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Posts Tagged ‘Native Liverworts’

Last weekend I decided to visit the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland. Hacked out of the bedrock over 150 years ago by the railroad, it is the only place I know of to find such a huge variety of plants, mosses, liverworts and algae. Because of the 50 foot height of the walls of this man made canyon and the trees growing above them it can be quite dark in here, even on a sunny day.

This was not a sunny day and photography was a challenge so I hope you won’t be too disappointed in the quality of what you find here.

The tip of a fern leaf revealed that something had pulled the tips of the fronds together with silk to form a ball. From what I’ve read a caterpillar of one of three native moth species in the genus Herpetogramma practice this leaf rolling and tying habit and so they are called fern leaf tiers. The ball is hollow on the inside and the caterpillar will live in it and feed on the leaf presumably until it is ready to become a moth.

The underside of a fertile frond was covered with small dots called sori, as can be seen in the previous photo. The sori are clusters of spore producing sporangia and they can be naked (uncovered) or capped by a cover called an indusium, as they are on the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris spinulose,) which I believe this was. When the spores are ready to be released thicker cell walls on one side of each sorus will age and dry out, and this creates a tension which causes the cover (indusium) to burst open and release its spores. It all seems so amazing and improbable.

On their way to becoming brilliant red, the berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time and in my opinion this is when they are at their most beautiful. This plant is also called treacle berry because the berries are supposed to taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They are rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from the burning roots to treat headaches and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

I had to lighten this shot quite a lot but I wanted you to see the lush abundance of plant growth found here. It always reminds me of the Shangri-La described in the book Lost Horizons by James Hilton, which I read and enjoyed very much when I was a boy. It would take many years to identify all these plants.

I just read an interesting article about pink or “watermelon” snow found on the Presena glacier in northern Italy. The snow was colored by an algae bloom growing right on the snow rather than a spore release, but colored rains are common all over the world and they’re usually colored by the release of spores. The orange color seen in this place on the stone of the canyon is caused by green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. There have been red rains, black rains, and yellow and green rains, all colored by algae spores. The red “blood” rains usually wreak much havoc among the superstitious throughout the world, who believe such a thing is a bad omen.

I wasn’t happy to see purple loosestrife blooming here because it’s just about the most invasive plant we have in these parts. It’s right up there with Japanese knotweed.

Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) has big, light gathering leaves that give it a certain tolerance for low light, and that’s how it can grow here so well. 

A hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) crawled on the flowering raspberry. It humped itself up when it saw me for some reason.

But then it straightened itself out and went on its way. Hickory tussock moth caterpillars have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

This is a place where coltsfoot grows on stone, and it can do that because of the constant drip of groundwater. Every plant here has a never ending supply of rich mineral laden water, and that’s what makes the place so lush.

Since the drainage channels along the railbed were so low due to our prolonged drought I thought I’d visit with my friends the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum,) which grow here by the thousands. They are one of the plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and they’re one of the reasons I come here. The great scented liverwort is such a beautiful thing and it somehow manages to look both plant and animal at the same time. Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day I was happy to see that most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and I saw lots of it.

The beautiful reptilian appearance is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

I don’t like to hang around with the liverworts too long because rocks fall from these walls regularly. Many of them land in the drainage channels as seen here, and some are big enough to crush a car. I love the golden green of the water here when the light is right.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) still bloomed beautifully here. If you see a spirea when you look at this flower good for you; you know your plants. Spirea blossoms always look fuzzy due to their many stamens.

There wouldn’t be anything unusual about this particular tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius) if it weren’t for the teeth marks on it. I first saw this a few years ago happening on lichens but I think this is only the second time I’ve seen it on a fungus. I have a couple of theories about what made these marks and why; either a squirrel or chipmunk is scraping algae off the surface or they are inhibiting the growth of their teeth. They are both rodents and must gnaw to control tooth growth.

I saw the first New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) of the year on this day and I’m always of two minds about that first one. I’d like summer to go on for a few months longer but the sooner we get through winter the sooner spring will be here. New England asters are our biggest and showiest native aster and the large, inch and a half diameter blossoms come in varying shades of purple. Some can be almost white and some are very dark. This one was kind of in between and it was very beautiful.

Joe Pye weed  (Eutrochium purpureum) kindly offered to show us what a true whorl is. You can see how its leaves radiate from a single point around the stem, so if the leaves were flat and you looked at them on edge they would look like a plate, all in one plane, with no leaf higher or lower on the stem than the others in the whorl. It’s good to know not just what a plant’s flowers look like, but their leaf shape and growth habits as well. When you’re out in the field surrounded by thousands of plants it is easy to get home, look at your hundreds of photos, and wonder “what on earth is that?”

There’s no doubt what this one is; a turtle head (Chelone glabra linifolia.) I was hoping they would be in bloom because I wanted my friend Dave to see them. When he first saw a photo of a turtlehead flower he said that he thought “turtle head” immediately, even though he had never seen the plant and didn’t know its name. It seems odd to me because I have never seen turtleheads when I look at them. I think they look more like a fish mouth.

The plant gets the first part of it scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. I think she looks more like a trout but maybe Greek turtles look different than New Hampshire ones.

Turtleheads are very susceptible to disease and the plants here were covered with molds and mildews.

White snakeroot grows here; one of two places I know of to find it. It wasn’t flowering but that doesn’t matter, because I’d like you to see its leaves. Though its flowers closely resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. Though boneset is used medicinally this plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so now milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.

Here is a closer look at a white snakeroot leaf. It looks nothing like boneset. You can often see the delicate tracery of leaf miners on these leaves. Native Americans used the root in a poultice to treat snakebite, and that’s how the plant gets its common name. If you don’t know what you’re doing however, it’s a plant best left alone.

Here are the leaves of boneset, knitted together around the stem like healing bones, and they are obviously very different from the leaf in the previous photo. Though many botanists will tell you it’s always best to identify plants by their flowers, in the case of boneset and white snakeroot with flowers that look nearly identical, it might be best to pay more attention to the leaves.

It was so dark by the time I got to the old lineman’s shack I had to use a flash to get a shot of it. I was happy to see the old place still standing, even it the gloom.

A feather had fallen on a fern leaf and pointed the way home, and home I went. When I come away from this place I always feel as if I have been cleansed and renewed. It is a place to be totally and completely immersed in nature and though it’s hard to explain in words, you never come out quite the same as you were when you went in. You gain something; you grow.

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. ~Linda Hogan

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Beaver Swamp in Fog

Last weekend I planned to climb a mountain to see the foliage colors from above but the weather had other plans. On Saturday it rained until about 1:00 pm and on Sunday morning the fog was about as thick as it ever gets here. I stopped in at a local swamp to see what I could see.

2. Beaver Lodge in Fog

I couldn’t see much of anything except the fuzzy outline of a beaver lodge off shore.

3. Trail

Once the rain stopped on Saturday I climbed Hewes Hill where Tippin Rock is. By the time I reached the top the sun was fully out and pointed directly at the camera, so none of the photos are worth showing. On Sunday once the fog lifted I was able to reach the top a little earlier in the day but once again the lighting was harsh.

 4. Greater Whipwort

On the way up I found a rock that was covered with greater whipwort liverworts (Bazzania trilobata,) which always remind me of centipedes. They are quite small and from a distance they look a lot like moss, so you have to look closely to see them. I was surprised to see them here because I’ve always found them near water before.

5. Wolf's Milk Slime Mold

I also saw some wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum.) The fruiting bodies of this slime mold look a lot like light colored, pinkish brown puffballs but the proof is in the squeezing. Immature examples will release a pink liquid like that shown in the photo. Some describe the liquid as having a toothpaste like consistency but examples I’ve seen have always been more like a thick liquid. Older examples will have powdery gray spores inside. I always find them growing on logs at about this time of year.

 6. Jelly Fungus

An eastern hemlock log had some orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatu.) growing on it. This fungus looks a lot like yellow witches butter (Tremella mesenterica) but witches butter grows on hardwood logs. This fungus is common and I see it at all times of year, even in winter. What you see here would fit on a quarter.

7. Hemlock Varnish Shelf

Something else found on eastern hemlocks is the hemlock varnish shelf mushroom (Ganoderma tsugae.) This mushroom’s common name comes from its shiny cap, which looks like it has been varnished. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

8. Trail

The trail was carpeted in leaves all the way up and the smells of fall were heavy in the damp air.

 9. Smiley Face

Whoever painted the blue blazes on the trees must have had some paint left over. They must have been having a good day too.  Actually, in a place like this it’s hard not to be happy.

10. Tippin Rock Sign

Before long you see the sign for Tippin Rock.

11. Tippin Rock

As if you could miss a 40 ton glacial erratic perched on a hilltop! Tippin Rock gets its name from the way that it will rock if pushed in the right place. After my last post about the rock I got an email from a man who was at a dedication ceremony for the rock three years ago, and he told me that he watched some kids climb up on it. By all standing on one end of it they got it rocking back and forth. But we’re not here for the boulder this time.

12. Foliage

This time we’re here for the foliage. Unfortunately I don’t have any great photos of it because of the way the rain and fog forced me to delay my climbs until the afternoon when the sun was almost directly ahead of me.

13. Foliage

These photos will give you some idea of what I saw though. I’m surprised how many bare trees there are in this one.

14. Foliage

It’s really too bad that the light made it so difficult for the camera to catch what I saw, because the foliage was beautiful from up here. I sat and admired it for a while, hoping a stray cloud might dim the sun, but it never happened.

15. Foliage

This shot was taken with my cell phone and shows that it also had trouble with the bright sunshine. It also shows, in the lower left corner, the sheer cliff edges found here. This isn’t a place to be wandering around in the dark without a flashlight but it’s a great place to visit during the daytime.

I’ve never known anyone yet who doesn’t suffer a certain restlessness when autumn rolls around. . . . We’re all eight years old again and anything is possible. ~Sue Grafton

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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Regular readers might be getting tired of seeing this part of the New Hampshire rail trail system north of Keene but I never get tired of exploring here because I never know what I’m going to find. There are mosses, lichens, and liverworts here that I don’t see anywhere else so last week, after a nuisance snowstorm of 2 or 3 inches, I decided to see what I could find. The ice formations alone make this a worthwhile trip.

 1. Rail Trail

I think the reason all of the unusual plants grow so well here is because of the all of the groundwater that constantly seeps from the stone cliff faces. Mosses, lichens and liverworts don’t have roots so they depend on rain, snowmelt, and groundwater for their nutrients. In the winter the groundwater that helps them survive also freezes into huge, interesting ice formations and there are many people who come here to climb them.

 2. Ice Climber

I happened to meet up with a solitary ice climber here this day, and I took his picture so you could get an idea of the scale of this man made canyon that was blasted out of the bedrock. He looked to be 6 feet tall or so-maybe a little taller.

3. Green Ice

The ice climber had gotten there before me and I followed his footprints in the fresh snow, noting that he went from ice column to ice column, finally settling on a large column of green ice much like the one in the above photo. He was climbing alone so there was no safety rope and I didn’t want to take a photo of him climbing because I didn’t want to do anything to break his concentration. I was wishing that I could have talked to him about the ice and why he climbed it.

I haven’t been able to answer the question of why the ice is green so I don’t know if it is being stained by minerals or vegetation.  My gut feeling says it’s probably a little of both.

4. Fan Pocket Moss aka Fissidens dubius

Ice wasn’t the only reason I came here. These old walls are covered in mosses, lichens and liverworts. I think the moss shown here growing out of a crack in the stone is fan pocket moss (Fissidens dubius.)  It was very small-no bigger than a quarter. Fissidens mosses always appear flat and have two leaves directly across from one another along the stem.

5. Green Algae

I also came here to see something I was only recently able to identify. Though it is bright orange, this is called green algae (Trentepohlia aurea.) The orange color comes from the carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color. One of the reasons I wanted to visit this place again was to try to get better photos of it.

6. Green Algae 2

I found that getting a better photo was easier said than done, but at least you can see the hairiness of what is described as “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.” The pigment masks the green chlorophyll and can also be yellow or red.  In 2001 airborne spores from these algae were in high enough concentrations in India to cause a “red rain” that actually stained clothes pink. Yellow, green, and black rain was also reported. You can read more about that by clicking here.

7. Fallen Tree

I know from previous visits that this fallen tree means I should start watching for liverworts growing on the walls. With all the fresh snow, I wasn’t sure that I’d see any.

 8. Fountain Smoothcap Moss aka Atrichum crispum

It would probably take a lifetime to identify all the different mosses growing here. I think this one might be fountain smoothcap moss (Atrichum crispum), but to be honest I can’t be certain. There are many mosses that look very much like this one and often only a microscope will reveal their true identity. The fact that it was growing in such a wet environment and the way the dry lower leaves had a crisp look is what leads me to believe it is Atrichum crispum. In any case, I thought it was a very pretty moss. Since most moss leaves are only one cell thick they look translucent in certain kinds of light.

9. Running Water

Speaking of wet environments, this is not the place to come if you want silence, because the sound of dripping water is constant. Winter, summer, spring and fall it, and the sounds of birds chirping, are all that you hear in this place. Sometimes the drip turns to a gush, as can be seen in this photo. Luckily the railroad engineers designed drainage ditches along each side of the road bed that still keep it nice and dry close to 200 years after they were dug.

10. Sun on Ice-2 

The canyon walls are high enough and the sun low enough in the sky so very little sunlight is seen here in winter.  A few shafts fall here and there, but they do little to warm things up. Also, the ice seems to create its own micro climate so you need to dress warmly if you plan to explore this area. On this day the temperature must have been a good 10 degrees colder in the canyon than on the more open parts of the trail that get sunshine.

11. Winter Crane Fly aka Trichocera

On the more open parts of the trail winter crane flies (Trichocera) could be seen soaking up the sun.

12. Liverwort in Snow

I finally saw some liverworts that had been protected from the snow but the drainage ditch full of water kept me from getting close. I’ve decided that I’m going to get some knee high wading boots to overcome the drainage ditch problem. That way I’ll be able to get closer to all of the unusual plants growing here. A ladder would also be useful but I hate to think of carrying one all the way out here.

 13. Preissia quadrata Liverwort

Every time I come here I see something I’ve never seen before. Today’s find was this liverwort that reminded me a little of cooked bacon. Or maybe I was just hungry.  Anyhow, I think this one is called narrow mushroom-headed liverwort (Preissia quadrata,) but since it can sometimes take a team of botanists to identify a liverwort, don’t bet the farm on my identification. Fresh plants are said to have a disagreeable odor, but I was able to get quite close to this one thanks to the frozen over drainage ditch, and I don’t remember smelling much of anything. Plants are also said to have a very hot taste when nibbled, but I think I’ll leave the nibbling to the botanists. I’m anxious to come back in June to see the mushroom shaped fruiting bodies.

 14. Conocephalum conicum Liverwort

Sometimes we see things so beautiful that we just want to sit and gaze at them, and when we do we find that when we’ve finished we have no idea how much time has passed, because the thing has taken us outside of ourselves. It can happen with a view from a mountain top, or a sunset, or a liverwort. This one is called the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) and it is another reason I come here.

The woods were made for the hunters of dreams. ~ S.W. Foss

Thanks for stopping in. Happy New Year!

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