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Posts Tagged ‘Juniper Berries’

Spring is happening, but ever so slowly this year. April showers have come along right on schedule and though they’ll take care of the remaining snow they’ll also enhance mud season, which has already been a bear. The ground froze deeply this year and the deeper the freeze the worse the mud. None of this has anything to do with the above photo of juniper berries but I love their color and I was surprised that the birds hadn’t eaten them yet.

From a distance I saw what looked like a patch of small yellow flowers. I couldn’t even guess what yellow flowers besides maybe coltsfoot or dandelions, would be blooming in March.

But they weren’t flowers at all. They were the fruit of horse nettle plants, hundreds of them. Carolina horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) isn’t a true nettle but instead is in the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and potatoes and many toxic plants. This plant is also toxic, enough so to be named devil’s tomato. It contains alkaloids that can make you very sick and which have caused death. There are also spines on the leaves which can break off and embed themselves in the skin. Skunks, pheasant, and turkeys are said to eat the fruit but it didn’t look to me like a single one had been touched. Nothing seems to eat the stems or foliage.

I saw these pretty buds on a small ornamental tree in a local park. It had a weeping habit and couldn’t have been more than six feet tall with many weeping branches. I thought it might be some type of elm but elm buds are flattened, not round, so in the end I’m not sure what they were.

This shows what happens when a sap spigot, actually called a spile, isn’t removed from the tree after sap season. The tree has almost grown completely over this one and has squeezed what should be round into a teardrop shape. The crushing power of the wood must be incredible.

This photo that appeared in a previous blog post shows what a spile looks like when the tree hasn’t grown over it. Things like this inside trees are a woodcutter’s nightmare. Spiles started out as simple wooden pegs which were hammered into a hole in the tree to direct the sap into the buckets which were hung from them but these days they are made from galvanized steel.

I found this mullein plant (Verbascum thapsus) growing up through the pavement in an old abandoned parking area. It’s in the process of shedding its large old, outer leaves from last year to make room for the its new leaves. This plant stays green all winter long under the snow and starts growing quickly in spring as soon as it melts. Another name for this plant is flannel leaf because of its large soft, fuzzy leaves. Pliny the elder of ancient Rome used the warmed leaves as poultices for arthritis and Roman legionnaires dipped the long stalks in tallow and used them as torches. The plant is originally from Europe and is considered invasive.

I see this plant in a flower bed every time I go looking for spring bulbs blooming at the local college, but I’ve never seen it bloom. I think it’s a hollyhock but I’m not sure, whatever it is it’s very tough and stays green all winter long. I like the pebbly texture of its leaves.

I’ve written about Edgewood Forest in past posts. It lies near the Keene airport and there always seems to be a controversy boiling over the trees there. The Federal Aviation Administration says the trees are tall enough to pose a hazard to planes, but the original documents that deeded the land to the city says that the land should be left as is, with no cutting of trees. What this has amounted to is trees being cut all around the deeded parcel called Edgewood Forest, leaving it a kind of forested island. The place shown in the above photo was forested until not too long ago but then all the trees were cut, all the stumps pulled and this-whatever it is- was built. Picnic tables were placed here and there. Apparently the higher powers thought that people would flock there and love it enough to even want to picnic there, but I’ve been by it hundreds of times and have never seen a soul there, picnicking or otherwise. Since there are hundreds of trees that are taller very nearby this seems like a total waste of effort and money to me.

This kind of thing is happening all over and town governments can’t seem to get the fact that people go to these places to enjoy nature. They stand and scratch their heads, wondering why the people don’t still flock to the same places after they’ve been “improved” like this one. Instead of attracting people they are driving them away, and I’m sure the income from tourist dollars is going to start reflecting that, if it hasn’t already. Meanwhile we’ll have monuments like this one to shake our heads at as we pass by in search of places that are more open and welcoming to nature lovers.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) is one of the plants that grew in that forest before it was turned into a lawn. Luckily I know where there are more of them. Native Americans showed the early settlers how to use goldthread to relieve the pain of canker sores and it became an extremely popular medicine. At one point in the 1800s more of it was sold on the docks of Boston than any other plant and that meant that it was severely over collected. Now, 200 years or so later It has made a good comeback and it will always be with us if we stop turning forests into lawns. It gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. It will bloom in late April with a pretty little white flower. I love its leaves, which look like they were hammered out of sheet metal.

When a sunbeam picks out something specific in nature I usually pay close attention, thinking that maybe I’m supposed to see that thing for whatever reason. On this day a sunbeam picked out this beech leaf, which was perfect and unblemished. It was a beautiful thing, as the things picked out by sunbeams almost always are. A sunbeam showed me how incredibly beautiful a red clover blossom was once and completely changed my opinion of what I always considered an ugly, unwanted weed.

A sunbeam also fell on this single turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) and its dominant blue color just happened to be my favorite. Turkey tails can vary greatly in color and I think I’ve seen them wearing just about every shade this year.

I’m hoping this is the last of this winter’s ice I’ll have to show here. Both day and nighttime temperatures are rising and ever so slowly the white is disappearing.


If you’ve never looked through a knothole this photo is for you. Knotholes like these happen when branches die and their wood shrinks faster than the surrounding wood of the tree. Eventually they fall off the tree, leaving a hole behind. The part of the tree that protrudes and surrounds the branch is called the branch collar and it should always be left intact when pruning. As can be seen, the tree leaves it behind naturally.

Other “improvements” I’ve seen lately involved cutting all the alders and other native shrubs from the banks of a small local pond, but since this pond is used as a water source in case of fire I can understand the thinking behind wanting to keep the brush cut back. I thought this stump, cause by two young alders growing together, looked like the face of an owl.

I had the face of this barred owl to compare the stump to. A few years ago I met a barred owl sitting in the middle of a trail. It just sat there, staring directly into my eyes while I walked to within 5 feet of it. I stood for several minutes, feeling as if I was being drawn into those big brown eyes that were much like my own, until I finally turned and left. The last time I saw that owl it still sat on the ground, which is a very odd thing for an owl to be doing. It was a strange experience and seeing this owl reminded me of it. This owl was much bigger than that one but sat quietly in the same way, letting me take as many photos as I wanted. The photos would have been much better had it been a sunny day but you can’t have everything, and being able to look into the eyes of an owl should be enough.

If you’d like to see what it’s like to stare into the eyes of an owl, look at the beautiful photo of a saw-whet owl that Montucky recently posted on his blog. You can see it by clicking on the word HERE. Its eyes are yellow instead of brown like a barred owl, but the effect is the same.

Just a note: This post is the first I’ve done on my new computer and I’m having trouble getting photos to look right on the new monitor, so if things look a little stranger than usual that might be why. It’s a nice big monitor that’s easy to see but it’s also very bright so photos look like they were overexposed. I hope you’ll bear with me.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

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So many more of the smaller things become visible when the leaves fall, like the tongue gall on these  alder cones (strobiles.) These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host.  I wish I knew how they benefit from growing in such unusual forms.

I didn’t know if this ladybug was dead or alive or maybe frozen, but it wasn’t moving. And where were its spots? The answer is, it doesn’t have spots because it isn’t our native ladybug; it’s a female multicolored Asian ladybug. From what I’ve read it is highly variable in color and was purposely introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a biological control agent. It is a tree bark dwelling beetle that consumes large amounts of aphids and scale, both of which do large amounts of damage to crops. They’re slightly larger than our native beetles and can drive homeowners crazy by collecting on windowsills, in attics, and even indoors in the spring. They can release a foul smelling defensive chemical which some are said to be allergic to.

We’ve had more snow in parts of the state. It’s very odd to leave my yard at my house that has no snow in it and drive to work where I see snow like this. It’s only a distance of about 25 miles, but it’s enough of an elevation change to cause cooler temperatures. It really drives home what a difference just a few degrees can make.

I thought this beech tree was beautiful, with its Christmas ornament like leaves.

And what was that poking up out of the snow?

It was a fallen limb which was covered by what I think was orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum,) which is very common here. I see large fallen limbs almost completely covered by it. Though this isn’t a very good shot of it the color is so bright sometimes it’s like a beacon in the snowy landscape. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself”  and that is often just what it does.

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) grew on the same branch the orange crust fungus grew on. I like holding these up so the light can shine through them because sometimes they look like stained glass. Being in the snow meant these examples had absorbed plenty of water so they were pliable and rubbery, like your ear lobe. I see this fungus everywhere, especially on fallen oak limbs but also on alder and poplar as well.

I decided to visit a grove of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) that I know of to see if they were still blooming. Blooming or not, they were beautiful with all of the newly fallen snow decorating them.

And they were still blooming, even in the snow. This tells me that it must be the air temperature that coaxes them into bloom because it was about 40 degrees this day.

I know it’s far too early to be looking at buds for signs of spring but red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) buds are so pretty I couldn’t help myself. I’ve known people who thought that buds grew in spring when it warmed up, but most buds actually form in the fall and wait  for warm weather to swell up and break and form leaves and / or flowers. These buds should break in mid-May, if it’s warm enough.

I’ve seen some unusual lichens lately, like this grayish white example which had the same color apothecia (fruiting bodies) as the body (Thallus.)  This made them hard to see and I only saw them by accident when I got close to look at something else.

I wish I knew what caused the colors in a lichen. As far as we know they don’t use color to attract insects but many of them are brightly colored nevertheless. I have seen teeth marks in lichens so I’m fairly sure squirrels eat them and I know for sure that reindeer eat them, but I don’t know if this helps them spread or not. I also don’t know the identity of this lichen. I haven’t been able to find it in any of my lichen books or online.

Here’s another unusual lichen; actually two lichens separated by the nearly horizontal crack between them. The lichen on top might be a bumpy rim lichen (Lecanora hybocarpa,) which gets its name from its bumpy body (Thallus) and the rims around its apothecia.  The lichen below the crack has me baffled. It has a fringe around its perimeter that makes it look like a maple dust lichen but I can’t find any reference to apothecia on a maple dust lichen. It’s another mystery to add to the thousands of others I’ve collected.

Here is a true maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Note the white fringe around its outer edge, much like the lichen in the previous photo.  But unlike the previous lichen it has no visible fruiting bodies.

If you have ever tasted gin then you’ve tasted juniper berries, because that’s where gin’s flavor comes from. The unripe green berries are used for gin and the ripe, deep purple black berries seen here are ground to be used as a spice for game like deer and bear. The berries are actually fleshy seed cones and they appear blue because of a waxy coating that reflects the light in such a way as to make them appear blue. The first recorded usage of juniper berries appears on an Egyptian papyrus from 1500 BC. Egyptians used the fruit of junipers medicinally and Native Americans used them both as food and medicine. Stomach disorders, infections and arthritis were among the ailments treated.

Gray, furry willow pine cone galls appear on the very tips of willow branches, because that’s where a midge called Rabdophaga strobiloides lays its egg. Once the eggs hatch the larvae burrow into the branch tip and the willow reacts by forming a gall around them. These galls are about as big as the tip of your thumb and do not harm the plant.

A woodpecker, chickadee, or other bird started pecking at this goldenrod gall to get at the gall fly larva (Eurosta solidaginis) that is growing inside the gall. These galls have thick walls that discourage parasitic wasps like Eurytoma gigantean from laying its eggs inside the larval chamber. If successful the wasp larva quickly eat the gall fly larva. If the bird is successful then everything inside will be eaten.

We’re certainly having some beautiful sunrises lately, probably because of the low cloud deck we seem to have almost every morning.

And those low clouds can hide things, including mountains. Off to the left in this photo is the huge bulk of Mount Monadnock behind the clouds. It’s too bad it was hidden; the bright morning sunshine on its snowy flanks tells me it probably would have been a beautiful scene.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

Thanks for coming by.

 

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We haven’t been seeing a lot of sunshine yet this year but I did see a bit of it caught in the Ashuelot River recently.

By the time I pointed the camera at the sky though, it was gone.

We’ve seen slightly above average snowfall for the season and to show you how deep it is now I took a shot of this fire hydrant, which actually should have been shoveled out in case of fire. Anyhow, the snow is melting again now and by the time you see this quite a lot of it should be gone.

The weather hasn’t been all snow and cold all the time. We’ve had very up and down temperatures and a few days that were warm enough to send me out looking for witch hazel, which is our latest (and earliest) blooming flower. I found some color, but it came from what looked like two or three blossoms that had lost the battle to the cold. That was probably the last chance I’ll have to see our fall blooming witch hazel flowers (Hamamelis virginiana,) but the spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) will be along next month.

I went to see if there was any sign of willow buds swelling but instead of seeing furry gray catkins I saw furry gray willow pine cone galls. These galls appear at the branch tips and are caused by a midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laying eggs on them. Once the eggs hatch the larva burrow into the branch tip and the plant reacts by forming a gall around them. The galls are about as big as the tip of a thumb.

I saw this spider indoors at work one day and took a couple of photos and then let it be. Hours later at home it felt like something was crawling on my lower leg so I stamped my foot hard and out fell a spider that looked exactly like this one. I doubt very much that a spider could have been on my leg all day without my knowing it, but I still had to wonder where and when it had decided to hitch a ride with me. It’s possible that it was in my car but that sounds doubtful too. Maybe it was right here at home and I just didn’t see it. I guess I’ll never know. I haven’t had any luck identifying it, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

A waxy coating called bloom on juniper berries reflects the light in a way that makes the deep, purple black berries appear to be a bright and beautiful blue. This waxy coating is common on fruits like blueberries, on black raspberry canes, and even on some lichens. Though the fruit is called a berry botanically speaking it is actually a seed cone with fleshy, merged scales. Birds love them and I was surprised to see them so late in the season.

Many gin drinkers don’t realize that the flavor of gin comes from the juniper plant’s berry. It is the unripe green berry that is used to make gin. The ripe berry is the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice. Whole and / or ground fruit is used on game like venison, moose, and bear meat, and man has used juniper for a very long time. The first record of usage appears on an Egyptian papyrus from 1500 BC. Egyptians used juniper medicinally and Native Americans used the fruit as both food and medicine. Stomach disorders, infections and arthritis were among the ailments treated. Natives also made jewelry from the seeds inside the berries.

The maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) in my yard had a single, dark purple berry left on it. I was surprised how textural it was when I saw the photo. Birds seem to love these berries and most of them go fast, but I always wonder why they leave the ones that they do. They obviously know something that I can’t fathom. The shrub is also called arrow wood and some believe that Native Americans used the straight grained wood for arrow shafts.

This is the way the rest of the maple leaf viburnum looked; picked clean.

There are plenty of coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds left so the birds must be happy. I always let plants go to seed in my own yard because I don’t use bird feeders due to occasional visits from bears, and they feed a lot of birds. Speaking of bears, state biologists say the acorn crop was large enough to feed bears through the winter, so many of them aren’t hibernating. I can’t say that was wonderful news, but at least the bears aren’t starving.

The motherwort seeds (Leonurus cardiaca) have all been eaten now. A helpful reader told me that she has seen goldfinches eating the seeds of motherwort, so they must be doubly happy because they eat the coneflower seeds too. I hope one day to be able to see them doing so. They must come when I’m at work because I never see them.

I saw a young, beautifully colored hemlock varnish shelf bracket fungus (Ganoderma tsugae) growing at the base of a young hemlock tree. This mushroom has been used medicinally in China for centuries and is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese herbal medicine, including even ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential. The number of beneficial things growing in the world’s forests that we know nothing about must be mind boggling.

Honey mushrooms (Armillarea mellea) once grew on this tree and I know that because their long black root like structures called rhizomorphs still clung to the dead tree. Honey mushrooms are parasitic on live wood and grow long cream colored rhizomorphs between the wood and its bark. They darken to brown or black as they age, but by the time we see them the tree has died and its bark is falling off. The fungus is also called armillarea root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees. Fallen logs will often still have the black rhizomorphs attached to them.

A couple of posts ago I talked about poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and how it can grow as a shrub, creep along the ground, or climb like a vine. When the plant climbs as a vine it holds onto what it climbs with masses of roots all along the stem, but the example I showed in that post had only a few roots showing. The example above is more typical of what I see, with matted roots all along the stem. I can’t think of another vine that does this so I think it’s a good way to identify poison ivy.

It’s a good idea to leave any vine that looks like this one alone.

I saw this yellow something on the bark of a dying black cherry tree and at first thought it might be a large lichen colony, but it didn’t look quite right for lichen. I knew it wasn’t moss either, so that left one possibility: algae. A few posts ago I showed a hemlock trunk that was all red and another helpful reader helped identify it as a red algae growth, so after some research I found that there is also yellow-green algae, and this example is possibly one called Desmococcus olivaceous, which is also called Pleurococcus vulgaris.

Pleurococcus algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, and on rocks and soil and sometimes even on walls if they’re damp enough. Their closest relatives grow in lakes and rivers but they can withstand dryness. There is fossil evidence of algae colonies existing even 540 million years ago so they’ve been here much longer than we have, and they haven’t changed much in all that time.

Raccoons, so I’ve always thought, are nocturnal animals rarely seen during the day, so my first thought when I saw this one was that it might be sick. Unfortunately they can and do get rabies and it isn’t all that uncommon in this area to hear of people or pets being attacked by rabid raccoons. But this one was eating and after I thought about it I didn’t think if it were sick it would be eating with such gusto. After a little research I found that raccoons often go out in search of food and water during the daytime, especially nursing mother raccoons, usually in the spring.

From what I’ve read you can tell that a raccoon is sick because it will look sick. They’ll be lethargic and stagger when they walk and sometimes will even fall over. If they look alert and bright eyed and run and walk normally then you can be almost certain that they don’t have rabies. I saw this one walking around and it looked fine so I doubt that it was sick. I couldn’t tell if it was a mother raccoon or not but it sure was cute with its little hands looking as if it were begging for more food. For those who’ve never seen one raccoons are slightly bigger than an average house cat. Maybe a chubby house cat; males can weigh 20 pounds. I’m sorry about the quality of the photos of it. All I had for a camera when I saw it was the small point and shoot I use for macros so they aren’t great, but since they’re the only shots I’ve ever gotten of a raccoon they’ll have to do.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-first-snowOur first snow was just a dusting and didn’t amount to much, but it did grease up the roads and remind people that it was time for snow tires and windshield scrapers. There were a surprising number of car accidents for a seemingly small amount of snow, but the temperature dropped over night and it turned to ice on the roadways. There’s nothing worse to drive on than black ice.

2-frosted-mosses

Where the snow didn’t fall the frost did, and it coated this juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) one cold morning. The mosses and other plants looked like they had been dusted with powdered sugar.

3-ice-needles

Ice needles have started to form in places where there is plenty of groundwater. For them to form the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos were 2-4 inches long I’d guess.

4-ice-needles

Ice needles start growing slightly below the soil surface and lift the soil as they lengthen. They also lift pebbles, as this photo shows. Though these examples are just pebbles, frost in the soil can heave quite large stones to the surface. When water in the soil freezes and expands, the ice grows into a kind of lens shape and pushes against everything above it. Large objects like rocks are pushed upward, sometimes as much as a foot. When the ice melts, the mud and sediment collapses in the space under the rock. This leaves the rock sitting at the height the frost has raised it to. Over time the rock eventually reaches the surface. This is also the way that frost breaks water pipes that aren’t buried deep enough, and heaves and breaks apart our roads each winter.

5-broken-stone

Frost can also break stone. This stone cracked somehow and water got into the crack and froze, breaking the top of it right off. This, along with wind and rain, is what turns mountains into sand.

6-monadnock

The side of Mount Monadnock that I see on my drive to and from work has shown a snow capped peak, but this side at Perkin’s Pond in Troy gets more sun and most of the snow had melted by the time I got there. Monadnock is at its most beautiful with a dusting of snow, in my opinion.

7-snow-on-monadnock

There was snow on this side of Monadnock but you had to have a zoom lens to see it. I’ve been up there when the snow was so deep you almost had to swim through it. And that was in late April.

“Monadnock” in Native American Abenaki language means “mountain that stands alone,” and over the years the word has come to describe any isolated mountain. In 1987 Mount Monadnock was designated a national natural landmark. It is the second most climbed mountain in the world, after Mount Fuji in Japan.

8-lake-sedge-aka-carex-lacustris

The wind was blowing this lake sedge (Carex lacustris) around when I took this shot and that accounts for the blur, but I didn’t care about that because it was the color I was taken by. I thought it was very beautiful.

9-winterberries

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native holly that gets its name from the way that its bright red berries persist throughout most of the winter. They persist because birds don’t eat them right away and the reason they don’t is thought to be because of the levels of toxicity or unpalatable chemicals in the berries declines with time. Winterberry makes an excellent garden shrub, especially near ponds, streams and other wet places. Many birds will eat the berries eventually, including robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings. There are several cultivars available, including dwarf varieties. If you’d like to grow them make sure  that you buy both male and female plants or you won’t see any berries.

10-juniper-berries

I love seeing juniper berries at this time of year. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them a bright and beautiful blue. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat. Birds also love them.

11-sapsucker-holes

The horizontal rows of holes made by the yellow bellied sapsucker cause “phloem” sap to dam up and accumulate in the plant tissue just above the wounds. The bird enlarges the holes over the course of several days and then adds another row above the first, eventually resulting in square or rectangular patterns of many holes. Sapsuckers have a kind of brushy tongue that they lick up the sap with.  The kind of sap that we tap maple trees for is “xylem” sap, which is much thinner and less sweet than phloem sap. Because phloem sap is so much thicker and stickier than the watery xylem sap that we make maple syrup from, scientists can’t figure out how these birds get it to flow so freely. Insects, bats, other birds, and many animals also drink sap from these holes. I usually see sapsucker holes in trees with sweet sap like maples and birches, but these examples were in an eastern hemlock.

12-tree-down

Anyone who spends time in the woods knows that the number of fallen trees is high right now. Trees that  were already weakened by insects or fungi, sandy soils, road salt, or other stresses were hard hit by the ongoing drought and they continue to fall. The question is; for how long? For now, I stay out of the woods on very windy days.

13-full-moon

I went out to get some shots of the super moon on the 13th, but it only looks super when there is something else in the photo like trees, mountains or buildings to relate a sense of scale. In this shot it just looks like any other full moon.

14-maple-dust-lichen-on-stone

I didn’t know that maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) grew on stone until I saw this one doing just that. There were several of them on the stone and some were quite large. One of the easiest ways to identify this lichen is to look for the white fringe around its perimeter, but up until now I’ve looked for it on tree bark. They are usually the size of a penny but these examples were bigger than quarters, or about an inch in diameter.

15-pinkish-brown-turkey-tails

I haven’t seen many turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) this year and the ones I have seen have been in shades of brown rather than the brilliant blues, purples, yellows and oranges that I know they can wear. Though I can’t see it my color finding software tells me that there is salmon pink in this example, which is a new color for turkey tails in my experience.

16-mushrooms

These mushrooms grew on an old stump and then froze. I don’t know their name but they sure were peachy.

17-striped-wintergreen

Our native striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has foliage which in winter turns deep purple where the darker areas are on the leaf and stays that way through the winter. It’s hard to tell from a photo and hard to explain why but these plants are so well camouflaged that I have looked right at them many times in the summer and not seen them. They are one of our rarer native wintergreens, and also one of our prettiest.

18-bobcat

A friend sent me a photo of a bobcat that he took with his trail camera recently. I had a bobcat walk right in front of me, maybe 30 feet away last summer. They’re about 3 feet long and weigh about 19 pounds on average. They’re bigger than a housecat but smaller than a Labrador retriever. It’s said that bobcats are doing well because their prey; turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and rarely deer are also doing well. Rabbits, for instance, are doing very well. I saw a lot of them this summer. I was interested to see that this one had all 4 paws on that fallen branch. I wonder if it did that so it wouldn’t rustle the dry leaves and alert any prey to its presence. I also wonder if Native Americans learned how to walk through a forest so stealthily by watching animals like this one.  It isn’t easy to walk silently through a forest, especially at this time of year.

19-johnny-jup-up

Since I started this post with snow it seems odd to end it with a flower but though there haven’t been fields full of them I’ve seen a surprising number of flowers this month, including goldenrod, yarrow, meadowsweet, false dandelion, and this cheery little Johnny jump up I saw just last week. It’s almost enough to start me thinking we might have another mild winter, but I’ve seen flowers fooled by winter enough times to really believe it.

The snow was too light to stay, the ground too warm to keep it. ~Shannon Hale

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1. Pine Bark Beetle Damage

Pine bark beetles (Ips pini) made an intricate design on a white pine (Pinus strobus) limb. These beetles are small and range in size from about 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch in length, but they can do a lot of damage when enough of them are in a forest. They feed on the phloem tissue just beneath the bark and if they girdle the branch it will die. Dead branches mean no photosynthesizing and eventually the tree will die. For those who have never head the term; girdling of a branch or tree happens when the phloem and bark has been cut around its diameter in a complete circle. Native Americans and then early settlers used girdling to remove trees from fields and pastures and it is still used by some today.

2. Reindeer Lichens

I saw a beautiful drift of gray and green reindeer lichens recently. This shrubby lichen gets its common name from the way reindeer and caribou paw through the snow to find and eat it. Reindeer lichen reproduces vegetatively by small growths called soredia that break off and grow new lichens under the right conditions. The soredia are carried by wind, water or animals. Reindeer lichens grow about .31 inches (8 mm) per year so it’s clear that this drift has been here for a very long time. They can live for a century or more and studies have shown that only boiling and radiation caused severe damage to them. There are many who believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore immortal.

3. Reindeer Lichen

Reindeer lichens remind me of corals that you would see under the sea. The grayish white color and the way that the branch tips all point in one direction tell me that this one is gray reindeer lichen (Cladina rangiferina.) I find the biggest colonies of this lichen along the edge of a pine forest, growing in a very thin quarter to half inch of dry sandy soil over granite bedrock. At times they get so dry that if you walk on them it sounds much like it would if you walked on potato chips. I’ve read that reindeer lichens produce a single new branch each year and that their age can be determined by counting the branches. The plants pictured must have been very old indeed. I’m glad that I didn’t have to count their branches.

4. Bittersweet in Tree

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) grew into the top of a tree and then found that it had nowhere else to climb so it massed in the tree top, and its bright red berries show that. Bittersweet is very persistent and will simply grow or hang back down until it reaches the ground and then creep until it finds something else standing vertical. As it grows the vine winds tightly around the tree trunk and doesn’t expand when the tree does, so its wire like strength will eventually strangle the tree. This is why its sale and cultivation are banned in New Hampshire.

5. Blueberry Stem Gall

Blueberry stem gall always reminds me of a kidney bean. This gall forms when a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damages a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responds to the damage by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This example was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) The galls do no real harm to the plants.

6. Witches Broom on Blueberry

This witch’s broom on a highbush blueberry looked very red. It’s interesting that the highbush blueberry’s leaves turn a beautiful red in the fall and the stem galls and witch’s broom are also red. Why so much red present, I wonder. Witch’s broom is a deformity that causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. It’s not caused by an insect but by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) so bushes should never be planted near fir trees. When the fungus releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, the bush becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on the bush and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees, and the cycle begins again. The disease infects the entire plant so pruning off the witch’s broom won’t help. I’ve worked on blueberry bushes that have borne large amounts of fruit even though they had witch’s broom, so I’m not sure how much the deformity harms the plant. I think it’s more offensive to the eye than anything.

7. Waterlily Leaf in Ice

A water lily leaf was trapped in the ice just off shore in a small pond. It tugged at me and I thought it might make a fine picture, but it looked much better in person than it does here.

8. Hornet Nest

Do hornets care that what they build is so beautiful, I wonder?

9. Burl

There was a time that I thought I had some artistic ability and I’d sit for hours drawing and painting. One of the things I loved especially was pen and ink drawing, and that’s what this burl I found on an old tree stump reminded me of. It looked like a Da Vinci sketch in pen and ink with a colored wash over all to add some depth and character, and how beautiful it was. I think the old master himself would have been pleased to see it.

For those not familiar with burl; it’s an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. Bowls and other objects made from it can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

10. Wooly Aphids

I found this colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.

11. Wooly Aphids

Wooly aphids are sap sucking insects that secrete sweet honeydew on branches and leaves of plants. The honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold. Since the mold only grows on the aphid honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. In fact the aphids will do far more harm. I’m not sure if the aphids with dots in this photo always look that way, if they haven’t grown the white waxy covering yet, or if they’ve lost the covering for some reason. They were very small; not even pencil eraser size.

12. juniper Berries

I love seeing juniper berries at this time of year. A waxy coating called bloom makes them a bright and beautiful blue. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat.

13. Unknown Fungi

Part of what I try to do on this blog is show the amazing and beautiful things that are tucked into virtually every nook and cranny of nature and, with nothing but a slower gait and a watchful eye, how easy they are to see. Walking along at a toddler’s pace and looking at logs is just how I found the unknown fungi in the above photo. I knelt to give them a closer look and saw that they were like nothing I’d seen. Finding unexpected beauty like this can take us to that higher place where time seems to stop for a while. Sometimes it’s hard to know how long you’ve been there but that’s okay; as Mehmet Murat ildan said: “If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found.”

14. Mushroom Mycelium

Mushroom mycelium grew on the bottom of a log where it made contact with the soil. It wept golden nectar and its many intricacies reminded me of distant cosmic nebulae where stars and planets are born.

He who does not expect the unexpected will not find it, since it is trackless and unexplored. Heraclitus of Ephesus

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1. Storefronts

In 2003 bulldozers and dump trucks moved onto a local wetland and began tearing it up. After two years had passed what was left was a sprawling 70 acre suburban eyesore, and any trace of what was once a natural wetland was gone. Or so I thought. I’ve been keeping an eye on this place since it was built just to see what kind of an impact it would have on the natural surroundings and I’ve been surprised again and again.

2. Pond

When they built the shopping center they also built a retention basin to manage runoff and hopefully improve the quality of the water that makes it into the Ashuelot River and from there ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean. Retention basins are described as “artificial lakes with vegetation around the perimeter which include a permanent pool of water in their design.”  This is more of a pond than a lake but it is able to hold the runoff from drainage ditches that were dug around the entire perimeter. The pond did come very close to flooding one summer but that was because beavers moved in and immediately dammed the outflow channel. The beavers also began cutting down and feeding on the very expensive ornamental trees that the landscape architects ordered, but they didn’t get far. After they dropped the first thousand dollar Bradford pear they “disappeared” and I haven’t seen a beaver here since.

3. Juniper Berries

For some unknown reason, possibly to keep people from driving into it, they built long mounds of earth called berms all along the edges of the parking lots and roadways near the retention pond. The berms are about 5-6 feet high but apparently that wasn’t enough so they planted evergreens on top of them. They used spruce, balsam fir, white pine and juniper and they do a great job of completely hiding any hint of of water. The junipers here fruit heavier than any I’ve seen and I wanted to get a photo of the beautiful blue berries (actually modified cones). So there I was with my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot that I use for macro photos all warmed up and ready to go when a blackish colored head popped up out of the snow not three feet from where I stood. It saw me and immediately dropped back down into the snow, but just a few seconds later popped up again and stared at me. I felt like I was playing one of those Whack a Mole games. “Well hello there,” I said, “what are you doing here?” A stupid question if there ever was one I know, but it was all I could think of with such short notice.

4. Mink on the Run-3

And then after a few seconds of trying to figure out what I was off it went, bounding over the snow, so I just pointed the Panasonic in its general direction and without even looking through the view finder clicked the shutter as fast as my finger could go. The very poor photo above is the result, but it along with a lot of detective work tells me that this sleek blackish brown animal with white under his chin and a tail that tapers to a point is very probably an American Mink. He was about 2 feet long and his round hairy tail made up about a third of his length.

5. Burrow

This explained how he could pop up out of the snow without having snow all over his face and head. Minks are burrowing animals but they usually take over the burrows of muskrats and other animals in embankments along rivers and ponds instead of digging them themselves. They are carnivores and eat just about anything including frogs, mice and voles, fish, and birds. They also kill and eat muskrats and will go right into their burrows to do so. I haven’t been able to find any information on whether or not they bother beavers but I wondered if minks could be responsible for the mysterious disappearance of the beavers from this pond.

6. MinkTracks

If I understand what I’ve read correctly, one way to tell a mink from other members of the weasel family is by its bounding gait. This one was a real bounder and moved surprisingly fast. Rough measurements with my monopod tell me that there are about 14 inches between these prints. Minks can also climb trees and this one headed right for the evergreens along the top of the berm.

7. Paw Prints

I went back the next day to see if I could get photos of the mink’s tracks but because of the powdery snow he bounded through the tracks were barely visible. The ones in this photo were the best and they aren’t great, but one of them does show claw marks.  I’ve read that minks have paws that are slightly webbed, but nothing like the webbing that otters have. The State Fish and Game website says that minks and other members of the weasel family are very rarely seen, so I feel lucky to have gotten these photos even if they aren’t great.

8. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

After the excitement of seeing the mink died down I decided to visit one of my favorite lichens, the poplar sunburst (Xanthoria hasseana.) These lichens grow on the Bradford pear trees that grow alongside the pond and this is the only place that I’ve ever seen them. I’ve been visiting them for several years and each year they get more beautiful. The parts that look like suction cups are their fruiting bodies (apothecia) where their spores are produced.

 9. Hawthorn Fruit

For the most part the landscaping here seems uninspired and unimaginative, but there are bright spots like the two or three hawthorn (Crataegus) trees planted off in a corner where few ever see them.  They usually fruit quite heavily and the birds snap up the berry-like haws quickly. The haws, botanically speaking, are pomes, like apples and pears.  One odd fact about hawthorns is how their young leaves and flower buds are edible and can be used in salads.

10. Hawthorn Thorn

If the haws and the roundish, bright red buds don’t convince you that you’re looking at a hawthorn then the sharp, inch long thorns probably will.

 11.Spruce

I thought I’d use some of the evergreens that they planted on the berms to show you an easy way to tell a spruce from a fir. One way is by their cones. Spruce cones hang down from the branches.

12. Balsam Fir

And fir cones stand up on the branches like candles. This isn’t a great example but it’s the best I could find. Fir cones break apart as they ripen and the thing that looks like a skinny mushroom over on the upper right is what is left behind. Just a stalk and a few scales at the top. Since cones usually appear high up in the tree and are often only produced in 3-5 year cycles it’s wise to learn how to tell conifers apart by other means. Needle shape, length and color, bark appearance, overall growth habits and fragrance can all be used to identify conifers. Since spruce needles are sharp, stiff and square and fir needles are soft, flexible and flat I would have known these trees even if they hadn’t had cones, but the differences would have been much harder to illustrate here.

13. Meadow

The strip of unbroken snow in the foreground of the above photo is one of the drainage ditches and I come here in summer to take photos of arrowhead, nodding burr marigold and other wetland wildflowers that grow in great abundance here. This is a good spot to photograph them because I can get closer to them than I can when they grow in pond water. In the mini meadow in the background goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, boneset, purple loosestrife and other taller wildflowers create scenes worthy of a Monet painting in late summer.

14. Alder Tounge Gall

Native shrubs in the area include various willows, sumacs, and common alder (Alnus glutinosa). The long strap shaped growths coming out of the female alder cones (strobiles) in the above photo are tongue galls caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus causes a chemical reaction that deforms the alder strobiles and produces the tongue like galls. Early in the season when the galls are fresh they’re green but as they age they can become yellow, pink, red, purple or orange. Once they mature they turn brown or black and often stay on the strobiles until the next season. I always seem to miss their younger, more colorful stages.

Note: Julie has correctly pointed out that common Alder is a native of Europe. It also goes by the name of black or European alder and was introduced by the earliest settlers. It has taken well to its new home and is seen everywhere here in New Hampshire along with our native gray or speckled alder (Alnus incana.) It is so common that I think of it as a native, even though I know better. Thanks Julie!

15. Hawk

I happened to glance up and saw this hawk sitting on a light pole. I think it’s the same red tailed hawk that I’ve seen in the general area several times before, but I’m not positive about that identification. It’s a big bird; bigger than a crow-and always sits on the highest point available, watching open fields. I’m sorry again about the poor quality of these photos but I’m pretty sure if I could get a look into this bird’s nest I’d find a Canon Powershot SX40 manual that it reads when it isn’t out hunting, because every time I see him / her it makes sure that it is just beyond what the zoom on my camera can comfortably handle. These shots were taken at what would be the equivalent of about 840mm with a DSLR and I still had to crop them.

16. Hawk

When I’m around this bird never sits still long enough to even think about getting the camera on a monopod or tripod. As soon as it sees me with a camera it flies off. I wonder what the mink’s chances are now that it has moved into the neighborhood. If I were him I think I’d be just a bit worried.

Surprisingly, as this walk around this strip mall shows, nature seems to be thriving here. In fact if you include the mink and the hawk, I’ve actually seen a greater cross section of nature here than I usually do in the woods. While I was taking these photos and thinking about what I was seeing I had a strong feeling that nature couldn’t wait to reclaim this land.

Nature is what you see plus what you think about it. ~John Sloan

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1. Split Gill Underside

I loved the look of the underside of this split gill mushroom (Schizophyllum commune.) I’ve heard that the underside of this fungus could be reddish but until I saw this one I had only seen them in white. The gills split lengthwise as it dries out and that’s where its common name comes from. These are “winter mushrooms” and I often find them very late in the year, even when there is snow on the ground.

 2. Cobalt Crust Fungus

The cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea) is very beautiful and some say very rare, but I wondered if its rarity was because it grew on the underside of fallen oak limbs where they touch the soil surface. Unless the limb was disturbed it would never be seen, so since seeing this one I have peeked under several old rotting limbs to see if I could find another one. I haven’t seen one so maybe it really is rare. Another name for it is velvet blue spread. It can also come in lavender but since I’m colorblind it will always be blue to me.

3. Burning Bushes

Along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey there is quite a wide swath of invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus,) also called winged euonymus. They are protected by the trees overhead so they don’t begin to turn color until quite late. In this photo they are in their dark orangey-pink phase, but before too long they’ll all be pale pastel pink

4. Burning Bush Berries

This is why there are so many burning bushes along that section of river. The birds seem to love their berries. The bushes are beautiful at this time of year but they shade out native plants and create a monoculture, much like purple loosestrife and Japanese knotweed.

5. Virgin's Bower Foliage

Virgin’s bower leaves (Clematis virginiana) have taken on their fall plum purple shade.

 6. Royal Fern

In the fall royal ferns (Osmunda regalis) go from green to yellow, and then to orange brown. They grow in low swampy places along the sides of streams and ponds and are one of our most beautiful fern.

 7. Blackberry Gall

Blackberry seed gall is caused by the blackberry seed gall wasp (Diastrophus cuscutaeformis.) These very small round hollow galls look like seeds and form in clusters around blackberry stems. Each tiny gall has a stiff, hair like spine and together they form a hairy mass like that in the photo.  I showed this same mass here last spring and it was bright yellow-green and I wondered why it was described as brownish red. Now I know that it just needs time to age.

8. Grapes

The many smells of a New England autumn are as pleasing as the foliage colors. One of those smells is that of fermenting grapes, and I have a feeling that the woods will smell like grape jelly for a while this year.

9. Asparagus Berry

Asparagus plants come in male and female, meaning they are dioecious. If you see a small red berry on your asparagus then you have a female plant, but there has to be a male nearby. You also have asparagus seeds, which can be stored in a cool dry place and planted in the spring.  You’ll wait a while for an edible harvest though.

10. Juniper Berries

Some of the junipers are loaded with berries this year. Actually, though they’re called berries, botanically speaking they are fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice.

 11. Velvet Shank Mushrooms

Velvet shank mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) are another “winter mushroom” that typically fruits in late fall. I’ve found them with snow on the ground during warm spells in winter, and they can and do survive freezing temperatures. Their stems feel like velvet and, though it can’t be seen well in this photo, are darker at the base and lighten as they get nearer the cap.

12. Fuzzy Foots

I thought these were chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) but the dark stems didn’t quite match the descriptions. After searching my mushroom books again I realized that they are fuzzy foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina campanella,) so called because of the dense tuft of orange brown hairs at the base of each stem. I found them growing on the side of a mossy log. Each cap is about the same diameter as a nickel. They are one of the most photogenic of all the mushrooms, in my opinion.

13. Blue Crust Fungus

While I was looking for more cobalt crust fungi I found this light blue one instead. Like cobalt crust fungus it grew on a limb where it made contact with the soil. It’s a beautiful thing but I haven’t been able to identify it through books or online. If you’re reading this and happen to know what it is I’d love to hear from you.

 14. Forked Blue Curl Seed Pods

The seeds and seed pods of forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) are so small that I can barely see them, but a macro lens reveals all of the hidden details, including the surprising colors and hairiness of the plant. Each pod carries two tiny seeds and since these plants are annuals those seeds will make sure that a new generation comes along next year.

15. Washed Up Leaves

The object of this post was to show that not all of the beauty is up in the trees at this time of year. We look to the sky and dream of paradise, forgetting that it is all around us, all of the time.

If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found. ~Mehmet Muratildan

Thanks for coming by.

 

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