Posts Tagged ‘Mosses’

A while ago I had the urge to just walk into the forest without following a path, so I took a break from home renovation and followed a small stream near my house. Though this might sound like bushwhacking, once you get through the dense layer of shrubs at the edge of the forest that are all reaching for the sunlight, forests are usually surprisingly open and easy to walk through. A word of warning: if you aren’t familiar with an area then going into the woods alone would be ill advised unless you stay on a well-marked path. I’ve been lost in the woods just once and believe me, that was enough. 

I saw deer tracks in the mud at the edge of the stream and took pictures of them, but they really aren’t recognizable. I’m sure many animals drink here. 

There were plenty of grape vines (Vitis) to get hung up on if you didn’t watch where you were going. I like the way the bark falls in strips from older vines. 

I got hung up on grape vines several times because my eyes were on the forest floor. I was looking for things like this moss, which was very busy producing spores. Each of these stalks has a spore capsule at the end and is called a sporophyte. When ripe they will release the spores needed for a new generation of moss.

What I think is plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis), covered the base of this tree. If you compare their size to the maple leaf laying on the ground you can get an idea of how small these are. They look like tiny ferns.

These really are ferns, though it’s too soon to tell what species. The fiddleheads are just breaking through the soil surface.

Lichens and fungi all seemed be reaching for this small pool of sunlight. I’m not sure what the round, flat white fungi are, but they were about half the size of a fingernail. 

Jelly fungi grew on a branch. These looked orange to me in the woods, but now look yellow in the photo and resemble witch’s butter. (Tremella mesenterica) Other names are golden jelly and yellow brain fungus. 

These tiny bracket fungi also look orange to me. I’m not sure what these are but I’ve been seeing them everywhere over the last two or three weeks. They’re smaller than your thumbnail and seem to prefer the shady undersides of dead branches.

These bracket fungi were big enough to photograph without a macro lens. At first I thought they were turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) but now I’m not so sure. I think they might be a type of parchment fungi, but I’m still trying to identify them. 

I’m not sure if these bumps on a log were the egg stage of a mushroom or some type of puffball.  They were smaller than a dime and since they weren’t pear shaped obviously aren’t pear shaped puffballs. Another mystery to add to the countless others in nature.

After a couple hours of roaming through the woods I decided to head home and leave it to the grapevines. I’ll be sure to return though, because there is a lot left to see.

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Since we’ve had the fourth least snowiest December of all time, I’ve had an easy time getting into the woods. It’s amazing how much variety and color can be found in winter.

 American winterberry, or native holly, (Ilex verticillata) is one of a handful of shrubs that will survive growing in standing water for part of the year. This one was in deep and I couldn’t get any closer to it without getting wet feet. I found it growing in a local cemetery where they have quite extensive wetlands that are being taken over by the invasive purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria.) Local college students have been digging out the loosestrife and encouraging natives like winterberry. This one attracted me from quite far off because it was ablaze with red berries. Since it takes both a male and female to produce berries I know that there is a male lurking somewhere nearby, but until he grows leaves he’ll be hard to find.


 In the early spring red wing blackbirds will return and perch on cattails (Typha) like this one. Females will use cattail leaves to weave their nests among the stalks. Once the cup shaped nest has been plastered with mud inside she will line it with soft, cottony cattail seeds and grasses. Red wing blackbirds eat a lot of harmful insects, so having plenty of marshland to attract them is a good thing. Muskrats use cattails to build their lodges, which look similar to a beaver’s, and other animals like deer and raccoons use them for cover. The inside of a cattail stalk contains a sticky juice that is an excellent emergency antiseptic, and the boiled roots can be dried, ground, and used as very nutritious flour. 

This dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) growing in a sunny spot didn’t seem to know or care that it was December 22nd. Is it any wonder they appear so early in spring? All parts of the dandelion are edible, and it is one of the most nutritious plants known. It is being grown in gardens more and more, and can now be found for sale in farmer’s markets and health food stores. Native Americans used dandelion to treat kidney disease, skin problems, heartburn, and upset stomach, and many herbalists still use it medicinally today.

  This mossy log also made this day seem more like spring than winter. I don’t have much experience identifying mosses, but I like the colors of these. It’s interesting to me that such delicate looking plants can stand up to the ravages of winter snow and cold. They are really much tougher than they look; moss can grow in temperatures just above zero degrees. Reindeer eat them because they contain a chemical that keeps their blood warm-much like the anti-freeze we use in our cars.


Winter can be found if one looks closely. See-there it is in the ice on this pond.

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