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Posts Tagged ‘Jewel Weed’

Last Saturday more showers and thunderstorms were in the forecast so I didn’t want to be exploring any mountaintops. Instead I went to Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene, where I knew there would be plenty of interesting things to see.

Beaver Brook itself was high. With hurricane Henri supposed to pay us a visit over the coming days I was hoping to see lower water levels, because we had so much rain through July there simply isn’t anyplace left for the water to go. I met an old timer up here once who said he had seen the water come up over the road years ago, but I’m hoping I never see that. Keene would be in real trouble if this brook got that high now.

NOTE: Henri came and went while I was putting this post together and though there was rain, thankfully there was no serious flooding in this region.  

I thought I might see blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) blooming but no, it’s going to wait a while, apparently. Its stems usually grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, but these had already fallen. Its yellow blooms grow in tufts all along the stem so it’s an unusual goldenrod. It isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

There are also lots of white wood asters (Aster divaricatus) here. They are fairly common at this time of year but they start blooming in August, so by first frost most of them have already finished.

Lots of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows here too, all along the old road, and most of the plants were blooming heavily. This plant had flowers in pairs, which I don’t usually see.

This one had its legs crossed, and that’s something I’ve never seen before. How strange. It’s as if it wanted to close off the access to its nectar. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

Smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) is one of the most beautiful lichens that I’ve seen and it does well here on the ledges. The beautiful blue / turquoise spore producing apothecia against the golden color of the body (thallus) are very striking. But light has everything to do with it; the way it reflects off the waxy coating on the apothecia are what turns them blue. Come here when the lichen is in the shade and they’ll be a smoky gray.

I don’t visit the lichens and mosses that grow on these ledges quite as freely as I once did, and this is why. This ledge collapsed a couple of years ago but more stone has fallen since. The trees above are being undercut now so they’ll fall one day as well. All along this old road if you look carefully, you’ll see seams of fractured and crumbling soft stone which is usually feldspar, running through the ledge faces. I stay away from them now for the most part. Any fallen stone in this photo is easily big enough to crush a person. It must have been a mighty roar.

One of the best examples of a frost crack I know of is on a golden birch that lives next to the brook here, and I wanted to get a photo of it. Much to my surprise the spot where I used to stand to get photos of it is now in the brook, so I was teetering on the edge when I took this one. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree and the cells just under the bark expand. If nighttime temperatures are cold enough the bark will cool and contract rapidly, quicker than the wood underneath, and this stress on the bark can cause it to crack. I like this one because of the difference in color between the bark of the tree and the healing crack. It stands out beautifully and if you happen to be trying to explain frost cracks, that’s what you want.

I tried not to look down while I was hanging onto a tree with one arm and taking photos of the frost crack with the other, but since I had the camera out anyway…

While most other maples have dropped their seeds, mountain maple seeds (Acer spicatum) haven’t ripened yet. There are quite a few of these trees here but this is one of only two places I’ve seen them. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum.)

The sky was all sun and clouds and it was beautiful here. The no passing lines still on the abandoned road always seem kind of ironic to me because the only thing passing here now is time. To think my father and I used to drive through here when I was a boy. Of course the trees and undergrowth didn’t come right up to the road edge then though, so it must have seemed a much wider corridor. I can’t really remember much about it. Some people say the road was abandoned when the new Route 9 was built in the 60s and some say it was in the very early 70s but I’ve never been able to get a solid date, even from the highway department.

I was finally able to get both the leaves and flowers of big leaf aster in the same shot. The flower stalks rise about 2 feet above the leaves so you have to know a little about depth of field for a shot like this. I’m noticing more and more that these flowers are purple, when just a few years ago almost all of them I saw were white.

I’m not seeing the number of blackberries that I used to, and what I do see seem smaller now. This one looked more like a black raspberry though the canes I saw certainly were blackberry. In a tangle like this maybe there was a cane or two of black raspberry here. Maybe the birds are getting to the berries before I see them.

The strangest thing I saw here on this day was a bunch of what I think are hoverflies swarming all over a white avens (Geum canadense) flower. According to Wikipedia these small flies are also called flower flies and the adults of many species feed on nectar and pollen. They looked to be going for the anthers, which would mean pollen.

This pretty view reminded me of my father, who loved to fish for brook trout. He tried to get me interested but I cared more about exploring the woods than fishing when I was a boy. I don’t think there were too many father and son fishing trips before he realized that he could fish or he could chase after me, but he couldn’t do both. At least, not at the same time. It worked out though; I got to roam the woods nearer home and he got to fish in peace.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) covered a log. It’s a beautiful fungus that is bright enough to be seen from quite a distance. It loves moisture but dries out within a day or two after a rain.

Artist’s conks (Ganoderma applanatum) grew on another log. This bracket fungus gets its name from its smooth white underside, which is perfect for drawing on. Any scratch made on the pure white surface becomes brown and will last for many years. I drew a farm scene on one a long time ago and I still have it. Artist’s conks are perennial fungi that get bigger each year. Older examples can be up to two feet across but these were young and not very big.

Eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) grew on a rotten birch log that was absolutely saturated with rain water, and that’s just the kind of wet wood environment that they like. This fungus gets its common name from the eyelash like hairs that grow around its rim. They can be hard to see so you have to look closely. Sometimes the “lashes” curl inward toward the center as you can see happening on the example to the right of the largest one, so another common name is Molly eye-winker. As fungi go, they are quite small. None of these examples had reached pea size.

From the road these Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) looked bright red to me but when I got closer, I saw they hadn’t ripened yet. That’s part of being colorblind, but it was okay because these berries are what led me to the log with the eyelash fungi on it. They’re so small I never would have seen them from the road.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) weren’t ripe yet either. Once they turn fully red they’ll disappear very quickly, and that’s why you rarely see ripe ones on this blog. I’ve heard they taste like treacle but I’ve never tried them. Actually I’ve never tasted treacle either, which in this country is called blackstrap molasses.

The place that gets the most sunlight here is the clear space over the road, so of course all the trees and plants lean toward that light. It doesn’t help that they also grow on hillsides as well along much of the roadway. That’s why I see fallen trees almost every time I come here. They often fall on the electric lines that you might have seen in some of these photos.

I finally made it to Beaver Brook Falls but all I can give you is a side view because I didn’t dare climb down the steep, slippery embankment. I say “finally” made it because, though the walk to the falls from the start of the trail is just 7 tenths of mile it usually takes me two hours or more, and that’s because there is so much nature packed into what is really a relatively small space. For someone who likes to study and truly learn from nature, it doesn’t get any better than this amazing place.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. The Group

Last Saturday afternoon the weather cooperated and after 2 or 3 false starts the Pathfinders finally made it to Keene for their tour of the old abandoned road that follows Beaver Brook. Their group was much smaller than what had been originally planned last winter, but I hope that the ones who couldn’t make it can come another day. When I took this photo of them walking up the old road I thought oops, I forgot to tell them to wear long pants. The road is covered with poison ivy along one side and it’ll be a miracle if none of them starts itching.

2. Poison Ivy

I was busy showing them the mosses, lichens and liverworts that they had come to see and didn’t take many photos so I went back the following day after it had rained to get more shots of the poison ivy and other things that we saw. That’s why it’s going to look dry in some of these photos and wet in others.

I pointed the poison ivy out to the Pathfinders right away but I didn’t need to because they all knew it well. I forgot that they are called “Pathfinders” for a reason and probably know the woods as well as I do.

3. Jewelweed

Many think that jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) gets its common name from its spotted orange or yellow flowers but the name actually comes from the way the waxy coating on its leaves makes rain water bead up and sparkle like jewels. The pathfinders noted that the plant always seems to grow near poison ivy, and how its sap has been used since before recorded time by Native Americans to alleviate the rash brought on by its toxins. It’s as if nature put the illness and the cure side by side.

4. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Everyone was impressed by how the spore bearing apothecial disks of the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) looked blue gray in certain light but more blue in a photo. They have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries and that makes them appear blue in the right light. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen but they are still very small.

The Pathfinders needed to find 5 lichens, 5 mosses, and a liverwort (I think) to earn their badges in one of the nature categories, similar to what the Boy Scouts do, by the sounds of it. In the end they found all they needed and more.

5. Dryad's Saddle Fungus

I saw some dryad’s saddle (Polyporus squamosus) bracket fungi on a dead elm. I was surprised to see them since May had been such a dry month. These mushrooms get quite large and are fairly common on dead hardwood trees and stumps in the spring and fall. They are often funnel shaped rather than flat and saddle shaped like the example above.  The squamosus part of the scientific name means scaly and this mushroom almost always has brown scales on its cap. By the way, a dryad is a tree nymph or female tree spirit from Greek mythology. They were considered very shy creatures but I suppose even shy creatures need somewhere to sit down every now and then.

6. False Solomon's Seal

There were many false Solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum) blooming along the roadsides. This common plant grows in every state except Hawaii and is also called treacle berry because its ripe red fruit tastes like molasses. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for the plant including as a cough suppressant and a treatment for sunburn. They say that the young spring shoots taste like asparagus but there are other poisonous plants with shoots the look much the same, so I think I’ll just let them grow.

7. False Solomon's Seal

Each tiny false Solomon’s seal flower is slightly more than an eighth inch across and made up of 6 tepals, 6 stamens, and a central pistil with a short pudgy style. The word tepal is used when a flower’s petals and sepals look enough alike to be nearly indistinguishable, as they do in this case.

8. Forest Tent Caterpillar

The forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria Hübner) is found in hardwood forests across America and is especially abundant here in the east. Though their preferred foods are sugar maple, aspen, cherry, apple, oaks, birch, ash, alder, elm, and basswood this one had been munching on a flowering raspberry leaf (Rubus odoratus.) They hatch near the time of bud break and eat both flower and leaf buds along with mature foliage. If they happen to defoliate the same tree more than 2 years in a row they can kill it. I’m not crazy about it defoliating trees but I love the beautiful sky blue color of its stripe.

9. Rose Moss

I was able to show the pathfinders a few rare mosses including rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum). I think it was their favorite, judging by the amount of photos being taken. It’s a beautiful thing that isn’t often seen in this area. It isn’t normally so shiny; the shininess of it in this photo is because it had rained.

10. Polypody Fern Sporangia

We spent a little time talking about polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum) and I showed them what the sporangia, where the spores are produced, looked like. They grew on the boulders all around us and explained very nicely why “rock cap fern” is one of their common names.

11. Polypody Fern

Polypody ferns are one of our few evergreen ferns. They love to grow on boulders and could be seen topping many of the larger stones. They have a very tough, leathery feel, not delicate at all.

12. Beaver Brook

Beaver brook was little more than a trickle in places; so low that I don’t think a beaver could have swam in it without first damming it up. In a normal spring with normal rainfall I would have been swept downstream if I had tried to stand where I was when I took this photo.

 13. Falls

All but one of us made the slide / climb down to the falls. The light was all wrong for a good photo but the bright sun brought out the pinks and tans in the microcline feldspar that is so prevalent here. The brook was low enough to walk across so some of the kids crossed over and had some fun splashing around in the small pool at the base of the falls (and almost losing shoes.)  I’ve never seen these falls with so little water flowing over them, even in July. It was really surprising and drove home the point that rainfall is down nearly 6 inches from March first. The Pathfinders wanted to know if you could swim here. I told them that people used to but nobody did.

14. The Road Dark

The Pathfinders are polite, well behaved, fun, happy, and all around good kids. I really enjoyed my time with them and I hope we can get together again sometime. Though this old road leads nowhere these days, I have a strong hope that the experiences they had on it will help lead them to a love of nature that will stay with them throughout their lives.

Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives. ~ Thomas Berry

Thanks for coming by.

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