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Posts Tagged ‘Jack in the pulpit’

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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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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

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The hand size flower heads on hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) have now fully opened and they are blossoming beautifully this year. I’ve never seen so many; they grow alongside many of our roads and are easily seen. They are one of our most beautiful native shrubs; George Washington thought so highly of them he planted two at Mt. Vernon.

The larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge of the hobblebush flower heads (corymbs) opened earlier and the small fertile flowers in the center have just opened and can now be pollinated. Though very beautiful hobblebush flowers have a bit of an unpleasant fragrance, at least to my nose.

The large sterile flowers do the work of attracting insects but it’s the tiny fertile flowers that do all the work of seed production. Once pollinated they will become berries that turn from green to bright red to deep purple black. Birds help spread the seeds far and wide but it takes two years for them to germinate. Moose and deer will eat the shrub right back to the ground, and ruffed grouse, brown thrasher, Swainson’s thrush, cedar waxwings, red-eyed vireos, and pine grosbeaks eat the berries.

There are thought to be over 200 species of viburnum and one of the most fragrant is the mayflower viburnum (Viburnum carlesii,) named after the mayflower or trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) because of its scent. It is an old fashioned, much loved shrub that is also called Korean spicebush. The flower heads are on the small size, maybe as big as a small tangerine, but the scent from one shrub full of them can be detected anywhere in my yard.

Jack in the pulpit plants (Arisaema triphyllum) have just started blooming. This plant is in the arum family and is similar to the “cuckoo pint” plant found in the U.K. Another name for Jack in the pulpit is Indian turnip, because Native Americans knew how to cook the poisonous root to remove the toxic calcium oxalate crystals. They called the plant “tcika-tape” which translates as “bad sick,” but they knew how to use it so they didn’t get sick. They also used the root medicinally for a variety of ailments, including as a treatment for sore eyes. This plant is also called bog onion because the root looks like a small onion and it grows in low, damp places.

I always lift the hood of Jack in the pulpits to see the beautiful stripes and to see if Jack is being pollinated. Jack is the black, club shaped spadix surrounded by the showy striped spathe, which is the pulpit. The plant has a fungal odor that attracts gnats and other insects and if they do their job Jack will become a bunch of bright red berries that white tail deer love to snack on.

Johnny jump up is a plant that has been known for a very long time and goes by many common names. It’s said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. I think “three-faces in a hood” is my favorite.  In medieval times it was called heartsease and was used in love potions. Viola tricolor is believed to be the original wild form of all the modern varieties of pansy. I’m lucky enough to have them popping up at the edge of my lawn.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is not native to New Hampshire and I have only seen two of the trees growing in this area. Both are on private property but this one has branches overhanging a sidewalk so I’m able to get close to it. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. They’re very pretty trees though, and if I was starting a new garden I think I’d try growing one or two.

I’m always surprised by how small the pea like purple flowers are on a redbud but the tree makes up for it by producing plenty of them.

Lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) and highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are blooming well this year and that means we’ll probably see a bountiful crop of berries, provided we don’t have a late frost. Blueberries are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America. The other two are cranberries and concord grapes, but then I wonder about crabapples, which are also native fruits. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

Red currant (Ribes rubrum or Ribes sativum) bushes were once grown on farms all over the United States but the plant was found to harbor white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola,) so in the early 1900s, the federal and state governments outlawed the growing of currants and gooseberries to prevent the spread of the disease. The fungus attacks both currants and white pines (Pinus strobus,) which must live near each other for the blister rust fungus to complete its life cycle. Black currants (Ribes nigrum) are especially susceptible. The federal ban was lifted in 1966 but some states still ban the sale of currants and gooseberries. The plant’s flowers might not win a blue ribbon for beauty but that’s okay because currants are grown for their berries. Fruits range in color from dark red to pink, yellow, white and beige, and they continue to sweeten on the bush even after they seem to be fully ripe. Though often called “wild currant” red currant is native to Europe and has escaped. I found these examples on land that was once farmland.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms aren’t much in the way of fragrance because of a compound called trimethylamine, which gives the plant a slightly fishy odor, but they’re big on beauty with their plum colored anthers. They are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today.  There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

The flowers of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) look like bells dangling on a cord. They usually hang down under the leaves and can be very hard to get a good photo of unless you can find them hanging over a leaf, and that’s what happened here. The yellowish green bell shaped flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers.

Another view of the unusual striped maple flowers. Each flower has 5 green sepals and 5 greenish-yellow petals with outward turning lobes that are a bit longer than the sepals. Their six to eight stamens show that those in the photo are male flowers. A striped maple needs to be at least ten years old to produce seeds. They like cool moist woods and their large, hand size leaves mean they can take quite a lot of shade, so they grow in the understory. Native Americans are said to have used the wood of striped maple to make arrows and its bark for tea.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed.

Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to an article in the New York Times, it’s delicious.

There are something like 500 plants in the veronica family and they can be tough to tell apart, but I think this one might be slender speedwell (Veronica filiformis.) It’s a tiny thing that I found growing in a lawn and I thought I’d see if my camera was capable of taking its photo. This particular speedwell is native to Europe and is considered a lawn weed but there are many others that are native to the U.S., and Native Americans used some of them to treat asthma and allergies.

The speedwell was growing alongside a dandelion and L thought a photo of both would be a great way to show you just how small the speedwell’s blossoms were. A single blossom could easily hide behind a pea.

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their striking foliage as the flowers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

The small, numerous flowers of foamflower have 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. It is said that the long stamens are what give foamflowers their frothy appearance, along with their common name. Native Americans used the leaves and roots of foamflower medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “coolwort” because the leaves were also used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

Two of my great loves are history and botany, and they come together in the poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus.) It is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on; it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. Its scent is spicy and pleasing but it is said to be so powerfully fragrant that people can get sick from being in an enclosed room with it. I like it because of its historical baggage; it always makes me think of ancient Rome and Greece, where toga wearing poets admired its beauty. It has naturalized throughout this area and can be found in unmown fields, and it’s still just as beautiful today as it was then, over 2,000 years ago.

Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought? ~Sophie Scholl

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1. Trail

On Saturday I went to see some old friends and to get there I had to take a short hike down this rail trail in Westmoreland. It was a warm and beautiful spring day and I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many birds singing. The dark dot at the end of the trail is where we’re going. It looks like a tunnel in this photo but it isn’t.

2. Woods

The forest here is made up of nearly all hardwood trees; mostly beech, maple and oak, and there are some old, large examples here. The fallen tree shown in this photo doesn’t look like much because I was so far away from it, but it’s one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen.

3. Oak

For every fallen tree there is a new one coming along to replace it and the oaks were just unfurling their new leaves when I was here.

4. Ledges

Here we are already. This is the dark spot that looked like a tunnel at the end of the trail in that first photo. For a short time there are ledges on either side of the trail made by the railroad blasting their way through the bedrock 150 years ago, and some remarkable plants grow here.

5. Ledges

Almost every crevice has some type of plant or tree growing out of it.

6. Columbines

And these are the old friends that I came here to see; the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis.) They like to grow on partially shaded rocky slopes so this area is perfect for them. How they got here is anyone’s guess but their numbers have been steadily increasing since I first found them. Though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen them.

7. Columbine

They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

8. Columbine

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. From this viewpoint you can see the 5 funnel shaped holes that are the start of the nectar spurs. Long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

9. White Ledge

Columbines like sandy, well-drained soil on the poor side that has limestone in it, so seeing them is a good indication of what type of soil is in the area.  Some of the stone faces here are covered by grayish white deposits of something I’m assuming is limestone leaching out of the stone. At first I thought there were lichens covering the stone but the powdery deposits rub off easily with a finger and I’ve never seen a lichen do that.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

You can tell that there are pockets of somewhat deep soil on the ledges because Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) also grows here. They have a root that forms a corm, which is a kind of flattened bulb much like those found on gladiolus plants, and they need a few inches of soil to grow well.

11. Trillium

At the base of the ledges purple trillium (Trillium erectum) and many other plants grow. It is near the end of its brief time with us and this one was just about done blooming. If pollinated a three part seed capsule will form.

12. Poison Ivy

It’s easy when photographing flowers and other ground dwellers to become so absorbed in the subject at hand that you don’t pay attention to your surroundings and just kneel or lie wherever you need to be to get the best photo. That wouldn’t be wise here because poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also lives here and I’ve ended up with itchy knees by kneeling on leafless vines in the early spring. Luckily I’m not very sensitive to it and the rash usually just stays on my knees without spreading, but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it, so I try to always watch for it.

13. Stone Wall

When the railroad had to blast through a hillside they used the stone to fill in low spots, but if they had too much they simply piled the excess in the woods. Local people often took the stone to build with and this landowner built a stone wall with it. You can tell exactly where the stone came from because there isn’t a rounded edge on a single one. Our natural stones are almost always rounded.

14. Concrete Pad

There are reminders of the railroad all along this trail. I’m guessing that a signal box once stood on this concrete pad, because an old road once crossed the tracks up ahead.

15. Wires

Whatever the signal was it took 6 stout wires to control it.

16. Tie Plate

I flipped this tie plate over to see if there was any writing on it. I’ve seen them with a maker’s name and date but this one didn’t have a mark on it.

17. Fallen Beech

One of the biggest beech trees I’ve seen fell last year and shattered some oaks as big as watermelons when it did. Last summer I heard a tree fall in the woods close to where I was but not close enough to see. I’ll never forget the sound it made as it crashed its way to the forest floor. This beech fell right across the rail trail and I’m glad I wasn’t nearby when it happened. I see a startling number of fallen trees; usually at least one each year in every location that I visit regularly, and often many more.

18. Trail

I was going to take you on a climb up a new (to me) hill for this post but there were high wind gusts forecast for Sunday so I stayed out of the woods for most of the day and visited meadows instead. I’m very grateful that I got to see such a rare sight and I hope you enjoyed seeing the wild columbines as well. For me this walk has become an annual spring rite and I always look forward to it.

Gratitude turns anything into enough, puts past to rest, brings tranquility to our hopes of tomorrow, and blesses today with harmony and bliss. ~ Joseph Rain

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1. Shadbush

So far the month of May has been cloudy, cool and often rainy at least part of every day, and the lack of sunshine is beginning to have an impact on the bloom times of some wildflowers. I’m having a bit of trouble finding what I expect, but at the same time am often surprised by what is blooming early. The native shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) blossoms arrived right on schedule this year though. These tall shrubs with small white flowers line the roadsides at this time of year and it’s a pleasure to see them, even if the sun isn’t shining. The shrub in the above photo either fell over or grew this way, very close to the water. They usually stand very straight, reaching up to 25 feet tall.

2. Shadbush Flowers

Shadbushes originally got their name from the way they bloomed when the shad fish were running upriver to spawn. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens. The fruit is said to resemble blueberry in taste, with a hint of almond from the seeds. Shadbush wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. It can also be very straight, and Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. Shadbush makes an excellent garden shrub or small tree and is easily found in nurseries. It grows naturally at the edge of forests.

3. Magnolia

I thought this magnolia blossom was a beautiful thing. It was on a dwarf tree that couldn’t have even been 5 feet tall. I think if I planted one it would be more for the fragrance than flower shape or color. If there are fragrances in the afterlife surely this will be one of them. Others might be lilac, rose, and tiny, fragrant wild grape. At least I like to think so.

4. PJM Rohdodendron

Purple flowered PJM rhododendrons usually bloom at about the same time as forsythia but they’re a little late this year. The PJM in the name is for Peter J. Mezitt who developed the plant and also founded Weston Nurseries in Weston, Massachusetts. They are also called little leaf rhododendron and take shearing fairly well. They are well liked here and have become almost as common as forsythia.

5. Primroses

In the blogs I read from the United Kingdom primroses (Primula) are wildflowers that grow on roadsides, but I rarely see them here because few people grow them and they are apparently not at all invasive. This yellow example bloomed beautifully in the garden of friends on a rainy day. The word primula comes from the Latin primus, which means first and applies to flowers that bloom earliest in the spring.

6. Trillium

It’s hard to believe that I have to say goodbye to our purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) when I’ve barely had a chance to say hello, but the darker color near the center of this flower tells me that it isn’t long for this world. It’s always hard to see these beauties fade because they’re here for such a short time, but their passing means that our painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) will start blooming and they’re very beautiful as well.

7. Anemones

We have at least 3 different anemones here in this part of New Hampshire and they look enough alike to be easily confused, but I think these examples are wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia.) The flowers are sun lovers and close as soon as it clouds over, so getting a photo of them open has been a challenge this year. They dance in the slightest breeze and have earned the name windflower because of it. Greek legends say that Anemos, the Wind, sends anemones in early spring to warn of his coming.

8. Cherry Blossoms

New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms, I believe. It can be difficult to tell them apart.

9. Cinquefoil

After dandelions, violets, and bluets cinquefoil appears in lawns. I gave up on small yellow flowers a few years ago after deciding life was too short to try to identify them all but I’m fairly certain that this example is a cinquefoil. The odd thing about this particular flower is its six petals; cinquefoil normally has five. Its 5 leaves look a lot like strawberry leaves and I think it might be the dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), which is a native.

10. Andromeda

Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) flowers appear in long dangling strings of small blueberry like blossoms. Some think the blossoms resemble lily of the valley so another common name for the plant is lily of the valley shrub. Some varieties have beautiful red leaves on their new shoots.

11. Bluets

Some flowers, especially those we have labeled weeds like dandelions and bluets, are having a banner year. I’ve never seen drifts of bluets (Houstonia caerulea) like those I’ve seen this year. This example in the above photo seemed to go on and on. If left alone bluets will bloom for much of the summer.

12. Bluets

Bluets are cheery, beautiful little things but individual flowers are very small. Luckily they always grow in tufts of many blossoms and are easily found. Each year I always try to find the flowers that best live up to their name. So far the examples in the above photo are the winners but there are bluer ones out there, I’m sure.

13. Hellebore

Friends of mine started growing hellebores a few years ago and have some beautiful ones. This pinkish example just blossomed and though I’d be happy to see it in my yard there is a deep purple one that is beautiful beyond words, and it blooms as much as a month earlier.

14. Jack in the Pulpit

I always lift the hood of Jack in the pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) to see the beautiful stripes and to see if Jack is being pollinated. Jack is the black, club shaped spadix surrounded by the showy striped spathe, which is the pulpit. The plant has a fungal odor that attracts gnats and other insects and if they do their job Jack will become a bunch of bright red berries that white tail deer love to snack on.

Another name for Jack in the pulpit is Indian turnip, because Native Americans knew how to cook the poisonous root to remove the toxic calcium oxalate crystals. They called the plant “tcika-tape” which translates as “bad sick,” but they knew how to use it so they didn’t get sick. They also used the root medicinally for a variety of ailments, including as a treatment for sore eyes. This plant is also called bog onion because the root looks like a small onion and it grows in low, damp places. It is in the arum family and is similar to the “cuckoo pint” plant found in the U.K.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.
~ Zenkei Shibayama

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1. Trail

This “deep cut” rail trail is a place that I hadn’t visited for a few months so, since it was a hot day and this narrow man-made canyon has natural air conditioning, down I went. I say “down” because if you look up at the top at the cliff face on the left side of the photo, that’s the height of the road where you park and walk in, and in places these ledges soar to 50-60 feet to reach road level. Somehow the still air on the outside is drawn into this place on a breeze that is created right here and it’s always about 10 degrees cooler.

2. Drill Cut

The railroad workers cut through solid rock by drilling holes into the stone and then blasting. Deep holes like these were probably drilled by steam power and are evidence that black powder rather than dynamite was used. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force. After the wall face was blasted away someone had to clean up tons of stone. There are several dump sites that can be seen from the highway, but they are quite far from this cut.

3. Stone Wall

Not all of the blasted stone was dumped; stone retaining walls line parts of the cut to hold back the hillside. The railroad must have had stone cutters working right at the site, cutting and fitting the blasted stone into stone walls that have stood since the mid-1800s.

4. The Chesire

A stainless steel 3 car diesel streamliner with “Cheshire” (for the Cheshire Railroad) proudly displayed on its nose ran through here from 1935 until it was retired in 1957. A big 600 horsepower Winton engine was in the first car. The second car was a combination baggage / mail / buffet dining car, and the third car had coach seating for 188 passengers with rounded glass on its end that allowed 270 degrees of countryside observation. A sister train called The Flying Yankee ran on another part of the railway.

5. Wall Growth

What the passengers on The Cheshire saw out of the windows was probably very close to what we see here today. Mosses, ferns, vines, liverworts and many kinds of plants cover every inch of space in areas, making the place look like James Hilton’s Shangri-La or the hanging gardens of Babylon. For a plant nut it’s a wondrous sight.

6. Drainage

Groundwater constantly seeps from the ledges and runs through drainage channels on either side of the rail bed. These channels are filled with water year round and help keep the humidity stable and slightly higher than it would be otherwise. They’ve also kept the rail bed dry for over a century.

7. Great Scented Liverwort

Great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum), grows in places where it never dries out so they love growing over the drainage channels here. They are very fussy about water quality and will only grow where the water is clean and pure. Though they like a lot of water they can’t stand being submerged for any length of time and stop growing just short of the water surface. When you crush a leaf of this liverwort you smell a clean spicy aroma that would make an excellent air freshener, and I’m surprised that nobody has bottled it.

8. Great Scented Liverwort

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. I think it’s a beautiful thing.

9. Overleaf Pella Liverwort

Another liverwort that grows here is called overleaf pellia (Pellia epiphylla.) At a glance it looks like great scented liverwort but a close look shows that its leaf surfaces are very different. This liverwort always reminds me of bacon and I’ve learned to spot it from a distance by its shape and wavy edges. In colder weather it often turns purple and shrivels a bit.

10. Cliffs

Because the 3-4 foot wide drainage channels separate anyone walking on the rail trail from the ledge walls I put on rubber boots and walk in the water of the channels to get close to the liverworts. The problem with doing this is rocks can and do fall from these walls; I’ve seen fallen stones that would have crushed half a car. So far I’ve never seen one fall but they are lying around everywhere, so it’s just a matter of time. That thought stays with me when I’m walking in the drainage channels, so I don’t stay in them long.

11. Jack in the Pulpit

Falling rocks or not, who could resist wanting to see things like these bright red Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) up close? Jack in the pulpit plants grow all over these ledges and when the berries form their weight makes the stems bend and they are left hanging.

12. NE Asters

Flowering plants of all kinds, from coltsfoot in spring to the New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) seen here, grow along the edges of the drainage channels. This is the only place I know of where I can see some form of green growing thing year round. Even in winter there are mosses, liverworts, and evergreen ferns to see.

13. Tall Meadow Rue

One of the flowers that grow here is waxy leaf meadow rue (Thalictrum revolutum.) This plant looks very similar to tall meadow rue and I thought that’s what it was, but the black seeds match only the waxy leaf meadow rue, from what I’ve seen. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this plant so if you know it I’d really like to hear about it.

14. Algae

One of the strangest things growing here are these green algae, (Trentepohlia aurea) which are actually bright orange. 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 in the algae. It grows like small tufts of hair all over certain rocks. I’m not sure what that algae / stone attraction is, but it only grows on certain ones and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it.

15. Algae

The algae are very small and hard to photograph. They are described as “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.” The pigment that masks the green chlorophyll can also be yellow or red. In India in 2001 airborne spores from these algae were in high enough concentrations in to cause a “red rain” that actually stained clothes pink. Yellow, green, and black rain was also reported.

16. Orange Minerals

In the winter ice columns as big as tree trunks grow here and they are colored by what I’ve assumed were minerals leaching from the soil. I’ve seen several shades of blue ice, green ice, orange Ice, brown ice and even black ice. This photo shows what I think is an instance of the ice coloring minerals leaching from the soil. I saw this happening in a few different places.

17. Shack

Each time I come here there is less to see of the old lineman’s shack. Since there is so little left of the walls I expect the roof to cave it, but still it hangs on. There are people’s initials and dates going back to at least 1925 chalked on its walls so people have been visiting it for nearly 100 years, at least.

18. Rotor

This object wasn’t here when I was here last, but there it sat on the floor of the lineman’s shack.  At first I thought it was a piece of equipment used to run the railroad but a friend suggested that it was a television antenna rotor control box, and when I Googled 1950s television antenna rotor control sure enough, I found several images of items that looked much like it. Did they watch television here in the shack I wonder, or did they use an antenna for some other purpose?

There are roads known by everyone and there are roads known by no one. Choose the second, the mysterious one where many glories are hidden. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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Saturday, September 26th

Join Clif Seifer and Wendy Ward on an inaugural birding expedition along the new boardwalk through Tenant Swamp at Keene Middle School, where we’re likely to encounter a variety of migrating woodland warblers and thrushes. Meet at 7:30 a.m. (until 9 am) at the entrance to the boardwalk, which is located behind the school at the back of the playing fields.

 

 

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1. Sign

If you want to immerse yourself in nature the High Blue Trail in Walpole, New Hampshire is a good place to do it. Immersed in nature is my favorite condition, so I chose to climb here recently.

2. Trail

The trail from the start to the overlook is all uphill but it’s a gentle grade and a short climb.

3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) leaves reminded me of spring, which seems like it happened just a couple of weeks ago.

4. Meadow

Before you know it you’re out of the woods and in the meadow. You have to walk through here to get to the second half of the trail, so it’s kind of a midway point. I was glad that it had been mowed. I’ve been bitten by ticks 3 times this year.

5. Marginal Wood Fern

I stopped to admire the marginal wood ferns (Dryopteris marginalis) that grow along the meadow’s edge. Many ferns are already starting to yellow but these are evergreen.

6. Marginal Wood Fern

The round spore producing sori growing along the margins of the leaflets (pinnae) told me that this was marginal wood fern. Just before the spores are ready to be released the sori turn bluish purple, so I’m going to have to try to remember to watch closely.

7. Striped Maple

Striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) showed how it came by its name. It is also called moosewood because moose will often eat its bark in the winter. It is said that Native Americans used this tree’s fine grained wood to make arrows.

8. Jack in the Pulpit

Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) stops photosynthesizing early but its green berries will continue to ripen to red even after the leaves have withered. It could be that the plant sheds its leaves to put more energy into fruit production.

9. Foundation

Every time I come up here I have to stop at what’s left of the old fieldstone foundation and wonder about the people who once called this place home. I know nothing about them except that they were hard workers.

10.Wall

And I know that by the stone walls that they built and the land that they cleared as they built them, probably by using a single axe. What is now forest was once open pasture and chopping that pasture out of old growth forest must have been near back breaking labor.

11. Pond

I’ve always wondered if the small pond near the foundation was their source of water. I’ve never seen duckweed on it before but it was almost covered with it on this day. I wonder how it got here. Ducks, maybe? I often hear them up here.

12. Duckweed

I realized that I’d gone through life up to this point completely ignoring duckweed, so I got down on all fours at the pond’s edge and reached out with the camera in one less than steady hand to get this close up of it. Since then I’ve learned that these are the smallest flowering plants known, with some flowers measuring only .012 inches (0.3 mm) long. I’ve also learned that if duckweed covers the entire surface of a pond for an extended period of time oxygen depletion happens, and without oxygen fish die. Duckweed can also kill submerged plants by blocking sunlight, so these tiny plants can have a big impact.

13. Sign

The paint seems to be weathering off the summit sign quickly now.  It can be very windy up here but the sign is protected by the tree it’s on, so I doubt that it’s the cause of it.

14. View

It’s a good thing I don’t climb solely for the view because I’d often be disappointed. This day was very hazy, hot and humid and the camera just didn’t seem to like landscape photography. Still, you could see Stratton Mountain across the Connecticut River Valley in Vermont. On a day so hot it seemed hard to believe that they would be making snow over there soon, but they’ll expect full lifts on Thanksgiving Day, which is November 26th.

15. View

Zooming in on the hills made things even worse but the view, though hazy, was very blue, as it always is. Since blue is my favorite color I was happy with it.

16. Clover

I’ve learned that when you pay attention to the little things in life like these beautiful clover leaves, the big things take care of themselves, and some even disappear altogether. I often end these walks feeling as if I don’t have a care in the world and, after walking regularly for a while, I now feel that way most every day. Living is easy once you’ve learned how.

17. Tree Bark

I saw a large piece of tree bark beside the trail that seemed strangely colored but because I’m colorblind I couldn’t really tell what colors I was seeing. It was only when I used my color finding software that I found salmon pink, India red, sandy brown, sienna, rosy brown, gray, and even peach puff. I wish I had turned it over to try and figure out which kind of tree it came from because I’d really like to know what trees are hiding such beautiful colors on their inner bark.

18. Dinosaur

I took a trail that I’ve never taken before on my way down. It looked like a game trail at first but it quickly became too wide for that. A stone wall crossed the trail near a glade full of ferns and when I stopped to look at a piece of milky quartz in the wall I spotted a dinosaur standing guard over 4 or 5 coins.  I can’t speak for the age of the dinosaur but the coins were old enough to have to decipher them by size rather than the markings. I made them out to be about 61 cents worth. As I walked on I had to smile to think of a little boy or girl loving this place enough to leave their favorite toy and the loose change in their pocket as a thank you gift to nature. I hope they’re still as thankful at 70.

It’s all still there in heart and soul. The walk, the hills, the sky, the solitary pain and pleasure–they will grow larger, sweeter, lovelier in the days and years to come. ~Edward Abbey

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