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Posts Tagged ‘Mosses’

1-brickyard-brook

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so much further into the forest once the shrubs that make up the undergrowth have lost their leaves. This means that things that were hidden all summer like mosses suddenly become very visible. I was surprised to find that I could see so far up Brickyard Brook in Winchester recently. The water was very low and every stone was covered in moss. This is odd since not that long ago water covered most of the stones. Can mosses really grow that fast, or were they there underwater the whole time, I wondered. There are aquatic mosses and one called common water moss (Fontinalis  antipyretica) was recently found to be growing at 1000 foot depths in Yellowstone Lake, near a geo-thermal vent.

2-dog-lichen

Mosses don’t have roots but on dry land they soak up rain water like a sponge and release it slowly over time. Other water loving plants like this dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) take advantage of that and grow among them so they won’t dry out. This lichen was moist and pliable, even though we’ve been in a drought for months. Mosses also benefit the ecosystem in many other ways.  Bryologist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer says that “One gram of moss from the forest floor, a piece about the size of a muffin, would harbor 150,000 protozoa, 132,000 tardigrades, 3,000 springtails, 800 rotifers, 500 nematodes, 400 mites, and 200 fly larvae.”

3-medusa-moss-hedwigia-ciliata

The name medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) comes from the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. It is also called white tipped moss, for obvious reasons. 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.

4-rambling-tail-moss

I think this moss must be rambling tail moss (Anomodon viticulosus) because of its long length and its habit of growing out away from the tree’s trunk. I think it is too long to be tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates.)

5-rambling-tail-moss

The main stems of rambling tail-moss are said to be creeping with blunt ends like a paintbrush, and they arch upward when dry like a hook. Those attributes and their yellow green color are what lead me to think that this example is Anomodon viticulosus, but I could be wrong. You really need a microscope to be sure when there are several mosses that look so much alike.

6-apple-moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) doesn’t look like many other mosses so it’s relatively easy to identify. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive 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.

7-apple-moss

Though they’re orange on this example sometimes the spore capsules do turn red as they age, so I guess the name apple moss is appropriate.

8-broom-moss

Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) gets its common name from the way the leaves all point in the same general direction, making it look as if it had been swept by a broom. It’s a fairly common moss that grows in large tufts or mats on logs and tree bases, soil or stone.

9-delicate-fern-moss

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) changes from deep green to lime green when it gets cold and becomes one of the more visible mosses. It grows in soil in shaded spots and I find it in my lawn each fall. It will also grow on the base of trees and on logs and boulders, where it can form quite dense mats. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.

10-greater-whip-wort-bazzania-trilobata

Greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) grows right alongside mosses but it’s a liverwort. A close look shows that it looks almost if it has been braided. Each leaf on this leafy liverwort is only about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of the scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.”

11-stairstep-moss

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is a very beautiful moss that grows on stones and looks quite fragile, but I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it so I can say with certainty that it’s a lot tougher than it looks. That is most likely why it grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It seems fairly rare here; this is the only place that I’ve seen it.

12-stairstep-moss

When dry stair step moss has a slight satiny sheen to it, and that’s probably how it came by its other common name of glittering wood-moss. Its common name comes from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. It is said that you can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps, and from what I saw this branch would have been at least 5 years old.

14-big-redstem-moss-pleurozium-schreberi

This is the first time that big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) has appeared on this blog because, though I’ve seen it for years I have only just learned its name. It’s a very common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning other mosses. I finally learned the name of this one by reading The Saratoga Woods and Waterways Blog. If you love nature and aren’t reading this blog you’re doing yourself a disservice.

13-big-redstem-moss-pleurozium-schreberi

It should be obvious how big red stem comes by its common name but I don’t see any red, and neither does my color finding software. I’ve looked through two moss books and countless photos on line though, and all examples of big red stem look like this example. That makes me wonder if its stem isn’t red for part of the time. Mosses do change color.

15-rose-moss

Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is a very beautiful moss and one of my favorites. Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience. I know of only one place to find it.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics; it also grows on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. It is a resurrection engine. A single clump of mosses can lie dormant and dry for forty years at a stretch, and then vault back again into life with a mere soaking of water.
~
Elizabeth Gilbert

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1. Abandoned Road

The weather man said that Easter Sunday would be sunny and in the mid-50s so I planned to climb one of our local hills, but instead of sun we had clouds that were low and thick enough to keep the temperature in the low 30s. I quickly changed my plans and decided to hike up to Beaver Brook Falls. Actually it’s more of a walk than a hike because you have an old abandoned road under your feet the whole way.

2. Beaver Brook

The old road was built to access a sawmill in 1736 and follows Beaver Brook to the north of Keene. The brook was relatively placid this day but it hasn’t always been so in the past.

3. Plantain Leaved Sedge

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

4. Road

The old road isn’t travelled by car anymore but there were many years that it was. We had relatives living north of Keene when I was a boy so I’m sure I travelled the road many times with my father. I don’t really remember a single instance though; in those days I was far more interested in what was at the end of the road than the journey along it, and I probably couldn’t wait to see my cousins. These days I care more about what I see along the roadsides and don’t think much about when or where they might end. It’s funny how your perspective can change so easily, without any real effort at all.

5. Lines

I don’t suppose the no passing lines will ever wear away now since there has been no traffic on this road since the 1970s.

6. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) gets its name from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. You can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps. It’s a very tough moss that even grows on the Arctic tundra. It has a certain sparkle to it when it’s dry and is also called glittering wood moss because of it. According to the Islandwood outdoor classroom in Seattle, Washington, stair step moss was once used to chink the logs in log cabins. Wet moss was pressed into the cracks between logs and when it dried it stayed compressed and green for the life of the cabin.

7. Beech Fungus

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to the purplish black color seen in the photo, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. It has no common name apparently, and I had a very hard time identifying it; it took three years before I finally found its scientific name.

8. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

Other things I come here to see are the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens,) not because I can’t find them anywhere else but because of the way the light reflects off their spore bearing apothecial disks here. They look beautifully sky blue in this light, much like the whitish bloom on plums and blueberries make them look blue in the right light and it’s all due to a powdery waxy coating that the lichens and fruits have. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen, which can be the golden brown seen here or grayish white. The disks are barely bigger than a written period on paper. This is a really beautiful lichen that’s relatively common on stones and ledges.

9. Washed Out Culvert

The old road is washing away along the brook in more and more places each year. I talked to an old timer up here once who told me that he had seen water up over the road a few times in the past. Chances are one day far in the future there won’t be a road here at all.

10. Guard Rail

Many of the old wooden guard posts that hold the guard wires have rotted off at ground level and hang from the wires but this one was still solid. It’s probably been close to 50 years since they last saw any maintenance. Even the triangular concrete posts used to replace the wooden posts are breaking up and washing downstream.

11. Waterfall

There are a few things that can get me to climb over the guard wires and one of them is this view across the brook of a waterfall that appears sometimes when it rains. I like the mossy rocks and wish I could get over there with dry feet, but the only way I see is by walking through the brook. This photo also illustrates the kind of steep hillsides found on both sides of the road. Together they make this place a canyon that it would be very hard to climb out of.

12. Dog Lichen

The biggest dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) that I’ve seen grows here. It’s about 9-10 inches across and grows happily surrounded by mosses. The mosses soak up water like a sponge and that keeps the lichen moist as well. When moist it is pliable and feels much like your earlobe but when it dries out it feels more like a potato chip. The grayish / whitish areas show where it’s starting to dry out.

I’ve heard about four different theories behind the name “dog lichen.”  One says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the lichen’s fang like rhizines that anchor it to the substrate look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears. There’s not a single part of it that reminds me of a dog.

13. Apple Moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) gets its common name from its spherical spore capsules that some say look like tiny green apples. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warmer rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny green globes.

14. Path to Brook

The path down to the brook near the falls is steep and getting steeper all the time because it’s slowly washing away. Each time I stand here I ask myself if I’m not getting too old for this but each time if it isn’t icy, down I go. It’s a kind of half slide/ half climb situation going down so coming back up is always easier.

15. Beaver Brook Falls

The reason I climb down to the brook is of course to see an unobstructed view of the falls, which people who stay up on the road don’t get to see. It was really too shady to be down here on this day but I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m guessing the falls are about 40 feet high but I’ve also heard all kinds of other guesses about its height. I don’t think anyone really knows, but I’m inclined to believe the old timers. It’s high enough so I know I wouldn’t want to ride down it.

16. Above the Falls

I’ve shown this place many times on this blog but I’ve never shown this view of Beaver Brook from above the falls. It’s a bit hard to see because of all the trees but it was the best I could do. When I took the previous photo of the falls I was down there at water level. You don’t really understand what that means until you see it from up here.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

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1. Mosses

One of the things that I like about this time of year is how the all the mosses are suddenly so easy to see, so this is when I go visiting them. Mosses call to me and make me want to know more about what I’m seeing, so I’ve been studying them for a few years. If a scene like the one in the above photo gets your blood pumping, this post is for you. I’ve been both wanting to do it and dreading it for a while now. If you’ve ever tried to identify mosses I’m sure you understand.

2. Delicate Fern Moss

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) changes from deep green to lime green when it gets cold and then eventually becomes one of the more visible mosses. It grows in soil in shaded spots and I find it in my lawn each fall. It will also grow on the base of trees and on logs and boulders. It forms quite dense mats as can be seen in the above photo. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.

3. Rambling Tail Moss

This moss growing on the base of a tree almost had me fooled into thinking that it was tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) but a closer look has me believing that it must be rambling tail moss (Anomodon viticulosus) instead. This moss is too long to be tree skirt moss, I think, and its habit of growing out away from the trunk isn’t right for that moss either. The main stems of rambling tail-moss are said to be creeping with blunt ends like a paintbrush, and they arch upward when dry like a hook. That and their yellow green color are what lead me to choose Anomodon viticulosus, but I could be wrong.

4. Common Haircap Moss

Common haircap moss (Polytrichum commune) is one of the most common and also one of the largest mosses in this area, and that makes them easy to identify and study. I find them growing in soil just about everywhere I go.

5. Haircap Moss Spore Capsule

Last year I found a blue haircap moss spore capsule but this year the best I could do was salmon pink. These capsules are rectangular in shape with corners and often sunken sides as the photo shows. The light colored ring on its end is called a peristome and has 64 tiny teeth around its inside diameter, which is measured in micrometers. The teeth can’t be seen in this photo and neither can the cap, called a calyptra, which protects the spores and in this instance is hairy, and which is what gives this moss its common name. When the spores are ready to be released the calyptra falls off and the spores are borne on the wind.

6. Mnium punctatum

Red penny moss (Rhizomnium punctatum) is a very small but leafy moss that was renamed from Mnium punctatum. I find it growing in deep shade in the soaking wet soil of seeps. It is a forest moss but only in very wet areas that don’t easily allow kneeling for a photo.

7. Mnium punctatum Closeup

On male red penny moss plants in the center of the leaf rosettes are what look like tiny blackberries. These are actually the antheridia, which are where the sperm is produced. When mature the sperm will wait for a rainy day and then will swim to a female plant. Once fertilized the female plant will produce spores and send them off on the wind.

8. Apple Moss

It looks like apple mosses (Bartramia pomiformis) are growing white whiskers for winter. Do they always do this, I wonder? Maybe I’ve just never noticed, but since this is one of the easier to see mosses I don’t know how I could have missed it. I’ve looked in my moss books and on line and can’t find another example with white tips, but on this day I saw many. This moss gets its common name from its spherical spore capsules that some say look like tiny green apples.

9. Moss Islands

In her book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer tells of an experiment where chipmunks were coaxed into running over some sticky paper. When the paper was examined it was found to have thousands of moss spores stuck to it, so if you’ve ever wondered how mosses get 100 feet up in the tree tops thank a chipmunk, because the spores stick to their feet. And squirrel’s feet too, I’m guessing.  Of course, wind and rain also carry spores so rodents don’t have to do all the work. The above photo is of tiny green moss islands I found on the trunk of a tree, and I think it shows the spores just becoming recognizable plants. I wish I’d seen that lichen on the right with rose colored apothecia when I took this photo. It’s a beauty.

10. Crispy Tuft Moss

I think the moss islands in the previous photo will turn into something like this clump of crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa.) This moss is very common on tree trunks in these parts and I see it all the time. When dry its leaves tighten and curl.  This clump was about an inch across.

11. Broom Moss aka Dicranum scoparium

Some mosses are so animal like they make you want to reach out and pet them. This broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) is one of those that I had to touch before I left it. This moss grows on stone, wood or soil in sunnier places and it’s common here.

12. Rose Moss on Dog Lichen

Another very beautiful moss is rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum,) shown here growing against the dark shine of a dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) on a boulder. Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants when it is found. Many native orchids for instance, fall into that category.

13. White Tipped Moss aka Hedwigia ciliata

The name medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) comes from the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. It is also called white tipped moss, for obvious reasons. 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.

14. River Foxtail Moss

This is the first time this moss has appeared on this blog because I’ve only just found it. I think it might be a moss called river foxtail moss (Brachythecium rivulare) which is said to have a whitish cast.  I found it growing in shade on a stone shelf where it was watered by constantly dripping ground water; exactly the habitat that river foxtail moss likes.

15. Unknown

This moss was growing right beside the one in the previous photo but even though I tried several times it was simply too small to get a sharp photo of. Instead over and over the camera focused on the tiny water droplets that decorated it like Christmas ornaments, so that’s what I’ll show here. Everything seen in this photo would easily fit on a penny (.75 inches.)

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

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1. Trail

I agreed, back in February, to help a group of Pathfinders get some merit badges by helping them find mosses, lichens, and liverworts. Pathfinders range in age from 10 to 15 I think, and are kind of like scouts, at least when it comes to earning merit badges. Of course as soon as the plans were finalized it began to snow and it didn’t stop until nearly every living thing was buried under feet of it. We’ve had some warmth since though, so recently I decided to check out the old abandoned road near Beaver Brook in Keene to see if we could get in there without snow shoes.

2. Snow Melt

The snow had melted well on the hillsides along the sunny side of the road but the road itself still has as much as 6 inches of loose granular snow in places. Tough to walk in, but not impossible. Good, waterproof hiking boots will be best for this trip.

3. Snowy Hillside

The hillsides along the shady side of the brook still had quite a bit of snow on them.

4. Ledge

The last time I was here the wind had blown so much snow against the ledge faces, you wouldn’t have known they were there if you weren’t familiar with the place. Many of the mosses, lichens and liverworts that the Pathfinders want to find grow on these ledges so it would have been a waste of time.

5. Dog Lichen

Dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) is just one of many things that grow here that I rarely see anywhere else. Dog lichens aren’t fussy and will grow on soil, stone or bark but they do seem to like moist, sunny spots. They also always seem to grow near moss, probably because moss soaks up water like a sponge.

6. Stairstep Moss

Chances are the Pathfinders won’t realize how special what they’re seeing actually is, but I plan to tell them that this is the only place that I’ve ever seen this stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens.) It is also called glittering wood moss and grows on the side of a large boulder here. It could be that I rarely see it because it usually grows in the boreal forests of Canada, Europe and Russia. I’m not sure why this particular example is growing so far south. This moss was once used to plug gaps between the logs in log cabins. It has anti-bacterial qualities.

7. Rose Moss

Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is one of the most beautiful mosses in my opinion and like the stair step moss, this is the only place I’ve ever seen it. This moss gets its common name from the way the small rosettes of leaves resembled rose blossoms to the person who named it. The example that grows here is large and I think must be quite old. It grows on the flat top of a boulder. As the photo shows, the rosettes grow so dense that you can’t even see the stone.

8. Yellow Feather Moss

Yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) is another moss that’s rare in this area, at least in my experience. This small clump is the only one I know of. It’s looking a little bedraggled because of being covered by snow all winter, but at least the Pathfinders will be able to see it.

9. Stone

I don’t know too much about geology but I do know that there are some interesting things to see here among the ledges, including garnets, milky quartz crystals, and veins of feldspar. I also know that I could build a nice looking wall with the stones in this section.

10. Ice Free Brook

In places the ice that covered the brook all winter has completely melted and the silence of winter has been replaced by the chuckles and giggles of spring water moving over and around the stones. Be more like the brook, I remind myself. Laugh your way through life and just flow around any obstacles that might appear.

11. Icicles

Not all of the brook is ice free. There were still some impressive icicles to be seen.

12. Falls

The lower section of Beaver Brook Falls had shaken off its think coating of ice and was announcing spring with a roar. It’s amazing to come here in the dead of winter when even they are silent. Ice makes a very good sound insulation.

13. Greater Whipwort

Greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) will fulfil the Pathfinder’s one liverwort requirement. Their need for 5 each of lichens and mosses will easily be met here as well. This liverwort doesn’t grow everywhere but it isn’t really rare either. I always find it growing on stones near a brook or a stream. At a glance it might fool you into thinking it was a moss but a closer look reveals the three tiny lobes at the base of each leaf that give it the trilobata part of its scientific name. This liverwort is the host plant for the larva of a moth known as the gold cap moss eater (Epimartyria auricrinella.)

14. Blue Fibers on Tree Skirt Moss

A while ago I did a post about all of things that I found growing on a single tree, and in it I mentioned how I had been seeing a lot of long white fibers hung up on lichens especially. Well, now they’re getting hung up on moss too, and they’re blue. I found this little bundle on some dry tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates.) I wonder if a bird was collecting it for its nest and dropped it. I don’t see many humans where this particular moss grows.

 15. Line on Road

The snow had melted enough in one spot to see a little piece of the yellow line that still runs up the middle of this old road. Since the temperature reached into the 60s F yesterday I’m hoping to see a lot more of it next week when the Pathfinders are here.

If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. ~Rachel Carson

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1. Trail

I noticed that people had broken a path through the snow at a local forest that I visit often, so I decided to follow it one cold and cloudy day. The snow was well packed and easy to walk on and squeaked under my boots. For those of you who have never experienced real cold; when it’s really cold the snow squeaks when it’s walked on, and it does that so nature nuts know that it’s too cold to be out walking on it. At least, that’s my theory.

2. Trail

The path was also only 1 person wide and if you stepped off it into the soft snow at the sides you found yourself up to your knees in it. I suspected that would be the case so I thought ahead for a change and wore my knee high gaiters. I seem to be having some hip trouble so snowshoes aren’t a good idea right now.

3. Common Greenshield Lichen

With the gaiters on I was able to plow through the snow without getting soaked below the knees and boots full of snow, so I could get a look at things like this green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata.) It’s not hard to see how it came by its common name; it looks just like a shield. Its dryness reminded me that winter can be as dry as a desert, in spite of all the snow.

4. Stalked Feather Moss aka Brachythecium rutabulum

One of the best things about walking through the woods in winter is seeing those things which we ordinarily wouldn’t see or which wouldn’t register, like moss on a tree trunk. At other times of the year there is so much to see that most of us would pass a small bit of moss by without a second glance.

5. Stalked Feather Moss aka Brachythecium rutabulum

But if we did we’d probably be missing something beautiful and fascinating, like this stalked feather moss (Brachythecium rutabulum.) Though it doesn’t seem to be moving we know that it is because we can read its movements and easily see how it has crawled up and over the bark plates looking for that perfect spot where it will get all the sunshine, water and nutrients that it needs. It seems to pulse with energy and you can sense how full of life it is. Its beautiful green color offers a welcome contrast to the brown, black and white winter landscape.

6. Red Oak Bark

You don’t always have to see something on the bark of a tree though, because often the bark itself is every bit as interesting and beautiful as anything that might grow on it.  As I took off my glove and ran my hand over the beautiful, deeply furrowed bark of this old northern red oak I imagined that I knew how Adam must have felt when he first laid eyes on the garden. Surely the love of creation must have welled up inside of him like a spring bubbling up from the earth.

7. Snow Depth

The woods might seem hushed and quiet but if you stop and listen you’ll find that spring is in the air. When I stopped squeaking the snow I heard a bird singing a beautiful song just above me in the treetops. I couldn’t see it so I don’t know which bird it was but it wasn’t one of the common, often heard songs. In fact I can’t remember ever hearing it before, but I’d love to hear it again.

8. Wind Blown Snow

The trees will tell you which way the wind blew during the last storm.

 9. Red Oak Buds

There are many northern red oaks (Quercus rubra) in these woods and I stopped to admire the buds of another one.  We have a lot of white oak (Quercus albra) as well but their buds aren’t as sharply pointed as these. There was no sign of these swelling just yet.

10. Oak Branch

Sugar maple buds look very similar to red oak buds because of the overlapping bud scales but an easy way to tell the two apart is by their branching habits. Oaks like the one in the photo have alternate branching and maples have opposite branching. If you’d like to be able to identify trees in winter studying their branch structure and winter buds is a great place to start.

11. Black Birch Bud

This bud had me scratching my head for quite a while but the taste test finally told me that it was a black birch (Betula lenta.) Black birch looks so much like cherry that another common name for it is cherry birch, but this bud didn’t look anything like a cherry bud. Actually, it looks a lot like a buckthorn bud but that’s a shrub, not a tree. Chewing a twig revealed a taste of wintergreen and told me immediately what it was. Black birch often fools me because so many were harvested to make oil of wintergreen that I rarely see them unless I go to spots where I know they grow.  Now I know another spot.

12. Hemlock Twig

Eastern hemlock branches aren’t hard to identify; I’ve raked up millions of them.  Hemlocks, much like weeping willows, are a “self-pruning” tree and can be quite messy. The snow in this photo seems to have a strange, luminous quality that I don’t remember seeing in person.

13. Inner Barberry Bark

The yellow inner bark will tell you that you’re seeing a barberry….

14. Barberry Thorn

But in the winter it’s the thorns that will tell you which one. European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) both have clusters of 3 or more thorns but since American barberry doesn’t grow in New England it comes down to European or Japanese, and only the very invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) has single thorns.

 15. Sunny Snow Storm

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it snow when the sun was shining as much as I have this year. It’s as if the atmosphere is so full of snow that it can’t even wait for the sun to stop shining before it drops more of it, and what looks like spots and smudges on this photo are just that-more of it.

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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1. Road View

I’ve agreed to help a group of youngsters called Pathfinders in their quest to find good examples of mosses, lichens and liverworts. I know of 2 places where they could find all three of them without too much trouble and decided that the old abandoned road along Beaver Brook would probably be the safest. From what I can tell Pathfinders are anywhere from 10-15 years old and get merit badges and other awards each time they meet certain goals, much like the Boy Scouts.

2. Beaver Brook

Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows that if you stand me up in front of a group of people and ask me to speak I immediately forget everything I’ve ever known, but this should be very different. By reading other nature blogs I know that people who lead excursions like these usually go off on the hunt alone before they lead a group, so that’s what I did. Beaver Brook was almost completely iced over with just a narrow ribbon of water glistening in the sunshine. It was sunny but it was cold and the snow where it hadn’t been walked on was quite deep. Since I made this trip we’ve gotten over a foot of new snow, so I hope the Pathfinders have already earned their winter survival badges.

 3. Ledge Ice

I chose this place because of the easily accessible ledges and trees. Since vertical ledges and trees don’t accumulate much snow the lichens, mosses and liverworts that grow on them are easy to find all winter long. We’ll have to pay close attention to ice though; we don’t want anyone standing under that. Since this trip is planned towards the end of the month the ice could be rotten and falling by then.

4. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

Beautiful smokey eye boulder lichens(Porpidia albocaerulescens) grow on the stone of the ledges along with many other lichens and mosses. I’m hoping that each Pathfinder has his or her own loupe or magnifying glass so they can see details like the beautiful sky blue fruiting bodies (Apothecia) on this lichen. Part of this lichen in the top center of the photo was under ice, and what a difference it made in its appearance.

5. Quartz Crystal Formations

While I was looking for lichens I found a pocket of milky quartz crystals that I’ve never seen here before. It seems like every time I come here I see something new and on this day, between lichens and quartz crystals, I found three things that I had never seen here. That’s why it pays to follow the same trails over and over; you think you’ve seen all there is to see but you find that you haven’t even come close.

6. Hole in the Snow

There was a quarter sized hole in the snow that must have had warm water vapor rising up through it, because its edges were decorated with delicate, feather like frost crystals.

7. Yellow Feather Moss

Yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) always looks pale and sickly but it is perfectly healthy, as its spore capsule production shows. This moss is rare here and this small clump is the only example I know of, so maybe it will earn the Pathfinders some extra points.

8. Yellow Feather Moss Spore Capsule

I won’t tell you how many shots of this yellow feather moss spore capsule I had to take before I got a useable one, but it was a lot. This example still has its tiny, pointy, red cap-like lid (operculum), meaning it hasn’t released its spores yet.

9. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is another beautiful moss that I’ve seen nowhere but here. It’s looking a little dry at the moment but it will snap back as soon as it warms up and we get some rain. This moss gets its common name from the way new leaves “step up” from the backs of older leaves.

10. Possible Fused Rim Lichen aka Lecanora symmicta

I found a crustose lichen that I’ve never seen before. It grew on tree bark and I think that it might be a fused rim lichen (Lecanora symmicta.) Fused rim lichens get their name from the way the tan colored fruiting bodies (Apothecia) sometimes fuse together. I don’t know if this is a rare lichen or if I’ve just never noticed it before because it fruits in winter, but it’s something else that might earn the Pathfinders extra points.

11. Blue Lichen

I’ve known for a long time that lichens change color when they dry out but I didn’t know that cold affected them. Then I started seeing blue lichens in places where I was sure there were none before and I realized that some of the lichens that I saw in the summer were turning blue in winter. That isn’t much help when it comes to identifying them though, so now I have to go back when it’s warmer and see if I can figure out what they are. Once I’ve identified them I can see what the books say about them turning blue.

12. Greater Whipwort Liverwort

The Pathfinders need to find 5 mosses, 5 lichens, and 1 liverwort and the greater whipworts (Bazzania trilobata) that grow on the ledges here will take care of the liverwort requirement. They’ve shriveled a bit because of the cold and dryness but it’s still obvious that they aren’t a moss. I always find these liverworts growing on stones near streams, so they must like high humidity.

13. Script Lichen

Script lichens (Graphis) are another candidate for a hand lens but well worth the effort. There are 39 species of script lichens in North America and many more throughout the world and their most important identification characteristic is their squiggly apothecia, which look like ancient script written on tree bark.  I counted at least five different species on this day in just this small area, but I think you could probably spend a lifetime trying to identify script lichens. If I was still a teenager I might take on such a challenge.

14. Yellow Crust Fungus

I’m sure that the Pathfinders will find all that they’re looking for and plenty more besides. I even found a bright yellow fungus that I think might be a crowded parchment (Stereum complicatum), even though they are usually orange. Color like this is always a welcome sight in winter and I hope I can remember where it was so I can show it to them.

15. Brook View

The only thing I can’t be sure of is how much snow we’ll have by the day of our trip. I’ve already had to start wearing gaiters, but if we keep getting two or three snowstorms each week like we have been lately we might all need snowshoes.

I’m glad that I made this solo journey because now I know that the kids won’t be disappointed. There is plenty here to see and I hope they will come away from this place with an urge to see more and learn more. I also hope the knowledge that they can see beauty virtually anywhere as long as they are willing to look for it will stay with them for a good long time.

Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life.  ~ Ritu Ghatourey

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1. First Snow

I’ve been working on a difficult post that needs a lot of research and I knew I wouldn’t have it done in time to post today, so I thought I’d do another to show you what winter is doing here in New Hampshire. So far we’ve had plenty of cold but only a dusting of snow, as the above photo shows.

2. Foliage on First Snow Day

This photo was taken on the same day that the first one was. That was how fast the snow melted.

3. Puddle Ice

But as I’ve said, we’ve had plenty of cold so winter is creeping rather than howling in this year. This photo is of the kind of puddle ice that is paper thin and full of oxygen and makes tinkling sounds when you break it. This example had the silhouette of a flying eagle in it, and I’ve circled it so you could see it. All I have to do is hear this kind of ice breaking and I’m immediately transported back to when I was 9 or 10 years old. I used to love riding my bike through puddles with this kind of ice on them in the spring. It was always a sign that, before too long, school would be letting out for the summer.

 4. Stream

Streams freeze from the banks in toward the middle and this one has started doing just that.

5. Icicles in Stream

Anywhere water splashes, ice will form.

 6. Ice Formations

Rising and falling water levels decorate the edges of stones with ice baubles.  When you see this happening you know it won’t be long before the stream has frozen over. The stones have lost any heat they might have had stored from the sun.

7. River Ice

It’s no different along the Ashuelot River; anything that water splashes on is coated in ice.

8. Ice Needles

Ice needles are poking up out of the soil. A lot has to happen for ice needles to form. When the air temperature is below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remain thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force 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. Often these needles freeze together to form ribbons, and that is what this photo shows.

9. Deep Cut

One of my favorite places to find winter is in this man made canyon, hacked out of the rock when the Cheshire railroad was built in the 1800s. It’s an endless source of fascination and wonder for me because of the unusual plants that grow there. Winter had already started before I got there.

 10. Icicles

The sun doesn’t reach down beyond the tops of these 40-50 foot high walls in very many places but even where it did it didn’t throw enough heat to melt the ice.  The ice here can be very beautiful and is often colored in shades of blue, green and yellow, stained by minerals and vegetation.

11. Icicles

When you walk through here in summer you hear the constant drip of groundwater, and in winter you see as well as hear it.

12. Ice Formations With Spider

I’ve put a red circle around the spider who found his own Everest. He’s just to the lower right of center. As often happens I didn’t see him until I saw the photo.

 13. Icy Liverworts

There are thousands of liverworts living here and many are slowly being entombed in the ice. There’s a good chance that they won’t be seen again until spring.

14. Ice Covered Moss

Mosses too, are being encased in ice. Life on these walls is tough, but these plants can take it.

15. Fallen Tree

For those who might be thinking big deal-a few icicles, this photo from last year shows what those few icicles will have become by February. They grow as big as tree trunks, and people come here to learn how to climb them. For me it’s interesting to see how they start, and then how they grow.

What a severe yet master artist old Winter is…. No longer the canvas and the pigments, but the marble and the chisel. ~John Burroughs

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