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Posts Tagged ‘New England Aster’

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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Temperatures are cooling quickly now, with overnight lows sometimes in the 40s F and daytime highs in the 60s and 70s. If you go out in the morning before the sun does its work at this time of year you find that bees are very sluggish. Sometimes you can even find them sleeping in flowers. That makes bee photography much easier and it was simple to capture this bee on a knapweed blossom.

The sun was coming up behind these New England asters early one morning, but the light reflected off the clouds and lit them up so the center of each one was lighter than the surrounding rays. They were very beautiful and I stayed with them until the light changed.

I saw a three-foot-tall alfalfa plant (Medicago sativa) growing by itself on the side of a road, so I had to stop and see its beautiful flowers. Alfalfa is an important crop used around the world for hay and silage. I’ve read that it needs a well-prepared seedbed so I’m not sure how it got there by the side of the road.

Alfalfa is a legume in the pea /bean family and you can see that as soon as you look closely at the flowers. They’re quite pretty.

Yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum) has seen the writing on the wall and knows its days are numbered, but I still see them here and there gently swaying in the breeze. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval leaves at the base of the stem often turns deep purple in winter.

Beech drops (Epifagus americana) are strange plants which grow near beech trees. They are parasitic plants that fasten onto the roots of the beech tree using root like structures. They take all of their nutrients from the tree so they don’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. Beech drops are annuals that die off in cold weather, but they can often be found growing in the same place each year.

This year the plants had odd shaped flowers that looked to be fully open. Normally they look to be about half opened and point to the side, but this year they were cup like and pointed straight at the sky as if trying to catch the rain.

Some of the flowers were full of I don’t know what. Were they insect larva, crawling up the stem or were they parts of the plant, splashed out of the flower by the rain? I haven’t been able to find the answer online so if you know I’d love to hear from you.

NOTE: A helpful reader with a good library believes that the tiny white object seen here are indeed seeds, being splashed out of the splash cups by raindrops. Something rarely seen!

This is what beech drop flowers have always looked like every time I’ve seen them. Until now.

You might be thinking Oh no-not more jewelweed, but this photo of a jewelweed blossom from last August is just here to illustrate another fascinating fact about this plant.

This is a jewelweed seedpod, for those who have never seen one. When ripe at the slightest touch they will curl up and shoot the seeds in all directions with considerable force. This is where the name “touch me not” comes from. If however, you hold one in your closed hand and let it curl and explode, you’ll be able to catch the seeds. Why would you want to do that? Just read on.

Because this is what the seeds look like. A helpful reader wrote in to say that I should have a look because they were a beautiful robin’s egg blue. After 4 or 5 tries and finding immature seeds, there it was, and it was indeed a beautiful robin’s egg blue. You just have to rub the outer coating from the seed to find it. Nature is just awesome, and so are all of you who visit this blog. Thank you for enlightening us, Ann!

It’s time to say goodbye to crown vetch (Securigera varia) I think. I found a few plants blooming on a roadside and though this one will never win a prize in a flower show, it was the best of the lot. This is another member of the legume family and its bicolor flowers are very pretty, I’ve always thought.

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) is still blooming strongly. This native plant can sometimes reach 5 feet, and is decorated with pretty yellow, daisy like flowers. I often find it growing along the river as this one was. It also does well in gardens.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is a funny little plant with maple syrup scented flowers that never seem to fully open. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. 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. It is said to be useful in treating asthma.

Here is a sweet everlasting flower that has opened but when they do this, they’re very dry and it seems as if they have gone or are going to seed. This stage is the end of the changes in appearance for them from what I’ve seen, and if you cut them and put them dry in a vase they’ll stay this way for a very long time.

I still see an occasional black eyed Susan blossom (Rudbeckia hirta) and I’m never surprised, because they’ll go right up until a freeze. Our first frost date is now about two weeks later than average so it could happen any time.

Bees are still happy that they’re open for business.

And then there is this; a “man-made” rudbeckia called Rudbeckia Henry Eilers (Rudbeckia subtomentosa.) It is said to “look like an asterisk” and to be a “standout among black eyed Susans” in nursery catalogs, and I would guess that both of those statements are true. It’s not really my cup of tea but I’m sure a lot of people must grow it. I find it in a tiny local garden along with many other unusual plants that I haven’t ever seen before.

I got there just a bit too late to see the Japanese anemones at their most beautiful but this one was still pretty, just the same. These have been planted in the gardens of a local park so I’ll have to remember to visit them next summer.

I’ve seen dandelions blooming in every month of the year, and I’m hoping to see them in December, January and February of this year.

This roadside view looks quite different now but when it was at its peak like it is here, I took so many photos I hate to let them go without showing them. Being there and walking among such beautiful flowers was like walking into an impressionist painting.

Every bird, every tree, every flower reminds me what a blessing and privilege it is just to be alive. ~Marty Rubin

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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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A bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) showed me how a bee’s pollen baskets can be filled with white pollen when it is foraging purple flowers. I’ve never seen so much pollen on a thistle blossom before.

A bee on another blossom showed me how the harvesting is done. The things I’ve learned from nature!

This pretty dark purple sedum grew in a local garden.

A beautiful datura blossom (Datura stramonium) was almost spotless. These blossoms are big; probably three and a half inches across and nearly twice as long. The plant is also called Jimson weed. It is in the nightshade family and all parts of the plant are toxic to humans and livestock. There is a bicolor purple and white variety that is very beautiful. If you’ve got the space, it makes quite a statement.

Spiky Datura seedpods are bigger than a ping pong ball but smaller than a tennis ball, if that tells you anything. They are also called thorn apples. Taken in small enough doses Datura is hallucinogenic, as British soldiers found out when they included Jimsonweed leaves in salad in Jamestown, Virginia in 1676. They were high for 11 days and had to be penned up to prevent them from hurting themselves. When the symptoms wore off, they remembered nothing. You can read about the incident by clicking here.

Downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula) is an unusual member of the family, with its single vertical stalk of flowers. They reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil, often in colonies of 15-20 plants.

The bright yellow 1/4-inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) likes the same dry, sandy conditions that downy goldenrod likes and they can often be found growing side by side. They also have the same single stalk growth habit. Silverrod is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast and is a native. Seeing these flowers always reminds me that the growing season is nearly over.

As silverrod’s flowers age they fade and change color slightly, and that’s where the bicolor part of the scientific name comes from.

Burdock (Arctium minus) is having a banner year. I’ve never seen so many flowers on these plants and they just keep blooming on and on. I’d say they must like lots of water. If I was ten again what wars I could have with the other neighborhood boys. We used to go home with them stuck all over us sometimes.

Because the sun was behind it, I had to overexpose this sunflower to get a half decent shot of it. Since its the only one I’ve seen this year it’ll have to do.

Another sunflower’s head was so heavy it had broken off and I was first drawn to it and then drawn into it. It is micro worlds like this that have helped me realize that I don’t need to know or to understand a single thing to see that everything is beautiful. Everything on this planet has a beauty of its own. We’re absolutely swimming in it.

I’ve never been that interested in begonias, though some are truly stunning. The frilly yellow centers on these flowers are what caught my eye. Some begonias make great house plants and some of them used to have a place in my indoor jungle. And it was a jungle; I used to half jokingly tell friends to bring a machete when they came over.

Mallow (Malvaceae) doesn’t seem to be having a good year. So far this is the only plant in flower that I’ve seen. It’s a very pretty flower that looks familiar to many people who have never seen it. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon, and I’d guess that’s why mallow looks so familiar.

I was surprised to find this pink spirea blooming in a local garden but it had been sheared, so maybe that’s why it was blooming so late. The bees were certainly happy to see it.

This year for the first time I’ve seen Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) blooming every single month, from March until now. I always thought they were strictly a cool weather plant but apparently not. Maybe lots of rain has more to do with it.

The fisherman you see in this shot saw me taking photos of these flowers and walked around me right into the frame, so hello world, here he is. Not too long after I took this shot, he caught an 8 or 9 inch pickerel in this pond and it proved to me that pickerel weed is indeed named after the pickerel fish, because the fish he caught was hiding in the pickerel weeds just like the legend says they do. That fish had some sharp looking teeth on it and the fisherman had quite a time getting his hook free, otherwise I would have shown you a photo of it. He told me that I had brought him luck.

I’ve watched catchfly (Silene armeria) go from a single plant to what is now a small colony of about 6 or 7 in 5 years or so, so it could hardly be called invasive, even though it is from Europe. It is also called sweet William catchfly and is said to be an old-fashioned garden plant in Europe. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. It’s a very pretty little plant. I like its smooth, bluish green stem and leaves.

Purple loosestrife and goldenrod fought for a place in the sun. I know which will win; this will be a sea of nothing but purple in just a few years’ time.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) have appeared so fall is definitely knocking on the door. These lighter colored ones always appear before the dark purple ones that I like so much. This one had what looks like a little hoverfly visiting.

And this one had a much bigger insect visiting. I think it might be a solitary wasp, possibly a potter wasp (Ancistrocerus antilope)?

I found this dark colored aster in a garden. It looked to be just waking up and unfurling its petals. Just as I was finishing this post I saw one of our native asters that was this color, so they’ll be coming along soon.

The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time. ~Loren Eiseley

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I was driving along an old road looking for fall color when I saw a barred owl in a tree. I stopped the car and got out and much to my surprise the owl stayed put.

A few years ago I came upon a barred owl sitting right in the middle of a trail and like this one it let me take as many photos as I wanted. This one was much bigger than that one but like that owl, this one sat perfectly still and watched me almost the entire time. In this shot you can see that it did look away, and I’d like to think that was because it sensed that I meant it no harm. After taking A few shots I got back in the car and got ready to leave, watching as the owl flew deeper into the woods. Being able to look a wild creature directly in the eyes for a while is a rare thing, and something you never really forget. I’ve stared into the eyes of everything from black bears to porcupines to chipmunks and each time it feels as if they’re giving you something of themselves, willingly. And you want to do the same.

Wilde Brook in Chesterfield was a little wild on the day I was there and it was good to see.

Many streams like this one have dried up completely and though we’ve had some rain this part of the state is still in moderate drought. Other parts of the state are seeing extreme drought so we’re fortunate.

I find tree roots like this one on well-traveled trails. How beautiful it is; like a work of art worn smooth by who knows how many years of foot traffic? It looks as if it had been made; sanded, polished and crafted with love. But how easily missed it would be for someone who was more anxious to see the end of the trail than what could be seen along it. I’m guessing that many thousands of people have rushed by it without a glance, and this is why when you ask them what they saw they will often say “nothing much.”

A piece of driftwood on a pond shore reminded me of the bleached bones of an ancient creature. It is, or was a tree stump and I liked the flow of its roots and its weathered silvery finish. It grabbed me and held my attention for a while.

Witch hazels are having a glorious year. I’ve never seen them bloom as they are now. Apparently drought doesn’t really bother them.

New England asters didn’t have a very good time of it this year but what I did see were beautiful. This is probably the last one I’ll see until next year.

Golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella) usually grow in large clusters on dead or dying logs and trees, but this tiny thing grew alone. It’s cap was no bigger in a diameter than a penny. These mushrooms are toxic and are said to smell like lemon, garlic, radish, onion or skunk. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate few who have tasted them. Note how it seems to be growing out of a tiny hole in the log.

Though jelly fungi grow at all times of year I think of them as winter fungi because that’s usually when I find them. I often see them on fallen branches, often oak or alder, and I always wonder how they got way up in the tree tops. Yellow jellies (Tremella mesenterica) like this one are called witch’s butter and are fairly common. We also have black, white, red, orange and amber jelly fungi and I’d have to say that white and red are the rarest. I think I’ve seen each color only two or three times. Jelly fungi can be parasitic on other fungi.

Puffballs grew on a log. The biggest, about as big as a grape, had been partially eaten and I would guess that a chipmunk had been at it. I never knew chipmunks ate mushrooms until I saw one doing so this past summer. I often see gray squirrels eating them as well.

A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. This maple tree shows that even limbs on the same tree can do it, but this is the first time I’ve seen it happen this way.

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along the roadsides. This is a common grass that grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington, but is so uncommonly beautiful that it is grown in gardens. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful.

It is the way its silvery seed heads reflect the light that makes little bluestem grass glow like it does.

I had quite a time trying to find out what was wrong with this blueberry leaf with big black, tar like spots and I’m still not sure I have but it might be blueberry rust (Thekopsora minima,) which is a fungal disease which infects the leaves and fruit of blueberries and other plants in the Ericaceae plant family. The disease can eventually kill the plant if left alone so it’s important to treat it if you have a lot of bushes. I don’t see many problems on wild blueberry bushes so I was surprised to see this. I wish I had thought to look at the underside of the leaf. That’s where the spores are released and wind and rain can carry them quickly to other plants.

This mullein plant was as big as a car tire and will most likely have an impressive stalk of flowers next year. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. They also used the roots to treat coughs, and it is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid. The Cherokee tribe are said to have rubbed mullein leaves in their armpits to treat prickly rash and the Navaho tribe made an infusion of the leaves and rubbed it on the bodies of their hunters to give them strength. Clearly this plant has been used for many thousands of years. It is considered one of the “oldest herbs’ and recent research has shown that mullein does indeed have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of the wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. The fruit is not edible and the menacing looking spines are soft and pliable at this stage.

Inside a wild cucumber seed pod you find two chambers which hold a single seed each. These seeds look like giant cucumber seeds. A kind of netting is also found inside wild cucumber seed pods and once they dry the netting is even more interesting. A man wrote to me once and told me that he decorated pens that he makes with that same netting. For me these plants are like a time machine that always takes me back to my boyhood.

A friend’s tomatillos have ripened and are ready for salsa Verde. Tomatillo usage dates back to at least 800 B.C. when they were first cultivated by the Aztecs. Today they are also called husk tomatoes and they can be eaten raw or cooked. Scientists have found fossil tomatillos in Argentina dating back 52 million years, so they’ve been around a long time.

Here was another hemlock root, polished by thousands of feet. Do you see its beauty? Part of the beauty I see comes from knowing how much work would go into trying to create something like this in a wood shop, and part of it comes from the artistic bent I was born with. Much of what I choose to show you here I choose so you might see the beauty that shines out of those every day bits of life that we ignore so readily. Instead of stepping on a root without a thought maybe you could just stop and be still for a moment and really see what is there in front of you. It doesn’t have to be a root; it could be a blade of grass or a mountain or an insect. But just see the beauty in it. The more you let yourself see beauty, the more beauty you will see. Finally you will see beauty everywhere, in every thing, and you will become filled with a deep gratitude for being allowed to see the true wonder and beauty of this earth. This is not hard; all it takes is your attention, your contemplation, and a bit of time.

These are some of the things I have learned simply by spending time in nature. I make no secret of the fact that this blog’s sole purpose is to see you spending time in nature as well. It’s kind of like dangling a carrot before a horse, but why do I care what you do? Would you like an occasional glimpse of bliss? Would you like peace to wash over you like a gentle rain and comfort to cover you like a warm blanket? If you experienced these things would you want to harm this earth? Of course you wouldn’t, and that’s what this is all about.

Can we go from fall to winter just like that, with a snap of the fingers? Yes we can because this is New England and the weather can change that quickly here. Snow on Halloween is unusual but it isn’t unheard of; in 2011 we had a nor’easter come through that dropped close to two feet in my yard and cancelled trick or treating for that year. On the other side of the coin sometimes we don’t see any snow until well after Christmas. Nature seeks balance and we’ve had a several months long drought, so we might get a few surprises this winter.

This was a wet, heavy snow that stuck to everything and reminded me of the quote by William Sharp, who said: There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.

This blueberry bush with its red fall leaves did look radiant with its frosting of white snow.

The oaks were beautiful as well, but too much heavy snow when the leaves are still on the trees can cause major damage and power outages which can last for weeks. Luckily this storm was minor, with only 3-4 inches falling.

Still, leaves fell and autumn leaves in the snow are always beautiful. How beautiful this scene was with its simplicity and that amazing color. I couldn’t just walk away without a photo of it, and then I couldn’t stop taking them.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
~Albert Einstein

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Last Saturday I planned to climb Pitcher mountain in Stoddard but the weather people said we’d have showers in the afternoon so instead I went up to the Beaver Brook Natural area in Keene to walk the old abandoned road. Since it is one of my favorite places to explore it had been calling to me, especially since I hadn’t been there since April.

Fall is in full swing and though the old double yellow no passing lines are still on the road you couldn’t see them because of all the leaves.

Beaver Brook had as much stone as water in its bed. Since we’re still in a drought that was no surprise. Our streams and rivers tend to be very rocky.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bloomed along the brook. Witch hazel is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, but I was surprised to see these blossoms this 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.

Striped maples lit up the dark spots with their hand size, green turning to white leaves. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped with green and white vertical stripes. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

It was a beautiful fall day and it was easy to get lost in the kaleidoscope of colors.

Many of our roads are lined yellow because that’s the color native sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) turns in the fall. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla strangely contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There are some fairly large ledges out here and lots of stone falls from them so I only go near the ones that I’m fairly sure are stable.

The reason I go near the ledges at all is to see things like the dog lichens (Peltigera) that grow here. They are as big as a dinner plate, so I think they’ve grown here for a long time. Dog lichens are good examples of lichens that will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses help provide the moisture that they need. It is very thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined on this example.

I also find smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) on the ledges here. The blue color is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies, which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. In addition to blue it can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.  The greenish-gold background color is the color of the body (thallus) of this crustose lichen. It’s a very beautiful thing.

This was the only New England aster I saw here.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) bloomed all along the old road. I never knew until now that so much of it was here.

A bald faced hornet worked the goldenrod blossoms and was quite docile as I got close with my camera. That was unusual behavior because these wasps can be aggressive. I opened a shed door at work this past summer and was immediately stung on the face by one of them. They really pack a punch and their sting hurts more than a bee or other wasps I’ve had run-ins with.

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) had lost all its berries to critters but it had some fall color.

I was surprised to see “true” Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) growing beside the false. It’s berries were also gone. This plant has blue berries that dangle under its leaves and false Solomon’s seal has red berries at the end of its stem. Native Americans sprinkled dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but that’s assuming you know how to prepare the roots and young shoots correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant useable.

This was the first time I had seen Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) growing out here. I noticed that it had the bright crimson splotch on its upper tier of leaves that I first noticed just a few weeks ago. I’ve read that scientists believe that the red color attracts certain birds like turkeys to the plant’s berries.

Though there are no houses out here the electric company still uses the cleared space of the old road to run its electric lines to houses further up the line.  

And there is a tree on the lines almost every time I come here. You’d think they’d get tired of removing them.

Oyster mushrooms are pure white and seem to always grow in overlapping clusters but in this case there were only two or three. They have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap. Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not  oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) still bloomed here under the trees but in most places they’re all done.

I stopped to chatter with a little friend who had been following me and telling all the other forest creatures I was coming.

But I couldn’t visit with the chipmunk long because dark clouds were moving in fast. They changed my mind about sliding down the embankment to get a shot of Beaver Brook falls.

The weather people had been correct this time and I was glad not to be mountain climbing in the rain. Though this view looks perfectly calm and sun filled the dark clouds were right behind me all the way back and by the time I reached my car it had just started to rain.

The days may not be so bright and balmy—yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. 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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Our beautiful fall roadside flowers are slowly showing themselves more and more each day, with asters and goldenrods dominating until frost. And frost may be on the horizon; we’ve already seen 20 degree F. temperatures in the northern half of the state.

We have so many aster species here it’s virtually impossible to identify them all in the time I have but New England asters are easier than any because of their size, both of the flowers and of the plants. These deep purple ones are my favorites. They come out a little later than the others but they’re so beautiful it’s worth the wait.

This aster has me baffled. Its flower is as big as a New England aster but note how few petals (actually ray flowers) it has compared to the purple one in the previous photo. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it before. Though white is a common color most if not all of our white asters are smaller than New England asters.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) appears early on in summer but waits until September to bloom. Its stems grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, as if to show off the yellow blooms that grow in tufts all along the stem. 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 know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

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 heat can make the blue coating disappear but I was able to find two or three stems that still had it. It’s a beautiful shade of blue.

The white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) (I think) is a plant that is so loaded with small white flowers along its stems that it doesn’t look as if you could fit one more on it. For that reason it has another common name; the many flowered aster. It is also called small white aster, smooth white aster, and old field aster. There are many asters that look alike and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids. One of the features that help with the identity of the heath aster is how it has nearly every inch of free stem covered by a blossom, all of them on the sunny side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmown fields and pastures. The blossoms are fairly small; 1/4 to 1/2 inch across at best.

Goldenrods are generally tough plants, as this clump coming up in an abandoned parking lot shows. At first I thought it was rough stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) because of its clumping habit but since the leaves aren’t toothed I doubt it is that one. Butterflies, bees, and other insects visit goldenrods for their nectar. And no goldenrods do not cause hay fever, because its pollen grains are too big and sticky to become airborne. Though many blame goldenrod for their sneezing fits it is actually ragweed pollen that causes them. I told a woman this once and she absolutely refused to believe it. Before she turned on her heel and stomped off she told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. “Don’t you think I know what causes my allergies?!” she asked. Some people just refuse to believe the truth, even when it is put right in front of them.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is having a last gasp I think, and it’s time to say goodbye to this interesting plant until next year. It originally hails from Europe and is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era. I’m guessing it originally came over in the tail of a horse or cow. It 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.

Most bull thistles look like this right now so the goldfinches have been eating well.

If the square stems and tufts of tiny pink / purple flowers in the leaf axils don’t ring a bell, then one sniff of a crushed leaf will tell you immediately that the plant is wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) Mint has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. Each time we see it we are seeing one of mankind’s earliest memories.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I see them still blooming here and there. This plant looked a little sad but it was still blooming. There are still plenty of pollinators about so I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Jewelweed has such an interesting and unusual flower. They dangle at the ends of long, slender filaments and dance in the slightest hint of a breeze though, so that makes them a real challenge to photograph. The plant gets its common name from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

At first I thought this was a Shasta daisy but the leaves were too fleshy, so I believe it was a Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) which is a Japanese creation also called the Nippon daisy. It is extremely hardy; I’ve seen it bloom after a 28 degree F. night and it is also a very late bloomer. It would be an excellent choice for a fall garden.

Red clover continues to be beautiful and continues to shine its divine light out at any who care to take a moment to look at it. It is a tough plant that will bloom until a freeze. Sometimes it’s the very last flower I see for the season, and that seems as it should be; a bit of one-upmanship for what is a lowly, hated weed to many. That’s how I felt about it for years until I sat with it one evening and let it shine its light on me. Then my opinion changed. 

I always find silverrod in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods near the end of August. It’s hard to get a good photo of because it’s usually surrounded by other plants and rarely grows alone. It grows about knee high and isn’t seen anywhere near as often as the yellow goldenrods.

I think almost everyone knows what goldenrod looks like but not everyone has seen silverrod. Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only native white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast. The small flowers almost always have at least one ant on them but all I saw were spider webs on this one.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was covered with insects. Yarrow starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again, much like dandelions do. Its flowers are sparse at this time of year but I find it blooming here and there. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. Its stems were used to glean answers from the Chinese I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination text which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs.” It was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

Sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) is a curious little plant that gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. I know of only one place where it grows. It is an annual but the plants must produce plenty of seed because there seem to be more plants each year. They grow to only about knee high.

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.

Much like the red clover this dahlia had the light of creation in its blossoms. It’s hard to know what to say about such a thing, and I suppose that means it leaves me speechless.

This yellow azalea is another plant that I don’t know what to say about, because I don’t expect to see an azalea blooming at this time of year; azaleas are spring bloomers. Each fall I tell myself I will come back and see if it blooms in spring as well, but of course I forget every spring. There are lots of plants that have their primary bloom in spring and then re-bloom later on, and I have a feeling that’s what this one does. It has just a few blossoms in the fall and if this is its primary bloom time I’d call it far from showy.

Out of a pond with hundreds if not thousands of fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) blooming, this was the last one I saw. They whisper thoughts of serenity to me and they’re another flower that it’s hard to see pass on. But I think that the void that comes with their passing always makes the following spring and summer so much more welcome and enjoyable.  

Summer is leaving silently. Much like a traveler approaching the end of an amazing journey. ~Darnell Lamont Walker

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Our beautiful New England asters are now opening over a wider area and though I’m not seeing them everywhere I go yet I usually see them each day at least. They make summer’s end a little more palatable.

Nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) gets its common name from its drooping flower heads and the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. It doesn’t seem to bother ducks, geese, and all of the other animals that eat it, though. The plant is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers.

Nodding smartweed flowers never seem to fully open, but I got lucky on this day and found one. Each flower has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles. The tiny flowers are packed into a long raceme and can be white, red, pink, or a combination of all three. In my experience it is rare to find one as open as this one was.

Only one smartweed is called lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa,) but even nodding smartweed has the “thumbprint.”  The dark spot that appears on each leaf is said in legend to have been left by a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently.) It has been there ever since.

It’s time to say goodbye to chicory (Cichorium intybus) I think, because out of ten or twelve plants this is the only one still blooming.

Chicory one of my favorite summer flowers because of its large, easy to see flowers and beautiful blue color. I can’t think of another flower, either wild or cultivated, quite like it.

Nodding bur marigold plants (Bidens cernua) grow in the wet mud at the water’s edge at rivers and ponds. As they age the flowers of the nodding bur marigold nod towards the ground and that’s how the plant comes by its common name. The flowers look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. I like their deeply pleated petals. The plants grow to about knee high, often in standing water, and that can make them tricky to get a good photo of.

Panicled hawkweed (Hieracium paniculatum) has wiry stems that curve in all directions and end in a small, yellow, daisy-like flower. I often find this plant growing along old forgotten dirt roads in the woods. These native plants are sometimes confused with rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) but that plant has prickly flower buds and hairy leaves.

Each strap shaped “petal” on a panicled hawkweed flower head is actually a ray flower. Some have teeth on the end as this one did but others may not.

Seed heads are also what you would expect to see on a hawkweed. Panicled hawkweed is one of our latest blooming hawkweeds.

For the first time I saw a blue toadflax blossom (Nuttallanthus canadensis) with its “mouth” open. It’s hard to see but it’s there under that upper lobe. The name toadflax comes from its flax like leaves, and its toad like mouth. Whatever you call it it’s a pretty little plant that blooms for most of the summer. The side view shows its long nectar spur.

I have pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) in my yard but these examples in a local park bloom weeks earlier than mine. Unlike my plants, these plants often look terrible; all black and crisp leaves. My plants haven’t even showed color on the buds yet, but I hope they do better than these. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well in my yard and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

I always like to see if I can get a shot looking into the throat of the turtle. It’s very hairy in there but it doesn’t bother bumblebees. They can often be found swarming over these plants.  

At a local pond white boneset and purple loosestrife dominated the scene. If history is any indication it won’t be long before purple loosestrife takes over the whole area.

I’m seeing fewer soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) flowers these days and I think its run has just about ended for this year. Someday I’m going to chop up the roots and flowering stems and see if I can get soapy water out of them. I’ve read that it gets soapy enough to be able to be used to wash clothes.

No, it isn’t May but this flower head I saw on a viburnum shrub in a local park reminded me of May. It is an almost exact duplicate of our native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) flowers that bloom in that month, though it was about half the size. Like hobblebush flowers the large sterile flowers around the perimeter are there to attract insects to the smaller fertile flowers found in the center. I haven’t been able to identify the shrub, which was much taller and more upright than a hobblebush, but I was happy to see it.

Hydrangeas have been blooming for a while now. These plants live far back in my memory; my grandmother always grew them and called them snowballs. This old fashioned type is called “Annabelle.”

Sedums are just starting to show color. For those who don’t know, sedums have thick succulent leaves and fleshy stems and can be quite drought tolerant. They are also nectar rich and will attract butterflies.

I think it’s just about time to say goodbye to the beautiful little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum,) because I’m seeing more seedpods than flowers now. This plant is an annual so it will have to grow again from seed next year. These little beauties are usually barely ankle high and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun.

Winters have always seemed long to me because I’ve always been a flower lover. To make winter seem shorter I know that the secret is to stop longing to see flowers again, but how can you not long to see something so beautiful? I haven’t worked that out yet.

What happens to people who have witnessed the miraculous?  ~Jim Harrison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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