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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Pipes’

By this time last year I had done two mushroom posts but this year I haven’t done any and that’s because it has been so dry from June on. Things are just starting to change and were getting some beneficial rain each week, and that means fungi of all kinds are just starting to show. Though the Indian pipes above are not fungi they grow in the same places and when I see them I know that I should start looking for mushrooms.

One of the first mushrooms to show in the late summer are purple cort mushrooms (Cortinarius iodeoides.) Young examples are very purple and lighten as they age. Squirrels and chipmunks won’t touch this one, possibly because it’s covered with a very bitter slime. This slime often makes the young examples look wet. Slugs don’t have a problem eating it and I often see white trails on the caps where they have eaten through the purple coating to the white flesh below.

I’ve known for a long time that purple cort caps lightened as they aged but I didn’t know they started at the center and worked outward. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a darker ring like this.

If they’re small, sticky and orange with bell shaped caps and grow on a cluster on a log they must be orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana.) These little (less than an inch across) mushrooms fruit from June through September and are fairly common. If you touch them the orange color will stain your fingers. Mycena mushrooms also come in bright red, pink and purple. Some also bleed a blood colored latex when cut.

I love this orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) and look for it every year at this time. It’s color is so bright it’s like a beacon in the woods and it can be seen from quite far away on fallen branches. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself” and that is often just what it does.

Though there are bolete mushrooms with gills most have pores. I think these examples were the flaming gold bolete (Pulveroboletus auriflammeus,) which have a mycorrhizal association with oaks. I think the white spots are slug damage which have molded over. Some boletes are edible but many are not so if you plan on eating mushrooms of any kind you should know them well. You get know them well by going on mushroom hunts with qualified mushroom foragers or, if you’re very lucky, by knowing a mycologist.

Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like the turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor,) and I’m fairly certain that I have misidentified it as such here on this blog. Once you get to know the two though, it’s obvious that the purple edges on these are not found on turkey tails.

The undersides of violet toothed polypores are a beautiful lilac purple color, and it’s easy to see where the “toothed”  part of the common name comes from. The teeth on toothed fungi are usually simply folds of tissue that hang like teeth. With mushrooms its all about increasing the spore bearing surface, be it by gill, pore or folded tissue because more spores mean a better likelihood of the continuation of the species.

I saw a log that had beautiful burl markings on it and when I got close enough to take a photo a frog jumped off it and landed in the leaves. The frog had blended into the burl so well that I hadn’t even seen it, and I suppose that was its point. I was so fascinated I forgot to get a photo of the burl, but I did get a frog portrait. It had hemlock needles stuck all over itself from being in the woods instead of in the water where its webbed feet told me it belonged.

A monarch butterfly chrysalis dangled from a blackberry cane like a jewel. I wish I could have stayed and watched as the butterfly emerged. The life cycle of this butterfly starts with egg, which hatches into the caterpillar. The caterpillar becomes the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis to start the cycle over again. Monarch butterflies can go through four life cycles per year.

This is the caterpillar of the American dagger moth, named for the dagger like markings on their wings. Dagger moths usually live in swampy woodlands and eat the leaves of many different tree species. When they can’t eat an entire leaf they cut it from the branch so it doesn’t give away its presence to birds. It is said that seeing half eaten leaves under a tree is a sign that one of these caterpillars might be above you.

Friends of mine have an invasion of Mexican bean beetles on their string beans. Though it looks like a ladybug it’s an orange yellow color. According to what I’ve read “The newly emerged adult is of a straw or cream-yellow color. Shortly after emergence, eight black spots of variable size appear on each wing cover, arranged in three longitudinal rows on each wing cover. The adults darken with age until they become an orange-brown with a bronze tinge, at which time the black spots are less conspicuous.”

Larva of the Mexican bean beetle is spiky and yellow. A few hours after molting, the tips of the spines become darker, so I’m guessing this one had gone through a recent molt; one of four molts during its development. It was found on the underside of a bean leaf. Both larva and adult beetles will feed on leaves, flowers and bean pods. One sign you may have them is having bean leaves with a lace like appearance.

This grasshopper that I haven’t been able to identify is at least the third one from this particular family of grasshoppers to live at my house and I see them every year at about this time on various pieces of wood. I’ve shown one of them before on this blog, saying at the time that I thought it was stuck in a crack in a 2 X 4. But it wasn’t stuck; it put its ovipositor in the crack to lay its eggs. Everything I’ve read about grasshoppers says that they lay their eggs in soil, but apparently the grasshoppers that live here  didn’t get the memo because they’ve been doing what you see this one doing for years.

Here is a better shot of its ovipositor buried in a wooden post. The first time I saw this I thought that grasshopper was stuck in a crack and when I tried to help it out it actually fought me and wriggled its ovipositor back in the crack. Do you see all the wood chips around it? I can’t find any information about grasshoppers being able to drill holes in wood, but scroll on.

Here is the hole the grasshopper drilled into the post. The thing that fascinates me about this is how they’ve returned to the same spot for at least three years now to lay their eggs at my house. Do they return to the same place each year to spawn like salmon? I can’t find answers to any of the questions I have about this but I can say that they have no fear of me and will sometimes even let me touch them without hopping off. The other day when it rained the one in these photos (I think) was sitting under the eaves so it wouldn’t get wet, and still sat there as I walked by it. It seems like very strange behavior for an insect, but what do I know? If you’ve ever heard of anything like this I hope you’ll let me know.

There isn’t anything strange about a great blue heron pretending to be a statue. They do it all the time and they have taught me a lot about patience. They have also shown me that they have far more patience than I do because I usually give up waiting for them to do something interesting and move on.

The berries of silky dogwood are turning from green to white to blue, and in the middle of that ripening process some of the berries are white and blue at the same time, as these berries show. I’ve always wondered if that’s where the ancient Chinese got the idea for their beautiful blue and white porcelain. That’s a question that will most likely never be answered but I’d say that it is a fair bet that most if not all ancient innovations came from studying nature. One need only to look at the spiral as an example; it is found in everything from the center of a sunflower to the shape of a hurricane to the Archimedes screw, and spirals have fascinated mathematicians, scientists, and artists for thousands of years.

The pretty little berries of bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) always remind me of tiny roma tomatoes, but you don’t want them in your spaghetti sauce because the plant is toxic. It contains solanine, which is the same toxic substance found in many members of the nightshade family including deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna.) Ripe berries are usually less toxic than the leaves and unripe berries, but even ripe berries can be poisonous. Though ancients used certain nightshades to poison each other not all nightshades are poisonous; tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant are also in that family.

A blue flag iris seed pod (Iris versicolor) had just opened when I stumbled across it. It looked like it had rows of menacing teeth and that might be a good thing considering this is another plant which, though very beautiful, carries names like dagger flower, dragon flower, and poison flag. Those who gather the roots of cattails have to be very careful not to gather the roots of blue flags along with them because this plant, like all irises, is toxic.

I think, even as a boy walking along the railroad tracks, that the startlingly beautiful blue of black raspberry canes always brought me a certain amount of joy. They were one of the things that taught me to just stop for a moment to enjoy what I saw, and I still have that habit today. As I’ve said here before, if you can find joy in the simple things in this life you’ll be full of joy no matter where you go, and I hope everyone has time to experience the joy and wonder that such simple things can bring.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ~John Muir

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Last Saturday the heat and humidity were supposed to return so I set off for one of my favorite rail trails. Since it was morning and the trail is mostly shaded I thought I’d be fine, but by the time I got back I was hot enough to complain about it.  The heat has kept me indoors just once since I’ve been doing this blog and that was the weekend before this walk when the heat index reached 104 degrees F. The humidity level was so high it made it very close to unbearable, so I spent my time next to an air conditioner. At least on this day the humidity wasn’t bad.

Right off I started seeing flowers, including this aster. I decided long ago that life is too short to spend days or weeks trying to identify asters and goldenrods, so I don’t know its name.

Steeplebush I do know and I was happy to see it. It’s a cousin of meadowsweet and is in the spirea family (Spirea tomentose) like that shrub is. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin. I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge and this one grew by the drainage ditch alongside the trail.

Cattails also grew in the drainage ditch and I liked the way the sunlight played on this one’s leaves. Darkish green is their natural color and the light green / yellow parts are caused by sunlight. When a ray of sunshine falls on a single plant or other bit of nature I always pay attention, and I’ve seen some beautiful things by doing so.

To some people sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine) isn’t a very exciting plant and I have to say that I haven’t had much to say about it over the course of this blog, but it is interesting. Sweet ferns are usually found growing in gravel at the edge of roads or in waste areas. They are small; about 3 feet tall-and have a mounding growth habit. The leaves are very aromatic and the scent can travel quite a distance on a hot summer day. It is said that crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin will keep insects away, and you can also make sweet fern tea from the foliage like Native Americans did.

The leaves of sweet fern do look sort of fern like and that’s how it gets its common name. I often run my hands over the leaves to release the fragrance that is held in tiny resin dots. The fragrance is what it is named for; some compare it to soap, others to spices or fresh mown hay. It is a very unusual scent that smells clean and a bit spicy to me. Sweet fern comes from the same family (Myricaceae) as the bay laurel, which is where bay leaves come from.

Once the spiky bur like husk opens the seed of the sweet fern, called a nutlet, appears.  Though the nutlets usually appear in clusters this example had just one. They’re very small at less than a quarter inch. Scientists have documented germination in seeds which had been in the soil for over 70 years and it is thought that seeds could still grow after lying in the soil for 100 years or more.

Hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) can grow in shade or full sun, so it was right at home along 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.

Stone walls are common along rail trails. It was a land owners way of telling the railroad where their right of way ended. Most of the walls along rail trails are very old.

This stretch of rail trail like many others in this area follows the Ashuelot river and you can get a glimpse of it every now and then. The embankment down to it is very high and steep though so actually getting near the river is all but impossible for me.

Some lucky homeowner has built a bridge right from his back yard to the rail trail. It’s easy to forget that these trails run so close to people’s homes but we shouldn’t forget. Just think how you’d feel if you had an endless procession of hikers, joggers, and bicyclists passing your house all day every day. It has to be annoying, so I don’t get upset when I see the occasional no trespassing sign.

In places the water in the drainage ditches had dried up, leaving multicolored mineral deposits behind.

You might have seen an acorn in the previous photo. All along the trail I heard the pfffft of them falling through the tree foliage. If I go by all the nuts and berries I’ve seen I’d guess that the animals will eat well this year.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) slowly turn their heads to the sky. Once they’re looking straight up at the sky that is the sign that they’ve been pollinated. They are also called ghost or corpse plants. Fresh stems contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that the Natives smoked and the uniflora part of the scientific name means a single flower, which is all each plant has.

Here is a rarely seen (on this blog) view into an Indian pipe flower. At the tips of the 10 stamens surrounding the center stigma are the anthers, colored yellow, which contain pollen. The anthers are open and shedding pollen at this stage.  In the center of the flower is the pollen-collecting stigma, which looks like a funnel between the yellowish stamens. Once pollinated each flower will eventually become a brown seed capsule. These capsules always look like beautiful little carved wooden flowers to me. Once they ripen they will split open into 5 separate parts to release tens of thousands of seeds to the wind. Each individual seed is only ten cells thick. Indian pipes are parasitic on certain fungi, which in turn are often parasitic on the roots of trees so in a roundabout way they get their food from trees.

Pretty little fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife blooms later. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed like they are on this example. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year.

The prize for the strangest thing I saw out here on this day goes to this golf ball.  I can’t imagine how anyone could play golf in a forest but maybe an animal stole it off someone’s lawn, I don’t know. It looked to be in new condition.

Before long I reached the trestle, where I stood for awhile thinking about how lucky I was to have a trail into the woods like this. It lets me see things that I’d never be able to see otherwise, like this stretch of river. If it wasn’t for the trail I’d have to bushwack my way through the woods or paddle upriver to get here. Thanks be to the snowmobilers who keep these trails open. They’re also the ones who add the wooden bits to the trestles so nobody drives their machines off them. That wouldn’t be good.

In this shot it doesn’t look like it would be much of a drop from the trestle to the river below.

But looks can be deceiving, and when I add some people in kayaks to the mix you can see that it would indeed be quite a drop. When I was a boy a friend of mine fell from the top of a trestle, which he had climbed, into the river. He lived to tell about it but I never saw him climb to the top of another one. The kayakers by the way were still,  pondering what to do about that big pine tree you can see up ahead that has fallen all the way across the river.

As the river bank showed, the water level is way down, but I’ve grown up on this river and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. If you want to walk across the Ashuelot River August is the time to do it in this area. I used to walk in the river when I was a boy, looking for old bottles. I found a lot of them too, and sold them to local bottle collecting clubs. That was when I learned what it was like to have money in my pocket and it was what led me to work at proper jobs, and that was how I lost my connection to nature for many years. Thankfully I was able to get it back.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.
~Edgar A. Guest

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The days have lengthened enough now so I can once again get outside after work and that’s always a relief. Having to take enough photos on a weekend for two blog posts can be a challenge, especially when it rains or snows on one of those weekend days. It gets dark at about 5:30 pm now and that means an hour or so to get into the woods. Not much time, but when you live in the woods you don’t have to go far. On this day I chose a bit of woodland near my house that has an old dirt road running through it.

The sun was low and the light was just right to show you the shiny ice that covers the snow. This ice makes breaking a trail through the snow difficult, at best. I can remember how hard it was even at 10 years old.

But someone had driven down this old road with a 4 wheeler or something and that broke the icy crust and packed down the snow, so walking here was a breeze.

A young white pine (Pinus strobus) had fallen across the road and someone had come along and cut it up. We’ve lost a lot of trees to the wind this year but most were dead or dying. This looked like a healthy young tree.

There is a small stream out here that feeds into a large swampy wetland. I was surprised to see it so free of ice.

It was obvious that a large flock of turkeys had been through here. Turkeys are very active in winter and I see them everywhere, but I always seem to be driving at the time so getting photos has proven harder than it should be.

Turkeys have big feet that they use to scratch up forest litter with as they look for food. They’ll get under a stand of evergreens where the snow is thin and scratch up large areas looking for acorns, beech nuts, grapes, or berries they’ve missed on previous hunts. When spring comes they’ll eat buds, fresh grasses, roots, and new leaves. In summer they’ll eat a lot of insects, including ticks.

Mosses look so delicate but they’re very tough and will weather the ice and snow like it wasn’t even there. This is one of my favorite mosses. I like the way its fingers reach out to find new spaces to grow in.

Though there may be snow everywhere you look winter can actually be a very dry season, and this moss was so dry it’s hard to tell what it is but I think it might be brocade moss (Hypnum imponens.) Brocade moss is often very shiny and can have an orange brown color. Its common name comes from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it grows on.

As I stopped to take photos I could hear a pine tree creaking as a breeze blew it gently back and forth. It was easy to believe that the sound would be the same on the deck of a wooden ship but it would be the mast creaking there, rather than the tree that it was made from. When this land was first colonized tall, straight pines were prized by the Royal Navy, and cutting any tree marked with the King’s broad arrow mark meant certain death. The trees became known as mast trees and the practice of the King taking the best trees led to the Pine Tree Riot in 1772. In an open act of rebellion colonists cut down and hauled off many marked mast pines in what was just a taste of what would come later in the American Revolution.

I stopped to admire the structure of a beech branch that stood out so well against the snow. Each twig is placed perfectly so one leaf doesn’t block the sunlight reaching another.

A golden puddle on the road told me the sun was quickly getting lower in the sky. This time between day and night is when the night creatures take over. I know this area well and I’ve seen some big bears near here but, though I’ve seen skunks coming out of hibernation already I doubt the bears are awake yet. It won’t be long though.

The old road leads to and around a large swamp. The breeze blew stronger here in this big open space but it was still fairly warm for February. It’s easy to imagine voices on the winds in such a place, whispering softly. For me it’s a peaceful, comforting sound but sometimes it can be a lonely one. I’ve heard that the wind drove early settlers on the Great Plains to madness but I think it was the loneliness more than the wind. It was the voices on the wind, sometimes whispering and sometimes howling, that told them how alone they really were. With a phone in my pocket I could talk to anyone anywhere at any time but they could not. Marty Rubin once said solitude is where one discovers one is not alone, but solitude is experienced differently by different people. For me it is simply a part of who I am and it brings me great joy, but I can understand how it might seem like a burden to others.

The southwest side of this sugar maple had sunscald, which is very different than frost cracking. Sunscald happens when southwest facing bark freezes at night after high daytime temperatures. Direct sunlight or sunlight reflecting off the snow can heat the bark during the day and bring it out of dormancy, and then when it freezes at night the active tissues are killed, resulting in the kind of wound seen here. Cracking and peeling bark is a sure sign of what is also called southwest disease. If this were a frost crack the crack in the bark would be absolutely vertical. This one curves like a snake and the dead bark around it covers a large area.

I’ve never seen witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blossoming out here but here was a large shrub with the telltale cup like bracts on it. It even had the petals still coming out of the bracts but they were still there from last fall and were frozen. Native witch hazels can bloom on a warm day in January but I’ve never seen one blooming this late. The spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) will be starting to bloom any time now.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly and grow in the dark places in the forest. They can get away with doing that because they don’t photosynthesize, but they do have flowers and when the flowers are pollinated they stand straight up from the shepherd’s crook shape seen here. This tells me that the flower seen here either wasn’t pollinated or didn’t see any need to stand up straight like all of its cousins. The seeds are fine like dust and I think the flower standing up straight must have something to do with rain being able to splash the seeds out of the capsule. Many plants and mosses use the same strategy for seed dispersal. Fresh Indian pipe plants contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems, and the common name comes from the pipes they smoked.

This is what the stained glass looks like in the cathedrals I visit.

I followed my own footprints back down the old road and saw how they meandered from this side of the road to that; a puddle of footprints where I stopped to admire something. This is how it should be for one who studies nature; meander like a toddler and be interested in everything. You see all the small, hidden jewels of the forest that way.

And find joy in the beautiful, simple things that make you smile, like a stream of molten gold weaving its way through a forest.

All this beauty, all this wonder, is right there in my back yard, and it’s in yours as well. I hope you’ll have a chance to get out and see it.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan watts

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I keep doing these mushroom posts for two reasons: First, we’ve had so much rain and warm weather they’re everywhere right now, including many I’ve never seen before. Second, I hope to convince you that mushrooms can be every bit as beautiful as flowers. You just have to look a little closer to see them, that’s all. Who could not see beauty in this little group of butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea)?

More and more coral mushrooms are beginning to appear. Many coral mushrooms get their common name from the way they resemble the corals found under the sea, as this one did. I think it is an ashy coral (Clavulina cinerea.) Not the prettiest perhaps, but it’s the first time I’ve seen one.

This one was very pretty. I think it might be a golden coral (Ramaria aurea.) I don’t see many yellow coral mushrooms of this kind so I was happy to find it.

Yellow spindle corals (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) are much easier to find and this year they’re everywhere. Each tiny cylinder is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. The tips are usually pointed but on this example they were rounded. This species usually grows in tight clusters, often in the hard packed soil on the side of the trail, but lately I’ve found them on the forest floor as well.

Another fungus I’ve never seen is called worm coral or fairy fingers, though it is said to be common. It’s a white spindle mushroom named Clavaria vermicularis. There were several clusters of it growing in a large group in a mossy lawn. They are said to be so fragile that just a touch will break them.

Some of the white coral cylinders had begun to curl around the others in this group and others had broken. This fungus grows straight up out of the soil and usually doesn’t branch. The tips sometime become pointed and turn brown like some of these did.

I finally saw a yellow patches mushroom (Amanita flavoconia) with its patches still on. The patches are small pieces of the universal veil that covers the mushroom when it is young. The veil is made of very thin tissue and as the mushroom grows it tears through it, and bits are left on the cap. Apparently the rain can wash them off because I’ve seen many with no patches showing. This mushroom is in the Amanita family, which contains some of the most toxic mushrooms known. I’ll say it again: never eat a mushroom that you’re not 110% sure is safe. They don’t call some of them death caps and destroying angels for nothing.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are not mushrooms but they like dark forests and plenty of moisture just like mushrooms, so when I go mushroom hunting I usually find them as well. These plants slowly turn their single bell shaped flower from looking at the ground to looking straight up to the sky, and that is the sign that they’ve been pollinated. They are also called ghost plants. Fresh stems contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that the Natives smoked.

Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) are everywhere this year. These tiny mushroom almost always grow in clumps like that seen here. This is a gelatinous mushroom that often feels slippery and another name for it is slippery cap. It is also called green slime fungus and the gumdrop fungus. The lubrica part of its scientific name means slimy. They are very small; usually a clump this size could sit on a penny with room to spare, so you have to train your eyes to see small.

How do mushrooms that have just come out of the soil stay so clean? These had just pushed their way up through the wet leaves and had hardly a speck of soil on them. You’d think they’d be at least a little muddy. I think they were orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana,) but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Mushrooms don’t always have to have a cap and a stem to be beautiful. I love this orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) and look for it every year at this time. It’s color is so bright it’s like a beacon in the woods and it can be seen from quite far away on fallen branches. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself” and that is often just what it does.

I found this reddening lepiota (Leucoagaricus americanus) growing in a sunny meadow that had been logged recently. It was big; the cap must have been 4 inches across, and it was a beautiful thing. It is called reddening lepiota because it is said to turn red wherever it is touched, but since I didn’t touch it I can’t confirm that.

I saw one of the largest black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) I’ve ever seen on a beech log. This is just one part of a mass that must have had a total length of a foot or more. Some of it was shiny and some had a matte finish like that pictured. When it comes to jelly fungi, spores are produced on the shiny surface. They can absorb up to 60 times their weight in water and when dry shrink down to little flakes. This fungus is also called black witch’s butter and black jelly roll.

There are three bolete mushrooms that I know of that have webbed stalks that look similar to this one, so the caps have to tell the story. Russell’s bolete (Boletus russellii) shown here has a yellow-brown velvety cap that gets scaly and cracked on top as it ages. The shaggy stalked bolete (Boletus betula) has a small cap that looks far out of proportion to the stem; like it was stunted somehow. Frost’s bolete (Boletus frostii) has dark red sticky caps with red undersides and is also called the apple bolete. Sometimes amber colored drops appear on the surface of that one’s cap. Boletes have pores on the cap underside instead of gills.

Nothing in nature is done on a whim; everything is done for a reason, so how does a deeply grooved stalk like this one benefit a mushroom?  Does it keep slugs from crawling up it? These are the kinds of questions that come to me when I’m in the woods and I don’t really expect anyone to try and answer them. Unless you happen to know the answers, that is.

I’m seeing a lot of puffballs this year. These examples were common earth balls (Scleroderma citrinum,) which are also called the poison pigskin puffballs.  Though these grew on a well-rotted log they normally like to grow on compacted earth and are not common in this area. They often have a yellow tint on their surface and are called citrine earth balls because of it.

One of my favorite fungal finds for this post is called the tiger’s eye mushroom (Coltricia perennis.) One reason it’s unusual is because it’s one of the only polypores with a central stem. Most polypores are bracket or shelf fungi. The concentric rings of color are also unusual and make it look like a turkey tail fungus with a stem. The cap is very thin and flat like a table, and another name for it is the fairy stool. They are very tough and leathery and can persist for quite a long time.

I showed a young and very dark purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides) in my last post so this time I thought I’d show one further along to illustrate how they lighten with age. The handy acorn helps show the scale of this pretty mushroom.

One of the prettiest mushrooms in the woods right now are black chanterelles (Craterellus cornucopioides.) I met a mushroom forager once who told me that this mushroom was considered a choice delicacy and at that time restaurants were paying him $50.00 per pound for them, and they’d buy all he could find. But the trouble was finding them; mushroom hunters say they are very hard to find because looking for them is like looking for black holes in the ground. Some say they can look right at them and not see them but for me they seem very easy to find, and I think that’s due to my colorblindness. I’ve read that armies keep colorblind soldiers because they can “see through” many types of camouflage, and I think that must be why I can see these mushrooms so clearly when others can’t.

Black chanterelles are really deep purple. They are also called the deep purple horn of plenty. They seem to like growing on hillsides; that’s the only place I’ve ever found them.

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread like hyphae. When mushroom spores grow they produce mycelium, which eventually produces fruit, which is the above ground portion that we see. The beautiful mycelium in this photo grew on the underside of a log and I never would have seen it if I hadn’t rolled the log over. Mycelium growths are thought to be the largest living things on earth. A huge honey mushroom (Armillarea ostoyae) mycelium in Oregon’s Blue Mountains covers 2,384 acres and holds the record for the world’s largest known organism. It is thought to be between 2,400 and 8,650 years old.

I met a  twenty something girl and her dog on a wooded trail recently. I had a camera around my neck as usual and she must have thought I was birding because she stopped and told me where to find some ducks and a heron. I thanked and told her that actually I was looking for mushrooms, and that’s when she lit up. “Oh,” she said, “I just saw one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was a red mushroom with what looked like white mold on it, and the mold sparkled like crystals. Who would ever believe that a moldy mushroom could be so beautiful?” I had to laugh, and I told her that I had a photo at home that almost matched what she had just described. “So I’d believe it,” I told her, and then we both laughed. It was nice to meet someone so full of the love and beauty of nature. She smiled from ear to ear and her eyes sparkled when she spoke and she was just bubbling over with joy at what she had seen. Well my fungal friends, I thought as I walked on, it seems we have a new convert.

All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child. ~Marie Curie

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I haven’t been to the Beaver Brook natural area in Keene for a while so last weekend I decided take a walk up the old abandoned road. This road was gated when a new highway was built in the 1970s, but my father and I used to drive over it to visit relatives when I was a boy.  Back then the road went all the way to the state capital in Concord and beyond, but the new highway blocked it off and it has been a dead end ever since. At what is now the end of the road is a waterfall called Beaver Brook Falls and I thought I’d go see how much water was flowing over it. We’ve had a lot of a rain this year.

The old road follows along beside Beaver Brook and was originally built to access a sawmill which was built on the brook in 1736. In 1735 100 acres of “middling good land” and 25 pounds cash was offered to anyone who could build a sawmill capable of furnishing lumber to the settlement of Upper Ashuelot, which is now called Keene. Without a sawmill you lived in a log cabin, so they were often built before anything else in early New England settlements. The headwaters of Beaver Brook are in Gilsum, New Hampshire, north of Keene.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) grows prolifically here and is one of the first plants I notice at this time of year because it towers above everything else. The one growing up past the top of this photo must have been 8 feet tall. These plants usually end up with powdery mildew by the end of summer and this year they all seem to have it here. I was a bit surprised to see it though because this summer hasn’t been all that humid. It could be that the closeness of Beaver Brook makes the air slightly more humid. It is also usually very still here, with little wind.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, fall starts at the forest floor and lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) tells me that fall is in the air. This is the only fern that I know of with fronds that turn white in the fall.

If you aren’t sure that you have a lady fern by its fall color you can always look at its sporangia, which are where its spores are produced. They are found on the undersides of the leaves and look like rows of tiny black eggs. The little clusters are usually tear drop shaped.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides,) one of our most beautiful native shrubs, was also whispering of fall.

Hobblebush berries start out green then turn to red before finally becoming deep purple black, so they’re at their middle stage right now.

A hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) crawled on a goldenrod leaf. This black and white caterpillar can cause quite an itchy rash, from what I’ve read. The nettle like hairs can break off and stick in the skin and they are said to bother some people enough for them to be hospitalized, so it’s probably best to look and not touch this one.

When Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) turn their nodding flowers to the sky it means they’ve been pollinated and are ready to set seed. The plants will turn brown and become hard like wood, and finally the seed pods will split open and release the tiny seeds. They are dust like and are borne on the wind.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) grew on the underside of a fallen branch. This small fungus has a smooth whitish underside with no pores. The complicatum part of the scientific name means “folded back on itself” and the above photo shows these examples just starting to fold. It also likes to grow on the logs of deciduous trees. It can be seen from quite a distance because of its bright color.

Ledges show how the road was blasted through the solid bedrock in the 1700s. The holes were all drilled by hand using star drills and there are still five sided holes to be seen in some of the boulders. Once the hole was drilled they filled it with black powder, lit the fuse and I would imagine ran as fast as they could run. There are interesting things to see here among these ledges, including blood red garnets, milky quartz crystals, many different lichens and mosses, and veins of feldspar.

It’s worth taking a close look at the ledges. In the right light the spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) of smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) turn a beautiful blue. It happens because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in this light they glow different shades of blue and are as beautiful as jewels.

Another beautiful thing that grows on stone here is rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever found it.

One of the reasons I came here on this day was to get photos of purple flowering raspberry fruit (Rubus odoratus,) but I was surprised to see several plants still blooming. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. Flowering raspberry has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it just as much as roses and it’s common to see the large leaves looking like they’ve been shot full of holes. The plants are a little fussy about where they grow but they will thrive under the right conditions, as they once did here.

The fruit of purple flowering raspberry looks like a large raspberry. The plant is closely related to thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) and gets its common name from its fruit. I’ve never eaten one but some say that they’re close to tasteless and others say they taste like dried raspberries. The plant is unreliable as a source of berries though; I’ve seen many clusters with no fruit at all and others that had 5 or 6 flowers bearing only a single berry. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

Chances are you don’t see anything wrong with this view of the old road but I was appalled when I saw it. Thousands of wildflowers used to grow right over the road almost to the yellow lines on each side. There was a narrow, 2 person wide path through here last time I came, but now the city workers have come in and plowed all of the plants away. Without even having to think about it I could list over a hundred different species of plants that grew here and were plowed up.

Here is the view from where they finally stopped plowing up the plants. You can see how far they grew into the road in this spot but this doesn’t accurately show how it used to be because this is pretty much the end of the road just above Beaver brook falls, and few ever walked here. The plants didn’t grow quite so far out toward the yellow lines where people regularly walked.

And here is what is left of the plants; decades of growth just rolled off to the side like so much worn out carpet. Just think; many of the growing things at the beginning of this post and hundreds more like them just kicked off to the side. You would think before doing something like this that they would call in a botanist or a naturalist, or at the very least buy a wildflower guide so they knew what they were destroying but instead they just hack away, most likely thinking all the while what a wonderful thing they’re doing, cleaning up such a mess.

They’ve peeled the road right back to the white fog line at the edge of the pavement. This is what happens when those who don’t know are put in charge of those who don’t care; nature suffers every single time. What these people don’t seem to realize is that they’ve just plowed away the whole reason that most people came here. I’ve talked to many people while I’ve been here and most came to see what happens when nature is allowed to take back something that we had abandoned. You marveled at the history before you; the charm of the place was in the grasses and wildflowers growing out of the cracks in the pavement, not a road scoured down to just built condition. New Hampshire Public Radio even did a story about the place precisely because it was untouched. The very thing that drew so many people to the place has now been destroyed, and it will be decades before it ever gets back to the way it was. I certainly won’t be here to see it.

A lot of people also come here to see Beaver Brook Falls, but to get a clear view of them you have to climb/ slide / fall down a very steep embankment and then climb over large boulders. It’s becoming more dangerous all the time and now younger people are about the only ones who dare do it. If you broke an ankle or leg down here it would take some serious work and several strong men to get you out, but Instead of cutting the brush that blocks the view of the falls from the road so people don’t have to make such a dangerous climb down to the brook to see the falls, the city would rather spend their money plowing up all the wildflowers.

This is the view as you’re leaving. Where the road is narrower is where they left a few yards of growth at the start of the road, but I wouldn’t count on it being this way the next time I come here. You might say “Big deal, who cares about a few old weeds?” But what grows in those unplowed strips of vegetation includes blue stemmed goldenrod; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. White wood sorrel; I’ve seen it in one other place. Field horsetails; I’ve seen them in one other place. Plantain leaved sedge; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Yellow feather moss; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Thimbleweed; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. After wandering through the destruction for as long as I could stand it I had to go into the woods for a while because, as author David Mitchell said: Trees are always a relief, after people.

Lord, what fools these mortals be! ~William Shakespeare

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1. Ashuelot

We finally had some much needed rain last weekend. The Ashuelot River can use it; I’m guessing that it’s about a foot lower than it usually is at this time of year. The line of grasses above the far embankment shows how high it can get with the spring runoff, which is 10 feet or more above where it is now.

2. Beaver

As I took photos of its far bank a beaver swam down the middle of the river with a bundle of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) in its mouth. I didn’t know that beavers ate ferns but a little research shows that they do and they must be a delicacy, because this one swam quite a long way to get them. I watched him haul this bundle downriver until he was out of sight. Apparently there aren’t any sensitive ferns in his neighborhood.

3. Crab Spider

A tiny yellow crab spider waited on Queen Anne’s lace for a meal and was very obvious. Crab spiders can change their color to match the color of the flower they’re on and I know they can be white because I’ve seen them in that color. Maybe this one had just left a black eyed Susan and was in the process of becoming white. I’ve read that it can take days for them to change.

4. Great Blue Heron

I was looking at plants along the edge of a pond when I looked up and saw that I was just a few close feet from this great blue heron. I thought he’d fly off before I had a chance for a photo but he just walked slowly away through the pickerel weed. I was very surprised when I saw this photo to see that the pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) was as tall as the heron; the plant is usually barely 2 feet tall.

5. Great Blue Heron

In this photo I see more of what I would expect, which is a three foot bird standing taller than the pickerel weed. Apparently I was very focused on the heron and paid no attention to the plants, because I don’t remember them being taller than the bird. I wasn’t very observant that day, I guess, but it isn’t often I find myself so close to a great blue heron.

6. Great Blue Heron

The heron kept shaking its head and the photo shows why; it was being plagued by flies. You can see one just where the bill meets the head. The photo also shows the bird’s forward pointing eyes. I’ve read that the eyesight of the great blue heron is about three times more detailed than a human. Their night vision is also better; they are able to see more at night than a human can see in daylight.

7. Mushroom

We had to dig down to about three feet at work recently and the soil was dry even at the bottom of the hole. The extreme dryness means that I’m seeing very few mushrooms and slime molds. The mushroom pictured had a half-eaten stem, most likely caused by a squirrel. I wasn’t able to identify it.

8. Slime Mold

Though most slime molds grow in low light and high moisture scrambled egg slime mold (fuligo septica) isn’t a good indicator of moisture or light. I’ve seen it growing in full sunlight in dry conditions. This slime mold is usually bright, egg yolk yellow and I’m not sure if its lighter color was caused by dryness or age.

9. Indian Pipes

I’ve seen a few Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) pushing up through the forest litter but they seem to be quickly going by. Their white stems turn black when damaged but nearly every plant I saw had black on it. Each stem holds a single flower that will turn upward when it sets seed. Fresh stems hold a gel-like sap that is said to have been used by Native Americans to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that Natives smoked.

10. Red Wing Blackbird

A red winged blackbird flew to the top of a fir tree and told everyone I was coming.

11. Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is flowering now. Its large greenish flower heads can be seen from a good distance but though they are quite big in a mass, each individual flower is tiny.

12. Staghorn Sumac Flower

I think a group of 2 or 3 sumac flowers could hide behind a pea without any jostling. If they’re pollinated each flower will become a bright red, fuzzy berry. Native Americans used these berries to make a lemonade substitute and in some countries they’re ground and used as a lemon flavored spice. Many birds eat them but you can still find them on the plants well into winter.

13. Curly Dock

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) seeds always remind me of tiny seed pearls. The plant is originally from Europe and is also called yellow dock. It’s a relative of rhubarb and its seeds look much like those found on rhubarb, though they’re somewhat smaller. Once the seeds mature they can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the leaves are rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C, and can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves were used by many as a vegetable during the depression when food was scarce. Curly dock’s common name comes from the wavy edges on the leaves.

14. Curly Dock

Until this year I never noticed the beautiful color variations in curly dock’s seed heads. The above examples were found side by side on the same plant.

15.Timothy Grass

Timothy grass was unintentionally brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began to promote cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720, and the grass has been called Timothy ever since. Timothy-grass (Phleum pratense) flowers from June until September and is noted for its resistance to cold and drought.

16. Timothy Grass

Timothy grass is an excellent hay crop for horses but what I like most about it is its flowers. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas, but though I looked at several examples I couldn’t find a single one showing the purple stamens so I might have been too early. Quite often the heads look completely purple when they bloom. The example shown does show the tiny, feather like female stigmas.

17. Acorns

We have a fine crop of acorns this year, and that means well fed animals.

18. Blueberries

Blueberries are also having a good year in spite of the dryness. The bears will be happy.

19. Blue Bead Lily Berries

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

20. Oak Leaf

The patterns left by leaf miners on this oak leaf reminded me of the artwork found on ancient Greek vases. Oak leaf miners are the larvae of tiny silvery moths which have bronze colored patches on their wings.

Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. To sit on a branch and study the clouds. ~Regina Brett

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1. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly yet this year but I’ve seen a few of the other large butterflies like this eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).  I’ve noticed that some of them have a lot more blue / purple on their wings than this one did.

2. Dragonfly

There are still a lot of chalk fronted corporal dragonflies flying about at local ponds. I scrapped a lot of photos taken on this day because of the harsh sunlight but I kept this one because it shows the wing netting so well. It also shows the hairy body and spiny legs. I’ve read that in general dragonflies have a maximum speed of 22–34 miles per hour and an average cruising speed of about 10 mph. It’s no wonder they’re so hard to get a photo of.

3. Male Widow Skimmer

A male widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) landed on a cattail for a few seconds.  I can tell that this an adult because of its dusty bluish body and white wing markings, and I know it’s a male because the females have a yellow stripe on their body and look very different.  The luctuosa part of the scientific name means sorrowful or mournful and it is thought that it might be because the darker wing markings make them look like they are draped in mourning crepe. But shouldn’t the name be male widower skimmer? Maybe he skims widows, I don’t know, but I’ve decided that insect names are as strange as plant names.

4. Goose Family

I have friends who live on a local pond where the fireworks are always great on the 4th of July, so I decided to pay them a visit. Before it got dark a family of Canada geese came steaming right at us from across the pond, swimming at full speed ahead.

5. Goose Family

At the last minute the geese turned and swam away. They had come within just a foot or two of where we sat and I thought that it was odd behavior for a wild bird, especially with young. Maybe they thought we had a bag of cracked corn for them. They do look a little disappointed.

6. Fireworks

The fireworks were worth the wait, as always.

7. Fireworks

I don’t know if those bright trails were really that curvy or if it was caused by camera shake. I tried getting these photos without using a tripod, so camera shake is probably the answer.

8. Fireworks

This was one of the strangest looking fireworks that I’ve seen. It was a sort of Roman candle type that shot straight up into the air.

9. Ferns

It’s hard to beat seeing fireworks and old friends on the same day but I do enjoy the quiet and solitude of the forest and this is one of the best places I know of to find it. Something about this place speaks to me and I visit it quite often.

10. Curly Dock

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) has gone into seed production but at this stage they look more like seed pearls. Once these seeds mature they can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The leaves are rich in vitamins A and C and can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant’s common name comes from their curly edges.

11. Indian Pipes

We’ve had some rain and Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are pushing up through the forest litter in large numbers. Each stem holds a single flower and what I find most curious about them is how they turn straight up to the sky when their seeds are ripe. I would think the position shown in the photo would be better for dropping seeds, but I’m sure they know what’s best.

12. Coral Fungus

The branch ends on this coral fungus are blunt and yellowish so I think this might be a golden coral (Ramaria aurea.) I haven’t seen many coral fungi yet this summer but the rain and high humidity should get them growing. This example was growing on a rotten log but I see many more growing on the ground. They seem to like earth that has been well packed down because many grow on the edges of trails. Their common name comes from their resemblance to undersea coral.

13. Chanterelle Wax Cap Mushrooms

I find chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) growing in clusters on well-rotted logs.  This is a pretty little orange mushroom with a cap that might get as big as a nickel, but that’s probably stretching it. These mushrooms show themselves for quite a long time and I often still see them in September.

14. Fuzzy Foot Mushrooms

Fuzzy foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina campanella) get their common name from the dense tuft of orange brown hairs at the base of the stem. That and their bright orange color make them very easy to identify. The largest one in this photo might have had a cap diameter of about three quarters of an inch.  It’s easy to confuse these mushrooms with the chanterelle wax caps in the previous photo if you give them a glance without looking for the tufts of hairs at the base of the stems.

15. Wild Sarsaparilla

We like to think that fall begins at the turn of a calendar page or when tree leaves turn color, but it actually starts at the forest floor much earlier than many of us would like to believe, as these wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves show.

16. Great Spangled Fritillary

Another large butterfly that seems to be everywhere this year is the great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele); I’m seeing them daily. This one posed on some deer tongue grass just long enough for me to get a couple of photos. This butterfly likes moist meadows and forest edges. From what I’ve read they also like violet nectar but surely they must also like other types, because we aren’t seeing many violets at this time of year.

There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fountain of action and joy.  It rises up in wordless gentleness, and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created beings.  ~Thomas Merton

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