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Posts Tagged ‘Maple Dust Lichen’

Last Sunday I decided to follow a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew had a trestle on it. History and botany are two of my favorite things and I knew I’d find a lot of both here. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and hiking just about anywhere would have been pleasant.

Sometimes the sap of white pines will turn blue in very cold weather but it was warm on this day and the sap was still blue. I wonder if it stays blue once it changes.

I’ve never heard of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) being evergreen but there were several plants along the trail, all wearing their winter purple / bronze color. If this plant looks familiar it’s probably because it is the smallest of our native dogwoods and the 4 leaves look like miniature versions of dogwood tree leaves. Bunchberry gets its common name from its bunches of bright red berries. It is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Something unusual I saw this day was a Canada yew (Taxus canadensis.) It is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy. A man in England died not too long ago from eating yew, so I wouldn’t advise trying to make tea from it. Natives knew how to treat poisonous plants in ways that made them beneficial to humans, but much of that knowledge has been lost.

A yew branch looks very flat and once you get to know what they look like you’ll never mistake it for any other evergreen.

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative. Tell tales are rarely seen these days; the above photo shows the only example I know of.

The Ashuelot River was full in places.

And over full in others. This happens regularly throughout this area and the trees survive it just fine. Many are silver (Acer saccharinum) and red maples (Acer rubrum.)  Another name for them is swamp maple because they often grow in the lowlands along rivers that flood regularly.

The large crimson bud clusters make the maples easy to spot at this time of year but I couldn’t tell if these examples were flowering or not. Many are, now that we’ve had some warmth.

There isn’t a lot of ledge in this section of trail but there is some and it shows the marks of a steam drill.  The railroad workers cut through the solid rock by drilling deep holes into the stone using steam powered drills and then poring black powder into them. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force. Trains first rolled through here in the mid-1850s.

Maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) are beautiful and are definitely worth looking for. I’ve found them growing on maple, oak, beech, and poplars. They are usually quite a different green but the camera didn’t seem to be seeing green very well this day.

You can tell that it’s a maple dust lichen by the tiny fringe around its outer edge.

The trail goes on for many miles and it is wide, flat, and sometimes busy as it was on this day. I saw several people while I was here and I was happy to see them out enjoying nature. I hope they saw as many interesting things as I did.

There was snow for anyone who might want it. I didn’t.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud. Beech bud break doesn’t usually start until mid-May, so I think the example in this photo is a fluke caused by early warmth. Others I saw had not curled yet.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring.

Partridgeberry flowers are fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were. Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. Native Americans ate the berries and made them into a jelly, which was eaten in case of fevers. Partridgeberry is still used in folk medicine today to treat muscle spasms and as a nerve tonic.

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grows along the sides of the trail and its thousands of tiny spore capsules were shining in the sun. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. In the spring the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.  Sometimes the capsules do turn red as they age, so I suppose the name makes sense.

Most of these spore capsules were not quite spherical and that means that they were still immature. When they become spherical the spores will begin to ripen and prepare for the wind to disperse them.

Human history and natural history are visible from rail trails. The old railroad routes through a town can show a lot about how the town developed, what it was like long ago. When you go through a town by bicycle on an old railroad route, the place looks very different than from the customary perspective of the car and the highway. ~Peter Harnick

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-ice-drop

The first time I did one of these looking back posts was last year and I thought I remembered it being fun, but I found this one a little harder than fun. Picking one photo from 80-100 of them for each of the 12 months isn’t easy, but in the end I decided on the ones that best spoke about the month they were from. Last winter we didn’t have a lot of snow but we always have cold in winter, and that’s why I chose this photo of a tear shaped icicle for the month of January. It is said that January is our coldest month but I’ve seen February earn that title a few times in recent years.

2-maple-dust-lichen-on-beech

Along with cold February can sometimes bring enough snow to cover nearly everything, and this is when tree trunks gain a certain appeal. There are almost always lichens and mosses found on them and last February this maple dust lichen answered a question that I had been asking for some time, which was “Do maple dust lichens only grow on maple trees?” This one growing on a beech tree put the question to rest, and I have since seen them on poplars and young oaks as well. This pretty little lichen averages about an inch in diameter I’d guess, and can be identified by the white fringe around its perimeter. Proof that even when there’s six feet of snow on the ground there is still plenty of beauty to be found.

3-skunk-cabbage

March is when things really begin to stir and one of the first plants I see coming up is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus.) As this photo shows, we didn’t have much snow last March but even if we had the skunk cabbages would have simply melted their way up through it. Through a process called thermogenesis, skunk cabbages raise their internal temperature so it’s above the surrounding air temperature, and this melts any ice or snow that might hinder its progress. The dark color of their blotchy spathes attracts sunlight and that means they are also heated by the sun. This makes a nice cozy warming room inside the spathe where early insects can come and hang out and warm up. While they’re inside if they happen to bump into the spadix full of flowers and get pollen all over themselves, so much the better.

4-spring-beauties

April is when flowers begin to appear in great numbers. Spring bulbs bloom, trees bloom, and the first of our wildflowers bloom, including wild ginger, purple trillium, trout lily and the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) shown in this photo.  I’m always so excited when I see their first blooms I drop down to my knees and start taking photos, forgetting that there are often leafless poison ivy vines crawling under last year’s fallen leaves. But itchy knees are worth it when beautiful things like these can be seen. There are few sights as breathtaking as a woodland floor carpeted by thousands of them and I’m very anxious to see them again.

5-new-beech-leaves

In May the leaf buds on many of our trees start breaking and king among them is the beech, in my opinion. American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. Once the downy angel wing like leaves begin to show they unfurl quickly, so you have to watch carefully. I check them each day, and it’s always worth the effort to see something so beautiful. It’s too bad that so many people miss such a captivating event.

6-ladys-slippers

In June there are many beautiful wildflowers blooming and I had a very hard time choosing which one to include here. In the end I chose the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) which is New Hampshire’s state wildflower. The wild part of the word is significant, because our official state flower is the lilac, which isn’t native to New Hampshire. In any case the lady’s slipper is a beautiful native orchid and we’re lucky enough to have several different examples of them. Pink are the most common in this area but I’ve heard that there are yellow ones tucked away here and there and I’m always looking out for them.

7-swamp-milkweed

July is when I finally get to see the swamp milkweeds again. In my opinion they are easily one of our most beautiful wildflowers, and one that I’ve lost myself in more than once. If only there were more of them. I know of only two or three smallish clumps and last year one of those was too sick and insect ridden to even blossom, so they’re something I have to search for here, but their rarity and beauty make them worth every minute of searching.

8-cedar-waxwing

August is when the silky dogwood berries ripen and the cedar waxwings appear out of nowhere to eat them up, and isn’t it amazing how nature will teach you such things if you just pay a little closer attention? I love seeing the beautiful blue and white berries that always remind me of Chinese porcelain, and I also love seeing the sleek beautiful birds that feast on them.

9-moldy-mushroom

The fungi and slime molds didn’t do too well this year because of our drought but I saw a few in September, including this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did.

10-reflections

No matter how you slice it October has to be about the fall foliage colors because that’s usually when they’re at their peak in this area and that’s when people from all over the world come to see them. This spot at Howe Reservoir in Dublin is always worth a look because it’s a forest of mostly deciduous trees and it is always colorful in the fall. I love the muted, pastel shades that happened on this cloudy day.

11-frozen-pool

We don’t usually get much snow in November but it does get cold enough for ice to form on puddles and small brooks and streams. I found this frozen pool in the woods on a cool walk one November day and I liked the many colors in and around it. The ice was thin enough so one step would have probably shattered it.

12-split-gill-fungus

There are people who seem to think that once the leaves fall there is nothing left to see outside until spring, but nothing could be further from the truth. I chose this photo of a split gill mushroom (Schizophyllum commune) that I took in December to show that there is still a lot of beauty and interest out there. You just have to look a little more carefully, that’s all.  The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released.

13-purple-fringed-orchid-from-july

I thought I’d make the photo count in this post an even baker’s dozen so I could squeeze in what I thought was an amazing find in July. I walked down an unknown trail through a swamp and found a two foot tall orchid growing right beside it on a mossy hummock. It’s either a purple fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes) or a greater purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora.) I’m not sure which but it is definitely one of the most beautiful wildflowers that I’ve seen. The chance of finding something like this is what keeps me wandering through these woods. There are beautiful things around every turn in the trail.

To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction is to live twice. ~Khalil Gibran

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe, happy, nature filled New Year!

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1-first-snowOur first snow was just a dusting and didn’t amount to much, but it did grease up the roads and remind people that it was time for snow tires and windshield scrapers. There were a surprising number of car accidents for a seemingly small amount of snow, but the temperature dropped over night and it turned to ice on the roadways. There’s nothing worse to drive on than black ice.

2-frosted-mosses

Where the snow didn’t fall the frost did, and it coated this juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) one cold morning. The mosses and other plants looked like they had been dusted with powdered sugar.

3-ice-needles

Ice needles have started to form in places where there is plenty of groundwater. For them to form the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos were 2-4 inches long I’d guess.

4-ice-needles

Ice needles start growing slightly below the soil surface and lift the soil as they lengthen. They also lift pebbles, as this photo shows. Though these examples are just pebbles, frost in the soil can heave quite large stones to the surface. When water in the soil freezes and expands, the ice grows into a kind of lens shape and pushes against everything above it. Large objects like rocks are pushed upward, sometimes as much as a foot. When the ice melts, the mud and sediment collapses in the space under the rock. This leaves the rock sitting at the height the frost has raised it to. Over time the rock eventually reaches the surface. This is also the way that frost breaks water pipes that aren’t buried deep enough, and heaves and breaks apart our roads each winter.

5-broken-stone

Frost can also break stone. This stone cracked somehow and water got into the crack and froze, breaking the top of it right off. This, along with wind and rain, is what turns mountains into sand.

6-monadnock

The side of Mount Monadnock that I see on my drive to and from work has shown a snow capped peak, but this side at Perkin’s Pond in Troy gets more sun and most of the snow had melted by the time I got there. Monadnock is at its most beautiful with a dusting of snow, in my opinion.

7-snow-on-monadnock

There was snow on this side of Monadnock but you had to have a zoom lens to see it. I’ve been up there when the snow was so deep you almost had to swim through it. And that was in late April.

“Monadnock” in Native American Abenaki language means “mountain that stands alone,” and over the years the word has come to describe any isolated mountain. In 1987 Mount Monadnock was designated a national natural landmark. It is the second most climbed mountain in the world, after Mount Fuji in Japan.

8-lake-sedge-aka-carex-lacustris

The wind was blowing this lake sedge (Carex lacustris) around when I took this shot and that accounts for the blur, but I didn’t care about that because it was the color I was taken by. I thought it was very beautiful.

9-winterberries

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native holly that gets its name from the way that its bright red berries persist throughout most of the winter. They persist because birds don’t eat them right away and the reason they don’t is thought to be because of the levels of toxicity or unpalatable chemicals in the berries declines with time. Winterberry makes an excellent garden shrub, especially near ponds, streams and other wet places. Many birds will eat the berries eventually, including robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings. There are several cultivars available, including dwarf varieties. If you’d like to grow them make sure  that you buy both male and female plants or you won’t see any berries.

10-juniper-berries

I love seeing juniper berries at this time of year. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them a bright and beautiful blue. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat. Birds also love them.

11-sapsucker-holes

The horizontal rows of holes made by the yellow bellied sapsucker cause “phloem” sap to dam up and accumulate in the plant tissue just above the wounds. The bird enlarges the holes over the course of several days and then adds another row above the first, eventually resulting in square or rectangular patterns of many holes. Sapsuckers have a kind of brushy tongue that they lick up the sap with.  The kind of sap that we tap maple trees for is “xylem” sap, which is much thinner and less sweet than phloem sap. Because phloem sap is so much thicker and stickier than the watery xylem sap that we make maple syrup from, scientists can’t figure out how these birds get it to flow so freely. Insects, bats, other birds, and many animals also drink sap from these holes. I usually see sapsucker holes in trees with sweet sap like maples and birches, but these examples were in an eastern hemlock.

12-tree-down

Anyone who spends time in the woods knows that the number of fallen trees is high right now. Trees that  were already weakened by insects or fungi, sandy soils, road salt, or other stresses were hard hit by the ongoing drought and they continue to fall. The question is; for how long? For now, I stay out of the woods on very windy days.

13-full-moon

I went out to get some shots of the super moon on the 13th, but it only looks super when there is something else in the photo like trees, mountains or buildings to relate a sense of scale. In this shot it just looks like any other full moon.

14-maple-dust-lichen-on-stone

I didn’t know that maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) grew on stone until I saw this one doing just that. There were several of them on the stone and some were quite large. One of the easiest ways to identify this lichen is to look for the white fringe around its perimeter, but up until now I’ve looked for it on tree bark. They are usually the size of a penny but these examples were bigger than quarters, or about an inch in diameter.

15-pinkish-brown-turkey-tails

I haven’t seen many turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) this year and the ones I have seen have been in shades of brown rather than the brilliant blues, purples, yellows and oranges that I know they can wear. Though I can’t see it my color finding software tells me that there is salmon pink in this example, which is a new color for turkey tails in my experience.

16-mushrooms

These mushrooms grew on an old stump and then froze. I don’t know their name but they sure were peachy.

17-striped-wintergreen

Our native striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has foliage which in winter turns deep purple where the darker areas are on the leaf and stays that way through the winter. It’s hard to tell from a photo and hard to explain why but these plants are so well camouflaged that I have looked right at them many times in the summer and not seen them. They are one of our rarer native wintergreens, and also one of our prettiest.

18-bobcat

A friend sent me a photo of a bobcat that he took with his trail camera recently. I had a bobcat walk right in front of me, maybe 30 feet away last summer. They’re about 3 feet long and weigh about 19 pounds on average. They’re bigger than a housecat but smaller than a Labrador retriever. It’s said that bobcats are doing well because their prey; turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and rarely deer are also doing well. Rabbits, for instance, are doing very well. I saw a lot of them this summer. I was interested to see that this one had all 4 paws on that fallen branch. I wonder if it did that so it wouldn’t rustle the dry leaves and alert any prey to its presence. I also wonder if Native Americans learned how to walk through a forest so stealthily by watching animals like this one.  It isn’t easy to walk silently through a forest, especially at this time of year.

19-johnny-jup-up

Since I started this post with snow it seems odd to end it with a flower but though there haven’t been fields full of them I’ve seen a surprising number of flowers this month, including goldenrod, yarrow, meadowsweet, false dandelion, and this cheery little Johnny jump up I saw just last week. It’s almost enough to start me thinking we might have another mild winter, but I’ve seen flowers fooled by winter enough times to really believe it.

The snow was too light to stay, the ground too warm to keep it. ~Shannon Hale

Thanks for coming by.

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1-naturally-grafted-maples

Since I live in a forest and work in a forest and spend most of my free time in forests, I see a lot of trees. But I don’t see many like these two. If two trees or parts of trees like limbs or roots of the same species grow close enough together the wind can make them rub against each other, wearing the outer bark away. Once the outer bark wears away and the cambium or inner bark touches, the trees can become naturally grafted together. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. I see at least a couple of self or naturally grafted trees each year. From what I can tell these two maples had limbs that rubbed together and finally grew together years ago.

2-natural-graft-on-maplws

Trees that are naturally grafted together or conjoined are sometimes called “husband and wife” trees, or “marriage trees.” These two young red maples (Acer rubrum) were in the early stages of becoming grafted; it’s easy to see where they rubbed together. This can happen to most species of trees and can sometimes even happen to two trees of different families, like a red maple and a sugar maple.

Man can also graft trees and has been doing so for as long as anyone can remember. Fruit trees, especially apples, are often grafted. Many other plants like roses and grapes are also grafted onto the stronger rootstock of another in the family.

3-entwined-striped-maples

These young striped maples were entwined but not yet conjoined. Though it looks like there are three trees here there are only two. The ones on the right and left come from one stump and the middle tree comes from a separate stump. Why they grew this way is anyone’s guess but I’d say it’s a fair bet that they will all eventually become one tree. You can see how the bark has puckered on the lower part of the tree on the far right, and that’s a sign that they have been rubbing together.

4-lichens-on-tree

Trees support a lot of life on their limbs and bark, like the many lichens pictured here. Since people see lichens growing on the dead branches of trees they think the lichens killed the branch but lichens simply sit on the bark and take nothing from the tree. They are opportunists that like a lot of sunshine though, and the best place to find the most sunshine is on a branch with no leaves on it.

5-script-lichen

I always like to look at trees like the one in the previous photo because the spots on their bark can turn out to be quite beautiful, like the script lichen pictured here. Script lichen looks just like its name suggests but it is a very ancient script, like long forgotten runes. The dark “script” characters are its fruiting bodies that produce its spores. There are many script lichen species and each seems to prefer a certain species of tree. I think this example is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta) which prefers smooth barked trees like maple and beech.

6-maple-dust-lichen

Other spots on trees might turn out to be beautiful maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora.) I don’t have time to look at every tree with lichens on its bark, but I wish I did because when I don’t look closely I feel as if I’m missing something beautiful.

7-target-canker-on-red-maple

Target canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. According to Cornell university: “A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’” Apparently the fungal attacker gives up after a while, because as the tree ages the patterns disappear and the tree seems fine.

8-burl-on-maple-2

Burl is an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tree tissues. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize them highly. I find them more on black cherry than any other tree, but this example was on an old maple. It was as big as a basketball.

9-chaga

Trees of course are very beneficial to mankind in many ways, even medicinally. Chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) is a parasitic fungus that grows on birch and other trees. Though many think that the area that looks like burnt charcoal is the fruiting part of the fungus it is actually the “roots” or mycelium. It is black because it contains large amounts of melanin, which is a naturally occurring  dark brown to black pigment in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals. It is also responsible for the tanning of skin exposed to sunlight. This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

10-bootstrap-fungus

Fungal spores entering a wound on a tree can sometimes mean death for the tree. Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

11-pine-tree-foam

For years I’ve noticed that a soapy foam at the base of certain white pine trees (Pinus strobus) when it rains. Sometimes it is in just a spot or two and at other times it nearly circles the entire tree.  This happens because when there is a drought or dry spell salts, acids and other particles from the air can coat the bark. Soap is essentially made from salts and acids and when it rains, these natural salts and acids mix with the water and begin to froth. The froth (foam) is from the natural agitation of the mixture when it finds its way around bark plates as it flows toward the ground.

12-frost-rib

This hemlock tree had a healed frost crack, called a frost rib. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo.

13-frost-rib

Another example of a frost rib, this time on yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis.) Frost cracks and frost ribs are fairly common.

14-bittersweet-on-elm

Many things can damage a tree. This oriental bittersweet vine was about the same diameter as my little finger and was already strangling a young elm that was wrist size. Anyone who has ever tried to cut or split elm knows that it’s one of the toughest woods, so the bittersweet must be very tough indeed. It’s hard to know which will win this battle; I’ve seen trees with bittersweet vine grooves in their bark live on, and I’ve seen live bittersweet vines on dead trees.

15-bittersweet-berries-2

Oriental bittersweet is all about continuation of the species, so it climbs up trees so it can sit in the crown and gather up all the sunlight so it can flower well. Each pollinated flower means a berry that a bird will come along and eat, and that’s how it multiplies. The young vines are shade tolerant, so when a bird sits in a tree and drops a seed to the ground beneath it the plant can germinate and live on while searching for the best path to the light at the top of the tree. Other vines like our native Virginia creeper, grapes and virgin’s bower also seek light at the tops of trees but they aren’t nearly as aggressive and don’t hurt them.

16-fence-in-woods

One of the strangest things I’ve seen in the woods recently is this old piece of fence connected to a tree. It has been there so long the tree has started to grow over it and if it continues the tree will eventually has a substantial piece of fencing embedded in its wood for its lifetime. Trees seem to shrug this kind of thing off and just keep on growing, no matter what the obstacle might be. The process is known as “compartmentalization of decay in trees,” where the tree uses scar tissue to compartmentalize the section with a foreign object in it. They do the same thing when fighting decay.

17-fence-grown-into-tree

Though trees might easily shrug things like this off,  woodcutters don’t. There’s nothing worse than running into a piece of metal with a chainsaw. Not only does it ruin the chain, it’s also very dangerous. Many things have been found in trees, including screws and nails, signs, pipes, fencing, cannonballs, bullets, beer bottles, hammers, hand saws, horse shoes, chains, ropes, stones, and one arborist even found a Chevy Corvette rim.  It seems that a tree will grow around just about anything.

18-zig-zag-scar

Sometimes scars on trees aren’t easy to explain. I’ve shown this zig zag scar on this old hemlock a few times on this blog and the consensus seems to be that it was made by lightning, but I wonder if we aren’t thinking that simply because both lightning and the scar are zig zagged. In any event I don’t suppose we’ll ever know for sure but it’s fun to guess at its origin. It comes directly out of the ground, straight for about half its length, then it zig zags for the other half. Its total length is about 4 feet.

19-zig-zag-scar

This is a close look at the zig zag scar in the previous photo. It doesn’t look like it was made by a boy with a new pocket knife either. If you’ve ever seen anything like it or know what might have caused it there are several of us who would love to hear from you.

20-beech

I can’t understand how someone can walk out of a forest and say they didn’t see anything, but I’ve heard people say it a few times. “For gosh sakes,” I always want to ask, “what about the trees!?” You don’t need to know anything about burls or frost cracks or inosculation or even what kind of tree you’re looking at to just enjoy their astounding beauty. That’s what I spend a lot of my time in the woods doing, and I hope you will too. I’ve put this post together with the thought that it might make your next journey through the woods a little more interesting.

I did not want to think about people. I wanted the trees, the scents and colors, the shifting shadows of the wood, which spoke a language I understood. ~ Patricia A. McKillip

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1-pink-earth-lichens

As flowers start to fade and leaves begin to fall my thoughts often turn to lichens, mosses and all of the other beautiful things you can still find in nature in the winter. We’ve had two or three days of drizzle; nothing drought busting but enough to perk up the lichens. Lichens like plenty of moisture, and when it doesn’t rain they will simply dry up and wait. Many change color and shape when they dry out and this can cause problems with identification, so serious lichen hunters wait until after a soaking rain to find them. This is when they show their true color and form. The pink fruiting bodies of the pink earth lichen in the above photo for example, might have been shriveled and pale before the rain.

2-pink-earth-lichens

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 lichen 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.

3-poplar-sunburst-lichen

Bright orange poplar sunburst (Xanthomendoza hasseana) is a beautiful lichen with its large disc shaped, sucker like fruiting bodies (apothecia) which are almost always showing. It’s found on tree bark and provides a lot of color in winter when there are no flowers to see.

Another sunburst lichen, the elegant sunburst (Xanthoria elegans) was exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for one and a half years and when it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened. Many believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as close to immortal as any earth based life form can be.

4-british-soldier-lichens

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.

5-rock-posy

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) This one was growing on stone in full sun. It is about as big as a quarter now, but when I first met it years ago it was about the size of a penny.

6-rosy-saucer-lichen

Lichen identification can sometimes be tricky. Though it resembles scattered rock posy I think this is rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora.) It was growing on stone, but even though the book Lichens of North America says that it grows on tree bark a little further research on the website Images of British Lichens shows that it grows on tree bark or stone. Based on that information and the fact that I can’t find a similar saucer lichen that grows in New England, I’m going with rosy saucer lichen. Even though it has rosy in its name its apothecia can range from pink to orange, according to what I’ve read.

7-pixie-cups

It didn’t work out very well but I put a nickel behind these pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) to give you an idea of how small they are. The photo came out looking like golf tees in front of a full moon. A nickel is .83 inches in diameter and the round cup of the golf tee shaped pixie cup might be .12 inches on a good day. You wouldn’t fit an average pea in the cup, but a BB from an air rifle might sit in one.

8-pixie-cup-close

I had to really push my camera to get this shot so I could show you the inside of the cup of a pixie cup lichen. The nearly microscopic red dots on the rim of the cup are this lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) The tan colored scales are leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (Thallus,) and some lichens are squamulose, meaning they’re made up of small, leafy lobes. I’m not sure what the objects in the cup are, but they’re extremely small.

9-powdery-sunburst-lichen-xanthomendoza-ulophyllodes

Powdery sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes) was growing on a stone. 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. This one was about the size of an average aspirin. Lichens are a good indicator of air quality, so if you aren’t seeing them you might want to check into your local air quality.

10-common-goldspeck-lichen

Lichens like the common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) in the above photo are here year round for us to enjoy, and once the leaves fall many lichens become even easier to see. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

11-maple-dust-lichen

As its name implies maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) grows on the bark of maple trees, but also 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 example was about 3/4 of an inch in diameter, or about the size of a penny.

12-cumberland-rock-shield-lichen

Cumberland rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia) likes to grow on boulders and that’s where I found this one. The body (Thallus) is described as being “yellow-green to sometimes bluish green” and the fruiting discs (Apothecia) are “cinnamon to dark brown.” The body of this lichen always looks like someone dripped candle wax on the stone to me.

13-cumberland-rock-shield-lichen

This is a close up of the apothecia on a Cumberland rock shield lichen. 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.

14-bristly-beard-lichens-on-stone

Beard lichens are common enough; they even fall from the trees on windy days, but this beard lichen is growing on stone and that’s very uncommon, in my experience. I think this example must be bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta,) which can grow on wood or stone, but I must see a hundred growing on wood for each one growing on stone.

15-fishbone-beard-lichen

There are many different kinds of beard lichens and the differences can be subtle, but the fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) stands apart because of its resemblance to the backbone of a fish. This lichen seems to prefer growing on spruce but I’ve seen it on other trees as well. Though it isn’t rare I don’t see it often. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.

16-reindeer-lichens

There are places in these woods where reindeer lichens drift like snow, and in colder climates they lie under the snow for months. As their name implies they are an important food source for reindeer, and they paw through the snow to find and eat them. Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades for drifts like the one pictured to reappear. There are two types in this photo; the green star tipped reindeer lichen (Cladonia stellaris,) and the gray reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina.)

17-gray-reindeer-lichen

Gray reindeer lichen in this area is silver gray, almost white, with a main stem and branches much like a tiny tree. Each branch tip is a brownish color with a globe or pear shaped fruiting body called a pycnidium. The Native American Ojibwa tribe were known to bathe newborns in water in which this lichen had been boiled, and other tribes drank tea made from it. It has also been eaten, but if you plan on eating lichens correct preparation is everything, because some can cause serious stomach problems.

18-star-tipped-reindeer-lichen

It’s easy to see how star tipped reindeer lichen comes by its common name; each branch tip ends in a star shaped cluster of four or five branches surrounding a center hole. This lichen seems to be a favorite of reindeer; they will often leave the gray reindeer lichen until last and eat this one first. In Europe this lichen is used in the pharmaceutical industry as an ingredient in antibiotic ointments.

19-smokey-eye-boulder-lichen

One of the most beautiful lichens that I find growing on stone is the smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) with its blue apothecia. 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. It’s as if pieces of the sky had been sprinkled on the stones when the light is right, but the apothecia 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.

I hope this post has shown how beautiful and interesting lichens are, and how easy they are to find. Lichens grow virtually everywhere including on building facades, sidewalks and rooftops, so they can even be found in cities. Many are quite small though, so you have to walk slowly and look closely to find them. Once you’ve seen a few you’ll start seeing them almost everywhere you go.

If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

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1. Frost Crystals

The plan was to get out early last Saturday and hike a rail trail since I skipped it last week in favor of a pond, but nature had other plans. We got about 5 inches of snow on Friday and the temperature at 7:00 am on Saturday was barely 17 degrees F. I thought I’d wait for the sun to warm it up a bit and took photos of frost crystals while I waited. They were very feathery.

2. Trail

Eventually I did get out there and found a beautiful warm and sunny day.  Warm was 35 degrees but since last February saw below zero temperatures nearly all month long 35 degrees seemed like a gift.

3. Tire Track

I saw that a bike with balloon tires had gone through the snow. I’ve heard that the tires on them are underinflated, and that these bikes can go just about anywhere. It seems as if it has taken a good part of my lifetime for bikes to get back to where they were when I was a boy. I can remember them with fat balloon tires that always seemed to be underinflated back then, but we just rode them on the streets.

4. Little Bluestem Grass

There is a pasture for horses that runs for a short way along one side of the trail and on the far side of it what I think was little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) glowed beautifully in the sunshine. I love the golden color that some grasses have when they’re “dead.”

5. Poison Ivy Berries

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can grow as a shrub or a vine. In this case it grew as a vine on a tree trunk and its white berries gave away its identity, even in winter. I’m glad I saw the berries before I touched the tree trunk. You can catch a good case of poison ivy rash even when the plants have no leaves on them and as general rule I try not to touch plants with white berries. Poison ivy hasn’t ever bothered me much but there is always a first time. Some people get it so badly they have to be hospitalized. Over 60 species of birds are known to eat poison ivy berries, so the toxic part of the plant must have no effect on them.

6. Oak Gall

A gall wasp made a perfectly round escape hole in its near perfectly spherical oak gall. It is said that oaks carry more galls than any other tree. This example is a marble gall.

7. Pine Sap

White pines (Pinus strobus) have shown me that I can use their sap as a kind of thermometer in the winter because the colder it gets, the bluer it becomes. This example was sort of a medium blue which kind of parallels our almost cold winter. I’ll have to look at some if the temperature plunges next weekend as forecast.

8. Trestle

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I know part of one trail that hasn’t seen any maintenance and it’s like a jungle, so I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

9. Warning Wires

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative.

I’ve spent over 50 years wondering what these wires were called and was able to find out just recently. I also discovered that though tell-tales were once seen on each side of every trestle and tunnel, today they are rarely seen. The above photo shows the only example I know of and I chose to walk this particular section of rail trail because of it.

10. Ashuelot

There is a nice view of the Ashuelot River from the trestle. It’s very placid here but its banks seem wild and untamed, and it’s easy to imagine that this is what it looked like before colonists came here.

11. Rivets

Though there is surface rust on the ironwork of the trestle they were built to last and I wouldn’t be surprised if it looks the same as it does now after standing for another 150 years. You can see in this photo that the rust is just a very thin coating on the heads of the rivets.

12. Stone Wall

Stone walls marked the property line between landowner and railroad. I’ve tried to find out how wide railroad rights of way are but it seems to vary considerably. I’ve read that the average setback on each side is 25 feet from the center of the nearest rail. Add 10 feet or so for engine width and you have a 60 foot wide rail trail right of way, which seems about right in this region of the country.

13. Snowshoer

On my way back I was passed by a lady on snowshoes who asked me what I was taking photos of. “Anything and everything,” I told her, but I really wasn’t planning on taking her photo until I realized that she might give the place a sense of scale. This photo shows how, though the right of way might be 60 feet wide the sides aren’t often flat, so this might leave an actual trail width of only 20 feet.

14. Lowbush Blueberry

Railroad tracks have always been a great place to go berry picking. Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries can all be found in great abundance along most trails. In this section lowbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium angustifolium) looked spidery against the snow.

15. Maple Dust Lichen on Beech

On this trip something I had been wondering about for a few years was finally put to rest, and that was the question do maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) only grow on maple trees? The one pictured was growing on a beech tree, so the answer is no. So why are they called maple dust lichens? That question I don’t have an answer for.

16. Amber Jelly

I saw the biggest amber jelly (Exidia recisa) fungus I’ve ever seen out here. It was as big as a toddler’s ear and felt just like an ear lobe. As usual it reminded me of cranberry jelly, which isn’t amber colored at all.

17. Sweet Fern

I saw the sun lighting up the orange brown leaves of this sweet fern from quite a distance away. Sweet fern is a small shrub with incredibly aromatic leaves which release their fragrance on warm summer days. They can be smelled from quite a distance and are part of the summer experience for me.  Though they aren’t ferns their leaves look similar to fern leaves. They are actually a member of the bayberry family and the leaves make a good tasting tea. Native Americans made a kind of spring tonic from them and also used them as an insect repellant. On this day I just admired their beauty, glowing there in the sun.

18. Fungi on a Branch

A fallen branch poked up out of the snow as if it had been waiting for me to come along. It showed off what looked from a distance like little orange flowers, but I knew that couldn’t be.

19. Fungi on a Branch

They weren’t flowers but they might as well have been because they were just as beautiful. I’m not sure but I think they were older examples of milk white toothed polypores, which are known to brown with age. These hadn’t reached the brown stage but they were very orange and very interesting.

Each living thing gives its life to the beauty of all life, and that gift is its prayer. ~Douglas Wood

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1. The Pond

I was going to walk a rail trail in Swanzey one day but as I pulled off the road to park I saw a small pond. Though I’ve seen it many times before it wasn’t until this day that it caught my interest. I started to explore its shores and before I knew it I had a camera full of photos and never did walk the rail trail. Normally this wouldn’t be anything remarkable but the pond is one step above a puddle, so if you put a canoe in it you’d be lucky if you had one stroke of the paddle before you had crossed it.

2. Rail Trail

The unexplored rail trail will still be there for another day; maybe a sunnier one.

3. Barbed Wire

Barbed wire was used in this area in place of the heavy gauge stock fencing that the railroad usually used to keep cows and other animals off the tracks. You have to watch where you’re going in these New Hampshire woods because there are still miles of barbed wire out there and it’s easy to get hung up on.

4. Culvert

A culvert lets the small stream that feeds the pond flow under the road.

5. Outflow

An outflow stream runs into the drainage ditches along the rail bed, ensuring that the pond is always balanced and never floods.

6. Wild Oats Seed Pod (Uvularia sessilifolia)

This 3 part seed pod told me that I can come here in the spring to find the sessile leaved bellwort plant (Uvularia sessilifolia.) The flowers are pale yellow, more or less tubular, and nodding, and often grow in large colonies. The plant is also called wild oats or merry bells. In botany sessile means “resting on the surface” so in the case of sessile leaved bellwort the leave are stalkless and appear to be resting on the surface of the stem.  Since the plant is so good at spreading by underground stems (stolons) it doesn’t often set seed.

7. Sensitive Fern Fertile Frond

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) likes to grow in places that are on the wet side and seeing its clusters of spore bearing sori is a good indication of a wetland.  It is also called bead fern, for obvious reasons. The name sensitive fern comes from its sensitivity to frost, which was first noticed by the early colonials.

8. Winterberries

Another wetland indicator appeared in the form of winterberries (Ilex verticillata.) I often see this native holly growing in standing water but I’ve heard that it will grow in drier soil. Birds love its bright red berries. These shrubs are dioecious, meaning they need both a male and female plant present to produce seed. If you have a yard with wet spots winterberry is a great, easy to grow native plant that won’t mind wet feet.

9. Black Jelly Fungus

Black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) grew on a fallen oak limb. They were a bit dry and had lost some of their volume but they hadn’t shriveled down to the black flakes they could have been. I like their shiny surfaces; sometimes it’s almost as if they had been faceted and polished like a beautiful black gem.

10. Bracket Fungus

I think that this is what was left of a thin maze flat polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa) but it was hard to tell because its entire upper surface was missing so I could see its gills from above. I’m assuming that it was slowly decomposing from age but I can’t be sure because I’ve never seen another bracket fungus do this. Normally the upper surface of a thin maze flat polypore would be zoned like a turkey tail, but the zones would tend to be tan to brown to cream, rather than brightly colored like a turkey tail.

11. Bracket Fungus Underside

The lower pore bearing surface of the thin maze flat polypore is maze like, as its name suggests. Michael Kuo of Mushroom Expert. com says that this mushroom’s appearance is highly variable, with pores sometimes appearing elongated and sometimes more round. I put my camera against the tree’s trunk under the fungus and snapped this photo without seeing what I was taking a photo of, so it isn’t one of the best I’ve ever done. It does show you the maze-like structure of this fungus though, and that’s the point.

12. Foliose Lichens on a Branch

From a photographic perspective the example above is terrible, but it shows just what I want you to see. These foliose lichens were growing in the white pine branches just over my head, and all I had to do to find them was look up and see their silhouette. If you’d like to find them all you need to do is look up the next time you’re under a tree.

13. Northern Camouflage Lichen

If you see a foliose lichen on a branch and pull it down for a look like I did you might see something similar to the northern camouflage lichen seen (Melanelia septentrionalis) above. Foliose means leaf or foliage like, and this lichen is a beautiful example of that.

14. Northern Camouflage Lichen

The shiny reddish brown discs are apothecia or fruiting bodies, and they help identify this lichen. The stringy black parts are the lichen’s root like structures called rhizines, and they also help identify the lichen. The body (thallus) was very dry and its color had faded from brown to the off whitish gray color seen here. I usually find these on pine or birch limbs.

Note: Canadian Botanist Arold Lavoie tells me that this lichen is in the Tuckermannopsis ciliata group. I’m sorry if my misidentification has caused any confusion. Arold has helped me here before and I’m very grateful. If you’d like to pay him a visit his website can be found at http:www.aroldlavoie.com

15. Maple Dust Lichen

Just to the right of center in the above photo is a maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) on the bark of a maple. It was about the size of a dime, or .70 inches (17.9 mm.)

16. Maple Dust Lichen

It was a few years ago now that I stumbled onto my first maple dust lichen and though I kept it in the front of my mind I never saw another example until just recently. Now I’m suddenly seeing them everywhere. It’s hard for me to believe but I must have been looking right at them and not seeing them for years. From a distance they resemble script lichens, so maybe that’s why. They’re a beautiful lichen and definitely worth looking for. They can be identified in part by the tiny fringe around their perimeter.

17. Moss on a Log

Of all the things I saw near the pond this moss on a log was my favorite because of its beautiful green color and because it was so full of life. It seemed as if it was sparkling from the light of creation coursing through its trailing arms and I could have sat there with it all day. When the log was a tree a woodpecker might have made the hole that the moss explored. I could see part of an acorn in there, so maybe the woodpecker that made the hole hid the acorn in it for a future meal. I think this moss might be beaked comb moss (Rhynchostegium serrulatum) but I’m not certain. I see it quite often on logs but never quite so full of life as this one was. Even in a photo it glows.

18.Hazelnut Catkins

American hazelnut (Corylus americana) catkins told me that I could come here in April and see the tiny crimson female flowers. The catkins are the male flowers and once they begin to open and shed yellowish green pollen that will be the signal that it’s time to watch for the opening of the female flowers. They are among the smallest flowers that I know of and are hard to get a good photo of, but I try each spring because they’re also among the most beautiful.

Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take. ~Angela N. Blount

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