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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Cucumber Root’

Two Sundays ago I decided to visit the High Blue Trail up in Walpole. It’s an easy climb with plenty to see and it was a beautiful fall day. Once I hit the trail I wished I had dressed a little more sensibly though. I had worn a short-sleeved summer shirt so I did a little shivering at the outset.

Hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) were already changing into their beautiful, deep maroon fall color.

Hobblebush berries go from green to bright shiny red, and then to deep, purple black. You can see a single ripe berry here. 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.

A New England Aster grew in a low spot so wet I couldn’t get to it, so I had to take a long shot. One thing I’ve learned this year is that New England asters like wet places.

Blue wood asters bloomed in sunnier (and drier) spots all along the trail.

Sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) got that name from colonials who noticed that they turned white at the slightest hint of frost. We haven’t had a frost but it is definitely cooling off, and this fern showed it.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) also turn white early. Lady and sensitive ferns make up a large part of the growth found on the floors of many of our forests, so it won’t be long before they seem a little barren. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once the leaves fall off the trees and shrubs you can see the bones of the forest; the hardscape of stony ridges, glacial erratics, fallen logs and patches of beautiful green mosses bigger than you ever thought they could get.

Speaking of beautiful green moss, here was a quartz stone covered in delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum.) This is a color changing moss and in cold weather it turns bright, lime green. Color blindness usually means that I see it as bright orange but on this day, it was still green to these eyes.

This sign marks the trail to the overlook. So far, we’ve been following an old logging road.

There is magic in a forest and I know it has found me when these blog posts write themselves right there on the trail. I feel as if I’m on autopilot when it happens; all I have to do is take photos and then come home and type the words that have written themselves in my mind.

The corn in the cornfield was short and stunted looking, which was surprising considering all the rain we’ve had. You shouldn’t be able to see over the top of a cornfield like I could here; corn usually towers far over my head but these stalks might have been 5-6 feet tall. Each stalk had ears on it though, so it will help feed the cows this winter.

If there’s any of it left, that is. I saw signs of animals feeding on it.

White crested coral fungus (Clavulina cristata) grew just off the trail. This fungus is not as common as the yellow spindle corals that I see so often. As I was looking this up, I saw sea corals that looked identical to this example. It’s amazing how nature seems to use the same shapes again and again.

What I think might be a goat cheese webcap mushroom (Cortinarius camphoratus) grew just off the trail. Though it’s hard to see in this photo the cap surface has matted fibers on it, and that’s one of the identifiers, as are the lilac color and rather large size. Unfortunately I didn’t smell it, because that would have been the clincher. This mushroom is said to have a powerful odor of “old goat cheese or sweaty feet.” Some also think it smells like camphor, so maybe I should be glad I didn’t smell it. It’s a pretty thing though, and is a fall / late summer mushroom found usually in coniferous forests.

Years ago a hunter put small reflectors on the trees along the trail and they’re still there. I know there are bears up here and I’m fairly sure there must be lots of deer as well, because there are game trails here and there. I followed one once and discovered a lot of cornstalks that had been taken into the woods.

Running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) grows near the summit. The name comes from the way it sends out long, horizontal stems. All along the horizontal stem erect stems form at intervals and roots form where it touches the ground. All of this happens under the fallen leaves so it can be difficult sometimes to tell this club moss from others. I can’t say that these plants are rare here, but I don’t see them too often. It is also called stag’s horn clubmoss because of its shape.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) grew on a log. This slime mold starts out as tiny pink globules (aethalia) but as they age they become darker, like those seen on the lower part of the log. Once they darken the globules look more like small puffballs, so it is easy to be fooled.

If you pop a young one (and they do pop) an orange-pink liquid drips out. As they age this liquid takes on a toothpaste consistency before finally becoming a mass of dark colored, dust like spores. If you see one with liquid like that shown here oozing out of it, you’ll know they aren’t very old. Another name is toothpaste slime mold.

I reached what is left of the old stone foundation. It and the stone walls that snake through these woods are reminders of the days when these hillsides were pastures, and not forests. I don’t know who lived up here but I do know that they were hardy souls. I came here one winter and followed snowmobile tracks as far as I could before running into waist deep snowdrifts that stopped me cold. Up here, living with that kind of snow, miles from anywhere, you would have to be hardy indeed. But it wasn’t just the snow; there were bears and wolves as well, and you don’t run very well with snow shoes on. I just read that the last known wolf in the region was taken in the winter of 1819-1820.

Since there is a small pond here on the summit the people would have had water and food as well if they farmed this land. With food, water and plenty of wood for a fire they most likely just waited out the weather until spring. What long, dark and cold winters they must have seen.

At 1588 feet you aren’t exactly on top of the world but you are on the summit of the highest hill in Walpole New Hampshire.

And as always, the view was very blue. But hazy too.

This view is hazy most of the time when I come here but I could make out Stratton Mountain, off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont. I don’t how far it is as the crow flies but it’s about 50 miles from here to the mountain if you’re driving.

I’m sure the sharp eyed among you saw signs of fall all through this post, like ripe corn, fall mushrooms, and ghostly ferns. This Indian cucumber root is another sign; it has lost all its green but hasn’t lost that beautiful crimson splash on its top tier of leaves. It’s a beautiful color but the trees are putting on their beautiful fall colors too now, so it won’t be long before you see some very colorful foliage.

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old. ~The Moody Blues

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The weather people promised a fine summer day recently, with temperatures in the 70s F. and low humidity, so I knew it was a day to make a climb. I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey because as I looked through this year’s blog posts I was surprised to find that I hadn’t climbed it at all this year. To get to the trailhead you cross this meadow.

The last time I was here there were two planks across this wet area. Now there were four and with all the rain we’ve had this year, I wasn’t surprised. I gave a silent word of thanks to the kind person who put them here.

Though there were other wet places along the trail most of it was dry and easy going, and it was a beautiful morning to be in the woods.

I saw one of my favorite clubmosses, fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum.) The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180-degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered “fern allies.” Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall.

I was surprised to find a checkered rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera tesselata) here, growing right at the edge of the trail. Though it is a woodland orchid it is not as common as its cousin the downy rattlesnake plantain, which I see regularly. It had flowered earlier but they had gone by. This plant was very small; easily small enough to fit in a teacup with room to spare, so you can probably imagine how small its flowers are. They look like tiny white teapots and are pollinated by bumblebees, halictid bees and syrphid flies.

The sun shining on these black birch leaves stopped me for a bit. There are lots of black birch trees here, I’m happy to say. They were once harvested nearly into oblivion so they could be pulped to make oil of wintergreen. If you ever wonder what kind of tree you’re seeing, cherry or birch, just scratch off a bit of bark and sniff. If you smell wintergreen, you have a black birch (Betula lenta.) It is also called sweet birch or cherry birch. The trees can be tapped like sugar maples in spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer.

Yellow finger coral fungi are round like spaghetti but these were flat so I think they were a club coral, possibly Clavulinopsis helvola. They grow in tight clusters, often fused at the base. They are said to taste very bitter, which might explain why animals never seem to touch them. They were beautiful, backlit by the sun as they were.

The reason club and coral fungi grow the way they do is to get their spores, which grow on their tips, up above the soil surface so the wind can disperse them. They grew all the way up the hill, scattered throughout the woods, looking like little flames licking up out of the soil. I’ve never seen so many in one place.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) also grew in good numbers, and many had ripe fruit like this one. Those plants that produce fruit usually have a bright crimson patch on the leaves just under the berries. I’ve often wondered if it was there to attract birds or animals to the fruit. 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 from the plants once and I wondered if it was that bird eating the berries. They do disappear.

What a beautiful day it was. My lungs were working well, probably due to the cooler weather, so I didn’t have any trouble climbing. This climb is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep. I think a young person could probably be up and down in a half hour, but then they’d miss so much.

I saw probably fifty or more honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) growing on a fallen tree and I was glad they weren’t on a living, standing tree. Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms, which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

A ray of sunlight caught a pretty little purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides,) fruiting far later than usual. It might seem odd to see a mushroom in sunlight but most everything in the forest gets at least some sun, if just for a few moments each day.

Ridged tooth fungi (Hydnellum scrobiculatum) grew here and there nearer the summit. This one is tough; they feel hard and non-yielding to the touch. The common name comes from the ridges on the cap margins. It’s a very unusual woodland mushroom that likes to grow near pines. Because it’s so tough nothing touches it, so they last for quite a while.

The “tooth” part of the name becomes apparent when you turn a ridged tooth fungus over. Instead of gills it has spines packed closely together. They are said to start out kind of purplish-brown but these were more of a tan so I’d guess that the color fades as they age. That’s common among fungi.

Something I’ve wanted to see for a very long time is the black earth tongue fungus so today was a lucky, fungus filled day. This fungus is very rare in my experience though I’ve read that it is widely distributed. This example might have been an inch tall at best and was club shaped. It grew on a well-rotted tree stump and for that reason I think it must be the common earth tongue (Geoglossum cookeanum.) At first I thought it was the viscid black earthtongue (Glutinoglossum glutinosum,) but that species only grows in soil. I’ve read that the only way to be sure is by microscopic examination of its spores. It is one of the sac fungi and feels very tough and leathery.

Another mushroom I’ve never seen is a pretty one called the painted suillus (Suillus spraguei.) It is also called the painted slippery cap and red and yellow suillus. The caps are dark red when young and develop yellowish cracks as they age. They also have mats of reddish hairs on the cap, according to what I’ve read. They are said to have a mycorrhizal relationship with pine trees, particularly the eastern white pine, so it makes perfect sense that it would grow here.

The sunlight brought out the velvety sheen in this tiger eye fungus (Coltricia cinnamomea.) It was beautiful, with its concentric rings of colors. They are also called fairy stools or sometimes cinnamon fairy stools because of the bands of cinnamon orangey brown coloring on their caps. Previously their scientific name was Coltricia perennis but names are changing all the time these days. The Coltricia part of the scientific name means seat or couch and perennis means perennial.

And there was the 40-ton glacial erratic called Tippin’ Rock, which will rock back and forth like a baby cradle when pushed in the right spot. I thought the story was just a fairy tale until I saw it move, and then I thought it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. When you start thinking of all the things that had to happen for this stone to be able to do that, it kind of blows your mind.

When I saw the puffy white clouds in the sky I knew this would be a good day for views, and I wasn’t disappointed. They add a lot of interest to what is otherwise a flat blue sky, and I’ve always loved to sit and watch their shadows moving across the hills below. Sometimes they creep and other times they speed by.

Sitting with your back against a stone, watching the cloud shadows gliding silently across the landscape, hearing the soft whisper of the wind in the trees, it’s easy to believe that you have it all. All is perfection, and there isn’t a thing you would change, even if you could.

I keep telling myself that I’ll climb to the top of the ledges so I can say that I was at the very top of 912-foot Hewe’s Hill but by the time I get there doing so has lost its importance. I also realize that I can’t be absolutely sure that this point is the highest, but I’ve never seen anything higher from where I stood. It’s impressive.

Lichens and mosses taught me to watch for vertical streams. Where water runs down the bark of trees after a rain for example, is where you’ll often find the most mosses and lichens growing. They grow on either side of the channel, just as if they grew on the banks of a stream. And here it was again, on a much larger scale. There is a water source somewhere above that drips water continuously down the face of the ledge and, since lichens need to be moist to be at their best, that’s where they grow. These are mostly rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) and toadskin (Lasallia papulosa) lichens, each umbilicate lichens.

There is little in nature that seems happier than a wet lichen, unless it is two squirrels playing tag. This toadskin lichen was in its glory; pea green, as rubbery as your ear lobe, and producing spores like there was no tomorrow.

These lichens, away from the dripping water source, didn’t look so happy. They were ashen and stiff, just hanging on waiting for rain. And umbilicate lichens really do hang on. They attach themselves to the stone at a single point and hang like a rag from a peg. Nothing illustrates that better than that rock tripe lichen in the center. It actually looks like a rag hanging from a peg. You can see the attachment point in these lichens as bright white spots in this photo. That single attachment point reminded whoever sorted these lichens into their little pigeonholes of their bellybutton, hence the name umbilicate.

And on the way back down there was Mister Smiley Face. He was here for years and then he disappeared so I thought someone had thrown him into the woods but no, he had just been moved up the hill a little further. He’s covered with moss now but still smiling. I found myself smiling too, happy to see him after so long but at the same time wondering when this chunk of log became a “him” and gained a name. I can’t remember but it doesn’t matter. It always makes me smile.

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

~Ron Akers

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Last Saturday I walked along the Ashuelot River in Keene, hoping to find some marsh bellflowers. As this photo shows, I sure found plenty of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) Beautiful ribbons of it lined the banks. They are probably why I see so many ducks and geese here. Ducks eat the seeds and geese eat the leaves.

The water was about as high as it gets thanks to some very heavy rain throughout the month of July. Another foot or so higher and in places it would have been over the trail.

Luckily most of the trail stays high and dry but I found the side trail I needed to use to see the marsh bellflowers was under about 6 inches of water, so I couldn’t get to them or the mad dog skullcap plants that live there. With my lungs I can’t be falling into rivers. I doubt I could swim ten strokes.

I did see a buttonbush shrub (Cephalanthus occidentalis) up to its neck in water but it was blooming. I know another plant along the river in Swanzey that is sometimes under water when the river is high, but it doesn’t seem to bother it.

The small flowers of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) are more white than blue this year from what I’ve seen so far. This plant has an odd look, sometimes reaching ten feet tall with flowers hardly bigger than a pencil eraser at the very top. Luckily this flower was just about at eye level, because the stalks of this plant don’t take kindly to being bent. They’ll often snap right in two.

I’ve seen thousands of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) buds this year but not a single flower yet. That’s okay with me though, because I’ve always thought the buds were as pretty as the flowers. They seem to have a deeper color.

There is a bumper crop of blueberries this year. The bushes are loaded with berries anywhere I go so all the critters will be happy. I’ve noticed that the birds aren’t paying much attention to them yet though.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) grew here and there but it doesn’t seem to be doing well along this trail this year. The plants looked a bit weak and kind of ragged.

I saw quite a lot of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) plants along the trail but this was the only one I saw with fruit. After a time these green berries will become deep, purple-black. And then they’ll disappear. I think turkeys get them before anyone else. A good healthy plant can stand just about as tall as a turkey’s eye is from the ground.

As I say every year; spring and fall begin on the forest floor. This Indian cucumber root illustrates what I mean.

“But it’s only August,” you say. “Surely the Indian cucumber root was a fluke?” Unfortunately, that argument can’t stand; this tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) also whispered hints of fall.

And so did this sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis.) Soon all of the squirrels and chipmunks will be gathering their nuts and seeds. Who needs a calendar?

I couldn’t decide which was prettier, this royal fern or its shadow, so I took a photo of both.

A depression in the woods was filled with water but the water had a strange cloudy film on it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before and I can’t imagine what caused it, way off in the woods like it was. It wasn’t oily and it didn’t look like dust. I thought of mushroom spores but it would have taken a lot of mushrooms to do this.

Clubmosses also release spores that float on water but not this one. It looked like it was finished. An interesting thing about clubmoss spores is how, if you fill a glass with water and cover the surface of the water with spores, when you stick your finger in the water and pull it out again it will be covered in spores but will be perfectly dry. Clubmoss spores are waxy and hydrophobic, which means resistant to water. They are also extremely flammable, and once made up the flash powder used to create the flash photographers used to take a photo.

The oak tree that the beavers girdled is done. I don’t know why beavers do this to trees and then leave them standing. After all, the succulent buds and branches are a big reason why they cut trees.

There won’t be any buds on this tree, and the branches will be dry. There wasn’t a leaf on them. Soon the dead branches will begin to fall, and they’re right above the trail.

It’s really too bad that beavers don’t eat Canada mayflowers, because there are many thousands of them on the floor of any forest I visit. They’re a native plant but they act like an invasive plant by creating monocultures that keep other plants from growing. I’ve seen huge stands of nothing but Canada mayflower. And may heaven help you if they get into your garden. Those speckled berries will be bright red and ripe soon, and they’ll disappear quickly.

The closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) that grow in one spot along the trail looked to be in good shape. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. Closed gentian leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian. This plant is relatively rare in this area.

And there was the bridge. It crosses what is usually a small stream but on this day the water was licking at its sides. The water level in the river hasn’t dropped much and we’ve had more rain since that day, so I hope it hasn’t washed away.

This photo from last year shows the marsh bellflower (Campanula aparinoides) I came to see. I hoped to get some better shots of the flowers but that probably won’t happen this year without a boat, because it just keeps on raining. Luckily this plant is a perennial so unless the entire riverbank where it grows washes away, I should be able to find it next year. I can’t say how rare it is but I’ve never seen it anywhere but here in this one spot, and I’ve been walking these riverbanks for over 50 years.

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

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Last Sunday I felt like it was time to climb again, so I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. It was supposed to be a hot, humid day so I made sure I got there earlier than I usually do. In fact I had never been on the mountain that early in the day, so the quality of the light was surprising all the way up.

I saw lots of blackberries, in bloom and forming berries.

I also saw lots of unripe blueberries and I was going to show you some but this fly landed on a blueberry leaf and instead of getting shots of the blueberries I got a mediocre shot of the fly just before it flew off. And I forgot about the blueberries.

As its common name implies Indian cucumber root’s (Medeola virginiana) small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber, and Native Americans used it for food. The plant is 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.

The flowers of Indian cucumber root dangle under the leaves and usually have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are bright red- brown but I think they darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. I had to lift one of the leaves to get this shot, so you have to look carefully to see them.

Halfway up the mountain I found the meadow ready to be cut for hay. That’s Mount Monadnock in the background.

It looked like the meadow was full of orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata,) which I’m sure the Scottish Highland cattle that live here appreciate. George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.” As this photo shows, it’s also beautiful when it flowers.

Orange hawkweed bloomed profusely in the meadow and what I believe were great spangled fritillary butterflies enjoyed them. I hoped to get a shot of their pretty silver spotted underwings but I never did. I did see them once or twice though.

This one turned around on the flower head so I could look into its eyes.

And what eyes it had. Amazingly beautiful. I’d love to be able to see through eyes like that, just once.

The fire tower looked unmanned and I wasn’t surprised. The fire danger isn’t very high now, thankfully.

Staghorn sumacs were soaking up the sun and doing their best palm tree impersonation.

Mountain white cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) is also called three toothed cinquefoil because of the three large teeth at the end of each leaf. The white 5 petaled flowers are small; maybe a half inch across on a good day. They are said to bloom for 2 or 3 months and make an excellent choice for a sunny rock garden that doesn’t get too hot, because they don’t like heat. I would think that they must struggle a bit up here in full sun all summer but they’re spreading all over the summit.

This shot perfectly illustrates why I always say I don’t climb for the views. I like to see the views as much as anyone but if I was disappointed every time the views weren’t good I’d spend a lot of time being disappointed. I see so many interesting and beautiful things while I’m climbing a hill or mountain by the time I reach the summit the view is secondary; just icing on the cake.

Despite the haze I tried to get a few good shots because I know people like to see them. This view of Mount Monadnock wasn’t too bad.

I love the blue shading on the distant hills and I could just sit and look at them the entire time I spent here. Every peak is followed by a valley, like waves on the sea.

Reaching what I call the near hill would still be a long walk.

The bushes seen flowering in some of these shots are smooth arrow wood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum.) the shrub has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and it can be seen blooming just about everywhere right now. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

It took all the zoom my camera had in it to get this shot of the wind turbines over in Antrim.

Since I’ve said enough about the old ranger’s cabin in previous posts I thought I’d skip it this time and I did, until I was coming down off the summit. It was then that I saw a window open that was boarded up the last time I was here.

The first time this happened I thought it was probably a bear, but bears don’t usually sit in white plastic lawn chairs and there were now several of them on the front porch. I could see one inside as well, so I had a good idea where the ones on the porch came from.

The inside looked trashed, and American flags were on the floor among the litter. Some may feel that a flag is just a piece of cloth but a flag, any flag, always stands for something, and both it and what it stands for deserve respect. It’s hard to see old places like this vandalized but it looks like that’s what has happened. Hopefully someone from the Forest Service or someone else in charge will board the window back up.

Just inside the window there was a table and it had an Audubon magazine on it. It was from 1988 and it cost three dollars. That seems like a lot for back then.

I could have gone back down the mountain fretting about the vandalism I saw but since there is little I could do about it other than making it known by showing it here, I chose instead to marvel at the smallness of a creature that can live between the upper and lower surface of a sarsaparilla leaf. I sometimes feel like I’m just bouncing from one astonishment to another.

Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture your heart. ~Native American saying.

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Last Saturday I planned to climb Pitcher mountain in Stoddard but the weather people said we’d have showers in the afternoon so instead I went up to the Beaver Brook Natural area in Keene to walk the old abandoned road. Since it is one of my favorite places to explore it had been calling to me, especially since I hadn’t been there since April.

Fall is in full swing and though the old double yellow no passing lines are still on the road you couldn’t see them because of all the leaves.

Beaver Brook had as much stone as water in its bed. Since we’re still in a drought that was no surprise. Our streams and rivers tend to be very rocky.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bloomed along the brook. Witch hazel is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, but I was surprised to see these blossoms this early. Some Native American tribes steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in their sweat lodges to soothe aching muscles and others made tea from it to treat coughs. As is often the case Natives had a use for virtually every part of the plant and witch hazel is still in use today. It can be found as a lotion in almost any drugstore. Witch hazel blossoms are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths, but this year the moths may have help from several other insects I’ve seen still flying. The “hama” part of witch hazel’s scientific name means “at the same time” and is used because you can see leaves, flowers, and the prior year’s fruit all at once on the same plant.

Striped maples lit up the dark spots with their hand size, green turning to white leaves. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped with green and white vertical stripes. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

It was a beautiful fall day and it was easy to get lost in the kaleidoscope of colors.

Many of our roads are lined yellow because that’s the color native sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) turns in the fall. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla strangely contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There are some fairly large ledges out here and lots of stone falls from them so I only go near the ones that I’m fairly sure are stable.

The reason I go near the ledges at all is to see things like the dog lichens (Peltigera) that grow here. They are as big as a dinner plate, so I think they’ve grown here for a long time. Dog lichens are good examples of lichens that will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses help provide the moisture that they need. It is very thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined on this example.

I also find smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) on the ledges here. The blue color is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies, which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. In addition to blue it can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.  The greenish-gold background color is the color of the body (thallus) of this crustose lichen. It’s a very beautiful thing.

This was the only New England aster I saw here.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) bloomed all along the old road. I never knew until now that so much of it was here.

A bald faced hornet worked the goldenrod blossoms and was quite docile as I got close with my camera. That was unusual behavior because these wasps can be aggressive. I opened a shed door at work this past summer and was immediately stung on the face by one of them. They really pack a punch and their sting hurts more than a bee or other wasps I’ve had run-ins with.

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) had lost all its berries to critters but it had some fall color.

I was surprised to see “true” Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) growing beside the false. It’s berries were also gone. This plant has blue berries that dangle under its leaves and false Solomon’s seal has red berries at the end of its stem. Native Americans sprinkled dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but that’s assuming you know how to prepare the roots and young shoots correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant useable.

This was the first time I had seen Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) growing out here. I noticed that it had the bright crimson splotch on its upper tier of leaves that I first noticed just a few weeks ago. I’ve read that scientists believe that the red color attracts certain birds like turkeys to the plant’s berries.

Though there are no houses out here the electric company still uses the cleared space of the old road to run its electric lines to houses further up the line.  

And there is a tree on the lines almost every time I come here. You’d think they’d get tired of removing them.

Oyster mushrooms are pure white and seem to always grow in overlapping clusters but in this case there were only two or three. They have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap. Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not  oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) still bloomed here under the trees but in most places they’re all done.

I stopped to chatter with a little friend who had been following me and telling all the other forest creatures I was coming.

But I couldn’t visit with the chipmunk long because dark clouds were moving in fast. They changed my mind about sliding down the embankment to get a shot of Beaver Brook falls.

The weather people had been correct this time and I was glad not to be mountain climbing in the rain. Though this view looks perfectly calm and sun filled the dark clouds were right behind me all the way back and by the time I reached my car it had just started to rain.

The days may not be so bright and balmy—yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

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Last Saturday was a beautiful cool, sunny day perfect for a walk in the woods, so I chose one of my favorite rail trails in Swanzey. It crosses the Ashuelot river and I thought I’d see how low the water was.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) often turn a beautiful pumpkin orange in the fall and it looked like they were well on their way.

There was nothing strange about finding Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) out here but what was very odd about this particular plant was the bright red splotch on its upper tier of leaves. I’ve never seen this before. It looks like someone has dripped paint on it but no, it was part of the leaf color. I’ve never seen this plant turn red in the fall so I can’t explain it.

What may have been a Virginia ctenucha moth caterpillar crawled up a grass stem. According to the I naturalist website this caterpillar inhabits wet meadows and open spaces with bushes from North Carolina to Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. It was quite small.

A woodpecker of some sort made a hole right below the stitched holes made by a sapsucker, which is another woodpecker. Not something you see every day.

I saw a young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) just up out of the soil and pushing up the leaf litter.

There were many fly agarics all along the trail. They often grow in large colonies.

Maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) grew on many species of tree along this trail. I like this lichen’s simplicity; what you see is what you get with this one. The white fringe around the outside is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify it, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it.

This trail is level, wide and shaded and a lot of bike riders use it. I saw one with a flat tire on this day, so they had to turn from rider to hiker. I hoped they didn’t have too far to go.

Big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) is a common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning other mosses. In fact I’ve never seen a moss grow as fast as this one. It’s everywhere I go now and just a few years ago I hardly saw it. I put my hand in this moss on this day and found it soft and thick like a cushion, and also quite damp.

I’ve wondered if the dampness that the moss seems to retain is why so many other plants come up through it. This pink lady’s slipper certainly seemed happy surrounded by it. Many mosses soak up water like a sponge and release it slowly over time and I have a feeling that this is one of them.

New England asters bloomed in only one spot on this day but it was a beautiful plant, loaded with blossoms.

What I think were common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum) puffballs grew all along the trail. I was surprised because I usually only see maybe one or two each year. Another name for it is the pigskin poison puffball because it is toxic. It likes to grow on compacted soil like that found on forest trails. They often have a yellow color on their surface and are also called citrine earth balls because of it. I’ve seen them with a beautiful lemon yellow color.

Someone had shot off a bottle rocket from somewhere and it landed out here on the trail. It’s a wonder it didn’t start a fire. Dry white pine needles are excellent material for starting a campfire.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly at first but this is how they end up. The odd thing about this example is how the flower didn’t stand up straight after it was pollinated, or maybe it wasn’t pollinated. Usually once pollinated the flowers will stand perfectly vertical and look directly up at the sky, and that’s how the current phase of their lives will end.

I was very surprised to see shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) here. I’ve only seen this plant in two other places so it seems to be on the rare side in this area. It is also called flame leaf sumac, dwarf sumac, or winged sumac. These shrubs were about chest high but I’ve read that they can reach about 8-10 feet. The foliage turns a beautiful, brilliant orange-red in fall.

I was also surprised to see a red trillium (Trillium erectum) still hanging on to its leaves. Once the plant is done flowering in late April to mid-May the leaves don’t usually last long. They like cool, damp weather but they certainly haven’t had any of that this year.

I was finally at the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle where I could see what the water level of the river was out here in the middle of nowhere. In Keene the river is so low that for the first time in my memory Ashuelot falls on West street have gone dry.

It’s hard to tell from photos but the river in this spot was about as low as I’ve ever seen it. If you walked across it here under the old trestle I doubt you’d even get your knees wet.

Some trees looked appropriately fall-like but they were also in bright sunshine. I’ve noticed that some trees are changing early and they say it’s due to stress from lack of rain. 

Though I would have loved to have stayed in the woods for days of course I couldn’t, so I turned and followed the trail back. And, I should add, I saw all kinds of things that I missed the first time. And that’s why John Burroughs said To find new things, take the path you took yesterday.  

I would have plenty of company on my walk back. Chipmunks are having a good year and they’ll have good times in the future, because we have a good crop of acorns and the pine trees are loaded with cones. It looks like a mast year.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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Since it had been about a year since my last visit and since I was interested in seeing what aquatic plants might be blooming, I decided to go up to Goose Pond last weekend. The pond is part of a five hundred acre wilderness area that isn’t that far from downtown Keene. Goose Pond was called Crystal Lake and / or Sylvan Lake in the early 1900s. The pond was artificially enlarged to 42 acres in 1865 so the town of Keene would have a water supply to fight fires with. Wooden pipe fed 48 hydrants by 1869, but the town stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s, and in 1984 it was designated a wilderness area. The vast forest tract surrounding the pond has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s.

One of the first things I saw were these fungi growing on a fallen hemlock log and despite their odd shapes I believe they were hemlock varnish shelf fungi. Hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) can be quite big and their color can vary greatly but they’re almost always shiny on top, hence the “varnish” part of the common name. In China this mushroom is called the Reishi mushroom and it has been used medicinally for centuries. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese medicine and scientists from around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

I think we’ll have plenty of blackberries this year. I’ve never seen them bloom like they are now.

Beautiful blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) bloomed in the shallow water along the shore.

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

What is exciting, at least for me, is how this was only the second time in my life that I’ve seen this, and since I’ve spent a lot of time in nurseries and forests I’m guessing this is a rare sight. Seed leaves, as anyone who has ever started vegetables or flowers from seed knows, often look nothing like the true leaves.  In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves and feel tough and leathery. If you know of a beech tree that produces nuts, take a look underneath it in the spring for seedlings that still have their seed leaves.

In places the trail is one person wide but generally two people can pass easily. If you come here you should wear good stout hiking boots because there are a lot of roots and stones and in places it gets muddy. I’ve had questions from people afraid of getting lost out here and I did on this day as well. A man asked about following the trail all the way around the pond and I pointed out that the trees were blazed with white rectangles. But even without the blazes I told him, if the pond is on your right side when you start make sure it stays there the whole way around, and don’t leave the main trail. That way you’ll never get lost. Even though the trail does leave the water’s edge in a couple of places you can still tell where the pond is. It sounds like common sense but I’ve caught myself wandering off the trail before, especially when looking for slime molds or fungi. You need to pay attention to the trail as well as what grows along it.

A large colony of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) had been eaten down to about a foot high by deer. They’re one of our most beautiful native viburnums but they’ll never bloom while being constantly pruned like these were. Deer have to eat though, so I don’t fault them for doing a little pruning. At least they aren’t pruning someone’s vegetable garden.

I think is the best shot I’ve ever gotten of the tiered and whorled growth habit of the Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana.) It’s a very pretty plant and I saw a lot of them here. Since I just described their flowers in my last post I won’t put you through that again.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinite) grew in wet spots along the trail, and sometimes right in the water. It’s a large sedge that grows in big, 2 foot tall clumps. I like its drooping habit and I’m not the only one, because it has become a popular garden plant. Many animals and waterfowl eat different parts of sedge plants, especially the seeds. Other names for this plant are drooping sedge and long-haired sedge.

I’m not prone to blisters thankfully, but all of the sudden I felt what felt like a painful blister on the bottom of one of my toes, so I thought I’d sit down for a bit. I’ve had bouts of back pain for most of my life so I know a little about how to get past pain. Watching dragonflies helped me get my mind off it and trying to photograph them put me in another place altogether. When I got home and saw the photos though I saw something else on the cattail leaf under the dragonfly, so I thought I’d try to figure out what it was.

The toe was still bothering me when I started out again but not as bad as it had been and it didn’t matter anyway because I was half way around the pond and the only other way out of here was by boat or helicopter.

The bridge in the previous photo is chained to a nearby tree and I’ve heard people laugh about how “they must think that someone will steal it,” but that isn’t it. The chain is there to keep it from washing away in flooding, which has happened. It’s amazing what our small streams can do after a few inches of rain has fallen.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) grew near the stream that the bridge crossed. This is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes 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 thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the purple, fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers.

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

I saw lots red trillium (Trillium erectum) seed pods, so I’m guessing there will be lots more of them in the future.

The flowers on our native viburnums like the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers, which were just starting to open here. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

I sat beside the water again for a while to rest my toe and watch the dragonflies and saw another one of the husks on the same cattail leaf that the dragonfly was perched on, just like last time. I was fairly sure that I had seen this before and that was confirmed when I did some reading on the Dragonfly Woman’s blog. According to what I read I was seeing dragonflies not too long after they had emerged from the water. They crawl up a leaf or stick (with great effort) as nymphs and shed their exoskeletons, and that’s what the husks are. A part of metamorphosis is what I was seeing and I’m very grateful for having had the chance to see it. By the way, the Dragonfly Woman is a very knowledgeable lady. If you are at all interested in insects you can visit her here: https://thedragonflywoman.com/

A few years ago I found the only example of a northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) that I’ve ever seen here. On this day I found its single leaf, so I know it’s still alive and well. I hope to see it bloom again in late July. 

By the time I had made it to the odd stone that doesn’t belong here, my toe pain was gone. I’ve never been able to figure out what kind of rock this strange thing was made from but a lot of work went into making it square, with perfect 90 degree corners and very smooth faces. It’s about 5-6 inches on a side and dark colored like basalt, which makes it even more of an enigma. It’s too short to be a fence post but in the 1800s people didn’t spend hours of their time working on something like this for a lark, so it was used for something. How it ended up partially buried in the trail is a mystery. I’d love to be able to dig it up and see, but of course that isn’t possible. I wonder if it’s just the very top of a marker of some sort.

Or maybe the odd stone is the very top of a gravestone. People did live out here at one time, as evidenced by the stone walls that are found crisscrossing the landscape. In fact this entire forest was most likely pastureland in the 1800s, probably abandoned when the men went to work in the woolen mills, furniture, or shoe factories that had suddenly sprung up everywhere. They made more money in the mills for less strenuous work and many left farming altogether. Piling up all those stones and cutting down trees with an axe is hard work; I’ve done both and I hate to say it but I probably would have followed them to the mills.

As I was leaving this dragonfly flew toward me and landed right on the trail between my feet and stayed there, letting me take as many photos as I wanted. It had the same markings as those I had seen earlier on the cattail leaves, and I think it’s a calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa.) I also think it’s a male, but with my poor record of insect identification I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Juvenile males look different than adults so it can be confusing, especially if you’re colorblind. In the end it really didn’t matter what its name was because it and others of its kind had taken me on a fascinating journey, and that was enough.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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I was afraid our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) were late this year but it turned out to be impatience on my part that made it seem so. As this photo shows, they’re doing fine. These plants shown grow in a wet roadside ditch but it hasn’t rained enough to amount to anything for a while now, so their ditch has gone dry.

I’ve noticed the curl on the petals of these and other flowers. This is usually a sign of stress, in this case dryness. I’ve also notice the level of water in our river is low and lawns are starting to burn. It’s hard to believe after all the rain we had this spring. The name “flag” comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves. Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic. I’m happy just admiring their beautiful flowers.

Pretty little bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Just like the dogwood tree flower the large (relatively) white bracts of bunchberry surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give it its common name. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Dogwood (Cornus) blossoms have 4 large white bracts surrounding the actual small greenish flowers in the center, just like bunchberries. They have both just come into bloom.

Plant breeders have been working on tradescantia and I’ve seen purple and white flowered varieties as well as the standard blue. I find this purple flowered one in a local park. Interesting but I like the blue that I grew up with best. Bees, especially bumblebees, seem to like this one best though. Why that is, I don’t know.

I think this is my new favorite tradescantia, at least for this year. The white flowers with a hint of blue mixed in make for a striking blossom, in my opinion. This is the first year I’ve ever seen it and, since it was growing in a clump of blue flowered plants, I wonder if it isn’t a natural hybrid.

Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) is in full bloom now and is a plant held in high regard for its hard to find clear blue color. This is another tough native plant that bees love. People love it too, and it is now sold in nurseries. The black seed pods full of loose, rattling, seeds that follow the flowers were once used as rattles by children. Not surprisingly, other common names include rattle weed and rattle bush. Native Americans made a blue dye from this native plant that was a substitute for true indigo.

When I was a boy we had a hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth. The one pictured looked and smelled just like those old cabbage roses and I had a hard time leaving it. It brought back a lot of great memories.

One of the strangest little flowers I find in the woods hides under the tiered, whorled leaves of the Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) and they have just started blooming.

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. 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.

False Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) have just started blooming. The largest example I’ve seen was close to three feet tall but normally they grow lower to the ground with an arching growth habit. They always seem to have tiny black beetles on them and if you look closely you’ll see several on these blossoms.

False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. 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 used crushed false Solomon’s seal roots to stun fish. Others used the plant medicinally.

A flower that will always say June to me is the Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare.) I was married in June and because we couldn’t afford flowers from the florist we picked hundreds of Ox eye daisies. They wilted quickly and looked much better in the meadow than in a vase, and I don’t think I’ve ever picked one since. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. I always like to see their spiraled centers.

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive but it does form monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. It grows in the shade of the forest and it does very well there. Its tiny white four petaled flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals, and of course they help its spread.

Red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) never looks red to me; it always looks purple. But whatever the color it always looks beautiful to me. When I can see it anyway. Red sandspurry was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s but it could hardly be called invasive. It is such a tiny plant that it would take many hundreds of them just to fill your shoe.

This photo of a red sandspurry blossom over a penny that I took a few years ago will give you an idea of just how tiny they are. Each one could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. For those who don’t know, a penny is .75 inches [19.05 mm] across. I’m guessing you could fit 8-10 blossoms on one.

There is a tree in a local park that I wondered about for years before finally discovering it was a red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) which is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) I’ve read that bees and hummingbirds love the beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They grow at the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. This plant is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed, but there are over 50 different chickweeds. The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals. This is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The flowers of greater stitchwort are also larger.

Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. I like its color and it’s nice to see it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses but it can be a real problem in gardens.

I once worked for a lady who absolutely loathed anemones and forbade me to plant them in her yard. I never heard the whole story so I don’t know why she had such a reaction to them, but when I pointed out that she already had anemones growing right there in her yard in the form of meadow anemones (Anemone canadensis ) she softened a bit. Since she had traveled and lived all over the world I’m guessing it must have been some type of foreign anemone she didn’t like. I’ve seen photos of a lot of different anemones from around the world and I’ve always thought they were beautiful, but what do I know? Meadow anemone is an old fashioned garden favorite that has much larger flowers than our other native wood anemone.  This plant is also called crowfoot because of the foliage. Native Americans used this plant for many different medical reasons.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today in fact, but I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the small, pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and other insects. The surface of the flower is roughly pebbled, presumably to make it easier for the butterfly to hang onto. Though it was used by Native Americans to treat pain and infections the plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some south eastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s.

Now that the common lilacs are done blooming the dwarf Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri) take over. They are fragrant but have a different scent than a common lilac. I recently walked through a park where dwarf lilacs, fringe trees, and black locusts, all very fragrant flowers, were all blooming at once and it was unbelievable. I thought I’d float away. Though called Korean lilac the original plant was found in a garden near Beijing, China by Frank Meyer in 1909. It has never been seen in the wild so its origin is unknown. If you love lilacs but don’t have a lot of room this one’s for you. They are a no maintenance plant that is very easy to grow.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

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Last Friday I cut wood for most of the afternoon at work and come Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling very agile, so I decided to take an easy, gentle and very beautiful walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene. I think I must have been about 10 years old the first time I walked this trail and it has been one of my favorite places to go ever since. You really never know what you’ll see here and I think 9 times out of 10 I come back surprised at what I’ve seen.

The biggest surprise of this day was a few clumps of yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing on the river bank. I’ve searched for this plant for many years and found it only in one other spot in the woods by a pond that was very difficult to get to, but now here it is, right out in the open. This iris is a native of Europe and was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire, though in my experience it is a rarity in this part of the state. It’s a beautiful flower but now I do wonder what the banks of the river might look like 50 years from now if the plants are left alone.

In places the riverside trail is about 4 people wide but most of it is more like 2 people wide. Though I have no proof I believe the original trail is thousands of years old; once used by the Native Americans who used to fish, hunt and camp here. Natives were known to populate the Keene area and a little further upriver a school was built a few years ago and many Native artifacts estimated to be somewhere near 12,000 years old were found.

American water horehound (Lycopus americanus,) with its purple leaves, grew along the bank of the river. An interesting fact about this plant is how the Native American Iroquois tribe considered it poisonous, but the Cherokees used it to treat snakebite in both people and dogs. Usually I find that a plant used medicinally by one tribe was used in much the same way by other tribes, but not this one. In modern times it is used by herbalists to treat a variety of ailments including anxiety and insomnia.

A hoverfly found an ox-eye daisy very inviting. One of its wings seemed a little skewed but it looked like it could fly with no problems.

Like the ribs of an ancient sunken ship the branches of a fallen tree rose up out of the river. I read recently that in June 24, 1819 the New Hampshire legislature granted permission for the river, from this point south to where it meets the Connecticut River, to be dredged for steamboat travel. A toll on the steamers would be no more than 50 cents per ton of weight. Locks were built and in November of 1819 the first steamer 60 feet long and capable of carrying 15 to 20 tons, arrived in Keene. The venture seemed promising for a few years but the arrival of the railroad finally dashed the hopes of those wanting to see steamboats traveling the Ashuelot. Thanks goes to Alan Rumrill, director of the Cheshire County Historical Society, for this interesting bit of historical knowledge. If I saw a riverboat floating on the Ashuelot today I think I’d have to be revived.

Recent rains and high humidity helped a slime mold to grow on a well-rotted log. This slime mold is called coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides) and it loves to grow on rotted logs after a rain.

Coral slime mold is a plasmodial slime, which means that it moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. They then shift from the growth stage to the fruiting stage. Slime molds die if they dry out, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain. One of the most fascinating things about slime molds is how they move. They are thought of as a giant single cell with multiple nuclei which can all move together as one at speeds of up to an inch per hour. According to Wikipedia “A plasmodial slime mold is enclosed within a single membrane without walls and is one large cell. This super cell (a syncytium) is essentially a bag of cytoplasm containing thousands of individual nuclei.” Slime molds aren’t plants and they aren’t fungi. They come closer to being amoebas than anything else and are believed by some to have simple brains. My question is how they know what the others are “thinking?” They seem to have the same “group think” abilities as a school of fish or a flock of birds, and that is really quite amazing.

My daughter was with me on this day and she found a broken robin’s egg, so I’m guessing that mom and dad are keeping very busy these days. If what I’ve read is accurate they will feed the young until they learn how to feed themselves. That could take as long as a month.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) blossomed along the river. You can just see the tiny, almost microscopic wisps of whitish flowers at the pointed ends of some of the upper spiky protrusions (perigynia.) This plant is also called bottlebrush sedge, for obvious reasons. It’s very common near water and waterfowl and some songbirds love its seeds.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) started blooming a while ago. This plant has a very long blooming period; I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months, even into November. I usually find more of them in waste places but I see them just about everywhere I go. It is considered a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to grow in unused pastures, or cleared or burned areas. Woodchucks and rabbits will eat the leaves and stems. Native Americans made a tea from the plant which was used as medicine for digestive ailments. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) was getting ready to blossom in sunnier spots. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf.

Invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) grew everywhere out here and in this shot it is growing up a dead tree. I just featured this rose in my last flower post so I won’t say much about it, other than its fragrance was astounding.

Insects love multiflora rose and that is the problem with its invasiveness, because birds love the rose hips that pollinated flowers produce. But just try to stop it; the genie is out of the bottle and there is no stopping it or any of the other invasive plants that are in this country.

Luckily invasive plants haven’t choked out all of our natives. Here was a large colony of Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana,) all in bloom.

The 3 large styles of Indian cucumber root darken as they age. 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 was a beautiful day to be on the river, but the big puffy clouds in the distance reminded me that there was a chance of a real old fashioned thunderstorm. When I was a boy our house had a covered porch and I used to love sitting on it and watching thunderstorms as they rumbled by. I don’t have a porch now but I still love a good summer thunderstorm.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were quite a few growing in this part of the river where the water was so still it hardly moved at all.

The little red bridge is my signal to turn and go back because not too far after it is a highway full of cars. Both my daughter and I were surprised by the time. What seemed like a relatively short walk had taken us hours, but that’s what happens when you become lost in the beauty of nature and start discovering things that you’ve never seen before; time is a very easy thing to forget.

My favorite photo of this day was of what I think is American eelgrass (Vallisneria Americana.) I love the hypnotizing way it moves and undulates in the current of the river. It is also called tape grass and water celery, and it is an important food for turtles and other aquatic wildlife.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her.
~ Buffalo Joe

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My daughter had never been to Goose Pond in Keene so last Saturday we went and hiked around it. The pond is part of a five hundred acre wilderness area that isn’t that far from downtown Keene.  Goose Pond was called Crystal Lake and / or Sylvan Lake in the early 1900s. The pond was artificially enlarged to 42 acres in 1865 so the town of Keene would have a water supply to fight fires with. Wooden pipe fed 48 hydrants by 1869 but the town stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s, and in 1984 it was designated a wilderness area. The vast forest tract surrounding the pond has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s. 

Goose pond is unusual because it has a wide trail that goes all the way around it.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say the pond had a good trail all the way around it. There are lots of roots, rocks and mud, so anyone coming here should wear good hiking shoes or boots. It’s tough on the legs and knees. Or maybe I’m just getting older.

The start of the trail gets quite a lot of sun in places and it’s enough to make blackberries bloom well. Wild blackberries are twice the size of raspberries and very flavorful.

Yellow hawkweed also bloomed along the trail. This plant is having a very good year; I’ve never seen it bloom so well. Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) were showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers very early, I thought. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It’s a pretty little thing that is native to eastern North America.

Blue flags (Iris versicolor) bloomed here and there at the edge of the water. I thought I might see a lot of other aquatics like pipewort or water lobelia blooming here but I think I might have been too early.

People come here to swim, fish, bike ride, kayak or simply hike as I do. Though I’ve seen people kayaking here you have to walk up some steep hills to get to the pond, so you get a good workout for your efforts. It might be called goose pond but I’ve never seen a goose here. On this day we heard a loon calling but we never did see it.

The trail gets darker as you go along because more pines and hemlocks keep it in shade. In places it also trails away from the pondside and gets very dark.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) grew all along the trail in huge numbers like I’ve never seen. Like 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. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry.

There are many streams flowing down off the surrounding hills to the pond and in three spots there are bridges, but in many places you have to cross by hopping from stone to stone or simply walking through the water. I always wear good water proof hiking boots when I come here.

This bridge is chained to a nearby tree, not against theft but flooding. There has been severe flooding here in the past. It would be an awful lot of work hand carrying enough lumber to build a bridge all the way out here so I don’t blame them for not wanting to have it washed away and smashed on the rocks.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes 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 thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the purple, fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers.

There, swimming among last year’s leaves on the pond bottom were many salamanders; more than I’ve ever seen at one time and in one place before. You can just see this one swimming underwater just to the left of center in this photo.  Salamanders spend their lives near water because they lay their eggs in water, like all amphibians. When the eggs hatch, the larvae breathe with gills and swim. As they mature, they develop lungs for breathing air and go out onto the land, but will always try to stay near water.

What I think were chalk fronted corporal dragonflies flew all around us in sunny spots. This dragonfly gets its name from the chalky look of its white parts and the two bars near its head, which look like a US Army corporal’s insignia. It’s hard to see its wings in this photo because of the busy background.

A turtle sunned itself on a log. The day started out cool with a refreshing breeze but by this time it was starting to get warm on what the weathermen said would be an 80 degree day, so I thought the turtle would probably be plopping into the water soon.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinite) grew in wet spots along the trail, and sometimes right in the water. It’s a large sedge that grows in big, 2 foot tall clumps. I like its drooping habit and I’m not the only one, because it has become a popular garden plant. Many animals and waterfowl eat different parts of sedge plants, especially the seeds. Other names for this plant are drooping sedge and long-haired sedge.

In my teen years I used to visit many of the islands we have in our lakes using an easy to carry blow up raft. I even camped on many of them, so the island here in Goose pond always looks very inviting. I’d love to visit it someday but I doubt I still have the lung power to blow up one of those rafts. They used to get me dizzy and winded even when I was 16.

No matter if you choose to go clockwise or counter clockwise around the pond, you’ll eventually come to a stone in the middle of the trail that you’ll immediately know doesn’t belong here. I’ve never bben able to figure out what kind of rock it was made from but a lot of work went into making it square, with perfect 90 degree corners and very smooth faces. It’s about 5-6 inches on a side and dark colored like basalt which makes it even more of an enigma. It’s too short to be a fence post but in the 1800s people didn’t spend hours of their time working on something like this for a lark, so it was used for something. How it ended up partially buried in the trail is a mystery.

I was hoping to see a few mushrooms and a slime mold or two at the pond, but all I saw were some swamp beacons. Swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans) are interesting fungi that grow in water and I find them in seeps where water runs year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark and this photo shows how they are growing out of saturated leaves. Another common name for swamp beacons is “matchstick fungus” and that’s exactly what they remind me of because they are just about the size of a wooden match. If you want to get shots of this fungus be prepared to get your knees wet. Mine always end up soaked.

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park? ~Ralph Marston

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