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Posts Tagged ‘Japanese barberry’

Just so you don’t think that every day is sunny here in New Hampshire I decided to flirt with a drenching rain and walk along the Ashuelot River last Saturday. The forecast was for rain and lots of it, but it wasn’t supposed to happen until later in the afternoon, so I thought I’d stay dry.

The trail was snow covered but not icy, so that made for a relatively easy walk. This trail I believe, though I have no real proof, was probably originally used by Native Americans to get to their favorite fishing spots. The word Ashuelot means “collection of many waters” in Native American language and just upriver from here an archeological dig discovered artifacts dating to about 12,000 years ago. Their villages were all along this river, so why wouldn’t they have used this trail or one very much like it in this same general area? People still fish here today as I did as a boy, and they still use this trail to get to their favorite spot.  

I startled a flock of black capped chickadees that were poking around on the bare ground under a white pine.

These branches of an old sunken tree always remind me of the timbers of a ship, so “shiver me timbers” came to mind. Actually the word shiver had nothing to do with ice or cold. It meant splintering the timbers of a ship, accomplished by storms or cannonballs. And it’s doubtful that a pirate ever said it; the term first appeared in print in 1834 in a novel called Jacob Faithful, written by a British Royal Navy officer named Captain Frederick Marryat.

On a meandering river like this one the current always flows slowest on the inside of a bend, and because of the slow moving current ice can form there easier than it can in the swift moving current on the outside of bends. That’s why only half the river was ice covered.

A pair of mallards swam near the far bank. She ate while he watched me for any sudden moves. Meanwhile I fumbled with my camera, trying to get a too short lens to reach them.

Maleberrry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrubs look much like a blueberry, even down to their flowers, but their flowers are much smaller than those of blueberry. I’d guess barely half the size of a blueberry blossom. The two shrubs often grow side by side and look so much alike that sometimes the only way to tell them apart is by the maleberry’s woody brown, 5 part seed capsules, seen here. These seed capsules stay on the shrub in some form or another year round and are helpful for identification, especially in spring when the two shrubs look nearly identical. They both grow all along the banks of the river.

Clubmosses poked up out of the snow. These evergreen plants have been around for a while; fossil records show that they were here 200 million years ago and that some now extinct species reached 100 feet tall. They are thought to be the source of the coal that we burn today. Though some club mosses look enough like evergreen seedlings to be called princess pine, ground pine, and ground cedar they bear no relation to pines or cedars. I remember, not too far in the past, people collecting club mosses to make Christmas wreaths and earn extra money. Unfortunately that led to over collecting and club mosses are now on the endangered species list in many states. They seem to be making a good comeback here, though I still see wreaths made from them every now and then.

Clubmosses don’t flower like pines and cedars but instead produce spores like a fern. Spores form in spike-like structures called sporophylls, which are the  yellowish “clubs” seen in the previous photo. They reproduce by their spores, which can take 20 years to germinate, and by horizontal underground stems. When the “clubs” look prickly like this example they have released their spores and they usually do so in winter. The spores were used to control bleeding and the plants used in a medicinal tea by Native Americans. The spores contain a wax like substance that repels water and have also been used to soothe diaper rash and other skin ailments. Dried spores are extremely flammable and will explode in a blinding flash when lit. They are the source of the flash powder used in some stage pyrotechnics and were used in photography as an early form of what later became the flash bulb.

I went off the trail into the woods to look at something and there was a tearing at my clothes. I thought I had stumbled into a blackberry patch but no, these were the thorns of multiflora rose  (Rosa multiflora.) This plant originally came from China to be used as an ornamental and as the old story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by using all the available sunshine. I’ve seen it reach thirty feet into trees. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth. Its thorns mean business though.

There were more thorns to worry about on invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) stems. They looked like knee high barbed wire. The shrub grows into nearly impenetrable thickets here along the river and fruits prolifically. It crowds out native plants and can prevent all but the smallest animals getting through. The berries are rich in vitamin C and are sometimes used to make jams and jellies.

A broken maple had fallen into another tree on the far side of the river.

Another broken maple was closer, right along the path. This was a red maple.

The target canker on the bark of this tree tells me it’s a red maple because, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, red maple is the only maple that gets target canker. There are plenty of red maples here, and in fact I think they’re the predominant species. Unfortunately many of them seem to be weak trees because they fall regularly. It isn’t because of target canker though; it doesn’t hurt the tree.

I saw through a see through tree.

Beavers had munched part way through an ash tree. I wish they’d take the tree down because half cut trees can be dangerous, especially with the winds we’ve had lately. In the end though, I don’t suppose the beavers care what I think. They have their reasons for doing what they do and they’ve been doing it for a lot longer than I’ve been wishing they wouldn’t.

While I was thinking about the beaver tree I almost stumbled into a muskrat burrow. It looked like it had collapsed and fallen in on itself. The word muskrat is thought to come from the Algonquin tribe of Native Americans and is said to mean “it is red.” I’ve read that the original native word was musquash. Muskrats will burrow into the banks of ponds, rivers or lakes creating an underwater entrance. They also build feeding platforms in wetlands.

Every now and then I’ll see a tree standing dead, with all of its bark gone. I always wonder what, even if the tree has died, would cause all of its bark to come off. It’s normal for trees to lose bark, but usually not all of it all at once. I’ve seen long strips of bark at the base of trees like this one, curled around the trunk where it fell. Sometimes these bark strips are 10 feet long or more and pliable, as if they fell off while still healthy.

I kicked around in the snow at the base of the tree in the previous photo and sure enough, there were strips of bark all around it. The bark was still pliable; this photo shows the beautiful colors of the inner bark.

The inner bark of trees can often be beautiful and sometimes unexpectedly colored. I’ve even seen blue. This photo shows the colors found under a strip of birch bark that someone had peeled off this tree.

I reached the little red bridge in what seemed like record time, but I had seen much. When you dawdle and look at this and admire that sometimes you lose yourself and time does strange things. In any event I had no appointments and had only to wonder about the coming rain. In the end I didn’t get wet so it was a perfect day. Actually it would have been a perfect day even if I had gotten wet.

All along the trail I kept getting glimpses of a bright golden something on the bank up ahead and finally when I reached the bridge I could see that it was only a clump of grass. I had to smile because all along the trail every time I had tried to get a photo of it there was something in the way, but I also had to admire it for its beautiful color. Never did a clump of dead grass please me more.

Those who find beauty in all of nature will find themselves at one with the secrets of life itself. ~L. Wolfe Gilbert

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Last Saturday it rained and Sunday the forecast was for 40 mile per hour wind gusts, so I decided to stay out of the woods and play instead along the banks of the Ashuelot river. I’ve seen a lot of blown down trees this year and it doesn’t take much to bring them down when the ground is saturated. And saturated it must be because all the snow has melted and the river is approaching bank-full.

Downstream from the bridge I stood on it was choppy.

I stopped trying to get a good wave photo in the dim light and admired an aster seed head instead.

The remnants of a bird’s nest hung from the branches of a small oak. I was surprised at the length of the fibers it was woven with. They must have been nearly a foot long. I saw an eastern phoebe nesting here in the past but I can’t say it that was a phoebe that built this nest.

Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni). The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds, rivers and streams.  

Birds are gobbling the berries of the invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) which isn’t a good thing, because this shrub doesn’t need any help in its mission to take over the understory. Since its introduction from Asia as an ornamental in 1860, Winged euonymus has spread as far south as the gulf coast, north into Canada, and as far west as Illinois. It creates such a dense shade nothing else can get a start, so our native plants won’t grow near it. Because of that burning bushes can create monocultures of hundreds or even thousands of plants, and that is what has happened along this stretch of river.

One of the curious things I saw on this walk was what I think was a hemispherical insect egg case attached to a tree.  It had a single hole in it where either the insect had escaped or a bird had pecked the larva out of it. It was hollow and had opened somehow and fallen away from the tree, and I could see that the inside was pure white.

I carefully closed the egg case (?) against the tree and this is what it looked like. The white spot is the hole in it showing the white inside. It was only about a half inch across and I don’t know what made it.

It was a mostly cloudy day but the sun was kind enough to come out long enough to illuminate a beautiful patch of snowy moss that was in front of me.

There is a trail here that follows a narrow spit of land that juts out into the river. I suppose you’d call it a peninsula. It’s wooded and though I told myself I had to stay out of the woods I couldn’t resist.

A little spruce tree reminded me that Christmas is near. It’s unusual to find a spruce growing here.

Barberry berries looked like tiny Christmas ornaments but barberry is extremely invasive so I’d rather not see it here. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is native to Japan. In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, recently “barberry has been implicated in the spread of Lyme disease. Researchers have noted higher densities of adult deer ticks and white-footed deer mice under barberry than under native shrubs. Deer mice, the larval host, have higher levels of larval tick infestation and more of the adult ticks are infected with Lyme disease. When barberry is controlled, fewer mice and ticks are present and infection rates drop.”

Japanese barberry has inner bark that is bright yellow. It also has thorns that are a son of a gun to kneel on.

This is the first gall I’ve ever seen on a silky dogwood shrub. I haven’t been able to identify the insect that made it but it doesn’t matter because galls don’t usually harm the plants they grow on.

There are many witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) on the peninsula and I like to come out here in winter to see their beautiful brown leaves.

Beavers like witch hazels too, and treat them as we would a garden vegetable. Over the years, due to the cropping by the beavers, I’ve seen the witch hazels here grow into many stemmed shrubs. The beavers come and harvest a few; never all of them, and then leave them alone for a few years to grow back. Then they repeat the process, all up and down the river. It’s so good to have beavers here, because when I was a boy this river was so polluted few animals frequented it. Muskrats, I think were the largest animal using the river then. I can’t remember ever seeing a single sign of beavers.

Witch hazel seed pods explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never have been.

Bark beetles usually attack weak or dying trees but they can also kill healthy trees by girdling them.  Adults bore small holes in the bark and lay eggs in a cavity. Once the larvae emerge from the eggs they make tunnels in the inner bark. Once they stop feeding they will pupate at the end of these tunnels. The pupae then become young adults and fly off to find another tree. These beetles carry spores of various fungi which can grow on the outer sapwood and stop the upward flow of water to the crown. Bark Beetles include over 100 species. It is said that their work is like a fingerprint for the species. They can create such beautiful patterns in wood that it looks as if a calligrapher has taken up a chisel instead of a pen. When I think of things like this, created under the bark of a limb and never meant for me to see, that’s when I feel an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude, just for being alive and able to see beauty like this every day.

Bark beetles excavate egg galleries in fresh phloem, the inner bark which carries food from leaves to the roots of a tree. For a living tree this is a death sentence.  

The peninsula I was on gets narrower and narrower until it becomes just a point jutting out into the river, but on this day the water was so high I knew I’d never reach the end.

In fact the end of the peninsula was under water and this was a scary scene that I’ve never seen before. I’m guessing the peninsula is going to be a hundred or so yards shorter from now on.

On my way back up the trail I tripped over a pine branch and fell to my knees right on some Japanese barberry thorns. Once I stopped cursing my bad luck I saw that in fact I’d had good luck, because I saw a little pink, brain like jelly fungus that I’ve never seen before growing on the branch I had tripped over. Now I just have to see if I can identify it. So far I haven’t had much luck doing so. It’s very unusual, and cute too. It was a little over a quarter inch long.

There is no music like a little river’s . . . It takes the mind out-of-doors . . . and . . . it quiets a man down like saying his prayers. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

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This photo of Half Moon Pond in Hancock only tells half the story because there is still plenty of snow out there, but one day we had a lot of rain that immediately froze into ice and now it’s hard to get into the woods without Yaktrax or some other non-slip grippers on your boots. Where there is still snow there is a thick, icy, and very slippery crust on it. I’ve wanted to climb a hill but I’m a bit put off by the ice. If I was a skater I think I’d be very happy right about now.

I saw this curious lens like formation in some puddle ice. I can’t even imagine how it would have formed.

You can see all kinds of things in ice and I found an owl in this section of puddle ice. It’s on the right, tilted slightly to the left.

Here is a closer look at the owl. There is blue around its eyes and a V shape between them. You can see some amazing things in puddle ice, from distant solar systems to frozen currents, and I always stop and give it a close look. In fact I’ve been known to get down on my hands and knees for a closer look but I found that I was disrupting traffic when I did that, so now I can only do it in the woods. “What is that nut doing kneeling on the side of the road?” I imagined the people wondering as they slowed to see. “Why, he’s taking pictures of a mud puddle!!” It takes all kinds, doesn’t it?

I found this strange ice formation on the river’s shore. I don’t know how it formed but I’m guessing that those branches had something to do with it. It reminded me of the Roman temple ruins I’ve seen photos of. Ice is an amazing thing that surprises me almost every time I look closely at it.

But enough with the ice; it’s giving me a chill. I found a grape vine hanging on for dear life, but it has nothing to worry about. River grapes (Vitis riparia) are also called frost grapes and they’ve been known to survive temperatures as low as -57 degrees F, so our paltry 20 below zero readings this year hardly bothered them at all. Their extreme cold tolerance makes their rootstock a favorite choice for many well-known grape varieties. If you grow grapes there’s a good chance that your vines were grafted onto river grape rootstock. I looked for some leftover grapes on this vine but the birds have taken every single one this year. I wouldn’t wonder; the poor things have had to suffer through two weeks of below zero weather this winter.

We have a bird here in North America called the acorn woodpecker and it makes its living stashing acorns in holes it has drilled into trees, utility poles, house siding, or any other wooden object. But they are a western bird and we don’t have them here in the east, so what bird put this acorn into this hole in a birch tree? After a little reading on the subject I found that many woodpeckers do this, though not on the same grand scale as the acorn woodpecker, apparently. In fact jays, nuthatches and even chickadees stash acorns in holes but they can’t drill the holes like a woodpecker can, as far as I know. In the end I can’t say which bird put this acorn in the hole. Maybe a woodpecker drilled the hole and another bird hid the acorn. In any event if I ever see an oak growing out of a birch I’ll know what happened.

I’ve always loved seeing birds but I knew early on that I could never really study them because of colorblindness. Still, I’ve learned an awful lot about them by blogging, and one of the things I’ve discovered is that the same birds in different parts of the country have different habits. In the Midwest for instance, birds will quickly eat all the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) berries they can find, but here in New Hampshire they pretty much leave them alone until spring and it’s common to see sumac seed heads still full of seeds even in April. I’ve read that sumac berries are very low in fat and that’s why birds shun them, but that doesn’t fully explain it. Sumac berries in the Midwest have the same amount of fat that those in New Hampshire do, so it must be something else. Maybe it’s the super abundance of other foods we have here. It could be that the birds simply don’t need to eat the berries until the supply of other foods runs out.

A television naturalist noted that a half a loaf of bread provided all the food a large troop of baboons needed for an entire day. They could steal and eat a loaf of bread in a half hour and play for the rest of the day, or they could forage for natural foods all day and not have time for anything else. “Which would you do?” the naturalist asked, and that got me wondering about invasive plants like the Japanese barberry in the above photo. These plants form huge thickets and are loaded with berries, so why would a bird expend energy flying from tree to tree all day foraging for food when it could simply sit in a barberry thicket and eat its fill in an hour? That’s a big part of the reason invasive plants are so successful, I think.

Though American basswood (Tilia americana) trees are native to the eastern U.S. I never find them in the forest in this area so I really don’t know that much about them. I never realized that their seeds were so hairy and I didn’t know until I did some research that chipmunks, mice, and squirrels eat them. Birds apparently, do not. Virtually every basswood tree that I know is used as an ornamental shade tree and that might be because they are one of the hardest trees to propagate by seed. Only 30% of their seeds are said to be viable, and that might account for their scarceness. Surprisingly, the foliage and flowers are both edible and many people eat them. Native Americans used the tree’s pliable inner bark to make ropes, baskets, mats and nets. Bees love the fragrant flowers and basswood honey is said to be of the highest quality.

The smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) vine can reach 8 feet long, with golf ball size flower heads all along it. The female flower clusters when pollinated become globular clusters of dark blue fruit. The berries are said to be a favorite of song and game birds so I was surprised to find several clusters of them. Raccoons and black bears also eat the fruit, so maybe the bears will get some when they wake up in spring. Native Americans and early colonists ate the roots, spring shoots and berries of the vine but after smelling its flowers I think I’d have a hard time eating any part of it. Their strong odor resembles that of decaying meat.

How do you show the wind in a photograph? I thought this downy feather stuck on the tip of a branch would show how windy it was on this day but I had the settings on my camera set to stop even a feather being blown about by the wind, so I guess you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was very windy. Wind is often the nature photographer’s enemy, but you can sometimes find ways around it.

It seems odd that a tree like the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) would have such tiny buds, because everything else about the tree is big. It even has big leaf scars, and that’s what this photo shows. But the bud that appears just at the top of the leaf scar is so small you can barely find it. The tree has huge heart shaped leaves that are the biggest I’ve seen, and great trusses of large flowers which become string bean like seed pods that can be two feet long. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew great plantations of them to be used as railroad ties. They are still used for utility poles today.  Midwestern Native American tribes hollowed out the trunks of catalpa trees and used them as canoes, and the name Catalpa comes from the Cherokee tribe’s word for the tree. Natives made tea from the bark and used it as an antiseptic and sedative. Parts of the tree are said to be mildly narcotic.

Where I work we’ve seen hundreds of what we thought were stink bugs. They started coming indoors when it got cold and got into smoke detectors, light fixtures and heating ducts. Once I had this photo I was able to look them up and I found that they weren’t stink bugs at all, even though they do have an odor if they’re crushed. Instead this is the western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis.) This insect sucks the sap from the developing cones of many species of conifer. It is native to North America west of the Rocky Mountains but has expanded its range and is most likely here to stay. Though they are a minor pest when it comes to conifers they can be a major pest indoors, because they can pierce PEX tubing with their mouth parts and cause leaks. If your house happens to be plumbed with PEX tubing you might want to vacuum up as many of these insects as you can find when they come indoors in the fall. They can’t bite but they can spray a bitter, stinky liquid when they’re threatened.

Split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) are winter fungi that appear in late fall. They are covered by what looks like a wooly fur coat. Because they are so hairy they are very easy to identify. They are usually about the size of a penny and I find them on dead branches. They are very tough and leathery.

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds of tissue on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile spore producing surfaces in dry weather and open to release the spores when they’re rehydrated by rain. I’ve never seen one that was this furry on its underside. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Scientists have isolated a compound from it that is said to inhibit the HIV-1 virus.

This is the only clear shot I’ve ever gotten of the open split in the underside tissue of a split gill fungus. Though called gills they really aren’t. It’s just this mushrooms way of increasing its spore bearing surface and thereby increasing its spore production. It’s always about the continuation of the species, whether we talk about fungi, fig trees, fish, falcons or fireflies.

The spidery twigs of lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) make them very easy to identify in winter. They had a fantastic crop last year, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do this year. Quite often when a plant produces a bumper crop one year it has to rest for a while in following years. It can take as long as 5 years for some plants to recover.

It’s hard to believe that anything could live on tiny tree buds but deer can, and they do. Of course, that isn’t all they eat but buds are part of their diet. Winter forage isn’t very nutritious though and deer burn considerable amounts of the fat that they put on in the fall. They can add as much as 30 pounds of fat in a good year but then burn it all just getting through winter. In a winter as harsh as this one has been many may not make it through. You can tell that a deer has been at this twig by the way it is roughly torn. Deer have incisor teeth only on their bottom jaw and these teeth meet a hard pad of cartilage on the front part of their upper jaw, so they can’t bite cleanly like we do. Instead they pull and tear. They also have top and bottom molars but they are quite far back in the mouth and are used for chewing rather than biting.

We’ve had days warm enough to send me off looking for witch hazel blossoms but I didn’t see any. Instead I saw a lilac bud that was as green as it should be in spring and which seemed to be thinking about opening. I hope it changed its mind because we could still have plenty of winter ahead of us. Traditionally February is said to be our snowiest month, so this little bud might have made a mistake. On the bright side it’s time to say goodbye, and possibly good riddance, to January.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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1-the-ashuelotEvery single time I walk the banks of the Ashuelot River without fail I see something new or unexpected, and this rainy day I spent exploring its banks in Swanzey was no exception. I hope you won’t mind the dreariness of some of these photos. I had to take what nature gave me and after such a long drought a little rain was very welcome.  Ashuelot is pronounced ash-wee-lot or ash-will-lot depending on who you ask. It is thought to mean “ the place between” by Native American Pennacook or Natick tribes.

2-multiflora-rose-hips

Raindrops on multiflora rose hips (Rosa multiflora) told the story of the day. The many hips on this single plant show why it’s so invasive. It originally came from China and, as the old familiar story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by hogging all the available sunshine and I’ve seen it grow 30 feet into a tree. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.

3-pumpkin

A pumpkin floated downriver. In October 2010 close to 100,000 pumpkins were washed into the Connecticut River during flooding in Bradford, Vermont. This one will probably go to the Atlantic, just like they did.

4-milkweed-seed

What I thought was a feather in the sand turned out to be a milkweed seed. Though many insects feed on milkweed and birds use the fluffy down from its seed pods for nest building, I’ve never found any reference to birds or animals eating any part of the plant.

5-juniper-haircap-moss

Juniper haircap moss plants (Polytrichum juniperinum) look like tiny green starbursts there among the river stones.

6-badge-moss

Badge moss (Plagiomnium insigne) is a pretty little moss that loves to grow in shady moist places and along stream banks. This was the first time I had ever seen it growing here though I’ve walked this river bank countless times. The long oval leaves have a border of tiny sharp teeth and become dull and shriveled looking when they’re dry. It looked like something had been eating them.

7-beech-leaves

Beech leaves have gone pale and dry, and rustle in the wind. They’re very pretty at all stages of their life, I think. One of the things I look forward to most each spring is beech buds unfurling. Just for a short time they look like silver angel wings.

8-split-gill-fungus

Split gill mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune) had their winter coats on, as usual. These are “winter” mushrooms that are usually about the size of a dime but can occasionally get bigger than that. They grow on every continent except Antarctica and because of that are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Their wooly coats make them very easy to identify.

9-split-gill-fungus

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released. These beautiful little mushrooms are very tough and leathery. I don’t see them that often and I’ve never seen two growing together as they are in this photo.

10-orange-crust-fungus

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) grew on the underside of a branch, in excellent form and color because of the rain. This small fungus has a smooth whitish underside with no pores. The complicatum part of the scientific name means “folded back on itself” and the above photo shows these examples just starting that folding. It also likes to grow on the logs of deciduous trees.

11-musclewood

The muscle wood tree (Carpinus caroliniana) is also known as American hornbeam and ironwood. It’s very hard and dense and its common name comes from the way that it looks like it has muscles undulating under its bark much like our muscles appear under our skin. This tree is a smallish understory tree that is usually found on flood plains and other areas that may be wet for part of the year.  It’s hard to find one of any great size because they have a short lifespan.

12-woodpecker-hole

A woodpecker had drilled a perfectly  conical hole through this piece of wood. It looked like a funnel.

13-barberry-fruit

These small red berries are what make Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) so invasive. The shrub grows into nearly impenetrable thickets here along the river and fruits prolifically. It crowds out native plants and can prevent all but the smallest animals getting through. The berries are rich in vitamin C and are sometimes used to make jams and jellies.

14-barberry-thorn

Its sharp spines will tell you which variety of barberry you have. European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) both have clusters of 3 or more spines but since American barberry doesn’t grow in New England it comes down to European or Japanese here, and only Japanese barberry has single spines. They’re numerous and very sharp. I had to walk through them to get several of these photos and my legs got a bit scratched up.

15-barberry

Barberry has yellow inner bark that glows with just the scrape of a thumbnail. A bright yellow dye can be made from chipped barberry stems and roots, and the Chinese have used barberry medicinally for about 3000 years.

16-the-ashuelot

It is common enough to love a place but have you ever loved a thing, like a river? I first dipped my toes into the waters of the Ashuelot River so long ago I can’t even remember how old I was. I’ve swam it, paddled it, explored it and lived near its banks for the greater part of my lifetime. Though readers might get tired of hearing about the Ashuelot it means home to me and is something I love, and I’m very grateful for what it has taught me over the years. In fact if it wasn’t for the river this blog probably wouldn’t exist.

17-raindrops-in-sand

I often visit the sandy area in the previous photo because there are usually animal tracks there, but on this day all I saw were the tracks of raindrops. I think this is the first time I haven’t seen animal tracks there. Raccoons come to feed on the many river mussels, deer come to drink, and beaver and muskrats live here.

18-witchs-butter

It must be a good year for jelly fungi because I’m seeing more than I ever have. Or maybe it’s just the rain that’s bringing them out. In any case they’re another winter fungi and I expect to see them at this time of year. I almost always find them on stumps and logs; often on oak. After a rain is the best time to look for them, so this day was perfect. The above example of witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica) grew on a fallen branch and looked plump and happy.

19-beggars-tick

Purple stemmed beggar ticks (Bidens connata) grow well in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers and there are plenty of plants here along the Ashuelot. It has curious little yellow orange ray-less disc flowers that never seem to fully open and dark, purple-black stems. The name beggar ticks comes from its seeds, which are heavily barbed as the example in the above photo shows. They stick to fur and clothing like ticks and I had them all over me by the time I left the river. They don’t brush off; they have to be picked off one by one.

The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are. ~ Lynn Noel

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1. Daylily Seed Pod

I found what was left of a daylily seed pod at work one day. An insect had eaten all of the soft tissue and left the tougher veins, creating a work of art in the process. Sometimes I have to wonder if creating works of art aren’t their primary purpose; I’ve seen some amazing things done by insects. The engraver beetle for instance, creates some beautiful and intricate calligraphy on tree branches.

2. Barberry

I had to tangle with a Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) at work recently. The plant was quite old and some stems were bigger around than my thumb, which is unusual. Usually they are no bigger than a pencil but in this case the large size made the chrome yellow inner bark much easier to see. Barberry is the only shrub I know of with such vibrant color under its bark.

3. Barberry Stem

When Japanese barberry bark is injured the bright yellow color of the inner bark is easily seen. I decided to whittle the bark off a piece of stem to see what it would look like. When I put it against my black coat to take a photo it seemed to glow, so bright was the color, and in the photo it almost doesn’t look real. Not surprisingly, a bright yellow dye can be made from chipped barberry stems and roots and apparently this is true of any barberry, not just the Japanese variety.

4. Barberry Berries

If the inner bark doesn’t convince you that you have a barberry the fruit and thorns (actually spines) will. These small red berries are what make the Japanese variety so invasive. I’ve seen impenetrable thickets of it in the woods that not only crowd out native plants but also prevent all but the smallest animals getting through. Its sharp spines will tell you which variety of barberry you have. European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) both have clusters of 3 or more spines but since American barberry doesn’t grow in New England it comes down to European or Japanese here, and only Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) has single spines.

5. Birch Polypore

Something I’ve never noticed before is animals eating birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus,) but this year I’m seeing half eaten ones everywhere. Scientists have found that this mushroom is effective in treating intestinal parasites and I wonder if animals eat them for that reason or simply as food. Since chipmunks aren’t active during the winter it would probably be squirrels, deer or porcupines. I read that these fungi smelled like green apples and, though I’m not sure what green apples smell like the mushroom does have a strong but pleasant scent.

6. Maple Scae

I found this starburst scar on a maple trunk and can’t imagine what made it. The way the bark has turned platy reminds me of target canker on maples, but that isn’t shaped the same. It could have simply been caused by a boy with a pocket knife, but I don’t suppose that I’ll ever know.

7. Beech Blister

This bark deformity I know well, unfortunately. Beech bark disease is caused by beech scale insects (Cryptococcus fagisuga) that pierce the bark and leave a wound. If the spores from either of two fungi, called Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, find the wound and grow, cankers form. These cankers are what look like blisters on the bark of beech trees, as can be seen in the above photo. The disease originally came from Europe and the first case in the United States was reported in 1929 in Massachusetts. By 2004, the disease had spread as far west as Michigan and as far south as western North Carolina. There is no cure and infected trees will ultimately die.

8. Hobblebush Bud

I start watching buds closely at this time of year and one of those I watch are the naked buds of hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium.) They are naked because they have no bud scales to protect them but they make up for the lack by being covered with a multitude of fine hairs. In this photo the flower bud is in between two leaf buds that stand up like wings. In about mid-May the flower bud will become one of our most beautiful native viburnum flowers.  This understory shrub gets its name from the way its sprawling stems can trip up or “hobble” a horse, but it isn’t just horses that get hobbled; I’ve gotten my feet tangled in it a few times. I’m guessing that the white hairs seen in the photo are from a deer, so apparently the stems don’t hobble them.

9. Striped Maple Buds

Hobblebush and striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) often grow side by side. Deer had eaten the buds off many of the striped maples that were growing near the hobblebush in the previous photo, but they missed this one. Striped maple buds are on my list of things to watch at this time of year because when the red or pink bud scales open and the leaves emerge they are easily one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

10. Striped Maple Buds

Just to give you a little preview of why my pulse quickens in spring, here is a photo from last April of striped maple buds after they had just opened. The chance of seeing beauty like this again is what gives me spring fever.

11. Ice Fall

But not so fast; there are a few things that nature has to take care of first, like this ice fall that I saw in the woods the other day. It was big.

12. Motherwort

The combination of a mild winter and growing near a stone chimney kept this motherwort plant (Leonurus cardiaca) green through the winter. Motherwort is originally from Europe where it has been used medicinally for centuries. It is said to calm the heart and nerves as the cardiaca part of its scientific name implies. The ancient Greeks gave it to pregnant women, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Colonists brought it to North America, which is a sign that it was very highly regarded.

13. Rose Moss

The lack of snow this winter has meant rough times for our mosses, but rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is still pretty even when it’s as dry as paper. Each rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. It’s one of the most beautiful of all the mosses, in my opinion. Even when dry it sparkles as if with an inner light.

To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.  One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. ~ Oscar Wilde

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1. Ashuelot

Last Saturday we were blessed with wall to wall sunshine and a warm breeze out of the southwest that nudged the thermometer up towards 50 degrees. Even though it isn’t spring it was the perfect spring day, so I went off to see if nature was stirring. A week ago we had below zero cold and this stretch of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey had frozen nearly from bank to bank. As I stood looking out at the river on this day with a warm breeze in my face I wondered if I had dreamed the ice and dangerous cold of just seven days ago, so amazing was the difference.

2. Ice

There were still some slabs of ice on the river but they were melting quickly in the warn sunshine.

3. Frozen Stream

Even in the shade of the forest ice was melting, and how the birds did sing!

4. Maple with Sunglasses

Even the trees seemed to be in a spring time frame of mind.

5. Daffodils

I stopped by a local park and saw daffodils out of the ground everywhere I looked.

6. Orange Witch Hazel

I also saw some orange vernal witch hazel that was in full bloom. I’m not sure of its name but it was very fragrant and you could smell its fresh clean scent on the breeze. Someone once described witch hazel as smelling like clean laundry that has just been taken down from the clothesline, and I’d say that’s a fair description. After a long winter such a scent can seem like a small piece of heaven, right here on earth.

7. Yellow Witch Hazel

I hoped to see some yellow witch hazel flowers and I did see some color, but like a swimmer dipping his toe into a cold pond it hesitated, and just couldn’t seem to make up its mind.

8. Island

Speaking of cold ponds; there was still ice on Wilson Pond in Swanzey but it too was melting fast. This is the first winter I can remember when ice fisherman’s huts didn’t dot our lakes and ponds, but this year the ice just never grew thick enough to be safe. If we still lived in the days before refrigeration when ice was harvested from ponds for ice houses and ice boxes, we’d be seeing a meager harvest indeed. Food preservation would be on everyone’s mind right about now, I would think.

9. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

I also visited one of my favorite places to explore in the spring, and that’s the swamp where the skunk cabbages grow.

10. Skunk Cabbage

It seems like I always have to re-train my eyes in spring so it took me a while to find any skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus.) I finally saw this small blue-gray finger poking up out of the snow, which told me that the plants were up. I also stepped on a couple of plants that I didn’t see and they released their scent so I’d know what I had done. It isn’t as overpowering as actual skunk spray but it runs a close second.

11. Skunk Cabbage

The soil of the swamp felt frozen to walk on but even so before long I started seeing skunk cabbages everywhere. They don’t mind frozen soil because they produce their own heat through a process called thermogenesis, and can melt their way even through solid ice. Skunk cabbage is in the arum family and like most arums, inside the spathe is the spadix, which in the case of skunk cabbage is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. You can just get a glimpse of them in this photo in the darkest area of the spathe. This is the spathe’s slit-like opening and is the way flies get to the flower’s pollen. The pointed green shoot on the left will become the plant’s foliage.

12. Barberry Berries

I didn’t have any trouble finding the invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) because it was snagging my pants and poking its sharp spines into my legs every now and then. In 1875 seeds of Japanese barberry were sent from Russia to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1896 plants were planted at the New York Botanic Garden and the plant was promoted as a good substitute for European barberry (Berberis vulgaris,) which was a host for the black stem rust of wheat. These days it’s everywhere, including in our forests, where it tolerates shade and crowds out our much more valuable native plants.

13. Birch Polypore

I saw an interesting television program recently about Ötzi the 5000 year old iceman whose well preserved body was found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991. Among the many things he carried were birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus,) a fungus that is so common even I rarely write about it. But I’d heard years ago that he carried them when he was found and I assumed that he used them to sharpen tools (They are also called razor strops and their ability to hone a steel edge is well known.) but apparently Ötzi carried them for other purposes; scientists have recently found that Ötzi had several heath issues, among them whipworm, which is an intestinal parasite (Trichuris trichura,) and birch polypores are poisonous to them. The fungus also has antiseptic properties and can be used to heal small wounds, which I’m sure were common 5000 years ago.

14. Birch Polypore Underside

Well, now I’ve done it. While looking into the connection between the 5000 year old iceman and birch polypores I read that as they age both the fungi and the wood they grow on begin to take on an odor similar to green apples, so if you happen to see someone out there with his nose to a birch tree, it’ll be me. The photo above shows the many pores found on the underside of the birch polypore. This is where its spores are produced.

15. LBMs

Ötzi the iceman probably knew the name and medicinal value of every mushroom he saw but I don’t, especially when it comes to the little brown ones, because there are many that look alike. I was surprised to find these examples growing on a log in February. I thought they were probably frozen solid but they were perfectly pliable and felt as tough as shoe leather. I wondered if they had been there all winter or if they had grown recently. Whatever the answer they must have great cold tolerance.

16. Turkey Tails

The snow had melted away from the trunk of this tree revealing turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) that have waited patiently for spring. These fungi are wood degrading and cause white rot, so this rather small tree won’t see old age. Turkey tails have been found on over 70 species of hardwood trees and a few conifers as well. They grow in every state in the U.S. and in most other countries.

17. Turkey Tails

These small turkey tails on a stump looked to be just starting to grow, but what a strange time of year to be doing so.

18. Fern

A fern frond had what looked like flower petals on it, but whatever they were didn’t fall off when the wind blew. I’m guessing that they must have been some kind of insect cocoons but they were very flat and thin.  I can’t remember ever seeing anything like them.

19. Oak Buds

These oak buds appeared to be quite swollen, but that might have been wishful thinking on my part. Still, maple sap is running so the same must be happening to other trees.

20. Pussy Willows

The single bud scales of what I think is the American pussy willow (Salix discolor) have suddenly opened to reveal the fuzzy gray male catkins, but I shouldn’t be surprised because they almost always appear in late winter before the leaves. As these flowers age yellow stamens will appear and will begin releasing pollen. The bees will be buzzing at about that time and they will further cross pollinate the many willow varieties. Henry David Thoreau once said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused,” but I don’t need to study them.  I just enjoy seeing their early flowers because they tell me that nature is stirring and spring is very near.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

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1. Lady Fern

Since we aren’t having the pumpkin festival here in Keene any longer I don’t have any carved Jack O’ Lanterns to show you, but I did see a ghostly lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) on a recent walk in the woods. According to the “Fern Bulletin,” which is a quarterly publication devoted to ferns, fern reproductive systems weren’t understood until the middle of the 16th century, when fern spores were finally studied. Before that time people thought that there were male and female ferns, and that’s how the lady fern came by her common name. There are other stories about the origin of the name but this one seems the most plausible.

2. Howling Stump

How about a scary, one eyed howling stump for Halloween?  No, it wasn’t really howling but it looked like it was about to.

3. Hazel Galls

Jacqueline Donnelly from the Saratoga woods and waterways blog said that cone galls (Hormaphis hamamelidis) on witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) reminded her of tiny witch hats, and I have to agree. These galls are caused by the witch-hazel cone gall aphid. The gall is rich in nutrients and provides both food and shelter for the female aphids. For part of their life cycle these galls are bright red.

4. Willow Gall

The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

5. Turkey Tails

After seeing few turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) over the last couple of years this year I’m seeing them frequently, including the blue / purple ones that I’m always happy to see.  They range from tan to brown to orange, red or blue and purple. I’ve searched for a few years to find out what influenced their color and finally just read that both genetics and environment are determining factors. There are many other fungi that look like this one but the pores on its underside and the colorful banding are the two most reliable identifying characteristics for turkey tails. Turkey tails are saprobic fungi, meaning they decompose dead or decaying organic material. They cause white rot of the sapwood, so having them on a living tree is not good.

6. Blue Crust Fungus

Fungi with a resupinate or flat sheeting habit are sometimes called crust fungi. They often grow on the undersides of logs, which is where I found this blue example. Some crust fungi, like the cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea,) are very beautiful and also very rare. Rolling logs over can be a lot of work but can also reveal hidden and unexpected beauty.

7. Bunchberry

These bunchberry plants (Cornus canadensis) seemed all ready for Halloween. Seeing a forest floor carpeted in drifts of white bunchberry flowers is a delight that is hard to equal. The bright red berries that follow the flowers grow in bunches, and that gives this plant its common name. The berries are loaded with pectin and early settlers put them in puddings to add color and help them jell.

Bunchberry has also been found to be the fastest plant. According to a study done at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts “Tests have shown that the petals of the bunchberry plant’s tiny flowers can move at 22 feet per second when they open with an explosive force. The petals explode open to launch pollen an inch into the air. The pollen is ejected to 10 times the height of the small plant so that it can be carried away on the wind.”

The scientists say in Nature Magazine: “Bunchberry stamens are like miniature medieval trebuchets, specialized catapults that maximize throwing distance by having the payload [pollen in the anther] attached to the throwing arm [filament] by a hinge or flexible strap.”

8. Barberry Stump

A Japanese barberry stump (Berberis thunbergii) bleeds bright yellow. A strong, permanent yellow orange dye can be made from all parts of the barberry. From the Pioneer Thinking Newsletter: “To make the dye chop the plant into small pieces and place them in a pot. Double the amount of water to plant material. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour. Strain. Now you can add your fabric to be dyed. For a stronger shade, allow material to soak in the dye overnight. To fix the color mix 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar. Add fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour. Rinse the material and squeeze out excess. Rinse in cool water until water runs clear.” Maybe dyeing fabrics with it would help control the spread of this invasive shrub.

9. Beaver Stump

The beavers seem to have started a sculpture garden along the banks of the Ashuelot River. Nearby they had felled a large American elm (Ulmus americana.) Anyone who has cut and split wood knows that elm is tough and stringy and hard to do much of anything with, so why beavers would choose it is a mystery.

10. Fungus

This fungus was big-as big as a soccer ball. I thought it might be a black-staining polypore (Meripilus sumstinei) which is related to the hen of the woods. However, since a few cuts on the spore bearing surface showed no black stains I’ll have to keep searching for its identity. It and a few others grew on the roots of a living oak, which does not bode well for the tree.

11. Fly Agaric Mushroom

This fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) was also big; easily the biggest capped mushroom that I’ve ever seen. I put a quarter on its cap to give you a sense of its size. The quarter is about an inch across and I’d guess the mushroom was about 10 inches. It looked like a dinner plate.

12. Mushroom

This mushroom was no bigger than a nickel, but far more beautiful than the two giant ones seen previously. I think that the gills are the most beautiful part of some mushrooms.

13. Feern

This fern came into life curled like the head of a fiddle and left the same way.  Sometimes beauty can be found even in death.

14. Beech

Lest you think that autumn has ended here, the beeches and oaks are now taking center stage. This small beech looked like it was on fire, so brilliant were its leaves.

15. Chair

There’s just no telling what you’ll find in the woods of New Hampshire. What a peaceful place to sit and contemplate the wonder of it all.

The knots in the wood can’t be untied. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Halloween!

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