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Posts Tagged ‘Mealy Firedot Lichen’

Over the nearly nine years I’ve been doing this blog the question I’ve been asked more than any other is “How do you find these things?” So this post will be about how I find them; I’ll tell you all the secrets, starting with the jelly baby mushrooms above. Do you see how small they are? They’re growing in an acorn cap. The first time I saw them I was feeling winded and when I sat on a rock to rest I looked down and there was a tiny clump of jelly babies, Just like this one. That day a side of nature that  I never knew existed was revealed and from then on I started seeing smaller and smaller things everywhere I went. 

You have to learn to see small by seeking out small things and training your eyes, and your brain somewhat, to see them. It also helps to know your subject. For instance I know that slime molds like the many headed slime mold above appear most often in summer when it’s hot and humid, and usually a day or two after a good rain. They don’t like sunshine so they’re almost always found in the shade. I’ve learned all of this from the slime molds themselves; by finding one and, not knowing what it was, looking it up to find out. I’ve learned most of what I know about nature in much the same way. If you want to truly study nature you have to be willing to do the legwork and research what you see.

Another secret of nature study is walking slowly. Find yourself a toddler, maybe a grandchild or a friend with one, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have one yourself. No older than two years though; they start to run after that and they’re hard to keep up with. Anyhow, watch a two year old on a trail and see how slowly they walk. See how they wander from thing to thing. They do that because everything is new and they need to see and experience it. You need to be the same way to study nature; become a toddler. Slowly cross and crisscross your line of progress. See, rather than look. Why is that group of leaves humped up higher than all the others? Is there something under them making them do that? Move them and see. You might find some beautiful orange mycena mushrooms like these under them.

So you need to train yourself to see small, to toddle and think like a toddler, and then you need to know your subject. All that comes together in something like this female American hazelnut blossom. I first saw them when I had toddled over to a bush to see the hanging male catkins, which are very beautiful, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.

But all I could see was a flash of color because female hazelnut blossoms are almost microscopic. That’s a paperclip behind these blossoms. Even with eye problems I can find them though, because I know they’re tiny. I know they bloom in mid-April and I know they’re red and I know what shape the buds they grow out of are. All I need do is find one and the camera does the rest, allowing me to see its Lilliputian beauty.

That’s how I start the growing season each spring; by re-training my eyes to see small again. Most of what I see in winter is big so I need to get used to small again. Spring beauties like those above are as small as an aspirin, so they’re a good subject to start with. They’re also very beautiful and a forest floor carpeted with them is something you don’t soon forget.

Sometimes I’ll see something like this larch flower in a book or on another blog and I’ll want to see it in person. That’s what happened when I first found one, and I was surprised by how small they were. This is another example of my being able to only see a flash of color and then having to see with a camera. They’re just too small for me to see with my eyes but they’re beautiful and worth the extra effort it takes to get a photo of them.

I spend a lot of time looking at tree branches, especially in spring when the buds break. I’ve learned what time of month each tree usually blossoms and I make sure I’m there to see it happen. This photo shows male red maple flowers. Each flower cluster is full of pollen and the wind will be sure the pollen finds the female blossoms. When you see tulips and magnolias blooming it’s time to look at red maples. One of the extraordinary things about these blossoms was their scent. I smelled them long before I saw them.

Lichens aren’t easy to identify but there are easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere; on soil, on trees, on stone, even on buildings. But most are quite small, so walking slowly and looking closely are what it takes to find them. This mealy firedot lichen was growing on wet stone and that’s why the background looks like it does. You could spend a lifetime studying just lichens alone but it would be worth it; many are very beautiful.

Countless insects make galls for their young to grow in and the size and shape of them is beyond my ability to show or explain, so I’ll just say that I always make a point of looking for them because they’re endlessly fascinating, and you can match the gall to the insect with a little research. This one looked like a tiny fist coming up out of a leaf. Something else I like about them is that you don’t have to kneel down to see them. That isn’t getting any easier as time goes on. 

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind. I learned all of that by studying the moss and reading about what I saw going on, and you can too. And you can do it with virtually anything you find in nature. To me, that is exciting.

A good memory isn’t strictly necessary for nature study but it can come in handy if you wish to see a plant in all stages of its life cycle. I knew where some rare dwarf ginseng plants grew in this area and I knew when they blossomed but I had never seen their seedpods, so I had to remember to go back to see what you see here. It might not look like much but it’s a rare sight and I doubt more than just a few have seen it. I often can’t remember my own phone number or where I parked my car but I can lead you right to the exact spot where this plant grows, so I seem to have two memories; one for every day and one for just nature. The one for nature works much better than the every day one.

Develop an eye for beauty. Give yourself time to simply stand and look, and before long you’ll find that you don’t just see beauty, you feel it as well, all through your being. This is just tree pollen on water; something I’ve seen a thousand times, but not like this. On this day it was different; it usually looks like dust on the surface but this pollen had formed strings that rode on the current. I wasn’t looking for it; I just happened upon it, and that shows that a lot of what you see on this blog is just dumb luck. But I wouldn’t happen upon it if I wasn’t out there. That’s another secret; you have to be out there to see it. You’ll never see it by staring at a phone or television.

This is another rarity that I just happened upon; a mushroom releasing its spores. Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in this photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. Once it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away. This is why it’s so important to walk slowly and look carefully. You could easily pass this without seeing it.

Something else that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like 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. You can’t plan to see something like this, you simply have to be there when it happens.

Do you know how many puddles there are with ice on them in winter? I don’t either, but I do take the time to look at them and I almost always see something interesting when I do. I’ve never seen another one like this.

Sometimes if you just sit quietly unusual things will happen. I was on my hands and knees looking at something one day and I looked up and there was a fly, sitting on a leaf. I slowly brought my camera up and this is the result. By the way, much of what I see comes about because I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees. If you want to see the very small, you have to. And before I get back on my feet I always try to look around to see if there’s anything interesting that I’ve missed.

I was crawling around the forest floor looking for I don’t remember what one day and saw something jump right in front of me. It was a little spring peeper. It sat for a minute and let me take a few photos and then hopped off. Another secret of nature study is to expect the unexpected. If you want to document what you see always have your camera ready. I have one around my neck, one on my belt and another in my pocket, and I still miss a lot.

I was in a meadow in Walpole climbing the High Blue trail when I saw a blackish something moving through the grass on the other side. Apparently it saw me because it turned and came straight for me. When it got close I could see that it was a cute porcupine. I thought it must have poor eyesight and would run away when it got close enough but then it did something I never would have  expected; it came up to me and sat right at my feet. I took quite a few photos and then walked on after telling it goodbye. I still wonder what it was all about and what the animal might have wanted. I’ve never forgotten how we seemed to know one another. It’s another example of why you have to expect the unexpected in nature study. You just never know.

Sometimes all you need to do is look up. When was the last time you saw mare’s tails in the sky? There’s a lot of beauty out there for you to see, and you don’t really have to study anything.

So, what you’ve read here isn’t the only way to study nature. It’s simply my way; what I’ve learned by doing. I had no one to guide me, so this is what and how I’ve learned on my own. I thought that it might help you in your own study of nature, or you might find your own way. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re out there having fun and enjoying this beautiful world we live in. I’ll leave you with a simple summary that I hope will help:

  1. To see small think small. There is an entire tiny world right there in plain sight but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it. Nothing is hidden from the person who truly sees.

  2. Don’t just look, see; and not just with your eyes. Use all your senses. I’ve smelled certain plants and fungi before I’ve seen them many times. I also feel almost everything I find.

  3. Walk at a toddlers pace. Cross and crisscross your path.

  4. Know your subject. You probably won’t find what you hope to unless you know when and where it grows, or its habits. When you see something you’ve never seen if you want to know more about it research it.

  5. Be interested in everything. If you’re convinced that you’ve seen it all then you’ll see nothing new. Run your eye down a branch. Roll over a log. Study the ice on a puddle.

  6. Expect the unexpected. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest but I’ve never seen it happen. Tomorrow may be the day.

  7. Develop an eye for beauty; it’s truly everywhere you look. Allow yourself to see and feel it. Appreciate it and be grateful for it and before long you too will see it everywhere you go.

  8. Let nature lead. Nature will teach you far more than you’ve ever imagined. It will also heal you if you let it, but none of this can happen if you spend all your time indoors.

  9. None of the things you’ve read here are really secrets. Nature is there for everyone and you can study it and take pleasure in it just as easily as I can.

  10. Have fun and enjoy nature and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cares melt away. Problems that once might have seemed insurmountable will suddenly seem much easier to solve.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long. 
~John Moffitt

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1-trail-closed-sign

When I was a boy growing up in Keene, New Hampshire I spent a lot of time following the railroad tracks that ran just a few yards behind my house. These tracks crossed a lot of roads if you followed them long enough but the hardest one to get across was always route 101, a main artery which runs the width of the state, east to west from Keene to the seacoast. A lot has changed since then; the railroad tracks are now a rail trail and the highway has become so busy that you can hardly get across it.

2-trail

This view of the rail trail looks north toward the house I grew up in, but also toward Keene State College. Off to the right, unseen in this photo, is the college athletic complex. The students use the rail trail as a convenient way to reach the athletic fields without having to drive to them, so this trail can get very busy in warmer months. Of course all those students have to cross the very busy route 101 to get here and that can be dangerous, so the town came up with a solution: build a bridge over the highway, and this section of rail trail has been closed while that project is completed.

3-side-trail

A side trail leads from the rail trail to the athletic complex, but most enter by way of a gate a little further down the trail.

4-wires

Long before the college built their athletic complex the electric utility ran their high voltage wires through here. I used to spend hours playing under and around these power lines when I was a boy and never gave them a thought, but in April of 2014 one of the wires fell to the ground and tragically, a college employee was electrocuted. For me, who once spent so much time here, the news was a real blow and woke me up to the dangers I faced as a boy without even realizing they existed. I told myself then that I’d never walk under these power lines again and I haven’t but many, especially dog walkers, still do.

5-hazel-catkins

Hazel catkins danced in the sunlight. They are the male flowers of the hazelnut shrub, in this case American hazelnut (Corylus americana.) The tiny crimson threads of the female flowers won’t appear until late March and by then the male catkins will be showing signs of shedding pollen.

6-hazel-catkin

One of the catkins was deformed and looked like a cartoon animal paw.

7-virgins-bower

The seed heads of the native clematis that we call virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) decorated a fallen tree. Chances are it once grew to the top of the tree and fell with it. This vine is toxic enough to cause internal bleeding but it was used it as a pepper substitute and called was called “pepper vine” by early pioneers. Native Americans used it to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and for skin infections. Herbalists still use it to treat the same illnesses today.

8-bittersweet-in-dead-elms

There are many elms along this trail that have died of Dutch elm disease and invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) vines grow into their tops and slowly pull them down. The bittersweet wants full sunshine and it climbs to the tops of trees to get it; it doesn’t care if the tree is living or not. There are several broken limbs hanging from vines in this view and many downed trees buried in vines along the trail.

9-bridge

In what would have been a short while if I hadn’t kept stopping to look at things I reached the bridge, which is still closed while the freshly poured concrete deck cures. The deck is wrapped in plastic and gets heat pumped up to it from truck sized heaters on the ground below.

10-bridge

I had to wait a while before I could get a shot of the bridge without cars under it. I drive this way each morning on the way to work and I can vouch for the busy-ness of this road. Traffic is almost nonstop at any time of day and I can imagine it being very hard to walk across. It was hard enough when I was ten. I didn’t know it until I saw this photo but the center of the bridge is far to right of the center of the road from this vantage point. It was built in I think 4 pieces and lifted into place by crane.

11-burning-bush-fruit

An invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) still had plenty of fruit on it. I was happy to see that the birds weren’t eating it and helping it spread. Studies have shown that 170- 700 seedlings per acre can grow from a single fruiting shrub. If you have hundreds of them fruiting then you have a real problem, and we do. The shrubs get large and shade out native plants and since deer won’t eat them they have virtually no competition or control, so they’re free to form large monocultures where nothing else grows. That’s why planting and / or selling them is banned in New Hampshire.

12-mealy-firedot-lichen-caloplaca-citrina-on-cherry

The bark of this black cherry tree had large areas covered with mealy firedot lichen (Caloplaca citrina.) This yellow to yellow-orange crustose lichen grows on wood or stone and the book Lichens of North America says it is very common lichen that rarely produces spores. The mealy part of its common name comes from the numerous granular soralia, which are used as a vegetative means of reproduction. They are meant to break off and start new lichens.

13-mealy-firedot-lichen-caloplaca-citrina-on-cherry

As you can probably imagine if you brushed against this lichen tiny pieces of it would easily fall from the tree and might even stick to your clothing for a while so you could transport them to another place. Many lichens use this method of reproduction and it appears to be very successful.

14-hillside

This view across a cornfield faces west toward Brattleboro, Vermont and I had forgotten how the wind comes howling over that hill. I used to walk south from my house to a friend’s house on the road that is in front of the hill but can’t be seen, and my right ear would feel just about frozen by the time I got there. When I went back home it was my left ear. Of course it wasn’t cool to wear a hat in those days, but I was wearing one when this photo was taken.

15-milkweed

The wind had torn the seeds out of this milkweed pod. It’s not too late; milkweed seeds need at least 3-6 weeks of cold to grow to their best.

16-corn

There were a few cobs left on the corn plants and they were at just the right height for Canada geese, which land here in quite large numbers in the fall.

17-drainage-ditches

Keene sits in a bowl with hills as the rim on land that was once swampy ground, so farmers dug drainage ditches to dry out the fields. They were a ten year old boy’s dream come true and I still walk along them occasionally even today. There are some beautiful wildflowers that grow on their banks, including some of the darkest purple New England asters I’ve seen.

18-nest

I saw one of the tiniest bird nests I’ve ever seen. It could have just about hidden behind a hen’s egg and I have no idea what bird might have built it. A hummingbird maybe?

19-frosted-comma-lichen-arthonia-caesia

A dime size (.70 in) spot of white on a tree caught my eye and when I moved closer I saw that it was covered with blue dots. It was a beautiful sight and I didn’t know it at the time but its name is (I think) the frosted comma lichen (Arthonia caesia.) The unusual spherical blue dots are its Ascomata.

20-frosted-comma-lichen-arthonia-caesia-close

Ascomata are the fruit bodies of lichens and contain the spores, which can number in the millions.They are most commonly bowl-shaped (apothecia) but may take a spherical (cleistothecia) or flask-like (perithecia) form. This lichen has spherical ascocarps so they must be cleistothecia. They’re also very beautiful, and are the only truly blue fruit bodies I’ve seen on a lichen. Some, like those on the smoky eye boulder lichen, can be blue due to the slant of the light falling on them and I found a completely blue lichen recently but it had turned blue because of the cold. This one is naturally blue and I loved seeing it.

I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road. ~Stephen Hawking

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1. Stone Wall

We’ve had some warm weather here and that means that the snow is melting away from the stone walls. Since there are many miniature gardens growing on these old walls I thought I’d have a look.

2. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Right off I was drawn to a boulder with patches of bright orange all over it. They turned out to be scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans); more than I had ever seen in a single grouping. The white pine needles in this shot will give you an idea of just how small these lichens are.

Observing the small size of lichens is a good way to get used to seeing the small and beautiful things in nature. If you want to see the magic in nature sometimes you have to stretch some, and that includes your eyes, so each year at about this time I start looking closely at lichens to get my eyes and mind back into “small mode.” I practice on lichens in the early spring so I don’t miss the tiny flowers, insects, fungi, slime molds, and other fascinating things that will come later on.

3. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

The fruiting bodies (apothecia) of these scattered rock posy lichens surprised me by looking like a mass of orange sausages.  Usually they are flat and disc shaped like the one in the upper left corner of this photo, and I’m assuming that this is what they look like before they take on the disc shape. Each disc shaped apothecia is about .04 inches (1mm) across.

If you’re interested in seeing small things in nature and have a ruler handy, you might want to look at it now so you can become familiar with just how small 1 millimeter really is. Finding things that size on a rock or tree can be a challenge, and that’s why I have to retrain my eyes to see them each spring. It isn’t just the eyes though; it’s also knowing where to look and knowing how to “think small,” but they come with experience.

4. Rosy Saucer Lichen aka Ochrolechia trochophora

Lichen identification can be tricky. I found what I believe is a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) growing on stone but the book Lichens of North America says that this lichen 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.

5. Cumberland Rock Shield Fruiting

I’m not sure how fast Cumberland rock shield lichens (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia) grow but any lichen this big has to be very old. It must have been 10 inches across and there were several others that big nearby, so I think it’s safe to assume that these stones haven’t been disturbed in quite a long time. They were fruiting so they must be happy here.

Note: Canadian biologist Arold Lavoie has identified this lichen as a peppered rock shield (Xanthoparmelia conspersa). Arold pointed out that Cumberland rock shield doesn’t have any of the granular vegetative reproductive structures called isidium that can be seen on this lichen. Thanks very much for the help Arold.

6. Cumberland Rock Shield Fruiting

This is a closer look at the fruiting bodies (apothecia) of the peppered rock shield lichen. They are fairly common and always seem to be folded or deformed looking. They are also always orangey-brown or dark brown in color.

7.  Crater lichen aka Diploschistes diacapsis

I used to just pass by things that looked like white or gray crust on stones, but I stop and look a little closer now after finding things like this crater lichen (Diploschistes diacapsis). The lighter parts of this lichen make up its thick body (thallus) and the dark spots are its fruiting bodies (apothecia). Its common name comes from the way the apothecia sink into the thallus and look like tiny craters. Crater lichens prefer growing on calcareous stone and are a good indicator of limestone in the area. If you’re trying to find orchids or other plants that like lime laced soil, finding this lichen on the stones in the area you’re searching might lead you to them. I’ll be watching for it later on when I search for hepatica and spicebush.

8. Mealy Firedot Lichen aka Caloplaca citrina

Mealy firedot lichen (Caloplaca citrina) is a pretty little yellow to yellow-orange crustose lichen that likes to grow on wood or stone. The book Lichens of North America says that it is a very common lichen that rarely produces spores but this example seemed to be fruiting happily. The mealy part of its common name comes from the numerous granular soralia, which are used as a vegetative means of reproduction. They are meant to break off and start new lichens.

9. Mealy Firedot Lichen aka Caloplaca citrina

It could be that because mealy firedot lichens reproduce vegetatively they don’t feel the need to use energy in spore production but as this closeup view shows, this example was doing both. The tiny round objects that look like the suckers on an octopus are its fruiting bodies (apothecia). The shiny background in these photos happened because the stone was wet, so this lichen was getting plenty of water.

10. Contorted rimmed lichen aka Aspicilia contorta  Lichen

This is another kind of ‘ho hum’ white crusty lichen that doesn’t look very interesting until you get out your loupe or train your macro lens on it.

11. Contorted rimmed lichen aka Aspicilia contorta  Lichen Fruiting

The ‘boring’ lichens have taught me that if something in nature doesn’t look worth bothering with it was only because I wasn’t really looking at it, because there isn’t a single piece of nature that isn’t beautiful or fascinating in some way. The fruiting bodies of this contorted rimmed lichen (Aspicilia contorta) were as tiny as a pencil dot on a piece of paper but they were there, and I’ve walked by them hundreds of times without stopping to see them. Finally noticing them wasn’t a life changing experience but such an alien landscape is very beautiful to me and I understand a little more about lichens than I did previously. Observing the beauty of nature and gaining knowledge are never a waste of time.

12. Gray and Yellow Crustose Lichen

It seems that every time I do a post on lichens I have one or two that have me completely stumped, and this is today’s winner. Beyond knowing that it is a gray and yellow crustose lichen that was growing on granite, I know nothing about it. It’s another beautiful thing though, and eventually I’ll come across something similar in a book or on line that will get me started on the (sometimes long) trail to its identity.

I should say for those new to this blog that I am strictly an amateur at lichen identification. I don’t have a microscope, chemicals, or any of the other tools that lichenologists use but neither do I guess at lichen identities. I use the tools that I do have and often spend many long hours trying to identify these little beauties. Though I’m fairly confident of a lichen’s identity before I put it into a post, you should be aware of my limitations and should not bet the farm on what I believe it is. If you happen to be reading this and know of any mistakes I’ve made I’d be happy to have you correct them. When that happens we all benefit.

For lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day. ~Evelyn Underhill

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