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Posts Tagged ‘Mosses in Winter’

When I thought about the title of this post I wondered if anyone would really want to look back at the last year, but then I thought that these “looking back” posts are as much about looking forward as they are looking back, because in nature it’s a pretty fair bet that what happened last year will happen this year. To a point anyway; I hope the drought will ease this year so I can see mushrooms and slime molds again. The above shot is from last January, when I was stunned by the beauty of fresh snow.

I was also stunned by pussy willows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in January before.

In February the first skunk cabbages appeared from under the snow. A welcome sign of spring in February, which can sometimes be the coldest and snowiest month of all.

It was in February that I also saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Very small but beautiful, and with a fragrance that you can smell from two blocks away.

In March I saw the first of the American hazelnut blossoms; truly the first wildflowers of the year.

Things start happening in gardens in March as well. That’s usually when reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) appear. They are one of the earliest bulbs to show growth. They’re very cheery after a long winter without flowers.

April is when our spring ephemerals start to appear, and one of the largest and showiest is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum).These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. 

With so many flowers appearing in spring it’s very hard to choose the ones to put into these posts but one I felt I had to choose for April is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and I chose it because most people never see it. They aren’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They will for the most part bloom only when the sun shines on them but you can occasionally find them on a cloudy day. Their common name comes from the bright red or orange sap in their roots.

One of my personal favorites among the spring ephemerals is the spring beauty (Claytonia carolinana.) Though they sometimes appear in April, May seems to be the month I can really count on seeing them. I know where a colony of many thousands of plants grow and I have happily knelt in last year’s leaf litter taking photos of them for years now. I love their aspirin size, pink striped blossoms.  

Around the end of May is when I start seeing the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia). Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets make them easy to miss so you have to pay attention. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in quite large colonies but not always. They are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. Once you’ve found some you can go back to see them year after year. They seem quite long lived.

June is when our most well known orchid, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) blooms. Once collected into near oblivion by people who thought they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens, they have made a strong comeback and I see quite a few now. They’re beautiful and unusual, and should be left alone so we can all admire them. If transplanted they will not live long.

June was also when I found some larch flowers (Larix laricina). These tiny but beautiful things are so small all I can see is their color. I have to point the camera at the color and “shoot blind” until I get a shot. They can appear in mid May but I usually expect them in late May to early June. If you know a larch tree you might want to have a look. These tiny things will become the cones that hold the tree’s seeds, so if you look for the cones first that will give you an idea of which branches the flowers are most likely to appear on.  

Around the end of June and the first week of July I start looking for one of the most beautiful wildflowers I’ve seen; the purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). The big, two foot tall plant looks like a bush full of purple butterflies. They are quite rare in this area and that’s most likely because they grow in swamps. I can usually expect to have wet ankles after taking photos of this one.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blossoms right at the same time every year; just in time for the 4th of July, and its flowerheads just happen to look like fireworks. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo.

One of our prettiest and smallest wildflowers bloom in early August. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

In my last post I described how colorblindness prevented my ever seeing a cardinal. It works the same way for cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) unfortunately, so I was elated last August when a coworker and I stumbled upon a group of them. I knew what they looked like, and once I was right on top of them I could see their color, which was beautiful. Note how this much larger flower with its arching stamens uses the same strategy as the tiny forked blue curl we saw previously. The chief difference is, these stamens dust hummingbirds with pollen instead of bees.

It wouldn’t be September without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and this one just happens to be my favorite color aster. Unfortunately it’s also the hardest color to find so each year I have to go hunting for them. I can’t complain though; hunting for flowers is a pleasure, not a chore.

I could have shown a fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) in any month following May but this is the only photo from last year that showed the center of the flower, where a golden flame burns. I remember standing on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of these beautiful flowers last summer and being able to smell their glorious scent on the breeze. It was one the most amazing things, and I suspect that it wall last in my memory until I no longer have one.

I did see things other than flowers last year; things like this beautiful cedar waxwing I saw eating the berries of silky dogwoods at the river one September evening.

In October I went to see if the old stone staircase was still standing; all that’s left of Madame Sherri’s “castle” in Chesterfield. The castle was actually more of a chalet but it had quite a lot of elaborate stonework. It also had trees growing through the roof. How they kept the rain out is a mystery. Though I didn’t mention it in the original post I walked to the spot I had chosen and promptly tripped over a tree root and fell flat on my face in front of about 15 people who were all jostling to get a shot of the stairway. The camera was unscathed and I got my shot. The fall foliage was beautiful that day and the weather was perfect but the stairway was in need of some immediate help from a mason.

I also went to Willard Pond in October and walked through one of the most beautiful hardwood forests I’ve ever seen.

In November witch hazels bloomed. Also in December, but I doubt I’ll see any in January.

Also in November I was looking at lichens, including the smoky eye boulder lichen seen here. It’s one of the most beautiful in my opinion and I’ve put it here as an answer to the question “What is there to see in winter?” There is as much beauty to be seen in winter as there is at any other time of year. You just have to look a little closer, that’s all.

What could be more beautiful that this mossy hillside? It was like a green carpet covering the earth. What I like most about the colder months is how you can see the bones of the forest. There is no foliage to block your view in December.

One thing I’ll remember about the past year is how it was too dry for fungi. I saw very few until December, when I saw these mock oyster mushrooms (Phyllotopsis nidulans). They were big and beautiful, and looked as if they had been covered in orange velvet. They were well worth the wait but I hope to see more in 2021.

I hope this look back at 2020 wasn’t as bad as what you might have imagined. I’d rather have this blog be an island of calm in a sea of chaos than a running commentary on current events. Current events come and go like the tides and have no permanence, so about all you’re ever going to find here is nature, which is timeless. I do hope that’s why you come.

You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you’ll all have a happy, heathy new year.

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1. The Icebox

Each winter seeping groundwater creates columns of ice that grow to unbelievable proportions in a deep cut railroad bed that lies slightly north of Keene. Ice climbers call this place “the icebox” and come here from all over New England to train. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club also holds ice climbing clinics here. I don’t climb; I just come to see beauty of a kind that I can’t see anywhere else.

2. Blue Ice

Some of the ice is blue. This example looked very solid and climbable.

3. Green Ice

Some ice is green. This example was on its way to being big enough to climb but I don’t know if the ice climbers will climb green ice. I’ve only seen them climb blue ice, which is very dense.

4. Icy Grotto

This ice formed a kind of shallow cave or grotto that I could have stepped into if I wasn’t so wary of falling ice and stone. It happens fairly regularly here and you don’t want to get hit by it.

5. Running Water

Most of the groundwater seeps through cracks in the stone but in places it runs in small streams and this is one of those places. One of the constants here is the sound of trickling water, winter and summer alike. The ice in this photo was formed by splashing water and was crystal clear. This place has taught me that there are differences in the clarity of ice, depending on how it has formed.

6. Drainage Ditch

The drainage ditches that the railroad engineers built 150 years ago at the base of the ledges still work as they were designed to and carry the water away down the gentle grade, keeping the rail bed high and dry. As the snow gets higher these ditches get deeper. I often put on knee high rubber boots and walk in them to explore the rock faces, but I didn’t do so on this trip. It was the ice I came to see.

7. Drainage Ditch

The water in the drainage ditches never freezes completely and its movement cuts off the ice on the ledges at water level. This means that the ice that looks like it’s hanging from the ledges really does hang and isn’t supported by the ground at all in many places. When it comes free from the walls and falls sometimes it’s as if a crystal tree fell across the trail. I wonder what the railroad did when such large pieces of ice fell on the tracks when the trains were running.

8. Orangey Brown Ice

Last year the ice in this spot was bright orange but this year it leaned more toward orangey brown.

9. Mineral Stains

Mineral stains on the rock faces tell part of the story of the colored ice but there are many reasons that ice can be colored. Even a higher density can turn it blue.

10. Orange Algae

There are other colors on these rock walls but they aren’t in ice. This orange patch is caused by green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. I’m not sure if the algae color any ice here.

11. Liverworts

Large areas of stone are covered in places by liverworts but they don’t seem to mind being encased in ice for the winter. In the spring you wouldn’t know they had seen any ice at all.

12. Mossy Ledges

Many mosses turn a yellower shade of green in winter but otherwise ride it out with little change.

13. Fern in Ice

This fern was completely encased in ice. Since it is an evergreen fern it will most likely lose its leaves in spring when new growth begins.

14. Dirty Ice

I think there must be soil washed along in the groundwater for ice to look dirty like this example does.

15. Ice Columns

I was hoping this shot would convey a sense of how tall this ice is but it really doesn’t.  These ice columns are too small in diameter to climb but the ice climbers go for the taller ice I’ve noticed, and these were plenty tall.

16. Green Ice

Much of the ice was half what it was last year but we still have February to get through. One of the things that made last February so memorable was the extreme below zero cold that went on and on for most of the month. If that happens this year this ice will become huge like it was then.

17. Icicles

This past week has been the coldest we’ve seen this winter so I’m sure the ice has grown some. I’ll have to visit it again before it all starts to melt away in March. When I leave here and write a post about the place I often marvel at having virtually no memory of how cold it was, so captivating were the colors, sounds, and shapes. When great joy passes through you inconvenience slips away. You remember the joy but not the inconvenience.

One moment the world is as it is. The next, it is something entirely different. Something it has never been before. ~Anne Rice

Thanks for stopping in.

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