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Posts Tagged ‘Milkweed Seeds’

From Winchester to the south of Keene to Westmoreland to the north the Cheshire Rail Trail covers about 40 miles, so I’m not surprised that I haven’t hiked the entire thing. One leg I’ve wondered about for quite a while is the piece that goes from Pearl Street in Keene to Whitcomb’s Mill Road. On this day I decided to stop wondering and hike it, and this is what I saw at the outset; a wide, packed gravel trail with street lights and park benches. It was the busiest rail trail I’ve ever been on and this is the only photo I was able to get without people in it. There were hikers, runners, bike riders, dog walkers, elderly couples and small children in strollers, and I wondered what I had done. I’m used to being kind of “right here, right now” when I’m in nature, and there usually is nothing else. When you find yourself continually having to say “hello” or “good morning”, or to explain why you’re taking a photo of an old dead tree, it’s harder to be there.

The trail crosses another one of Keene’s busiest highways and this bridge was built here after a homeless man was killed trying to cross. This bridge reminds me of the other one like it near Keene State College but this one isn’t as sturdy. A jogger ran over it while I was crossing it and the entire thing was bouncing up and down. For someone who doesn’t get on well with heights it was a little disconcerting. Speaking of heights, this is very near the place where I fell out of a tree a fractured my spine some 50 years ago. That thought just happened to pop into my mind when the bridge started bouncing.  

It had rained the day before so everything, including this greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), was still damp. On this day we were promised full sunshine and strong winds. The wind prediction kept me out of the forest but we had no wind at all, and no sunshine either.

There were plenty of reminders that this was once a railbed, including this pile of old railroad ties and the drainage channel behind. The railroad took up all the rails and ties and left them in piles all along the rail corridor. My question has always been, if they weren’t going to re-use them why did they remove them?

I wondered what kinds of mosses could grow on creosote soaked rail ties so I looked closer. One of them was one of my favorites, white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata). It is also called medusa moss because of  the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. This moss is fairly common and I find it mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It always seems to be very happy and healthy. This example had spore capsules, which I’ve rarely seen on this moss.

A tangle of black raspberry canes made me think of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue”. I was happy to let it play in my mind as I walked on.

Honey mushrooms (Armillarea mellea) once grew on this elm tree and I know that because their long black root like structures called rhizomorphs still clung to the dead tree. Honey mushrooms are parasitic on live wood and grow long cream colored rhizomorphs between the wood and its bark. They darken to brown or black as they age, but by the time we see them the tree has died and its bark is falling off. The fungus is also called armillarea 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. Fallen logs and standing dead trees will often still have the black rhizomorphs attached to them.

I’ve never paid attention to the inner bark of an elm tree but I will from now on because it is beautifully colored. This piece brought the thought of Jupiter’s great red spot, the anticyclonic storm that has been raging for hundreds of years on that planet.

Off in the distance there was still some color.

And above me hung crab apples. Though we think the apples we’re eating are native, crab apples are really the only apples native to North America. The apples we know originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. Apples are thought to be the first cultivated tree and have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. North American apple cultivation began 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Settlers had come prepared with seeds, cuttings, and small plants from the best European stock and the trees grew well here; by the end of the 19th century 14,000 apple varieties were being grown. Many were inferior varieties and for one reason or another fell out of favor and have been lost to the ages. Today 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the U.S. and 7,500 varieties of apples are grown worldwide.

Thank you to Tim Hensley and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the article A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America, for some of the information used here.

Bracken fern made me think of the spines and rib cages of ancient fossilized creatures.

I came to a large field. Since it wasn’t fenced I’m guessing it was a hay field. A strange thing to find out here I thought, even though I was only a stone’s throw from suburbia.

And the Keene Country Club’s golf course proved how close I was to suburbia. I was happy to get out of here without getting whacked by a golf ball. How strange that green looked.

Instead of worrying about stray golf balls I kept my mind on the beauty that surrounded me here on the trail. There was plenty of it.

I saw what I first thought was a dead tree and then I looked up and saw a cross brace and realized it was an old railroad pole that once held the glass insulators that telegraph lines were fixed to. It showed great age and I loved its weathered surface and many knots. I’m guessing it must have been locust because no other wood I know of can stand in the ground for two hundred plus years without rotting. It’s a great choice for fence posts.

Here was a newer concrete marker post. I’ve tried to look up what 93-24 means but I haven’t had any luck.

There was a small homemade bridge crossing the drainage channel and I’d bet if I had crossed it I would have come to a secret hideout. Every child has one.

The other day on my way to work a red fox ran across the road in front of me and this grass reminded me to tell you about it.

The intense red of the inner bark of a staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) caught my eye. Native Americans used the pulp of the stems and the inner bark to make dye, and after seeing the color I’m not surprised. You have to be quick to find the red color though because it’s only there for a short time right after the tree dies. I’ve read descriptions that say the inner (live) bark is “light green and sweet to chew on,” but no reference to its changing color when it dries, so it is a mystery to me. The plant is said to be rich in tannins and I do know that dyes in colors like salmon and plum can be made from it.

When I was a boy we always carved our names into trees with a pocket knife but as Brittnie shows us, these days it’s done with a marker. Better for the tree I suppose.

From a distance I thought a hawk had gotten a bird but no, the scattered “feathers” were just wet milkweed seeds.

I could sit down and write out a very long list of all the plants and trees one could expect to find along our rail trails but yew wouldn’t be one of them. Canada yew (Taxus canadensis) 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.

Well, this was an interesting hike on a very well maintained trail but it was a bit too busy for my liking, so I doubt it will be a regular in my book of hiking spots. In fact at times it seemed as if I might have been hiking in downtown Keene. I enjoy less traveled trails where solitude is one of the most precious things to be found because, as Marty Rubin once said: “Solitude is where one discovers one is not alone.”

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Winterberries

The weather has been terrible here since last Sunday with pouring rain almost every day, so I’ve had to break open my hoard of nut, berry and seed photos for this post.  As the above photo shows the winterberry bushes (Ilex verticillata) are heavily laden with fruit this year, and that comes after a barren winter last year when they hardly showed a single berry. Many trees and shrubs will have a barren year after exhausting themselves with a year of heavy production and some, like certain species of oak, can take several years to recover from a heavy fruiting.

2. Winterberries

If you are trying to attract wildlife to your yard and have a pond or a swampy area on your land then winterberry is an excellent choice of native shrub. They like very wet soil and, like other hollies, need male and female plants to produce berries. Because the berries have a low fat content birds and animals eat them quite late in the season, so the berries will color the landscape for most of the winter.

3. Grapes

Wild grapes are a favorite of everything from blue jays to black bears but the wildlife doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to eat them this year. This was a great year for all types of fruit, nuts and seeds and I suppose they know what they’re doing better than I do.

4. Pokeweed Berries

Pokeberries (Phytolacca americana) are also withering on the frost killed plants. I found out last fall that birds usually snap these up just as soon as they ripen. I wanted to get a photo of the ripe berries but every time I went to take one the birds had eaten every one. I’ve read that birds can get quite drunk from fermented pokeweed berries so maybe that’s why they’re avoiding them. I ran into a drunken cedar waxwing one day and I’ve never forgotten how it flew right at my face and then pulled up at the last second. It seemed to be a bit of a lush because it did this over and over until I moved away from the berries it wanted.

5. Hemlock Cone

The seeds of eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are eaten by small birds like black capped chickadees and pine siskins, and several species of warblers like to nest in the dense foliage. Bigger birds like turkeys, owls and grouse will often roost in the branches. Hemlocks are very good at shedding rain because of the way their branches grow. I’ve stood under them in quite heavy rains and barely felt a drop. That’s a good thing to keep in mind if you’re out with a camera and it starts raining.

6. Aster Seed Heads

Aster seeds get eaten quickly, it seems. Goldfinches and other small birds will land on the plants and in the process of eating their fill will knock enough seeds to the ground to take care of the bigger ground feeders.

Though we have been conditioned by seed and feeder salesmen to believe that birds won’t make it through winter without our help, nature takes care of her own. There is nothing wrong with feeding birds but unless we have an unusually harsh winter they will do just fine without our help.

7. Milkweed Seeds

Milkweed seeds apparently aren’t eaten by anything, which seems odd. Or if they are we don’t know much about it because I’ve searched and searched and haven’t found a single reference to these seeds being used as food by anything. It must be because of the toxins in the plant. Though I don’t know how much toxin is in the seeds I do know that the seeds in some poisonous plants carry some of the highest concentrations.

8. Thistle

Bull thistle seed (Cirsium vulgare) is another favorite of birds like goldfinches, but how they get them without being stabbed by all of those spines is a mystery to me. In Europe part of the Latin name of the European goldfinch Carduelis means “eats seeds of thistle.”

9. Burdock Seed Heads

We all know how burdocks (Arctium) get their barbs into our clothes, but what we might not think much about is how those same barbs can also catch on the feathers of small birds when they land on the plants to eat the seeds.

10. Bittersweet

The orange berries and yellow bracts of oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) are pleasing to see, but when birds, mice, voles, rabbits, squirrels, and an army of other berry eaters eat the fruit, they help it spread. These berries seem to be loved by all including humans, and that’s why it has become so invasive. This vine is so tough it can choke trees to death and I’ve seen it do just that numerous times.

11. Twisted Beech

Here’s an example of what oriental bittersweet can do to a young beech tree.

 12. Hickory Nut

I haven’t seen many beechnuts this year but we have plenty of acorns, hazel, and hickory nuts like the one in the above photo. Nuts are important foods for many birds and animals including wood ducks, woodpeckers, foxes, squirrels, beavers, cottontails, chipmunks, turkeys, white-tailed deer, black bears, mice, and raccoons.  The name hickory comes from the word pohickery which, according to Captain John Smith of Jamestown, is from the Algonquin Indian word pawcohiccora, a drink that the Native Americans made from the crushed nutmeat.

If you seek the kernel, then you must break the shell. And likewise, if you would know the reality of Nature, you must destroy the appearance, and the farther you go beyond the appearance, the nearer you will be to the essence. ~Meister Eckhart

Thanks for stopping in.

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