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Posts Tagged ‘Mountain Ash Fruit’

We’re still very dry here and I haven’t seen hardly any of the mushrooms I’d expect to see but here was a dead birch tree full of golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella) just like it was last year. I thought that’s what they were until I smelled them but these examples had no citrus scent, so I’d say they must be Pholiota aurivella which, except for its smaller spores and the lack of a lemon scent, appears identical.

The frustrating thing about mushroom identification is how for most of them you can never be sure without a microscope, and that’s why I never eat them. There are some that don’t have many lookalikes and though I’m usually fairly confident of a good identification for them I still don’t eat them. It’s just too risky.

One of my favorite fungal finds is called the tiger’s eye mushroom (Coltricia perennis.) One reason it’s unusual is because it’s one of the only polypores with a central stem. Most polypores are bracket or shelf fungi. The concentric rings of color are also unusual and sometimes make it look like a turkey tail fungus with a stem. The cap is very thin and flat like a table, and another name for it is the fairy stool. They are very tough and leathery and can persist for quite a long time.

I found it this hen of the woods fungus (Grifola frondosa,) growing at the base of an old oak tree. This edible polypore often grows in the same spot year after year and that makes it quite easy to find. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. Though they’re said to be brown I see green.

I saw a young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) in a lawn recently. I love the metallic yellow color of these mushrooms when they’re young. They’re common where pine trees grow and this one was under a pine. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic. Vikings are said to have used it for that very reason.

I don’t see many stinkhorn fungi but I hit the stinkhorn jackpot this year; there must have been 20 or more of them growing out of some well rotted wood chips. I think they’re the common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) and I have to say that for the first time I smelled odor like rotting meat coming from them because these example were passing on.  

Here was a fresher example. The green conical cap is also said to be slimy but it didn’t look it. This mushroom uses its carrion like odor to attracts insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores. I saw quite a few small gnat like insects around the dying ones.

At this time of year I always roll logs over hoping to find the beautiful but rare cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea,) but usually I find this lighter shade of blue instead. I think it is Byssocorticium atrovirens. Apparently its common name is simply blue crust fungus. Crust fungi are called resupinate fungi and have flat, crust like fruiting bodies which usually appear on the undersides of fallen branches and logs. Resupinate means upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to be. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of logs the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it. They seem to be the least understood of all the fungi.

Some slime molds can be very small and others quite large. This one in its plasmodium stage was wasn’t very big at all, probably due to the dryness. When slime molds are in this state they are usually moving-very slowly. Slime molds are very sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night, but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. I think this one might be spreading yellow tooth slime (Phanerochaete chrysorhiza.) Slime molds, even though sometimes covering a large area, are actually made up of hundreds or thousands of single entities. These entities move through the forest looking for food or a suitable place to fruit and eventually come together in a mass.

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are ripe and red, waiting for a deer to come along and eat them. Deer must love them because they usually disappear almost as soon as they turn red. All parts of the Jack in the pulpit plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable, and that’s why another name for the plant is “Indian turnip.”

False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe and are now bright red instead of speckled. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the drooping stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is a native tree but you’re more likely to find them growing naturally north of this part of the state. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. Their red orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made them a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll see most of them here though they prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000 foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Kousa dogwood fruit looks a little different but it’s the edible part of a Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa.) This dogwood is on the small side and is native to Asia. I don’t see it too often. It is also called Japanese or Korean Dogwood. Kousa Dogwood fruit is made up of 20-40 fleshy carpels. In botany one definition of a carpel is a dry fruit that splits open, into seed-bearing sections. Kousa dogwood fruits are said by some to taste like papaya.  

In my own experience I find it best to leave plants with white berries alone because they are usually poisonous, and no native plant illustrates this better than poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans.) Though many birds can eat its berries without suffering, when most humans so much as brush against the plant they can itch for weeks afterward, and those who are particularly sensitive could end up in the hospital. I had a friend who had to be hospitalized when his eyes became swollen shut because of it. Eating any part of the plant or even breathing the smoke when it is burned can be very dangerous.

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red flesh of the berry, which is actually a modified seed cone. The seed within the seed cone is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as 3 of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 a man named Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever been able to figure out why he did such a thing but the incident illustrated how extremely toxic yews are.

Beavers are trying to make a pond in a river and they had dammed it up from bank to bank. It wasn’t the biggest beaver dam I’ve seen but it was quite big. The largest beaver dam ever found is in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and spans about 2,800 feet. It has taken several generations of beavers since 1970 to build and it can be seen from space. Imagine how much water it is holding back!

Eastern or Virginia carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) are huge; at least as big as half my thumb. They also look very different than the bumblebees that I’m used to. These bees nest in wood and eat pollen and nectar. They don’t eat wood but they will excavate tunnels through rotten wood. The adults nest through winter and emerge in spring. Though it is said to be common in the eastern part of the country I I see very few. I’ve read that they can be up to an inch long and this one was all of that. Females can sting but they do so only when bothered. Males don’t have a stinger.

Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will not be very mild because this wooly bear has more black than brown on it. In any event this caterpillar won’t care, because it produces its own antifreeze and can freeze solid in winter. Once the temperatures rise into the 40s F in spring it thaws out and begins feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually it will spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live.

The upper surface of a painted lady’s wings look very different than the stained glass look of the undersides but unfortunately I can’t show that to you because the photos didn’t come out. This painted lady was kind enough to land just in front of me on a zinnia. It’s the only one I’ve seen this year.

There is little that is more appropriate than a bee sleeping on a flower, in my opinion. Here in southwestern New Hampshire we don’t see many wildflowers in October, but every now and then you can find a stray something or other still hanging on. The bumblebee I saw on this aster early one morning was moving but very slowly, and looked more like it was hanging on to the flower head rather than harvesting pollen. Bumblebees I’ve heard, sleep on flowers, so maybe it was just napping. I suppose if it has to die in winter like bumblebees do, a flower is the perfect place to do that as well. Only queen bumblebees hibernate through winter; the rest of the colony dies. In spring the queen will make a new nest and actually sit on the eggs she lays to keep them warm, just like birds do.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for coming by.

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A bee landed on my windshield recently and, since I can’t remember ever seeing a bee’s belly, I took a photo of it. It’s cold enough now so bees and other insects are moving sluggishly and acting as if they really don’t know what to do with themselves, because there are few flowers to keep them company.

There are some flowers still blooming though and what I think is a hoverfly found this false dandelion blossom. It was tiny but barely moving, so getting a photo was relatively easy.

Here was something I wasn’t happy about seeing; the wind had knocked a bald faced hornet’s nest out of a tree. The nest was as big as a football and was buzzing with angry bald faced hornets. Each nest can house as many as 400 of them and if you get within three feet of the nest they don’t have a problem letting you know how displeased they are. They were flying all around as I took these photos and I’m still surprised that I didn’t get stung.

Bald faced hornets aren’t really hornets at all; though they are black and white they’re classified as yellow jacket wasps because they’re more closely related to wasps than they are hornets. But it doesn’t matter what you call them. This is one insect you don’t want to get stung by because unlike bees they can sting multiple times and it is a painful sting. They rate a 2.0 on the Schmidt Pain Index and the pain is described as “Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.” In case you’re wondering the Schmidt Pain Index goes up to 4.0, which is described as “You don’t want to know.” There is one insect that rates a 4.0 on the index: a Tarantula Hawk, which is another wasp that I hope I never meet.

What I think was a dark eyed Junco landed on a deck where I work and let me walk right up to it. It sat there even as I opened a door and went inside and didn’t fly off until I came back out of the building. Even then it flew just a few feet away and landed in an apple tree. They seem like very tame birds but what I was struck by most when I saw this photo of it was its shadow; it reminded me of something.

This is what the Junco’s shadow reminded me of. There used to be a television show called “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and it always opened with this shadow. It was one of my favorite shows for quite a while and it can still be seen on You Tube today.

Here was another dead birch tree full of golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella.) At least I thought that’s what they were but these example had no citrus scent, so I’d say they must be Pholiota aurivella which, except for its smaller spores and the lack of a lemon scent, appears identical.

The frustrating thing about mushroom identification is how for most of them you can never be sure without a microscope, and that’s why I never eat them. There are some that don’t have many lookalikes and though I’m usually fairly confident of a good identification for them I still don’t eat them. It’s just too risky.

I saw a tiny insect on the underside of this mushroom but it wasn’t until I saw the photo that I realized it had been looking up at me. I’m not sure what it was; an ant, maybe? It’s a cute little thing, whatever its name.

I saw what I thought was a strangely colored rock along the Ashuelot River, but when I walked around it and saw the other side I discovered that it wasn’t that strange after all, because that side looked like any other rock. What we see here is the part of the rock that was buried in the soil and that soil apparently contained a lot of iron. How it got out of that iron rich soil I don’t know, but it might have rolled down the river bed. Standing here after heavy rains when the river is raging you can hear the eerie booming sounds of stones rolling along the river bed. It’s a sound that’s hard to forget; you don’t just hear it, you feel it as well.

When the leaves begin to fall lots of things that were previously hidden are revealed, and among them are bird’s nests like this one I saw along the river. It wasn’t very big; a baseball would have fit right in it like it had been made for it, so it was probably about 3 or 4 inches across.

It was made of mud and straw; an ancient recipe for bricks. All its soft interior of lichens, feathers, and soft grasses had disappeared. Or maybe they were never there and the bird was happy to sit on sun baked, hard mud. I’ve seen quite a few eastern phoebes in this area but I don’t know if it was one of them that made the nest.

American mountain ash is a native tree but you’re more likely to find them growing naturally north of this part of the state. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. Their red orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made them a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll see most of them here though they prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000 foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Our woods are full of ripe Concord and river grapes at this time of year and on a warm, sunny fall day the forest smells like grape jelly. Not for long though because birds and animals snap them up quickly. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye.

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red, fleshy part of the berry. The seed inside the berry, which can be seen in this photo, is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as three of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever figured out why he would do such a thing but the incident illustrated just how toxic the plant is.

Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America, along with the concord grape and blueberry, that are commercially grown but I’m not sure of that. Because they float commercial growers flood their fields to harvest them. This has many people thinking that they grow in water but no, they grow near water on dry, peaty, sandy soil. Cultivation began in 1816 and growers discovered that a well-tended cranberry plant can live 150 years. The cranberry was highly important to Native Americans and they used them for everything from food and medicine to dyes. The most important use was in pemmican, which was a highly nutritious mixture of dried fruit, dried meat and fat. The name cranberry comes from crane berry, which the early settlers named them because they thought the flowers looked like sand hill cranes. Once the English brought honeybees over in 1622 honey was used as a sweetener for the tart berries and their use skyrocketed among the settlers. This was very bad news for the Natives and many tribes died out within 100 years of European contact.

I’ve seen lots of galls but I’ve never seen these pea size furry ones before. They grew on an oak leaf and some of them simply rolled off it when I tilted the leaf. They are wooly oak leaf galls I believe, and like most galls do no harm to the host plant. A wasp lays an egg on a leaf and the tree responds by encasing it in a gall. When the egg hatches the wasp larva eats its way out of the gall. Inside the fuzzy wool is a hard brownish kernel that looks like a seed.

Everlastings get their name from the way they can dry and often last for years once they’ve been cut. Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) gets its name from the way that it smells like maple syrup. It’s another of those plants like pineapple weed which will light up a child’s face when they smell it. They know instantly just what it smells like.

Well, here it is Halloween and the only spooky thing I have to show you is this witches hat that I found growing on a witch hazel leaf. It’s actually a gall which the plant created in response to the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis.) It’s also called nipple gall and cone head gall. I think it looks like a Hershey’s kiss chocolate candy.

Here’s something that might be much more scary than the witches hat; puddle ice.

And yes that’s snow, and that scares me. We saw a dusting one morning a week or so ago but thankfully none since. Though we average zero inches of snow in October we’ve had over a foot on Halloween in recent memory. Chances are you’ll see more of it here soon. We average about 2 inches in November and just over 11 inches in December.

Nature is what you see plus what you think about it. ~John Sloan

Thanks for coming by. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

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1. Old Tree

I drive to work past this old tree every day but have never noticed it until recently, when a sunbeam decided that I should pay more attention to it. Now I see it every morning and probably will for a long time to come. I had to stop and take its photo so it would forgive me for ignoring it for so long. It was most likely mighty in its day but it’s very old now and its time as a tree might be just about over.

2. Mountain Ash Fruit

American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is a relatively short lived tree when compared to the tree in the previous photo. They only live for 50-70 years in ideal conditions, but in the wild most die after 30-40 years. Though mountain ash is native here I’ve never seen one in a forest. They like a climate that is cool and humid and that’s why they’re seen more in the northern part of the state up in the White Mountains, often in the 2,300-3,300 foot elevation range. The orange red berries and large white flower heads have made it a favorite among gardeners and it was first cultivated in 1811. As this photo of the fruit shows, the trees are having a good year. I’ve read that the berries are low in fat and very acidic, so they’re one of the last foods that wildlife will choose. Ruffed grouse, robins, thrushes, cedar waxwings, blue jays, squirrels, chipmunks and mice eat them, and moose will eat the leaves, twigs, and bark. Mountain ash bark was once used in a medicine to combat malaria because it resembles the quinine tree. Whether or not it worked I don’t know.

3. Doll's Eyes

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and so are the pink stalks (pedicels) that they’re on. White baneberry plants are extremely toxic and no part of them should be eaten.

4. Scaly pholiota Mushrooms in Button Stage

At first I thought these were spiny puffballs but after seeing them a week later I knew that I’d have to do some research. They turned out to be what I think are scaly pholiota (Pholiota squarrosa) mushrooms in the immature button stages of growth. It is also called shaggy scaly cap. It’s a parasitic mushroom that can infect and kill live trees but luckily I found them growing on an old beech blowdown.

5. Scaly pholiota Mushrooms

And here are the scaly pholiota mushrooms a week later looking like honey mushrooms, which are edible. But this one is not edible and is considered poisonous, so that’s why I don’t collect and eat wild mushrooms. I know that a lot of people do, but I don’t have a microscope and probably wouldn’t know what I was looking at if I did, so I don’t feel comfortable eating them. I didn’t notice an odor but it’s described as being like garlic, lemon, radish, onion, or skunk, depending on who is doing the sniffing I suppose. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate enough to have tasted them.

6. Gilled Bolete

This is another mushroom I thought looked a bit like a honey mushroom from a distance but I think that it might be a gilled bolete (Phylloporus rhodoxanthus.) These grew in large clusters at the base of an oak and most likely signal its doom. I wish I had gotten a shot of its gills, which are golden yellow when young. The cap, as seen in the above photo, often cracks with age. This mushroom was big, with a cap about 8-9 inches across. It looked like a soufflé that had just come out of the oven.

7. Coral Fungus

Though I’ve been seeing more mushrooms I’m seeing very few coral fungi, and they should be everywhere right now. I found what I think is this clustered coral (Ramaria botrytis) growing under some pines recently.

8. Red and Yellow Bolete

Many mushrooms will stain a certain color when they’re bruised and red boletes with yellow stems stain blue, some almost instantly. You can see blue in the scratches on the cap in this example, but unfortunately that doesn’t help much with identification because there are at least 5 different boletes with red caps and yellow stems that stain blue. A bolete usually (but not always) has pores instead of gills on the underside of the cap. The gilled bolete we saw previously shows how confusing mushroom identification can be.

9. Red and Yellow Bolete

I’m not even going to guess which bolete this and the previous younger example were, but they grew to a large size. That’s a nickel in the center of this one. A nickel is 3/4 (.75) inches in diameter, so I’m guessing that this bolete was about 6-7 inches across. It’s a pretty mushroom, I thought. It reminded me of a freshly baked pie.

10. Shelving Tooth Fungus aka Climacodon septentrionale

Here’s a mushroom that has never appeared on this blog. It’s called the shelving tooth fungus (Climacodon septentrionale.) Though the shelving part of the name is obvious the tooth part wasn’t, so I had to go back and have another look when I was trying to identify it. It’s quite big but from a distance as in this shot the teeth are hardly visible.

11. Shelving Tooth Fungus aka Climacodon septentrionale Close

But up close it’s apparent that this mushroom has many thousands of very tiny teeth, there so it can increase its spore bearing surface. This mushroom is a parasite on live hardwood trees, primarily maples and, according to mycologist Tom Volk, especially sugar maples. It causes heart rot in the tree and weakens it enough so strong winds can snap the trunk. As it turns out I was lucky to find this example growing just above eye level, because they usually grow quite high in the tree.

12. Bolete

This cute little bolete had been partially eaten by slugs but I thought it was still very photogenic. When I used to draw mushrooms its shape was always the picture I had in my mind. We’ve most likely all seen the shape a hundred times; usually colored red with white spots, and sometimes with an elf or fairy sitting on or under the cap. I haven’t been able to identify it but it resembles the devil’s bolete (Boletus satanas,) enough to tell me that I won’t be eating one.

13. Yellow Patches

Yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia) gets its common name from the yellow bits of the universal veil on its orange cap. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it eventually breaks through the membranous veil and pieces of it are left behind on the cap. Rain can wash them off, but since we’ve had so little rain the patches have stayed in place on this example.  This mushroom is in the amanita family and is considered toxic. The amanita family contains some very dangerous mushrooms, so we should never eat any mushroom that we aren’t 100% sure is safe.

14. Purple Cort

Young purple cort mushrooms (Cortinarius iodeoides) are very purple but lighten as they age. Squirrels and chipmunks won’t touch this one, possibly because it’s covered with a very bitter slime. This slime often makes the young examples look wet but this one looked quite dry. Slugs don’t have a problem eating it though, and I often see white trails on the caps where they have eaten through the purple coating to the white flesh below. Purple corts often develop white or yellow streaks as they age and this helps in identifying them.

16. Tussock Moth Caterpillar

I’m not sure what this caterpillar’s name is but I was sure that I wasn’t going to touch it because I’ve heard that sometimes these hairy caterpillars can give people quite a rash. This one was spiky all over.

17. Garter Snake-

I’ve seen just a handful of snakes this year but the other day this garter snake was sitting in the middle of a dirt road and just stayed right there while I took some photos. We’re having a toad population explosion so he will eat well, I’m sure.

18. Cottontail

At a certain time of day, in the early evening, the cottontail rabbits come out to eat and play along the banks of the Ashuelot River. I try not to bother them but I wasn’t thinking about rabbits as I walked noisily into their area and saw this one. He immediately froze as soon as he saw me. Rabbits do that; they freeze for a minute or two and then they run away, but not this one. Once he relaxed he just went back to eating as if I wasn’t even there.

19. Cottontails

And then his friend came hopping out of the bushes to join him. What was odd was how close they let me get to them. I walked slowly toward them as they looked right at me but they didn’t run away. Then when I stopped they just went back to eating as if they had no fear at all. I’ve never seen a rabbit act like that.  Not since a porcupine crossed a field and sat beside me in Walpole last year have I been so close to an animal.

20. Cottontail

This one wanted to make sure that we all knew that he was indeed a cottontail.

21. Cedar Waxwing

Getting caught up in the rabbit patch almost made me forget what I was doing at the river in the first place, which was seeing if the cedar waxwings were there yet. They were, and in great numbers. They come each year at this time when the silky dogwood berries ripen. They love the berries and will do just about anything to get them. One year I found myself between a bird and its silky dogwood bush and it kept flying right at my face; pulling up only at the last minute. It took me a minute to understand what he was trying to tell me but once I turned and saw the silky dogwood berries I knew what he wanted, so I beat it out of there and let him eat in peace. Cedar waxwings are beautiful sleek birds that travel in large flocks, at least at this time of year.

22. Silky Dogwood Berries

Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) go from green to white and then from white to blue, but for a short time they are blue and white like Chinese porcelain. In fact I’ve always wondered if the original idea for blue designs on white porcelain didn’t come from berries just like these. Once they are blue and fully ripe the cedar waxwings eat them up quickly.

How quick and rushing life can sometimes seem, when at the same time it’s so slow and sweet and everlasting. ~Graham Swift

Thanks for coming by.

 

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