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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Cucumber Root’

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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Some coworkers of mine like to rock climb and they asked me if I knew any good places to do so, so I immediately thought of Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. People have climbed there for many years I’ve heard, but until this day I had never seen anyone doing so. To get to the trailhead you have to cross this meadow. It was about 70 degrees F. with wall to wall sunshine; not great for photography but perfect for climbing, I was told.

Meadow anemone (Anemone canadensis) grew at the edge of the meadow. It’s an old fashioned garden favorite that has much larger flowers than our other native wood anemone. Though it seems to spread out in a garden it’s easy to control. It’s also called crowfoot because of the foliage and it is also known as Canada anemone. Native Americans used this plant medicinally and its root and leaves were one of the most highly regarded medicines of the Omaha and Ponca tribes. It was used as an eye wash, an antiseptic, and to treat headaches and dizziness. The root was chewed to clear the throat so a person could sing better.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) also grew in the meadow and some of them were very blue indeed. I always enjoy seeing these cheery little flowers.

At one point a tree had fallen across the trail. I was surprised because you don’t usually see this here. The hill is privately owned and well maintained. But it must be a lot of work; I saw two other fallen trees that had been cut out of the trail with an axe.

Delicate hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) grew on the shaded sides of the trail. This fern gets its name from the way that it smells like fresh mown hay when you brush against it. The Native American Cherokee tribe used this fern medicinally to treat chills.

Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) bloomed along the sunnier sides of the trail. This plant has just started blooming but it looks like it will be a great year for them, and blueberries too.

Do you look at roots when you hike a trail? I do and I see many that so many feet have touched they look as if they’ve been sanded and polished. They can be very beautiful things, especially the roots of eastern hemlock like those seen here.

The bright harsh sunlight made photography a challenge, especially with a new camera that I don’t fully know (or like) yet, but this is a relatively accurate view of what the forest looked like from the inside.

Big, teardrop shaped leaves told me that Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) grew here. In fact they grew in large numbers. 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.

Native Americans used this plant as food because like its common name implies, its 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. 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 but I think they darken as they age. These appeared to be kind of orangey. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry.

I had warned my co-climbers that it would be a slow climb, what with me having to take photos of every living thing and stopping to catch my breath frequently, but we made it to Tippin Rock in good time. I had a good chance to catch my breath while my friends tried to tip the glacial erratic. They each took a turn while I watched, and each of them had the big 40 ton behemoth rocking like a baby cradle. It’s a very subtle movement and you have to watch the edge of the boulder against the background to see it. So far everyone I know who has made something this big move so easily has been amazed. When you think about all that had to happen for a perfectly balanced boulder to be sitting on the bedrock of this summit it boggles the mind.

After the rock there are the views and they weren’t bad on this day. Some decorative puffy white clouds would have made the scene a little more photogenic but you can’t have everything.

For years I’ve heard that New Hampshire has 4.8 million acres of forested land but it’s hard to wrap your head around a number like that until you’ve see something like this. Seemingly unbroken forest stretches to infinity. Or at least to the horizon.

I often wonder, when I’m in places like this, what I would have done in the 1700s if I had looked out over something like this, carrying only a gun and an axe. Would I have had the strength and courage to go on into the unknown or would I have turned back to relative safety? Of course it’s an impossible question to answer, but that’s the way wilderness makes you think. Back then there were bears, wolves, and very unhappy natives down there.

The friends I was with were all about hanging off ropes after crawling over the cliff edge but I was not. I had the heebie jeebies just looking at the edge shown in this photo from 10 feet back, so since I don’t have the stomach for such things I left them to their fun (?) and headed back down the hill. Now that they know where the spot is they can come and climb anytime they like. I made sure that they knew, and I think others who might be reading this and thinking about coming here should know; this is private land and permission has graciously been granted by the owners to the public for recreational use. Nothing but your footprints should be left behind when you leave.

Of course I couldn’t leave without saying hello to my little friends the toadstool lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) They’re very rare down below in my experience but up here they’re plentiful and that’s good because it makes me climb up to see them. Since I’ve met climbers in their 80s on these hills and haven’t been able to keep up with them I’m assuming that climbing must be good for you. In any event some of the lichens were dry, as shown by their ashy gray state. They are also crisp like a potato chip at this stage.

Some lichens found a spot near seeping groundwater on the cliffs and wore their happy pea green color. In this state they’re soft and rubbery and feel like your earlobe. They aren’t big; this one was about an inch across.

Some lichens were on the fence, part green and part gray, but they dry out quickly. I’ve seen them ashy and crisp two days after a pouring rain. I like their warty look, which always reminds me of distant solar systems. They’re another one of those bits of nature that can take me out of myself for a while.

I saw a blister, which I took to be some type of gall, on a blueberry leaf. It caught my attention because blueberries don’t seem to be attacked by many pests or diseases other than witch’s broom.

A dead branch looked purple in the forest but my color finding software sees blue. Either way, you don’t expect to find blue or purple on fallen branches. I have no way of knowing what caused the strange color but I would guess spalting. Spalting is any discoloration of wood caused by fungal hyphae growing along the softer sapwood. Though spalting usually happens on dead wood it can sometimes be found on live trees, which isn’t good for the tree. It can be very beautiful and spalted wood is highly prized by woodworkers.

A man does not climb a mountain without bringing some of it away with him, and leaving something of himself upon it. ~Martin Conway

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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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