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Posts Tagged ‘Native Plants’

I like to see what the fall colors look like from above so each year I climb a hill or mountain to have a look. I’ve been climbing at Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard for a few years now because it’s a relatively easy climb and because it has a 360 degree view from the summit.

Beech trees are changing into their bright yellows down in the lower towns so I thought they’d be well along here. They were indeed, and if I went by the colors along the trail I guessed that I was going to see plenty of color at the summit.

A few months ago when I was here I noticed that someone had placed what they must have considered a special stone on to of a boulder. I was happy to see that people had thought enough of the person who put it there to leave it alone. When I first saw it I picked it up to look at it and almost tossed it into the woods but thankfully I realized it meant something to someone, so I put it back where I found it.

In May I saw a big black bear right here in the meadow, but on this day I saw Scottish highland cattle. These pastures are for them but I don’t see them here very often. I’m guessing that the scent of the bear was long gone, because they seemed to be at peace and didn’t even look my way.  

With views like this who wouldn’t be at peace?

Up we go along the trail that parallels the pasture. I should say that good, sturdy hiking boots would be a good idea here. The trail gets very rocky and there are many tree roots.

An old apple tree along the trail bore a considerable crop of fruit. Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled this land in the 1700s, but I doubt this was anything they planted. It was an old tree but not that old.  

I noticed that nobody had boarded up the open window on the ranger cabin yet, and that got me wondering how often forestry officials actually come up here.

I took another look at the 1940s interior. I don’t know if a bear got in here or not but something or someone had been foraging, by the looks of things.

In all the years I’ve been coming here I’ve seen someone in the fire tower just once, and that day they were letting people in. There was such a line waiting though, that I passed it up. This is considered a manned fire tower but I wonder when. It is possible that it’s only manned during times of high fire danger, I suppose.

There was plenty of fall color on the summit. The red of blueberry bushes and yellow of ferns made a beautiful scene, I thought.

There was a haze in the distance but you couldn’t beat the color nearby.

This shot shows the meadows where the highland cattle were from above.

There were lots of people up here on this day and most were either simply staring or taking photos. I did quite a lot of both because it was so beautiful.

There were lots of blueberry bushes that had lost their leaves but there were still lots of berries on them.  

I took far too many photos but I think you can probably see why. It was just breathtaking up there.

It appears as just a speck in this photo but there was a dark eyed junco bathing in the water that collects in the natural depressions in this bedrock. That’s why I call them the birdbaths.

A tiger moth must have flown up here at some point because I saw a couple of wooly bear caterpillars on the summit.

The rocks of the summit are covered with many different lichens and I always try to stop and take a look at one or two of them.

On this day I chose common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) for a close up photo. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone, especially slate. I see it on older gravestones quite often and it grows by the thousands on some hill and mountain summits. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describes the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, but these had a few. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

One last look at the colors on the summit.

I’ve often said here that I don’t climb for the view because if I did I’d be disappointed about 9 out of 10 times, but on this day I did climb for the view and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact I could have stayed up there all day but what goes up must come down and so I started back down the trail. Though I’m still 18 in my mind my body keeps interrupting that dream and one of my knees has been acting up lately, but I told myself that if a 5 year old, her grandparents and their dog could do it then so could I. Despite a little discomfort I made it down without a hitch, so I was happy. What a wonderful day it turned out to be.

The events of the past day have proven to me that I am wholly alive, and that no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. ~Anonymous mountain climber.

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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

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Fall foliage is peaking here and our world is very colorful at the moment; it’s almost like living inside a kaleidoscope. This view is found at Howe Reservoir in Dublin, New Hampshire and though it was a cloudy and rather dark morning the camera did a fair job, I thought.

Here is another view of the trees at the reservoir. Mostly red maples, I think. Red maples can have red fall foliage, or yellow or orange.

Mount Monadnock, the second most climbed mountain in the world, was covered by clouds in this shot of the reservoir. The trees are beautiful here this year as they are most years.

This is a colorful part of my journey to work.

I raced to catch the sun lighting up the entire hill on the far side of Half Moon Pond in Hancock one morning, but I just missed it. Too bad; in six years I’ve only seen it happen twice.

The shoreline of Half Moon Pond is natural for the most part, with no buildings.

If I don’t take the dirt road I showed a few photos back I can choose a route that takes me past an excellent view of Mount Monadnock, but on this morning the mountain was hiding behind clouds. 

But even the clouds were worthy of a few photos, I thought. It’s hard to believe such a huge mountain is behind them.

On my way home after work the sun lights up this roadside pasture and hillside in Marlborough. Every year I struggle with whether sunny or cloudy days are best for foliage photos. By the end of the season I’ve usually tied myself in knots and still have no good answer, but it seems to me that these colors might have popped more on a cloudy day. 

Here’s the same hillside but this shot was taken on a cloudy day. To me it seems much more colorful than the previous shot but I’ll let you decide.

Those cows have one of the best views in the region.

A closer look at one of those maples you’ve been seeing in all of these photos. Sometimes red, yellow and orange can all be found on one tree.

Oaks are coming along and they and the beeches will take over when the maples are done. At least I hope so. This tells me that it’s time to get over to Willard Pond in Hancock; one of the most beautiful places I know of in the fall when the oaks and beeches blaze with color.

The Branch River in Marlborough is always a good place to see some color. The bright yellow on the left is Oriental Bittersweet, which is invasive.

Here is more bright yellow Oriental bittersweet in the trees along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. Invasive oriental bittersweet vines (Celastrus orbiculatus) are as strong as wire and they strangle many native trees by wrapping themselves around the tree’s trunk like a boa constrictor. I’ve seen vines as big as my arm wrapped tightly around trees so as the trees grew they had no room to expand and slowly died. At this time of year you can see how they’ve made it into the tops of many trees.

Another of my favorite places to see fall colors is along the Ashuelot River in Keene. You can probably see why.

Another view from the riverside.

There is a spot along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey where thousands of invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) grow, and in the fall they all turn red and pink. You can see some of them around the base of the trees in the distance.

Here’s a close look at the leaves. Though beautiful these understory shrubs take a lot of shade and can form monocultures in the forest. They in turn cast enough shade so natives can’t get a start.  Burning bushes often turn unbelievable shades of pink and a forest full of them is truly an amazing sight. Their sale and cultivation is banned in New Hampshire but there are so many of them in the wild they’ll always be with us now.

Just before burning bush leaves fall they’ll turn a soft, very pale pastel pink. The leaves on the trees above them seem to help regulate how quickly burning bush leaves change color by keeping frost from touching them. In years when the overhanging branches lose their leaves early there is a good chance that the burning bushes will also lose theirs quickly. There have been years when I’ve seen hundreds of bushes all lose their leaves overnight.

The New Hampshire Tourism Bureau estimates that more than three million out-of-state overnight visitors will come this fall, but unfortunately most won’t see scenes like this one because they will drive through our forests in a car or on a bus. They really should spend more time hiking, because this is the time of year when nature pulls out all the stops and reminds us what the word beauty really means.

Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell–some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

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In 2010 Keene built a new middle school at the edge of a 500 acre wetland called Tenant Swamp and the building sits on a high terrace that overlooks the swamp. To create an “outdoor classroom” for the students a boardwalk leading into the swamp was also built. I frequently drive by tenant swamp at this time of year and note the beautiful fall foliage that can be seen from the road and I’ve always wondered what the fall foliage would look like from inside the swamp. That’s what this trip would be about on this beautiful day.

A sturdy bridge built over a seasonal stream leads into the swamp.

An 850 foot boardwalk meanders through the swamp. It’s sturdy and well-built and about a foot or two off the ground. When it was being installed 9-12 feet of peat was discovered in some places. Two feet of peat takes about a thousand years to form so this peat has been here for a very long time. I’m tempted to call this a peat bog because of these discoveries but technically because it is forested, the correct term is swamp.

I was happy to see that there was some nice fall color here inside the swamp in addition to the beautiful colors I had seen on the outer edges.  

The swamp is left to itself as much as possible and when trees fall they lie where they fell.

I saw lots of New England asters in sunny spots and I’m guessing that this swamp must be full of them and many other plants that I’d love to see.

There were lots of blueberry bushes here as well, and most were wearing their beautiful fall red.

Black raspberries are also plentiful here.

I’ve never seen so many winterberries growing in a single place before and every bush was loaded with fruit. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native plant in the holly family and is toxic, but birds love the berries. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

I saw many spruce trees here and that immediately told me something about this place was different, because I don’t see many spruce trees in the wild. Spruce trees like it cool and they prefer the boreal forests further north. There are at least two species here and I think they were probably red spruce (Picea rubens) and black spruce (Picea mariana.) Neither one minds boggy ground.

Cattails (Typha latifolia) were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the swamps, ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

Before the new middle school could be built here an archaeological sensitivity assessment had to be done, and by the time the dig was completed it was found that Native Americans lived here at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,000-12,000 years ago. The dig also found that the Ashuelot River once ran through here; about a half mile east of where it now flows. Since the site evolved into a swamp it was never farmed or built on so it was valuable enough archeologically to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are a few diagrams like the one above placed here and there on the boardwalk to help people understand exactly what went on here 12,000 years ago.

I thought this was interesting.

500 acres of swamp boggles my mind and I know that if I hopped off the boardwalk and bush whacked my way into the swamp, I’d probably be lost in under an hour. Once you get turned around and start wandering in circles it’s all over, and in November of 1890 that’s exactly what happened to George McCurdy, who died of exposure. I’ve heard stories about another man who went into the swamp and was never found. I’ll stay on the boardwalk but the swamp is very enticing and I’d love to explore it.

There are lots of birds in the swamp and benches are placed here and there along the boardwalk for people who like to sit and watch them.

It’s not hard to find evidence of woodpeckers here. This hole was made by a pileated woodpecker sometime in the past.

This hole was fresh and was probably made by one of the smaller woodpeckers, like the downy woodpecker.

There are lots of cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) growing in the swamp. They like wet feet and I usually find them near water. The common name for this fern comes from its upright reddish brown fertile fronds which someone thought looked like cinnamon sticks. It often turns bright pumpkin orange in the fall.

There were many fallen leaves on the boardwalk.

The fallen leaves made me look up, and when I did I was surprised to see bare branches on some of the maples already. Fall must pass quickly here.

A black birch (Betula lenta) showed how beautiful it could be. This tree is also called sweet birch and its numbers were once decimated because of its use as a source of oil of wintergreen. The bark looks a lot like cherry bark but chewing a twig is the best way to identify it; if it tastes like wintergreen then it is black birch. If not then it is most likely a cherry.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) has a strong presence here and this one was very beautiful in its fall colors. Royal fern is one of the most beautiful of our native ferns in my opinion, but often fools people by not really looking very fern like. Royal fern is in the family Osmundaceae, and fossils belonging to this family have been found in rocks of the Permian age, which was about 230 million years ago. There is also a European species of royal fern called Osmunda regalis.

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. ~Henry David Thoreau

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As I write this we haven’t seen any real cold temperatures yet but by the time this is posted they say daytime highs will be in the 50s F., and widespread frosts are likely for several nights running. Of course that will most likely end the growing season for all but the hardiest of plants. if it happens, so we won’t see scenes like this again until next year.

This aster bloomed in a garden…

…and this aster bloomed by a cornfield. This is a New England aster and though the color is the same the garden variety is shorter and more compact and has many more flowers.

I’m always surprised by this yellow azalea I find blooming in a local park. Most azaleas bloom in spring and early summer, not in October, but I guess nobody told this one that.

As they age purple coneflowers lose a lot of their color and their rays become pale and more pastel and paper like. I suspect that these will probably be the last of their kind that I see this year.

I found this goldenrod growing in the wild but its compact habit makes me think it would be a hit in the garden, possibly surrounded by deep purple garden asters. Most goldenrods are quite tall but this one barely reached a foot and a half.

I’ve never seen turtleheads bloom as well as they have this year. This is a pink variety but the white ones have also bloomed well. A problem I’ve seen with the white native plants aside from their flowers is their leaves turning black and crisp. I don’t know what’s causing it.

Can you stand seeing more roadside flowers? I never get tired of seeing them but I probably took too many photos.

They’re very beautiful, and this week might see their end.

I was surprised to see herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) still blooming along the Ashuelot River. I usually see them at the end of June. Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

I’ve learned a lot about dandelions by having to pay closer attention to them for this blog, and one of the things I’ve learned is that they don’t like hot weather. In fact in this part of the state they disappear in summer and return only when it cools off in the fall. I’ve seen them bloom as late as January in a warm winter. I saw two or three blooms on this day.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is still blooming as it has since June, I think. Easily one of our longest blooming flowers. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers. Toadflax flowers have an upper lip that is divided into 2 rounded lobes, and a lower lip which is divided into 3 lobes that are rounded and spreading. Blue toadflax was introduced in Europe and has naturalized in some areas, including Russia. It is in the snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison but I’ve never tried it.

Phlox is still going strong in places. I found this one in a friend’s garden.

Most bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) look like the one on the left, but the one on the right was just opening. I’m guessing that it will be the last one I see this year. This plant originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love these flowers and it is not uncommon to have them flying all around me as I take photos of it.

Here in the Northeastern U.S. we are big on garden chrysanthemums in the fall and I wonder if people in other countries love them as much as we do. Thought of as a late summer / fall plant, many thousands of them are sold each year and you see them everywhere. Though they are native to Asia and northeastern Europe I never hear much about them being grown in other countries.

Though they are sold as “hardy mums” they are not truly hardy and most of them die in winter, but purple and white ones will often make it through until the following year. Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China as early as the 15th century, where its boiled roots were used to treat headaches and its sprouts and petals were eaten in salads. 

When I was young I worked at a nursery where we grew ten thousand mums each year. The number one priority was watering. It didn’t matter what else needed to be done; you didn’t let plants wilt, ever. Standing out in the hot sun watering ten thousand mums was unpleasant, but the plants came first and your needs second, and we all understood that. Many people try to grow their mums in pots without realizing how much water they need, and the plants usually die of thirst. In the ground is the best place for this one.

I’ve seen quite a few roses still blooming, including this one that shined its light out at me.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, but I was surprised to see these blossoms in September, which seems early. Some Native American tribes steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in their sweat lodges to soothe aching muscles and others made tea from it to treat coughs. As is often the case Natives had a use for virtually every part of the plant and witch hazel is still in use today. It can be found as a lotion in almost any drugstore. Witch hazel blossoms are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths, but this year the moths may have help from several other insects I’ve seen still flying. The “hama” part of witch hazel’s scientific name means “at the same time” and is used because you can see leaves, flowers, and the prior year’s fruit all at once on the same plant, as this photo shows.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here
.

~ Zenkei Shibayama

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Fall came early this year I think, but for what must be the first time I’m noticing how dependent on temperature and weather the foliage colors are. We had some quite cool nights a week or two ago and that started things off but then it got hot again; it was 80 degrees and humid on the day of this writing, and the foliage changes seem to have slowed. This view of the Ashuelot River north of Keene in Gilsum is bright enough but other than a spot of yellow or orange I think it’s mostly made up of varying shades of green. But since I’m colorblind I’m the last person you should choose to believe when it comes to color. I’ll let you make your own decisions.

One thing I’m sure of by these photos is how little water is actually in the river bed. Normally I would have been very foolish to try to stand where I was when I took this one but it’s been so dry there was nothing to worry about on this day. They say we’ve had the 18th driest September since records have been kept over the last 150 years.

Something that struck me as odd and interesting was this dog lichen, which was growing on a stone that is submerged for at least a few months in spring. I’ve seen mosses stand it but this is the first lichen I’ve seen put up with being underwater. But they do love water; evidenced by their color changes and their increased pliability after a rain.

This is another scene along the Ashuelot River in the northern part of Keene. There wasn’t really more water in this part of the river, just fewer rocks.

Sometimes highbush blueberries will take on a plum color in the fall as this one has and sometimes they’re bright red.

An ash tree burned brightly at the edge of the woods. Ash trees are among the first to turn and you can often see green hillsides with spots of bright yellow here and there.

And this young ash turned a beautiful deep purple. This is a white ash (Fraxinus americana,) I believe.

One of the scenes I look forward to each fall is this one, where birches grow out of the bedrock.

Many ferns are putting on their fall colors and one of the prettiest is the cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.

And a forest full of them is even prettier.

Another plum colored blueberry with a yellow maple caught my eye on the way to work one morning.

I actually learned the secret of photographing purple grasses from taking photos of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) As a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher. You try and try and then try again, and eventually you hit on the right light, or the right background, or the right perspective and then finally you have it, and then you can show the plant or any other bit of nature at its best. In my line of thought, this is how you get people interested enough to want to get out there and see nature for themselves; by showing it at its most beautiful. This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall.

Here is a closer look at purple love grass. It’s very pretty and I’m lucky enough to see quite a lot of it along roadsides.

Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) also chose to wear purple for fall. Pretty, but it contains solanine, which is the same toxic substance found in many members of the nightshade family including deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna.)

Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are beautiful this year.

Red leaves and blue berries on pink stems make Virginia creeper really stand out in the fall, and sometimes whole trees are draped in it.

Winterberries, one of our native hollies, also ripen in the fall and if the birds don’t eat them they’ll persist well into winter. Photos of winterberries with snow on them have become so common they have become almost a cliché, like raindrops on roses. Still snow on these berries is a relatively difficult shot, only because you have to be in the right place at the right time. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is toxic, but birds snap up the berries fairly quickly after they’ve been in the cold for a while. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

There must be many millions of acorns falling this year; I would guess enough to call it a mast year. In a mast year the trees grow a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than in a non-mast year. Scientists believe that by sometimes producing huge amounts of seed that at least some will survive being eaten by birds and animals and grow into trees. Having been outside most of my life I can say that many acorns survive intact until spring in a mast year. I’ve spent a good deal of time raking them up.

Native witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) often lose their chlorophyll in an odd way. Sometimes in winter you see these leaves wearing a warm, rosy brown which is very beautiful against the snow. 

Red maples (Acer rubrum) aren’t always red in the fall, but they’re almost always unbelievably beautiful and we have many millions of them here in our 4.8 million acres of forest. Over the years I’ve heard  different people say that these tree colors “can’t be real,” and that there must be some kind of camera trick involved, but I’m here to tell you that they are indeed very real and there is no trickery involved. This photo is exactly how it came out of the camera, so if you feel that what you see here is some kind of trick I would suggest that before determining the reality of a thing you might want to experience it for yourself. Many millions of people from every country on earth come here to see the autumn foliage each year. Maybe you should too.

This view of the Ashuelot River in Keene was another that held more varying shades of green than anything else but I thought it was so beautiful and peaceful I had to include it. I hope you think so too, and I really do wish you could experience it for yourselves. At this time of year you can find people who have lived here their entire lives just standing and staring, and I think that’s because when you see something like this for a time you’re taken away to a higher place. I stood and stared for a while myself, forgetting that I was supposed to be taking photos for you.

The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of nature, was the first spiritual experience. ~Henryk Skolimowski

Thanks for stopping in.

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Our warmer seasons always end beautifully, with wildflowers along most roadsides and a backdrop of colorful fall foliage. This year is no exception; I saw this scene along a roadside recently. I liked the drift of dark purple New England  asters. 

As I’ve said here before, we do love our asters, and we love them enough to devote considerable amounts of garden space to them. When you think about it, to grow asters you need to have large amounts of garden space taken up by a plant that is green all season and then has only a short burst of bloom in the fall. But as this beautiful plant that I found in a local park shows, it’s worth it.

The flowers on the garden aster are about half the size of a New England aster blossom and bees love them. There were hundreds of bees buzzing this plant on this day.

Though native black cohosh (Actaea racemose) is also called bugbane I saw plenty of bees on it as well. Another name for it is black snakeroot and though it is native to the forests of this country I’ve never seen it in the wild. Some insects are repelled by its odor and it was once used to keep bedbugs away. Black cohosh root was used by Native Americans to treat colds, coughs, rheumatism, kidney disorders, malaria, and other ailments.

I see wild mint (Mentha arvensis) occasionally but I wouldn’t call it common. I found this one at the edge of the woods in bright sunshine. There is some speculation that the North American species came by way of ancient hybridization of European species but there is a long history of its use by Native Americans, who used it as an insect repellant and also used it to treat colds and flu. They also used it in their pemmican and soups, and to add flavor to cooked meats.

As many as 20 flowers can surround the stem in the leaf axils, blooming from the bottom up. Each tiny tubular flower is only about 1/8 inch long. They can be pink to pale lavender to white, with darker spots on the inside. They’re hard to get a good photo of and I had to try several times for this one. Even so I failed to show the darker spots on the inside so you’ll have to trust me that they were there.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is a plant that won’t be finished until we have a freeze. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as this example shows. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

It’s hard to tell when a sweet everlasting blossom is actually fully opened but the papery bracts that show when the flowers have opened to release their seeds look like small flowers. If you crush a few blossoms and smell them, they smell like maple syrup. I find it growing in sunny, sandy waste areas and on roadsides.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) has a very long blooming period. I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months, sometimes into November. I’ve noticed that when it gets cold the small, normally white daisy fleabane blossoms take on a hint of purple. We’ve had a few cool nights so that explains these purple blossoms. I’ve seen other white flowers do the same, so it isn’t unusual.  Many white chrysanthemums for example will turn purple when it gets cold. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

I was very surprised to see a violet blooming. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one this late in the year.

What I first thought was zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) grew on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Gilsum but the leaves were wrong for zigzag goldenrod, so I think it must have been blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia,) which has longer narrower leaves. I didn’t see any sign of blue stems but the blue isn’t a reliable identification feature because the wax coating which cause the color can wash or melt off in hot or rainy weather, and it has been hot. Both plants grow in wooded areas instead of out in the open and prefer shade and moist soil.

More roadside flowers for your viewing pleasure.

I wish I could put a name to this aster because I see lots of it, often all the way along the sunny sides of rail trails, especially.

The numerous flowers are small at about a 1/2 inch across and light blue. It might be the blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) because it does grow at the edge of the woods. I’ll have to pay closer attention to the leaves. The leaves in this photo are no help; they’re from the raspberry plant that was propping the aster up.

Lady’s thumb (Persicaria vulgaris) gets its common name from a black / brown smudge on its leaves, supposedly left there by a mysterious lady we’ll never know. Small pink flowers crowd the flower stalks (Racemes) on this plant in the knotweed family. Each flower has 5 sepals but no petals. Flowers can be pink, red, greenish white, or purple. All of these colors sometimes appear on the same raceme. This plant is native to Europe and Asia.

The “lady’s thumb print” on Persicaria vulgaris leaves.

A plant I’ve only seen once before is this nightshade, which I think is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country, so I’d say this example might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

But is this plant Solanum nigrum? It doesn’t look hairy enough to me but it does have pea size green berries that turn black. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

This will probably be the last beautiful blossom from this clematis that lives in the garden of friends.

Sunflowers are still going strong in the same garden.

Including this unusual but very sunny example. It was grown from seed.

Still more roadside flowers, just because they’re so beautiful.

Beauty waits until the patience and depth of a gaze are refined enough to engage and discover it. In this sense, beauty is not a quality externally present in something. It emerges at that threshold where reverence of mind engages the subtle presence of the other person, place or object. ~ John O’ Donohue

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