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Posts Tagged ‘Lake Sedge’

November on average is the cloudiest month, but we’ve seen quite a lot of sunshine so far. Unfortunately the sunshine hasn’t warmed us up much and we’ve had a string of several cold days and below freezing (32º F) nights. This week we’re to see January type cold that could break records that have stood for 150 years. Historically the colder the November the snowier the winter, but we’ll see. In spite of all the cold this dandelion struggled to come into full bloom.

And this chicory blossom did the same. I was very surprised to see it.

We’re at the stage where the grass is coated by frost overnight but then it melts off as soon as the sunlight reaches it.

Leaves that have gone unraked get covered by frost and then become wet when it melts off.

Ice baubles formed in the Ashuelot River one cold night.

The waves in the river splash up on twigs or anything else that the water touches and it freezes there in the cold air. Much like dipping a candle in molten wax the waves splash again and again and ice baubles like the one in this photo form. It was about an inch across but I’ve seen them get bigger. Just as a side note: that small starburst over on the right hasn’t been added. This is just the way it came out of the camera. The ice is very clear and will act as a prism in the right light.

There was hoar frost on the fallen pine needles on the river bank. Hoarfrost grows whenever it’s cold and there is a source of water vapor nearby. When it is below freezing the water vapor from unfrozen rivers and streams often condenses on the plants and even trees all along their banks and covers them in hoarfrost. It looks so very delicate that I often have to remind myself to breathe while I’m taking its photo.  One touch of a warm finger, a ray of sunshine, or a warm breath and they’re gone.

I’m guessing there was plenty of water vapor coming from the river. The river wasn’t really raging but I did get to practice my wave catching skills on this day. At a certain time of morning the sun hits the river just right for a wave photo at this spot and the colors are ofen very beautiful. I love the how the colors of the water change as the light changes. The river taught me that if you want blue water in your photo you should have the sun more or less behind you, and it taught me that right in this very spot.  

This photo changed my mind about what I thought were oyster mushrooms because of the brownish cast I saw, which I couldn’t see in person. They might have been flat creps (Crepidotus applanatus,) which start out white and then shade to brown. Flat creps resemble oyster mushrooms but without a microscope to study the spores with it’s hard to be sure. I could have done a spore print; crepidotus species have brown spore prints and oysters have a white to lilac spore print, but I didn’t bring one home.

I’ve said a lot about turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) over the years, including how they are showing value in cancer research and how they have been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years, but I keep coming back to their multitude of color combinations and their beauty. For me, that’s enough to keep me interested.  

I had been looking for scarlet elf cup fungi (Sarcoscypha coccinea) for a very long time and then a friend showed me a photo of something growing in the gravel of his driveway and I thought I’d found them. I went there and took the photos that you see here, shocked that they grew where they were, with just sand and gravel around them. That’s especially surprising when you consider that this fugus typically grows on moist, rotting branches. I would have guessed that there might be a branch or root buried under the gravel but they grew in groups over a wide area, so that theory didn’t work. That fact leads me to believe that they are instead the orange peel fungus (Aleuria aurantia.) It likes to grow in clay soil or disturbed ground, often in landscaped areas.

The clincher is, my color finding software sees shades of orange, but no scarlet. I was surprised by how small they were. Some were as big as a penny at about 3/4 of an inch, but a pea would have nestled perfectly in this example. Orange peel fungi get their common name from the way they look like orange peels strewn on the ground.

I always look for juniper berries at this time of year because I love that shade of blue. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them that color. 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.

The golden sunlight on the blueberry bushes in the foreground was lighting up the trees on the far side of Half Moon Pond in the same way and it was beautiful, but I wasn’t fast enough to catch it. It disappeared in just seconds and before I could turn my camera on it was gone.

Here is that same golden light caught in the tops of these bare trees. Sometimes I see it in the morning on my way to work and it’s very beautiful. On this morning I had to stop and watch.

I like lake sedge (Carex lacustris) because of the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds. Even when it isn’t blowing in the wind it seems to have movement.

Henry David Thoreau said about polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” I would add that, since they are tough evergreen ferns they are there in the winter too, and that’s what cheers me most about them. They are also called rock cap fern or rock polypody because they love to grow on top of rocks, as the above photo shows. There were hundreds of them on a large boulder.

Turn over a polypody fern leaf and you’re apt to see tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many fern sori.

Once they ripen polypody fern sori are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers; in this case yellow and orange flowers. They always make me wonder why so many ferns, lichens, fungi and mosses produce spores in winter. There must be some benefit but I’ve never been able to find out what it is.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries shown here will remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring. The berries are edible, but fairly tasteless and eaten mostly by birds. If I was going to spend my time in the forest looking for small red berries to feed on I’d be looking for American wintergreen, (teaberry) which are delicious.

Partridgeberry flowers always appear in twos as twins fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were. Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. I like the hand hammered look of the leaves.

A big beech tree fell where I work and damaged one of the buildings, so it had to be cut up. When we cut it down to the stump we found it was spalted, and spalted wood is evidence of fungal damage. Sometimes woods affected by fungi can become very desirable to woodworkers, and spalted wood is one of them. Spalting is essentially any form of wood coloration caused by fungi but there are 3 major types; pigmentation, white rot and zone lines. Sometimes all 3 can be present as they are on the end grain of the beech stump in the above photo. Pigmentation is the blue gray color, which is probably caused by bluestain or sapstain. The white rot is in the areas that look soft or pulpy, and the zone lines are the dark, narrow lines found radiating randomly throughout the log. Zone lines often form where 2 or more types of fungi meet.

There is beauty everywhere in this world, even in an old tree stump. The question is, will we let ourselves first be drawn into it and then actively seek it out or will we ignore it? I choose to seek it out, and now I see it wherever I go.

Life can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, if a person would only pause to look and to listen. ~Rod Serling

Thanks for coming by.

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I see this view of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock almost every morning on the way to work. Sometimes there are ducks, geese or great blue herons here so I always at least slow down and look. The view from here reminds me of total wilderness, where all you really have is you. At the very edge of a pond the growth is thick and hard to get through because that’s where all the sunlight is. Back away from where the water meets the land, back where the forest is dark and there is less undergrowth, there is usually a way around. I think, long before Europeans showed up, Native Americans most likely had trails around every pond and lake in this area.

Ponds are great places to see waterfowl of all kinds and I’ve seen plenty of Canada geese this year. This family swam quite close and I think it’s because they’ve been fed by humans sometime in the past.

These goslings on the other hand swam away as fast as they could, with mom and dad just out of view, bobbing their heads up and down frantically. Personally I don’t feed wild animals because I’d rather have them rely on nature. Nature will provide all they need, just as it has since the time began.

But nature doesn’t discriminate and it also provides all that snapping turtles need, and some of what they need are small birds like goslings that swim on the surface of their ponds. If you watch a family of geese over time they might start out with 6 or 7 goslings, but then often end up with only one or two that reach adulthood. Foxes, bobcats, snapping turtles and other animals all thin the flock.

The big turtles have been on the move until recently and I’ve seen quite a few females out looking for suitable places to dig their nests and lay their eggs. Once they do many of the nests are almost immediately dug up and the eggs eaten, but there are thousands of eggs around every pond. Nature allows for the losses, so there will always be turtles and there will always be goslings. I should say that you don’t want to get too close to a snapping turtle because though it doesn’t look it they have long necks that can stretch out quickly. They also have very strong jaws.

Rosy maple moths appear at about this time each year and are easy to identify because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like them. This is a cute little thing with its wooly yellow body and pink and creamy yellow wing stripes. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

Virgin tiger moths are large, butterfly sized moths and I’ve read that its hindwing color can vary from yellow to scarlet. Unfortunately they can’t be seen in this photo. The larvae feed on various low growing plants. Though there are countless photos of this moth online there is very little information on it. It is certainly one of the prettiest moths I’ve seen.

I saw a wolf spider crawling on one of the buildings where I work. Wolf spiders carry their egg sacs by attaching them to their spinnerets. They have eight eyes and two of them are large, which helps them see their prey. They will sometimes chase prey but usually just wait for it to happen by.

Here is a closer view of the wolf spiders egg sac. According to Wikipedia “the egg sac, a round, silken globe, is attached to the spinnerets at the end of the abdomen, allowing the spider to carry her unborn young with her. The abdomen must be held in a raised position to keep the egg case from dragging on the ground. However, despite this handicap, they are still capable of hunting. Another aspect unique to wolf spiders is their method of care of young. Immediately after the spiderlings emerge from their protective silken case, they clamber up their mother’s legs and crowd onto the dorsal side of her abdomen. The mother carries the spiderlings for several weeks before they are large enough to disperse and fend for themselves. No other spiders are currently known to carry their young on their backs for any period of time.”

A cedar waxwing sat on a lawn and let me walk right up to it and takes as many photos as I wanted before finally hopping away into the undergrowth. This is odd behavior for a bird but it must have either been a juvenile that couldn’t fly yet or maybe an adult that was stunned. I saw a Baltimore oriole fly into a window once and knock itself out. I thought it had died but an hour later it woke up and flew away. I love the beautiful sleek look of cedar waxwings, and the little bandit masks they wear. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see at the tips of its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol, so maybe this one was simply drunk.

Our white pines have been growing pollen cones, which are the tree’s male flowers. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of smoke like yellow-green pollen can be seen coming from them on windy days. The trees look like they’re on fire and virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, houses, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in, but pine pollen is a strong antioxidant that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its numerous health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago.

I like lake sedge (Carex lacustris) because I like the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds. Even when it isn’t blowing in the wind it seems to have movement.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blooms in rings around the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. But it is taking hold and it has gone from a plant I rarely saw just a few years ago to one I see just about everywhere now. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else. It is wind pollinated so it hangs its stamens out where the wind can blow the pollen off the anthers. Each stamen is made up of a white bag like anther sitting at the end of a thin filament. If pollinated each flower will bear two tiny seeds in a small seed capsule.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum,) is as rare as hen’s teeth but I know of one or two. Some confuse it with royal fern but maidenhair fern really bears little resemblance to royal ferns. The name maidenhair comes from the fine, shiny black stalks, which are called stipes. This fern is very rarely seen in a natural setting in this area.

Grasses like this orchard grass have started flowering and I hope everyone will take a little time to give them a look, because they can be very beautiful as well as interesting. They are also one of the easiest plants there are to find. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze, which of course blows the pollen to other plants.

Someone carved a heart into a birch tree. I did the same once but mine was carved into a maple and wasn’t as elaborate. Still, I’d guess the reasons for doing the carving were the same.

It might look like the hills were on fire in this shot but this was mist that the warmth of the sun was wringing out of the forest one morning after a rainstorm the night before. Marty Rubin once said “Mist around a mountain: all reality is there.” And for me, on that morning, it was. I thought it made a beautiful scene, and losing myself in it almost made me late for work.

Mists like the one in the previous photo usually mean high humidity in the forest, and if there’s one bit of nature that loves high humidity it’s a slime mold, and I’ve been seeing a few. I think this one is the scrambled egg slime mold (Fuligo septica.) It gets quite big and will grow in full sun on wood mulch or chips, so it is easily seen and is often people’s first introduction to slime molds. It also produces the largest spore-producing structure of any known slime mold. Slime molds move using a process called cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass,  and I was fortunate enough to find this one on the move. Though its movement is imperceptible you can tell it has moved if you watch it over time. In fact it can climb onto stumps, logs, and living plants.

Scrambled egg slime mold is the perfect name for this one. According to mycologist Tom Volk of the University of Wisconsin, a plasmodium is essentially a blob of protoplasm without cell walls and only a cell membrane to keep everything in. It is really nothing but a large amoeba and feeds much the same way, by engulfing its food, which are mostly bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. Slime molds are a very important part of the ecosystem; it isn’t hard to imagine what this world would be like without decomposers like fungi and slime molds doing their work.

Scrambled egg slime in the plasmodium stage will eventually come together into a sponge-like mass called an aethalium, which is pictured forming here. An aethalium  is a “large, plump, pillow-shaped fruiting body.” Over time this slime mold forms a smooth, brittle crust which breaks easily to reveal a black spore mass.

My fungal offering for this post is a tiny bird’s nest fungus, which few people ever get to see. I think they were fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) and this is a view of them from the side. They grow in a funnel or vase shape and have flutes around the rim of the body, which is hollow like a cup. They are so small not even a pea would fit inside them.

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs, which really can’t be seen here, are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

Here is a shot of a fluted bird’s nest cup with two disc shaped “eggs” in the bottom that I took earlier in 2015. It’s another of those miracles of nature that tend to boggle the mind.

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 coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July tomorrow.

 

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As I write this 3 straight days of November rains have finally stopped but now there’s a howling wind blowing, so I expect the landscape will look very different tomorrow, possibly with more leaves on the ground than in the trees. Will this be the last fall foliage post? It could be, but the oaks and beeches are still in full color and I even saw a few maples that were still hanging on, so maybe not.

Here’s what the maples and birches looked like one recent sunny day.

Oaks have an amazing color range but their colors don’t shout it out quite like the maples.

When you’re in the woods and a beech tree gets between you and the sun it can be amazingly beautiful. They seem to glow under their own power. Luminous is the word, I think.

Many birches and especially gray birches like those shown here are still hanging on to their leaves. Or at least they were before this wind. The weather people say there are 60 mph gusts blowing in parts of New England.

This is a good post to compare foliage colors on cloudy and sunny days. It was drizzling when I took this photo of young maples. I think the color is often more intense on cloudy days. Perhaps it’s the gray background.

But there’s a lot to be said for sunshine too, as this road leading to my workplace shows.

The colors of the oaks along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey looked a little dull on a rainy day, I thought. In fact everything is on the dull side in this photo.

We’ve had large amounts of rainfall since July; 11 inches above average in fact, and the Ashuelot River was flooding in places on this day.

No matter where you go the woods are flooded by large puddles like this one. The ground is completely saturated and the two or three inches of rain falling each week simply has nowhere to go. We need a dry week or two to dry things out but it doesn’t look like that’s in the cards. Many are also hoping for a drier winter. If all this rain was snow we’d all be doing some serious shoveling.

The invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the river seemed to glow on a recent rainy day. Before they drop their leaves they will become a soft pastel pink to almost white. Right now they’re in their loud orange / red / yellow stage. It’s too bad they’re so invasive because they really are beautiful, but as you can see they dominate the understory and create so much shade nothing else can grow.

Here is a closer look at a burning bush. I’ve seen thousands of these shrubs along the river drop their leaves overnight when the weather is cold enough and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this year so I can show them to you in their pastel pink stage. It really is a beautiful sight.

You can find color in unexpected places. This is the first time I’ve noticed how yellow the foliage of slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) becomes.

I pay attention to lake sedge (Carex lacustris) in the fall because I like the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds.

The blue of this monkshood (Aconitum napellus) I saw growing at a local bank was a complete surprise. I went looking for this plant at a local children’s butterfly garden earlier and found that it had finally been removed. That’s a good thing, because monkshood is one of the most poisonous plants known. People have died from its sap simply being absorbed through their skin, and in ancient Rome you could be put to death if you were found growing it. That was because to the Romans the only reason you would grow such a thing was to poison your enemies.

Toxic or not monkshood has a beautiful flower. Another name for it is winter aconite because it blooms so late. If you look at the side view of a flower you can see how it resembles the hoods that medieval monks wore, and that’s how it comes by its common name. I’m not sure which insects would pollinate it this late in the season, but there must be some that do.

You might think that this was a big yellow tree but you’d be wrong because it’s actually a big green tree; a white cedar that is covered by invasive Oriental bittersweet vines (Celastrus orbiculatus.) These twining, wire like vines want all the sunshine they can get and they will climb anything to get it. Trees, telephone poles, and even houses aren’t safe from it, and it will most likely pull this tree down eventually. Not only does it block all the light from the host tree, it also wraps around the tree’s trunk and slowly strangles it.

Oriental bittersweet berries are big, plump and showy and birds love them, and that’s why man will never defeat this invader. Even its seeds germinate faster than those of our native American bittersweet.

The hillsides that surround Keene are still showing quite a bit of color thanks to the big old oaks. There could be some beech and maples here and there as well.

We’ve had a beautiful fall season this year and it might not be over yet, but even if it is there is still plenty of color to be seen. I hope you are able see beauty like this wherever you may live.

How beautiful leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days. ~John Burroughs

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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There is nothing special about this photo of a swamp, other than to mark the place where I heard the first red winged blackbird of this year. I haven’t seen any but I’ve heard them and that’s another sign of spring.

I hope the red winged blackbirds know what they’re doing because this frozen pond is right across the road from the thawed swamp in the previous photo. Our nighttime temperatures are still falling below freezing but I hear the birds each morning.

Half Moon Pond in Hancock certainly didn’t look very spring like after one of our many recent nor’easters. Before this cold came in March it looked like the ice would be gone in less than another week.

The wind blows strongly off Half Moon Pond almost all of the time, and this lake sedge (Carex lacustris) shows the direction. This sedge grows in large colonies near lakes, ponds, and wetlands and is native to Canada and the northern U.S. It is a pleasant shade of green in summer and can sometimes be the dominant plant along shorelines and in swamps. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds.

When I saw a mullein seedling (Verbascum thapsus) I realized that I had never seen another one, most likely because I wasn’t paying attention. It was every bit as wooly as its adult counterparts and ready to start photosynthesizing. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. This one was about the size of a baseball, or just over 9 inches.

I went to see my old friends the striped wintergreens (Chimaphila maculata) to see how they came through the winter and I was happy to see that they looked good and healthy. This is a plant I don’t see that often and I only know of three or four small colonies. Hopefully they will bloom and set seed in mid-July.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) grows near the striped wintergreens and also came through the winter looking well. This plant always reminds me of my grandmother because it was one of her favorites. The plant is also called mayflower and was once nearly collected into oblivion so the very fragrant blossoms could be used in nosegays, but it is now protected in many states. It relies heavily on a relationship with certain fungi mycelium in the soil and it absolutely refuses to grow anywhere that the mycelium isn’t present. Native Americans used to use the plant medicinally to break up kidney stones. It was so valuable to them that it was thought to have divine origins.

The basal leaves of hawkweed (and many other plants) often turn deep purple in winter. Many trees and other plants conserve a lot of energy if they don’t have to make  chlorophyll so in the fall many stop making it. When that happens other colors which were there all along start to show. Carotenoids make leaves orange and yellow and anthocyanins make them red, pink or purple. Anthocyanins can also protect leaves from getting sunburned in winter if they are evergreen.

Beaked willow gall is caused by a tiny midge laying its egg in a willow bud. The reddish galls usually form at branch tips in the fall and will house the fly larva all winter. It will eat the tissue in the gall until spring, when it will pupate and an adult midge will emerge. Winter is a great time to look for galls, which are often hidden behind leaves at other times of year.

I’m always amazed by how much red there is in highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and nothing shows it better than the witch’s brooms that are so common on these shrubs. On blueberries witch’s brooms are cause by a fungus that deforms branches or roots and causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. In my experience they don’t really harm the plant and can even be quite pretty with snow on them.

An old trick that gardeners sometimes use when they want to grow plants that aren’t hardy in their area is to plant the sensitive plats near a stone or brick wall. The mass of masonry absorbs the warmth of the sun during the day and releases it slowly at night, protecting the plants from frost damage. Sweet gum trees grow near such a sunlit wall at the local college and the above photo is of one of their seed pods (Liquidambar styraciflua.) Seeing these pods here seems very strange because sweet gum is thought of as a “southern tree,” and Massachusetts is the northern most point that it grows naturally. I never saw the seed pods as a boy but I wish I had because they’re interesting and hold their shape well when dried. They would have made a great addition to my collection of natural oddities.

The base of this eastern hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) was covered by what I think must be yellow green algae (Pleurococcus vulgaris.) These algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, on soil, stones and even on walls. Their closest relatives are said to grow in lakes and rivers, but these species can withstand some dryness. Fossil evidence shows that algae have existed for at least 540 million years.

A saw another hemlock that had a deep crack in its bark that ran straight and true from the ground to about 15 feet up. At first I thought it must be a frost crack but I’ve never seen one so long, so I’m guessing it must have been a lightning strike. Since it was an older wound there were no pieces of bark that might have been blown off lying around. I came upon a tree once that had been recently struck by lightning and there were strips of bark all over the ground. No matter how the crack was made I’m sure it made quite a loud noise when it happened.  On cold winter nights you can sometimes hear stressed trees cracking in the forest. It is sudden and sounds like a rifle shot.

The bud scales on many of the male alder catkins have gone from their deep winter purple to shades of pink, orange, red and brown. Soon the bud scales will open to reveal the yellow green flowers that will release the pollen to the wind. They become very beautiful at this time of year and sometimes when the light is right it looks like someone has strung ropes of multicolored jewels on all the bushes.

Boxwood (Buxus) is called man’s oldest garden ornamental because it has been used for hedges and specimen plantings for centuries. The early settlers thought so highly of it they brought it with them in the mid-1600s. The first plants were brought over from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. These examples I found in a local park were budded. They’ll bloom In late April or early May but so will many other flowers, so these small but pretty ones will probably be overlooked.

The willows seem to be in a holding pattern. They’ve had their fuzzy gray catkins for two weeks now but there are no signs of the bright yellow flowers yet. Maybe I’ll see some later today.

I was flabbergasted when I saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) still blossoming. They’ve been through three nor’easters and zero degree cold but there are at least five bushes still full of flowers, so I’d say they were well worth what it cost to buy them. I wish you could smell them. I’ve heard their scent compared to laundry taken in fresh from the line but another description I just read says a hint of citrus-maybe lemon-is there as well. They seem a bit spicy to me but it’s a very pleasant scent that you can smell from quite a distance.

It’s always nice to see budded daffodils in spring. These were coming along well in spite of the zero degree cold we’ve had. They grow near the brick wall of a building and I think the heat radiating off the wall keeps them warm at night, just like the sweet gum trees we heard about earlier.

Not all the daffodils were lucky enough to have a brick wall, and this is what happened to many of those that didn’t. This is the second year in a row that this has happened to these bulbs and I’m not sure if they’ll make it now. A bulb needs leaves to photosynthesize and build up the strength it needs to blossom the following year. With their first spring leaves dying off for two years now I doubt they have much strength left. If they were mine I’d dig and replace them with later blossoming bulbs. They’re a bit overanxious I think.

Sometimes sunlight on moss is really all I need. I pity those who spend their lives chasing after riches, all the while missing the incredible richness all around them.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy. ~Anton Chekhov

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Well, the last of fall foliage colors have just about faded. With the initial colorful burst of all the different maples over it is up to the oaks and beeches to end the show and they’ve been doing so in spectacular fashion, as the huge oak in the above photo shows.

Oak trees come in many colors; reds, yellows and oranges mostly but also occasionally deep purple and even pink. This photo of one of our hillsides shows most of their colors fairly well but I think the brightest yellows might belong to beeches.

It’s funny but at the start of the foliage season you either don’t see or don’t pay attention to the oaks because they’re still green. It’s only when they start to turn color that you begin to notice them and I was surprised that there were so many around this local pond. I’ve visited this place literally thousands of times since I was a boy but apparently I’ve never been here when the oaks were at their most colorful. I’ve obviously short changed myself because they were very beautiful.

I think there were a few maples that still had leaves and there is a beech or two in this photo as well. I thought it was a beautiful scene.

Beeches go from green to yellow and then to an orangey brown. By spring they’ll be white and papery, and finally ready to fall.

There are some really big old trees around the pond.

This young oak wore some beautiful colors, I thought.

These oaks were as beautiful from behind as they were from the other side of the pond. This pond has a trail that goes all the way around it, so it’s a great place for fall foliage hikes.

We have many oak trees where I work and they’ve shown me just how much “stuff” falls from an oak. It isn’t just leaves that fall from oaks and other trees but branches too; some quite big, and everything living on the branches like lichens and fungi fall with them. There is an incredible amount of material falling to the forest floor each day, and the forest simply absorbs all of it.

This scene along the Branch River in Marlborough was of mostly bare maples so the oaks stole the show. I’m going to have to remember to come back here next year to see all those maples. They must be beautiful when they’re wearing their fall colors.

Lake sedge (Carex lacustris) grows in large colonies near lakes, ponds and wetlands and is pretty in the fall. It is native to Canada and the northern United States and can often be found growing in water. At times it can be the dominant plant in swamps and wetlands. Waterfowl and songbirds eat the seeds.

Virginia creepers (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) have lost all their leaves now but the deep purple berries remain on their bright pink stalks. The berries are poisonous to humans but many birds and small animals eat them.

I never knew that the leaves of the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine) turned such a pretty shade of deep purple until I saw this one. This orchid is originally from Europe and Asia and was first seen in 1879 in New York. Since then it has spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states. It is actually considered an invasive weed, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about its being here. The nectar of broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compound found in nature, and insects line up to sip it.

The bare stalks of Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) glowed red in the setting sun. It’s a terribly invasive plant but it does have its moments. The new shoots are also beautiful in the spring just as they start to unfurl their new leaves. They’re supposed to be very tasty at that stage too, but I’ve never tried them.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) is a common sight in the fall. It grows high up on tree limbs of deciduous trees and comes to earth when the branches do. The complicatum part of the scientific name means “folded back on itself” because that is often what it does, as the above photo shows.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native holly that grows in wet, swampy areas and gets its name from the way its bright red berries persist through 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 the levels of toxicity or unpalatable chemicals in the berries decline with time. Many birds will eat them eventually, including robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, eastern bluebirds and cedar waxwings. Native Americans used the berries medicinally to treat fevers, so another name for it is fever bush.

The maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium) have grown closer to the light, pastel pink shade they become just before the leaves fall, but they aren’t quite there yet. Some still have their plum purple leaves. This is one of our most beautiful native shrubs in the fall, in my opinion.

Birches are usually among the first trees to change color in the fall but this year they seem quite late. A grove of hundreds of them grows near a local highway and even on this cloudy day they were brilliant enough to be seen from quite far away.

I had a hard time not taking photos of the oaks because they’ve been very beautiful this fall. They really brought the season to a close with a bang this year.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end, and right now I’m spending more time raking leaves than admiring their colors. It’s gotten cold and the cold combined with strong winds have stripped all but the most stubborn trees. It is all to be expected of course, seasons change and now it is winter’s turn. The above photo is just a hint of the changes to come; just the tip of the iceberg.

Autumn asks that we prepare for the future—that we be wise in the ways of garnering and keeping. But it also asks that we learn to let go—to acknowledge the beauty of sparseness. ~Bonaro W. Overstreet

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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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