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Posts Tagged ‘Lady Fern’

There are spring haters out there. I know there are because I’ve talked to some of them. They complain of dirty snowbanks, brown grass, bare trees, wind and cold, and just the blah-ness of it all. No color, they say. Well, this post is designed to show them how wrong they are. Spring shouldn’t be about seeing tulips and daffodils out of the car window as you drive past. It should be about walking slowly, looking closely, and marveling at what is in my opinion the most beautiful season of all. It should be about seeing the incredible beauty of nature, and witnessing the miracles that happen each and every day. It’s hard to deny the beauty of red maple blossoms (Acer rubrum) for instance, as we see in this photo. Though this shot is from last year they have started blooming now. The blooming period doesn’t last long, so now is the time to look for them. You won’t have to look hard though, because these trees are everywhere.

Silver maple flowers (Acer saccharinum) look a lot like those of red maples, but the fruits (samaras) of silver maple are far more beautiful, in my opinion. You can find these in mid-May here and no, you don’t need to be able to tell a silver maple from a red maple; all you need to do is look closely, regularly.  These samaras look like this for only a day or two.

American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americana) have also just started to bloom. These beautiful, rarely seen things are very small, so if your eyes are as old as mine you might want to carry a loupe or macro lens. Or, there are also free magnifying glass apps that you can get for a cell phone. I have one and it works well. I took this photo at just about this time last year. Hazelnut shrubs grow along rail trails, roadways, and in waste places.

Other tiny flowers are those of the speckled alder (Alnus incana.) The cylindrical flower clusters are long and thin and often appear in groups at the ends of branches. They are called catkins or aments. Each flower cluster has many crimson, thread-like female stigmas just poking out. Don’t be afraid to grab a branch of a tree or shrub and pull it toward you so you can see better; you won’t hurt the plant at all. This photo was taken on March 26th of last year and I’ve already seen hints of them this year, so the time to look is now in this area. Alders get little hard black cones called strobiles on their branch ends and usually grow near water.

If you can’t find anything to marvel at on shrubs or trees check the stones. They’re often covered with lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) shown here. Unless the stones are covered with snow there are always lichens to see and they can be very beautiful.

If there aren’t any stones look in the bushes. You might be astonished by what you find. These robin eggs hatched in May two years ago.

The leaves of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) look like tiny fingers as they pull themselves away from their protective covering of the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub; this photo was taken in mid-April of 20105. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers, followed by bright red berries. One of life’s simple pleasures is watching buds like these open and it costs nothing but a few minutes of time each day.

On every stone, on every branch and in every puddle, the beauty of spring can be found. Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid-May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them in this photo from May 17th of 2014. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

Leaves can also be beautiful, as this photo of the deeply pleated leaves of false hellebores (Veratrum viride) from mid-May of 2015 shows. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants we have here, so you’re probably better off just admiring rather than touching this one. They like low, moist areas along streams and rivers.

The point of all this is to learn to see rather than to simply look. There is a difference; one day I met two college age girls on a woodland trail. They complained that they hadn’t seen a single wildflower, though the area was known for them. When I walked the same trail I saw flowers everywhere. They were small yes, but they were there. So how can this be? I’m guessing that they probably walked too fast and thought more about the end of the trail than what they might see along it. A toddler’s pace and a willingness to look a little closer would have let them see beautiful things that they probably hadn’t even imagined were there. Beautiful little Pennsylvania sedge flowers like those shown here are barely 4 inches tall, so you have to look the ground over carefully for them. They’ll appear along woodland edges and roadsides in mid-April, coming up out of what look like little tufts of course grass.

Orangey pink striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) are a good example of why, when a bud or flower catches your eye in the spring, you should watch it every day because changes come quickly. In a day or two your beautifully colored bud might have become leaves. The tree or shrub you happen to be looking at wants food, and food means leaves that can photosynthesize. There is no benefit to keeping its leaves tightly wrapped in the bud unless it is to protect the tender new growth from cold. If it is warm they’ll open quickly.

Box elder (Acer negundo) is in the maple family but it’s a “soft maple” and in this area is considered a weed tree because of how they come up everywhere. A box elder was the first tree I ever planted when I was a boy though, so they’re special to me. I think they’re at their most beautiful in April when they flower. The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers seen in this photo appear along with the tree’s leaves, just a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike a lot of other maples. The earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Fern fiddleheads just out of the ground are some of the most beautiful things to see in spring. One of my favorites is the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina.) Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams.

If you’re in a moist, loamy area looking for lady ferns you might as well look for some horsetails too. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by an infertile stem. I find these at around the end of April.

I know what the big buds of shagbark hickory look like when they open but even so, they’re so beautiful they always stop me in my tracks and make me stand there with my mouth hanging open. They are easily one of the most beautiful things in the spring forest and I start watching for them in mid-May. I usually find them growing near water; along river banks or near lakes and ponds.

So why  should you bother looking for all this stuff in spring? Well, why should you bother going to an art gallery, or listen to music, or read a book? We do these things to enrich our lives, to help renew and rejuvenate our minds and spirits; to make ourselves more comfortable with the unknown; more at peace, and more creative. Nature will do all of this for us and more. Nature, from my own experience, is very healing. If you face a rough spot in life try just walking alone on a favorite woodland path each day. In no time at all your problems will seem to have been solved with very little effort. I would never tell you this if it wasn’t true; it has happened in my own life again and again. I think it’s because nature study makes us meditate quite naturally, so we don’t even realize we’re doing so. It’s hard to worry and fret when something captivates your attention so just look at all that’s happening in the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) shoot above. Just up out of the soil and it’s already amazing. When I see it I want to draw it, and I think I could sit and look at it all day.

A large part of why I spend every free minute in nature is because of the incredible beauty I see. It’s amazing to think that so much beauty has been in plain sight all along. For a large part of my life I never took the time to see it and I hope you won’t make the same mistake. Everyone knows where there is a beech tree. Just start watching the branch tips around the first week in May. You’ll see the long, pointed buds begin to curl quite severely and then a day or so later miracles will happen; it will look like a host of angles has swooped down and shed their downy wings. Even the gloomiest among us will feel their pulse quicken and magically, a smile will appear on their face. If they spend time with nature it will be there for a while, so they’d better get used to it.

So here we are at the end of this post and until now we haven’t seen a flower with petals on it, so if you’re one of those people who think the beauty of spring means tulips and daffodils I hope I’ve changed your mind. But, if it is still flowers you want try a woodland walk in mid-April. If you’re lucky you might just find some spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) like those in this photo. All of what you’ve seen here and so very much more is just starting to happen, so I hope very much that you’ll get out there and see it for yourself.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-trail

Last Saturday an old friend who moved to California years ago came east for a visit, so I thought I’d take him up Hewe’s hill to see Tippin’ Rock. He’s a regular reader of this blog and has seen the behemoth in photos, but never in person. Luckily he’s always up for an uphill climb.

2-turkey-feather

Since we’re about the same age I don’t think he minded my stopping to take photos, like this one of a turkey feather. We don’t run up and down hills quite like we used to.

3-tippin-rock

But we were able to huff and puff our way to the top where the 40 ton glacial erratic sat waiting. We marveled at the size of the thing and thought about all the things that had to have happened millions of years ago for it to have ended up here. It doesn’t just sit on dirt; it’s on the only perfectly flat section of the granite bedrock that the hill is made from. And it isn’t just any old rock; its underside is like the hull of a ship, with a keel-like shape to it. It also comes with a very old legend that says if you “get your shoulder under” the right part of the stone and heave, it will move. That’s where the name “Tippin” Rock” comes from.

4-tipping-tippin-rock

Well, I’ve gotten my shoulder under every part of the thing and heaved until I was blue in the face, so I thought I’d let my friend Dave have a turn. Here he is going at it from the side, using his arms instead of his shoulder. The rock just sat there, so then he tried a different spot and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Wonder of wonders; 40 tons of granite rocked back and forth like a baby cradle.  “Well I’ll be,” I said and then I took a turn. Once again it moved back and forth like a pendulum. But it’s a slow, subtle movement and we discovered that if you’re looking directly at the stone you can’t really tell that it’s moving. You have to look at an edge to really see the slow rocking motion, and that’s what makes me think that every time I’ve heaved at the stone it was moving and I just couldn’t see it. We also noticed that we could hear it rocking by its crushing the dry forest debris that the wind has blown under it.

5-tipping-tippin-rock

We tried several different spots and the big stone rocked slowly back and forth nearly every time, so the legend of Tippin Rock has proven true, and I’m glad to be able to check another of nature’s mysteries off my long list. I told Dave I’d make him world famous; known from here to Timbuktu as the man who can move 40 tons of solid granite with nothing but his bare hands.

6-trail

We spent more than a few minutes marveling at our sudden onrush of super human strength but there were other things up here to see, so we headed off down the trail to where the views are found.

7-in-the-tree-tops

As I feared the sky was flat, dull, white, and uninteresting. It might seem ungrateful to complain about an entire summer of cloudless blue skies but I can say with surety that even the best things in life can become tiresome when you have too much of them. We did have a dark cloudy day with a little drizzle yesterday and it seemed like all of nature was rejoicing.

8-view-south

To the south there were miles of unbroken forest. I didn’t see much in the way of fall colors but some of the trees seem to be hinting at lighter shades.

9-view-west

To the west there was more unbroken forest and even a touch of blue in the sky. There is also a stronger hint of fall in this photo, I just noticed.

10-ledges

In places the bedrock forms ledges and in the ledges there are sometimes shallow caves, some big enough to sit in when it rains.  You have to choose your cave carefully though, because in many of them the stone on the ceiling is falling to the floor.

11-ledges

In places the bedrock forms sheer faces and rock climbers come here to hone their craft. Just to the left, out of sight in this photo, is a drop of (we guessed) about 60-80 feet. Vertigo comes easily here, at least for those who don’t do heights well, and it wouldn’t be a good idea to be wandering around at night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I introduced Dave to my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) and he was impressed by their tenacity. Even after a summer of little rain but here they sit, dry and brittle, patiently waiting for the fall rains that we are all hoping for. We just had a hurricane move up the coast that looked promising for a few tropical downpours but unfortunately it has missed us except for a tiny bit of drizzle.

13-lady-fern

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) reminded us that fall was right around the corner. According to the “Fern Bulletin,” which is a quarterly publication devoted to ferns, fern reproductive systems weren’t understood until the middle of the 16th century, when fern spores were finally studied. Before that time people thought that there were male and female ferns, and that’s how the lady fern came by her common name. There are other stories about the origin of the name but this one seems the most plausible. It is also called ghost fern for the way it turns white in the fall.

14-butterfly

You have to cross a meadow filled with red clover to get back to your parking spot and on this day every clover blossom seemed to have a yellow butterfly on it. I think they were all common sulfurs.

15-butterflies

It was nice of this one to fly into the frame as I snapped the shutter and show us the upper surface of its wings. The markings match the common Sulphur butterfly. There must have been a large hatching of them, or maybe they’re migrating through the area. Seeing so many at once was a beautiful sight.

16-smiley-face

Mister smiley face didn’t have to remind me that there was plenty to smile about, but it was good to see him just the same.

The best part of the journey is the surprise and wonder along the way. ~Ken Poirot

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Lady Fern

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

2. Howling Stump

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

3. Hazel Galls

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

4. Willow Gall

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

5. Turkey Tails

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

6. Blue Crust Fungus

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

7. Bunchberry

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

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

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

8. Barberry Stump

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

9. Beaver Stump

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

10. Fungus

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

11. Fly Agaric Mushroom

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

12. Mushroom

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

13. Feern

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

14. Beech

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

15. Chair

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

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

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Halloween!

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1. Silver Maple Seeds

The beautiful fruits (samaras) of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) start out their lives deep red with a white furry coat. When you see them beginning to form you have to check them frequently to catch them in this stage because it happens quickly and ends just as quickly. The mature seeds are the largest of any native maple and are a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk. Silver maples get their common name from the downy surface of the leaf underside, which flashes silver in the slightest breeze.

2. Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads

I joined a professional ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddlehead forager earlier to see where the ferns grow along the Connecticut River. There were many thousands of ferns there-so many that I don’t think a busload of people could have picked them all. I also saw some of the biggest trees that I’ve ever seen that day. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are considered a great delicacy by many and many restaurants are happy to pay premium prices for them at this time of year. I’ve always heard that ostrich fern is the only one of our native ferns that is safe to eat. They like to grow in shady places where the soil is consistently damp. They really are beautiful things at this stage in life.

3. Lady Fern Fiddleheads

Though I’ve heard that ostrich fern is the only fern safe to eat many people eat lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) fiddleheads as well, and gourmet restaurants in Quebec will pay as much as $10.00 per pound for them. Both ostrich and lady fern fiddleheads are considered toxic when raw and should be boiled for at least 10 minutes, according to one chef. After they are boiled they are sautéed in butter and are said to hold their crispness. They are also said to have the flavor of asparagus, but more intense. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks.

 4. Cinnamon Fern Fiddleheads

Both cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted ferns (Osmunda claytoniana) have wooly fiddleheads that taste very bitter and are mildly toxic. Some fern fiddleheads, like those of the sensitive fern, are carcinogenic so you should know your fern fiddleheads well before picking and eating them or you could get very sick. I’ve known the fern in the photo for a few years now and know that it is a cinnamon fern, but if I hadn’t seen its fertile fronds in the past I wouldn’t know for sure. The fertile fronds that will appear a little later on once reminded someone of a stick of cinnamon, and that’s how it comes by its common name.

5. Interrupted Fern

The interrupted fern gets its common name from the way its green infertile leaflets are “interrupted” about half way up the stem by the brown, fertile leaflets. The fertile leaflets are much smaller and their color makes them stand out even at a distance. This fern doesn’t seem to mind dry, sunny spots because that’s usually where I find them.

6. Interrupted Fern Fertile Frond

Though usually brown the fertile leaflets on this interrupted fern were bright green and I wonder if they change color as they age; I’ve never paid close enough attention to know for sure. In any event, the fertile leaflets are covered with tiny, round spore producing sporangia. They will release their spores through tiny openings and then the fertile leaflets will fall off, leaving a piece of naked (interrupted) stem between the upper and lower infertile leaflets.

7. Algae

Last year at about this time I found this greenish stuff seeping out of the rocks on a rail trail and, not knowing what it was, called it rock slime. It looked slimy but if you put your finger in it, it felt like cool water and wasn’t slimy at all. Now this year I seem to be seeing it everywhere, but still seeping out of rocks. Luckily last year our friends Zyriacus, Jerry, Laura, and others identified it as a green algae of the genus Spyrogyra.  Zyriacus said that some 400 species of this genus are known, and they thrive in freshwater. It’s great having knowledgeable friends-just look at the things we learn from each other!

 8. Beaver Tree

Beavers started cutting this tree, but they don’t seem to be in any hurry to see it fall because it has been this way for a while. The only part of the tree’s trunk they eat for food is the inner bark, called the cambium layer, so maybe they were just snacking.

9. Beaver Tree Closeup

A beaver’s teeth really do make it look like someone has been chiseling the tree. If they have a choice they’d rather tackle trees less than six inches in diameter but they can fell trees up to three feet in diameter. The Native American Cherokee tribe has a story that says that the beaver collects the baby teeth of the tribe’s children, and will give a child good luck in return for a song.

10. White Baneberry

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) has so much movement and interest in its spring shoots. They remind me of tiny bird claw-like hands and always make me wish that I had brought a pencil and a sketch pad so I could draw them. Later on this plant will produce bright white berries, each with a single black spot, and that is how it got the common name doll’s eyes.

11. Striped Maple Bud Opening

We’re having some unusual spring warmth and it seems to be speeding up events that normally take a few weeks. I took this photo of a striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) bud breaking on April 30th. On May 10th I was taking photos of striped maple flowers. From no leaves to flowering in just 10 days seems quite remarkable to me.

 12. Shagbark Hickory Bud Break

As you walk the trails along the Ashuelot River you might see what look like large pinkish orange flowers on the trees and think gosh, what beautiful things. If you get closer you will see that the colors are on the insides of the bud scales of the shagbark hickory tree, and aren’t flowers at all. And then you might wonder why such beautiful colors would be on the inside of a bud where nobody could ever see them, and as you walk on you might find yourself lost in gratitude, so very thankful that you were able to see such a thing. And later on, you might wonder if this chance meeting might have been an invitation.

 13 Beech Bud

In the spring as the sun gets brighter and the days grow longer light sensitive tree buds can tell when there is enough daylight for the leaves to begin photosynthesizing, so the buds begin to break. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud” and this can be a very beautiful thing, as we just saw with the shagbark hickory. American beech bud (Fagus grandifolia) break is every bit as beautiful and begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.

 14. Beech Bud Break

Now we know how beech buds open, but who can explain why they’re so beautiful when they do? Maybe it’s just another invitation. These invitations come so unexpectedly. Art, music, the beauty of a leaf or flower; all can invite us to step outside of ourselves; to lose ourselves and walk a higher path, at least for a time. It’s an invitation which if accepted, can be life changing.

One who not merely beholds the outward shows of things, but catches a glimpse of the soul that looks out of them, whose garment and revelation they are–if he be such, I say he will stand for more than a moment, speechless with something akin to that which made the morning stars sing together. ~George MacDonald

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Pennsylvania Sedge aka Carex pensylvanica

Along the river creamy yellow male staminate flowers bloom above the wispy, feather like, white female pistillate flowers of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica.) This is a very early bloomer that usually appears at just about the same time as spring beauties and trout lilies. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed.

2. Pennsylvania Sedge Clump aka Carex pensylvanica

When it isn’t blooming Pennsylvania sedge is easily mistaken for a course grass. I find it along the river and also in the woods under trees. It doesn’t seem too fussy about where it grows and will tolerate shade.

3. Virginia Creeper

Tendrils of Virginia creeper first exude a sticky substance before expanding into a disc shaped pad that essentially glues itself to the object that the vine wants to climb-in this case, a dead tree limb.  Once the adhesive discs at the tendril ends are stuck in place the tendrils coil themselves tightly to hold the vine in place. Charles Darwin discovered that each adhesive pad can support two pounds. Just imagine how much weight a mature vine with many thousands of these sticky pads could support. It’s no wonder that Virginia creeper can pull the siding off a house.

4. Bittersweet on Grass

Invasive oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) doesn’t have tendrils so it becomes a tendril over its entire length and winds its way up trees, wires, and even grass stems, as the photo shows. I’ve seen old bittersweet vines as big around as my leg.

5. Lady Fern Fiddleheads (2)

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) fiddleheads are about 2 inches tall. The dark brown scales on their smooth lower stems help to identify this one. This fern doesn’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there.

6. Red Maple Seeds Forming

The wind has brought plenty of pollen from the male flowers so now the pistillate female flowers of red maple (Acer rubrum) have begun turning into seeds, which are called samaras. These are one of the smallest seeds in the maple family. It is estimated that a single tree 12 inches in diameter can produce nearly a million seeds, and if the tree is fertilized for 2 years seed production can increase by 10 times. It’s no wonder that red maple is getting a reputation for being a weed tree.

7. Apple Moss

It’s easy to see how apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) got its common name. This moss grows its almost spherical spore capsules (sporangia) very early in spring. As they age the capsules turn brown but it pays to watch closely because some spore capsules will turn red between their green and brown stages, and that’s when these tiny orbs really look like apples. It’s an event in nature that most people never get to see.

8. Black Oak Inner Bark aka Quercus velutina

The inner bark of the black oak (Quercus velutina) shows why this tree was once called yellow oak. Native Americans made yellow dye from this bark and also used it medicinally. The yellow pigment is called quercitron and was sold in a bright yellow dye in Europe as late as the 1940s. Black oak is a member of the red oak family and easily cross breeds with red oaks to form many natural hybrids.

9. Red Elderberry aka Sambucus racemosa

Elderberry flowers really aren’t much to look at (or to smell) but the flower buds of this red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) are very beautiful. Since the flowers are white, plum purple is a very odd color for the buds. They remind me of lilac buds.

10. Lilac Buds Breaking

Of course, after comparing red elderberry buds to lilac buds I had to show those as well. This is a French hybrid, deep purple lilac that was given to me by a friend many years ago. Its bud scales have just broken to reveal the flower buds tucked inside. This is part of the magic that is spring, and something I love to watch happen.

11. Unknown Gall on Oak

This is the strangest gall I’ve seen. It looks (and feels) like a group of small deflated balloons. It was growing on an oak limb and I haven’t been able to identify it.

NOTE: Helpful readers have identified this gall as the oak fig gall, caused by the wasp Trigonaspis quercusforticorne. They are specific to the white oak family, apparently. Thank you to David and Charley for the identification. I learned a lot.

12. Rockfoam Lichen

Rock Foam (Stereocaulon saxatile) is a fragile looking lichen but it is really quite tough. As their common name suggests, they are found on rocks and boulders, usually in full sun. These lichens are often used as a prospecting tool because a simple lab test will show what type of rock they grow on and what minerals, like copper or magnesium, are present.

13. Rockfoam Lichen Closeup

A closer look at rock foam lichen. When it is dry it feels as rough as it looks.

 14. Orange Oak Leaf

I’m seeing a lot of orange oak leaves this spring and I’m not sure what makes them turn this color. It must be some kind of bacteria or fungus.

15. Hairy Cap Moss aka Polytrichum commune

This hairy cap moss (Polytrichum commune) with its water droplet reminded me that flowers aren’t the only beautiful things to see in spring. There is plenty there for the seeing if only we take the time to look.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust

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 1. Sap Buckets

People who collect maple sap the old way in buckets like these are becoming a rare breed. The sap is flowing but syrup producers say it’s coming slowly, in fits and starts, because we’ve had so many cold days. Daytime temperatures need to be in the mid-forties and nighttime temps at around 28 degrees  for optimal sap flow. Though some days and nights have been perfect it hasn’t been consistent. We’re still seeing below zero nights and, since the 4-6 week season ends in early April, each cold snap brings a renewed sense of urgency. Last year New Hampshire produced 176,000 gallons of syrup. In the abnormally warm winter of 2012 producers didn’t even see half that amount, and this year it might be cold that hinders production.

 2. Muddy Road

When we have the kind of cold we’ve had this year it drives the frost deep into the ground. In spring when the soil begins to thaw the water can’t seep into the frozen ground so it sits on top, saturating the soil to the point where it can’t hold any more water. When the soil in question happens to be a road, things can get very interesting. Here in New England we call it “mud season” and when I drove over the road in the above photo I knew it was upon us, because it felt like I was driving on gelatin. Our roads become quaking quagmires that have been known to swallow even 40 foot long school buses.  If you’d like to see some photos of mud season in all its muckiness, just click here.

 3. Peat Mosses

In the swamps, peat mosses aren’t wasting any time. They seem to green up almost immediately after the snow melts. I just read that scientists took a piece of moss from part of an Arctic ice core sample that was over 1000 years old. When they exposed it to light and warmth the ancient moss grew just fine. This moss that is now green once again was alive when Rome was in its infancy. This is why some people wonder if mosses and lichens ever really die.

 4. Skunk Cabbage 

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are growing fast in spite of the cold nights. Since they produce their own heat through a process called thermogenesis, they don’t care how cold it is. This photo shows skunk cabbage spathes partly out of the soil. Once they reach full size they will open so flies can visit the flower covered spadix within.

 5. Vernal Witch Hazel 

The vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) keep poking out their strap like petals, only to roll them back up again because of the cold. They, like the maples, are going through fits and starts this year.

 6. Red Maple Buds

Red maple (Acer rubrum) and other tree buds are swelling and the hills off in the distance have taken on a reddish haze that is impossible for me to take a photo of, so I settled for a branch. Red maples are one of the first trees to flower in spring and I always look forward to seeing them because they are very pretty. The sap can be made into syrup just like that of sugar maples but it turns bitter when the buds start to break. Since they appear earlier than those of sugar maples, the season doesn’t last as long.

 7. Red Maple Buds

Both red and sugar maple buds are high energy foods and eastern gray squirrels eat them in spring. These buds also have high moisture content and that means that squirrels don’t have to leave a tree for a drink at this time of year.

 8. New Fern Growth 

I spotted this fern growing on a boulder. The cluster of round buds in its center will grow into new shoots, called fiddleheads, before too long. The only fern in this area with fiddleheads that are safe to eat is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are considered an early spring delicacy but they need to be prepared and cooked correctly or they can make you sick. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has investigated a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness cause by raw and undercooked fiddleheads. They should always be boiled for at least 15 minutes.  Some say you can also eat lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) and bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) fiddleheads but there is a great debate raging about the safety of eating them, so I can’t say for sure if you should or shouldn’t.

 9. Trailing Arbutus

The snow has melted enough to reveal the tough, leathery, evergreen leaves of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). My grandmother always called this plant mayflower but I’ve found its fragrant pinkish flowers much earlier in April. Because it has been so cold this year though, it might live up to its common name. I usually find it in mixed forests growing on sunny embankments.

 10. Oak Leaf on Snow

Last year’s oak and beech leaves are starting to fall. More signs of spring.

 11. Grasses in the Sun

The afternoon sun catching these dry grasses looked very spring like, but the scene looked better in person than it does in the photo.

12. Melting Snow

Sometimes spring comes creeping in quietly and slowly and is hardly noticeable, so we seem to go from winter right into summer. I have a feeling that this year will be that way.

Tomorrow, the first day of spring, will mark the 3 year anniversary of this blog. I remember wondering how I’d ever get through 6 months of it, so thanks go to all of you who have kept it going.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.  ~Henry Van Dyke

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