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Posts Tagged ‘Lichens’

Recently we saw nearly 2 inches of rain fall in one day and the placid stream, which is actually called Bailey Brook, that you see in the above photo flooded to cover all of the land seen in the photo and much more. Now that it had returned to normal I decided to follow it for a time and see what kind of damage the flooding had done.

I saw some delicate ice formations.

And stream ice made up of long crystals.

Large chunks of ice had found a place to rest when the flood receded and there they sat scattered here and there, reminding me of glacial erratics.

In some places I thought I was walking on land until my foot went through the ice and found water. From the ice surface down to the soil surface was about 6-8 inches with nothing but air in between, so the stream rose at least that much in flood.

There is a lot of drainage going on in this area and smaller streams meet the main stream in several places. Generally it’s a happy place and a great place to walk with the stream chuckling and giggling beside you, but it can also be a place of great danger when enough rain falls. I’ve seen it flood and go up and over roads in just a matter of a few hours, so you don’t walk here until you’re sure the stream has calmed down after storms makes it rage. First it happened once in ten years, then a couple of more times over the next five years or so, and now it seems to happen each year.

There are still plenty of beech leaves around and I’m glad of that because they add color to the landscape.

A single beech leaf fell and became frozen in the ice. It was a beautiful thing, and it looked like someone had painted it there. It would have been one of the impressionists like Monet or Renoir who would have painted it, I think. It was more light than leaf.

There was something I wanted to see but I had to climb a small hill to get to it. The hill ends right at the stream so there is no level land to walk on. I got up the hill without too much trouble by hugging trees and pulling myself up, but under those leaves was nothing but slippery, solid ice and the only way back down the hill was sitting down and sliding in what I’d guess was a very undignified manner.

But it was worth it because I got to see the horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) that grow along that section of stream. These are ancient plants that are embedded with silica. Another common name is the scouring rush because they are sometimes used to scour pots when camping, and they are also used for sanding wood in Japan. I like the way they look as if someone had knitted them fancy little socks.

There are lots of river grapes growing here along the stream and they are very easy to identify because of their peeling bark. Exfoliating bark is very common on the older wood of many types of grapevines and happens naturally. Older bark cracks from the growth expansion of the newer bark beneath it and eventually the older, cracked bark peels off in strips.

On warm days in the fall this entire area smells like grape jelly because of all the overripe grapes. Birds and animals get most of them but they missed a few, as this photo of a freeze dried grape shows.

I read an article recently that spoke of how we as a people are losing our connection to nature. As of 2008, according to the United Nations, half of all human beings lived in cities and in the U.K. a typical 8 year old child is better at recognizing video game characters than common wildlife. The article mentioned how, not that long ago, people knew trees as well as they knew themselves because they relied on them for heat, shelter, food, and many other things. The article suggested that getting to know trees would be a simple way for people to reconnect with nature, because there are very few people who don’t see trees every day. I suggest starting with easy ones or ones you already know, like the muscle wood tree in the above photo. It’s easy to see why it’s called muscle wood (Carpinus caroliniana.) See how its “tendons” ripple beneath its “skin”? Muscle wood is also called American hornbeam, and its wood is very dense and hard, but learning to identify trees by their bark isn’t hard, and it’s fun. Books like Bark by Michael Wojtech are a great help. You’d be surprised how quickly you would be able to name all of the trees in your neighborhood after a short time.

Here’s another easy one. Yellow or golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) has peeling bark like a white birch but its bark is kind of reddish brown, which in the right light looks golden. They like cool, moist soil and are usually found near streams and ponds. They can also stand quite a lot of shade so growing here beside this stream in a cool, shaded forest is just about the perfect place for one.

There are a lot of insects after these trees along the stream, including bark beetles. These beetles excavate channels in the wood and when these channels completely encircle the wood the branch or tree has been girdled. Once girdled moisture and nutrients can no longer move freely through the cambium layer. When moisture and nutrients can’t move from the roots to the crown of the tree and back again the tree will die. I see a lot of fallen white pine (Pinus strobus) limbs with bark beetle damage.

Woodpeckers tell me that this standing dead hemlock tree is also full of insects. In large numbers, apparently.

Bittersweet vines twine around tree trunks; they don’t grow straight like this. There is no exfoliating bark, tendrils, or branching like a grape vine would have, so they can’t be that. Since there are no tendrils it isn’t Virginia creeper either. Those are the “big three” native vines that I would expect to find here but if the examples growing up this pine tree aren’t one of them what are they? Poison ivy, that’s what, and it’s a good idea to leave vines you don’t recognize alone until you’re sure of their identity. Poison ivy isn’t poison and it isn’t an ivy. Way back in the early 1600s Captain John Smith thought it looked like the English ivy he had left behind in England and, since it made him itch, thanks to him it became known as poison ivy. The urushiol the vine contains is considered an allergen and there is nothing poisonous about it, but is sure can make you itch and it will give you a rash that might last for weeks. You can get the rash from any part of the plant, including the naked stems seen here.

We’ve probably all heard the old “Leaves of three, let them be” saying about poison ivy, but the plant has no leaves in winter so “Hairy vine, no friend of mine” has to do when there is snow on the ground.  “Hairy rope, don’t be a dope” might work too. The roots seen in this photo are how the poison ivy vine clings to what it climbs, and there will often be a thick mat of roots all along the stem. But not always; poison ivy can grow as a vine, a shrub, or it can creep along the forest floor. It’s wise, if you plan on spending time in a New England forest, to study the plant and know it well. I usually get a small rash on my knees each spring from kneeling on unseen vines growing under the forest litter when I’m taking photos of early spring wildflowers, and I know it well. I’m lucky enough to be little bothered by it but I’ve known people who were hospitalized because of it.

Everywhere I go I see lichens that look like they’ve been chewed on and I’ve tried to find out why with limited success. Reindeer eat lichens but we don’t have reindeer in these woods, just white tails. I’ve seen squirrels eat mushrooms and since fungi are an important part of a lichen I thought that they might be the culprit, but I’ve never found anything in print about it until researching this post. According to a website called “What Do Squirrels Eat” http://www.whatdosquirrelseat.org squirrels have expanded their palates and will eat just about anything, including what we and our pets eat. It also says that they do indeed eat lichens, so I can finally put the chewed lichen mystery to bed.

But it’s rare day when you hike through a forest and do not come away with a mystery, and this was today’s mystery. From the opposite side this looked like a hard gray lump, smaller than the first joint on my little finger, on a poplar limb. When I looked at the underside I saw what appears in this photo. Though I’ve searched for a few days for an identification so far I have no idea what insect made and hatched from it. I’m guessing that it was some type of gall wasp. It might take a few years but one day I’ll find out more about it. In the end I went home happy, because I saw all kinds of interesting and beautiful things and surprisingly, saw no real flood damage at all.

Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything – even mountains, rivers, plants and trees – should be your teacher. ~Morihei Ueshiba

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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It was a beautiful sunny, spring like 40 degree day last Saturday when I set off down a favorite leg of the Ashuelot Rail Trail in Swanzey. Every time I come here I discover something I haven’t seen here before and today was no different. In fact I saw many things that I’ve walked right by on previous trips. That’s why John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday,” and that’s why I follow the same trails again and again. Though I’ve traveled them many times I know that I haven’t seen half what is on them.

There were lots of beech trees along this section of trail and their dry leaves shivered and whispered softly in the light breeze. Soon they will begin to fall and make room for new leaves.

These berries had me scratching my head for a minute until I realized that the large shrub they grew on was privet. A homeowner who lived along the rail trail had long ago planted a privet hedge and then never trimmed it so the hedge grew to about ten feet tall, and it was covered with berries that the birds weren’t eating. That’s a good thing because privet is considered invasive. This is one of those things that I’ve walked by fifty times but haven’t seen.

One of my reasons to come here was to see the old trestle that crosses the Ashuelot River. There has been a lot of talk about ice jams and I wanted to see what the ice looked like out here in a place you can’t drive to.

Dark purple-brown frullania liverworts decorated a young oak tree. This liverwort is an epiphytic plant, which means it takes nothing from the trees that it grows on. I think of them being like a bird; they simply perch on trees in spots where they get the moisture and light that they need. They are easiest to see in winter when the cold darkens them.

There are about 800 species of this liverwort so identification can be difficult but this is the one that I most often see, with tiny leaves that are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but I keep forgetting to smell them.

A heavily fruiting lichen grew right next to the liverwort on the oak tree. I see this lichen quite often but I’ve never been satisfied with any identification I’ve come up with so far. I thought it might be rosy saucer lichen until my color finding software told me that its many apothecia were brown instead of rosy. For those who don’t know lichens, the apothecia are the round, rimmed fruiting bodies where this lichen’s spores are produced.

An old railroad marker had slowly tilted until it had fallen almost all the way over but its “W” was still visible, highlighted in snow. The W stands for whistle and the post is called a whistle post, because it marks the spot where the locomotive engineer was to blow the train’s whistle. There is a crossing very nearby where the railbed crosses a road, and the whistle would have alerted wagon or auto drivers that a train was coming. Some whistle posts were marked – – o -, which meant “two longs and a short” on the whistle. I was surprised that I couldn’t remember seeing the post here before, but I’m sure it had to have been.

I scuffed my boot in the snow to find that there were only about two inches over very firm ice. The ice remains even though it rained more than a week ago, but maybe a day or two of this warmth will have melted it.

When the sap (called pitch) of white pines turns blue and / or purple you know it has been cold. The only time I see it do this is in the winter. In summer it is either a matte finish, tannish color or a very clear honey / amber color, depending on when it oozed from the tree. Sometimes in winter it can be a very beautiful deep blue.

The biggest surprise on this hike was how many balsam fir trees (Abies balsamea) I saw. This is thought of as a more northern tree so I don’t expect to them here in the southern part of the state but I must have easily seen 20 of them that I hadn’t seen the last time I came this way. It’s hard to believe but maybe it is cold enough here these days to keep them happy. A lot of Christmases came rushing back when I smelled a few of its crushed needles.

The red buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) were a welcome sight but I was surprised again because I’ve never seen them growing here. Toward the end of April the fuzzy buds will be showing pink and orange hues. They’re one of the most beautiful things in the spring forest and well worth the effort to see.

The chubby, thumb size buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) were no surprise because these trees grow quite abundantly in the river bottom section of Swanzey. This is another bud which, when it breaks in early June, will easily be one of the most beautiful things in the forest. The insides of the bud scales are orange, pink and yellow and make these tress look like they are full of beautiful flowers.

Shagbark hickory gets its name, not surprisingly, from its shaggy bark. The wood is very hard and tough but flexible and shock resistant, so it is prized for use in tool handles. It was also once used to make wheels and spokes for wagons and early autos. Northeastern Native American tribes used the wood to make bows and stone axe handles. Hickory is also one of the hottest burning woods.

Native Americans used the nuts of shagbark hickory for food and the word “hickory” comes from the Native Algonquin “pawchiccora,” which was their word for the oily nutmeat. If a mother’s milk wasn’t available infants were fed hickory milk, which was made by boiling crushed hickory nuts. Today the nuts are eaten mostly by squirrels, chipmunks, foxes and turkeys.

As if often the case what should have been a short walk turned into a long one because there was so much to see along the way, but I finally made it to the trestle. Wooden decks and railings were added to most of the old, unused trestles in this area by snowmobile clubs, and all who use these trails really owe them a debt of gratitude for maintaining them. When I was a boy you had to step from railroad tie to tie, with a gap between that it was easy to catch a leg or an ankle in if you weren’t careful. I was so used to crossing trestles by the time I was ten I could cross them in the dark but I know people who got their leg down between the ties and one who even fell from a trestle into the river below.

I wouldn’t recommend falling into this river in January. There was something going on up river but I couldn’t tell if it was an ice jam or just ice that had formed around a submerged tree. There are a lot of submerged trees in this river and that’s why you only see kayaks or canoes when the water is high, usually in spring. You can see in this photo how the trees lean out over the water as they grow, trying to gather up as much sunlight as possible.

Slabs of ice in the trees told me how high the water had been a while ago. I’m guessing that the water level had dropped 4 or 5 feet since that ice formed.

Another reason I come here is to see the only “tell tales” left to see in this area. Tell tales are thin, pencil size pieces of wire suspended from a cross brace that hangs out over the railroad tracks. They were put in place to warn anyone walking on top of a boxcar that a tunnel or bridge was ahead so they could duck down and avoid a nasty collision with an immoveable object. Being hit in the face by these hanging wires couldn’t have been pleasant but it was certainly better than the alternative. They used to hang on either end of every trestle but now these ones are the only ones I see.

Of all the times I’ve come here I’ve never noticed that the upright that holds the tell tales out over the rail bed is actually a piece of track stood vertically and buried in the soil. It tells me that these tell tales might have been fashioned in place rather than made ahead of time and shipped to the site.

Where I grew up the Boston and Maine Railroad crossed the Ashuelot River just a few yards from my house and there was a trestle there just like this one, so I wouldn’t be lying if I said I grew up on this river and on these railroad tracks, and I guess that each are as much a part of me as anything can be. I think that’s why I come back to them again and again; to check on their health and to see that they’re doing well, and I’m happy to say that both the river and the rail trails are doing much better now than they were then. The Ashuelot was very polluted back then and the trains kept many people off the tracks, but now you can come and sit on a trestle like this all day and admire a near pristine river where bald eagles once again fish for trout. It makes me want to say just look what we can do when we really want to.

When I came here I had nothing but a camera and curiosity but I left satisfied with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step. It struck me on this walk that if people could find happiness in simple things like a walk outside on a warm January day, or seeing sunshine falling on last year’s grasses, they might find that they were happy most of the time. I find that I’m pretty happy most days, and that has happened quite by accident, just by spending most of my free time in nature. It really is amazing what an abundance of joy simply being outside can bring to you. I hope you’ll try it and see.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
~Lao Tzu

Thanks for coming by.

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This post was supposed to be part 2 of a lichen post I did back on November 29 but I’ve dilly dallied so long it would probably be hard for all of us to remember what was in that one, so I’ll just start anew. I do these lichen posts because people seem to be mystified by lichens and afraid they won’t be able to identify them. I’ll be the first to admit that identifying lichens isn’t easy, but I try to show lichens that are easier to identify than other species in the hope that you’ll give them a try. Often times when I go hunting lichens I start with a smooth barked tree like that in the above photo. As you can see it’s absolutely peppered with them and I can tell without even zooming in that there are at least 3 different lichens in that photo.

One of the lichens on that tree was this script lichen. Script lichens are easy to identify as such but breaking them down into species can be difficult. I think this one is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta.) Script lichens seem to be fussy about what kind of trees they grow on and the common script lichen prefers trees with smooth bark, like maple or beech.

The script lichen’s common name comes from its apothecia, which are its fruiting bodies where its spores are produced. They look like ancient runes that someone has scratched into the body of the lichen (Thallus.) Some appear as horizontal lines, some can be vertical or angular but most appear random like those in the photo. Some, like the asterisk lichen can be very beautiful but even though I’ve searched for an example for many years I’ve never seen one.

This script lichen had a very dark thallus and isn’t like any other that I’ve seen. I’m not sure what would make it so dark, but it might have been the cold. I’ve seen cold change the color of other lichens from gray to blue. From what I’ve seen of script lichens the body of the lichen is there year round, but only when it starts to get cold in the fall do the fruiting bodies appear. Many lichens choose to produce their spores in the winter and I’ve never been able to find out why.

One of the most common lichens seen on trees in this region is the common green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata.)  They are large, leafy, round or oval lichens that are kind of a yellow green color, and colonies of them can cover nearly the entire trunk of a tree. They are usually very wrinkled and in fact the caperata part of the scientific name means wrinkled.

Seeing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) on green shield lichens is rare in my experience but they always seem to have abundant soredia, which are tiny, powdery vegetative reproductive bodies that can be carried off by the wind or rain to form new lichens. The soredia form on the body (Thallus) of the lichen in pustule like areas called soralia. They are very similar to other vegetative reproductive growths called isidia, which are stalked growths on the thallus. Some Native American tribes dried and crushed this lichen into a powder and used it to treat burns.

Bottlebrush shield lichen (Parmelia squarrosa) is very common but is also easily passed by because it often grows quite small and I find that its pale gray color blends well with the color of the bark of the trees that it grows on, like smooth barked maples. You can just see small shiny spherical dots on a few of its lobes in this photo. These are granular vegetative reproductive structures called isidia. When a squirrel runs up a tree and breaks these granular parts of it off, the broken parts will start new lichens. Lichens books say that fruiting bodies (Apothecia) are common on this lichen but I’ve never seen them.

The bottlebrush part of this lichen’s common name comes from its dense, dark mat of rhizines on its undersides. These rhizines can be thought of as tiny rootlets which help anchor the lichen to the bark of trees. When they are branched like a bottle brush they are said to be squarrose. This lichen will also grow on mossy rocks and likes shaded, humid places.

Yet another shield lichen usually found on trees is the hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata.) Its common name comes from the way its network of sharp ridges and depressions makes it look like it has been hammered out of a sheet of steel. Fruiting bodies are said to be rare on this lichen, which explains why I’ve never seen them. Instead it relies on powdery, whitish soredia to reproduce. It also has rhizines like the bottlebrush shield, but they don’t seem as bushy and noticeable. Hammered shield lichens are relatively small and though the book Lichens of North America says they can even be weedy, I don’t see them very often.

It’s very common to be walking through the woods and find twigs and branches with large, leafy (Foliose) lichens like the one pictured growing on them. These lichens can be difficult to identify because they change color drastically when they dry out. Though this one appears on the gray side its normal color when wet would be a deep, olive brown. I think this one is in the Tuckermannopsis group, probably the fringed wrinkle lichen (Tuckermannopsis ciliaris.) Lichens in this group often have “wrinkled” in their common name because that’s the way they look. They’re very pretty and easy to see and I often find them on birch and white pine branches.

Fruiting bodies (Apothecia) are common on the fringed wrinkle lichen. They are also quite large and easily seen; shiny and brownish green. Tiny bead like structures called pycnidia line the margins of the apothecia. They are yet another type of vegetative reproductive structure that will form new lichens if they break off. This lichen or family of lichens is very common and I see them almost every time I go into the woods.

There are many beard lichens and many are abundant in this region, but one that I don’t see quite as often as others is the fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula.) It grows high in the treetops and when I find it it’s almost always on a fallen branch, as this one was.

The fishbone beard lichen gets its common name not surprisingly, from its resemblance to the skeleton of a fish. Lichens in this genus contain usnic acid and have strong antiseptic and antibiotic properties. They’ve been used medicinally since ancient times throughout the world to stop bleeding and heal wounds, and also against lung and fungal infections. Native Americans moistened the lichens and used them as a poultice for boils and wounds.  Beard lichens are still used today in antiseptic skin creams, deodorants, and mouth washes. It is said that about 50% of lichen species have antibiotic properties and research to develop medicines from them is ongoing worldwide.

Man isn’t the only one who uses lichens. This bird’s nest had many beard lichens woven into it. One study that I read about said that 5 different species of lichen were found in just a tiny hummingbird’s nest.

Concentric boulder lichen (Porpidia crustulata) gets its name from the way its black apothecia grow in concentric (or nearly so) rings around their center. The gray body of the lichen forms a crust on stone and that makes it a crustose lichen. This lichen is relatively rare here and I only see them once in a blue moon. They grow in sun or shade and don’t ever seem to change color.

Another shield lichen that’s very common in this area is the peppered rock shield (Xanthoparmelia conspersa.) It grows on stone in full sun and I usually find it on old stone walls. It’s a big lichen, often 10 inches or more across, that seems to be almost always fruiting, with crinkly brown fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) Though it must produce an abundance of spores this lichen also reproduces vegetatively, again by the granular vegetative reproductive structures called isidia, like the bottlebrush shield lichen we saw earlier. When bits of the lichen are broken off the isidia increase its chances of starting a new colony. Isidia also increase photosynthetic efficiency.

Here is a closer look at the peppered rock shield’s apothecia. They are big enough to see without any magnification and are an orangey brown color.  You can also see bits of the insidia. It’s clear that this lichen is all about continuation of the species and it does well at it. One stone wall I know of has them on almost every stone in the wall.

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. It is a crustose lichen, so removing it from any kind of stone 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.

Rock foam lichens (Stereocaulon saxatile) grow directly on stone in full sun. When dry this lichen is very stiff and brushy and almost seems as if it would cut you but caribou will eat it when they can’t find reindeer lichens. This lichen is often used by prospectors because a simple lab test on it will show what type of stone it was growing on and what minerals, like copper for instance, are in the stone.

Lichens, as I hope these lichen posts have shown, can be very beautiful, and one of the prettiest I’ve seen lately is the frosted comma lichen (Arthonia caesia.) Its blue gray apothecia against a yellowish gray body make it easy to identify but you have to look closely to see these features. This one was no more than a half inch across and the blue apothecia were about the size of a period made by a pencil on paper.  I hope you’ll take the time to look for it and other lichens on your next nature walk. They can be found virtually anywhere at any season, and are always interesting and often beautiful.

We keep seeing things all our life, yet seldom do we notice them. ~Avijeet Das

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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Actually, it isn’t the rail trail that’s new; it has been here since about 1850, but it’s new to me. I’ve wanted to follow it because for years I’ve been hearing about a deep cut through ledges on this rail trail leading from Swanzey south to Massachusetts, so one day I finally decided to follow it.

There was plenty to see out here, including this box culvert. Box culverts are simple things, usually with two upright side walls and massive stone slabs on top, and then huge amounts of gravel on top of that. But this one was different;  it was built of granite blocks, probably cut right on sight out of boulders or ledge. It was still letting a small stream pass unimpeded under the railbed after nearly 170 years.

But there were problems. Some of the stones on the sidewalls had shifted and this let the cap stones overhead begin to sag a bit. This was most likely caused by the freezing and thawing of the soil and pressure from tree roots. In any event it should be repaired because if it goes so does the rail bed above it. The question is, now that there is no railroad, who is responsible for making repairs?

The stone for the culvert might have come from this big boulder. It still shows drill marks from when the rail line was put in. There was a lot of drilling and blasting of stone going on in these woods in those days.

There were signs of the railroad everywhere, including this old signal box. I’ve been told that these often had asbestos in them, so they’re best left alone.

There were some nice birches out here too.

But some had fallen. Birch polypores (Piptoporus  betulina) are parasitic on dead or weakened birch trees and cause brown rot. Both the fungus and the decayed wood have a sort of green apple smell. Birch polypores are annual fungi that grow only on birch trees and live for only one season.

Further down the trail a huge old oak had fallen and had taken several other trees with it. I don’t think four grown men could have linked hands around this monster when it was standing. What a shame to let all that firewood go to waste.

This was a day to see fallen things, apparently. A granite mile marker had fallen across a drainage ditch.

It’s hard to read but I think the message on the fallen mile marker said B (for Boston) 88. According to Google maps Boston is just about 88 miles from Swanzey if you follow route 119.

Cushions of what was probably a species of Dicranum moss glowed a beautiful bright green in what little sunlight there was. I was surprised to read that people are now buying this moss to create moss gardens. They call it “mood moss,” though I’m not sure why. I have to say that seeing it made me smile, so maybe that’s where the name comes from.

As I said in the last lichen post I did, pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata) are squamulose lichens, and squamules are the small leafy, lobed growths that are at the base of the tiny golf tee like podetia in this photo. The podetia support the lichen’s fruiting bodies called apothecia, which is where the lichen’s spores are produced. It’s all about continuation of the species.

I was a little dismayed but not surprised to find invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) out here. There weren’t many; I only saw two or three, but all but a few of their berries were gone and that means the birds ate them. And that means more bushes in the future. Burning bushes don’t have a problem with making sure new generations will follow.

In some places the rail trail passed very close to private property. I thought I grew up close to the tracks at a few yards but this trail was just a few feet away from this building.

The closeness reminded me of this sign that I saw on another rail trail. It’s important to remember that you’re very near private property when on rail trails so you shouldn’t wander too far off the trail. Imagine what it would be like to find strangers wandering through your yard every now and then like they did when I was a boy growing up beside the tracks. It can be a little unnerving. The message is important enough for this sign to have been printed by the State of New Hampshire Bureau of Trails.

Something I’ve never seen on a rail trail before is a bent rail, but there it was. I don’t know if it was bent on purpose to follow a curve when it was originally installed or if it was bent after the rails were taken up. I can’t imagine anyone taking the time and effort it would have taken to bend it for a lark but it can be done. During General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to Atlanta during the Civil War he had his troops heat up sections of track until they were red hot and then bend them around trees. These bent rails came to be known as “Sherman’s bowties.” Since the south had limited supplies of iron this pretty well finished the southern railroads but soon the rebels followed suit and destroyed northern rails in the same way. These bent rails were known as “Mr. Lincoln’s hair pins.”

The bent rail had me scratching my head, because there were no curves to be seen on any nearby part of the rail bed. Would someone really take the time to heat a rail and bend it, I wondered as I walked along.

Here was another strange thing. A two inch galvanized steel conduit came up out of the ground and passed under the rail bed before continuing out the other side and into the forest.

The laying of the conduit looked to be well done and I was fairly certain that it had some electrical purpose but I couldn’t guess who would have the money or the inclination to lay it way out here.

Off it went, up the hill. It wasn’t until later when I was telling friends about it that I remembered how close I had been to the airport. This entire area sits in a bowl which is surrounded by hills and each hill has to have a tower with a flashing red light so planes flying at night don’t run into the hills. This conduit must have been put here to power one of those lights. What a lot of work and what a cost it must have been, but if it saves lives it’s worth it. We’ve had our share of plane crashes here.

By now you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t shown any ledges or “deep cuts” through hillsides. That’s because I didn’t find any, at least not on this section of trail. And that’s why there has to be a part two to this story. I walked too far and took far too many photos for them all to be squeezed into one post, so if you’re at all interested I hope you’ll stay tuned for part two, coming up next week.

Heaven on earth is a choice you must make, not a place you must find. ~ Wayne Dyer

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Unfortunately there are people who think that once the leaves have fallen there is nothing left to see outside until spring, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Lichens for instance, are there year round and unless you live in a place with poor air quality they are everywhere; on trees, on stones, on the ground, and even on buildings, roofs, windows, and sidewalks. They are like small jewels that have been sprinkled throughout nature and one of my favorites is the smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) shown above. The blue dots are called apothecia and are where its spores are produced. They are blue because of the way the light reflects off the thin wax coating that they are covered by. In this case the body of the lichen, called the thallus, is a brownish gold color. The thallus can also be gray and the apothecia gray to black. One of the things that can make lichen identification difficult is the ability of some lichens to change color in different light, and this is one that does. It can look very different just a few feet away.

The apothecia on this star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris), is a good example of how colors can change, even on the same lichen. This lichen has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to the white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on the smoky eye boulder lichen in the previous photo. You’ve no doubt seen examples of this waxy “bloom” on blueberries and plums. I’ve noticed by watching lichens that have pruinose apothecia that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue, and sometimes even black. The apothecia on this lichen show a range of colors, from brown to light blue. The way the sunlight strikes it has a lot to do with its colors.

I used my magic gravity defying penny so we could get an even better idea of the scale of some of these lichens. For those of you not familiar with the size of a penny, they are 3/4 of an inch (19.05mm) in diameter. The powdery sunburst lichen just above it is almost the same size. The lichens below, right and left of the penny are star rosette lichens like the one we just saw in the previous photo. That penny could use a good cleaning.

This is the powdery sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes) we saw above the dirty penny in the previous photo. This foliose lichen is easy to see even when it’s small, because of its bright orange yellow color. This lichen really likes moisture and is often found growing near channels that carry water on stone or bark. A foliose lichen has a lobed, leafy look.

British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) like to grow on damp wood like rotted stumps and logs, but I’ve found them on buildings, fence posts, and built up forest litter on boulders. At this time of year I don’t pass too many mossy old tree stumps without having a glance for British soldiers. Their bright red apothecia make them easy to see, even if you’re colorblind.

Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichens than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are very beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants. It can sometimes have a bluish cast as well.

I find pebbled pixie cup lichens ((Cladonia pyxidata)) growing on soil or rotting stumps and logs, and occasionally on stone. Pixie cups look like tiny golf tees or trumpets. They are squamulose lichens, and the golf tee shapes arise from leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (thallus,) and  squamulose lichens have small, leafy lobes.

Though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. This example shows some almost microscopic dots around the rim, which are its apothecia. Finally, frucitose means a lichen has a bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen.

A single raindrop was caught in the cup of this pixie cup and it illustrates how the cups are meant to do exactly this; they are splash cups and when a raindrop lands in them the water splashes the spores out and away from the lichen to hopefully colonize new ground. Pixie Cups and other Cladonia species like reindeer lichen contain didymic acid, and they were once used by herbalists to treat tuberculosis.

Dog lichens will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. The example pictured is I believe, a membranous dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea.) Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses provide the moisture that they need. It is known as membranous lichen because it is 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. This lichen is large and easy to see. It is also probably quite old.

One theory behind the name “dog lichen” says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the fang like rhizines look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire lichen body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears. I’ve never seen this one produce fruiting bodies so I can’t verify that last one and it doesn’t really look like a dog to me, so I can’t verify the second one either.

What sounds most plausible to me about the origin of the name “dog lichen” are the white “roots” on the white underside of the lichen body. They are fang like and called rhizines. On some lichens they can be quite bushy, but on Peltigera membranacea they are narrow and thin. They are one of the identifying characteristics of this lichen along with its thin, flexible, undulating thallus.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. It’s a very artistic lichen and I like the patterns that it makes. I see it on 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 describe the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, as this one appeared to be.

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body and orange fruiting bodies. This one was growing on stone in full sun. There was a time when I knew of only one example but now I see them everywhere, even on mountain tops. This example was about as big as a penny.

If you spend time walking along old stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it and it will probably be the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was made up of mostly irregularly shaped fruiting bodies, so it was making plenty of spores. It was raining at the time so it was also very wet. Lichens are at their best when they are wet because that’s when they’ll show their true colors and size, so that’s when serious lichen hunters look for them. A misty or drizzly day is perfect.

One thing you learn quickly when you decide to study lichens is that your pockets will be as full of unknowns as they are knowns, and this lichen shows why. You’ll see why in the next photo, so try to remember how it looks here.

Not only do lichens change color but shape as well. It’s hard to believe that this is the same kind of lichen that we saw in the previous photo but it is, and it is the apothecia in full “bloom” that makes it look so different from photo to photo. This is why it has taken me as long as three years to identify some lichens. I’m not completely comfortable with my identification of this one but I think it might be the brown eyed rim lichen (Lecanora epibyron.) Brown eyed rim lichen is described as a “white to very pale brown crustose lichen with many red-brown apothecia with a white margin.” It seems to fit, but if you know this lichen and know that my identification is wrong I hope you’ll let me know.  I found it growing on ash tree bark.

As its name implies maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) grows on the bark of maple trees, but I’ve also seen it on beech, oak, and basswood. One of the easiest ways to identify this lichen is to look for the white fringe around its perimeter. This is one of those lichens that I never saw until I stumbled across it one day, and now I see it everywhere. This beautiful example was about 3/4 of an inch in diameter, or about the size of a penny.

Some lichens are very easy to identify because there aren’t many others that look like them, and the toadskin lichen is one of those. Toadskin lichens are another one that shows color changes. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray. This example hadn’t completely dried out but it was well on its way. 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 an umbilicate lichen. This toadskin is very special, because it is the only one I’ve ever seen that wasn’t on a hill or mountain top. It grows on a boulder at the very water’s edge of a lake and now I know, if the day comes when I can no longer climb, I’ll still be able to see these beautiful little things.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing a few of the lichens I know and I hope you’ll look for them in your area. Just look closely anywhere you happen to be; they’ll be there too.

Oh what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind when it has once seized on it like a lichen on a rock. ~Mary Shelly

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I had some time off for the Thanksgiving holiday so I thought I’d go and see 40 foot falls in Surry. It’s relatively quick and easy to get to and I like to visit it when the leaves are off the trees. The falls are in a heavily wooded area and before the leaves fall it’s dark enough in the forest that photography with my camera just doesn’t work there. Even at this time the pines and hemlocks cast a lot of shade but it was a bright sunny day so I thought I’d give it a try. The above photo shows what you can see of the falls from the road.

Before you get to the falls on Merriam Brook you have to cross a small stream that flows into it. You have to walk the banks to find a good place to cross. In some places it was narrow enough to step across on this day, but more often than not you have to cross on slippery stones.

Many of the stones along the stream are moss covered but not this one; I believe that’s a liverwort called greater featherwort (Plagiochila asplenioides) on that stone.

Greater featherwort likes lots of water and grows on rocks in streams and rivers, and on wet soil in the open or in shade. This was the first time I had seen this pretty little liverwort which, as liverworts go, is considered one of the largest. I think that’s because it forms large colonies, not because each plant is large. The plants themselves seem quite small to me compared to other liverworts I know.

A two inch hole through a boulder told the story of the blasting that must have gone on here, probably when the road was built.  Holes were drilled into the offending ledge, filled with black powder or dynamite, and away went the ledge. I can tell that the drilling was done by machine because if the holes had been made by hand with star drills and sledge hammers they’d be five sided, not round. They might have been made with a compressed air powered drill, which was also what railroads used after the invention of the wind hammer in 1844.

Once you cross the stream it’s easy to get to the base of the falls because the Merriam brook takes a hard 90 degree left turn at this spot. 40 foot falls has a lower, middle and upper falls along this stretch of stream. Here we see the lower falls and a hint of the middle. The climb to the upper falls is steep in places but doesn’t take long.

Two things make the climb to the upper falls a little hazardous; slippery oak leaves and old bridge cables like this one that a hemlock tree has grown around. I’ve tripped over that cable and slipped on the oak leaves and have taken a couple of spills up here, but luckily nothing serious has come of it. I watched my step and picked my way up the hill this time and had no problems, but those oak leaves sure were slippery.

I’ve read that a snowmobile bridge made out of steel cables and wooden planks  was washed away in severe flooding in August of 2003.  Apparently this cable and a plank or two that I’ve seen is all that’s left of it. Merriam brook raged and also washed away large parts of the road and flooded houses. Several other towns had similar problems at the time.

A look back downstream reveals how strong the forces at play are, with grown trees torn up and tossed around like first year saplings. I can say for sure that I don’t want to be here when this brook floods.

Many of the scattered boulders had lichens on them so of course I had to have a look. This one was covered with rock disk lichens (Lecidella stigmatea.) These common lichens like sunshine so they’ll point you to the sunniest spots in a forest like this. They are tan or dirty gray crustose lichens that form a crust like body (thallus) that clings to the stone substrate so strongly that it becomes impossible to remove them without damaging what they grow on.

Rock disk lichens look a lot like tile lichens (Lecidea tessellate,) but tile lichens have black fruiting bodies (apothecia) that are sunken or concave and rock disk lichens have black fruiting bodies that are raised or flat. This extreme close-up of the rock disk apothecia shows how they stand proud of the body of the lichen. This is an important identifying feature so it’s a good idea to carry a loupe or a macro lens when looking at lichens.

I was surprised to see a moth fly by and hang from a twig on such a cold day; it must have been at or below freezing. I thought it must be an owlet moth, which is a winter moth that creates its own heat by shivering. Owlet moths are what pollinate late flowering witch hazel shrubs.

I was right about one thing;  it is a winter moth but not an owlet moth. It is called the “winter moth” (Operophtera brumata) because it doesn’t mind the cold. The fringes on its wing edges help identify it. It was imported from Europe and is considered an invasive pest that can defoliate trees and shrubs. Adults emerge from the ground in November and December to mate, and the flightless female lays about 150 eggs under tree bark. The eggs hatch in March or April and the larvae begin to feed.

Before you know it you’ve reached the middle falls. You don’t have to work too hard photographically to blur the water here because the light is often dim enough to blur it anyway. I had to boost the light gathering ability of my camera to ISO 1600 for a few of these shots, and that’s something I rarely have to do.  I was glad I had a monopod.

The deep gorge that the brook has cut through the hillside above the middle falls is a very rugged and beautiful place. I think it would be a great place to visit on a hot summer day because it’s probably always a good 10 degrees cooler here. It was certainly cool on this day.

Icicles formed wherever the water splashed.

This is where you get your first glimpse of the upper falls, tucked way back into the gorge. I don’t know if the falls actually fall 40 feet, but that wall over on the left would crush a house if it fell on one. It is easily  more than 40 feet high.

I doubt you could get to the upper falls this way without getting your feet wet but even if you could you would have to climb through things like this to get there. The falls is over on the right, unseen in this photo. It looks like that tree will be one of the next to fall and be washed downstream.

You can get an okay shot of the upper falls without getting your feet wet or crawling over boulders, so that’s what I settle for. What I’d really like to do someday is get up above the falls to see what’s up there. It would be a steep slippery climb but worthwhile, I think.

A look back at some of what we came through to get here. Raging waters have stripped the stream bed right down to bedrock in places and tossed car size boulders around in others, bowling over trees. It’s amazing what water can do.

This unlucky tree had its bark stripped completely off and will most likely be carried downstream in a future flood.

Fall oyster mushrooms grew on a fallen oak. Scientists have discovered that oyster mushrooms exude “extracellular toxins” that stun fungi eating nematodes. Once the nematode has been stunned mycelium invades its body through its orifices. The mushrooms also consume bacteria in order to get nitrogen and protein, and all of this means that oyster mushrooms are a truly carnivorous mushroom.

I love it when I find things like this. This painted stone sat on top of a boulder near the upper falls. Seeing that a child loved a place enough to leave a gift behind is good for the soul, and gives me hope for the future.

There’s no better place to find yourself than sitting by a waterfall and listening to its music.
~Roland R. Kemler

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We burn a lot of wood here in New Hampshire because with 4.8 million acres of forest it is plentiful and usually costs less than oil heat. One of the things I like about burning wood is the handling of it. Cutting, splitting and stacking means you have to handle each piece a few times, and when you do you notice things that you might have never seen while the tree was standing. The following photos are of the various things I found in this woodpile.

Black jelly drop fungi (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. They are also called poor man’s licorice but they aren’t edible. They look and feel like black gumdrops, and for some unknown reason are almost always found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up for firewood.

Though they look like jelly fungi black jelly drops are sac fungi. Their fertile, spore bearing surface is shiny and the outside of the cups look like brown velvet. They are sometimes used for dying fabric in blacks, browns, purples and grays.

This is an example of a true jelly fungus, which is little more than a bag of water that inflates to about 60 times its dry size when it rains. If it was dry this amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) would be just a dark flake on the tree’s bark.  After absorbing plenty of rainwater this example was about as big as an average adult fingernail. Jelly fungi feel cool to the touch and kind of rubbery, like your ear lobe. Their spores are produced on their shiny surfaces. If you look closely at them you can see that one side is shiny and the other has more of a matte finish. I find these on oak more than other species, but sometimes on poplar and alder as well.

This brown jelly cup fungus (Peziza repanda) looked a little tattered and dirty but it’s a good example of the variety of fungi you can find on cut logs. Though it is called a jelly cup it is a sac fungus and different Peziza species can grow on wood, soil, or dung. This example is a cool weather mushroom that grows on hardwood logs or wood chips, and it is usually seen in spring and fall.  Mushroom expert Michael Kuo says brown cup fungi can be very difficult to identify.

Hairy Stereum (Stereum hirsutsm) is also called the hairy curtain crust fungus. The common name comes from the way these fungi are covered with fine velvety hairs on their upper surface when they’re young. They like to grow on fallen hardwoods and can be found just about any time of year. The color can vary but the wavy edge helps identify them. These examples were very young.

Witch’s butter on a log in a woodpile might alert you to the fact that you’ve got some soft wood mixed in with your hardwood, because this fungus usually grows on hemlock logs. You can burn soft woods like hemlock but they burn faster and don’t heat quite like hardwoods. They can also cause a lot of creosote buildup in a chimney.

Many of the logs shown in the first shot in this post were dragged. It’s a common practice to have to drag cut trees out of a forest to a landing so they can be cut into manageable pieces and loaded onto logging trucks, and when this one was dragged a woodpecker hole became filled with soil. This is a good time to mention that nearly every log shown in this post came from a tree that had something wrong with it. Woodpeckers dig holes in tree trunks to get at insects living in the tree; often carpenter ants. The ants eat the cellulose and weaken the tree, and it isn’t that unusual to find that the tree you’ve cut is completely hollow.

This example was hollowed out either by insects or heart rot cause by a fungus. Mushrooms and other fungi growing on trees is never a good sign. All of this weakens the tree and when a good wind comes along, down they go. Friends of mine just lost their barn to a hundred + year old pine tree that fell and cut the barn right in half. The tree people estimated its weight at 20 tons. That’s 40,000 pounds of wood, and we’re all very thankful that we weren’t anywhere near it when it fell. It was hollow, just like the one in the photo. It was also full of big, black carpenter ants.

This tree had a double whammy. The channels were caused by insects, probably carpenter ants, and then fungal spores got in and revealed themselves when they fruited into these little white mushrooms. It’s possible that the insects in the tree were farming this mushroom and brought parts of it into their channels to feed on. In any event this tree’s life was shortened by quite a few years. It could have stood hollow and lived on for a long time but heaven help anyone who was near it when it finally came down.

A woodpecker made two holes in this oak tree, one above the other, and as the tree tried to heal itself the holes became spoon shaped. It’s another example of what was a standing hollow tree.

Everyone knows that moss grows on trees but what everyone might not know is that many trees like this oak have channels in their bark which direct rainwater down to the tree’s roots. They can be clearly seen in this example, and so can the moss growing right beside and between them. Mosses like a lot of water and when they grow on a tree trunk they get it by growing next to these vertical streams. Do they grow on the north side of trees? Yes, and on the east, west, and south sides too; whichever is more moist.

Lichens are a common sight in woodpiles and beard lichens are very common. Often you can see them growing all up and down the trunks of trees and much like mosses, lichens grow near the channels in the bark so they can get ample moisture. I think this example is a fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula,) so called because of its resemblance to the backbone of a fish. Many people seem to think that lichens will kill a tree but they are simply opportunists looking for all the rain and sunlight they can get and they just perch on trees like birds do. They take nothing from the tree, so if I pulled this one off this log and put it on a living tree it would just grow on as if nothing ever happened as long as it received the right amount of moisture and light. Lichens are virtually indestructible and that’s why some scientists say they are immortal, or as close to immortal as any living thing can be.

I think this is the start of a beautiful crust fungus called the wrinkled crust (Phlebia radiata.) These mushrooms lie flat on the wood they grow on and have no stem, gills or pores. They radiate out from a central point and can be very beautiful. The darker area on this example is where it was wet and the lighter ones where it was dry. They don’t mind cool weather; I usually find them at this time of year and I’m hoping I’ll find a few more.

I’m not a logger or an arborist so I don’t know why this log has such a dark ring just under its bark. I zoomed in on the photo and counted the rings and found that the dark ring started about 12-14 years ago. Something must have happened back then to cause the change, but I can’t guess what it was.

I do know what caused the purple staining in this log; iron, meaning it has foreign objects like screws or nails in it. Sawmills look for this kind of thing when logging trucks bring in a load of logs and they’ll reject the whole load if they see it.

Here’s an example of a foreign object embedded in a tree. In a few more years the tree would have grown over it and it never would have been seen. The only thing that would have given it away was the purple staining when the tree was cat. Nothing will destroy a saw blade or chain quicker than something like this.

If all the stars and planets are aligned perfectly and you pay close attention to your wood pile you could find something as rare and beautiful as this cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea) in it. This photo was taken about three years ago and I’ve been looking for this beautiful fungus ever since, but have never seen another one. This is just the time of year for it to appear, so I’ll be watching for it.

The old saying, as I’ve always heard it, says that firewood warms you three times; once when you cut it, once when you stack it, and once when you burn it, and I’d have to say that was just about right. If you dress in layers against the cold you’ll find yourself peeling them off in a hurry once you get to the wood pile. I’ve always looked at cutting and splitting wood as an enjoyable job though, and I hope this post might make the job of getting your woodshed filled just a little more enjoyable too.

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

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