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Posts Tagged ‘Nature Study’

A few posts ago I spoke of having to pull apart a beaver dam, and how beautiful the spot was that the beavers chose to build it in. I’ve wondered about that spot ever since, and what it would look like once the trees turned color, so I had to go and find out. It was even more beautiful than before; a true place of bliss, with the giggling trickle of the stream and the birds singing in the trees and the beautiful reflections, you couldn’t come much closer to an earthly paradise than this.

I’m seeing a lot of purple leaves this year, especially on blueberries.

Here is a closer look at some deep purple blueberry leaves. They don’t all do this. Some turn red, some orange, but a few do this and they are beautiful when they do.

Where I work, we have boardwalks that cross wet ground but this year we’ve had so much rain the boardwalks are floating. I’ve gotten my feet wet several times on them.

Silky dogwood leaves also have a lot of purple in them this year. By the time the leaves do this the pretty blue and white berries have usually all been eaten.

Many white ash leaves (Fraxinus americana) also show a lot of purple in the fall. These trees are among the first to change in fall, and the leaves among the first to drop.

But not all ash leaves turn purple. Most are actually yellow but some will turn red as well.

I’ve seen purple beech leaves but they were on a European beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea) that is purple all year long. American beech leaves (Fagus grandifolia) turn bright, lemon yellow before going over to orangey brown. Beech is one of our most beautiful trees but insects and diseases are giving them a very hard time.

Usually I find purple maple leaves only after they’ve fallen, but here was one still on the tree. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this.

This is the road I drive to work every day, or one of them, anyway. It’s an old gravel road and there is some beautiful scenery along it. This shot was taken later in the day but I often see deer standing beside it in the early morning. It’s already too dark now to get photos on my drive in though.

When you get to see Half Moon Pond in Hancock every day you don’t need a calendar to tell you fall has arrived. That line of trees on the shoreline is what tells me.

Slowly, the trees on the rest of the hillside change and there is always a bright yellow one right in the top center. It has just started to change in this photo and I can see it because I’ve watched it for nearly seven years, so I know where it is. Otherwise I’m sure it must just blend in for most.

The clouds reflected in the pond caught me and held me there for a time one day and at times, if it wasn’t for the many standing stems, I might have thought I was looking at the sky. The word mesmerize means “To hold the attention of someone to the exclusion of all else, so as to transfix them.”  As I watched the clouds move over the surface of the water, I was all of that.

Bare branches and floating leaves tell me that the season is passing quickly for some maples.

The sweet softness of summer now has an edge; an urgency to put up food and stack wood and prepare for the coming winter, and that urgency is punctuated by the loud honking of the Canada geese that gather here on the pond, sometimes in large numbers. Some were born here and I once knew them as tiny balls of fluff, but most are probably strangers, come to rest and fuel up for their journey to the agricultural fields in the south. For now there is stiil food to be found here, and on most mornings their soft gray silhouettes can be seen pecking at the grass through the heavy ground fog in the meadow that I mow.

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) grows on the shores of the pond and this year they are heavy with seed pods and their leaves have gone purple, which is something I can’t remember having seen before.

Green and yellow lake sedge, orangey cinnamon ferns, and the startling blue of black raspberry canes can all be found on the shores of the pond.

The sun shining through the leaves of a Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) was a beautiful moment in a forest filled with them. Tendrils of Virginia creeper first exude a sticky substance before expanding into a disc shaped pad that essentially glues itself to the object that the vine wants to climb.  Once the adhesive discs at the tendril ends are stuck in place the tendrils coil themselves tightly to hold the vine in place. Charles Darwin discovered that each adhesive pad can support two pounds. Just imagine how much weight a mature vine with many thousands of these sticky pads could support. It’s no wonder that Virginia creeper can pull the siding off a house. Still, my mother loved it enough to plant it on the house I grew up in and the beautiful vine has always been part of my earliest memories.

Many poison ivy plants (Toxicodendron radicans) will turn yellow in the fall but this one was beautifully red.

Royal ferns (Osmunda regalis) turn yellow in the fall, but they’re a good indication of damp ground at any time of year. They’re a pretty fern but I’ve found that many people don’t know that they are ferns.

There is a swamp with beavers in it near where I work and the trees are always beautiful there in the fall. These are bold beavers; that’s a lodge right there off the road. Maybe they built there because of the view.

Here is the other half of the beaver swamp. In the summer when the forest is a wall of green you don’t notice how the trees lean into the sunshine, but when they change color in the fall it becomes more apparent. I’ve had people tell me I should correct the lens distortion that makes the trees look like they’re leaning in my photos but no; trees and all other plants will lean toward a light source. Just plant a bean seed and put it on a sunny windowsill, and watch.

We have an ornamental grass where I work that catches the light beautifully at this time of year. I believe it’s in the miscanthus family of grasses, which are native to Asia but have been grown in Europe and North America for well over a hundred years. In its native lands its blooms are considered a sign of autumn, and that’s when it blooms here as well. It is used as cattle feed and to thatch roofs, and its fibers can be made into paper.

I drive by this red maple tree on the way to work each morning and every year at this time I watch as it slowly changes from green to a brilliant red. It’s a beautiful thing that grows along the roadside. Many thousands of other trees also grow along the roadside, but few of them do what this one does. It was really still too dark for photos but I tried with my phone and it worked.

Eos, goddess of the dawn, reminds us that foliage isn’t he only colorful thing to watch for. According to the ancient Greeks each morning from the edge of Oceanus she uses her rosy fingers to open the gates of heaven and release the sun, which shines its beautiful life-giving light over all life, in equal measure.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

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Some of you who came here expecting to find flowers might be a little disappointed but I’ve been taking a lot of fall foliage photos and I need to put them in a blog post, otherwise I’ll still be showing them in December and everyone will be confused. On this day I wanted to take just a short walk by the Ashuelot River to see if the cinnamon ferns had changed into their beautiful fall pumpkin orange color yet, but everything was so beautiful, what started as a short walk turned into a complete blog post. Sometimes it seems as if nature just throws itself at you and this was one of those days.

Not only was the forest beautiful, the weather was as well. So far we’ve had a very warm October and that has meant that the leaves are changing later than they usually do, so this might be an extended fall foliage year.

I saw a few orange cinnamon ferns but most hadn’t turned yet, which is unusual.

Turtles were even out, still soaking up as much of the weakened autumn sunshine as they could. These were painted turtles, I think. It’s unusual to see them in October.

Other creatures were active as well. Do you see the great blue heron walking along the far shore? It’s over on the far left, just by the last tree on the left side.

The big bird was hungry and on the move. Here it approaches a fallen tree from the left. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to watch the heron or the trees so I stopped to get shots of both.

But then it saw me and froze. I thought it would stay that way but it continued on, very slowly.

I hoped it would see a fish or a frog but it didn’t catch a thing while I was there. I know there are still frogs to catch because I scared a few into the water while getting these photos.

I’ve watched enough blue herons stalking food to know that this wouldn’t be over soon, so I moved on.

When I left it was watching what I was doing rather than looking for food.

I had leaves to see, so I left the bird alone. I didn’t come here looking for colorful foliage but since the trees surprised me by being so beautiful already, I stayed. My color finding software even sees salmon pink in this view.

They were beautiful no matter if you looked forward or back.

I liked this view but it might have been better if if duckweed hadn’t covered the blue of the water.

It was hard to watch where I was going instead of looking up.

The branches on the old sunken tree still looked more like the ribs of a a sunken ship.

The way these polypores were spaced on this tree made me think of squirrel steps.

The forest glowed and beckoned, so I had to go and see. I love walking into scenes like this that have such soft, beautiful light.

I found a fine old American hornbeam, also known as iron wood or muscle wood (Carpinus caroliniana.) The latter name comes from the way it looks like tendons are rippling under its bark. It is common along our rivers but seeing one this big is not common because these trees don’t seem to live long. Low down on its trunk I can see a good example of a maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) in this shot that I didn’t see in person. It’s that light grayish spot. The tree also had lots of spidery Frullania liverworts on it. They are the darker blotches. They like places where the humidity is high, like here along the river.

New England asters bloomed here and there but they won’t last too much longer.

Many asters looked more like these.

Well there wasn’t peak color here yet, but when leaves start turning they can do it quickly and most of these have started. Sometimes in just a day or two a tree, especially a red maple, can change from green to red or orange so you’ve got to be on your toes if you want to catch them at thier most colorful. I hope you have plenty of color where you live, if not from leaves then maybe flowers. I’m still seeing flowers here so there should be at least one more flower post soon.

The fallen leaves in the forest seemed to make even the ground glow and burn with light. ~Malcolm Lowry

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Two Sundays ago I decided to visit the High Blue Trail up in Walpole. It’s an easy climb with plenty to see and it was a beautiful fall day. Once I hit the trail I wished I had dressed a little more sensibly though. I had worn a short-sleeved summer shirt so I did a little shivering at the outset.

Hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) were already changing into their beautiful, deep maroon fall color.

Hobblebush berries go from green to bright shiny red, and then to deep, purple black. You can see a single ripe berry here. The berries are said to taste like spicy raisins or dates and are eaten by cardinals, turkeys, cedar waxwings and even pileated woodpeckers. Bears, foxes, skunks and squirrels are among the animals that eat them. They go fast; I rarely find them fully ripe.

A New England Aster grew in a low spot so wet I couldn’t get to it, so I had to take a long shot. One thing I’ve learned this year is that New England asters like wet places.

Blue wood asters bloomed in sunnier (and drier) spots all along the trail.

Sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) got that name from colonials who noticed that they turned white at the slightest hint of frost. We haven’t had a frost but it is definitely cooling off, and this fern showed it.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) also turn white early. Lady and sensitive ferns make up a large part of the growth found on the floors of many of our forests, so it won’t be long before they seem a little barren. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once the leaves fall off the trees and shrubs you can see the bones of the forest; the hardscape of stony ridges, glacial erratics, fallen logs and patches of beautiful green mosses bigger than you ever thought they could get.

Speaking of beautiful green moss, here was a quartz stone covered in delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum.) This is a color changing moss and in cold weather it turns bright, lime green. Color blindness usually means that I see it as bright orange but on this day, it was still green to these eyes.

This sign marks the trail to the overlook. So far, we’ve been following an old logging road.

There is magic in a forest and I know it has found me when these blog posts write themselves right there on the trail. I feel as if I’m on autopilot when it happens; all I have to do is take photos and then come home and type the words that have written themselves in my mind.

The corn in the cornfield was short and stunted looking, which was surprising considering all the rain we’ve had. You shouldn’t be able to see over the top of a cornfield like I could here; corn usually towers far over my head but these stalks might have been 5-6 feet tall. Each stalk had ears on it though, so it will help feed the cows this winter.

If there’s any of it left, that is. I saw signs of animals feeding on it.

White crested coral fungus (Clavulina cristata) grew just off the trail. This fungus is not as common as the yellow spindle corals that I see so often. As I was looking this up, I saw sea corals that looked identical to this example. It’s amazing how nature seems to use the same shapes again and again.

What I think might be a goat cheese webcap mushroom (Cortinarius camphoratus) grew just off the trail. Though it’s hard to see in this photo the cap surface has matted fibers on it, and that’s one of the identifiers, as are the lilac color and rather large size. Unfortunately I didn’t smell it, because that would have been the clincher. This mushroom is said to have a powerful odor of “old goat cheese or sweaty feet.” Some also think it smells like camphor, so maybe I should be glad I didn’t smell it. It’s a pretty thing though, and is a fall / late summer mushroom found usually in coniferous forests.

Years ago a hunter put small reflectors on the trees along the trail and they’re still there. I know there are bears up here and I’m fairly sure there must be lots of deer as well, because there are game trails here and there. I followed one once and discovered a lot of cornstalks that had been taken into the woods.

Running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) grows near the summit. The name comes from the way it sends out long, horizontal stems. All along the horizontal stem erect stems form at intervals and roots form where it touches the ground. All of this happens under the fallen leaves so it can be difficult sometimes to tell this club moss from others. I can’t say that these plants are rare here, but I don’t see them too often. It is also called stag’s horn clubmoss because of its shape.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) grew on a log. This slime mold starts out as tiny pink globules (aethalia) but as they age they become darker, like those seen on the lower part of the log. Once they darken the globules look more like small puffballs, so it is easy to be fooled.

If you pop a young one (and they do pop) an orange-pink liquid drips out. As they age this liquid takes on a toothpaste consistency before finally becoming a mass of dark colored, dust like spores. If you see one with liquid like that shown here oozing out of it, you’ll know they aren’t very old. Another name is toothpaste slime mold.

I reached what is left of the old stone foundation. It and the stone walls that snake through these woods are reminders of the days when these hillsides were pastures, and not forests. I don’t know who lived up here but I do know that they were hardy souls. I came here one winter and followed snowmobile tracks as far as I could before running into waist deep snowdrifts that stopped me cold. Up here, living with that kind of snow, miles from anywhere, you would have to be hardy indeed. But it wasn’t just the snow; there were bears and wolves as well, and you don’t run very well with snow shoes on. I just read that the last known wolf in the region was taken in the winter of 1819-1820.

Since there is a small pond here on the summit the people would have had water and food as well if they farmed this land. With food, water and plenty of wood for a fire they most likely just waited out the weather until spring. What long, dark and cold winters they must have seen.

At 1588 feet you aren’t exactly on top of the world but you are on the summit of the highest hill in Walpole New Hampshire.

And as always, the view was very blue. But hazy too.

This view is hazy most of the time when I come here but I could make out Stratton Mountain, off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont. I don’t how far it is as the crow flies but it’s about 50 miles from here to the mountain if you’re driving.

I’m sure the sharp eyed among you saw signs of fall all through this post, like ripe corn, fall mushrooms, and ghostly ferns. This Indian cucumber root is another sign; it has lost all its green but hasn’t lost that beautiful crimson splash on its top tier of leaves. It’s a beautiful color but the trees are putting on their beautiful fall colors too now, so it won’t be long before you see some very colorful foliage.

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old. ~The Moody Blues

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I didn’t have a bird in the hand last month, but I did have two in a bush. When I stopped at a local convenience store up they popped out of this overgrown yew. Since I had my camera with me, I took this shot through the windshield.

I think they were juvenile house sparrows, which are not native to the US. They like to nest in or near buildings. Adults have dark bills and juveniles have a more honey colored bill. As I watched another bird flew into the bush lower down on the left and the birds sitting on top disappeared quickly, as if they had taken a down elevator. I’m guessing it was a parent, come home to feed them. If I have misidentified these birds, I hope someone will let me know. I’m not good with birds. (Or colors of birds.)

I didn’t have to look this bird up. Just before I took this shot, I was lucky to see this great blue heron actually moving. As I watched it preened itself for maybe 5 minutes, and I have many shots of what look like a headless heron. This shot was taken just as it decided to rest after its grooming session, and I thought I’d might as well move on because I could tell it was going to be in statue mode for a while. But at least I got to see it actually moving; most blue herons I see act like they’re made of painted bronze. I shouldn’t complain though, because they’ve taught me a lot about being more patient.

I saw this well decorated little insect crawling up a plant stem one day and I was able to get a good side shot, but every time I turned the stem to see its back it would turn too, so I had quite a time getting the next shot.

I’ll probably always remember this one as the frustrating bug, or maybe the highly intelligent bug, but its real name is the green stink bug. Actually it is a stink bug nymph and as it grows it will lose its pretty decoration and become rather plain looking.

I went into the woods to look at a mushroom and instead found many thousands of red ants, both winged and wingless, crawling on the forest floor. I learned later that these were red harvester ants doing something they have done for millions of years: looking for a mate. I was seeing a swarm, and a swarm happens when several ant colonies leave their colonies and come together to mate. There were winged males and females here, along with wingless workers. After mating, the mated females shed their wings and find new nesting sites. Swarms like this one happen in warm weather, after a rain and in the afternoon on a day in August through September, and those were exactly the conditions when I found them. It all takes place in one day and that’s it until the following year. I’ve read that they do something called “hill topping” which simply means finding the highest spot within the swarm, and I’m guessing that was why they were climbing this pile of stones. They do it for the same reason we would; so they can see better and more easily find a mate. It was an amazing thing to watch.

I saw a red backed salamander at the base of a maple tree. The red stripe is there to scare off predators and I’ve read that the stripe can get redder when it perceives a threat and freezes in place  That’s just what happened when I started taking photos with my phone; it froze.

I waited a bit and the salamander relaxed and started climbing the tree. These small amphibians don’t have lungs so they take what gasses they need through their skin, but to do so they can’t let their skin dry out. To keep it moist they hide under tree bark, rocks, logs, anywhere they can stay out of the sun.

As I continued watching the salamander it crawled through a hole that I hadn’t seen and into the tree. I suppose the inside of a tree would be moist enough. It wasn’t until I started reading about this creature that I realized I had been lucky to see one. The day was warm and humid with occasional rain showers, and those are about the only conditions this little creature will wander around in during the daytime.

I’m still seeing monarch butterflies I’m happy to say, but this one ran into trouble somewhere along the line and damaged its wing. I’d guess that a bird got a hold of it. It seemed to still fly just fine though.

Last year a coworker and I had to pull a beaver dam apart and this year, here we were again almost in the exact same spot, pulling another dam apart. After two hours of tugging on miscellaneous tools and a rope tied to a grappling hook, we had it apart and the water flowing. This had to be done so the stream wouldn’t back up and flood roads.

I have to say that these beavers have it made; imagine living in this Eden. It was so beautiful and serene. To be able to walk out of my door and see this every morning would be sheer bliss.

A prophesying bracken fern foretold the future. Or at least the near future.

It had rained the night before and the strong morning sunshine turned the moisture left on this pine tree’s bark into steam. It made me wonder just how warm it must get inside a tree.

In 1906 in this spot trees, chiefly Scot pine and Norway spruce, were grown from seed to be used in reforestation projects. The spruce trees have done well but the Scot pines have not; neither the soil nor climate is right for them. Many of the spruce trees are still here and, as the above photo shows, are tall but have no real girth because they were meant to be transplanted into other areas, not allowed to reach full size. They are far too close together and cast such deep shade that nothing but a few mosses and fungi will grow beneath them. It is a stark, sterile place but it still has its own beauty.

This forest is far more natural. Or as natural as a second or third growth forest can be, anyway. Enough light reaches the forest floor to allow the growth of many species of plants, shrubs and ferns. It is much more natural than what we saw in the previous photo. It is also much easier to walk through than it appears here.

With all the rain I’ve been talking about this summer I’d guess that this photo of the Ashuelot River doesn’t surprise anyone. It rose higher up the bank in this spot than I’ve ever seen. On this day the water level had dropped but it was still making some impressive waves.

I thought I could see an owl coming up out of the water at one point.

This was my favorite wave shot of the day. I should say that the colors in these photos haven’t been changed in any way, and I say that because they’re so amazing they might seem unbelievable. This river has taught me much, and I know if I come here at a certain time of day when the sun is shining and the river is at the right level, it will be at its most beautiful. The sun is slightly behind and to the left of where I stand, and when a wave comes up and crests the sunlight shines through it and exposes all of the colors it contains. It is very beautiful and also mesmerizing to watch as each wave grows and changes its colors.

From the roar of the river to the quiet of the forest. This oak tree burl reminded me of Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night. Burl is an abnormal growth on a tree which grows faster than the surrounding tissue, and all the little circular grain swirls in this one signify branches that tried to grow out of it. It would have looked like a witch’s broom. Burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers prize burls very highly and make some beautiful bowls and other things from them, which can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

After so many years of looking at trees you would think that I would have seen the beautiful golden color of the inner bark of a gray birch (Betula populifolia) before but I guess not, because I was stopped cold when I saw this. Gray birch is a short-lived species, often found in waste areas or other disturbed places. It is a colonizer; often the first tree to grow after a burn. This is also the birch tree that is often seen with hundreds of birch polypores along its length. I see as much of it on the ground as I do standing but I’ve never seen it like this before.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) fruit is ripe but so far the birds haven’t touched them. The fruit is high in pectin, so they are often added to other fruits when making jelly. Nobody seems to know how many species of hawthorn there are, but some say that it could be a thousand or more. Native Americans used the often-tasteless fruit in ointments and other medicines. The haws, botanically speaking, are pomes, like apples and pears.  One odd fact about hawthorns is how their young leaves and flower buds are edible and can be used in salads. Hawthorns are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today. There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage.

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. 

The toxic berries of the native snowberry shrub (Symphoricarpos albus) persist through winter, as the common name implies. This is an old-fashioned shrub in the honeysuckle family that has been grown in gardens for hundreds of years. As a general rule of thumb, it isn’t a good idea to eat white fruit. Poison ivy and poison sumac berries are also white.

White ash (Fraxinus americana) and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) leaves are among the earliest to turn in the fall, usually becoming brilliant yellow and sometimes, the beautiful deep purple seen here in this fallen leaf.

The burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the river have started to change into their amazing colors. Before the leaves fall they’ll change from deep magenta to soft pink, and then finally nearly white. To see drifts of hundreds of them, all the same color, is an amazing thing, invasive or not.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is another plant that goes through many color changes in the fall and I always look forward to seeing what colors I’ll see this year. These were a kind of plum color.

This one was more lavender. This native shrub has a lot going for it and I wish more people new about it. It’s easy to maintain, has great fall color, and attracts birds with its dark purple fruit.

Well congratulations; you’ve made it to the end, but the end is really the beginning as you can see by this beech tree. The beginning of fall that is. Beech trees seem to be turning a little early this year but that doesn’t matter because they’ll be beautiful no matter when they change. Any time now the population of New Hampshire will increase by an expected 3 million souls, all come to see the beauty of the season. If the past few years are any indication they’ll be stunned, right along with the locals. It’s the kind of beauty that takes your breath away, and I hope that you too can experience similar beauty wherever you are.

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 Gallienne

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What I call the park asters seem to have had trouble getting going again this year and are quite late, or maybe I’m just impatient. These plants get about a foot and a half tall but are large and mounded and once they get going are covered with blossoms. They’re very pretty and I show them in these flower posts so you can see what a long bloom time they have. They’ll also take a hard frost and keep blooming. I’m sure they could be found in a garden center but I don’t know their name.

Bees and butterflies love them. These plants are often covered with both.

Bumblebees are still very active and I see them all over the flowers you’ll see in this post. This one was loving this sunflower.

I took this shot because I love the colors of goldenrod and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) together. This particular loosestrife was very dark.

And this purple loosestrife, growing just a few feet from the one in the previous photo, was much lighter in color.

The small but abundant blooms of panicled aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum) can be found everywhere I go right now. They’re maybe half to a third the size of a New England aster.

And blue wood asters (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) are even smaller. These were a very pale blue, almost white.

If, before you had indoor plumbing, you wanted to hide the outhouse this is often what you would use for a screen, at least in summer. And that’s how this particular helianthus species got the name of “outhouse daisy.” Another name is the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) but since it isn’t an artichoke and it has nothing to do with Jerusalem, that name makes little sense. Jerusalem artichokes were cultivated by Native Americans for thousands of years for their tuberous roots, which they cooked and ate much like we do potatoes. They are said to be starchy with a nutty flavor and they were immediately adopted by the early settlers. The tubers have fewer calories than potatoes and the plant’s carbohydrates and sugars can be assimilated by the digestive tract without insulin. This makes them an excellent choice for diabetics. You’d better have plenty of space though. This one had to have been 7 feet tall.

Whatever name you choose to use for it, this is a beautiful late summer / early spring flower.

These New England asters (Symphyotrichum puniceum) surprised me by growing almost in the water at the edge of a pond. Those are cattails behind them. I don’t think of them as water lovers but they do tend to grow in ditches and other places that stay moist.

I was surprised to see the only marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) plant I know of still blooming, but then why not? It’s in the same family as rose of Sharon, another late summer / early fall bloomer. Its flowers are about the diameter of a quarter, or 3/4 of an inch.

Many plants will have a big initial spring or early summer bloom, then they rest and will bloom sporadically again in the fall. Dandelions do it and that’s what I thought tradescantia did as well until I started watching this particular plant, which has bloomed all summer long. Is it all the rain that made it do so, I wonder?

I saw a bee balm I didn’t recognize in a local park. It had a tag that read Monarda Sugar Buzz “Blue Moon.” My color finding software sees “plum” and “medium purple” but for what it’s worth, it looked blue to me. It couldn’t have been more than a foot tall.

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.

Fall mums come in many colors including red. My color finding software tells me this is “Indian red.” 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.

Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) is another “spring plant” that has bloomed all year long. I like its little orchid like flowers. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to.

I can’t say that this is the last rose of summer but since we’re past our average first frost date of September 25th, it could be.

Here is another bumblebee on a scabiosa blossom.

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) was losing its tiny flowers one by one. It seems odd that though this plant is supposed to be a bee and butterfly magnet I’ve never seen a single insect on it. Though they fly all around it and are on surrounding plants they don’t touch it.

The pee gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) is a “panicled” hydrangea, meanings its flower heads are cone shaped rather than round. These plants grow into large shrubs sometimes reaching 10-20 feet tall and nearly as wide. Though originally introduced from Japan in 1862 this plant is thought to be native by many and is a much-loved, old-fashioned favorite. What I like most about this hydrangea is how the flower heads turn a soft pink in the fall. When they’re cut and dried, they’ll hold their color for quite a long time.

This hydrangea is also a panicled variety according to Google lens, but the shape is very different from the example we just saw so I looked it up online. Sure enough there is a panicled hydrangea variety called Quick Fire which was released by Proven Winners, with a photo that looks just like this one. It is said to open white and quickly turn pink. I do like the color but it looked more like a lace cap hydrangea to me.

I saw a huge drift of wildflowers at a local pond recently. They went on like this for many yards.

New Englanders know what witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blossoming means; winter can’t be far off. Though it usually blooms in cool weather these native plants bloomed on a warm day. I’ve seen them bloom on a warm day in January before but not in September. These flowers have a very subtle fragrance I’ve heard described as being like “fresh clean laundry just taken down from the line.” I haven’t taken much laundry down from clotheslines so I can’t say one way or the other, but it is a pleasant, clean scent. Native Americans steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in sweat lodges to sooth aching muscles, and my father always had a bottle of witch hazel lotion in the house.

You can experience the beauty of nature only when you sit with it, observe it, breathe it and talk to it. ~Sanchita Pandey

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Each year summer goes out with a bang here in this corner of New Hampshire, and this is how some of our roadsides look now; full of several kinds of asters and goldenrods. Welcome to fall.

There were lots of what I believe were purple-stemmed asters (Symphyotrichum puniceum) along that road. They like damp places and branch at the tops of their stems. The stems are often very dark purple as can be seen in this photo, and that’s where the common name comes from.

This is also one of the best places I know of to find my favorite aster, the deep purple New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) It’s a hard one to find in this region for some reason, but it loves this small hillside.

I went from the roadside to brookside at Beaver Brook. There is a flower growing here that doesn’t grow anywhere else that I’ve been.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) appears early in summer but waits until September to bloom. Its stems grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then fall over into a more horizontal position, as if to show off the yellow blooms that grow in tufts all along the stem.

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod get their blue color from the same natural wax coating that is found on grapes, plums, blueberries and other plants. The coating is called a “bloom” and plants use it as a form of protection against moisture loss. It’s made up of tiny powdery, whitish crystals which reflect and scatter light in ways that can make the surface that they cover appear very blue. The wax crystals can be washed off by rain or melted by the sun, so many stems will be green before the plant blooms. This plant tolerates shade and seems to prefer places where it will only get two or three hours of sunlight. It isn’t considered rare but I’ve only seen it here.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) also blooms at Beaver Brook. This plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites. The small, drooping white, lily like blossoms bloom at the top of stems that might reach 5 feet. They move in the slightest breeze and are quite hard to get a good shot of. I like the forked stamens that are often as long as the flower petals.

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. The leaves are sessile, meaning they sit directly on the stem with no leaf stem (petiole,) or they can occasionally have a short petiole as these did. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify.

The tiny flowers of northern bugleweed are about 1/8 inch long and tubular with 4 lobes, a light green calyx with 5 teeth, 2 purple tipped stamens, and a pistil. They are also very difficult to photograph because they’re so small. The plant is usually about knee high when I find it along the edges of ponds and streams. They often fall over and grow at an angle if there aren’t any other plants nearby to support them.

This is what bugle weed’s seed pods look like when they’re forming. When ripe they will be brown and have clusters of four nutlets formed the shape of a square. Each nutlet will hold a single seed.

I was surprised to find a violet blooming at the edge of the woods. This is a flower I’d expect to see blooming with tulips, not with asters.

This garden aster, which I once hoped was a fragrant aster, is very slow to come along this year…

…but the bees are getting what they can from it nonetheless.

It’s time to say goodbye to coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea,) from what I’ve seen. The petals that haven’t fallen taken on that papery, pastel look that means they’ll fall too, soon. You can also see how yellow their foliage is getting in this photo.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a sedum do what this one was doing. Usually the plants I see have much smaller flowers. I like its foamy, fuzzy look.

Red is a color that cameras don’t like but I was able to get a shot of this red phlox with my phone camera. Many cameras want to turn red into purple but that usually isn’t a problem unless you see a lot of red flowers. I haven’t seen a red phlox in many years. I wish I had sniffed to see if it had a fragrance.

I thought this was another willowleaf angelonia (Angelonia salicariifolia) growing in a local garden but it doesn’t have the right leaf shape, so now I’m not sure what it is. It grew in a pot and stood maybe a foot tall. The flowers were very pretty and looked just like those I saw recently on a willowleaf angelonia, I thought.

When I posted a shot of a rudbeckia that I found in a local garden a while ago a reader thought it might be a gallardia instead. In my reply I said that I had grown gallardia for a client probably forty years ago and had found them to be a disappointment, but then I got thinking that my opinion wasn’t a fair one and maybe I should see what galardia are like these days. Maybe, I thought, they have come a long way. Well, maybe not. I found these plants in another local garden and remembered why they had been so disappointing; they never seem to open. Every time I’ve seen them, they have looked like this, as if opening fully was just too much work. When I saw them, I remembered that being the chief complaint of the lady I was gardening for at the time. “Next time” she asked, “could we get flowers that open?” Before I wrote this, I looked online and saw beautiful flowers fully opened, so I wonder what am I missing?

NOTE: Helpful readers have told me that these plants are gazania rather than gaillardia. I believe that I tried both back in the day when I was a gardener and I don’t remember being too impressed by either one. But it could be that they’ve improved a lot in the past 30-40 years, so why not give them a try?

The yellow fall blooming azalea I find in a local public garden at about this time of year also blooms in spring, I discovered this past spring. I don’t know its name but it seems that an azalea that blooms in both spring and fall would be a valuable addition to any garden.

What Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) lacks in flower size it more than makess up for in root size. Its roots can spread 20 feet in a single season and pieces of broken root will produce new plants, and for that reason it is taken care of quickly by farmers. As thistles go its flowers are small; less than a half inch across, even though the plant itself can reach 5 feet tall. The leaves are very prickly. It is native to Europe and Asia and has nothing to do with Canada except as an invasive plant, so I’m not sure how it came by the name.

Years ago I bought a bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora,) which is a native shrub. It does well in the understory and prefers partial shade so I planted it between two trees to use as a screen to screen out the neighbor’s yard beyond. Ten yeas or so later that shrub probably hasn’t grown six inches taller than it was when I planted it. But it has gotten wider, and it does flower, as this photo shows. I suppose I should count my blessings, because there is one at the local college and it is huge. If mine got half that size, it would have to come out, so I should be happy. Its leaves turn a beautiful yellow in fall, so I’m looking forward to that. 

Bottlebrush buckeyes produce nuts, I found recently when I visited the one at the local college. It blooms two months earlier than mine and it has these nuts all over it. The nuts are called buckeyes because they are said to resemble the eye of a male deer. I don’t see the resemblance but I did find out that the plant is related to the horse chestnut and its nuts are poisonous if eaten, as are the leaves and bark. The seeds inside the husks contain high quantities of saponins, I’ve read. Saponins make a good soap substitute, so if soap is the next thing I can’t find at the local market I’ll be all set.

Here are more of those roadside flowers, for your viewing pleasure. I hope you have scenes just like this where you are.

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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The weather people promised a fine summer day recently, with temperatures in the 70s F. and low humidity, so I knew it was a day to make a climb. I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey because as I looked through this year’s blog posts I was surprised to find that I hadn’t climbed it at all this year. To get to the trailhead you cross this meadow.

The last time I was here there were two planks across this wet area. Now there were four and with all the rain we’ve had this year, I wasn’t surprised. I gave a silent word of thanks to the kind person who put them here.

Though there were other wet places along the trail most of it was dry and easy going, and it was a beautiful morning to be in the woods.

I saw one of my favorite clubmosses, fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum.) The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180-degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered “fern allies.” Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall.

I was surprised to find a checkered rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera tesselata) here, growing right at the edge of the trail. Though it is a woodland orchid it is not as common as its cousin the downy rattlesnake plantain, which I see regularly. It had flowered earlier but they had gone by. This plant was very small; easily small enough to fit in a teacup with room to spare, so you can probably imagine how small its flowers are. They look like tiny white teapots and are pollinated by bumblebees, halictid bees and syrphid flies.

The sun shining on these black birch leaves stopped me for a bit. There are lots of black birch trees here, I’m happy to say. They were once harvested nearly into oblivion so they could be pulped to make oil of wintergreen. If you ever wonder what kind of tree you’re seeing, cherry or birch, just scratch off a bit of bark and sniff. If you smell wintergreen, you have a black birch (Betula lenta.) It is also called sweet birch or cherry birch. The trees can be tapped like sugar maples in spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer.

Yellow finger coral fungi are round like spaghetti but these were flat so I think they were a club coral, possibly Clavulinopsis helvola. They grow in tight clusters, often fused at the base. They are said to taste very bitter, which might explain why animals never seem to touch them. They were beautiful, backlit by the sun as they were.

The reason club and coral fungi grow the way they do is to get their spores, which grow on their tips, up above the soil surface so the wind can disperse them. They grew all the way up the hill, scattered throughout the woods, looking like little flames licking up out of the soil. I’ve never seen so many in one place.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) also grew in good numbers, and many had ripe fruit like this one. Those plants that produce fruit usually have a bright crimson patch on the leaves just under the berries. I’ve often wondered if it was there to attract birds or animals to the fruit. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber. I accidentally scared a turkey away from the plants once and I wondered if it was that bird eating the berries. They do disappear.

What a beautiful day it was. My lungs were working well, probably due to the cooler weather, so I didn’t have any trouble climbing. This climb is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep. I think a young person could probably be up and down in a half hour, but then they’d miss so much.

I saw probably fifty or more honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) growing on a fallen tree and I was glad they weren’t on a living, standing tree. Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms, which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

A ray of sunlight caught a pretty little purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides,) fruiting far later than usual. It might seem odd to see a mushroom in sunlight but most everything in the forest gets at least some sun, if just for a few moments each day.

Ridged tooth fungi (Hydnellum scrobiculatum) grew here and there nearer the summit. This one is tough; they feel hard and non-yielding to the touch. The common name comes from the ridges on the cap margins. It’s a very unusual woodland mushroom that likes to grow near pines. Because it’s so tough nothing touches it, so they last for quite a while.

The “tooth” part of the name becomes apparent when you turn a ridged tooth fungus over. Instead of gills it has spines packed closely together. They are said to start out kind of purplish-brown but these were more of a tan so I’d guess that the color fades as they age. That’s common among fungi.

Something I’ve wanted to see for a very long time is the black earth tongue fungus so today was a lucky, fungus filled day. This fungus is very rare in my experience though I’ve read that it is widely distributed. This example might have been an inch tall at best and was club shaped. It grew on a well-rotted tree stump and for that reason I think it must be the common earth tongue (Geoglossum cookeanum.) At first I thought it was the viscid black earthtongue (Glutinoglossum glutinosum,) but that species only grows in soil. I’ve read that the only way to be sure is by microscopic examination of its spores. It is one of the sac fungi and feels very tough and leathery.

Another mushroom I’ve never seen is a pretty one called the painted suillus (Suillus spraguei.) It is also called the painted slippery cap and red and yellow suillus. The caps are dark red when young and develop yellowish cracks as they age. They also have mats of reddish hairs on the cap, according to what I’ve read. They are said to have a mycorrhizal relationship with pine trees, particularly the eastern white pine, so it makes perfect sense that it would grow here.

The sunlight brought out the velvety sheen in this tiger eye fungus (Coltricia cinnamomea.) It was beautiful, with its concentric rings of colors. They are also called fairy stools or sometimes cinnamon fairy stools because of the bands of cinnamon orangey brown coloring on their caps. Previously their scientific name was Coltricia perennis but names are changing all the time these days. The Coltricia part of the scientific name means seat or couch and perennis means perennial.

And there was the 40-ton glacial erratic called Tippin’ Rock, which will rock back and forth like a baby cradle when pushed in the right spot. I thought the story was just a fairy tale until I saw it move, and then I thought it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. When you start thinking of all the things that had to happen for this stone to be able to do that, it kind of blows your mind.

When I saw the puffy white clouds in the sky I knew this would be a good day for views, and I wasn’t disappointed. They add a lot of interest to what is otherwise a flat blue sky, and I’ve always loved to sit and watch their shadows moving across the hills below. Sometimes they creep and other times they speed by.

Sitting with your back against a stone, watching the cloud shadows gliding silently across the landscape, hearing the soft whisper of the wind in the trees, it’s easy to believe that you have it all. All is perfection, and there isn’t a thing you would change, even if you could.

I keep telling myself that I’ll climb to the top of the ledges so I can say that I was at the very top of 912-foot Hewe’s Hill but by the time I get there doing so has lost its importance. I also realize that I can’t be absolutely sure that this point is the highest, but I’ve never seen anything higher from where I stood. It’s impressive.

Lichens and mosses taught me to watch for vertical streams. Where water runs down the bark of trees after a rain for example, is where you’ll often find the most mosses and lichens growing. They grow on either side of the channel, just as if they grew on the banks of a stream. And here it was again, on a much larger scale. There is a water source somewhere above that drips water continuously down the face of the ledge and, since lichens need to be moist to be at their best, that’s where they grow. These are mostly rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) and toadskin (Lasallia papulosa) lichens, each umbilicate lichens.

There is little in nature that seems happier than a wet lichen, unless it is two squirrels playing tag. This toadskin lichen was in its glory; pea green, as rubbery as your ear lobe, and producing spores like there was no tomorrow.

These lichens, away from the dripping water source, didn’t look so happy. They were ashen and stiff, just hanging on waiting for rain. And umbilicate lichens really do hang on. They attach themselves to the stone at a single point and hang like a rag from a peg. Nothing illustrates that better than that rock tripe lichen in the center. It actually looks like a rag hanging from a peg. You can see the attachment point in these lichens as bright white spots in this photo. That single attachment point reminded whoever sorted these lichens into their little pigeonholes of their bellybutton, hence the name umbilicate.

And on the way back down there was Mister Smiley Face. He was here for years and then he disappeared so I thought someone had thrown him into the woods but no, he had just been moved up the hill a little further. He’s covered with moss now but still smiling. I found myself smiling too, happy to see him after so long but at the same time wondering when this chunk of log became a “him” and gained a name. I can’t remember but it doesn’t matter. It always makes me smile.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.

~Ron Akers

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We are in full on, everywhere you look aster time here in this corner of New Hampshire, and that includes my favorite deep purple New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) You have to search for this color because they aren’t anywhere near as common as the lighter lavender asters. In this particular spot these plants have lots of competition so they can get quite tall. I saw plants on this day that were taller than I was.

The flowers were beautiful and so was the place they grew in. Now part of the local university system, this path winds through woods I played in as a boy. Now it’s part of a nature preserve and that makes me very happy, because its beauty should be preserved. The Ashuelot River is just over on the other side of that fence on the left and on this day, it was scary high. I saw evidence in places where it had topped its banks and flooded the forest so it’s probably best not to come here after heavy rains. But it’s such a beautiful spot I’ve decided that I should visit more often. I’m very anxious to come here when the leaves have colored up. These trees are almost all red and silver maples.

There were mixtures of asters and goldenrods in sunnier spots. I also found lots of Japanese knotweed out here, unfortunately.

There were fields of goldenrod too. Interestingly (unless you’re a photographer) not one of the three cameras I carried could cope with this scene. I took photos with all three and they were all baffled. So though it isn’t a good photo, it does give you an idea of what I saw here. It was just beautiful.

I like the contrast between goldenrod and those dark New England asters.

Most of the woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) I saw had been flattened by the flooding but this one still stood tall. This is another native that can get quite tall. I sometimes see it growing up out of the middle of dogwoods and other shrubs.

There were two monarch butterflies on this stand of asters but of course they flew off as soon as I got close enough for a shot. But then this one couldn’t resist and came back for another taste.

I saw pure white New England asters too. They are not something I often see. In fact I think I’ve only seen them two or three times in the 10+ years I’ve been doing this blog.

This New England aster was in a sunny spot in the forest. This color is by far the most common but that fact does nothing to diminish its beauty.

I was out here a day or two earlier and saw even more monarchs. Unfortunately they were on some very invasive purple loosestrife.

But they were beautiful and yes, so was the purple loosestrife.

One more shot of this beautiful place that I have loved all of my life. I hope you liked seeing it too. What fun I had here when I was just a pup, but of course there were no mowed paths here then. Just the forest, but that was always enough.

I left one place I spent a lot of time in as a boy and went to another one and there, along the Ashuelot River near downtown Keene, I found more closed gentians (Gentiana clausa) blooming than I have ever seen before. Yes, these plants grow along this trail but these were not the ones I came to see. These were new to this place; previously unseen, and they made me wonder how they got here and how I could have missed them last year. They are not flowers you pass by with a nod and a shrug, because they’re rarely seen in this area, so I would have fallen onto my knees to admire them last year just as I did on this day.

But a minute or two after I fell onto my knees none of what I had just thought mattered, because I was lost in their unique beauty. It is a special kind of unusual beauty that makes me wonder if I were a bee, how would I get in there? And the leaves; why had they changed so soon? Though I know that fall starts on the forest floor I wondered if I had been missing it just as I had missed the gentians. I’m going to have to pay closer attention.

It’s turtlehead time. I haven’t seen any of our native white flowered plants this year so I’m guessing they aren’t a huge fan of lots of rain. These pink ones don’t seem to mind however; it was raining when I took this photo and they were in good health.

I’ve never seen turtles when I looked at turtlehead blossoms but after looking at this shot for a while, if I called that little whiteish “tongue” the head and the rest of the flower the shell, I finally saw a turtle. Whether or not that’s what others see, I can’t say.

I always like to look inside a turtlehead blossom because each time I do I see something I haven’t seen, like the stripe that guides insects straight into the blossom. And when an insect lands on the landing pad “tongue” and follows that stripe the hairy anthers on either side will brush their pollen all over it, so it can then fly off and pollinate another flower. Miracles; all around us every day. Nature will reveal them to you, if you pay attention and look closely.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snake root’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant contains a toxic compound called trematol, which is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drink the milk or eat the meat before too long, they start to show signs of what was once called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most who drank the tainted milk would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from what is believed to have been milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans, but today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is now virtually 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. If you use boneset medicinally you should get to know this plant well so you don’t confuse the two.

I went to the one place I knew of to find pretty little sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) flowers and could find not a single plant, but luckily later on I found several plants growing in the sand of a road shoulder. This curious little plant gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. It is an annual, which grows new from seed each year. They grow to only about knee high and though there are usually many flowers per stem they’re so small they can be hard to see.

How small are sand jointweed blossoms? This shot from 2016 shows that they’re about 1/8 of an inch across, or nearly the same size as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny. You can see the curiously jointed stems that give the plant its common name in this shot as well.

I’ve not been able to find any red cardinal flowers this year. All of those I’ve found in the past grew on the very edge of the water, so with all the flooding they’ve been either flattened or washed away. But, for the first time I did find blue lobelia, also called blue cardinal flower (Lobelia siphilitica) in a garden bed at a local park, of all places. I talked to some ladies who were tidying up the beds and they told me the plants had been there for many years. Too long for anyone to know how they came to be there, but I think they were most likely planted years ago. This is a plant I’ve been hoping to find for a very long time so I was happy to see it.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to our native chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) for this season. That’s too bad, because its flowers are a shade of blue not often found outside of a garden.

I noticed that plant breeders have been working on globe amaranth plants while I wasn’t watching. These I found in a local garden were like beautiful little starbursts.

I thought I’d save the biggest surprise for last; a Forsythia blossom in September. Then I saw four more the next day. Though they are a spring bloomer over the years I’ve found a blossom or two even during  a warm January one year. It’s always a surprise.

The wonder of the beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open. ~ John O’Donohue

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We’ve had so much rain that now, for the first time since I started this blog, I’m able to do a third summer mushroom post. Usually I might be able to do two in summer and one in the fall, so rain does indeed encourage fungal growth. The coral mushrooms have come along now, as this white coral shows. I think it is one called the crested coral fungus (Clavulina cristata.) Many coral fungi seem to appear more towards the end of summer, I’ve noticed.

Crown coral fungi are common and often get quite big. They also often grow in large groups. I think this pale orangey one might be crown tipped coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) I’ve seen these get as big as grapefruits, with several of them growing in a large circle.

Yellow spindle or finger coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor) can also grow in large groups. The taller ones might reach an inch and a half high and their diameter is often close to a piece of cooked spaghetti, but I’ve seen a few with larger diameters. 

Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. This fungus changes color as it ages and becomes a beautiful deep maroon / reddish color. If found when young like this one it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older example will dye wool brown, and that’s where its common name comes from.

This is a dyer’s polypore in midlife. It looks a bit like a raspberry filled pastry to me at this stage. Or maybe I’m just hungry.

And this is what an older dyer’s polypore looks like. As you can see the color difference between young and old examples is dramatic. Some of these mushrooms can get quite large but this one was only about 4 inches across. It was also wet from rain; it’s usually fuzzy like velvet. Though they sometimes look as if they’re growing on the ground, they’re really growing on conifer roots or buried logs. This sequence of photos probably covers about two weeks in the life of this mushroom. Eventually they just disappear, but woe will befall the pine tree they grow on.

Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) are one of the most colorful fungi in the forest. They are also one of the easiest to find, because they grow in nearly every state in the country and throughout Europe, Asia. and Russia. I especially like turkey tails because they can be found all year long. And they grow exclusively on wood; though it looks like they were growing in grass here there was a buried root that we can’t see. Next time you walk in the forest if you pay attention to any stumps and logs you might see, you’re liable to find some turkey tails on them.

This large clump of turkey tails showed off their beautiful color range perfectly, I thought. Finding something like this in the middle of winter is like finding flowers in a desert.

Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like the turkey tail fungus and I’m fairly certain that I have misidentified it as such here on this blog. Once you get to know the two though, it’s obvious that the purple edges on these are not found on turkey tails.

When young the undersides of violet toothed polypores are a beautiful lilac purple color but then it fades to brown, as is seen here. It’s easy to see where the “toothed” part of the common name comes from. The teeth on toothed fungi are usually simply folds of tissue that hang like teeth. With mushrooms it’s all about increasing the spore bearing surface, be it by gill, pore or folded tissue because more spores mean a better likelihood of the continuation of the species. This fungus and others like it are decomposers of wood. They are part of the reason the floors of our forests aren’t buried under fallen branches and logs, so we should be happy to have them with us.

I like to look at dead mushrooms because I often find that some are as beautiful in death as they were in life. I loved the colors and wave like contours I saw in this one. It had a lot of movement and I’d love to paint it, if I was still painting.

The shingled hedgehog (Sarcodon imbricatus.) How’s that for a name? It’s easy to see where the shingled part comes from but I’m not sure about the hedgehog part. The cap is brownish, with darker scales. It is also a toothed fungus, with grayish teeth rather than pores or gills on the spore bearing underside of the cap. It is said to like growing near spruce but I found it near hemlocks.

Here is an older example of the shingled hedgehog. Their caps curl as they age. Other names are scaly hedgehog, hawk’s wing and scaly urchin. I’ve read that no other mushroom looks quite like it and I can believe that.

I found the old man of the woods (Strobilomyces strobilaceus) growing between the fork of a fallen branch. This shaggy looking mushroom is a bolete, with pores instead of gills. The soft, dark gray or black overlapping scales on the cap give it a kind of hairy look, and that’s where the common name comes from. The stem is also quite hairy. I always see this mushroom growing alone, never in groups. They grow on the ground and I’ve read that they like to grow near oaks, though I’ve never paid close enough attention to notice. I think this is the first time I’ve shown it here.

There are various species of bird’s nest fungi but the only ones I ever find are the fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus.) They like to grow on wood and I found many hundreds of them growing in wood chips recently. I’ve also seen them in mulch and on old stumps. They’re beautiful and unusual little things, hairy brown on the outside and kind of silvery gray on the inside.

Bird’s nest fungi also very small; a pea wouldn’t fit in any of these examples. They’re called bird’s nests because of the “eggs” you find inside. The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

Black chanterelles (Craterellus cornucopioides) are also called deep purple horn of plenty or purple trumpet mushrooms and don’t seem common, but there are certain spots where hundreds of them grow. They are considered a great delicacy by mushroom hunters and I was told that they can sell for $50.00 per pound to restaurants. Because of their color mushroom hunters complain that they’re very hard to see but for a change I think colorblindness serves me well, because I can see them without any difficulty. I’ve read that colorblind people can “see through” camouflage. Maybe it’s true.

The spore bearing surface of this mushroom is a very beautiful color but it isn’t easy to see while they’re standing.

This shot shows the color range you can expect to see on black chanterelles. It also shows why some might find them hard to find. They do blend into the leaf litter quite well.

A friend at work told me about some mushrooms growing near a tree and when I went to look, I was stunned! I’ve seen Jack O’ lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) before but never this many. They were growing on this tree, which was an old maple, and its roots. They were big and beautiful. Pumpkin orange and some as big as my hand.

I’ve read that people mistake Jack O’ lanterns for chanterelles but to me the two look very different. For one thing chanterelles grow on the ground, never on wood, and they usually grow singly or two or three, not in huge colonies like these. Also, Jack O’ lantern gills are very thin and straight, and don’t fork. If you happen to forage for mushrooms this would be a good one to get to know well, because though it won’t kill you, I’ve read that it can make you very sick for a couple of days. In North America, there are over 40 species of chanterelle and chanterelle-like mushrooms.

The Jack O’ lanterns grew completely around the tree and also grew from its roots. There must have been many hundreds, and it was an amazing sight. An interesting fact about Jack O’ lanterns is how their gills are bioluminescent and glow an eerie green color in the dark. Anyone walking here at night would have been in for a big surprise. I’ve read that when the mycelium threads through the wood they grow on it is sometimes also bioluminescent, and in the Middle Ages people were very suspicious and frightened of the logs they saw glowing at night. They called the eerie light foxfire.

I scratched around in the leaves near where some Jack O lanterns were growing on the tree’s roots and found white mycelium but I haven’t been able to confirm that it is actually from the Jack O’ lanterns because the internet and my books are staying very quiet about what color Jack O’ lantern mycelium is.  

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper. ~W. B. Yeats

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There is only one place to find bog asters and sneezeweed in this area that I know of, and that is at Meetinghouse Pond in Marlborough, so off I went recently to see what I could find. I was hoping the mower hadn’t beaten me to it.

Luckily, they hadn’t mowed the earthen dam. It’s a relatively small area but what a wealth of flowers grow here. I really had no idea until I started taking photos how many different plants there were. I ended up finding more than enough to fill an entire blog post, all from this small piece of land.

And there were the rare and beautiful little bog asters (Oclemena nemoralis) growing in the shallow water at the pond edge. The fact that they can grow in standing water and have a single white or purple flower at the top of a foot tall stem makes these asters hard to confuse with any other.

Because bog asters usually grow in thickets in wet, swampy areas many people never see them. They grow along the shore of this pond in great numbers but this is the only pond I’ve seen that happen in, so there must be something special about this place. I’ve read that they can stand temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees F. Each flower is about half the size of a New England aster. The small, sword shaped leaves have no stems (petioles) and that’s another way to identify them. They grow in the northeastern U.S., west to Michigan’s upper peninsula, and in and parts of Canada in or near cold, acidic ponds and peaty bogs. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the roots of this plant to treat earaches.

Another plant I find growing at pond and river edges is beggar’s ticks (Bidens). They are the small orange flowers seen here and there in this shot. They appear in late July and grow for several weeks before showing flowers. There are nearly 200 species in the genus and many of them look nearly identical. In this part of the state this plant grows side by side with the nodding burr marigold (Bidens Cernua,) which is also called smooth beggar’s ticks and looks very similar. The plant gets its common name from the way its barbed seeds cling to clothing. Books say that it reaches 3 1/2 feet tall but I’ve seen some get close to six feet. The one in the photo is more typical of its often-sprawling habit.

It’s often hard to tell if a beggar’s tick blossom is fully opened but I think this one was more open than any I’ve seen. When I see them I always think of fall.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is another plant that always reminds me of fall. This is one of only three places i’ve ever found this European native in the wild. I always think of it as a daisy with no petals.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are flowers that I’ve always thought of as fall flowers so when they appear in June I can’t say that I’m overjoyed to see them but on this day, they fit right in. That of course, is just an opinion in my mind. They add as much cheer to the landscape in June as they do in September and I should be just as happy to see them then as I am now.

There were two ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) still blooming and this was the best of the two. Most of the petals had been eaten off the other one, by what I don’t know. This is a late time for them to be blooming but I was happy to see them. They always remind me of my wedding day. We didn’t have much money so we picked hundreds of daisies and put some in a vase on each table. They wilted in about 5 minutes and I can still see their sad faces in my mind to this day. Better to leave them in the fields where they belong. They and we will be happier that way.

Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) does well here. It’s in the pea family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives but that wasn’t happening here.

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) grew here in abundance and was as beautiful as ever.

White daisy fleabane flowers (Erigeron strigosus) can appear pink in the right light, but they were white on this day. I regularly find fleabane growing in sunny spots quite deep in the woods where you wouldn’t expect it to be, but it was getting plenty of sunshine here.

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) is often used on roadsides to stabilize embankments and control erosion so I wasn’t surprised to find it here on this earthen dam. I think it’s a beautiful flower, even if it is invasive. Some of the other flowers here, like bird’s foor trefoil, are used in the same way.

For the first time I saw the tiny seed pods of rabbit’s-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense.) If you look closely, you can see them at the base of the flower head, poking out of the feathery, grayish- pink sepals. These feathery sepals are much larger than the petals and make up most of the flower head. This plant is in the pea family and is used to improve soil quality. It is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered an invasive weed. It gets its name from the fuzzy flower heads, which are said to look like a rabbit’s foot. 

Goldenrod grew here of course, in at least three different forms. There was downy goldenrod, slender fragrant goldenrod and this one, which I think is tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) since it was taller than I am.

I’m not sure which aster this was but its blue green foliage, lack of hairs on the leaves and stems, smallish 1-inch flowers, and lack of leaf petioles all point to the smooth blue aster (Aster laevis.) Also, the plants grow as a single stalk for part of their height before branching, and that’s another identifying characteristic. Asters can be very tricky to identify though, so I can’t say that I’m positive about it.

And speaking of asters that are tricky to identify, I’ve been trying for years to name this one. At first I thought it was the heath aster but I never really felt super confident about that. I needed an aster with small white flowers that grew on only one side of the stem, and that perfectly fits the description of the small white aster (Symphyotrichum racemosum,) also called the old field aster. Once again, I have to thank the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog for leading me to its name. I do hope everyone who loves nature is reading that blog. It’s one of my favorites and you can find a link to it over there on the right in the favorite links section.

Finding yarrow (Achillea millefolium) here wasn’t a surprise but seeing it look so good this late in the year was. Yarrow often has a second bloom but the flower heads are much smaller than the first bloom, so I think these were still in their first bloom. They might have been mowed as well though, and bloomed later than usual. In any event they looked just as good as they do in June. We humans have used common yarrow in various ways for thousands of years, since before recorded time. Once thought of as sacred, it has even been found in Neanderthal graves.

I always expect to find smartweeds near water and there were a few different species here. The ducks and other waterfowl won’t have any trouble getting onto the dam to pick their seeds.

This pond is the only place I know of to find native sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale.) I’ve never seen it anywhere else in the wild and I don’t know how it got here, but it is always worth the drive to see it. Last year I got here too late and it had been mowed. I wish they’d wait until after a frost to mow so people could enjoy the flowers.

Sneezeweed’s common name comes from its dried leaves being used as snuff. It was inhaled to cause sneezing because sneezing was thought to rid the body of evil spirits, and both men and women used it. The plants have curious winged stems and this is a good way to identify them. It is a poisonous plant and no part of it should be eaten. It also contains compounds that have been shown effective in the treatment of tumors. The Native American Cherokee tribe used the plant medicinally to induce sneezing and as an aid in childbirth.

I was so surprised to find all of these flowers in such a small space. Even the grasses were in full bloom. I think this was Timothy grass but it was so full of flowers I couldn’t tell. I hope they’ll hold off on the mowing so other people can see the rarer flowers like bog asters and sneezeweed. Or at least mow around them. We have an earthen dam where I work so I know what the law says about the importance of keeping them free of brush and trees, but mowing once each year takes care of that. Maybe next time the mower comes he’ll see all the beauty before he mows, and will just sit and enjoy this place instead of cutting. Maybe the lion really could lie down with the lamb, just for a time.

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park? ~Ralph Marston

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