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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Cucumber Root’

Last Sunday we had a day that was as close to perfect as a day could be, with sunny skies, low humidity and temperatures in the mid-seventies with a slight breeze, so I decided it was time for a climb. I chose the High Blue Trail in Walpole because it’s an easy, gentle climb that doesn’t wear me out. It also wanders through a beautiful forest.

The first thing I noticed was a colony of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara.) They had gone to seed but this one surprisingly still showed some color. It’s late for a spring ephemeral.

Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadensis) grew all along the trail, all the way to the overlook. Though this is a native wildflower it acts like an invasive, growing in huge colonies of tens of thousands, and it chokes out just about anything else. It also invades gardens and once it gains a foothold it’s almost impossible to eradicate. Its stem breaks off at the soil surface and the roots live on.

Canada mayflowers tiny four petaled white flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals, and that’s one way it spreads. Another way is by a thick mat of underground stems.

I saw a lot of wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) still blooming along the trail, which was a surprise. The ones in my yard stopped blooming a week or more ago, so I should check for berries. My kids used to love eating them, sun warmed and sweet.

Of course the trail has to go uphill but the grade isn’t steep and I think most people would find it an easy climb. My camera has trouble with such dappled light, high contrast scenes such as this one.

When I was up here in March the snow on the other side of this gate was nearly waist deep and I was forced to take a detour. I’m hoping I don’t see that much snow again until at least January.

The breeze lasted until I met this pink lady’s slipper orchid growing beside the trail, and then it turned into a wind that wouldn’t stop no matter how patient I was. After about 30 wasted shutter clicks I finally got one useable photo of it. This is the first pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) I’ve ever seen growing up here. The experience showed me just how much wing a lady’s slipper can take, and it’s quite a lot.

Though I’m sure these woods must be full of them this is the first Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana) I’ve ever seen here. This shot shows how the mature knee high plants have two tiers of whorled leaves. A whorl means the leaves radiate around the stem at the same place on it, so if you looked at a whorl of leaves from the side you would see the edge of a flat plane, like the edge of a plate.

The reproductive parts of this Indian cucumber root flower were much redder than the flower that I found along the Ashuelot River two posts ago.

Before I knew it I was at the cornfield that used to be a hay field. The farmer had planted his corn but it wasn’t up yet so I was able to walk the field without harming corn seedlings. Orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) usually grows here but it wasn’t blooming yet so I don’t have any to show you. Orange hawkweed is on the rare side in this area; I probably see one orange for every thousand yellow hawkweeds, and this is one of only two places I know of where it grows.

Here was a yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum,) just out of the bud. There were hundreds more just like it.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) just appeared in my last post but here it was again in the cornfield. I’m seeing a lot of these pretty little, aspirin size flowers this year.

The small pond near the overlook was covered in duckweed, as I expected. I used to wonder how it ever got up here until I read that the tiny plants  can get stuck in a bird’s feathers and move from place to place that way, so this duckweed probably found its way here via duck.

I loved the different colors of the pond’s surface. I was wondering why the blue reflection of the sky on water was always bluer than the sky itself when I heard a croak and a splash.

Hearing a croak and a splash while standing at the edge of a pond might not seem to be an earthshaking event until you realize that I’ve never seen a living thing in this pond other than duckweed. I looked to my left and there was a turtle so I took a photo of its shell because that’s all that showed. Then when I got home and looked at the shot I saw that the turtle was being watched by a frog, which showed up in the lower left. I never saw it when I was at the pond, but I heard it. How either one of them got way up here is anyone’s guess.

Once I was done playing at the pond I went on to the overlook. The sign let me know that I had arrived.

The view let me know too. That’s Stratton Mountain off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont. Stratton Mountain is a popular skiing mountain and because of our cold, snowy March they had an extended season this year. Thankfully it didn’t last into June.

You can just barely make out the ski trails through the haze, there on the right end of the mountain.

I love seeing the varying shades of blue on the distant Vermont hills. It’s a beautiful scene that seems like it would be so easy to paint; just a simple watercolor wash, but if I had it hanging on my wall would the real thing be as enticing? I can’t imagine not coming here anymore, so it probably would.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

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Longtime readers of this blog know how much I enjoy exploring the banks of the Ashuelot River; it is something I’ve done since I was a young boy. On this day I chose a section with nice wide trails through a beautiful forest.  The old trail winds through a place called Ashuelot Park, which is in downtown Keene. It has been a big hit with joggers, dog walkers, bikers, and families with children but when I started coming here 50 or so years ago there was no park. Back then it was just a trail through the woods and you hardly ever saw anyone, but on this day it was busy and it was nice to see so many people out enjoying nature. It was a hot humid day; more August than May, and like me I suppose they sought out the shade of the forest and the breeze off the river.

The trail through these woods isn’t that far from where the railroad repair depot used to be in Keene, and the trail is black because it was “paved” with the unburned slag from the big steam locomotive fireboxes. This slag is usually called “clinkers” or “clinker ash” and it is made up of pieces of fused ash and sulfur which often built-up over time in a hot coal fire. Firebox temperature reached 2000 to 2300 degrees F. in a steam locomotive but they still didn’t burn the coal completely. A long tool called a fire hook was used to pull the clinkers out of the firebox and in Keene we must have had tons of the stuff, because it was used as ballast on many local railroad beds. The section that ran by my house was as black as coal.

It’s hard to believe that the seeds of red maples (Acer rubrum) are falling already. It seems like it was hardly more than a week or two ago that I was taking photos of the flowers. Though I felt like I was 10 years old again walking along this trail this little seed reminded me just how fast time passes.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) was one of the first flowers I found along the trail, but this was no ordinary Solomon’s seal. The plant was large and very robust, much bigger than our native plants. Its leaves and flowers were also at least twice the size of those on native plants, and that’s because it is a hybrid plant that has escaped a garden and is now naturalizing in the woods. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen in a forest and there’s really no telling what it will do.

False Solomon seal (Maianthemum racemosum or Smilacina racemosa) have just started blooming and they were all along the trail. False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem, unlike the dangling pairs of flowers of true Solomon’s seal. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California crushed false Solomon’s seal roots and used them to stun fish. Other native tribes used the plant medicinally.

Last year at this same spot I saw a turtle wiggling its toes in the breeze and had to laugh, because it looked like it was trying to fly. This year on the same sunken log here was another turtle doing the same thing, and as I watched a woman stopped and asked how long my monopod extended. “Would it be long enough to help that poor turtle?” she asked. “Just look at the poor thing; it’s stuck and can’t get back into the water.” Last year a helpful reader told me that this is one way turtles regulate their body heat, so I passed that on to the concerned woman. “Well that’s a relief” she said, “now I’ll be able to sleep tonight!” We humans, I thought after she left, sure do come up with some strange ideas about nature. And yes, I do include myself in that statement.

When they are near a water source royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) can grow quite large and appear to be a shrub, but this one was young and on dry ground so it wasn’t very big. The royal fern is found on every continent except Australia, making it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over 100 years. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are also in the Osmundaceae family. It is thought that the genus might have been named after King Osmund, who ruled in the British Isles in the eighth century. Royal ferns are one of my favorites because they are so unlike any other fern.

Royal ferns have just started growing their spore bearing fertile fronds. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile fronds looked like bunches of flowers.

At this stage the sporangia of royal ferns are green but soon they’ll turn a beautiful purple color, and that’s why the plant was named flowering fern.

Chokecherries blossomed on the river bank. Like most of the white spring flowering trees, chokecherries (Prunus) and chokeberries (Aronia) grow on the edge of the forest. Though they look alike from a distance, chokeberries and chokecherries are only distantly related in the rose family. The common name is the giveaway here: A cherry is a stone fruit with one seed, so the chokecherry will have one seed. A berry will have multiple seeds; in the case of the chokeberry 5 or fewer.  Chokeberry flower clusters are smaller than chokecherry and kind of flat on top. Chokecherry flower clusters are usually long and cylindrical like a bottle brush. Positive identification between these two is important because chokecherry leaves and seeds contain prussic acid which can convert to cyanide under the right conditions, so it wouldn’t be good to eat too many seeds. The simplest way to be sure is by counting the seeds in a piece of fruit before picking and eating from the tree.

After walking the trail for a while you see it begin to narrow a bit and that’s because it doesn’t see a lot of traffic on the more northern section. Many people turn and go back rather than walk the entire trail and they miss a lot of beauty by doing so.

In spots with little to no current the tree pollen collected on the water’s surface. With all of the different species of trees we have pollination is an extended event in spring, and then after the trees come the grasses, so it goes well into summer. It’s a tough road for allergy sufferers.

You would expect to see insects along a river and I saw this one, which I think must be some type of crane fly.

I came upon the biggest colony of Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) I’ve ever seen, right there beside the trail and I have to say that I was astounded. I’ve walked by this spot literally hundreds of times since I was a boy and have never seen it, so that shows that it’s worthwhile to walk the same trail again and again. In years past I’ve spent hours searching for just one plant and here were hundreds upon hundreds of them. So much for my “excellent powers of observation;” I miss as much as anyone else.

The flowers of Indian cucumber root have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red- brown. These plants were blooming earlier than I’ve ever seen them bloom. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. Native Americans used Indian cucumber roots as food. As its common name implies, this plant’s small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber.  It’s easy to identify because of its tiers of whorled leaves and unusual flowers. It likes to grow under trees in dappled light, probably getting no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight each day.

There were also some large colonies of blue bead lily out here, which I have also never noticed before. Since I just featured them in my last post I’ll just show their photo here.

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen. These flower heads are usually covered with insects and I think this is the only time I’ve ever gotten a photo of them blooming without insects on them.

Each sarsaparilla flower is smaller than a pea but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard. Every now and then you’ll find a plant with flowers but no leaves over them. I don’t know if these leafless plants are a natural hybrid or how the plant benefits from having fewer leaves. Fewer leaves mean less photosynthesizing and that means less food for the plant but maybe animals eat them, I don’t know.

I saw the strangely shaped pine tree that I’ve wondered about for years. Something traumatic must have happened to it. I’m guessing another tree fell on it when it was young.

There were many violets blooming all along the trail, including beautiful little northern white violets (Viola pallens.) As I’ve said in previous posts, this seems to be a banner year for violets. I’ve never seen so many.

All journeys back into childhood have to end somewhere and mine ended right here. Not too far up ahead is a busy highway that I didn’t need to see so I turned and meandered back to my starting point, giving a good look to everything that caught my eye along the way.  I saw kayakers and friendly dogs, spoke with friendly people, and saw a nice big patch of lilies that will bloom in a month or so, so all in all it was a fine day. I hope yours was and will be the same.

Every summer, like the roses, childhood returns. ~Marty Rubin

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Last weekend I remembered that I hadn’t climbed any hills in a while so I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. The trail starts in a meadow / hayfield and I was surprised to see a path starting to wear into the grass. I suppose it must be becoming a popular climb even though I rarely meet anyone here.

There was a nice display of big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) and gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) along the edge of the field. The big, hand sized, heart shaped leaves helped me identify the asters.

The trail starts out narrow and level but before long it widens and angles uphill.

A ray of sunshine had found a colony of shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) and made it shine even more. This clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina cristata) grew on the side of the trail. Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips and these tips will often turn brown, but these examples were still nice and white. It had rained all day the day before so it might have been very fresh. I’m not sure what the tiny yellow fungus in the background was.

The names pinwheel and horsehair mushroom are interchangeable and go by the scientific name of Marasmius rotula. They grow on decaying leaves and decaying wood and can appear overnight after a good rain. They are very small and rarely grow larger in diameter than a pea. This one grew on last year’s leaves and was easily the largest I’ve ever seen with a diameter equal to that of an aspirin.

Another record mushroom in my book was this hemlock varnish shelf fungus (Ganoderma tsugae.) It was larger than a dinner plate and I’d guess quite old. Its common name comes from its shiny cap which usually looks like it has been varnished, but this example was very dirty. This mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

The trail goes gently uphill until we near the summit where the grade is steep. It’s very dark through this section of forest because of the overspreading evergreen branches of pines and hemlocks.

If you look closely at the tree to the left of the trail in the previous photo you can see that it is full of woodpecker holes. This photo shows how the wind carried mushroom spores into one of those holes and they grew there, fruiting on this day or the day before. This is how fungi infect and almost always kill the trees they grow on. All it takes is a small wound, and that’s why wounds on expensive ornamental or fruit trees should be quickly treated.

When trees die they eventually fall and I saw several down across the trail. This hemlock was the largest. Note all the tree roots on the trail where the soil has washed and worn away. They can be very slippery after a rain and I slipped on them a few times on my way down the hill.

Hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) and crowded parchment fungi (Stereum complicatum) battled for space on a fallen limb. There was plenty of room for both to the right and left but crowded parchment fungi often covers entire logs, so it wants all the space.

Yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia) gets its common name from the yellow bits of the universal veil on its orange cap. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it eventually breaks through the membranous veil and pieces of it are left behind on the cap. Rain can wash them off so I was surprised that they have stayed in place on this example. This mushroom is in the amanita family and is considered toxic. The amanita family contains some mushrooms that can kill if eaten, so I never eat any mushroom that I’m not 110% sure is safe. In truth I’m not crazy about mushrooms anyhow so their toxicity is a non-issue for me.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) was showing its fall colors. This plant has small black berries but this example didn’t have any. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber. I accidentally scared a turkey away and I wondered if it was that bird eating all the berries. I also saw plenty of blueberry bushes but not a single one had a berry.

This fungus grew right on the ground and looked like it was pretending to be a pizza. I haven’t been able to identify it.

I didn’t expect the views to be very good due to the previous day’s heavy rain, so I wasn’t disappointed when they weren’t. It was very hazy but you can still see the trees; countless thousands of them. I didn’t see much leaf color yet though some seemed to be lightening up to a yellow green.

Out of several shots of the views I took this is probably the best as far as lack of haze.

As I stood scanning the trees for signs of fall color a large shadow crossed over me and when I looked up I saw a flock of what I think were turkey vultures circling silently above me. They looked to be huge, and there had to have been 7 or 8 of them. Big birds flying across the skies; throwing shadows on our eyes. These words from Neil Young’s song Helpless played in my mind as I watched them soar.

These aren’t very good photos but my getting-photos-of-birds-in-flight skills are just about nonexistent. What struck me most about these birds other than their large size was how absolutely silent they were. They never made a sound the whole time I watched them; there wasn’t even the sound of wind in their feathers even though they flew so close once or twice it seemed like I could have reached out and touched them.

Because of the previous day’s rain many of the little toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) that live up here were their natural green color and plump with plenty of moisture. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present in the lichen comes through on the surface. The tiny black specks in its lower left corner are its disc shaped fruiting bodies, called apothecia, where its spores are busily being produced so a new generation of toadskins can get their start.

When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily.  Like many lichens they also change color when they dry out, like the dry example in the above photo shows. The warts on its surface are called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. Each lichen is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, so this is an umbilicate lichen. This example’s belly button is the bright spot that looks like a sun in a solar system.

I’ve written several posts about Tippin Rock, which is the 40 ton glacial erratic that lives up here, so I was going to just pass it by without taking a photo, but then I saw something I hadn’t seen before. At first I thought I had come upon one of those benevolent forest sprites whose job is guiding creatures who pass through the woods and protecting the forest, but instead it was Gus. “Are you tipping that rock?” I asked, and Gus giggled and said no, it was his father making it tip. Gus is a happy little guy who was overcome by bursts of great joy each time his father made Tippin Rock tip. It’s truly amazing to see 40 tons of granite rock gently back and forth like a baby cradle and Gus was having a ball riding the huge stone but truth be told, his dad was looking a little winded. From what I gathered Gus and his dad and their dog Annie had come up here specifically to tip the rock, and tip it did, again and again and again. Once I thought it might actually tip off its natural keel and never move again but Gus rode it out and everything was fine.

I don’t get many chances to show a person’s size in relation to the big boulder so I was grateful when Gus’s father graciously said that I could take a few photos. Gus is a very bright, joy filled five year old who is as cute as a button. He told me that he likes school and loves his teacher very much, and I told him that I’d bet that his teacher loved him right back. Gus also told me that he and his family were having a dinner party the following evening and said that I should come so he could show me around, but I left the family to their fun and headed off down the hill.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how I harp about people getting into the woods so it was a real pleasure meeting Gus and his dad and their dog Annie up there; easily the high point of my entire weekend. I hope Gus grows up to be a great lover of nature; he’s certainly off to a great start.

If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.  ~Richard Jefferies

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I’ve been wanting to show you something so last Sunday I decided to climb Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey to see if I could see what I had in mind. Usually when I think of climbing a hill to show you something it doesn’t work, but I’ll keep trying. We start by crossing this hay field / meadow.

There were violets in the grass. There were also buttercups but my photos of them aren’t good enough to be shown here. I think this is a dog violet (Viola conspera) but I usually avoid trying to identify violets because there are so many and they all seem to look alike.

The grasses are starting to flower. Many grasses are beautiful and interesting when they flower, but it’s an event that I fear most of us miss.

Once we’re through the meadow and into the woods everything becomes very green, including the light through the new spring leaves.

There were thousands of starflowers (Trientalis borealis) along both sides of the trail. They are a woodland plant that doesn’t mind shade, so the leaves overhead don’t bother them.

I saw my first mushroom of the year but I don’t know its name. Someone wrote in once with a positive identification of this one but I can’t remember the name they told me or the date of the post it appeared in. There are an awful lot of mushrooms on this blog but finding a specific one can be tedious if you don’t have a name to search for.

Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) were growing here and there. The plant gets its common name from its small white, carrot shaped edible root, which tastes like cucumber. Native Americans used it for food and also used it medicinally. The Medeola part of the plant’s scientific name is from Medea, a magical enchantress from Greek Mythology. It refers to the plant’s magical curative powers. These should be flowering in early July.

Botanically speaking a whorl is an “arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem,” and nothing illustrates this better than Indian cucumber root. Its leaves wrap around the stem arranged in a single flat plane, so if you saw them from the side theoretically you would see an edge, much like looking at the edge of a dinner plate. If any leaf or leaves in the arrangement are above or below others it’s not a true whorl.

I saw a few pink lady’s slippers budded but they usually won’t bloom until June. Some think they’ve found a pale yellow lady’s slipper when they see the buds are at this stage. This native orchid is our state wildflower.

As we get deeper into the forest it gets darker because of the canopy, and there is much less undergrowth.

There is a surprising openness in a dark forest overshadowed by evergreen hemlock and pine branches. I’ve heard that the same is true of jungles, because very little sunlight reaches the forest floor.

I saw a hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) with some young hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on it. This mushroom’s common name comes from its shiny cap which will come later, and which looks like it has been varnished. You can tell that they’re young because of the white / tan color on their outer edges. As they age they will lose the whitish color and become deep, shiny red. This mushroom has been used medicinally in China for thousands of years. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

This hemlock didn’t have any fungi on it but it must have had insects inside it because the woodpeckers were having their way with it. A while ago I split a log that had thousands of big black carpenter ants in it and for a woodpecker they’re a delicacy.

The bedrock forms ledges here that appear to have risen from the surrounding terrain, creating caves under the overhangs. They aren’t big enough for bears but a porcupine, raccoon or even a bobcat might call them home.

When the trail reaches its steepest you know you’re very near the summit.

I gave a nod and a click of the shutter to Tippin Rock as I passed. The 40 ton erratic gets its name from the way it will “tip” if shoved in the right spot. It actually rocks back and forth very slowly, like a pendulum. I didn’t have time to wrestle it on this day but if you’re interested you can just type “Tippin Rock” in the search box over on the top right and you’ll be taken right to all the posts I’ve done about it.

This is what I wanted to show you; the forest canopy awash in spring greens. With the oaks and hickories finally chiming in all of the trees now have their new leaves. This is why the spring ephemeral wildflowers are done blooming in the forests. From now on it will be mostly meadow and roadside flowers.

We aren’t in the clouds up here but we are in the tree tops. How many shades of green can there be?

The forest seems to go on forever. Sitting alone up here with the breeze and birdsong I often find myself wondering what the early settlers might have thought when they looked out over something so vast and unbroken. I also wonder if I would have had the courage to face it. There were no houses out there, no stores, and no roads. Only what you carried; that and your own ability were all you could really rely on.

I sit with my back against the little toadskin lichen’s (Lasallia papulosa) boulder when I take photos of the views, so of course I have to spend some time with them. Most were surprisingly dry in spite of all the rain but still beautiful nonetheless.

Some plants seem to shine with the light of creation and some lichens are no different. Sometimes you can see entire solar systems on the face of a toadskin lichen.

It looks like Mister Smiley Face is growing a mossy beard. I hope it doesn’t get too out of control. We always smile at each other on my way down.

I hope you enjoyed seeing the spring forest from above.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.

~Ron Akers

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1-maple-leaf-viburnum

Just like spring, fall starts on the forest floor and nothing illustrates that better than maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) I’ve never seen another native shrub turn as many colors as this one does. Its leaves can be purple, pink, orange, red, or combinations of them all, but they usually end by turning to just a whisper of light pastel orange or pink before they fall.

2-little-bluestem

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along our roadsides. It’s a beautiful little 2-3 foot tall grass that lends a golden richness to life outdoors and I always look forward to seeing it. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful. It’s another of those things that help make walking through life a little more pleasant.

3-little-bluestem

It is the seed heads on little bluestem that catch the light as they ripen. This grass is a native prairie grass which grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington. According to the USDA its appearance can vary in height, color, length of leaves, flowering, and clump diameter from location to location.

4-dusty-ginger-leaves

We have countless miles of unpaved gravel roads here in this part of New Hampshire and they usually get dry and dusty at this time of year, but this year is a banner year for dust and each time a car travels the road a big cloud of it kicks up. These native wild ginger (Asarum canadense) plants were covered by a thick layer which won’t be washed off until it rains.

5-vigins-bower

Native virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) needs full sun and it will climb over shrubs and trees to get it. Its seed heads are often times more visible than its small white flowers were.  As they age the seed heads become more and more feathery and are very noticeable after the leaves fall.

6-vigins-bower-seed

The tail on a virgin’s bower seed is what is left of the flower’s style. In a flower the style is the slender stalk that connects the sticky pollen accepting stigma to the ovary. As it ages the seed becomes dryer and lighter and the tail becomes feathery so it can be carried away by the wind.

7-river-grapes

River grapes (Vitis riparia,) so called because they grow on the banks of rivers and streams, are ripening, and you can let your nose lead you to them. Each year at this time many of our forests smell like grape jelly because of them. They are also called frost grapes because of their extreme cold hardiness; river grapes have been known to survive temperatures of -57 degrees F. (-49 C.) Many birds eat these small grapes including cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, robins, wood ducks, several species of woodpecker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, and turkeys. Many animals also love river grapes, including foxes, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and opossums. Deer will eat the leaves and new shoots and many birds use the bark for nest building; especially crows.

8-hobblebush-fruit

Native hobblebush berries (Viburnum lantanoides) are turning from red to deep, purple black as they always do. The berries are said to taste like spicy raisins or dates and are eaten by cardinals, turkeys, cedar waxwings and even pileated woodpeckers. Bears, foxes, skunks and squirrels are among the animals that eat them. They go fast; I rarely find them fully ripe.

9-indian-cucumber

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) is another understory plant with black berries. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber.

10-pokeweed-fruit

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is another plant with purple-black berries. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

11-large-tolype-moth-aka-tolype-velleda

I saw this large tolype moth (Tolype velleda) clinging to the siding of a building recently. It’s a pretty moth that’s very easy to identify because of its hairiness and coloration. It looks like it’s dressed for winter. The caterpillar stage feeds on the leaves of apple, ash, birch, elm, oak, plum, and other trees.

12-half-moon-pond

Days like this have been so rare I felt compelled to get a photo of one we had recently at Half Moon Pond in Hancock. Though it didn’t bring rain a low mist hung over the landscape and occasionally brought drizzle with it.  Fog is very common here in the fall when the air temperature is cooler than the temperature of the water. The same thing happens in spring, but in reverse. Then the air is warmer than the water.

13-solitary-bee

I think this was a solitary bee (Hymenoptera) sleeping in an aster blossom when it was so cool and misty that day. Solitary bees get their name from the way they don’t form colonies like honey and bumblebees.

14-red-spotted-newt-notophthalmus-viridescens

Last year I misidentified a erythristic red-back salamander (Plethodon cinereus) as a red spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens,) but this time I think I’ve got it right. New Hampshire has eight native salamanders including the red-spotted newt seen here. The larva are aquatic and so are the adults, but the juveniles are called red efts and live on land.  Since it has been so dry this summer I was surprised to find this one out in the open. This salamander eats just about anything that is small enough, including earthworms and insects.

15-wasp-nest

The eastern yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons) is a wasp that usually build its nest underground but will occasionally build them above ground, as this large example I recently found hanging in a tree shows. It was about as big as a basketball, or about 9.5 inches across, and was built of paper made from wood fiber. Except for a small entrance at the bottom the nests are fully enclosed. Yellow jackets are very aggressive and will protect their nest by stinging multiple times. Their sting is very painful; I was pruning a rhododendron once that had a nest in it that I didn’t see until it was too late. A swarm chased me across the lawn and stung me 5 or 6 times on the back. This time they gave me time for one shot of their nest before getting agitated. When they started flying I backed off.

16-mushrooms-in-rock

I’ve seen some very strange thigs happen in the world of fungi but I didn’t think this was one of them until I looked closely. Mushrooms often appear to be growing on stones but they’re actually growing on accumulated leaf litter that has fallen onto the stone. But not always; as this photo shows these examples of Russel’s bolete (Boletellus russellii) are growing directly out of the stone. I have to assume that the boulder had soil filled holes in it that the wind carried the mushroom’s spores to. But how did the holes get there?

17-moldy-mushroom

One of the things I’ve learned by studying nature is that every single living thing eventually gets eaten, and nothing illustrates that better that this. I thought the gray veil hanging from this mushroom cap was mold but a little research shows that it is most likely Syzygites megalocarpus, which is a mycoparasite; a fungus that feeds on other fungi. It starts out white and then changes to yellow before finally becoming gray. It is a very fast grower and can appear overnight as this example on a bolete did. I’ve read that it has been found on over 65 species of mushroom so it isn’t choosy about its diet, but it is somewhat picky about the weather. Heat and humidity levels have to be to its liking for it to appear.

18-possible-slime-mold-on-fungus

This black false tinder fungus (Phellinus igniarius) was covered by what appeared to be a white slime mold. Slime molds feed on bacteria, yeasts, and fungi so I assume that this one was feeding on the false tinder fungus, though it’s the only time I’ve seen this happen. Slime molds are not classified as fungi, plants, or animals but display the characteristics of all three. Nobody really seems to know for sure what they are.

19-possible-slime-mold-on-fungus

The orange yellow underside of the false tinder fungus looked like it was slowly becoming engulfed by the slime mold. More proof that all things get eaten, in one way or another.

20-virginia-creeper

Native Virginia creeper is a large climbing vine with leaves that often turn red in late summer, but these examples wanted to be purple.  Many grow Virginia creeper in their gardens because of its pleasing fall colors. My mother grew it so I’ve known it for about as long as I can remember. I like to see it growing up tree trunks; in the fall it’s as if the entire trunk has turned a brilliant scarlet color.

Summer is leaving silently. Much like a traveler approaching the end of an amazing journey. ~Darnell Lamont Walker

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Logging Road

On Saturday I decided to visit a beaver pond that I’d heard might prove to be a worthwhile walk. I started off down this old logging road, which was well worn and rutted, in Hancock. It was early and cool on a day that was supposed to be hot later, with temperatures in the high 80s F. We’ve been having a few of those lately and there are more to come.

2. Stone Wall

The stone walls lining both sides of the road told me that this land once looked far different than what it does now. It was cleared and farmed at one time and folks lived out here in what now seems like the middle of nowhere. But I can see why they built here; the land is level in places and is relatively protected by hills, and there is a stream running through it.

3. Trail

Through a break in the wall you turn onto the trail that leads to the beaver pond.

4. Boulder

The trail is called boulder trail for good reason. There are some very big stones out here; car, truck and house size. Can you imagine wanting to clear the land and seeing this, when all you had was an axe and maybe a pair of oxen? They must have just cleared around it because here it still sits.

5. Swamp

Finally you reach the beaver pond. It’s peaceful here but far from quiet. Bullfrogs made their presence known with loud bellowing cries from every direction. They usually do this in the evening and at night, but will also croak during the day when the breeding season is at its peak. It must be at its peak now because there had to have been thousands calling; most of them male. At one point they started calling at one end of the pond and then more and more joined in, all perfectly synchronized, until you could feel as well as hear the wave of sound pass around the pond. I’ve never heard anything like it from bullfrogs. Spring peepers yes, but not bullfrogs.

6. Beaver Lodge

A beaver lodge was off shore a few yards, but I didn’t see any beavers.

7. Beaver Trail

I didn’t really need to see the beavers to know they were there though. Their trails through the floating aquatic plants told me that they were active, most likely at night. The grass growing beyond the trail isn’t a good sign for the beavers though. It means their pond is silting up, and there isn’t a thing that they can do about it except move on. Sometime in the future their unmaintained dam will collapse and the land will drain and dry out. Trees will take root, and once again this place will be a forest with a stream running through it. Beavers will then move back in, start to cut the trees and build another dam, and the ever repeating 30 year cycle will start again.

8. Beaver Tree

Their activity was very recent. There must have been 30 or more trees either felled or in the process of being cut. It’s a bit unnerving out here on a windy day I would imagine, because some of the standing trees had been cut to one tenth their original diameter.

9. Beaver Tree

There isn’t much left of its original self. One good wind gust and over it goes.

10. Blue Flags

But there wasn’t any wind and anyway, I was too busy looking at all the beautiful things around me to worry about falling trees.

11. Blue Flag-2

Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) is a beautiful flower and I’m always happy to see it. It loves to grow on the shore of virtually any slow moving or still water and so is right at home here.

12. Great Blue Heron Chicks

The beaver pond attracted fish and bullfrogs and they in turn attracted great blue herons, which built their nests in the still standing dead trees. Sometimes the trees looked like high rise apartments with multiple nests. Each nest seemed to have at least two chicks in it.  I heard that one of the special things about this place is how the herons have become used to seeing people, and it’s true; they aren’t as skittish as they’ve been in other rookeries I’ve visited. All of these photos were shot in the morning, but I learned to wait until afternoon to come here, because in the morning the sunshine falls almost directly on the trail where you stand, which means right at your lens, and that can make for some challenging photography.

13. Great Blue Heron

My camera really doesn’t have the reach required to get good photos of herons in the middle of a beaver pond but this one sat in a tree nearer to me than most. Herons will teach you patience by standing statue-still for long periods of time but finally, this one had an itch.

14. Dragonfly

When I wasn’t watching statuesque herons I watched the multitudes of dragonflies flitting back and forth. I think this one is a female or newly emerged male blue dasher, but it’s hard for me to tell. As dragonflies will, this one kept leaving and returning to its perch and even fought with others for the right to use it.

15. Fragrant White Waterlily

The fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) were just opening and were beautiful as always. While I was trying to find an unobstructed view of this flower a big black northern water snake caught a frog and dragged it under. There would be one less voice in the chorus on this night.

16. Northern Water Snake by Wikipedia

The Northern water snake was too fast for me to get a photo of but I thought you might want to see what they looked like, so I found this excellent shot by Matthew Hayes on Wikipedia.  It shows one of the big snakes basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2  feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a photo of.

17. Indian Cucumber

I’ve never seen so many trillium, lady’s slippers, blue bead lilies and Indian cucumber root plants in one place before. There were so many in places it was hard not to step on them. The above photo shows an immature Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana,) too young to bloom. I chose it for a photo because I wanted you to see how its leaves grow in a whorl around the stem. It will produce another tier of whorled leaves higher on the stem when it becomes old enough to bloom. The plant gets its common name from its small white, carrot shaped edible root, which tastes like cucumber. Native Americans used it for food and also used it medicinally. The Medeola part of the plant’s scientific name is from Medea, a magical enchantress from Greek Mythology. It refers to the plant’s magical curative powers.

18. Indian Cucumber Blossom

The flowers of Indian cucumber root usually nod under the leaves and have 6 yellowish-green recurved tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish-purple to brown, curved styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red-brown like those shown but I think they darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish-black berry.

19. Black and Blue Damselfly

I think this is a common blue damselfly, but it’s uncommonly beautiful. It’s also my favorite shade of blue.

20. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris

As I was sitting on a log waiting for the blue herons to do something interesting I noticed these plants that I’d never seen before growing at the water’s edge. I get excited when I see a plant I’ve never seen, so I had to have a closer look.

21. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris

Wild calla (Calla palustris) was what they were and you could have knocked me over with a feather, I was so surprised. I’ve been roaming around swamps and backwaters for 50 years and I’ve never seen this plant. Though it isn’t thought to be rare in New Hampshire it is said to be a more northern species, so that could explain why I never see it. It’s also called water arum and is in the same family as Jack in the pulpit and other arums. Like jack in the pulpit the flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. The plant is toxic and it is said that the Native American Meskwaki tribe of the great lakes region chopped the root and put it in the food of their enemies, causing them great pain and possibly death.

22. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris Close

Unfortunately I missed the actual flowers, which are tiny and greenish white, and grow along the spadix where the green berries are now. These berries will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

23. Swamp

Some say that you can see heaven in water and I thought I saw it once or twice myself in this beautiful place. There is a sense of wonder and mystery in such places and time can seem to stop, and that’s one thing that makes them so special. I’m sorry that this grew to such a long post but there was much to see and still, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll definitely be returning; I’d love to see it in winter.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

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1. Clouded Sulfur

I saw a clouded sulfur butterfly (Colias philodice) on an aster recently. It moved from flower to flower but was willing to sit still long enough for a couple of photos. I like the color combination.

2. Painted Turtle

Painted turtles are still lazing in the sun along the Ashuelot River. Soon they will burrow into the mud on the river bottom. As the water cools their internal temperature will drop to nearly match the water temperature and their metabolism will slow. They will take up enough oxygen to stay alive through their skin and hibernate until the weather warms in spring.

3. American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

The American dagger moth caterpillar (Acronicta americana) feeds on the leaves of deciduous trees like birch, elm, ash, hickory, maple, and oak. This one had someplace to be and was moving about as fast as I’ve ever seen a caterpillar move. It had a black head but it wouldn’t let me get a shot of it. American dagger moth caterpillars aren’t poisonous but some people do get a rash when they handle them.

4. Moose Antler

A coworker found a moose antler in the woods and I asked if I could get a photo of it for those who have never seen one. This was from a young moose and wasn’t that big, but some can get very big indeed. One recent trophy moose had antlers that spanned over 6 feet (75 5/8 inches) from tip to tip. Shed antlers aren’t a common site in these woods even though moose wander through every town in the region. Since they are relatively rare large moose antlers can be valuable when found in good condition. The trick is to find them before the mice, birds, coyotes and other critters chew them up.

5. Virginia Creeper

Fall always seems to start at the forest floor and slowly work its way up to the trees. At present it has reached the understory, as this Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) shows. I grew up with this plant; my mother loved it so much that she planted it to grow up the side of the porch. I watched it turn red each fall when I was a boy and now I look for it every year at this time.

6. Burning Bush

Burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) are also showing signs of fall, with more pink leaves coming every day. This shrub is much loved for its fall color but it is extremely invasive so its sale and cultivation are banned in New Hampshire. Our native highbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium corymbosum) are quite colorful in the fall and are good alternatives for burning bush. Plant breeders have developed cultivars that are even more colorful than the natives. The American cranberry bush (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) is another native shrub that breeders have been working on and some cultivars display amazing color.

7. Burning Bush

They may be invasive but it’s hard to deny the beauty of burning bushes. Along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey there is a narrow strip of woodland where nearly the entire understory is made up of hundreds of these shrubs. It’s a great example of how invasive plants choke out the natives and create a monoculture. I’m not happy about the monoculture but when all of these shrubs turn the color of the leaves shown in the photo it’s an astoundingly beautiful sight. Though I can understand and even agree with every argument that says they should be destroyed, I have to admit that I’d be sorry to see them go.

8. Birches

Birch trees are among the first to turn in the fall but these examples are still showing more green than gold. We’ve had a very dry summer and I’m curious to see what the colors will be like this year; muted or more intense? So far the shrub colors don’t seem to be affected.

9. Lion's Mane Mushroom

Bear’s head or lion’s mane mushroom (Hericlum americanum) is a beautiful toothed fungus that looks like a fungal waterfall. Soft spines hang from branches that reach out from a thick central stalk. As it ages it will change from white to cream to brown. I didn’t think I was going to see one this year but I found this naval orange size example growing from the cut end of a felled tree just yesterday. I took its photo with my cellphone because that’s all I had with me. I haven’t had much luck taking close-ups with that phone so I was surprised when I saw that this shot was useable.

10. Coral Fungus

I think this white coral fungus might be cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina coralloides.) Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips which often turn brown. I don’t see these as often as I do other types of coral fungi. They are supposed to like growing under conifers and that’s just where I found it.

11. Golden Pholiota (Pholiota limonella) Mushrooms

Golden pholiota (Pholiota limonella) mushrooms grew on a beech log. The gilled, lemon yellow caps with reddish scales are slimy to the touch on these inedible mushrooms. An oak kindly dropped an acorn beside them for me so I could give you a sense of their size.

12. Pear Shaped Puffballs

Pear shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme) grow in clusters on stumps and logs but these examples were growing on a rotted part of a living, standing tree. That’s not good and the tree will eventually have to go. Their common name comes from their upside down pear shape which can’t really be seen in this photo. As they age pores open in the top of each one so its spores can be released.

13. Wild Plums

The wild plums are ripening. I found a thicket of about 3 small trees under some power lines in Swanzey a few years ago and though I’ve taken photos of the flowers I never came back to take any of the fruit until this year. I thought they were American plums (Prunus americana) but I’m not positive about that. They could also be Canada plums (Prunus nigra.) I’m going to have to pay very close attention to the flowers next spring. The fruit is small at about half the size of a hen’s egg but is said to make delicious jelly, whether American or Canadian.

14. Indian Cucumber Root

Botanically speaking a whorl is an “arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem,” and nothing illustrates this better than Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana.) Its leaves wrap around the stem arranged in a single flat plane, so if you saw them from the side theoretically you would see an edge, much like looking at the edge of a dinner plate. If any leaf or leaves in the arrangement are above or below others it’s not a true whorl.

15. Little Bluestem

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along the roadsides. This grass is common, growing in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington. According to the USDA its appearance can vary in height, color, length of leaves, flowering, and clump diameter from location to location. It’s a beautiful little 2-3 foot tall grass that lends a golden richness to life outdoors. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful. The world would be a duller place without it.

16. Little Bluestem Seedhead

There is a lot going on in a light catching little bluestem seed head but I won’t try to explain it; I’ll just let you enjoy its unique beauty.

17. Hindu God Ganesh

I’ve been walking the banks of the Ashuelot River almost since I learned how to walk and I’ve seen some unusual things over the years, but by far the most unusual thing I’ve seen recently is this statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh that I found on its banks in Swanzey. Ganesh is said to be the lord of success and the remover of obstacles on one’s spiritual path. He is also thought to bring education, knowledge, wisdom and prosperity, so I’m wondering what it is the river is trying to tell me. It seems like whatever it is can only be good.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

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