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Posts Tagged ‘Mushrooms’

We had a day with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and low heat and humidity so I thought I’d take advantage of such a fine day by climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. The mountain it is said, is named after a freed slave named Caesar Freeman and he is supposed to be buried somewhere on it, but nobody really seems to be able to verify any of the tale. One thing about the mountain is certain; Native Americans used it for a lookout and in the mid-1700s they burned Swanzey to the ground, house by house and mill by mill. The climb to the top starts on a path of solid granite bedrock, as is seen in the photo.

One of my favorite things to see on Mount Caesar is this river of reindeer lichen. Since there are no reindeer or other animals to eat the lichens they thrive here. But they are fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades for drifts like the one pictured to reappear. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

Just before you enter the forest there is a meadow teeming with wildflowers. On this day most of what was blooming were pale spike lobelias (Lobelia spicata,) which get their common name from the small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, but most are pale.

Sometimes if you look carefully you can find dark blue pale spike lobelias, as this one was. These flowers are small; hardly bigger than a standard aspirin. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma, but it has to be used with great care because too much of it can kill.

Stone walls will follow you almost all the way to the summit of Mount Caesar and remind hikers that this land was once completely cleared of trees. I’d guess that sheep once grazed on the mountain’s flanks, as was true of most of the hills in the area. The walls most likely date from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Not old enough to be covered by moss yet but there certainly are plenty of lichens on them. The yellow ones seen in the photo are sulfur dust lichens (Chrysothrix chlorina). This lichen doesn’t like to be rained on so it is usually found hiding under some type of overhang.

I saw many mushrooms on this climb, among them yellow chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius.) I’m not a real mushroom aficionado but I know this edible mushroom is considered choice. I don’t see many but when I do it’s usually about this time of year or a little earlier, and I always see them growing right alongside trails. It is believed by some that the compacted earth of the trail or road may cause the chanterelle mycelium to react by fruiting.

Another mushroom I saw in great abundance was yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) and it is not a choice edible fungus, in fact it is poisonous and should never be eaten. This mushroom is identified by the chrome yellow “warts” on the cap, which are easily brushed off. It prefers growing in hemlock forests, so it is right at home here. It is said to be one of the most common and widespread species of Amanita in eastern North America. It faintly resembles yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) but that mushroom has white warts on its cap.

I’ve seen people go up to the summit and then back down again in the time it took me to reach the half way point but this isn’t a race and I dawdle and wander, looking at this and that all the way up and down the mountain. A 45 minute climb with me can easily take half a day, and that’s why I almost always hike alone. To see the kinds of things that I see you absolutely must walk slowly and from what I’ve seen most people simply aren’t able to do it. Unfortunately most people I’ve seen and spoken with in places like this seem to feel that the end of the trail is far more important than what can be seen along it and race through it. If only they knew that they were missing all of the best that nature has to offer.

Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens,) bloomed all along the trail. This native wintergreen is in the same family as the blueberry and its flowers show that. Teaberry is also known as checkerberry or American wintergreen and by fall its flowers will have turned into small red berries that taste minty, like Teaberry chewing gum. Many animals, from foxes to chipmunks, and birds including grouse and pheasant rely on the berries to help them get through the winter. Wintergreen oil has been used medicinally for centuries, and the leaves make an excellent, soothing tea. The plant’s fragrance is unmistakable and its oil is used in toothpaste, mouthwash, pain relievers, and many other products.

Before too long the approach to the summit appears as granite bedrock, and that’s when you realize that this mountain is just a huge piece of solid granite with a few inches of soil covering it. I’ve seen several trees that have blown over and their roots were very shallow. They have to be because they can’t penetrate the granite.

I like a few clouds in the sky to give it some interest. A year or two ago we had an entire summer of blue skies with not a cloud to be seen, and it was quite boring if you wanted landscape photos. I like the way the shadows of the clouds pass over the land. It’s something I’ve watched and enjoyed since I was a boy.

The view was hazy in some directions but I usually spend time marveling at how vast this forest really is, so I don’t mind a little haze.

Mount Monadnock could be seen through the haze off to the east but it wasn’t a day for mountain portraits.

You need to watch where you step when you’re taking photos of the mountain because you have to get close to the edge of the cliff if you want the best shot. This is one time when it isn’t wise to step outside of yourself and become totally absorbed by what you see before you. It’s a long way down and for someone who doesn’t like heights it’s a stomach knotter, and I tread very mindfully up here.

I was surprised to see so many old friends up here, like this bristly sarsaparilla. It made me wonder if it has just moved in or if I have been negligent and ignored it on previous climbs. It obviously likes it up here; it was blooming well. It normally grows in dry, sandy soil at road edges and waste areas. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter.

Each tiny bristly sarsaparilla flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job and it looked like they were hard at it. I’m not sure what this insect’s name is but it was very small. The entire flower head of the plant in the previous photo is barely bigger than a ping pong ball.

Blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) also grew on the summit. It seems like I’m seeing this little beauty everywhere I go this summer and it makes me wonder if it doesn’t like a lot of rain like we’ve had this year, even though it grows in sandy waste areas.

Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) was a real surprise because it usually grows in wooded areas instead of out in the open.  It has wide leaves and smallish flowers that grow from the leaf axils and at the terminal end of its zigzagging stem.  Zigzag goldenrod grows in the shade and prefers moist soil, so this seems like an odd place to have found it. It grew beside a large stone so maybe the stone keeps it shaded for part of the day.

We had torrential rains the day before I made this climb so I thought my little friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) would be happy, but most of them weren’t. I don’t know if they just dried out that quickly or if overhanging tree branches kept the rain off them. They grow in just about full sun so I suppose they could have simply dried out. The example in the above photo was close to what I expected but it still wasn’t that deep, pea green color and I could tell that it was drying out. When at their best these lichens are very pliable and feel like an ear lobe, but when dry they feel crisp like a potato chip. This one was somewhere in between.

This one was ashy gray and very dry. You can see the broken edges top and bottom where it has snapped like a brittle chip. I have to say that, though I doubt the lichens enjoy being in such a state, I think they’re at their most beautiful when they look like this. I wish I could see them every day so I could witness all of their changes but I’ve seen them only on the summits, so if you want to visit with them you have to work for the privilege.

To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits. Sir Francis Younghusband

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Last year at about this time I took a walk around Goose Pond in Keene and found some great slime molds. Two years ago I walked around the pond and found the only northern club spur orchid I’ve seen, so last Saturday, with exciting thoughts of what I might find this year, off I went. Surrounding the beautiful pond is a vast 500 acre tract of forest that has been left nearly untouched since the mid-1800s. It’s a wilderness area, and it’s just 2.6 miles from downtown Keene.

Goose Pond was called Crystal Lake by some in the 1860s, and was also known as Sylvan Lake in the 1900s. Keene had a major fire in 1865 and the town well and cisterns failed to provide enough water to put it out, so dams were built to enlarge the pond to 42 acres. Wooden pipe was laid to 48 hydrants by 1869. The city stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s and in 1984 designated the forest as a wilderness area. Today it is mainly used by hikers, fishermen, swimmers, mountain bikers and snowshoers. I get to the pond by following the old access road.

This forest wasn’t completely untouched. Stone walls tell of its agricultural use sometime in the past but judging by some of the thick mosses on some of the stones it was far in the past.

This partially buried stone isn’t natural with a perfect 90 degree angle like that; it was carved. Stone carving wasn’t done by just anyone and it didn’t come cheap, so I’m guessing that at some time this was an important stone. Possibly a gate or fence post but it seems too smooth for what was normally left rather rough hewn.

Light filters through the pines and hemlocks to reach the forest floor in places but in many areas the canopy is woven together so thickly that It can be  very dark, and that can make photography a real challenge. Can you see the trail through here? If you visit Goose Pond you’ll want to be able to; I met a man and a couple who were confused about which way to go. The couple said they kept wandering off the trail and I told them that wasn’t a good idea in a 500 acre forest, so they’d better watch for the white blazes on the trees. The trail is clearly marked; you can see the single white rectangular blaze on a skinny tree at just to the left of center in this photo.

Yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) grew on a mossy log. I saw several examples all along the trail but most had been partially eaten by slugs or squirrels. Amanita muscaria also comes in white, pink, brown, orange, and bright red but we see mostly yellow ones here. No matter what color they are fly agaric fungi are  considered slightly toxic and hallucinogenic. The name fly agaric comes from its once being used to kill flies (and other insects) in parts of Europe. It was dried, powdered and sprinkled into a pan of milk, which was left out for flies. In medieval times people believed that flies could enter a person’s head and cause mental illness.

I saw two or three examples of coral mushrooms in the forest and all were of the pale yellow / tan variety. I see this mushroom every year but coral fungi can be very hard to identify and I’ve never felt confident in naming it. I think the yellow tipped coral (Ramaria formosa) fits best, because it first appears in July and grows under conifers throughout the northern U.S.

Mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) grows all through this forest but this was the only one that had fruit on it. Soon they will become purple-black berries that will be about the size of raisins. I’ve heard that they don’t taste very good, but many birds and animals eat them. They disappear quickly.

How I’d love to be able to get onto the island to see what grows there but since you’d have to hand carry a kayak uphill for quite a distance it’s doubtful that I ever will. I saw a couple in kayaks on this day but I think they must be made of sturdier stock than I am. I just don’t have the breath for it.

This view shows the uphill climb that you’d have to make with a kayak to visit the island. Just carrying myself up it is enough for me.

A few years ago I found a tree with a strange zig zagging scar in its bark, and now here is another one. Many readers think that it must have been caused by lightning but nobody really seems to know for sure. This one ran up the tree for probably 12 feet or more. There is a pine tree here that was  definitely struck by lightning and that scar runs straight up and down and is probably two inches wide. The lightning strike blew the bark right off the trunk and roots all the way into the ground. I came upon it shortly after it was hit and saw strips of bark lying all over the ground around it.

Several small streams cross the trail and in 3 places they’re wide enough so that bridges had to be built. This one sags a bit on that far left corner but it works.

I was hoping to see some slime molds and I wasn’t disappointed. Fuligo septica is a species of plasmodial slime mold that is one of the most common. It is called scrambled egg slime because that’s exactly what it can look like in certain stages of its growth. It gets quite big and is the one slime mold that will grow in full sun on wood mulch or bark chips, so it is easily seen and is often people’s first introduction to slime molds. Fuligo septica produces the largest spore-producing structure of any known slime mold.

Scrambled egg slime mold is the perfect name for this one. According to mycologist Tom Volk of the University of Wisconsin, a plasmodium is essentially a blob of protoplasm without cell walls and only a cell membrane to keep everything in. It is really nothing but a large amoeba and feeds much the same way, by engulfing its food, which are mostly bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. Many people seem to get the heebie jeebies over slime molds but they’re a very important part of the ecosystem. It isn’t hard to imagine what this world would be like without decomposers like fungi and slime molds doing their work.

Scrambled egg slime mold can change color as well as form. I’ve seen it turn white or gray and get as hard as a log. I’ve also seen it weep blood red tears. I’ve seen photos of it where it was tan, pale yellow, yellowish gray, gray, brown, and cream colored. The example in the above photo is turning gray and hardening. Before long it will begin to fracture and break down into a powdery brown mass. The brown powder is the slime mold’s spores and it’s always best not to inhale them. Or fungal spores either; some of them can make you very sick.

Blueberries are doing well this year. These examples were lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium,) which often seem to ripen slightly before highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum.) The bears will be happy.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) grew in a sunny spot on the shore line. This plant almost always grows near water and in this case it couldn’t have been much closer to it.

I was very surprised to see a few examples of shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) here, especially when I realized that I must have been walking right by them for years. I’ve only seen this plant in one other place so it seems to be on the rare side in this area. It is also called flame leaf sumac, dwarf sumac, or winged sumac. These shrubs were about knee high but I’ve read that they can reach about 8-10 feet. The foliage is said to turn brilliant orange-red in fall, so I’m going to have to come back in the fall for a photo shoot.

The name “winged sumac” comes from the wings that form on the stems between each pair of leaves. I’ve never seen this on any other sumac.

Shining sumac flowers are greenish yellow and tiny, and are followed by clusters of red fruits that stay on the shrub through winter like other sumacs. This small tree is often used as an ornamental in cities and along highways, mostly for its fall color.

Well, it was a beautiful day for a walk and I found everything I hoped I would. I don’t have an orchid to show you but I did find one. The northern club spur orchid I found two years ago was here again but it wasn’t blooming yet, so I’ll have to show it to you later. It isn’t a showy plant but is interesting nonetheless, and I hope to find it blooming today.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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In my last post I spoke about climbing Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. I took a short detour on the way home that day to see Bailey Brook Falls in Nelson. The brook wasn’t running quite as high as I expected considering the regular rain and all the snowmelt we’ve seen lately. The state says we’re still in a moderate drought because the underground aquifers have been depleted, so hopefully we’ll see our average rainfall this summer. That would help a lot.

This is my favorite view of the falls. Interesting how the brook is always split in two here.

A pileated woodpecker had carved a deep hole out of this white pine (Pinus strobus.) There’s nothing remarkable about that; I see holes like this all the time. It’s what happened afterwards that is worth noting.

The pine tree’s sap had turned a beautiful blue, deeper in color than most I see. I see more blue pine sap in winter than at other times of year so I’ve always assumed that it was the cold that turned it blue, like it does to some lichens, but now that I’m noticing it in warmer weather as well I’m just not sure. Does the cold turn it blue in winter and then it stays that way from then on? I’ve spent many hours searching for the answer and can’t find a single reference to blue pine sap, so I can’t answer the question.

Ninety five percent of the white pine sap I see looks like this; kind of a cloudy tan color, and that’s why blue pine sap is so startling and unusual. Pine sap (resin) has been used by Native American tribes for thousands of years to waterproof just about anything that needed it; baskets, pails, and especially canoes. The Chippewa tribe also used pine sap to treat infections and wounds. The treatment was usually successful because pine sap seems to contain several antimicrobials.

I also saw some resin on a black cherry tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. It was clear and amber colored and very different than pine resin. This is the kind of resin that insects got trapped in millions of years ago and which are found occasionally today, preserved forever just as they were when they became stuck in the sticky sap. There were quite large globs of it here and there on this tree and I wish I had taken one to add to my collection of outdoor oddities.

Because of colorblindness I don’t usually try bird identification but I think I’m safe saying that this is a European starling. European starlings were first introduce into New York In the 1890s. Those original 100 birds have now become  over 200 million, and they can be found from Alaska to Mexico. I saw three birds working this lawn for insects; not exactly a flock. The name starling comes from their resemblance to a four pointed star when they fly.

I’ve read that a starling’s spots are more easily seen in winter and all but disappear in summer, but they were very noticeable on all 3 of these birds. They’re a pretty bird but I understand that a lot of people here in the U.S. don’t like them.

Milk white toothed polypore is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of branches the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it.

The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.”

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is one of our earliest to show in spring but this year it was even earlier than I thought so it got ahead of me. These fiddleheads were already about 6 inches tall. This fern doesn’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. It likes wet or very moist ground along rivers and streams.

I found a beard lichen (Usnea) still attached to a cut log and it turned out to be the longest one I’ve seen. They’re very common on pines and hemlocks in our area. They attach themselves to the bark but take nothing from the tree, much like a bird perching. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” and I can’t think of a better plant to demonstrate it than rhubarb.

There is a very short time when skunk cabbage leaves (Symplocarpus foetidus) actually look like cabbage leaves. I’m guessing that with skunk in their name they don’t taste anything like cabbage though, and I hope I’m never hungry enough to be tempted by them. I’ve heard that bears will eat them when they can’t find anything else.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and in many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This photo from a few years ago shows what the complete ramp looks like. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it has happened.

I think these buds were on a white ash (Fraxinus americana), but it could also be a green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Both are commonly planted along streets and in parking lots and I saw this tree in a store parking lot. One thing that helps identify ash trees are the shape of the leaf scars that appear just below the buds, and I didn’t look at it closely. On the white ash these scars are “C” shaped and on green ash they look like a “D.” White ash leaf scars are also much larger than those on green ash. Ash bears male and female flowers on separate trees.

The beautiful fruits (samaras) of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) start out their lives deep red with a white furry coat. When you see them beginning to form you have to check them frequently to catch them in this stage because it happens quickly and ends just as quickly. The mature seeds are the largest of any native maple and are a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk. Silver maples get their common name from the downy surface of the leaf underside, which flashes silver in the slightest breeze.

The pinkish leaf buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are growing quickly now. They often show hints of orange and are quite beautiful at this stage; in my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year. Branches full of them stop me in in my tracks. There is so much beauty out there; I hope all of you are seeing as much of it as you are able to.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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Last Sunday dawned cold at only 4 degrees F so I waited until it had warmed up as much as it was going to before climbing Hewes Hill in Swanzey. The trail winds through mostly hemlock forest and is quite dark in places and I expected ice, so I strapped on my Yaktrax and set off across the hayfield in the above photo.

It wasn’t long before I was glad to be wearing the Yaktrax because there was ice here and there on the trail.

I’d bet that I’ve walked by this stone a hundred times without ever seeing anything interesting, but on this day I noticed that it was covered with concentric boulder lichens (Porpidia crustulata.) This lichen gets its common name from the way its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) grow in concentric rings around the center. I’ve only seen it two or three times and that led me to think that it was uncommon here, but now I wonder if I’ve just been walking right by them all these years.

We had one day with wind gusts near 60 mph last week so I wasn’t surprised to see this eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) lying across the trail. I saw several more fallen trees as well.

The hemlock most likely fell because it had been weakened by the tinder fungi (Fomes fomentarius) that were growing on it. The spores from this fungus enter the tree through damaged bark and cause rot inside. It usually grows on hardwoods but can occasionally grow on conifers as well. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that as many as 800 million can be produced in a single hour. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by none other than the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE).

The fungal rot was white and clearly visible all over the inside of the tree. White rots break down lignin and cellulose and cause the rotted wood to feel moist, soft, spongy, or stringy. They can be white or yellow.

I heard crunching underfoot so knew I was walking on ice needles. For ice needles to form the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces 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. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in this photo were no more than 4 inches long. They were very dirty.

Other ice growing on ledges was bigger; much bigger.

As is true on many of these hills and mountains the trail is steepest just before the summit.

The 40 ton glacial erratic known as Tippin’ Rock sits atop Hewes Hill on a slab of very flat granite bedrock. Legend says that it is called Tippin’ Rock because if you push in the right place it will tip. I didn’t know whether to believe it or not until I first saw it happen and then tipped it myself.

To give you an idea of the size of Tippin’ Rock and because I promised my friend Dave that I’d make him world famous, here he is actually tipping Tippin’ Rock last summer. We were shocked to see such a huge boulder rocking gently and almost soundlessly back and forth like a baby cradle. When you think about all of the forces that had to come into play for this stone to simply be here at all, but then to also be so perfectly balanced, it becomes kind of mind blowing.

Sometimes if a stump or log has decayed enough tree seeds can fall and grow on them. In this photo am eastern hemlock grew stilted roots over what was probably a stump that has since rotted away. From what I’ve seen any type of tree will do this.

The views weren’t spectacular but I sat for a while and wondered, as I often do, how the first settlers felt when they looked out over something like this. It isn’t hard when you’re up here to imagine nothing out there but trees and maybe a game trail to follow if you were lucky. And if you were very lucky you might have a gun, an axe head, and food enough for a day or two. I also often wonder if I would have had the courage to face such an immense unknown.

You really are in the treetops up here. Mostly oak treetops.

This is another unsuccessful attempt to show you how high you are when you’re up here. You’ll have to take my word that it’s quite a drop.

The views didn’t really matter because that’s not what I climbed up here to see. I haven’t seen my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) since last fall, so I thought it was past time to pay them a visit. They prefer growing on undisturbed natural boulders rather than on man-made stone walls and in this area I’ve only seen them on hilltops, so I don’t see them often; only when I’m willing to work for it. We haven’t had any rain or snow lately so they were very dry, and when dry they usually turn from their normal pea green color to the ashy gray seen here. They also become very brittle.

Common toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, which means they attach to a substrate (usually stone) at a single point, like a belly button. That point is the lighter area in this example. These lichens also look warty, and that’s how they come by their common name. These examples were small at less than an inch across but I’ve seen them as big as 2 inches. They can be very beautiful.

The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia) could easily hide behind one. The apothecia are where the lichen’s spores are produced. In this case they are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This isn’t a great photo but it’s the closest I’ve ever been able to get to this lichen and it’s a fair bet that you’re seeing something you’ve never seen.

This photo shows how the apothecia are distributed over the surface of the toadskin lichen. Despite being quite dry this one was producing a lot of spores.

Mr. (or Mrs.) smiley face was there to greet me as I reached the bottom of the hill. I wonder if whoever painted it could have imagined that it would stay here so long and cheer so many people on. There have been times when my weariness has disappeared as the little smile put a smile on my face.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan watts

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1-crab-apple

Since I often tell readers of this blog that they don’t even have to leave their yards to enjoy nature I like to practice what I preach every now and then and restrict my wandering to my own yard.  This time I found that the birds had eaten every crabapple from my tree except one. Things like this always make me wonder what it is about that one crabapple that turned them away. It also makes me wonder how they knew that it was different from all the others.

2-rudbeckia-seedhead

The seed eaters haven’t touched the black-eyed Susan seeds (Rudbeckia hirta). That’s odd because the birds planted them; one year a few plants appeared and I just left them where they grew.

3-coneflower-seedhead

The birds seem to have gone for the coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) first, as just about every seed head has been at least partially stripped. I planted one plant years ago but now there are several scattered here and there in the yard and like the black eyed Susans I let them grow where the birds have planted them.  If that makes my gardening abilities seem lax, so be it. The last thing I wanted to do after gardening professionally for 10-12 hours each day was to come home and spend more time gardening, so the plants in this yard had to be tough enough to take care of themselves. I simply didn’t have the time or the inclination to fuss over them, and still don’t.

4-hemlock-cone

The plants in this yard also have to be able to withstand a certain amount of shade, because they’re surrounded by forest.  Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are numerous and so are white pines (Pinus strobus) and both soar into the sky on three sides of the property. Black capped chickadees flock here to eat the seeds from the hemlock cones like the one pictured above. The 1/2 inch long eastern hemlock cones are among the smallest of all the trees in the pine family but the trees usually produce so many of them that the ground is completely covered in the spring. The needles and twigs of hemlocks are ground and distilled and the oil is used in ointments.

5-hemlock-needles

The white stripes on the undersides of the flat hemlock needles come from four rows of breathing pores (stomata) which are far too small to be seen without extreme magnification. The stripes make the tree very easy to identify.

6-the-forest

This view of the forest just outside of my yard shows what messy trees hemlocks are, but it is a forest so I don’t worry about it. It’s too bad that so many are afraid to go into the forest; I grew up in the woods and they have kept me completely fascinated for over a half century. There are dangers there yes, but so can cities be dangerous. Personally I’d sooner take my chances in a forest than a city.

7-hazel-catkins

I found that an American hazelnut had decided to grow on the property line between my neighbor’s yard and mine and I was happy to see it. Now I can practice getting photos of the tiny scarlet, thread like female blossoms that appear in spring. For now though the male catkins will have to do. As I was admiring them I saw a black something clinging to one of them.

8-hazel-catkins-close

I thought the black thing on the hazel catkin was an insect of some kind but it appears to be just part of an insect. I can’t imagine where the other half went. Maybe a bird ate it? I looked up insects that are partial to hazelnuts but none of them had parts that looked like this.

9-cedar

The color blue appears in some surprising places in nature, and one of the most surprising is on the egg shaped female flower tips of the northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis.) There were three examples of this native tree in the yard when I moved here and I’ve watched them grow big enough to provide welcome shade from the hot summer sun over the years. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many uses, and maybe they were. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with its leaves and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and that’s how Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

10-cedar-seed-cone

There are many seed pods on the cedars and robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds. Many small birds use the trees to hide in and robins nest in them each spring. The open seed pods always look like beautiful carved wooden flowers to me.

11-rhodie

When the rhododendron buds look like they’re wearing choir robes you know that they’re singing Baby It’s Cold Outside, and it was cold on this day but at least the sun was shining. That hasn’t happened that much on weekends lately. These rhododendrons were grown from seed and started their life in this yard as a small sprig of a plant. Now some are taller than I am. It is thought that their leaves curl and droop in this way to protect their tender undersides from the cold.

12-quartz-crystals

I built a stone wall in my yard years ago and, since I collected rocks and minerals for a time, many of the stones in the wall have surprises in them. This one is studded with quartz crystals. Others have beryl crystals, mica, tourmaline and other minerals in them.

13-crispy-tuft-moss

It took several years before I could confidently identify the tiny tufts of moss I sometimes saw growing on tree trunks but I eventually found out that its name was crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa.) Now I see it everywhere, including on the maple trees in my own yard. This one was less than an inch across.

14-fringed-candleflame-lichen

I was happy to find a tiny bit of bright yellow fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa) on one of my maple trees. Lichens simply use tree bark as a roosting place and don’t harm the tree in any way. This lichen is said to be very sensitive to air pollution, so seeing it is a good sign that our air quality is good. I hope it grows and spreads to other trees. As of now it’s the most colorful lichen in the yard.

15-amber-jelly-fungus

I found an oak twig in the yard that had fallen from a neighbor’s oak tree. I saw that it had tiny, hard flakes of amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) on it. Luckily though this is a wood rotting fungus it only grows on dead wood so it won’t hurt the tree.  Since the twig was barely bigger than a pencil I decided to try an expiriment and brought it inside.

16-amber-jelly-fungus-3

This is what the hard little flakes in the previous photo turned into after I soaked the twig in a pan of water for just 15 minutes. What were small hard lumps had swollen to I’d guess about 40-50 percent larger than their original dry size,  and instead of being hard now felt much like your earlobe. In fact they looked and behaved much like the cranberry jelly served at Thanksgiving. These fungi have a shiny surface and a matte surface, and the shiny side is where their microscopic spores are produced.

17-black-knot-on-cherry

I found another twig, this time from a black cherry (Prunus serotina.) It showed that the tree had black knot disease, which is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa, which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring. Since this tree is a fully grown black cherry and lives in the forest there is little that can be done for it.

18-sedum-seedhead

I don’t know if any birds eat the seeds of the Russian stonecrop (Sedum kamtschaticum) in my yard but I always let them go to seed because the shape of the open seedpods mimics exactly the shape of their bright yellow flowers. It spreads but couldn’t be called invasive. It is a tough little groundcover that can stand drought or flood. I haven’t done a thing to it since I planted it about 30 years ago.

19-white-pine

The tallest and straightest tree in my yard is a white pine (Pinus strobus.) I put my camera on its trunk and clicked the shutter, and this is the result. It doesn’t show much except that it was a sunny day and they have been rare here lately. White pine needles contain five times the amount of the vitamin C of lemons and were used by Native Americans to make tea. This knowledge saved many early settlers who were dying of scurvy, but instead of using the tree for food and medicine as the Natives did the colonists cut them down and used the wood for paneling, floors and furniture. When square riggers roamed the seas the tallest white pines in the Thirteen Colonies were known as mast pines. They were marked with a broad arrow and were reserved for the Royal Navy, and if you had any sense you didn’t get caught cutting one down. This practice of The King taking the best trees led to the Pine Tree Riot in 1772, which was an open act of rebellion. Colonists cut down and hauled off many marked mast pines in what was just a taste of what would come later on in the American Revolution. I think this tree, so tall and straight, would surely have been selected as a mast pine.

Even in the familiar there can be surprise and wonder. ~Tierney Gearon

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1-half-moon-pond

After an extended nice warm January thaw we were brought back to reality by a sleet / freezing rain / snow/ rain storm that immediately froze into concrete like ice, making it treacherous to walk just about anywhere. This was the view across Half Moon Pond in Hancock to Mount Skatutakee, taken by cell phone the next morning. The pond Ice was cold but the air was warm, and that meant fog.

2-monadnock

It wasn’t fog but a cloud that tried to hide the summit of Mount Monadnock at Perkin’s Pond in Troy recently. There is still very little snow on this, the sunny side of the mountain. Every time it snows up there the sun melts it before it snows again, resulting in the least snowy Monadnock summit I’ve seen in a while.

3-puddle-mud

My thoughts turned from the lofty heights of mountaintops to the lowly depths of puddle mud when I found this. I don’t know if the mud froze and made these patterns or if ice on the puddle made them before it melted and then evaporated. Mud puddles can be very interesting things.

4-white-cushion-moss

The white cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) growing on a boulder made me want to reach out and pet it, and so I did. Though it looks like it might be stiff and prickly it’s actually quite soft. White cushion moss gets its common name from the way it turns a whitish color when it dries out so even though it was surrounded by ice this one was very dry. A perfect example of the winter desert when, though there is plenty of snow and ice, it’s too cold for any melt water to benefit plants.

5-crowded-parchment

Crowded parchment fungus (Stereum complicatum) lived up to its name on this log. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself.” This fungus often grows on fallen oak limbs and parasitizes some types of jelly fungi. It causes white rot of the heartwood when it grows on standing trees.

6-milk-white-toothed-polypore

I spoke about finding a very young milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) in my last post. Since then I’ve seen older ones and this is one of them. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.” Look for them in the undersides of tree branches.

7-turkey-tails

I’ve been looking for turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) that were wearing something other than brown all year and I finally found some that looked bluish gray. They were a little dry I think, because of their wilted looking edges, or maybe they were just old. This fungus been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years and the FDA has approved them for trials on cancer patients. They’re found in forests all over the world from Europe to Asia in the US and Russia.

8-unknown-fungi

These mushrooms were well past their prime but I didn’t care because I loved their color and texture and the way they looked as if they had been sculpted and bronzed. In death they were far more beautiful than they had been in life.

9-sumac-berries

Birds aren’t eating staghorn sumac berries but they never seem to in this area until the end of winter. I’ve heard that birds shun them because they’re low in fat, but I wonder if that’s true of all birds because when birds like red winged blackbirds return in spring the berries disappear quickly. It’s a head scratcher because Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog in Michigan says that the birds there gobble them up.

10-rose-hips

Birds haven’t eaten these rose hips either but they were as big as grapes, so maybe swallowing them is a problem. Fresh or dried rose hips are higher in vitamin C than citrus fruits and they can be used in many recipes, including a tea that is very soothing for a sore throat. The seeds inside rose hips should always be removed before use though, because they have a hairy covering that can be irritating. They can cost as much as $25.00 per pound in health food stores, which is more than the price of a rose bush, so it is worth growing your own if you have a fondness for them. The best time to harvest rose hips is after the first frost because frost removes some of the tartness. Choose fruit that is firm and has good, deep color. These examples were not firm but they had plenty of color.

11-cherries

These cherries were the size of peas, so it wasn’t size that turned the birds away from them. I think they were chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) which are dark purple / black when ripe, but I wonder if these might have frozen before they had a chance to ripen. Robins, thrushes, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, jays, bluebirds, catbirds, kingbirds, and grouse eat chokecherries, and so do mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, foxes, deer, bear, and moose. The inner bark of the chokecherry was used by Native Americans in the smoking mixture known as kinnikinnick to improve the taste of the bearberry leaf, which was the chief ingredient for many tribes.

12-red-elderberry-buds

I don’t see many red elderberry bushes (Sambucus racemosa) but I’m always happy when I do because then I get to see their chubby plum colored buds, which are some of my favorites. Later on the plant will have bright scarlet fruits that birds love. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

13-poplar-sunburst-lichen

I had to go and visit one of my favorite lichens; the poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza hasseana.) It grows on a tree near a retention pond in Keene, right next to a shopping mall. I’ve visited it off and on for years now and it has never stopped producing spores. The sucker like, cup shaped bits are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) where the spores are produced. Will it ever stop producing spores? After watching it do so for about 4 years now, I doubt it. In fact, it could go on for millennia:

Another sunburst lichen, the elegant sunburst (Xanthoria elegans) was exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for one and a half years and when it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened. Many believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as close to immortal as any earthly being can be.

14-star-rosette-lichen-physcia-stellaris

As I finished admiring the poplar sunburst lichen my attention was drawn to another lichen that seemed to be winking at me. It was a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris), which has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to a white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on blueberries, plums, and first year black raspberry canes. I’ve noticed by watching smoky eye boulder lichens, which also have pruinose apothecia, that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue. These examples were kind of blue gray but it was a cloudy day.

15-black-birch-witchs-broom

I keep running into black birches (Betula lenta) with what appears to be a deformity in their buds. I wouldn’t call it witches broom but the buds grow in a tightly packed cluster which isn’t normal, judging by the other buds on the trees. I haven’t been able to find out anything about it from any source, so if you happen to know I’d love to hear from you.

16-black-birch-bud

This is what a normal black birch bud looks like. Birch beer was once made from the black birch and so was oil of wintergreen. If you aren’t sure if the tree you see is a black birch just chew a twig. If it’s a black birch it will taste like wintergreen. So many trees were taken to make oil of wintergreen that black birch is still hard to find in many areas today.

17-liverwort

I saw something on a tree that seemed very pale for this time of year. Most mosses are a deep green in winter so this chartreuse color really stood out. After a little research I think it is a liverwort called flat-leaved scalewort (Radula complanata.) I’ve read that it is common on trees and shrubs but I’ve never seen it. Plants are usually flattened, either forming patches like the one seen above or single stems creeping among mosses.

18-liverwort

A closer look at the liverwort shows round, flattened, overlapping leaves which are quite small. Each one is no more than 1/16  of an inch across. The even smaller, darker leaves look to be part of the same plant but I can find very little information on this liverwort. It is said to like sunny, sheltered, moist conditions and will sometimes grow on streamside rocks. Liverworts are epiphytes that take nothing from the trees they grow on. I’ve read that they were the first land plants to evolve about 500,000 million years ago and are the oldest living land plants.

19-twilight

The days are finally getting longer but it’s still too dark to do any serious photography before or after work. I took this shot of ice covered Half Moon Pond in Hancock at 7:30 one recent morning and it looks like the sun was setting rather than rising. The lack of light on weekdays leaves only weekends for taking photos and lately you can barely find the sun, even on a weekend. Our weather predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil just predicted six more weeks of winter (which just happens to coincide with the six weeks of winter left on the calendar) but the days are getting longer and not even old Punxsutawney Phil can stop that. I’m very much looking forward to being able to spend more time in the woods.

The days are short
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.
 ~John Updike

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1-the-stream

There is a small stream near my house that I like to visit at least once in winter and I did so recently. Right now it looks lazy and placid, but I’ve seen it rise overnight into a raging, road eating thing that easily covered everything in this photo except the trees. Its name is Bailey Brook, I just found out the night before posting this, but according to the Maine Geological Survey a brook is just a small stream. On the other hand a stream is a small river or brook, so I’m just going to keep calling it a stream.

2-tree-moss

One reason I like to come here is to see my old friends the tree mosses (Climacium dendroides.) They’re beautiful little mosses that I never see anywhere else. They must like very wet soil because they grow right at the edge of the stream and are covered by water when the stream floods. In fact all of the plants you’ll see in this post are under water for at least a day or two each year. It is their shape that gives tree mosses their common name but it is their inner light that draws me back here to see them.

3-christmas-fern

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is probably the most common of our evergreen ferns. When seen at this time of year it is obvious that it has had its branches flattened by the weight of the snow because they splay out all over the ground. When the new fronds, or fiddleheads, appear in spring the previous season’s fronds turn yellow and then finally brown. The dead fronds then form a mat around the living fern that helps prevent soil erosion. This is a fern that doesn’t mind wet soil.

4-christmas-fern

Christmas fern is easy to identify by its leaflets that resemble little Christmas stockings. The narrow fine teeth that line the edges of the leaflets and the short leaf stalks can also be seen in this photo. It is said to be called Christmas fern because early settlers brought the green fronds inside at Christmas.

5-marginal-wood-fern-spore-cases

Marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) is another evergreen fern that also grows well here because it likes damp, shady places. Its spore bearing sori grow on the edges of the leaves and give this fern its common name. The sori are covered by a kidney shaped cap (indusium,) which is smooth. The cap comes off just when the spores are ready to be released, as it has done on at least two of these examples.

6-pine-sap-on-fern

The sticky sap from a white pine (Pinus strobus) had dripped on the upper part of the marginal wood fern’s frond. I decided to show it to you so you could see how white pine sap turns blue when it’s cold.

7-jelly-fungus

An orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus) was drying out and had lost its transparency. Jelly fungi can absorb many times their own weight is water but when they begin to dry out they can shrink down to a hard dry chip the size of a toddler’s fingernail.

8-fungal-growth

I saw a fallen branch with some familiar looking growths on it, so I looked a little closer.

9-fungal-growth

The branch growths had me believing they were slime molds for a minute or two. They looked a lot like a slime mold called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa v. porioides, which looks like tiny geodesic domes and loves to grow on rotting wood. But something wasn’t right; they were a little too big and they weren’t bright white like Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa. Them my right hand found something cold and jelly like on the branch.

10-fungal-growth

I think what my hand found was a milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus.) This is a “winter” fungus that can appear quite late in the year. It is also a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. 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. This is the first time I’ve seen the “birth” of this fungus.

11-winter-fungus

I saw an awful lot of fungi for a January day. I’m not sure what this one was but it was pleasing to the eye and reminded me of spring, and that was enough.

12-artists-conk

Artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum) grew on an old oak and wasn’t hard to identify. This bracket fungus gets its name from its smooth white underside, which is perfect for drawing on.  Any scratch made on the pure white surface becomes brown and will last for many years. I drew a farm scene on one more than 30 years ago and I still have it.

13-artists-conk

Artist’s conks are perennial fungi that get bigger each year. Older examples can be up to two feet across, but this one was closer to half that. I put my Olympus camera on it to give you an idea of how big it was. This fungus causes heart rot in a wide variety of tree species, so this living tree is doomed.

14-horsetails

Horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) rise like spikes from the forest floor. These ancient plants are embedded with silica and are called scouring rushes. They are a great find when you are camping along a stream because you can use them to scour your cooking utensils. Running your finger over a stalk feels much like fine sandpaper.

15-horsetail

In Japan horsetails are boiled and dried and then used to smooth wood, and are said to produce a finish superior to any sandpaper. Horsetails produce spores in their cone shaped tips, but the examples in this spot rarely grow them. I think the stripes on them will always remind me of socks.

16-woodpecker-tree

This tree is full of insects, probably carpenter ants, and the pileated woodpecker that made these holes knew it. Pileated woodpecker holes are almost always rectangular and very big compared to other woodpecker holes. These were quite deep as well.

17-bark-beetle-damage

Pine bark beetles (Ips pini) had a field day here, according to the evidence left behind on several fallen limbs. The look of a jagged saw tooth pattern means unfinished egg chambers.  Pine bark beetles kill limbs and trees by girdling them. This stops the movement of water and nutrients up and down the tree and the infected limbs or the entire tree will die. These beetles are small and range in size from about 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch in length, but they can do a lot of damage when enough of them are in a forest.

18-grape-tendril

Native river grapes (Vitis riparia) grow along the stream banks. These are old vines that grow well into the tree tops and the fermenting fruit makes the forest smell like grape jelly on warm fall days. I like looking at their tendrils. Sometimes I see beautiful Hindu dancers in their twisted shapes; other times animals, sometimes birds. This one took the shape of a heart.

River grapes are also called frost grapes, and their extreme cold tolerance makes their rootstock a favorite choice for many well-known grape varieties. They’ve been known to survive temperatures of -57 degrees F. (-49 C)

19-tangle

Bailey Brook gets its start in the Horatio Colony nature preserve in Keene, which was too far away to hike to on this day, so I stopped at this tangle of trees, brush and vines. Finding ways under, over, through or around snags like these can take a lot out of you. This stream completely dried up in last summer’s drought and I could have walked up its bed all the way to its source, but I didn’t. I’m happy to see it full pf water again.

If it weren’t for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song. ~Carl Perkins

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