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Posts Tagged ‘Milkweed’

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. Coneflower Seed Head

When I walk through the fields and forests in the fall I’m always struck by the great abundance of food that nature provides, from seeds to nuts to berries. Everything from bees to birds to bears relies on it and it’s always good to see a year like this one when they can easily find plenty.  Some is saved and not eaten right away but coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) like the one in the above photo always seem to be stripped of seeds almost as soon as they form. Goldfinches especially love these seeds.

2. Aster Seeds

If you’d like a photographic challenge try a shot of a single aster seed. If that seems too easy try it when the wind is blowing. Turkeys, goldfinches, sparrows, chipmunks, and white-footed mice all eat aster seeds. There are so many asters that the seed heads last through most of the winter.

3. Milkweed

There is one oddity in this post and this is it. Though I’ve searched several times for birds, animals or insects that eat milkweed seeds (Asclepias syriaca) over the years I can’t find a single one that does. It’s hard to believe that a plant would produce so many seeds when they don’t get eaten, but milkweed seeds apparently aren’t eaten by anything. Or if they are, scientists don’t seem to know much about it.

4. Buttonbush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) grows along rivers and streams and this is the perfect place for ducks and other waterfowl to get at the seeds. Deer feed on the shrub’s leaves and wood ducks often nest in its thicket like branches. Native Americans chewed its bark to relieve toothache pain.

5. Winterberry

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is our only deciduous native holly. Many birds including robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and cedar waxwings love these berries and will eat them throughout winter. Though the berries are toxic it is thought that their toxicity lessens the longer they stay on the shrub, so that might help explain why many of the berries can still be found in late winter.

6. Grapes

It’s a great year for grapes; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many on the vines. These in the photo are river grapes (Vitis riparia), so called because they grow on the banks of rivers and streams. They are also called frost grapes because of their extreme cold hardiness. The freeze we had finished the leaves on this vine but not the fruit, which probably became sweeter. Many birds eat these small grapes including cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, robins, wood ducks, several species of woodpecker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, and turkeys. Many animals also love grapes, including foxes, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and opossums. Deer will eat the leaves and new shoots and many birds use the bark for nest building; especially crows.

7. Apples

In the mid-1800s for several different economic reasons the bottom fell out of farming in this area and many farms were abandoned, with the farmers and their sons going off to work in the woolen, shoe and paper mills that were springing up everywhere in New England. What they left behind is mostly gone now except for many miles of stone walls, an occasional cellar hole, and apple orchards. It isn’t at all unusual when out in the middle of nowhere to stumble upon apple trees that are still bearing bushels of fruit. Of course since they receive no care the apples aren’t very good for much besides cider, but many animals and birds love them. Deer and bears will travel long distances for ripe apples and just the other day I saw two gray squirrels fighting over a half-eaten one. Robins, blue jays, bobwhites, cardinals, cedar waxwings, crows, grackles, downy woodpeckers, bluebirds, grosbeaks, catbirds, hairy woodpeckers, house finches, mockingbirds, orioles, purple finches, red-bellied woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, and titmice all eat apples.

8. Virginia Creeper

Though Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are poisonous to humans many birds love them, including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds chickadees, and turkeys. So do mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. I’ve read that birds are attracted more to red fruits than the blue black berries of Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having red leaves and stems in the fall. When the birds land amidst all the attractive red hues they find and eat the berries. Since thirty five species of birds eat them it must be a successful ploy.

9. Partridge Berry

I don’t know about partridges, but I do know that turkeys eat the berries of partridge berry plants (Mitchella repens) because I’ve seen them doing so. Bobwhites, grouse, red foxes, skunks, and white-footed mice are also said to eat them. This little trailing, ground hugging vine makes a great native groundcover if you’re looking to attract birds and wildlife.

10. Poison Ivy

I’ve always suspected that birds or animals were eating poison ivy berries (Toxicodendron radicans) because they disappeared so quickly, but it wasn’t until I visited Grampy’s Goat Sass Farm blog that I saw photos of them actually doing so. By the way, if you’re a bird lover you’d be wise to visit Grampy’s blog; you’ll see some of the most amazing photos of them that you’ve seen, including bald eagles. For example I saw some photos of warblers, chickadees and sparrows eating these poisonous berries and thought Ah ha, I knew it! I’ve since read that vireos, cardinals, goldfinches, woodpeckers, deer, black bears, muskrats and rabbits consider the berries a delicacy. For a human, eating these berries would be a very bad idea. People have nearly died from getting the rash produced by poison ivy inside their bodies.

11. Burning Bush

Unfortunately birds also love the berries of the highly invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and spread the seeds everywhere, so it isn’t uncommon to find a stand of them growing in the woods. I know a place where hundreds of them grow and though they are beautiful at this time of year not another shrub grows near them. This is because they produce such dense shade it’s hard for anything else to get started. The sale and cultivation of the shrub is banned in New Hampshire. There are many native shrubs that make a good substitute.

12. Barberry

Another highly invasive plant with berries that are loved by birds is the Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii.) In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. These thickets are so thorny that only the smallest animals can get through them so for years the plant was used for hedges.

European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) also grow in parts of New England but each of those has clusters of three or more thorns while Japanese barberry has a single thorn, as can be seen in the above photo. Thorn count is a good identifying characteristic when the plants have no leaves. This is another shrub that is banned in New Hampshire but I don’t think we’ll ever stop its spread.

13. Rose Hips

Rose hips are a fruit that’s good for birds, animals, and humans; they are one of the richest sources of vitamin C known. During World War 2 vitamin C syrup was made from rose hips because citrus fruits were almost impossible to find. The best rose hips for harvesting are found on Rosa rugosa, named for the wrinkled (rugose) surface of its leaves. Personally I like to leave them for the birds and animals. Squirrels, rabbits, deer, bears, moose, and coyotes are animals that are known to eat rose hips. Birds include blackbirds, robins, grouse, juncos, bluebirds, grosbeaks, pheasants, quail, and thrushes.

14. Shadbush

Shadbush (Amelanchier arborea) is a tree with a lot of historical baggage. The Native American food pemmican was flavored by its fruits along with dried meat and fat. Natives also made arrow shafts from its dense, hard wood and showed early colonists how to use the blue-black berries. The name shadbush comes from the way the trees bloomed in spring when the shad fish were running in New England Rivers. I recently found a spot where many of them grow and they were heavily laden with fruit, which surprised me because bluebirds, cardinals, cedar waxwings, gray catbirds, orioles, red squirrels, and scarlet tanagers all eat the fruit. Beavers and deer eat various other parts of the tree but I didn’t see any signs of them either. It seems odd that there would be so much fruit left and I wonder why the birds and animals haven’t eaten it.

15. Shagbark Hickory

We have many different nut trees here in New Hampshire, including beechnuts, walnuts, butternuts, hazelnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts. We have several hickories here including bitternut and shagbark, like the one in the above photo. Unfortunately most of our chestnuts were wiped out by blight in the early 1900s, but I’ve heard rumors of them possibly making a comeback.

16. Shagbark Hickory

Bears, deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, grouse, pheasants, and wood ducks are just some of the animals and birds that eat our native nuts. Without nuts many forest animals and birds wouldn’t survive.

17. Acorns

I’ve never seen so many acorns on the ground as we have this year. A single large oak can produce 15,000 acorns in a good year and there are so many on the ground right now that walking the trails is like trying to walk on marbles. The blue jays, pigeons, ducks, woodpeckers, squirrels, mice, chipmunks and other birds and animals are having an easy time of it, thankfully. I ate some red oak acorn meat once when I was a boy and I don’t think I’ll ever forget how bitter it was, but acorns were the main food source for many Native Americans tribes who knew how to remove the bitterness.

If you’d like to try to make flour from acorns as the natives did, choose only those with their caps still on, because when acorns are ripe they normally fall fully dressed. Usually only the added weight of a worm thrashing around inside can make them break free from their caps while still on the tree, and you don’t want wormy acorns.

18. Gray Squirrel

My little smiling friend seemed very happy to see such abundance in the forest but it isn’t always this way. Plants go through cycles and sometimes a year of abundance can be followed by a year of scarcity. One way to help animals and birds survive the winter is by planting native trees, shrubs and plants. Our natives often have beautiful flowers as well as fruit that animals and bids love, so you really can’t go wrong in choosing them.

Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits. ~Samuel Butler

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Like a large part of the country, the temperatures here in New Hampshire dropped to below zero nearly every night last week. The low here at my house was 11 below zero but parts of the state fell to 30 below. Daytime temperatures barely made it to 20 degrees, so there was no melting going on.

1. Frosty Window at 10 Below

Frost ferns were seen on the windows every morning. It often took until noon for them to melt.

2. Sunlight on Milkweed Seeds

The sun peeked through the clouds at times but it was all light and no heat. A thin ray just grazed these milkweed seeds and turned them to gold one cold afternoon.

 3. Ashuelot River

This section of the Ashuelot River has grown some ice and is down to just a narrow open channel.  I wonder if this week’s warmer temperatures will melt it all again.

 4. Geese on the River

The Canada geese on the river seem to be getting more used to seeing people. I watched them and took pictures until I thought my fingers might be frozen. On this day the water temperature was probably warmer than the air temperature.

 5. Open Water

Some parts of the river, like this section north of Keene, have little to no ice on the surface.

 6. River Ice

But where the ice does grow, it grows thick.

 7. Reflections in Stream

Even our streams have yet to ice over completely. There are many animals that drink from this stream so they’re probably grateful to see some open water.  I saw everything from mice tracks to deer tracks along just a short section of stream.

 8. Frosty Leaves in Stream

These leaves stuck on a twig in midstream had all kinds of ice and frost on them.

 9. Stream Ice

Some of the stream ice was as clear as crystal…

 10. Stream Ice

And some was as white as snow.

 11. Sunlight in the Woods

Yesterday we saw temperatures above freezing for the first time in over a week and the word is that today might set records with highs in the 50s. And then we might see torrential rain and thunder storms before it gets colder again, so we’re still on the roller coaster ride that is this winter.

Winter either bites with its teeth or lashes with its tail.  ~Proverb

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I think it’s time for another post full of all of those things I see that don’t seem to fit in with the flowers. I never saw a pine tree with blue (purple?) cones until I saw this one at a local park.  I’ve searched books and online extensively and the only other tree that I can find that even remotely resembles this one is called a Bosnian Pine (Pinus heldreichii var. Leucodermis or Mint Truffle.) Several cultivars of that plant have cones very similar to these.Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are just starting to come up in our area. Indian pipe has no chlorophyll so it can’t make its own food. Instead it feeds off the roots of a fungus. Russula and Lactarius mushrooms are two that are known hosts. This plant doesn’t benefit its host plant, so it is considered a parasite. Because it lacks chlorophyll it doesn’t need light to grow-these plants were found quite deep in a pine forest where only dappled sunlight could be seen. Native Americans used the sap for medicinal purposes, which most likely explains the common name of Indian pipe. Each stalk holds one nodding flower. Indian pipes are related to blueberries and rhododendrons. Puffballs have started appearing as well. This one was as big as a quarter and is the first I’ve seen this year.  It was growing in some dry pine woods. New milkweed pods are just beginning to form. Very small, new pods are edible and some say they taste like okra. Others say that the plant is mildly toxic and shouldn’t be eaten, so it’s all in who you choose to believe when it comes to eating wild plants. If milkweed is grown in the garden to attract butterflies these pods should be picked off before they go to seed. This will stop the plant from spreading to other parts of the garden. This pearly crescent spot butterfly (Phyciodes tharos ) stopped by and sat on a milkweed leaf long enough for me to get a few pictures.  The crescent shaped spot on the underside of its wing gives this butterfly its name. Though it is said to be very common this wasn’t the easiest insect to identify, so if I’m wrong I hope someone will let me know. Goldenrod stem galls are very easily identified. They are caused by the Goldenrod Gall Fly (Eurosta solidaginis,) which is a parasite. The female injects eggs into the goldenrod stem. Once they hatch the larvae begin to eat inside the stem of the plant. Their saliva contains a chemical which causes the plant to deform and create a gall around the larvae. The larvae live in the gall for a full year, leaving the gall the following spring.  Downy Woodpeckers and Carolina Chickadees sometimes break into the galls to eat the larvae. If the stem gall is elliptical rather than round it is caused by a gall moth (Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis.Another gall regularly seen on goldenrod is called bunch gall. Bunch galls are caused by a gall midge (Rhopalomyla solidaginis) which lays its egg in a leaf bud. When the larva hatches the plant stops growing taller but continues to produce leave and the new leaves bunch all together at the top of the plant, forming the type of gall seen in the picture. This midge does plant hunters a favor because it likes only Canada goldenrod (Solidago Canadensis.) It was so dark in the woods because of the leaf canopy that I had to use the flash to get a picture of this large shelf fungus growing on an American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) tree. If this were round it would be as big as a basketball. I’m not sure of the species, but it was pure white underneath. This white ash tree (Fraxinus Americana) had an alarming number of seed pods on it this year. Often when a tree produces more seeds than normal it is because it is under stress and is compensating for its coming death by making sure there will be plenty of seedlings to carry on the species. Unfortunately white ash trees are very susceptible to damage from insects and disease. The wood of the white ash is the first choice for baseball bats and tool handles because it is so tough. American Burr reed (Sparganium americanum) is an odd looking plant that can be found growing in or near slow moving water. This plant has both male and female flowers. The male flowers are the smaller round clusters at the top of the zig zag stem and the female are the larger clusters lower down. Burr reed is a wind pollinated plant and once the male flowers have released their pollen they wither away while the female flowers develop into fruit. This plant was growing near a stream at the water’s edge. Burr reed has leaves that resemble those on cattails and it often grows with them, making it hard to find unless it is flowering or fruiting. Burr reed fruit. Burr reed seeds are an important food for waterfowl. Muskrats will eat the whole plant. The flower that this spider is crawling on was smaller than a pencil eraser and the spider was tiny. I think it’s a crab spider, but I’m not 100% sure. The native red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) berries are ripe. Birds don’t seem to be thrilled by these white berries and leave them alone until mid to late winter when other foods are scarce. Some Native Americans used to eat the berries to treat sore throats and colds, and others smoked the inner bark of the shrub like tobacco.This year’s crop of broadleaf cattails (Typha latifolia) is flowering.  We also have narrow leaf cattails (Typha angustifolia.) On narrow leaved cattails the male and female flowers have a gap between them and on broadleaf cattails they touch, as the picture shows. The tiny male flowers always appear at the top of the stalk and the female flowers make up the brown “club.” Once the female flowers have been pollinated the male flowers will disappear. Both species intermingle and hybridize so it can be difficult to tell them apart at times. Cattail roots can be dried, ground and used as flour but they act as filters and filter contaminates out of the soil, so I’d want to know the conditions of both the water and soil before eating them. Many of the pictures in today’s post were taken near this stream. As far as I know it has no name, but a large number of unusual plants grow in and around it and many animals visit it regularly.

As you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged by a mountain stream, the great door that does not look like a door opens.~ Stephen Graham

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Update note: I realized that there was a picture missing so I just inserted it. It is the large bracket fungus. The text was there but the picture had disappeared!

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