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Posts Tagged ‘Intermediate Wood Fern’

It was another of those hot, humid July days last Sunday so I decided to see if the air conditioner was running up in the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It was, and the relief was immediate. This man-made canyon creates its own breeze and the air blowing over the moist canyon walls usually runs about 10 degrees cooler than it is “out there” in the world. It was wonderful to stand there and be cooled but taking photos was a chore because it was very dark due to all the overhanging trees. I had to use the flash to get this photo, which is the mediocre best of a poor lot. But it does show you what I’m talking about and I guess that’s the point.

The railroad used a lot of the stone they blasted out of the bedrock in the previous photo to build walls, and as a dry stone wall builder myself I can say that they’re impressive. This example is a massive retaining wall, built to keep the hillside from flowing onto the rail bed. You can’t tell from the photo but it tilts back into the hillside at about 10 degrees, just as any good retaining wall should. It’s probably also much thicker at the base than at the top. Not quite Mayan joints but close enough for me; these walls have stood without losing a stone for over 150 years.

I stopped to look at what I thought were intermediate wood ferns (Dryopteris intermedia.)

A look at the back of the leaf confirmed that they were indeed intermediate wood ferns. The tiny spore bearing sori are part way between the central vein and the outer edges of the pinnules. A pinnule in botanical terms is a secondary division of a pinnate leaf, but I usually just think of them as leaflets and in my own mind don’t pay much attention to the fancy (but correct) terminology. It just doesn’t seem as important as it once did. The beauty of it all is enough these days.

And I saw plenty of beauty here, like these fern like leaves of wild chervil, which grows along the trail. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been shown to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. It isn’t the same plant as cultivated chervil used to flavor soups though, so it shouldn’t be eaten.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) had a visitor so I didn’t want to intrude. There are an amazing amount of insects here.

What I think was a cabbage white moth rested on a leaf in a shaft of sunlight. Ancient superstition said that a white moth embodied the soul of a loved one. This came from the ancient belief that the night is a dwelling place for souls and it is also the realm of the moth.

In winter this place is like a frozen Arctic wasteland but in summer it becomes a lush paradise with an incredible variety of species growing on every square inch of ground.

Plants, mosses, liverworts, fungi, and algae all grow on the stone walls of the canyon and add to the lushness. In summer this place reminds me of the Shangri-La described by James Hilton in his novel Lost Horizon. For someone who dreamed of exploring the Amazon Jungle as a boy, it’s the next best thing.

One of the most unusual things growing here are these green algae, called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the algal cells called hematochrome or beta-carotene color the algae orange by hiding their green chlorophyll.  It is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color.

The algae are surprisingly hairy and in some cases can produce enough spores to color the rain. When you hear of a red, black, or green rain falling algae spores are almost always the reason why. I’ve never seen these examples producing spores but then I wonder if I’d even know that they were doing so. The spores must be microscopic. Everything you see here would fit on a penny with room to spare.

Much of the growth along the side of the trail is spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis.) Jewelweed doesn’t mind shade and many thousands of plants grow here.

Out of all the many thousands of jewelweed plants I saw just one with a flower, and this is it. The white pollen at the top of the opening tells us that this is a male flower. Soon there will be many thousands of flowers, both male and female.

There are also many flowering raspberry plants growing here and many were still blooming. Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is in the rose family and it isn’t hard to tell by the flowers, but the big light gathering leaves look more like a maple than a rose. The big leaves give it a certain tolerance for low light, and that’s how it can grow here so well. The fruit looks like a giant raspberry, about the size of the tip of your thumb. I’ve heard that it is close to tasteless but some say if you put a berry on the very tip of your tongue it will be delicious. I keep forgetting to try it.

Other berries found here include those of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum.) These berries turn bright red but before they do they are speckled red and green for a time. The plant is also called treacle berry because the berries taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative so moderation is called for. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from burning roots to treat headache and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

The railroad dug drainage ditches on either side of the rail bed and because the groundwater constantly seeps through the stone the ditches always have water in them, no matter how hot or dry it has been. I always wear rubber boots when I come here so I can walk in them and get closer to the canyon walls when I need to. I have to be quick though because stones of all sizes fall from the walls. For the first time I actually heard one fall on this day. It must have been small because it made a clacking sound. Thankfully it didn’t fall near me.

One of the reasons I like to walk in the drainage ditches is because greater scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) grow on the stone and I like to see them up close. Two winters ago I saw an alarming amount of them turn an ashy gray and they appeared to have died, but since then the many colonies seem to have bounced back. Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day most of them looked good and healthy.

This is one of the most beautiful liverworts in my opinion because of its reptilian appearance, which is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

In this photo you can see how wet the stones are from the ever dripping groundwater. All that water means that many plants with tap roots or extensive root systems like dandelions and even shrubs and trees can grow in the thin soil that is found on horizontal surfaces. This photo shows a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) that has grown on the stone and fallen over. Though it’s growing on stone it’s perfectly healthy and even has produced berries. Jack in the pulpits have corms for roots. A corm is a kind of flattened bulb and other plants like crocus and gladiolus grow from them.

I saw many Jack in the pulpits here and most had berries that hadn’t ripened yet. When ripe these berries will be bright red and shiny like they’ve been lacquered. Deer love them and will chomp off the entire stalk of berries when they can. That’s why it’s so hard to show you a photo of ripe Jack in the pulpit berries.

I finally reached my turn around spot, which is the old lineman’s shack at one end of the deep cut canyon. I usually dawdle here for a while, marveling at how a building that has so many missing pieces can still stand. So many boards have been taken from it there isn’t much left, but so far it still makes it through our snowy winters. It fits the very definition of well built, but that’s how they did things in those days.

This is where the planks from the lineman’s shack end up; as bridges across the drainage ditches. They do come in handy but I’d still rather see them on the lineman’s shack.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long.
~John Moffitt

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After putting together a post like the last one I did on lichens I needed to free up my mind a bit so I headed into the woods of Walpole to climb the High Blue trail. I had just been here in October but it wasn’t that cold then. My mission on this day was to see if the ski areas had started making snow.

It was definitely cold enough here to make snow. This shot is of some of the many bubbles I saw in the ice of a mud puddle.

Intermediate wood ferns (Dryopteris intermedia) were still nice and green but that was no surprise because it is one of our native evergreen ferns. It is thought that evergreen ferns get a jump on the competition in spring by starting photosynthesis earlier than their cousins.

A large tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius) grew on a trail side tree. These bracket fungi produce spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that they can produce as many as 800 million spores in a single hour. Its common name comes from its usefulness as tinder for starting fires. The 5000 year old “iceman” found preserved in ice and snow in the Italian Alps carried pieces of this fungus with him. It is also useful medicinally and is known to stop bleeding, so he might have used it both ways.

The small reflectors put on the trees by hunters reminded me that I probably wasn’t the only one in these woods. I was glad that I remembered to wear my bright orange hat and vest.

There are people who think that plants grow their buds when it warms up in the spring but most plants actually plan ahead and grow their spring buds in the fall. This hobblebush bud (Viburnum lantanoides) already has all it needs to produce a pair of new leaves and a beautiful head of white flowers next spring. Hobblebush buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect them from the cold, and that’s why they are furry. Hobblebushes are one of our most beautiful native viburnums and there are many of them in these woods.

Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) also have their spring buds at the ready. They’re small now but they’ll grow bigger when it starts to warm up. When they break in spring beech buds are one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a New England forest.

The farmer has cut all his corn for silage. This was a meadow for many years and it’s always a bit surprising for me to find a cornfield here now. The corn attracts bears and last year I saw several piles of their dung, but this year I didn’t see any. I’m hoping they found a different corn field.

There are game trails that lead from the meadow / cornfield into the woods. Do you see this one? It’s just a narrow trail but it is used regularly, especially by deer. When I come here in winter there are deer tracks everywhere up here.

I followed the game trail into the forest to see what I’d see and found a huge quartz boulder sitting on top of an old stone wall. How anyone ever lifted it up there is beyond me. It was at least 4 feet long and must have been very heavy.

There were also a lot of ears of corn along the game trail and even entire corn stalks pulled up by the roots. This is obviously where the animals come to eat it after they take it from the cornfield. I don’t know if a deer could pull up a cornstalk but a bear certainly could. I was hoping it was cold enough for them to be sleeping by now.

Back on the main trail the sun was shining brightly but not providing much warmth. It was probably about 40 degrees F. and that isn’t bad for the end of November but it still felt cold. November is said to be the cloudiest month but we’ve been lucky this year and have had quite a few sunny days.

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so deeply into the forest now that there is no foliage to block the view. One of the things that is much easier to see now is the old stone wall that snakes through the woods. It’s a “tossed wall,” meaning that the stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. Stones were not nice to plows and farmers wanted to get them out of their fields as quickly and efficiently as possible, and ringing the fields with them was the easiest way. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England. It’s hard to hike through a piece of forest these days without seeing at least one wall.

Walpole is famous among stone wall builders for its ledges which, with little effort, break into nice, flat slabs. The fractures happen naturally, as can be seen on this outcrop. This is very easy stone to build with and it makes a great looking wall.

This stone was taken from the ledge in the previous photo at some point in the past. It hasn’t been cut; this is how it comes right out of the ledge, and that’s what makes it so special. Building a wall with stone like this is a real pleasure but it doesn’t happen often. Usually the stones are rounded, so it takes much more time and effort to build with them.

The small pond on the summit was frozen over as I thought it would be. I used to think that the animals would suffer when the pond froze but there are many small streams nearby that run year round so they always have a place to get a drink.

The sign at the granite overlook tells you that you’ve arrived. High means the spot is higher than the surrounding terrain and blue means the view is very blue, and it always is.

It was a bit humid on this day and as it did the last time I was up here a haze blanketed the landscape, so even though the view across the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont was blue it wasn’t that good. Still, you could see Stratton Mountain so I couldn’t complain. The question was, would my camera be able to cut through the haze so I could see the ski area?

So far so good. Sometimes the camera really goes bonkers up here and I’m shocked by what I see when I get home, so I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of those days. I put it on “auto” for a few shots just to give it a chance to do what it wanted. It seems to have a mind of its own sometimes when capturing landscapes.

Though it is a blotchy photo it showed me that there was indeed snow on the ski trails, so after sitting and admiring the view for a bit, down I went. Before long this entire landscape will be snow covered and there won’t be any snowmaking required, so I was happy that I was still walking in crunchy leaves rather than squeaky snow. You know it’s cold when the snow squeaks underfoot.

Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood. Andy Goldsworthy

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1. Abandoned Road

We had another snow storm recently and though we didn’t get that much snow it did have to be plowed. The worst part of this storm was the long stretch of freezing drizzle that came after the snow. It glazed the top of the snow in a thick coating of very slippery ice, so I had my Yaktrax on for this walk up the old abandoned road that follows Beaver Brook in Keene.

2. Icy Snow

This shot will give you an idea of just how icy it was. The crust was thick enough for me to walk on without breaking through, which is unusual. When I was a boy I went sledding in this kind of snow just once. The runners of the sled broke through the crust and it stopped dead, but I didn’t. I flew off the front of the sled into the sharp crusty snow and got a nasty gash on my chin that I didn’t think would ever stop bleeding. I’ve been wary of this kind of snow ever since. It can be tricky to walk on.

3. Cloud Blocked Sun

There was blue sky to be seen but also enough clouds to blot out the sun for most of the time.

4. Snowy Woods

Enough snow came with this second storm to fully cover the forest floor.

5. Beaver Brook

I like seeing the ice formations in winter but Beaver Brook had very little ice on it. After the warmest December ever recorded our January temperatures have also been above average so far, but the month is young. As we found out during the last two winters, it can get awfully cold in a hurry.

6. Fern

Our evergreen ferns look dainty and fragile but they can stand up to some fierce weather. I didn’t look closely but I think that this one was an intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) because of the shorter leaflets (Pinnae) at the base of its stem (Stipe) and the scales along the lower part of its stem.

7. Fern

This one grew out of a log as if it was spring. I think it might be another younger intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia.)

8. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

This is the place where I began to pay attention to the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that grow on the ledges. They taught me that lichens can be pruinose, which means they can have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries. These (sometimes) blue disks are called apothecia and are where the lichen’s spores are produced. The wax coating makes them appear blue in the right light and their black border makes them really stand out from the body (Thallus) of the lichen. In certain light the apothecia can also appear more gray than blue.

9. Yellow Crust Fungus on Hemlock

The base of this hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was covered in a yellow crust fungus. I think it might have been the conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum,) which is also called the bleeding parchment because of the red colored juice they exude when they’re scratched or injured. This example was very thin and dry and probably wouldn’t have reacted if I had scratched it. Conifer parchment fungus can cause brown heart rot, which is a reddish brown discoloration in the wood of conifers.

10. Yellow Birch Bark-2

The thin papery bark on this yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) had peeled back to show its lenticels. Lenticels are corky pores that allow gases like oxygen to reach the living cells of the bark. Without enough oxygen, bark can die. Yellow birch likes rich, moist, and cool soils so we don’t see them as often as white birch. In this place it grows well on the shaded side of the road, but there isn’t a single example found on the sunny side.

11. Icicles

Winter has teeth and it will bite the unprepared. I met someone here who wore only sneakers and he said “I don’t know what I was thinking when I put sneakers on to come up here!” He was having a hard time of it and I would imagine that his feet were soaking wet and very cold by the time he made it out of here.

12. Crustose Lichen

Every nature walk seems to come with its own bit of mystery and this one was no different. I’ve never seen this lichen before and don’t know its name. I know that it’s a gray crustose lichen, but that’s about all. I don’t know what the dark outlines signify either but they make it look like some kind of ancient petroglyph.

13. Beaver Brook

While I was following the brook and trying to get a shot of a placid pool I didn’t notice the blue of the sky that the rushing water reflected, nor did I see the yellow sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina) on the stone. I’m not surprised; the camera often sees things that I don’t.

14. Peace Pipe

Someone turned the old drain pipe into a peace pipe. Being able to see this pipe shows how much of the road Beaver Brook has eaten away over the years.

15. Beaver Brook Falls

I made it all the way to Beaver Brook Falls but the path down to the brook was too icy for me, so I took this shot from the road, where the view is marred by brush. The falls were roaring as usual and showed no sign of freezing. I was surprised when I came here last year and saw the falls  frozen into a huge lump of ice. The ice muffled almost all sound and it was the one and only time that I’ve ever heard so little sound in this place. When you expect the roar of rushing water silence can seem amazing.

16. Sunshine

Typically, the sun came out from behind the clouds just as I was leaving, but I don’t mind an occasional cloudy day. Last summer was made up of an almost endless string of sunny, cloudless skies and I learned then what the term “too much of a good thing” really meant.

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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1. Spruce

I’d be willing to bet that when most of us here in New England (and maybe the whole country)  hear the word evergreen we think of a pyramidal tree with needles that stays green all winter, but as I hope this post shows there is much more to the evergreen story than that.

2. Striped Wintergreen

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) loses its chlorophyll and turns deep purple in winter. This plant is relatively rare here and though I’m finding small numbers more and more most of them flower but don’t set seed.  I was happy to see this one had a seed pod on it. The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love,) so it loves winter and does not die from the cold.

3. Teaberry

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) is also called teaberry or checkerberry and it is the first wild plant that I learned to identify, with the help of my grandmother. We used to love to eat the bright red minty tasting berries. It’s probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong, minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin so it’s not good to eat a lot of it, but a taste of the berries shouldn’t hurt. Its leaves often turn purple as the nights get colder, as the plant in the rear shows.

4. Foam Flower

Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) has hairy leaves that look delicate, but they’re fairly tough and stay green under the leaves and snow all winter. The purple veins in each leaf become more pronounced as the nights cool and sometimes the leaves will have purplish bronze splotches. This plant makes an excellent flowering groundcover for a damp, shady spot in the garden. Plant breeders have developed many interesting hybrids but I like the native best, I think.

5. Partridge Berry

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is another native that makes a good garden groundcover. Small, heart shaped leaves on creeping stems grow at ground level and you can mow right over it. In spring it has white trumpet shaped flowers that grow in pairs and in the fall it has bright red berries which are edible but close to tasteless. I leave them for the turkeys, which seem to love them. My favorite parts of this plant are the greenish yellow leaf veins on leaves that look as if they were cut from hammered metal. I have several large patches of it growing in my yard.

6. Trailing Arbutus

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite plants and she would walk in the woods to find and smell it rather than dig it up to plant in her yard.  It’s too bad everybody didn’t do the same because this plant was once collected into near oblivion. These days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. That’s true of most of these plants, in fact.

7. Gold Thread

New goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its also being nearly collected into oblivion like trailing arbutus and others. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, probably by its other common name: canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

8. Dewberry

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which stay green under the snow all winter. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow.

9. Intermediate Wood Fern

Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) is also called evergreen wood fern. It is said to be the only fully evergreen fern with a lacy appearance but it cross breeds with so many other ferns in the Dryopteris  genus that I’m not sure how an amateur botanist like myself would ever know for certain what he was looking at.  But it isn’t always the name that’s so important. Just the fact that you can walk through the forest in January and see some green is often enough.

10. Intermediate Wood Fern

Unlike the spore producing sori on the marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) which appear on the leaf margins the sori on evergreen woods ferns appear between the midrib and the margins. In this photo this frond looks very much like the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana,) which it cross breeds with. It also crosses with marginal wood fern.

11. Christmas Fern

Evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) has deep green, tough leathery leaves that usually lie flat on the ground after a hard frost. They stay that way under the snow until spring when they will finally turn yellow and then brown to make way for new fronds. Christmas fern is so common that it’s hard to walk in these woods without seeing it. It’s also very easy to identify.

12. Christmas Fern

What makes an evergreen Christmas fern so easy to identify are its leaflets (Pinna) which some say look like little Christmas stockings. You can see why if you look at the part of leaflets near the stem in the photo. Each leaflet has a little bump or “ear.” This is the toe of the Christmas stocking and this is the only fern in the New Hampshire woods with this feature. One story says that the name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations.

13. Fan Club Moss

Fan shaped clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum.) was also once used as a Christmas decoration (and still is in some places.)  These forest floor evergreens were collected by the many thousands to make Christmas wreaths and they are still rarely seen here because of it. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all but do produce spores and are called “fern allies,” which are vascular plants that don’t produce seeds. I think fan shaped clubmoss is the most elegant of any of the clubmosses and I’m always happy to see it, especially in winter.

14. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Not all evergreens look alike and some, like the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) pictured, don’t look evergreen at all. Orchids are often thought of as tender, fragile things but not our native orchids. It’s hard to tell from the photo but this plant is covered almost entirely by short, fine hairs. I watched it get covered by feet of snow last year and in the spring it looked just as good as it does in the photo. I think its leaves are every bit as beautiful as its small white flowers are.

It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring and that gives them a head start over the competition. This post has just scratched the surface; there are many other evergreens out there and I hope now you’ll see more than conifers wearing green this winter.

The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools. ~Henry Beston

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1. Snowy Path

There was a blog post coming up in just a few days and I had nothing; not even an idea, and I wondered if, for the first time in almost 4 years, I’d miss a post.  I shouldn’t have wondered at all because I know that all I have to do is free my mind of expectations and walk into the forest. If I go into the woods expecting or hoping to find a certain thing then I usually don’t find it, but if I just walk in with an open mind and let nature lead, I often see things that I’ve never seen before.

2. Snow on Ice

If you have ever walked down a woodland path with a two year old child then you know that they’re open to anything and fascinated by everything. They also walk very slowly down a crooked path, toddling from this to that and back again with a sense of wide eyed wonder. That’s exactly how to see the things in nature that others miss-let yourself be a child again. I walk at the pace of a two year old and my path is never straight. I stop and look around often, never knowing what I’ll see, and if I have to get down on my knees to take a photo I’m sure to scan the forest floor around me for a full 360 degrees before I stand up again. I’ve seen some amazing things by doing that.

3. Orange Crust Fungus

One of the first things I found on this day was this orange crust fungus, which I think is the crowded parchment fungus (Stereum complicatum.) The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself.” This fungus often grows on fallen oak limbs and parasitizes some types of jelly fungi.

4. Puffballs

Before I stood up I followed my own advice, looked around and saw these pear shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme,) which grew on a log and stood out against what I think is a bright white lichen background, possibly whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.)

5. Whitewash Lichen

I walked further down the trail and saw this excellent example of whitewash lichen. From a distance it looks like someone has painted the tree. These lichens can cover quite a large area and can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white. They usually grow on hardwoods but can occasionally be seen on conifers as well.

6. Small Stream

Naturalist John Burroughs once said “to find new things, take the path you took yesterday.” I’ve found that to be very true and am always surprised by what I’ve missed on my first, second and even third visits to a place, so though I’ve followed this small stream a hundred times I decided to follow it again.

7. Partridge Berries

Partridge berries (Mitchella repens) aren’t new to me but though I’ve seen them a thousand times they are always a welcome sight, especially when there is snow on the ground. I don’t know about partridges, but I do know that wild turkeys eat the berries. Though the plant creeps along the forest floor like a vine, botanically speaking it is considered a “sub-shrub,” which simply means that it is a dwarf shrub, usually woody at its base.

8. Unknown Lichen or Fungus

Here is something new. So new in fact that I’m not even sure what to call it, because I don’t know if it is a lichen or fungus. I’ve never seen a lichen with fuzzy edges like these and I’ve never seen a fungus, even a crust fungus, that was so very thin and flat. I’ve searched all of my books and online and haven’t seen anything close to it, so this one has me stumped. It was a little bigger than a quarter and was growing on the bark of a standing hardwood. If you know what it is I’d like to hear from you.

Note: Biologist and botanical consultant Arold Lavoie has identified this lichen as Lecanora thysanophora, which is also called maple dust lichen. It is supposed to be common in the northeast but I’ve never seen it. Arold is from Quebec and has a website that looks extremely interesting but unfortunately I don’t read French. If you do you can visit the site at http://aroldlavoie.com/ Thanks very much for the identification Arold!

9. Blue Purple Lichen

This bluish-lavender lichen appeared in several spots on a boulder. I’ve never seen it before and I’m not even sure if it’s a lichen but if not I don’t know what else it could be. I’ve spent quite a lot of time looking for something similar in books and online and haven’t found anything. Again, if you know what it is I’d be happy to hear from you.

10. Intermediate Wood Fern

On the same boulder as the lichen in the previous photo, growing out of a crack was a tiny evergreen fern that I think is an intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia.)  Evergreen plants send sugar into their leaves in the winter to act as antifreeze, so evergreen ferns get a jump on photosynthesizing in the spring, basking in the sunshine for a month or two and growing new leaves before being shaded by tree leaves. By the time other ferns are just poking their fiddleheads from the soil the evergreens are well on their way. The boulder probably soaks up heat from the sun all day and releases it slowly at night, making this little fern’s life much easier.

11. Amber Jelly Fungus

Something else I’ve never seen is veins running through an amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa.) Amber jellies are common at this time of year on oak and alder limbs and when I find them I like to hold them up to the light and look through them, because they often look like stained glass. They grow like little pillows or sacks of air and I wonder if, instead of veins those are wrinkles. These fungi are also called willow brain but I’ve never found one on a willow.

12. Tree Skirt Moss aka Anomodon attenuatus

I’ve seen tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuatus) growing on thousands of trees but never on trees this small. The biggest one in this photo was hardly bigger in diameter than an average garden hose.  Tree skirt moss grows up to 3 feet high around the bases of hardwoods, especially oaks. Knowing where certain mosses prefer growing, whether on soil, stone or wood, can help with identifying them.

 13. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are one of my favorite lichens but, though I’ve walked these woods since I was a boy I’ve never seen them growing here. I noticed this one and then took a closer look at the other stones in the area and found that they all had this lichen on them! I have to admit that at that moment I didn’t feel very observant, that’s for sure. It really is amazing what we can miss in the forest, and that’s why I keep going back to the same places again and again. Just when you start thinking that you’ve seen it all nature will show you that you haven’t even scratched the surface.

14. Tiny Pine Cone

The storm we had on Thanksgiving eve brought down a lot of branches, especially those of white pine (Pinus strobus.) There are a lot of tiny pine cones on these limbs which will never grow to release their seeds. Next fall the animals that eat them might have to hope for a good acorn, beech and hazelnut crop.

15. Whittled Branch

I found that someone, probably a young boy with a brand new jackknife, had whittled a pine branch into a tent peg. He had done a good job, too-there was no blood on it. The smell of the freshly carved pine and the thought of whittling took me back to my own boyhood and I’m sure I must have had a bounce in my step when I left the forest on this day. Not only did nature show me several things that I hadn’t seen before, but I felt twelve years old again for a time. How can you ask for a better day than that?

I can’t guarantee that everyone who goes into the woods will come out feeling twelve years old again but I can guarantee that if you walk slowly, stop often, and look closely, nature will show you things that you have never even imagined-mind blowing things, as we used to say back in the day.

Humans who spend time in the wilderness, alone, without man-made mechanical noise around them, often discover that their brain begins to recover its ability to discern things. ~Robert Anderson

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Stream Ice

This year winter seems determined to overstay its welcome and has brought record low temperatures and record high snowfall amounts. Even though we’ve had mini thaws where the temperature rose to 40 degrees for a day or two, most of the time we have been well below freezing during the day and below zero at night. Because of that the snow that has fallen is melting very slowly.

 2. Melting Snow

The snow in the woods is knee deep, which makes going rough. I recently bought some gaiters to keep my pant legs dry and make life a little easier, but another good storm will mean snowshoes for sure. One way to make it easier to get around is to look for south facing spots like that in the photo above where the snow has pulled back some. These are great places to look for mosses and other plants that stay green throughout winter.

 3. Fern on Ice

Ferns might look fragile but evergreen ferns like this intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) aren’t. This one was growing in the midst of an ice sheet. There aren’t many ferns that are evergreen in New England so winter is a good time to hone one’s identification skills by getting to know them. This one is very similar to the marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis). Both the words “intermediate” and “marginal” in the fern’s common names refer to the placement of the spore bearing structures (sori) found on the undersides of the leaves.

 4. Evergreen Christmas Fern

Another fern commonly seen in winter is the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). This one is easy to identify by its leaflets that resemble little Christmas stockings. The narrow fine teeth that line the edges of the leaflets and the short leaf stalks can also be seen in this photo. When seen at this time of year it is obvious that evergreen Christmas fern has had its branches flattened by the weight of the snow because they splay out all over the ground. Once new fronds emerge these will brown and die off.

 5. White Poplar Bark

Winter is also a good time to learn how to identify trees by their bark since there is no foliage in the way. A tree with light to dark, mottled gray bark with diamond shaped marks in it is a young white poplar (Populus alba). The diamond shapes are the tree’s lenticels, which are air pores. The bark on white poplars can be very white at times like a birch, but it is usually light gray when young. Older trees have darker gray, furrowed bark at their bases.  White poplar was introduced from central Europe and Asia in 1748. It can now be found in every state except Alaska, Arizona, and Hawaii.

 6. Hedwigia cillata Moss 

Mosses are easy to find in winter if you look at logs and stones where the snow has retreated. This Hedwigia ciliata moss with its white leaf tips is usually found growing on boulders and is very easy to identify. Common names include Hedwig’s fringeleaf Moss, Hedwig’s rock moss, and Fringed Hoar-moss. Johann Hedwig was a German botanist who studied mosses in the eighteenth century. He is called the father of bryology and lends his name to this and many other mosses.

 7. Slender Tail Moss aka anomodon attenuatus

This moss has never appeared on this blog in this dry state before. Long-leaved tail moss (Anomodon attenuates) is also called tree apron moss because it is quite common on the lower part of tree trunks. When wet its leaves stand out from the stem and it takes on a more feathery appearance and looks completely different than it does in the photo. This is a good example of why serious moss hunters do so after it rains.

 8. Moss aka Dicranoweissia cirrata

This is another first appearance on this blog. Curly thatch moss (Dicranoweissia cirrata) grows on rotting logs and stumps and is very small, with leaves that curl when dry. After a rain its leaves will straighten out and this moss will look very different than it does in this photo, which is why I’ve found it so hard to identify. Tiny growths on the leaves called gemmae are intended to break off to perpetuate the species.

 9. White Cushion Moss

White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) can appear silvery, white, bluish green or grayish green but it always forms a thick cushion and stands out from the mosses that might surround it. It likes plenty of water and shade and grows on rotting logs or on stone when there is enough soil. It is probably the easiest of all the mosses to identify.

 10. Beard Lichen

March is a month known for its wind and anyone who studies nature can take advantage of that fact, because there are all kinds of things falling from the trees at this time of year. This beard lichen (Usnea) was lying on top of the snow and at 4 1/2 inches long is the longest I’ve ever seen. It is said that if you take a single strand of this lichen and gently pull it apart lengthwise you’ll find a white cord inside, but it must take extreme magnification to see it because I’ve never been able to.

 11. Gilled Bracket Fungus 

Another bracket fungus that mimics the common turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) is the multicolor gill polypore (Lenzites betulina).  Since turkey tails have pores and these have gills they are hard to confuse. Multicolor gill polypores start life very white but turn gray as they age. They have some zoning like turkey tails and are often covered with green algae.

 12. Gilled Bracket Fungus Closeup

This is an extreme close-up of the underside of the multicolor gill polypore in the previous photo. These are clearly not pores.

NOTE: Thanks to help from a knowledgeable reader and more experience identifying fungi I now know this to be the Thin-maze flat polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa). The photo does actually show pores but they’re elongated and can resemble gills. I’m sorry if my incorrect identification caused any confusion.

 13. Hobblebush buds 

In my last post I talked about bud how scales enclose and protect buds throughout winter. Not all plants use bud scales for protection though; some like the hobblebush in this photo have naked buds.  Instead of using bud scales plants with naked buds often use fine hairs like those that can be seen on the fuzzy leaves and stems of the hobblebush. If there isn’t a flower bud between them the tiny naked leaves almost look like hands clasped in prayer. I like to imagine that they’re praying for spring like the rest of us, but I don’t know for sure.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. ~Willa Cather

Thanks for stopping in. Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead 1 hour tonight!

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 1. Thawing Stream

This winter has been colder than we’ve seen in several years, but the coldest winters always seem to come with a short break called a January thaw, and we’ve had ours this year. I think of it as a taste of spring in the dead of winter, and it is always welcome. January thaws usually last for about a week and temperatures rise an average of 10° F higher than those of the previous week. Spring has always been my favorite season so for me a thaw is also a tease that lights the pilot light of spring fever. By the end of February the fever will be strong.

 2. Icy Trail

It’s hard to tell from the photo, but that’s ice on the trail. I was glad that I wore my Yak Trax because there was nowhere you could go to avoid it except back the way you came.

 3. Multicolor Gill Polypore Lenzites betulina

At first glance you might think these were turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor), but it’s important to look at the underside of mushrooms when trying to identify them. Though they aren’t always shown on this blog I always try to get photos of their spore producing surfaces and any other features that might help in identify them.

4. Multicolor Gill Polypore Lenzites betulina

The undersides of the mushrooms in the previous photo show that these fungi can’t be turkey tails because turkey tails have pores, not gills. Though many bracket fungi have gills, the multicolor gilled polypore (Lenzites betulina) shown in the photos is the only one that has both gills and white flesh.  All of the other gilled bracket fungi have reddish brown flesh, which makes identifying the multicolor gilled polypore much easier than most. I also carry a pen and a small notebook to note things like white or brown flesh but a lot of times I don’t use it because I don’t like harming the mushrooms. I like to leave the woods exactly as I found them if I can, so the next person can see the same things I’ve seen.

 5. Fern Growing in Boulder Crack-2

Evergreen intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) looks fragile, but it can take a lot of weather. I found these examples growing in a crack in a room sized boulder. This is one of just a handful of true evergreen ferns. I usually expect to find another evergreen fern called polypody or rock cap ferns (Polypodium vulgare) growing on boulders but I didn’t see any in this area.

 6. Melt Runoff

The only time nature seems to be in a hurry is when snow melt rushes downhill. There was a lot of rushing going on this day.

 7. Melting Ice

All that water had to go somewhere and with the soil still frozen a lot of it puddled up in low spots in the woods. Mini ponds like the one in the photo could be seen everywhere.  Many were about the size of back yard skating rinks and once re-frozen they would have been great to skate on.

 8. Ashuelot Ice Shelves Collapsing

Along the Ashuelot River the ice shelves hanging out over the water were collapsing under their own weight. Not a good time to find yourself accidentally standing on one of these!

 9. Jelly Crep Mushrooms aka Crepidotus mollis

Jelly creps (Crepidotus mollis) are small, quarter sized “winter mushrooms” that like to grow on hardwood logs. They are also called soft slipper mushrooms and feel kind of spongy and flabby, much like your ear lobe.

 10. Jelly Crep Mushrooms aka Crepidotus mollis

The gills of the jelly crep are soft and turn from whitish yellow to brown as they age. You can see how these mushrooms grow in overlapping tiers in this photo.

11. Red Maple Buds

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are just waiting for the signal. These are one of my favorite early spring flowers and I’m looking forward to seeing them again. The flowers, twigs, leaf stems, seeds, and autumn foliage of this tree all come in varying shades of red.

The sun came out,
And the snowman cried.
His tears ran down
On every side.
His tears ran down
Till the spot was cleared.
He cried so hard
That he disappeared.

~ Margaret Hillert, January Thaw

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