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Posts Tagged ‘Juniper Haircap Moss Spore Capsules’

Good Morning everyone. I’m sorry this post is later than usual but I woke to no internet this morning, and there isn’t much you can do about that.

The monarch butterflies have returned and have gone straight for the Joe Pye weed, which they seem to love. Nature has its own rhythm but I can’t think of anything that illustrates it more beautifully than the monarch butterfly.

I hoped the monarch would open its wings for me but this was the best I could do.

Bull thistles are attracting more insects this year than I’ve ever seen. Here was a silver spotted skipper and a bumblebee sharing this one.

And here was an eastern black swallowtail on another. What a beautiful thing; I think this was the only one I’ve seen.

Early one morning I found this pretty moth resting on a leaf. Imagine sleeping on a leaf, waiting for the sun to warm and wake you at dawn. I took a few photos and it never moved. I think its name is the large lace-border moth. It has a lacy fringe on its trailing wing edges.

I never knew there was such a difference in the size of milkweed beetles. I’m assuming one is a male and the other female. It seems like every other time I’ve seen them they’ve been the same size.

I found another insect I had never seen before one morning; a dobsonfly. Luckily a coworker knew what it was. It was quite big; it must have been 3-4 inches long including its big, fierce looking pincers. Actually they’re called mandibles and males, which this one is, use them to fight off interlopers. I’ve read that these insects can give you quite a painful bite but it is more warning than anything serious.  

Here’s a closer look at the dobsonflies many eyes. The larvae are called hellgrammites or toe biters and are aquatic. They are eaten by fish and are often used for bait by fisher folk. They can also give you quite a bite, hence the name toe biters. They stay in the larval stage for one to three years before leaving the water as a male or female dobsonfly. Once they leave the water their lifespan is shortened to three days for males and eight to ten days for females. During that time it’s all about continuation of the species.

One morning a dragonfly flew off a pickerel weed stalk and landed bang, right on my left shoulder. It was odd because I saw the dragonfly on the pickerel weed and then saw it fly at me as if in slow motion, as if it had it all planned out. Luckily I’m right handed so I was able to get my small macro camera out of its case on my belt and get this photo. But then there was a problem; how do I get the dragonfly to fly away? I put my camera away and put my finger on my shoulder and much to my surprise the dragonfly climbed aboard.

But then there was another problem; how could I get a shot of it on my right finger when I had to use my right hand to take the photo? So, I put my left my left finger up to my right finger and sure enough, it climbed right on just like my grandmother’s parakeets used to do. I was able to take several photos but since the sun hadn’t come up over the hills I was able to salvage only this one by adjusting the exposure in post processing. But then I faced another problem; how to get the dragonfly off my finger. I wiggled it gently but it held right on, so then I put my finger up to the siding of a building and it finally crawled off and flew away. I love it when insects and animals decide they want to be friends. It happens more often than I would have ever thought.

I thought the color of this dragonfly would make it very easy to identify but that hasn’t proven to be so. I’ve included it here so you can simply enjoy its beauty as I have. Beauty doesn’t need a name and as time passes I find that I care less about the names of things and more about their beauty. In 1970 Ray Stevens sang a song called “Everything is Beautiful.” At the time I didn’t believe it; I thought well that would be great if it were true, but as I’ve come down through the years I’ve found that it is indeed true. Everything is beautiful, in its own way.  

Up to this point we’ve seen a lot of relatively big insects, but now imagine one so small it can actually feed between the upper and lower surfaces of a leaf. That’s a leaf miner and that’s amazing, and that’s why nature study can change the way you look at life.

In a normal year I would have done at least one mushroom post by now and possibly two, but we’ve had so little rain until recently mushrooms just weren’t happening. Then it rained a little each week for a couple of weeks and I saw this mycelium on a log, so I knew I should see mushrooms soon. If you think of a mushroom as a vascular plant, which it isn’t, the mycelium would be its roots and the above ground part would be its stalk, and its spores would be its fruit.

Yellow spindle corals (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) lick up out of the soil like tiny flames. Each cylindrical finger is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. The tips are usually pointed as they are here. This species usually grows in tight clusters, often in the hard packed soil on the side of the trail, which is where I found these. Because they grow where they do you often find them broken from being stepped on, as some of these were.

If you find a shelf like fungus that shines like it has been varnished growing on an eastern hemlock tree then you’ve found a hemlock varnish shelf mushroom (Ganoderma tsugae.) I show this mushroom regularly on this blog because I see it regularly, but not often in its mature form as it was here. Brick red, often quite large, and shiny.

I’m seeing quite a few boletes all of the sudden so I’ve ben doing some reading, trying to learn more about them. There are a few with red caps and yellow stems, but I think I know how to tell them apart.

When you touch the spore surface or gently squeeze the stem and where you’ve touched turns very blue, you have found Boletus pseudosensibilis. If the surfaces turn only moderately blue, you’ve found Boletus sensibilis. This one stained what I thought was quite intense blue immediately when I touched it.

This bolete did not stain blue and its pore surface on the underside of the cap was bright yellow, so it must be Boletus bicolor. Of course this is all very interesting but these mushrooms can very greatly even among the same species so I’d never eat any of them without an expert identification, and I hope you won’t either.

I rolled over a log and here was this tiny being on the side of it. I believe it is called a cotton based coral fungus (Lentaria byssiseda,) which gets its name from the creamy white, furry, feltlike, mycelial patch that it arises from. It is a pliant but tough little thing that could comfortably sit on a penny with room to spare. According to my mushroom guides they can be whitish, pink or gray.

Sometimes you don’t realize you’ve been looking for a thing until you find it, and that was the case with these Indian pipes. I’ve seen many thousands of Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) but these were just coming up out of the soil, and that’s something I’ve never seen.

Of course this is what Indian pipes usually look like when we notice them.

The female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is barrel shaped with a beaked end cap or lid called the operculum. When the time is right this end cap will fall off and release the spores to the wind but I’ve never seen it happen, so this year I took an end cap off myself and I was surprised by the cloud of spores that came out of the capsule. They were like dust and must have numbered in the thousands, so it’s no wonder I see so many mosses. The capsules are about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch long and about 3/16 of an inch in diameter and are a challenge to photograph. Since they’re too small for my tired eyes to be able to see any real detail in person I was pleasantly surprised to see the line of tiny water droplets when I saw the photo. They must have been very small indeed.

I’m guessing that we’ll have a great blueberry crop this year. The bears will eat well.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call electric blue. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

These blue bead lily berries were much darker and closer to a blueberry blue, but I’m not sure why.

In last Saturday’s post I was complaining about how hot it was and this stone illustrates it perfectly, because it was sweating. Porous rocks have the ability to absorb water and when it’s hot they can sweat, much like we do. I see this fairly regularly. There was no other explanation on this day because it hadn’t rained recently.

Congratulations are in order, because you’ve made it to the end of the longest post I’ve ever done. I hope it was worth your time and I also hope, as always, that it will entice you outside to see these things for yourself. Nature is endlessly fascinating and always beautiful so I hope you’ll get outside and let it change your life. I thought I’d leave you with this shot of the view I see when the sun comes up over the hills every morning, just before I start my work day. It’s one of my favorite scenes and yes, I do know how lucky I am. I hope all of you are every bit as lucky.

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 stopping in.

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Five years ago this past Wednesday on the twentieth of May, 2015 I walked into Yale Forest in Swanzey and found that it was being logged. Since Yale University has a forestry school this wasn’t a huge surprise but I like to see how a forest recovers after being cut, so that was my mission last Sunday as I started up the old abandoned road that was one known as Dartmouth College Road. It had that name because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. After being abandoned by the state it became part of Yale Forest, which is slowly reclaiming it.

I saw lots of blooming violets. They’re very cheery little things that always remind me that spring has finally come.

We had a tornado warning the Friday before this walk and though we didn’t see a tornado we had some strong winds that took down trees and knocked out power, so that was another reason for my wanting to come here. I thought I’d see trees down everywhere and I saw a few but they were the same ones I saw in January, the last time I was out here. Thankfully someone had cut a path through them with a chainsaw so I didn’t have to leave the road and go way out in the woods to get around them like I did in January. Thank you for cutting through them, whoever you are.

The turkeys have missed a lot of partridge berries (Mitchella repens.) They looked fresh despite being under the snow all winter. Each red berry has two dimples left by the twin flowers whose ovaries fuse to form one berry. This small trailing vine can form colonies that are several feet across under the right conditions and I saw lots of them out here.

I saw lots of starflowers (Trientalis borealis) but no flowers yet. The flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

All on saw on the starflowers on this day were tiny buds. That bud from stem to tip is about half the diameter of a pea. It’s hard to believe such relatively large flowers will come out of it, but they will.

I saw lots of mosses out here of course. I like the little start shaped shoots of juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum.) They were one of the mosses that had spore capsules ripening.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. It is very hairy as is seen here and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid, seen at the top of the capsule and called the operculum, will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square.

At this time of year last year’s fronds of the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) lie flat on the ground due to the weight of the snow that has covered them all winter but they are still photosynthesizing, and that gives the plant the extra energy needed to ensure that new growth quickly replaces the old. That’s what gives evergreen ferns their leg up on other, non-evergreen species.

Evergreen Christmas fern fiddleheads are covered with silvery hairs.

I was happy to see that the forest has recovered nicely, with so much new growth I couldn’t even see the tree stumps.

The university is protecting the forest with insect traps as well, probably against pests like the emerald ash borer, which is killing off our ash trees at an alarming rate. This is a wing trap which holds sex pheromone baits for specific insects. The inside is very sticky and the number of insects caught will help pest control advisers determine how best to control insect pest invasions.

Much of the new growth in this and other logged forests is made up of black birch (Betula lenta.) It is also called sweet birch or cherry birch. I was happy to see so many of them because black birch was once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen, and so many were taken that they were once very hard to find. The twigs have an unmistakable taste of wintergreen, so nibbling on a twig is the easiest way to identify it. The trees can be tapped like sugar maples in spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer. 

I saw lots of beautiful, velvety new oak leaves.

I saw lots of new beech leaves too, along with lots of buds still breaking. Bud break on beech and other trees is one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see in a northern forest, in my opinion.

I found an old trailer hitch, I’m guessing from maybe the 1930s or 40s. The ball that the trailer would have attached to is up in the left hand corner by the stick. I would have liked to have taken it back with me but it must have weighed twenty pounds.

The power company here in New Hampshire was called Public Service of New Hampshire for most of my life and someone had found one of their old utility pole badges and put it on a log. Since there are no utility poles out here I can’t imagine where it originally came from.

This spot was once very active, with busy beavers building dams and ponds but I think they left some time ago. I haven’t seen any fresh cutting or dam building and this small stream runs normally.

Wood horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) is one of the prettiest horsetails of all and this was the first time I’ve ever seen one. They are commonly found in wet or swampy forest, open woodlands, and meadow areas, which is a surprise because those are places I spend a lot of time in. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name means “of the forests.”  I’ve read that they are an indicator of a cool-temperate climate and very moist to wet, nitrogen poor soil.

Years ago I found some painted trilliums out here but I couldn’t find them on this day. Instead what I found were thousands of goldthread blossoms (Coptis trifolia,)  easily more than I’ve ever seen in one place. Since this plant was once collected into near oblivion because of its golden, canker sore relieving roots, I was happy to see them. The Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find until they couldn’t find anymore, so this is a success story. 

It’s such a beautiful little flower but those who were after the plant’s roots probably paid them little attention.

Eventually after jumping the stream you come to and old beaver pond and, though this is usually the end of the road, today I walked a little farther to see if I could find any more wildflowers. Not too far from here is the new highway that replaced this old road I was following, and I could hear the traffic.

But traffic noise didn’t bother this beautiful mallard, which fit the definition of serenity as it swam in the beaver pond. Though it quacked a few times it didn’t seem mind me being there, and that is odd behavior for a duck in this part of the state because they usually fly off at the first sign of a human.

There are times in nature when a great peace will settle over you, as if someone had placed a cloak of calmness over your shoulders, and that’s how I felt here alone with this bird. My presence must have bothered it at least a little but it seemed completely unperturbed and swam around as if I wasn’t even there. The mallard made me wonder if true serenity comes from simply letting go of the things that are disturbing us.

It is in the still silence of nature where one will find true bliss. ~Anonnymous

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone will find a puddle full of serenity to paddle in.

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Over the nearly nine years I’ve been doing this blog the question I’ve been asked more than any other is “How do you find these things?” So this post will be about how I find them; I’ll tell you all the secrets, starting with the jelly baby mushrooms above. Do you see how small they are? They’re growing in an acorn cap. The first time I saw them I was feeling winded and when I sat on a rock to rest I looked down and there was a tiny clump of jelly babies, Just like this one. That day a side of nature that  I never knew existed was revealed and from then on I started seeing smaller and smaller things everywhere I went. 

You have to learn to see small by seeking out small things and training your eyes, and your brain somewhat, to see them. It also helps to know your subject. For instance I know that slime molds like the many headed slime mold above appear most often in summer when it’s hot and humid, and usually a day or two after a good rain. They don’t like sunshine so they’re almost always found in the shade. I’ve learned all of this from the slime molds themselves; by finding one and, not knowing what it was, looking it up to find out. I’ve learned most of what I know about nature in much the same way. If you want to truly study nature you have to be willing to do the legwork and research what you see.

Another secret of nature study is walking slowly. Find yourself a toddler, maybe a grandchild or a friend with one, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have one yourself. No older than two years though; they start to run after that and they’re hard to keep up with. Anyhow, watch a two year old on a trail and see how slowly they walk. See how they wander from thing to thing. They do that because everything is new and they need to see and experience it. You need to be the same way to study nature; become a toddler. Slowly cross and crisscross your line of progress. See, rather than look. Why is that group of leaves humped up higher than all the others? Is there something under them making them do that? Move them and see. You might find some beautiful orange mycena mushrooms like these under them.

So you need to train yourself to see small, to toddle and think like a toddler, and then you need to know your subject. All that comes together in something like this female American hazelnut blossom. I first saw them when I had toddled over to a bush to see the hanging male catkins, which are very beautiful, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.

But all I could see was a flash of color because female hazelnut blossoms are almost microscopic. That’s a paperclip behind these blossoms. Even with eye problems I can find them though, because I know they’re tiny. I know they bloom in mid-April and I know they’re red and I know what shape the buds they grow out of are. All I need do is find one and the camera does the rest, allowing me to see its Lilliputian beauty.

That’s how I start the growing season each spring; by re-training my eyes to see small again. Most of what I see in winter is big so I need to get used to small again. Spring beauties like those above are as small as an aspirin, so they’re a good subject to start with. They’re also very beautiful and a forest floor carpeted with them is something you don’t soon forget.

Sometimes I’ll see something like this larch flower in a book or on another blog and I’ll want to see it in person. That’s what happened when I first found one, and I was surprised by how small they were. This is another example of my being able to only see a flash of color and then having to see with a camera. They’re just too small for me to see with my eyes but they’re beautiful and worth the extra effort it takes to get a photo of them.

I spend a lot of time looking at tree branches, especially in spring when the buds break. I’ve learned what time of month each tree usually blossoms and I make sure I’m there to see it happen. This photo shows male red maple flowers. Each flower cluster is full of pollen and the wind will be sure the pollen finds the female blossoms. When you see tulips and magnolias blooming it’s time to look at red maples. One of the extraordinary things about these blossoms was their scent. I smelled them long before I saw them.

Lichens aren’t easy to identify but there are easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere; on soil, on trees, on stone, even on buildings. But most are quite small, so walking slowly and looking closely are what it takes to find them. This mealy firedot lichen was growing on wet stone and that’s why the background looks like it does. You could spend a lifetime studying just lichens alone but it would be worth it; many are very beautiful.

Countless insects make galls for their young to grow in and the size and shape of them is beyond my ability to show or explain, so I’ll just say that I always make a point of looking for them because they’re endlessly fascinating, and you can match the gall to the insect with a little research. This one looked like a tiny fist coming up out of a leaf. Something else I like about them is that you don’t have to kneel down to see them. That isn’t getting any easier as time goes on. 

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind. I learned all of that by studying the moss and reading about what I saw going on, and you can too. And you can do it with virtually anything you find in nature. To me, that is exciting.

A good memory isn’t strictly necessary for nature study but it can come in handy if you wish to see a plant in all stages of its life cycle. I knew where some rare dwarf ginseng plants grew in this area and I knew when they blossomed but I had never seen their seedpods, so I had to remember to go back to see what you see here. It might not look like much but it’s a rare sight and I doubt more than just a few have seen it. I often can’t remember my own phone number or where I parked my car but I can lead you right to the exact spot where this plant grows, so I seem to have two memories; one for every day and one for just nature. The one for nature works much better than the every day one.

Develop an eye for beauty. Give yourself time to simply stand and look, and before long you’ll find that you don’t just see beauty, you feel it as well, all through your being. This is just tree pollen on water; something I’ve seen a thousand times, but not like this. On this day it was different; it usually looks like dust on the surface but this pollen had formed strings that rode on the current. I wasn’t looking for it; I just happened upon it, and that shows that a lot of what you see on this blog is just dumb luck. But I wouldn’t happen upon it if I wasn’t out there. That’s another secret; you have to be out there to see it. You’ll never see it by staring at a phone or television.

This is another rarity that I just happened upon; a mushroom releasing its spores. Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in this photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. Once it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away. This is why it’s so important to walk slowly and look carefully. You could easily pass this without seeing it.

Something else that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did. You can’t plan to see something like this, you simply have to be there when it happens.

Do you know how many puddles there are with ice on them in winter? I don’t either, but I do take the time to look at them and I almost always see something interesting when I do. I’ve never seen another one like this.

Sometimes if you just sit quietly unusual things will happen. I was on my hands and knees looking at something one day and I looked up and there was a fly, sitting on a leaf. I slowly brought my camera up and this is the result. By the way, much of what I see comes about because I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees. If you want to see the very small, you have to. And before I get back on my feet I always try to look around to see if there’s anything interesting that I’ve missed.

I was crawling around the forest floor looking for I don’t remember what one day and saw something jump right in front of me. It was a little spring peeper. It sat for a minute and let me take a few photos and then hopped off. Another secret of nature study is to expect the unexpected. If you want to document what you see always have your camera ready. I have one around my neck, one on my belt and another in my pocket, and I still miss a lot.

I was in a meadow in Walpole climbing the High Blue trail when I saw a blackish something moving through the grass on the other side. Apparently it saw me because it turned and came straight for me. When it got close I could see that it was a cute porcupine. I thought it must have poor eyesight and would run away when it got close enough but then it did something I never would have  expected; it came up to me and sat right at my feet. I took quite a few photos and then walked on after telling it goodbye. I still wonder what it was all about and what the animal might have wanted. I’ve never forgotten how we seemed to know one another. It’s another example of why you have to expect the unexpected in nature study. You just never know.

Sometimes all you need to do is look up. When was the last time you saw mare’s tails in the sky? There’s a lot of beauty out there for you to see, and you don’t really have to study anything.

So, what you’ve read here isn’t the only way to study nature. It’s simply my way; what I’ve learned by doing. I had no one to guide me, so this is what and how I’ve learned on my own. I thought that it might help you in your own study of nature, or you might find your own way. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re out there having fun and enjoying this beautiful world we live in. I’ll leave you with a simple summary that I hope will help:

  1. To see small think small. There is an entire tiny world right there in plain sight but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it. Nothing is hidden from the person who truly sees.

  2. Don’t just look, see; and not just with your eyes. Use all your senses. I’ve smelled certain plants and fungi before I’ve seen them many times. I also feel almost everything I find.

  3. Walk at a toddlers pace. Cross and crisscross your path.

  4. Know your subject. You probably won’t find what you hope to unless you know when and where it grows, or its habits. When you see something you’ve never seen if you want to know more about it research it.

  5. Be interested in everything. If you’re convinced that you’ve seen it all then you’ll see nothing new. Run your eye down a branch. Roll over a log. Study the ice on a puddle.

  6. Expect the unexpected. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest but I’ve never seen it happen. Tomorrow may be the day.

  7. Develop an eye for beauty; it’s truly everywhere you look. Allow yourself to see and feel it. Appreciate it and be grateful for it and before long you too will see it everywhere you go.

  8. Let nature lead. Nature will teach you far more than you’ve ever imagined. It will also heal you if you let it, but none of this can happen if you spend all your time indoors.

  9. None of the things you’ve read here are really secrets. Nature is there for everyone and you can study it and take pleasure in it just as easily as I can.

  10. Have fun and enjoy nature and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cares melt away. Problems that once might have seemed insurmountable will suddenly seem much easier to solve.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long. 
~John Moffitt

Thanks for stopping in.

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It’s a shame how some people think winter is a ‘dead time’ when there is nothing to see outside. I challenge anyone to find a scene more alive than this one at any time of year, or more beautiful. This, to me, is a little slice of paradise. But it is also a place of mystery; on this little hill grow possibly hundreds of species of mosses and I can’t know them all, but I can know a few and each year I try to learn at least one more new one. I hope you’re interested enough to meet the ones I do know.

One of my favorite mosses is the delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) because though it turns lime green in cold weather colorblindness makes it look bright orange to me, and what could be better than orange moss? It grows in my lawn so it’s very easy to find. It’s very pretty, especially in the fall, and I wouldn’t really mind if the lawn went away and the moss took over.

Many mosses will grow on wood, stone or soil and delicate fern moss is one of them. It’s is a beautiful little thing that isn’t as delicate as its name implies, but it certainly is fern like. The leaves of this moss are often dull rather than shiny. It is fairly common and easy to find because it often forms very large mats. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.

Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens) is very shiny and sometimes has an orange brown color. It often forms very large mats as it did here, covering this entire log.

Brocade moss gets its common name from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically.

The name medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) comes from the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. It is also called white tipped moss, because its branch tips are often bright white as they are in this photo. This moss is fairly common and I find it mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It always seems to be very happy and healthy.

White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) can appear silvery, white, bluish green or grayish green but it always forms a thick cushion and stands out from the mosses that might surround it. It likes plenty of water and shade and grows on rotting logs or on stone when there is enough soil. It is probably the easiest of all the mosses to identify.

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) doesn’t look like very many other mosses so it’s relatively easy to identify. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.

Big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) is a very common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning other mosses. In fact I’ve never seen a moss grow as fast as this one. It should be obvious how big red stem comes by its common name but I don’t see any red. I’ve looked through two moss books and countless photos on line though, and all examples of big red stem look like this example. That makes me wonder if its stem isn’t red for part of the time. Mosses do change color.

Tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) does just what its name sounds like it would; it grows at the base of trees and makes them look like they’re wearing green stockings. It can also grow on soil or stone and can form extensive mats. Tree skirt moss looks like it’s made up of tiny braided ropes when it’s dry. It is normally deep green but sometimes dryness can affect its color and shape. After a rain each tiny leaflet will pull away from the stem, giving the moss a slightly fluffy appearance.

Juniper haircap moss plants (Polytrichum juniperinum) look like tiny green starbursts. This moss grows on soil and is also very common in this area. I see them just about everywhere I go. Wet or dry, they always seem to look the same, even though many mosses change their appearance when they dry out.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. You can’t see it in this photo because it has fallen off already but it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square, as seen here.

If your camera can do this, you’d better hang onto it because it’s a good one. I’ve gotten a useable shot of the end of a juniper haircap moss spore capsule exactly twice over too many tries to count. This photo shows it is still covered by a thin lid of tissue. What looks like notches around its perimeter are slots that fit over specialized teeth called peristome teeth at the mouth of the capsule. These teeth move with changes in humidity and spread in dry conditions to release the spores, which are taken by the wind. The spore capsule’s diameter at this stage is less than the diameter of a piece of uncooked spaghetti. I wish I had a microscope so I could get even closer.

Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum,) grows on stone and is another of my favorites. This pretty little leafy moss likes limestone so when you see it you know you’re in an area where you might find other lime loving plants, like many of our native orchids. It forms dense mats and gets its common name from the aspirin size rosettes of leaves that terminate each stalk. They look like tiny flowers. This is the only example of rose moss that I’ve ever seen and I think it’s probably quite old.

Blackish male organs produce sperm which will be splashed out of the center of the rose moss rosettes by rain drops, and when they land on female structures that produces egg cells, called archegonium, a drooping, pear shaped spore capsule (sporophytes) will grow. Rose moss also reproduces by horizontal underground stems so spore capsules are rare. This is why new clumps of this moss are so hard to find.

Another leafy moss which I have to hunt high and low for is the Appalachian penny moss (Rhizomnium appalachianum) but it’s worth it because it’s so pretty and unusual. Though some mosses like this one can resemble vascular plants, mosses have no xylem and phloem, or vascular tissue. This is why mosses are classified as Bryophytes; plants that have no roots, leaves, or stem. They also have no flowers or seeds and reproduce through spores. Since mosses have no roots they need to grow in areas with adequate moisture. This one grows in soil that was dripping wet.

This moss is easily confused with red penny moss (Rhizomnium punctatum) so you have to look at the stems. Only the stems of Appalachian penny moss will be hairy over their entire length as seen here.

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is a very beautiful moss that grows on stones and looks quite fragile, but I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it so I can say with certainty that it’s a lot tougher than it looks. That is most likely why it grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It seems fairly rare here; this is the only example that I’ve seen, and it doesn’t seem to be spreading.

When dry stair step moss has a slight satiny sheen to it, and that’s probably how it came by its other common name of glittering wood-moss. The name stair step moss comes from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. It is said that you can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps.

Any moss post I do usually has at least one unknown but I often delete them before you see them. I left this one in because I like its happy, curly appearance. Though it fills this photo it is the tiniest moss in this post at about 1/2 an inch across. It grew on tree bark.

I like to visit my friends the tree mosses (Climacium dendroides) every now and then but it’s getting harder to get to them. What was once a streamside trail has become a brushy maze that I had to weave my way through. They are cheery mosses that look like little palm trees, and they always glow with a beautiful inner light, so they’re worth the effort. By this stream is the only spot I’ve ever found them so they aren’t common here, but I was happy to see that they’ve spread quite well where they grow. They must not mind being under water for a time because their stream floods once or twice a year.

You’ll notice that many of the mosses shown here like rose moss and tree moss are hard to confuse with other mosses, but some like that little unknown moss could be any one of three or four different mosses. They can be very difficult to identify but I try to do it because I’m a nature nut. You don’t have to be a nature nut though; you can enjoy the beauty of these beings without knowing a single one of their names. When you see a scene like the one above you can simply go and sit with them for a bit, and just admire them. They’re a fascinating and important part of nature.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics; it also grows on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. It is a resurrection engine. A single clump of mosses can lie dormant and dry for forty years at a stretch, and then vault back again into life with a mere soaking of water. ~Elizabeth Gilbert

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It was cloudy but warm last Saturday when I visited the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. This is a nice walk on an old abandoned road that is only 5 minutes from the center of town by car, so quite a few people come here. I was pleased to see that there was little snow here on this day because it usually quickly turns to ice from all the foot traffic. As I said in my last post, it is very strange to drive from here where there is virtually no snow to my job a half hour away in Hancock, where there is plenty.

Beaver Brook was behaving itself despite all the rain and snow we’ve had. The last time I came here I would have been in water up to my neck if I’d been standing in this spot.

I have a lot of old friends here, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place I’ve ever seen it so when I want to see how it changes as it grows I have to come here. There are also many other one-of-a-kinds I can visit while I’m here.

I like the crepe paper like leaves of this sedge.

The sun finally came out just a few hours later than the weather people said it would, and the golden light falling on the brook was beautiful. I dilly dallied for a while beside this pool, thinking how some might consider coming to such a place a waste of time or an attempt to escape reality, but this is not an escape from reality; it is an immersion in reality, because this is just about as real as it gets. And getting a good dose of reality is never a waste of time.

This is the only place I know of to find the beautiful rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each rosette of leaves is about the size of an aspirin and looks like a little flower, and that’s where its common name comes from. Rose moss likes limestone and it’s a good indicator of limestone in the soil or stone that it grows on, so it’s a good idea to look around for other lime loving plants if you find it. Many native orchids for instance, also like lime in the soil.

Another moss that I’ve only seen here is the stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens,) which is also called glittering wood moss  possibly due to its satiny sheen when dry. Though it looks quite fragile I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it many times, and it grows north even into the Arctic tundra. The stair step part of the name comes from the way new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s growth. You can’t see it in this photo but it’s a fun thing to look for if you find this moss.

Unlike the rarer mosses we’ve just seen juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) grows just about everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it is any less interesting than the others.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. You can’t see it in this photo but it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square, as seen here.

This is a look at the business end of the spore capsule, which is still covered by a thin lid of tissue. What looks like notches around its perimeter are slots that fit over specialized teeth called peristome teeth at the mouth of the capsule. These teeth move with changes in humidity and spread in dry conditions to release the spores, which are taken by the wind. The spore capsule’s diameter at this stage is less than the diameter of a piece of uncooked spaghetti. I’d bet that I’ve probably tried a thousand times over the years to get this shot and this is the only time I’ve succeeded.  I wish I had a microscope so I could get even closer.

Here was another moss that grew all mixed in with a liverwort. It was hard to tell exactly what it was but its sporangium were covered by white calyptra that looked like a swarm of tiny insects with white wings.

Here is a shot of one of the spore capsules from the moss in the previous photo. The spore capsules have a white (when dry) 2 part calyptra that doesn’t appear to be hairy, and I haven’t been able to identify it. I have a feeling it is another moss in the Polytrichum family but I don’t know that for sure. Sporangium means “spore vessel” in Latin, and of course that’s exactly what it is. Note the long beaked lid at the end of the capsule, which is its operculum.

The liverwort that was mixed in with the moss in the previous photos was the greater whipwort liverwort (Bazzania trilobata.) It lives happily on stones right along with mosses so you have to look closely to be sure what it is you’re looking at. This pretty liverwort looks almost like it has been braided and always reminds me of a nest full of centipedes.

Each greater whipwort leaf is about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of its scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.” You might notice though, that some have more than three.

There was a good bit of ice on the roadside ledges but it was rotten and falling so I didn’t get too close.

Drill marks in the stone of the ledges tells the history of this place. This road was one of the first laid out in the town of Keene, built to reach the first sawmill. If you didn’t have a sawmill in town in those days you had a dirt floor. Or one made of logs, which was probably worse than dirt.

It turned out to be a beautiful and relatively warm day. The lack of snow on the old abandoned road made walking a pleasure. I’ve seen this natural canyon with so much snow in it I had to turn back.

The yellow lines are still here on the old road, but since nobody has driven here since about 1970 they really aren’t needed.

One of the best examples of a healed frost crack that I know of can be seen here in this golden birch. Sun warming the bark in winter can cause a tree’s wood to expand. If nighttime temperatures fall into the bitterly cold range the bark can cool and contract rapidly, but when the wood beneath the bark doesn’t cool as quickly as the bark the stress on the bark can cause it to crack. On cold winter nights you can often hear what sounds like rifle shots in the woods, but the sounds are really coming from cracking trees. They can be quite loud and will often echo through a forest.

The spot where this yellow jelly fungus (Tremella mesenterica) grew was heavily shaded so I had to use my camera’s onboard LED light to get a shot of it. I was surprised when I saw the photo because you could clearly see the shiny and dull, matte finish surfaces on the fungus. I’ve read that the fungus produces spores only on its shiny side, but in previous photos I’ve taken the entire thing always looked shiny. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the two surfaces in a photo so I’m quite happy to have solved another riddle, even though there are always hundreds more just around the next bend when you’re involved in nature study.

If you come upon a white spot on a tree that looks like it has been inscribed with ancient runes you are probably seeing a script lichen. This common script lichen (Graphis scripta) was bold and easy to see. The dark lines are its apothecia, where its spores are produced, and the gray color is its body, or thallus. If you happen to be a lichen there is nothing more important than continuation of the species through spore production, and script lichens produce plenty in winter.

There is a great waterfall here but unfortunately you have to just about break your neck to get to it, so since I wasn’t interested in doing so here’s a shot of it from a few years back. Height estimates vary but I’m guessing about 30-40 feet, and it was roaring on this day. Just think; history lessons, plants, ferns, lichens, mosses, fungi, liverworts, a waterfall and a brook that sings to you all along the way. Where else can a nature lover find all of these things in one walk? Nowhere else that I know of, and that’s why I come here again and again. I do hope you aren’t getting bored from seeing it so much.

To taste life, so true and real. Sweet serenity. ~Jonathan Lamas

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