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Posts Tagged ‘Jack in the Pulpit Berries’

We’ve had a return to summer here in southwestern New Hampshire and it was a hot, humid day when I sought out the natural air conditioning of the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s always about 10 degrees cooler here and there is almost always a breeze blowing through the man-made canyon. The canyon was hacked out of the bedrock by railroad workers in the mid-1800s. The rails are long gone but luckily, thanks to the efforts of local snowmobile clubs, the trails remain open. Note all the fallen leaves.  Already.

The last time I was here in May I found that a huge stone had fallen from the canyon wall. Though someone had been cleaning out the drainage ditches and cutting brush, the stone still sat where it had fallen. I think it would take a good size bulldozer to move it but then, move it where? The only way out of here is by one end or the other; there are no side trails.

Rocks aren’t the only things falling here; a large maple tree had fallen as well, but someone had cut it up. It seems odd that I see so many things that have fallen but I never see them fall. Maybe I should just count my blessings. That tree or the boulder could have easily killed a person.

The railroad used the stone blasted from the canyon to build retaining walls along parts of the trail. They’re beautifully built and they’ve held the hillside back for 150 years. Anyone who knows much about lichens would expect a wall like this one to be covered with them, but this entire place is remarkably almost lichen free.

Most of the trail is natural; just a very long trench cut through the bedrock of the hillside. It really must have been difficult to remove the snow from here in the winter so trains could get through. The canyon walls would have allowed just a few feet of space on either side of a train.

Many kinds of mosses, liverworts, ferns, flowering plants, and trees grow on these ledges, constantly watered by groundwater that seeps out of cracks in the stone. The scope of what you can find here is really amazing; I’ve seen things here that I’ve never seen anywhere else. At this time of year the lush green growth always reminds me of the Shangri la that James Hilton wrote about in his book Lost Horizon.

Drainage ditches on either side of the rail bed catch all the seeping groundwater and transport it out of the canyon so the rail bed stays dry. The railroad built the rail bed by laying large, flat stones like Roman road builders once did. On top of that they put course gravel, and over the gravel they laid track ballast. Track ballast is the crushed stone on which the ties or sleepers were laid. If the ballast was thick enough it kept weeds from growing and helped with drainage. Judging by all of the plants that usually grow alongside the ditches the ballast is most likely gone now, or it has certainly thinned out. I knew that people had been working here because all of the shoulder high plants that normally grew alongside the ditches had been cut, but they’ll grow back.

8. Washed Out Trail

We had torrential storms this past summer which in certain instances dropped 4 inches or more of rain in less than 24 hours in places, and this was one of those places. This photo shows a 3 foot wide, 6 inch deep trench that rushing water cut down the center of the rail bed. There were 2 or 3 other places that had washed out as well, so somebody has a lot of work ahead of them. Luckily trucks can get in here, but I doubt anything bigger than a one ton dump truck would get through without destroying the rail bed. The only thing good about the washout was that it let me see how the railroad built the rail bed.

Green algae (Trentepohlia aurea) grow here and there on the walls and are bright orange and very hairy. They grow like small tufts of hair all over some rocks. I’m not sure what the algae / stone attraction is, but it only grows on certain stones and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. I keep hoping I’ll see it producing spores but I never have. In fact I’m not sure if I’d know when it was producing spores because it always looks the same to me.  Algae do produce spores though, and they can produce them in high enough concentrations to actually color rainfall. Red, yellow, green, and black rain has been reported in various parts of the world.

I saw plenty of asters on this trip and some of them grew right out of the cracks in the stone walls of the canyon. Many plants and even trees grow on these walls, wherever they can gain a foothold.

In the winter huge columns of ice, some as big as tree trunks and 50 feet tall, grow here; fed by the constantly dripping groundwater. In places the groundwater carries a lot of minerals with it, and the above photo shows orange staining on the stone, probably caused by iron in the soil or stone. The minerals in the water also stain the ice columns in winter and you can find blue, green, red, orange, yellow, brown, and even black ice. It’s a magical, beautiful place when we have a cold winter.

The ledges soar overhead, up to 50 feet in places, and rock and ice climbers can often be found training here. I haven’t been able to talk to any of them to see what they think of the large boulder that fell, but I would think that it would make them a bit nervous. The shadows make the stone look very dark but it isn’t quite as dark as the camera thinks it is.

The sun lit up the yellow fall foliage of the black birches (Betula lenta) that grow at the top of the canyon walls. This tree is also called sweet birch and its numbers were once decimated because of its use as a source of oil of wintergreen. The bark looks a lot like cherry bark but chewing a twig is the best way to identify it; if it tastes like wintergreen then it is black birch. If not then it is most likely a cherry.

Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) grows well here in the moist soil, and even grows on the ledges. Since they have a root much like the corm on a gladiolus I’m not sure how they manage to grow on stone but they do. Though it is considered toxic Native Americans cooked and ate the roots, and this gave the plant the name Indian turnip. Jack in the pulpit is a native plant in the arum family similar to the Lords and Ladies plant found in the U.K.

The ripe fruit of a Jack in the pulpit is bright red when ripe. Deer love these berries and often come by and chomp off the top of the plant, but I don’t know if deer dare to come into this canyon. I’ve never seen any signs of them here. Each Jack in the pulpit berry starts out green and contains 3-5 seeds.

Where it hadn’t been cut jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) still bloomed. These blossoms dangle at the ends of long filament and sway in the slightest breath of a breeze, so it was tricky getting a shot of one here where the breezes almost always blow.

Many species of moss grow on the moist stone ledges. I think this example was cypress-leaved plait-moss (Hypnum cupressiforme,) also called sheet moss or Hypnum moss. It is one of the mosses that are often used in moss gardens.

My favorite liverwort is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) and they grow here on the stone ledges by the thousands. I was worried about them last year because many of them turned gray and looked like they might be dying, but now they’re back to their green color and looked to be good and healthy. Last year’s color change must have been a reaction to the drought. These plants need plenty of water.

Great scented liverwort is also called snakeskin liverwort, for obvious reasons. The reason it looks so reptilian is because of the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surfaces. It is the only liverwort with this feature, so it is very easy to identify. They love growing over the drainage channels here with ground water dripping on them from above. They are very fussy about water quality and will only grow where the water is clean and pure.  When you crush a leaf of this liverwort you smell a clean spicy aroma that I always think would make an excellent air freshener. They’re very beautiful things and I wish I could see them every day.

Another pretty moss that grows on the ledges is the leafy common pocket moss (Fissidens taxifolia.) This small moss is a water lover that grows near waterfalls and streams on rock, wood, or soil. It’s very small though; what shows in this photo would fit on the face of a penny. Its tiny leaves are only one cell thick and in the right light they are translucent.

The trail goes on all the way to Keene and I always tell myself that someday I’m going to follow it all that way, but by the time I’ve reached the old lineman’s shack I’m usually ready to turn around and head back. By this time I’ve seen much and have taken hundreds of photos, so I don’t need any more of those.  I like to take a little time poking around the old shack and usually end up wondering how it is still standing, and if it will make it through another winter. It was built well, that’s for sure. It’s only supported by two walls and only has half a roof and half a floor now.

There is always an adventure waiting in the woods. ~Katelyn S. Bolds

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Foggy Morning

I have a new job and the road that leads to it is lined with things that I’ve never seen before. Half-moon pond is one of them and this is what it looked like early one recent foggy morning. I don’t know the name of the hill but I’d like to climb it to see what the pond looks like from up there. It’s supposed to be shaped like a half circle.

2. Sun Through the Trees

I had to drive through this on the same morning that the first photo of the pond was taken. Maybe this is a special place; I’ve seen this happen several times now but only right here at this spot and nowhere else.

3. Riverbank Grape

River grapes (Vitis riparia) have that name because they like to grow on riverbanks. They are also called frost grapes and have been known to survive temperatures as low as -70°F. Because of their extreme hardiness they are used as rootstock for several less hardy commercial varieties. The grapes are small but birds and animals love them. I like them because of the way they make the woods smell like grape jelly on warm fall days. There is a good crop this year, so I should get my fill of that.

4. Autumn Olive Fruit

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) was imported for cultivation from Japan in 1830 and is one of the most invasive shrubs we have. It’s a plant that’s hard to hate though, because its berries are delicious and their content of lycopene is 7 to 17 times higher than tomatoes. Also, the pale yellow flowers are very fragrant just when lilacs finish blooming. It is a very vigorous shrub that is hard to kill but birds love its berries and spread it far and wide. Cutting it only makes it come back twice as bushy so digging it out is the way to go. The sale of this plant is prohibited in New Hampshire but that will do little good now that it grows along forest edges almost everywhere you look.

5. Black Raspberry

Many plants like the first year black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) pictured here use the same powdery, waxy white bloom as a form of protection against moisture loss and sunburn. On plants like black raspberries, blue stemmed goldenrod, smoky eye boulder lichens, and the river grapes seen previously, the bloom can appear to be very blue in the right kind of light. Finding such a beautiful color in nature is always an unexpected pleasure.

6. Flying Machine

I heard a loud droning buzz when I was exploring the edges of a swamp recently and before long this –whatever it is- came into view. What is it, a flying machine or maybe an ultralight? I’m not sure what I should call it but there were two people in it and now I know how the people who watched Wilbur and Orville Wright fly that first plane felt: flabbergasted.

7. Jack in the Pulpit Berries

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are turning from dark green to bright red, and when they’re all nice and ripe a deer will most likely come along and eat the whole bunch of them, frustrating nature photographers far and wide.

All parts of this plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable.

8. Pokeweed Berry

I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana.) They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses.

9. Milkweed Aphids

I went to visit my favorite swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) recently and found it covered in bright orange milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii). Since I didn’t have a hose to wash them off with I had to let nature run its course.

10. Milkweed Aphids

Milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii) or any other aphid will literally suck the life out of a plant if they appear in sufficient numbers. When conditions get crowded and there are too many milkweed aphids females will grow wings and fly off to find another plant, which is what I think might have been happening here. Swamp milkweed is one of my favorite flowers and I really look forward to seeing them each summer, so I hope the aphids won’t weaken this plant too drastically.

11. Winged Sumac Aphids

While we’re on the subject of aphids, by an unfortunate coincidence the Smithsonian Institution people who wanted to collect sumac pouch galls sent me an email to tell me they were coming just as I changed my service provider. They were here and I didn’t know it but they found the galls they wanted and all is well. For those who haven’t heard, the Smithsonian is studying how staghorn sumacs and sumac gall aphids (Melaphis rhois) have co-evolved, and they have been collecting sample pouch galls from several states around the country. Science has shown that the sumacs and aphids have had an ongoing relationship for at least 48 million years. This photo shows the winged adult aphids that have emerged from the pouch gall, which is the thing that looks a bit like a potato. It’s hard to comprehend being able to see the very same thing now that could have been seen 48 million years ago.

12. Orange Xeromphalina kauffmanii Mushrooms

It’s amazing what you can see on an old rotten tree stump. The small orange mushrooms covering this one were enough to get me to stop. And then I started to look a little closer…

13. Slug

and saw that slugs were feeding on the mushrooms…

14. American Toad

and then I saw that American toads were there too, hoping to eat the slugs. Can you see the scary face on its back?

15. Orange Mushroom Gills

The mushrooms that caught my eye in the first place were cross-veined troop mushrooms (Xeromphalina kauffmanii,) which grow in large groups on hardwood logs and stumps. At least I think that is what they were. There is another nearly identical mushroom called Xeromphalina campanella which grows only on conifer logs and stumps. Whatever their name they are pretty little things, even when upside down. The largest was hardly the size of a penny.

16. Frog

The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) is vernal pool-dependent here in New Hampshire but its numbers are said to be in decline due to habitat loss. As dry as it has been here for the last couple of months it’s just not a good time to be a little wood frog. I hope this one found a pond.

17. White Pine Bark

Something (or someone) peeled some of the outer bark from an old white pine tree (Pinus strobus) and exposed its beautiful inner bark. I stood and admired its beauty, running my hand over it and thinking that it looked just like stained glass, and how fitting it was to find it here, in this outdoor cathedral.

It was in the forest that I found “the peace that passeth all understanding.”  ~Jane Goodall

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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