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Posts Tagged ‘Lichens’

John Muir once said “The mountains are calling and I must go.” To be honest I never paid much attention to that statement until the mountains started calling me. And as anyone who has climbed them knows, they do call; they kind of get under your skin and won’t stop calling until you answer them, so last Saturday I drove north to Stoddard to climb Pitcher Mountain. Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled this land in the 1700s. As mountains go it’s a relatively easy climb, even for someone who uses inhalers as I do. The last time I climbed here was in January. On this day the weather was considerably better and the spring greens and singing birds reminded me what a wonderful thing this life is.

Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberry bushes; thousand of them grow here and people come from all over to pick them. On this day the buds hadn’t even opened yet, showing what a difference elevation makes. Down in Keene they’re in full bloom.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) grew beside the trail and how very beautiful they were. Though like blueberries they’re also in full bloom in Keene, up here the fertile center flowers hadn’t shown yet. Only the much larger infertile outer flowers had opened.

One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to become more familiar with my new camera. Anyone who knows their way around a camera should be able to use just about any camera handed to them, but they all have their little quirks that take time to learn and iron out. This one doesn’t have image stabilization but the lenses do and that’s something I’ve never encountered. On this day the sun was bright and the contrast high, and that’s a challenge for any camera but I thought this one performed reasonably well as this shot of a wild sarsaparilla plant (Aralia nudicaulis) and its shadow shows. The light green oval leaves belong to Canada mayflower, which will be blooming soon.

My first stop along the trail is always the meadow, where if you look behind you, you can often find a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It was fairly good on this day, I thought.

The meadow is also where you get your first inkling of how high up you are. The views seem to go on forever.

The meadow is large and sometimes you can find it filled with beautiful Scottish highland cattle. I’ve often thought that they must have the best views of anybody who comes here.

The trail is in a U shape and you take 2 left turns to reach the summit. After the meadow the trail, which is actually a road used by the forest rangers, gets very rocky. There are also lots of exposed roots so if you come here you would do well to wear good hiking boots with plenty of ankle support.

I was stunned to see spring beauties blooming (Claytonia virginica) up here because I’ve climbed this mountain more times than I can remember and I’ve never seen them before. My timing was off, that’s all, and I might have missed them by a day or a week. There was a nice little colony of them in this spot just below the summit. Tucked in snug they were protected from the worst of the wind.

Violets and strawberries grew along the trail and even down the center of it, where many had been stepped on.

The fire tower, manned on occasion, loomed at the summit. This is the second tower on this spot; the first burned in one of the largest forest fires this region has ever seen. That’s why I call it a monument to irony.

The old fire warden’s cabin still stood solidly but there was something different about it.

The difference was a gaping black hole where the last time I was here a board covered the window. It looked like vandals had been here but with so many people climbing this mountain I can’t imagine them getting away with it.

I don’t condone vandalism but realistically bears have been known to break into cabins countless times in this area so it’s anyone’s guess as to how this happened. I wasn’t about to pass up what was probably an only chance to see inside a ranger’s cabin though, so I turned on the flash and took a couple of photos. It looked like it had been furnished in the 1940s, and that was no surprise. I’m assuming there was no running water here because there is a privy in the back, but there was electricity.

If when you reach the tower you turn almost 180 degrees you’ll see another decent view of Mount Monadnock. You can also see the meadow in this view. On this day it was so gusty up here I could hardly stand still. I wanted to crouch on the ground so the wind couldn’t catch me.

But in a way the wind was welcome because it blew away all the black flies that had plagued me all the way up the trail. For those unfamiliar with them black flies are very small biting insects that appear for a few weeks in spring, hatching out of clean running water unlike the mosquito, which hatches out of still, stagnant water. Black flies feed on the blood of mammals for nourishment and they usually come in swarms. Bug spray helps keep them away.

What I call the birdbaths are natural depressions in the stone. With all the rain we’ve had I doubt they’ve been dry a day in the past two months. I once sat and watched a dark eyed junco take a bath here, and I was able to get a few shots of it splashing around. The blue of the sky deepens as it is reflected in these pools and it makes a simple puddle as beautiful as any jewel.

There are lots of lichens growing on the rocks of the summit and one of my favorites is the scattered rock posy (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans.) They can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

I always tell myself that I’m going to come up here with a compass and a topographical map so I can name all of the surrounding mountains but I never do. I don’t suppose it’s that important anyway. I’d rather just sit and look around, especially when I have the whole mountain to myself as I did on this day. I expected it to be crowded up here but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I wondered if the flies kept people away.

It’s hard to tell from these photos but there is still snow on the ski slopes over there in Vermont.

I stayed on the summit for awhile trying different things with the new camera until my legs felt less rubbery and then I hit the trail again. I don’t know why going down always seems harder than going up, but my legs usually let me know that they aren’t thrilled by it.

The meadow is just to the left of the trail in that previous shot and as I looked out into it I thought a highland cattle calf had somehow gotten loose and was in the meadow eating grass but then wait a minute; that wasn’t a calf. As soon as it looked at me and sniffed the air with its snout I knew it was a black bear. And it was another big one. Though it might look far away in this photo it could have reached me in seconds. Black bears can move incredibly fast; 50 feet per second in fact, so running from one is pointless.

I’ll be the first to say that this is one of the worst photos I’ve ever shown on this blog but you can clearly see the roundish ears and long tan snout of a bear. You don’t have much time to fiddle around with a camera when a bear is staring at you like this and I didn’t have the zoom lens with me anyway, so I just took a couple of quick shots. I just went through this with another bear in Westmoreland and that one didn’t scare any more than this one did. It stood and stared and sniffed, just like this one. And just like that time once again I was the only human around, carrying no bear spray and with only one way out. Luckily this one turned into the forest while I wondered what I was going do if it started toward me, so I hoofed it back down the mountain somewhat faster than I usually do, slipping on loose stones and tripping over roots the whole way. It’s hard to walk downhill when you’re looking back over your shoulder I’ve discovered, and I don’t recommend it.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. Alfred North Whitehead

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Last Sunday it was a warm but cloudy day when I went to the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. I haven’t been there to do a blog post since last fall so it was time for another visit. Posts from there usually write themselves as this one did. In fact I often feel like I’m being led from one thing to another; as if there is a director off in the woods saying okay, bring him over here next, and there I find another fascinating bit of nature to show all of you. It really is amazing the way it works but I know I’m not the only one it happens to. Stories write themselves in many minds but whether or not they all include lichens, mosses, and liverworts I don’t know.

This old road was abandoned sometime around 1970 when the new highway was built but strangely, nobody I’ve talked to has been able to remember exactly when. I’m sure there must be records somewhere. As this photo shows, even though the old road is snow covered you can still see that you’re on a road by the old guard posts. Most have rotted away or been broken but in this stretch they look as if they might still keep a car out of the brook.

This post had moss capping it.

The moss on the post was one of my favorites, delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum,) which isn’t really delicate at all but it is very pretty with its fern like foliage.

If you picture a steep sided, V shaped canyon with a stream running through it you’ll have a good idea of what this place looks like. In the 1700s a road was cut through beside the stream and at one time this road carried quite a lot of traffic north out of Keene.

Beaver brook was frozen over for the most part and its normally happy giggles had been hushed down to almost a whisper.

The ice on the brook looked to be about 4-5 feet thick, and that’s because of the water rising and falling so often. Sometimes you come here and the water roars through the canyon, filling the stream banks, and at other times it’s tame, with low water flowing lazily along. If we get the warm temperatures predicted for next week it will be roaring again soon.

If you’ve ever wondered how trees get damaged in the woods, this is one way.

The tree with ice against it is in the previous photo is a golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis.) There are many of them here and they’re easily identified by their color and by the way their bark peels in shreds. These trees like it cool and moist and are often found near streams and ponds. They can also stand a lot of shade so a cool, shaded forest is perfect for them. Golden birch is also called yellow birch, and Native Americans tapped this and other birch trees for their sap, which they boiled down into syrup. They also made a medicinal tea from the bark.

Many of the golden birches here have healed frost cracks, which is that vertical bulge running up the center of this tree. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree and its cells just under the bark expand. If nighttime temperatures are cold enough the bark will cool and contract rapidly, quicker than the wood underneath, and this stress on the bark can cause it to crack.  It’s fairly common to hear trees cracking with a sound like a rifle shot on cold nights.

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is rare in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever seen it and I’ve never seen it with new shoots growing, like this example had. The shoots are the tiny white pointed bits seen here and there. This moss was very dry; as dry as paper, so it looks a bit ragged. Normally it is a beautiful healthy green color that sparkles in the right light, and that might be what gives it the name glittering wood moss. It is said to be more common in northern forests and grows even into the Arctic.

Here is a closer look at the tip of one of those shoots.

This is one of thousands of common script lichens (Graphis scripta) that grow on the trees here. The black squiggles that sometimes resemble a long forgotten ancient text are its apothecia where its spores are produced. This family of lichens, like many others, seems to prefer winter to produce spores. Its long, narrow apothecia are called lirellae, and they’ll fade and all but disappear in warm weather. Script lichen is also called secret writing lichen.

An elderly lady passed me on snow shoes and remarked about how beautiful the place and the day were. I agreed, and I wondered if I’d be anywhere near as able as she when I reached her age. She must have been close to 80 but she was cruising right along.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect the bud from the winter cold. Instead they have hair and this one looked very hairy. This native shrub will bloom in mid-May and will be covered with large, hand size clusters of pure white blossoms. The name hobblebush comes from the way it can “hobble” a horse (or a man) with its low, ground hugging tangle of branches. The Native American Algonquin tribe rubbed the mashed leaves of this shrub on their foreheads to treat migraines. They also ate its deep purple berries that appear in fall.

I got to see the chubby purple and green buds of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) that I enjoy seeing so much. They looked a bit dry but they’re on their way to opening I think. It looks as if the outer bud scales have pulled away from the buds. This is another native shrub that has clusters of bright red berries in summer that Native Americans used as food.

There are many ledges here along the old road and last year one of them collapsed into quite a large rockslide, with stones big enough to crush a car falling into the old road.

This shows the big hole in the ledge that the stones left when they fell. Someone small could sit in there behind the ice but I wouldn’t advise it because this area looks very unstable.

Most of the stone in these ledges is feldspar but there is some granite schist mixed in, as can be seen here. There are lots of garnets mixed into the stone as well and though some can be large none are of gem quality, from what I saw in my mineral collecting days.

With a last look at the beautiful blue ice on the ledges I walked back down the old road, in truth wishing I was seeing blue flowers instead. It looks like the end of the really cold air is finally in sight; we’re supposed to see temperatures in the 40s F. next week. That should finally get spring started in earnest.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. ~Willa Cather

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Since I recently did a post about lichens that grow on trees I thought I’d do one on lichens that grow on stone. Though there are lichens that can grow on wood or stone most of the ones I know seem to prefer one or the other. In fact the ones I know seem very fussy about where they grow, even down to the species of tree or stone. The lichen in this first photo is not that fussy though, so it will even grow on sidewalks, and that’s how the name sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) came about. Though I’ve seen it on concrete once or twice in the past I almost always see it on lime rich stones. It’s a pretty orange color and it can get quite big. This one is as big as a car tire.

Another lichen that can get quite big is the peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) but this example must have just gotten started because it was quite small and had few apothecia. This lichen likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid.

Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for. The beautiful brown ones in the photo above belong to the peppered rock shield.

Some lichens are very easy to identify because there aren’t many others that look like them, and the toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) is one of those. Toadskin lichens show color changes when they dry out like many other lichens. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray like the above example. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens.

This is the very same toadskin lichen as the one in the previous photo. You can easily see the dramatic color change between this day when it was wet and when it was dry in the previous shot.

Rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata) is a relative of the toadskin lichen but it doesn’t turn gray when it dries out. Instead it gets brownish and curls up. It is very pliable and rubbery when it’s moist, but once it dries out it becomes crisp like a potato chip. The Umbilicaria part of the scientific name comes from the Latin umbilicus, meaning navel. This is where another common name, navel lichen, comes from and points to how, like the toadskin lichens, they attach themselves to stone with a single attachment point that looks like a navel. It sticks itself to stone by way of this single, navel like attachment point and the rest of the lichen hangs from this central point, much like a rag hanging from a peg.

Here is what rock tripe lichens look like dry. You can see the back of it, which is black and pebble textured. Rock tripe is edible and eating it has saved the lives of people who were lost and starving in the past. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

Rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis.) Look like melted candle wax to me. They are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty.

If you happen to see a stone that looks like it has sprouted gray hairs you might want to take a closer look, because there’s a good chance you’re seeing a Cladonia lichen.

There are many Cladonia lichens including the well-known pixie cups, but I think these were peg lichens (Cladonia sobolescens.) Peg lichens are also a large group, with split pegs, thatched pegs, powdery pegs, etc., but these seem to fit the description of what the book Lichens of North America calls simply peg lichens. The “peg” is called a podetium and it is topped by brown apothecia.

Here is a closer look at the tiny tan / brown apothecia that sit atop the pegs. These are where the lichen’s spores are produced. They are so small that I wasn’t able to see them but luckily the camera could.

This peg lichen is a squamulose lichen, which means it is scaly, but it is also foliose, or leafy. Squamules are the small leafy, lobed growths that are at the base of the tiny peg shaped podetia. A podetium is an upright secondary thallus in Cladonia lichens. It is a hollow stalk extending from the primary thallus. Podetia can be pointed, club like, cupped, or branched in shape and may or may not contain the ascocarp, which is the fruiting body of the lichen. If the asocarp is bowl shaped it is an apothecium. In this peg lichen the podetia are not branched and the leafy squamules are rounded and grayish green to brown, with white undersides. The quality of these photos isn’t great but the various parts of this lichen are very small. I think they do show enough to make a fairly good identification but if I’m wrong I hope someone will let me know.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do. I’ve seen this pretty lichen even on mountain tops.

Here is a closer look at those pretty rock posy apothecia. The ones I’ve seen are never shiny. They always have a kind of matte finish.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. especially slate. I see it on older gravestones quite often. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describes the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, but this one had a few. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. They grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. The one in the photo was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone, especially granite. It is a crustose lichen, so removing it from a gravestone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially. I would think the same would be true for polished stone.

Another lichen common to stone walls is the sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s a very soft, pale yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Dog lichens (Peltigera) are good example of lichens that will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses help provide the moisture that they need. It is very thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined on this example. This lichen is large and easy to see. It is also probably quite old.

Here is another look at the dog lichen. They’re much bigger than most other lichens. I’d guess this one is about the size of a 45 RPM record, if anyone can remember those.

The underside of a dog lichen is often bright white as this one was. They also have small hairs called rhizines which help them cling to whatever they’re growing on.

Smokey eye boulder lichen is a favorite lichen of mine. The blue color seen in the above photo is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies, which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. In addition to blue it can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.  The greenish-gold background color is the color of the body (thallus) of this crustose lichen. It’s a very beautiful thing and I hope you’ll take the time to look for it and all of the other beautiful lichens out there.

There is no absolute scale of size in nature, and the small may be as important, or more so than the great. ~Oliver Heaviside

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When the snow is piled high and it seems like anything of any interest is buried under it I go to the woods and look at the trees. They’re never buried and they always have something fascinating to show me, like lichens. Lichens will grow on just about anything including glass, but this post is devoted to those I’ve found on trees.

The yellow on the trunk of the tree in the previous photo I believe is made up of fringed candle flame lichens (Candelaria fibrosa) like that seen above, but I’m not a lichenologist and I don’t own a test kit or microscope, so don’t hold me to it. This lichen must like a lot of water because I see it a lot on the lower parts of trees that grow near irrigation systems, with trunks that are almost always wet in warmer months. This lichen always reminds me of scrambled eggs.

What prompted me to do this post was a visit to the doctor’s office. I walked past a tree that had bushy green things all over it and luckily I had my camera with me, so I ran back and took a few quick shots before the appointment. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.

It has taken quite a while to figure out what this lichen might be called but its green body (thallus) with flattened strap like branches and white fruiting bodies (apothecia) have led me to finally settle on the tufted ramalina lichen (Ramalina fastigiata.) A lichen guide from 1902 says this lichen is “very common in New England” but I’ve never seen it. It is also apparently very common in the U.K.

This is an odd lichen with large apothecia that look like they just erupt anywhere on the body but also look like they are stalked, depending how you look at them. Some are convex and some concave and some have rims and some don’t. The white apothecia are reproductive structures where the lichen’s spores are produced. This is a very interesting lichen that I hope to see more of without having to visit the doctor.

The doctor’s trees were full of surprises. I almost made myself late taking photos of the tufted ramalina so I went back later and looked the trees over a little more closely. When I did I found another lichen I had never seen; the Eastern speckled shield lichen. According to what I’ve read it grows on the bark of deciduous trees, has a bluish gray body with large brown apothecia, and has brown to black dots (pycnidia) on the surface of the body. This lichen has all of that but what it doesn’t have that I could see are white, grainy bits called psuedocyphellae so I can’t be 100% sure of my identification. If you know more about this or any of the lichens seen here I’d love to hear from you.

Common greenshield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) is indeed very common. It’s a large lichen and colonies of them often grow to cover entire trees. Older ones wrinkle like the example seen here. Like many lichens they change color, and go from grayish when dry to yellow green when wet. This example had just been rained on a day or two before I took the photo but was still dry, so it doesn’t take them long to dry out. This lichen also taught me that many lichens prefer growing on the shady side of trees, presumably so the sun doesn’t dry them out quite so fast.

If you saw what looked like blue eyes near the greenshield lichen in the previous photo they were just the apothecia of the star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris) seen here. The apothecia of this lichen are actually dark brown but they have a powdery wax coating that can cause their color to change depending on the light. Plant parts with this powdery waxy coating are said to be pruinose and a good example of it is the “bloom” on blueberries, grapes, plums, and other fruit. The coating reflects light and protects what it coats from the sun. Depending on the angle of the light these apothecia can appear blue, gray, brown or black. That’s why it pays to visit lichens several times.

I was shocked to find a tree with hammered shield lichens (Parmelia sulcata) all over it, because my experience up to this point has shown it to be on the rare side here. There didn’t seem to be anything special about the deciduous tree they were on, but it was in a sheltered spot. Hammered shield lichen is said to have a large variety of named varieties and forms, so it can be tough to pin down.

Hammered shield lichens are silvery gray and their many sharp ridges and depressions makes them look like they’ve been hammered out of a piece of steel. Fruiting bodies are said to be rare and I’ve never seen them. It is said to have powdery, whitish soredia but I’ve never seen them either. This one had granular bits that looked like soredia on its lobe edges but they were gray, so maybe it’s one of the aforementioned varieties.

Poplar sunburst (Xanthomendoza hasseana) is a very pretty lichen but it isn’t very common, in my experience. It’s a good one to study because it has large apothecia that are almost always present. A close relative of this lichen, the elegant sunburst lichen, was sent into space and exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for a year and a half.  When it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened, and that’s why many believe lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as immortal as any earth based life form can be.

Some lichens prefer growing on smooth barked trees but others don’t seem to care and will form themselves to whatever shape the bark they grow on happens to have. What I think is a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) had done just that and was bowl shaped, but still happily producing spores.

Shrubby little beard lichens are fruticose lichens, and fruticose lichens have upright or pendulous branches. I think this one is a bristly beard (Usnea hirta.) Though it grew on the shadier side of a tree it was caught in bright sunlight, and I’d guess that it must get an hour a day. One way beard lichens reproduce is by fragmentation. Pieces break off and are carried by the wind or maybe animal fur to another spot to colonize. There are many of these high up in the trees and they come down, often still attached to the branch they grew on, during a good wind. I’ve found as many on the ground as I have on trees.

This is an extreme close up of a different beard lichen showing its granular soredia, which are another means of reproduction. A soredium is a tiny granular ball of fungal hyphae and algal cells. They can grow on the body of the lichen or on its margins. No matter what living thing you find in nature, it’s always about the continuation of the species, and the drive to survive seems very strong in all of the things I see.

I think this lichen is a powder edged ruffle lichen (Parmotrema stuppeum) because of its uniform gray color, broad rounded lobes with erect edges, and soralia on the lobe edges. Soralia are groups of soredia meant to fall or break off a lichen and are used as a vegetative means of reproduction. They are what makes this lichen’s lobe edges look like they were dipped in powdered sugar. This lichen also has dark brown to black undersides but they aren’t seen in this photo. It was about as big as a penny, or about 3/4 of an inch across.

Some lichens might look like they have little spiders on them, or maybe as if they had been carved with a pocket knife but no, the squiggly lines are the apothecia of the script lichen (Graphis scripta.) This lichen prefers trees with smooth bark and, from what I’ve seen, only produces spores in winter. You can walk right by a tree full of script lichens in summer and see only grayish spots with no apothecia at all. In fact many lichens seem to prefer winter for spore production and I’ve never been able to find out why.

Beautiful in its simplicity is the maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Plain and undressed without the fussiness of other lichens, it makes me think I could just stand and stare at it, warmed by its calm, clean lines. But how does it reproduce? I’ve never seen any reproductive structures of any kind on it so I had to look it up. The answer is that it does have apothecia, but very rarely. It also has “a thin patchy layer of soredia,” though I’ve never noticed it. The white fringe around the outside is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify this lichen, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it.

I hope you’ll go out and look at the trees in your neighborhood. You might be very surprised by what you see.

I find myself inspecting little granules as it were on the bark of trees – little shields or apothecia springing from a thallus – such is the mood of my mind – and I call it studying. ~ Henry David Thoreau

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Robin Hood Park is a 110-acre park located in the northeastern corner of Keene that I visit often at all times of year, but especially in summer to see all of the amazing fungi and slime molds that grow there. In 1889 George A. Wheelock sold a piece of land known as the Children’s Wood to the City of Keene for a total of one dollar. This area was eventually combined with an additional parcel of land purchased from Wheelock, known as Robin Hood Forest, to form Robin Hood Park. This park has been enjoyed by children of all ages ever since. I decided to go there last Saturday because I couldn’t remember the last time I had been there.

The small pond in the park has drawn ice skaters for a very long time, but this year the unusual warmth has kept people off the ice. This is where I learned how to ice skate 50+ years ago.

There are various small streams and rivulets that feed into the pond. Even though it was only 22 degrees F. on this day none of them had frozen over but they were trying, as this one shows.

There were lots of bubbles in what ice there was.

The spot where the little stream enters the pond showed just how thin the ice was.

But still, even with all the warnings both natural and man-made, someone had shoveled off a large rectangle to skate in. We humans can be very stupid at times. Note how wet the snow is where the water is coming up through the crack in the ice.

I got away from the pond and followed the trail that leads around it. There are many interesting things along this trail and I see things I’ve never seen almost every time I come.

Unfortunately there was nothing new about the thick ice on parts of the trail. There is a lot of groundwater here and ice like this is common in winter so I wore my new micro spikes. With them on I walked right over this ice and didn’t slip or slide one bit. It’s amazing how they grip; you feel like you couldn’t slip if you wanted to.

One of the things I saw on this day that I’ve never seen before is a liverwort called the Bifid crestwort (Lophocolea bidentata.) It grew on a log and at first I thought it was a moss.

But I’ve never seen a moss that looked like this and I suspected right off that it must be some type of liverwort. It is a leafy liverwort and each leaf is flattened with two notches at its tip (Bilobed.) Each lobe is drawn out to a long, narrow point. As you move up the stem the leading edge of each leaf is tucked behind the trailing edge of the leaf ahead of it. Both of these features help with identification as does the pale yellow green color. What I didn’t know at the time I saw it is that the plant is very aromatic, so the next time I see it I’ll have to smell it.

There was no question that this was a moss. Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) gets its name from the way its curly tipped leaves look like they have all been swept to one side. In fact the scoparium part of the scientific name is Latin for broom. It prefers dry shaded places and won’t tolerate wet feet. Florists call it mood moss but I’m not sure why.

Mosses can change color in the cold and so can lichens. In the summer the blue gray lichens on this stone will become ashen gray and all but disappear into the color of the stone. It’s something I’ve noticed happening for years but I’ve never been able to identify the chameleon like lichen.

This buttressed tree root reminded me of a beautiful yellow slime mold I saw here one day a few years ago. Buttressed tree roots usually grow on all sides of the tree but this huge old oak has just the one. Roots that grow like this are said to grow because of nutrient poor, shallow soil but if that were true then it seems like all of the trees in this forest would have them. They are usually found in rain forests on very tall trees.

Something I’ve never been able to explain is the zig zag scar on this tree. I’ve shown it here before and blog readers have kicked around several ideas including lightning, but none seem to really fit.

The scar is deep and starts about 5 feet up the trunk from the soil line. If it were a lightning scar I would think that it would travel from the top of the tree into the soil. I happened upon a large white pine tree once that had been hit by lightning very recently and it had a perfectly straight scar from its top, down a root, and into the soil. The bark had been blown off all the way along it.

I’ve seen some strange things in the woods and this is one of them. Someone put a chain around this tree for no apparent reason. What will happen is the tree will grow around it and over time simply absorb it. It will become a tree cutters nightmare; one of those thing you hope you never run into with a chainsaw.

This granite stone has a spear of either quartz or feldspar in it. I think, if I remember my geology correctly, that it would be called an intrusion or vein. Granite itself is considered an intrusive igneous rock.

Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) are common enough but you don’t often find them growing on a standing tree as these were. There were many hundreds of them all around the tree.

Some of the turkey tails were quite colorful with lots of orange and lavender bands.

Other turkey tails on the same tree were much less colorful and this is interesting. For years I’ve tried to find out what determines the color of these fungi and I assumed it must be the wood itself, but these examples with widely varying colors were all growing on the same wood, so that can’t be it. These are in fact wood eaters which decompose wood so it can be returned to the forest soil to be used again by a new generation of trees. Life is a circle and not a single molecule is lost or wasted.

When I was a boy I found a book in the attic called “Nibbles and Bobtail.” It was all about animals of the forest acting like people, and their escapades. The animals lived in stone houses with thatched roofs and had fields bordered by stone walls. I was in my drawing phase then and I was interested in illustration, but this book bothered me because everything made of stone was colored. There were red stones, blue stones, orange, yellow, purple stones, etc. I thought well, it’s obvious this person has never seen a stone wall; everyone knows they’re gray. But it was I who didn’t know what I was talking about because instead of seeing I was just looking, and it took several years for me to finally see that stone walls could indeed be very colorful, as this one shows. Not only are the stones colorful but the lichens on them are as well. The orange in this photo is caused by the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima.)

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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Santa brought me some Kahtoola Micro Spikes for Christmas this year, so of course I had to try them. On the day after Christmas I decided that climbing Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard would be as good a trial as any and as luck would have it the trail was covered in snow and ice. I’ve heard a lot of good things about micro spikes and I have to say that I won’t be without them from now on. I purposely walked over ice with them on and didn’t slip or skid at all.

I found this photo online for those who haven’t seen micro spikes. They really grip.

The message was a good one but was a little late, I thought. Or maybe it was me who saw it too late.

There was quite a pile of wood chips at the base of a dead tree, so I looked up.

Sure enough a pileated woodpecker had been looking for lunch. Pileated woodpeckers are our largest woodpecker and you can tell their holes by the more or less rectangular shape. The unusual thing about this was the perfectly round holes made by a smaller woodpecker inside the pileated woodpecker holes. I’ve never seen this before. The smaller bird was smart to let the bigger bird do most of the work. If there are carpenter ants inside they’re usually in the heartwood of the tree.

Before you know it you’re at the meadow where Scottish Highland cattle sometimes graze. I didn’t see any on this day though.

The trail takes a sharp left at the meadow and gets a little steeper. So far legs, lungs and micro spikes were all working well but the snow had melted on this leg of the trail.

The crunchy, frozen soil told me I was walking on ice needles and there were plenty of them to see. A lot has to happen for these to form but I’ve explained it many times, so I’ll spare you this time. It has to be cold for them to form, with the temperature right at 32 degrees at the soil surface. Air temperature was about 22 degrees F. when I started.

Hoar frost grew around the mouths of chipmunk and snake holes in the soil. The earth’s warm breath meeting the cold air of winter.

Stone walls made me think of the Pitcher family, who settled here in the 1700s and most likely built this wall. They gave their name to this mountain.

One of my favorite places marks the second sharp left turn along the trail. After essentially living in a forest all of my life wide open places like this one seem almost other worldly. It’s just you, the earth and the sky. Minimalism at its finest.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I doubt that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well, but they haven’t melted into the soil. I think the ground must have heaved up and lifted all the soil and smaller stones that surrounded the bigger one. I saw that this had happened in several places along the trail.

The inner bark of staghorn sumac is sometimes brightly colored like the thin strip at the top of this piece, which my color finding software tells me is coral and salmon pink along with a little orange. I saw that colorful strip and peeled the section of bark it was on. I was surprised to see that the inner bark still attached to the wood was Indian red, dark salmon pink, and a lot of sienna. Why this bark colors like this when the tree dies, I don’t know.

When bark is removed from a tree, as long as the tree isn’t girdled it will live and try to heal itself, but I’ve been watching this young staghorn sumac for a few years and it hasn’t healed at all. I think that’s because deer are using it to rub their antlers on, because the wound on the tree is always fresh. Male white tail deer, called bucks, rub their antlers on trees for different reasons, but it seems fitting that they would choose a staghorn sumac. Staghorn sumacs get that name because of the hairs all along their stems that resemble the velvet on a stag’s antlers. Maybe this deer thought he was fencing with another deer.

You can get a glimpse of the fire tower through the trees in some spots. The sunshine was glaring off the windows on this day.

The old ranger cabin is having a relatively easy winter so far but I’m sure it has seen winters up here when the snow almost buried it. The concrete piers and blocks it rests on have all shifted and I wonder how much longer it will be able to resist the pull of gravity. I wouldn’t be surprised to climb up here one day and find that it had tumbled down the mountainside.

The fire tower must be manned at some point during the year but I’ve only seen people in it once out of all the times I’ve been up here. There were a lot of people up here that day and they all wanted to get into the tower, so I passed on it.

It can be very windy up here so the tower is tied down to the bedrock by steel cables. The tie down shown was used for the original tower, which burned in 1940 in one of the worst forest fires this state has ever seen. 27,000 acres burned, including all the trees on this summit.

The views weren’t too bad but it was windy and that made it feel colder so I didn’t stay long.

I liked this view because you could see how snowy the distant hills were.

There was ice on the summit but I didn’t worry about slipping with the micros spikes on. They even seem to make walking on uneven stones easier.

A close look at the bedrock on the summit shows that it is almost entirely covered by lichens.

One of my favorite lichens that grow here is the common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina.) This pretty lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and it was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. How they ever got it off the stones, I don’t know.

Perhaps there’s no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it’s a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal. All you have to do is take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, and refuse to turn back until you’ve given everything you have. ~Ken Ilgunas

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Last Saturday’s sunshine and 50 + degree temperatures made it easy to fall into spring daydreams. I decided to walk along the Ashuelot river in Swanzey where there are witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) growing to see if they might be blooming. They often blossom on warm winter days and I’ve even seen them blooming in January.

The river had tamed itself and the water level had dropped considerably since the last time I was here. There weren’t even any waves to photograph.

There were ice baubles still hanging onto the twigs in shaded areas but their gray opaqueness told me they were rotting in the sun.

Here was one with a hole right through it, which I can’t explain. I’m guessing it was made by a twig, but where is the twig?

There was green grass along the river and that made it even easier to dream of spring. It was a beautiful day; a well-deserved bonus day after the terrible weather of the last month or two.

I’m not sure what caused this bright yellow color on this and a couple of other stones. It wasn’t lichen. These stones spend time submerged when the river rises so I wonder if it might be some type of algae. I doubt the color is natural to the stone itself, it looked more like it was on it rather than part of it.

The spot where the witch hazels grow is on a small peninsula that juts out into the river. There was a trail out to its end but it has come close to disappearing over the years. I thought it was an old fisherman’s trail but I’ve seen enough deer tracks out here to wonder if it isn’t a game trail. It’s still being used;  you can just see the disturbed leaves that mark the trail just to the right of center in this photo.

Off to the right of the trail, closer to the river, the high water mark lies just above silt which has been deposited by the river over the years. I’ve seen this high water mark grow closer and closer to the trail, which means flooding on the river is getting worse. This is a very scary place when the river is high.

The ice on this tree branch shows how high the water was just recently. I’d guess about two feet higher than it was on this day, and I’d have had very wet feet and probably wet knees as well.

The silt the river leaves behind is as fine as sugar and anything that falls or steps on it will leave a mark. Even raindrops pock mark it. I wondered if these tracks were made by a beaver but there were none of the usual claw marks. They were big enough to be made by a bobcat  and cats have retractable claws, so that’s a definite maybe. Whatever made them comes here a lot because there was a trail of these prints through the silt, going in both directions.

There are beavers here. This was a freshly cut tree, and a beaver would make a good meal for a bobcat.

The witch hazels were indeed blooming and even though these aren’t spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) the sight of flowers just made my dream of spring all the more real. The thought hit me while I was here that it is this intense longing for spring that makes winters seem so long for me. Desire causes pain. Remove the desire and remove the pain. It sounds so simple.

One of my favorite mosses grew on a log.  I love the way it reaches out to colonize new lands. I think it might be beaked comb moss( Rhynchostegium serrulatum) but I can’t be sure because I’ve never seen it with spore capsules. It might also be Isopterygium tenerum, which is another creeping moss.

A woodpecker had pecked very small holes in a limb that was no bigger than 2 inches across. I was thinking that it must have been a very small woodpecker when I heard a tapping behind me.

It was a woodpecker pecking at a tree and it wasn’t tiny. Judging by where its red spots are I’m guessing it is a hairy woodpecker, but since I don’t do birds I could be wrong. It didn’t sit still long, whatever its name.  There were lots of other birds here too including chickadees and juncos and this small piece of forest was full of birdsong, which of course made it seem even more like spring.

I think the reason so many birds populate this area is because there is plenty here for them to eat, but unfortunately much of that food comes from plants that are invasive, like the oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) seen here.

This maple tree shows what bittersweet can do when it wraps itself around a tree trunk. The vine is as strong as wire and doesn’t expand as the tree grows, so the tree has no choice but to grow out around it, and this deforms the tree.  The tree will eventually be strangled to death unless something is done.

I saw what looked like a blush of blue on a lichen that grew on a tree so I took a few photos of it, but it wasn’t until I got home and looked at the photos that I saw something very unusual.

Very unusual in my experience, anyhow; each of the lichen’s apothecia, which in this case are little round spots where its spores are produced, had liquid in them. It hadn’t rained for a while so I’m not sure what this is all about. I have seen lichens with wet apothecia right after a rain but nothing like this. This lichen looked more like moisture was being squeezed from it rather than it picking up any moisture from its surroundings. If you know what it happening here I’d love to hear from you. I’ve searched and searched but haven’t had any luck.

The sun had gone by the time I was ready to leave but that didn’t bother me because it had been a great spring like walk with plenty of interesting things to see. Any day that reaches 50 degrees in December is a good day in my opinion. That night I actually dreamed lilacs were blooming and the strangest thing about that is, I rarely remember my dreams.

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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