers in the previous photo. It was about 36 degrees, which is why I was so surprised to find them in bloom.

Ice baubles usually display great symmetry but these were asymmetrical for some reason. Maybe they were melting.

It still snows occasionally, though the snow decorating this sugar maple was little more than a nuisance inch or so. I searched for the latest price of maple syrup and found a gallon of pure Vermont maple syrup for $68.95. I’m guessing it’s going to go up with an early spring.

And spring is indeed early.

Hairy bittercress plants (Cardamine hirsuta) are blooming. Cress is in the huge family of plants known as Brassicaceae. With over 150 species it’s hard to know what you’re looking at sometimes, but hairy bittercress is a common lawn weed that stays green under the snow and blooms almost as soon as it melts.

Hairy bittercress flowers can be white, pink or lavender and are very small; no bigger than Lincoln’s head on a penny. The plant is self-fertilizing and seed pods appear quickly. The seed pods will explode if touched or walked on and can fling the tiny seeds up to 3 feet away. Plants can form up to 1000 seeds, so if you have this plant in your lawn chances are good that you always will. Enjoy the flowers when there are few others blooming.

Over just the past few days alder catkins have taken on more color. They swell up and lengthen as the season progresses and the colors change to maroon and yellow-green. They sparkle in the sunlight and make the bushes look like someone has hung jewels from the branches. When they are fully opened and the tiny male blossoms start to release pollen I’ll look for the even smaller female flowers, which look like tiny threads of scarlet red.

The brown and purple scales on the alder catkins 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 covered in yellow pollen. These hadn’t quite opened yet but you can see how they spiral down their central flower stalk.

One of the smallest flowers that I know of is the female blossom of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana,) and they’ve just started blossoming.  The crimson thread-like bits are the stigmas of the female flowers, waiting for the wind to bring them some pollen from the golden male catkins. To give you a sense of just how small they are, the bud that the flowers grow from is about the size of a single strand of cooked spaghetti. They’re so small all I can see is their color, so the camera has to do the rest.

This photo shows two things; how windy it was and how the ice on our smaller ponds is melting back away from shore. Pond and lake ice melts at the shore first, while river and stream ice starts in the center of the flow and melts at the shore last. Wind helps melt ice.

The skunk cabbages seemed happy; I saw many of their mottled spathes. They come in maroon with yellow splotches or yellow with maroon splotches.

Inside the skunk cabbage’s spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. I could just see it in this open spathe.

The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. In 1749 in what was once the township of Raccoon, New Jersey they called the plant bear’s leaf because bears ate it when they came out of hibernation. Since skunk cabbage was the only thing green so early in the spring the bears had to eat it or go hungry.

This year it seems that everything is blooming at once, with wild flowers blooming early and garden flowers pretty much on time, so for a flower lover it’s a dream come true. I don’t think it’s unprecedented but it isn’t common either.

Some crocuses were just dipping their toes in, not sure if they should go all the way or not.

Others were somewhere in between. I like this one’s light pastel blush but you’d need hundreds of them to make any impact because they’re tiny at not even an inch across. There were only these two in this bed.

Snowdrop buds looked like tiny white Christmas bulbs. The old fashioned kind that I grew up with.

Vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) started blooming very early and it seems like they’ll go on for quite a while yet. I wish I could let you smell their fragrance. It’s one of the lightest, freshest, cleanest scents I’ve experienced in nature. Someone once said the flowers smelled like clean laundry just taken in from the line, but I can’t verify that. I have a dryer.

It won’t be long before we’re seeing daffodil blossoms.

Since I started with a Johnny jump up I might as well end with one. This one bloomed in Hancock while that first one bloomed in Keene. That illustrates the oddness of this spring, because flowers usually bloom in Keene before blooming in Hancock. That’s because Keene has a lot of pavement and is slightly warmer. In any case it’s always nice to see their beauty no matter where I am.

Listen, can you hear it?  Spring’s sweet cantata. The strains of grass pushing through the snow. The song of buds swelling on the vine. The tender timpani of a baby robin’s heart. Spring! ~Diane Frolov

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November on average is the cloudiest month, but we’ve seen quite a lot of sunshine so far. Unfortunately the sunshine hasn’t warmed us up much and we’ve had a string of several cold days and below freezing (32º F) nights. This week we’re to see January type cold that could break records that have stood for 150 years. Historically the colder the November the snowier the winter, but we’ll see. In spite of all the cold this dandelion struggled to come into full bloom.

And this chicory blossom did the same. I was very surprised to see it.

We’re at the stage where the grass is coated by frost overnight but then it melts off as soon as the sunlight reaches it.

Leaves that have gone unraked get covered by frost and then become wet when it melts off.

Ice baubles formed in the Ashuelot River one cold night.

The waves in the river splash up on twigs or anything else that the water touches and it freezes there in the cold air. Much like dipping a candle in molten wax the waves splash again and again and ice baubles like the one in this photo form. It was about an inch across but I’ve seen them get bigger. Just as a side note: that small starburst over on the right hasn’t been added. This is just the way it came out of the camera. The ice is very clear and will act as a prism in the right light.

There was hoar frost on the fallen pine needles on the river bank. Hoarfrost grows whenever it’s cold and there is a source of water vapor nearby. When it is below freezing the water vapor from unfrozen rivers and streams often condenses on the plants and even trees all along their banks and covers them in hoarfrost. It looks so very delicate that I often have to remind myself to breathe while I’m taking its photo.  One touch of a warm finger, a ray of sunshine, or a warm breath and they’re gone.

I’m guessing there was plenty of water vapor coming from the river. The river wasn’t really raging but I did get to practice my wave catching skills on this day. At a certain time of morning the sun hits the river just right for a wave photo at this spot and the colors are ofen very beautiful. I love the how the colors of the water change as the light changes. The river taught me that if you want blue water in your photo you should have the sun more or less behind you, and it taught me that right in this very spot.  

This photo changed my mind about what I thought were oyster mushrooms because of the brownish cast I saw, which I couldn’t see in person. They might have been flat creps (Crepidotus applanatus,) which start out white and then shade to brown. Flat creps resemble oyster mushrooms but without a microscope to study the spores with it’s hard to be sure. I could have done a spore print; crepidotus species have brown spore prints and oysters have a white to lilac spore print, but I didn’t bring one home.

I’ve said a lot about turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) over the years, including how they are showing value in cancer research and how they have been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years, but I keep coming back to their multitude of color combinations and their beauty. For me, that’s enough to keep me interested.  

I had been looking for scarlet elf cup fungi (Sarcoscypha coccinea) for a very long time and then a friend showed me a photo of something growing in the gravel of his driveway and I thought I’d found them. I went there and took the photos that you see here, shocked that they grew where they were, with just sand and gravel around them. That’s especially surprising when you consider that this fugus typically grows on moist, rotting branches. I would have guessed that there might be a branch or root buried under the gravel but they grew in groups over a wide area, so that theory didn’t work. That fact leads me to believe that they are instead the orange peel fungus (Aleuria aurantia.) It likes to grow in clay soil or disturbed ground, often in landscaped areas.

The clincher is, my color finding software sees shades of orange, but no scarlet. I was surprised by how small they were. Some were as big as a penny at about 3/4 of an inch, but a pea would have nestled perfectly in this example. Orange peel fungi get their common name from the way they look like orange peels strewn on the ground.

I always look for juniper berries at this time of year because I love that shade of blue. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them that color. 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. Birds also love them.

The golden sunlight on the blueberry bushes in the foreground was lighting up the trees on the far side of Half Moon Pond in the same way and it was beautiful, but I wasn’t fast enough to catch it. It disappeared in just seconds and before I could turn my camera on it was gone.

Here is that same golden light caught in the tops of these bare trees. Sometimes I see it in the morning on my way to work and it’s very beautiful. On this morning I had to stop and watch.

I like lake sedge (Carex lacustris) because of the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds. Even when it isn’t blowing in the wind it seems to have movement.

Henry David Thoreau said about polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” I would add that, since they are tough evergreen ferns they are there in the winter too, and that’s what cheers me most about them. They are also called rock cap fern or rock polypody because they love to grow on top of rocks, as the above photo shows. There were hundreds of them on a large boulder.

Turn over a polypody fern leaf and you’re apt to see tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many fern sori.

Once they ripen polypody fern sori are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers; in this case yellow and orange flowers. They always make me wonder why so many ferns, lichens, fungi and mosses produce spores in winter. There must be some benefit but I’ve never been able to find out what it is.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries shown here will remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring. The berries are edible, but fairly tasteless and eaten mostly by birds. If I was going to spend my time in the forest looking for small red berries to feed on I’d be looking for American wintergreen, (teaberry) which are delicious.

Partridgeberry flowers always appear in twos as twins fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were. Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. I like the hand hammered look of the leaves.

A big beech tree fell where I work and damaged one of the buildings, so it had to be cut up. When we cut it down to the stump we found it was spalted, and spalted wood is evidence of fungal damage. Sometimes woods affected by fungi can become very desirable to woodworkers, and spalted wood is one of them. Spalting is essentially any form of wood coloration caused by fungi but there are 3 major types; pigmentation, white rot and zone lines. Sometimes all 3 can be present as they are on the end grain of the beech stump in the above photo. Pigmentation is the blue gray color, which is probably caused by bluestain or sapstain. The white rot is in the areas that look soft or pulpy, and the zone lines are the dark, narrow lines found radiating randomly throughout the log. Zone lines often form where 2 or more types of fungi meet.

There is beauty everywhere in this world, even in an old tree stump. The question is, will we let ourselves first be drawn into it and then actively seek it out or will we ignore it? I choose to seek it out, and now I see it wherever I go.

Life can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, if a person would only pause to look and to listen. ~Rod Serling

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