Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘New Hampshire’

Every year around Halloween I go to Willard Pond over in Hancock to see what in my opinion, is some of the most colorful foliage in the region. Every year I tell myself that I’ll come back in the spring to see what it looks like then but I never have, until now. We’re going to be walking through a beautiful hardwood forest of oak, beech, and birch right along that shoreline over there behind that boulder.

Though the forest looked leafless in that previous shot there were plenty of spring leaves to see. This is the start of the trail that I follow. It is called the Tudor trail but I think I would have named it serenity, because that’s where it leads.

There were lots of new, velvety oak leaves.

Shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) still bloomed.

Ferns were in all stages of growth.

And everywhere you looked there were the big white flowerheads of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides). It was hard to get a shot of them in the bright sunlight so I had to underexpose this shot. White is a tricky color for a camera on a sunny day. I’ve had several questions about cameras and how to use them lately and if this situation seems tricky for you, you might want to read about “bracketing exposures.”  It’s a simple tip that covers a lot of bases and helps you get more used to changing the settings on your camera.

Another native viburnum, maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), showed how it got the name. In the fall these leaves can turn pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

The beavers had cut down a big beech and were in the process of stripping all its bark from it.

I stopped to look at the hillside across the pond with its soft, hushed hints of green. I saw what I had suspected; that this place is beautiful no matter what time of year it is. I could hear a loon laughing and giggling over there somewhere and I wondered what the early settlers must have thought when they first head loons. With all of their many superstitious beliefs it must have scared them half to death. If you’d like to hear what I heard, just click here: www.loon.org/the-call-of-the-loon/

A fly fisherman was fishing for trout from his kayak and he heard the loon too. The loon was most likely also fishing for trout. Willard pond is considered a trout pond and there are rainbow and brook trout, as well as with smallmouth bass. No boats with motors are allowed, and fly fishing is the only form of fishing allowed. Since it is part of a wildlife sanctuary the land surrounding the pond can never be developed. It is about as close to true wilderness as you can find in this area and it is beautiful.

Several times when I came here in the fall, I saw the seed heads of rhodora (Rhododendron canadense). They’re one of our most beautiful shrubs and I hoped to find them in bloom, but all I saw were buds. I had to go back to get these photos of them but it was worth it because this is not a common shrub.

Rhodora is a small, two-foot-tall native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. They bloom just before irises in this area, and by mid-June their flowers will have all vanished. Henry David Thoreau knew it well, and wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color.” He would have loved this place.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum) grew all along the trail and on some of the boulders. I saw plenty of buds but no flowers yet. In the fall dark blue or purple berries will hang where the flowers were.

I’m including this view of the trail to show that if you come here, you’d be wise to wear good sturdy hiking boots. Mud, stones and roots are some of the things you’ll have to scramble up and over. I tell you about trail conditions in these posts so you won’t get here and wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. I often wish someone had done the same for me. Every hike has its own set of challenges, and their difficulty seems to increase with age.

For years, each fall I’ve seen what I thought was a species of dicentra growing on a boulder. But which boulder, I wondered on this trip. Then up ahead I saw that a tree had fallen across the path, stopped only by a boulder. When I got to the boulder sure enough, it was the boulder with the plant I was looking for on it. Luckily the tree hadn’t crushed the plants, so I was able to see them flowering. I could see that they weren’t dicentra.

Though I could see that they weren’t dicentra I didn’t know what they were because I had never seen them before. I took photos of the flowers and leaves from all sides as I always do and when I got home, I found that they were pale cordyalis. (Corydalis sempervirens.) They are a native which, from what I’ve read likes sandy, stony soil along pond and river banks. They are also called rock harlequin and why is perfectly clear, since this one grew on a boulder.

The small flowers of pale corydalis have two pairs of petals, which are bright pink with yellow tips. Some were white, but I’m not sure if they fade to white or come out white and turn pink. They are a biennial, which means that the plants appear in the first year and flower in the second. Flowers are small and appear in clusters (Racemes). They are related to Dutchman’s breeches, which is a native dicentra.

When I got home and saw this photo I took of the forest I thought my camera had lost its marbles, but then I checked the shots I took with the other two cameras I carried and they all showed the same; the most intense green I’ve ever seen. Colorblindness makes it hard to understand what color I’m seeing sometimes and sometimes the colors I see just don’t seem possible. “Find that on a color wheel” my mind taunts.

I’m always awe struck by this huge boulder. In relation to the glacier that scraped it up and brought it here it must have been little more than a grain of sand, and it’s hard to even imagine that.

Violets grew out of the moss on a stone at the water’s edge.

Blue flag irises grew close enough to the water to have wet feet, and that’s what they like. I haven’t seen any in bloom as of this post.

Over the years a few people have told me what I’ve missed by not following the trail past this old oak with its rickety little bench but I’ve seen, heard and felt enough, and I usually have more photos than I would want or need by the time I get here, so this is where I end my hike. I could go on to what is called “the point” or I could climb Bald Mountain, but I don’t feel a need to do so. This spot always calls to me to come and sit so that’s what I do, and it has always been enough.

I sit on the ground these days because the bench is getting wobbly, but it doesn’t matter. The view is the same and the sounds are the same. There is just the lapping of the waves and bird song, and maybe an occasional chuckle or hoot from a loon.

I watched the shadows from the waves move over the stone covered pond bottom. There was just enough of a breeze to kick them up a bit and thankfully, to keep the biting bugs away. In this region you would be hard pressed to find a day when there wasn’t a breeze coming across a lake or pond.

The one thing that is most abundant here is silence, and the simplest lesson nature teaches is the most valuable: silence heightens awareness. Once we have learned this silence becomes the teacher, and silence teaches peace. When I come upon the kind of beauty that makes me quiet and still, be it a tiny flower or a mountain top, I find that peace is always there, waiting. I do hope that you find the same.

The best places aren’t easy to see; instead of following light one must follow silence. ~Hanna Abi Akl

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are having a great year and I’m seeing lots of them. They usually grow in the forest in places that gets an hour or two of sunlight, but this year they seem to be everywhere. They sparkle like the first snowflakes of winter on the forest floor. The Trientalis part of the scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin and four inches is just about how tall they grow.

 I always like to see how many flowers I can find on a single starflower plant and this year I’m seeing many with three flowers. I’ve seen four flowers twice but one of the flowers had passed each time. It used to be that seeing three flowers was rare and seeing four was almost unheard of, but they seem to have more flowers each year now. More flowers are always a good thing, in my opinion.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) grow alongside trout lilies in many places and though the trout lilies didn’t do well this year the anemones did. Anemones are sun lovers and they bloomed well, so it can’t be a lack of sunlight that caused of the lack of trout lily blossoms.

Much like a bloodroot blossom the petals of an anemone have almost imperceptible veins that show only in the right light. I was lucky enough to be there and able to capture it when the lighting was right.

There’s nothing left to see of them where I go, but I met a friend on a trail one day and he said the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) in his yard were blooming beautifully. What the differences were between his yard and the places I visited, I don’t know.

Crabapples are blooming beautifully this year and some trees are so full of blossoms you almost can’t see the branches. The crabapple is the only apple truly native to North America and there are four species of them. They are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. The tree in my own yard was full of blossoms last year and this year I couldn’t find a single one.

Apples are also doing well. We’re lucky to have wild apple and crabapple trees on forest edges almost everywhere you look. Many people don’t realize that apples aren’t native because they’ve been with us for so long. My grandmother had a few trees which, by the time I came along, were grown more for their flowers than for fruit. They were very fragrant and I have many happy memories of bringing branches full of flowers upstairs to her.

The fragrance of lilacs is all I smell when I go on my daily walks now. Almost every house on any street I walk on has at least one, but though it is the state flower of New Hampshire it is not native to North America. I’m glad we have them though. It just wouldn’t be spring without them.

I know of only two places where rare dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) grows and in one of them, I was happy to find many seedlings this year. This one’s flowers had deeply pleated petals, which is something I can’t remember ever seeing. You have to search for the very small plants because they don’t like disturbed ground and so will only grow in soil that has been untended for many years. I find them by a forested stream in ground that has never been cultivated that I know of.

Plants are very small and most will easily fit inside a teacup. Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine and it should never be picked.

There are close to 45 species of pussytoes (Antennaria), which makes identifying them difficult, but they are popping up in lawns everywhere right now. They’re a good sign that the lawn has poor soil, because this plant likes to grow in sandy, rocky, almost gravel like soil. Pussytoes are a favorite of many butterfly species so they’re an important plant. Another common name for the plant is everlasting. Its female flowers seen in this photo.

The flowers of the pussytoes plant are said to look like cat’s paws, and that’s where they get their common name. Someone also thought the stamens on a male pussytoes flower, seen here, looked like butterfly antennae. I don’t know about that but that’s where the Antennaria part of the scientific name came from. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat coughs, fevers, bruises, and inflammations.

I learned a long time ago that trying to identify small yellow flowers can make you crazy so I pass most of them by, but this one follows me wherever I go. It could be a dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), which is native.

Whatever its name is I think the bright yellow flowers are pretty. I see them blooming everywhere right now.

Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) is an old-fashioned shrub that I’m not sure is even sold any more, but back when I was gardening it was fairly common. This one is very old and large, and it was just coming into bloom when I found it.

It’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves do. It’s in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. I worked for a lady who called it Japonica, which is what it was called in the 1800s. I planted a quince hedge once for some people and it worked out well.

If you happen to be a violet lover this is your year. I’ve never seen so many.

I thought these were dog violets but if I go by the longish throat hairs they can’t be, because dog violets have short, stubby throat hairs. I learned that recently by reading the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog. It’s one of my favorites and it can be found over there on the right.

And what about this violet that looks like someone splattered it with paint? I found it in a garden at a local park.

Its name is “Freckles” (Viola Sororia Freckles) and I kind of like it, but knowing how quickly violets multiply as I do, would I dare plant it in a garden? I think I’d have to talk to someone who had planted it in their garden first to see if it was bent on taking over the world. I spent far too many years weeding violets out of gardens to have a nonchalant attitude about planting them, even if it is a cultivar.

I think tulip time is over now but this is my favorite for this post.

I like looking inside tulips, and this is why. You never really know what you’ll see, so it’s part of the fun.

These tulips had gone far beyond their best, but they were going out with a bang. Their petals moved like ocean waves and I thought they were passing on beautifully.

Here’s to the moments when you realize the simple things are wonderful and enough. ~Jill Badonsky

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

I saw hobblebushes blooming in the woods along the roadsides so I knew it was time to visit the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. It’s a place where I know I can get close to the hobblebushes and many other plants. I start off by following the old abandoned road that used to be the route to Concord, which is the state capitol, from Keene. The road was abandoned in the 1970s when the new Route 9 north was built, and nature has been doing its best to reclaim it ever since.

The old road is full of cracks, which are filled in immediately by green, growing life. This of course makes the cracks even wider so more plants can move in. Its a slow but inexorable process that will go on until the forest takes back what was carved out of it.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) unfurled by one of the vernal pools found along the old road.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew near another pool. These pretty white flowered plants like wet feet so when you kneel for a photo you usually get wet knees. They have hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and small, bright white flowers. Their leaves are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown.

The “Foam” part of the name comes from the many stamens on the flowers, which give large colonies a kind of frothy look. Each flower has 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. Foam flowers are popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their foliage as the flowers. Native Americans used the leaves and roots medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “cool wort” because the leaves were once used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

New maple leaves are still wearing their bright colors.

I’ve seen this spot when all the green you see to the right was underwater, but the brook was tame on this day. Maybe a little higher than average but not too bad.

I’m surprised flooding hadn’t washed all of this away, or maybe it was flooding that carried it here. This is just upstream from where I was in the previous shot.

There were an amazing number of trees in the brook so it will take quite a flood to wash them downstream. I’d cut them up if I was in charge because “downstream” from here means right through the heart of Keene. There must be a thousand places further on where a mess like this could get hung up. Waiting until high summer when the water was at its lowest and then having two men wade in with a battery-operated chainsaw would be the way to go.

But I was glad I wasn’t in charge because clearing that log jam will be worse than pulling apart a beaver dam by a longshot. How lucky I was; all I had to do was keep walking and enjoying a beautiful day.

I stopped to see the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that live here. It always looks like someone has spilled jewels on the stone.

Not too far up the old road from the smoky eye boulder lichens are the hobblebushes, and that’s the amazing thing about this place; just walk a few steps and there is another beautiful thing to stop and see. This is why, though it is less than a mile’s walk to Beaver Brook Falls, it often takes me two hours or more. I don’t come here for exercise, I come for the beauty of the place.

And there is little that is more beautiful than the flowers of our native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides). The large, sterile flowers around the perimeter are there just to attract insects to the smaller, fertile flowers. The outer flowers are delicate, and a strong wind or heavy rain can strip them from the flower head.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) were bright yellow among last year’s leaves. They like wet, sunny meadows and open woodlands and there are a lot of them here.

There were no flowers on them yet though, just buds. The plant is said to be important to a number of short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. Each flower will be only about an eighth of an inch long with five sepals, five petals, and five stamens.

There were lots of blue marsh violets (Viola cucullata) (I think) blooming along the roadsides on this day. The long flower stems held the flowers high above the leaves and I believe the blue marsh violet is the only one that does this.

Jack in the pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) still hadn’t unfurled their leaves but they had nice color on their spathes.

The old road goes uphill the entire way but it’s an easy climb and there are many interesting things to see along with all the plants and trees, like the old guard posts still guarding against accidents that will never happen. The electric lines seen here run through the area on their way to elsewhere. There are no houses along the road.

The disappearing stream that runs down the hillside had done just that. It was too bad because it can be beautiful in spring.

Here it was in March while there was still ice melting. The stream ran then.

There aren’t many places where you can get right down to the brook but there are two or three and this is one of them. All the stone along the embankment was put there to prevent washouts and it’s hard to walk on, so you have to be careful.

The stone didn’t prevent all washouts. This old culvert washed into the brook years ago. The brook slowly eats away at the road and in the end it will most likely win.

All the walking and hiking I’ve been doing has improved my legs and lungs so much I thought I could just skip down the embankment to see Beaver Brook Falls. It didn’t work out quite that way but I made it without breaking my neck. The amount of water going over the falls was perfect. There’s a huge stone that juts out right in the middle and when there is too little water it splits the falls in two, so the scene isn’t quite as photogenic in my opinion.

The only trouble was, I took the wrong trail down to the brook so I was even further away from the falls than this. I was glad I had a zoom lens. There used to be just one trail down to the brook but now somehow there are three, all looking equally worn. Since I took this one, I would have had to wade in the brook to get any closer. I wasn’t interested in getting wet but it could have been done. People used to swim here all the time, rocks and all.

This shot shows the climb back to the road, or half of it anyway. About half way up I leaned my back against a tree and took a photo to show what you’re up against if you decide to do this. The small trees kept me from getting too much forward momentum on the way down, and then they helped me climb back up. That big rock will slide right down the hill if you put too much weight on it but the others were pretty firm.

Just to the right, out of camera range in that previous photo, there was a colony of what must have been twenty trilliums or more. I saw them along the road all the way up and saw those I had missed on the way down. In fact I saw more trilliums here than I’ve ever seen in one place before, so if you live in the area and it is wildflowers you want to see, this is a great place to start looking. Those I’ve shown in this post are really just a small part of what can be found here.

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.

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

I thought I’d take a break from flower posts this week, not because I’m tired of flowers but because my California friend Dave asked when he would see photos of shagbark hickory buds breaking. They’re easily as beautiful as a flower, but to see them I had to go to the banks of the Ashuelot River. This was no hardship because I started playing on the banks of this river when I was a boy and have loved doing so ever since.

It was beautiful along the river with all the new spring green leaves, but the water level has dropped considerably since the last time it rained. I think it has been close to two weeks since the last substantial rain, and many smaller streams are starting to dry up.

I saw lots of what I think were muskrat tracks in the mud along the shore.

And there were the new shagbark hickory leaves. I couldn’t catch the color I wanted on the bud scales (actually inner scales) in the bright sunshine so I went back the following day when it was cloudy. On this day the beautiful pinks, reds and oranges were easier to capture. It’s not just the light though; some inner bud scales are a single color and others are multi colored like these were. They also lose color quickly as they age so you just have to walk along the river bank and look until you find the one that speaks to you. Fortunately a lot of shagbark hickory buds usually break at the same time so they aren’t hard to find. They’re worth looking for because in my opinion, they’re one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a spring forest.

This is what they look like when they have spread out to unfurl their leaves. It’s unusual to be able to see this because it usually happens far up in the tree tops, but for some reason in this area the beavers keep cutting the trees. New shoots regrow from the stump and the beavers leave them alone for a while before coming back and cutting them again. Thanks to the beavers there is always a good supply of buds at eye level.

The oaks have also broken their buds, and more new leaves appear each day. Oaks are one of the last buds to break.

Like the maples, oaks can have very colorful new leaves. I’ve seen them in white, pink, red, and just about every shade of green imaginable.

Some new oak leaves even have stripes, as these did. I saw a lot of these leaves in all stages of growth and they appeared to be changing from white to red, which accounted for the stripe. New oak leaves are always velvety and soft.

Some oaks are even showing flower buds already.

Here was a young oak that had barely unfolded its leaves and it was already being eaten by something. It also had three or four oak apple galls on it. They’re caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. Galls that form on leaves don’t harm the tree so they can be left alone. They’re always interesting to see.

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) are also flowering, with their green bell-shaped flowers all in a string. Sometimes they dangle under the big leaves and other times the wind blows them up and over the leaves as these were. There is only one maple in this region that flowers later, and that is the mountain maple (Acer spicatum).

If you want to see a beautiful, non-flowering plant called the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) you’ll have to leave the trail and go into the forest, but it will be worth the effort to see the delicate, lacy foliage of what is considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails. I was happy to see that they had grown from what was a single plant a few years ago to ten or more now, so they like it here. I originally found them by following a beaver pond outflow stream into the woods.

Woodland horsetails like to grow in bright sunshine in very wet ground. Here they grow right along the water’s edge by this stream. They blend in easily with the foliage of other plants, so you have to walk slowly and look carefully. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forest”, and that’s where you have to search for them.

I found what was left of a wild turkey egg shell by the stream where the woodland horsetail grows. Turkeys nest directly on the ground but I didn’t see any signs of a nest so I wonder if a predator didn’t carry the egg here to eat it. According to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game turkeys lay an average of a dozen eggs in early to mid-May, only one per day, and they hatch after about 28 days, so either this hen laid her eggs early or this egg didn’t hatch. If a predator gets to her eggs she’ll lay another clutch in July or August, but normally they lay only once per year. This egg was tan colored, about the size of a hen’s egg I think, with brownish speckles all over it. New Hampshire has an estimated population of 45,000 turkeys. I see them everywhere but they’re almost always running into the woods as I drive by.

If I’m lucky I might see one beech seedling with its seed leaves still intact each year. Here is this year’s seedling. Seed leaves often look nothing like the true leaves. In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves but feel tough and leathery. On a beech seedling they will photosynthesize until the true leaves appear, and then once they are no longer needed, they will wither and fall off. In my experience they are a rare sight.

Each spring I look for the shoots of the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), and each spring they look absolutely identical to the ones I found the spring before. They always look to me like a small hand is holding the plant’s flower buds while an older “parent” gazes down lovingly at them. It always seems like a tender moment has been caught and frozen in time, and it’s always as if I’m seeing the exact same thing I saw the year before. I’ve seen lots of new spring shoots but these are the only ones I know of that never seem to change. They’re like an old friend who comes around once a year to remind me that some things never really change, even though it may seem as if they do.

Mr. robin wondered just what it was I was doing and hopped over to get a better look. Though most robins will hop or fly away if you get too close there are some that are very curious. If you let them come to you they’ll often get quite close, as this one did. I was on my knees taking photos so maybe he wondered why this human’s eyes were so close to the ground while others were not. I didn’t realize what eye movements could do to animals until I watched a show on PBS television that showed border collies herding sheep by using only their eyes. They never bark; it’s all done with eye movements. I’m hoping I remember never to stare into a bear’s eyes again.

I don’t know if this was two trees or one tree that split and grew this way but either way, I’m not sure what would have made it do this. Trees do some strange things.

A big dead white pine fell into a pond and stretched two thirds of the way across it. White pine (Pinus strobus) is New Hampshire’s tallest tree but you often don’t realize how tall they really are until they fall.  

A painted turtle looked like it was practicing its yoga exercises on a log, but really it was just releasing heat. I read that when they raise their feet like that it cools them off. Sometimes they look as if they’re trying to fly.

I went to the skunk cabbage swamp and not surprisingly, found it full of skunk cabbages. But that’s not the only reason I come here. Nearby, higher up on drier ground, our beautiful native azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum) bloom so I wanted to check their progress. It’ll be another week or so before we see the flowers, depending on the weather.

I saw something bright yellow in a drainage ditch and when I looked a little closer, I saw that the color was coming from swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans). Swamp beacons are interesting “aquatic” fungi and I find them in seeps and ditches where ground water stays on the surface year-round. They will be my first fungal find of the season.

Swamp beacons use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue, they aren’t found on twigs or bark. I almost always find them growing out of saturated oak leaves, as these were. They are small; about the size of a wooden match, and another name for them is matchstick fungus. These were some of the brightest colored examples that I’ve seen.

Treasures are hidden away in quiet places. They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach. They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them. They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways. They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still. ~Craig D. Lounsbrough

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

On Mother’s Day I took a walk out on the rail trail in Westmoreland to see if the wild columbines were blooming. It was a little cool but otherwise it was a beautiful day. Just the kind of day you hope to have for a walk in the woods in spring. I was glad all the moms were going to see sunshine on their day, even though the forecast had called for clouds.

When I first came here there was a single red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) plant growing beside the trail but now I’m happy to say that I saw several of them. This one was just starting to open its flowers, which are hard to see in this shot because of the bright sunlight.

Two or three of the tiny, 1/8 inch flowers had just opened and weren’t showing any real color yet but I could see the form, which is made up of five petals which are called “petaloid lobes” and which curve sharply backwards. Five stamens will have white filaments and will be tipped with pale yellow anthers. The flower is completed by a center pistil with three tiny stigmata. Each flower, if pollinated, will become a bright red berry. The berries are loved by birds and disappear almost as soon as they ripen.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) unfurled their fiddleheads here and there.

There were lots of new maple leaves in both red and green. I thought I even saw some orange ones but colorblindness won’t let me swear to it.

Beech trees were in all stages of growth. Some still had tight buds, some had unfurled their buds, and some had soft new leaves.

Some even had last year’s leaves still hanging on. Beech is such a beautiful tree, at all times of year.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves are a kind of a bronze-red when they first appear and it is at this stage that many people confuse it with poison ivy, probably because of the old saying “leaves of three, let it be.” That’s why anyone who spends any time in the woods should get to know the difference. It isn’t hard because in truth sarsaparilla looks nothing like poison ivy.

This photo from last year shows that poison ivy looks nothing like sarsaparilla in spring, or at any other time of year. The leaf shape is completely different, and so is the growth habit.

The kidney shaped seed leaves of jewelweed seedlings (Impatiens capensis) can fade now that the first set of scallop edged true leaves have appeared. I saw hundreds of seedlings, so the seeds must be very viable.

Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense) were all along the trail, and some were budded like this one. Though native to North America the plant acts like an invasive and forms monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. It grows in the shade of the forest and it does very well there.

We’re almost there. Right around that corner.

And here were the ledges that the columbines and many other plants grow on. Once you start looking closely you realize that you’ve found a botanical motherlode.

And there were lots of columbine plants, more than I’ve ever seen here. They’ve spread from one end of the ledges almost to the other, and since they’re a very rare flower I was happy to see it.

But of all the columbines I saw on this day, all had buds and no open blossoms except two. One was far overhead and I couldn’t reach it, but the one in this photo was lower down, so by reaching up with the camera and “shooting blind” I was able to get a shot of this one so you could see what they look like. I’ll have to go back and get more photos of them when the plants that grow lower down decide to open their flowers.

And this was right overhead, so I didn’t dilly dally. Many large stones have fallen from these ledges since I’ve been coming here so I don’t spend much time close to them.

Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) is the other extremely rare plant that lives here, but rather than living on the ledges it lives at the base of them. I just showed the spring shoots in a recent blog and already, here is the flowering plant. Blue cohosh likes rich soil and is found on wooded slopes in hardwood forests. It is associated with oaks and maples and this area is almost entirely hardwood forest. This is the only place I’ve ever seen it.

Blue cohosh flowers, it’s easy for me to say, are unlike any others I’ve seen, with their striped sepals and knobby anthers. The first time I saw them I knew that I was seeing something rare and special. Sometimes when there are hundreds of the same flower blooming, like a violet for instance, I’ll pick one and look it over, but after spending 50+ years in the woods and finding these plants in just this place, I would never pick them.

Each of the yellow green striped sepals of the flower contains a nectar gland to attract insects. Six yellow stamens (sometimes fewer) form a ring around the center ovary and the true petals are the shiny green parts that ring the center between the sepals and the stamens. The word cohosh is believed to be Native Algonquin name used for several different plants with different color fruit, so in this case the word blue refers to the fruit color, even though all parts of the plant including the leaves and stems have a bluish cast to them in the spring.

Here is a photo that I took a few years ago of the beautiful blue fruit which gives the plant its name. The berries are actually brown seeds with a fleshy blue coating that protects them, and it is the seeds are what are considered the plant’s true fruit, so the plant is a bit unusual. The naked seeds are also considered poisonous. The “bloom” on the fleshy coating is made up of waxy white crystals that cover the berries and reflect the light in a way that makes them appear lighter colored. Some describe them as “blueberries dipped in confectioner’s sugar”. I will happily walk out here again this fall just to see them.

Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) flowers often show before the leaves and not surprisingly, though the flowers were fully out on these two plants the leaves were just unfurling. The striped parts seen in this photo are the spathe of the flower, which covers the spadix. These plants grow both on the ledges and at the base of them.

Jack in the pulpit plants are in the arum family and have a spathe and a spadix. On the inside the spathe, which is a bract, is more brightly colored than on the outside, with purple and cream stripes. Jack, which is the flowering spike or spadix, looked purple in the bright sunlight but it usually looks black. It could be that purple is the true color. If pollinated green berries will grow along the spadix during summer, and in the fall, they will finally turn bright red when ripe. Deer love to come along and snatch them up when they ripen.

There are lots of herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) plants growing at the base of the ledges but they never seem to be blooming when I come here.

There is always a nice clump of red / purple trilliums here (Trillium erectum) so I wasn’t surprised to see them. What did surprise me were all the seedlings I saw along the base of the ledges. It’s a good spot for trilliums.

But as I said in my last post, it’s nearly time to say goodbye to trilliums, and this flower showed why. They’ve had a great year though. I’ve seen more of them this spring than I ever have, and that means even more seedlings in the future. I doubt they’ll ever be as common as dandelions but a few more wouldn’t hurt. Many people never see them at all.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts. ~Susanna Clarke

Thanks for stopping in. I hope all the moms out there had a great Mother’s Day.

Read Full Post »

Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum), one of our prettiest spring flowers, has just come into bloom. The hook shaped parts are its tiny styles, curved like long necked birds. The male stamens are too numerous to count and white tipped, so I’d guess the pollen must be white. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny, golden yellow true petals behind. The ends of these golden petals are spoon shaped and hold nectar. You can see how an insect would have a hard time sipping the flower’s nectar without bumping into the stamens and carrying off a load of pollen. All of this is going on in a flower just about the size of a standard aspirin.

If you’re looking for goldthread you can find it even in winter, because its shiny leaves are evergreen.

The first blueberry blossoms I’ve seen this year were on a lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium). Though the berries are usually close to the same size, lowbush blueberries rarely get more than 2 feet tall while 15-foot-tall highbush blueberries have been seen. I usually find them at about six feet or less. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

Coltsfoot leaves (Tussilago farfara) have appeared and, though they have the same color and sheen when young as a wild ginger leaf they’re much bigger and are shaped like a colt’s hoof rather than heart shaped like ginger.

With coltsfoot plants once the leaves appear the flowers pass on, but they had a good run this year. They liked the cool weather and bloomed for weeks. The seed heads are much furrier looking than a dandelion.

But at this time of year flowers come as quickly as they go, and it’s time for the shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) to bloom. This scene is a classic shadbush scene, because they almost always bloom along the edges of forests under the taller trees. They are a spring ephemeral shrub / small tree so the flowers will disappear as soon as the leaves come out on the taller trees.

Shadbushes originally got their name from the way they bloomed when the shad fish were running upriver to spawn. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens. The fruit is said to resemble a blueberry in taste, with a hint of almond from the seeds. Many birds, such as cedar waxwings, love the fruit. Native American used the fruit in pemmican, which is made with fat, fruit, and preserved meat. Shadbush wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. Native trees can also be very straight, often reaching 25 feet, and Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. They also used its roots and bark medicinally.

Shadbush makes an excellent garden shrub or small tree and they are easily found in nurseries. This photo shows a cultivar I found at the local college. Cultivars have a much heavier bloom than natives.

Along with the shadbushes our native cherries start blossoming. New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms. Choke cherries will bloom any time now. Just after, or sometimes along with the cherries will come apples and crabapples.

Sedges are still flowering. I think this one was Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that. They usually bloom when trout lilies bloom and that’s just what has happened this year.

But while the sedges are having a good year, so far the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have made a poor showing. The spot I go to see them has many hundreds of plants in it but there were only three or four blossoms. I’m hoping I was just too early, so I’ll go back. Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow but quickly turn reddish brown and start shedding pollen. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and it attracts several kinds of bees.

You can tell by the dark anthers that this flower has been open longer than the one we saw in the previous photo. It’s hard to get a shot of them when they don’t have swept back petals because it happens almost immediately after they open.

One of my favorite things about a trout lily blossom is the coloring on the back. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food.

The trees are quickly leafing out already and that means less sunshine each day for spring ephemeral flowers like spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana). I’m seeing fewer blossoms each time I go to see them and this time I had to search for them, so I think it’s getting time to say goodbye to them for another year. I hope I’m wrong though because I love seeing them.  

I’ve noticed some fading petals on some of the red / purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) as well but I hope that doesn’t mean they’re already done for the year. I don’t think they’ve been blooming more than two weeks. This one didn’t look too bad.

I see many hundreds of this very small white violets and I always wonder if they could be northern white violets (Viola pallens) but I always forget to look for a spur on the back of the lower petal. They are half the size of the violets that I usually see.

The insect guides are deep purple and the side petals may or may not have hairs on this generally non-hairy violet. They’re pretty little things and they’re everywhere right now.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) is native to North America but it acts like an invasive somewhat, because it just pops up in lawns everywhere in this area. Here it was growing in the lawn of an abandoned house. It is sometimes called moss phlox or moss pinks and luckily it doesn’t seem to mind being mowed. Many people wait until it’s done blooming to do their first spring mowing.

Another plant called creeping phlox is Phlox stolonifera that has much the same habit, but it is native only as far north as Pennsylvania. One way to tell them apart is by the darker band of color around the center of the flower; if it is there your plant is Phlox subulata and if it isn’t it is Phlox stolonifera.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) have just come out and they were beautiful. I was just reading that this is a member of the poppy family, which I hadn’t heard before. It is native to Siberia, China, Korea and Japan, and I didn’t know that either. My son just returned from Korea and he says it’s beautiful there. With flowers like these, I’d bet that it is.

I liked the color of this tulip. Tulips seem to be having a good year this year.

Lilacs are taking their time but it shouldn’t be too much longer before we can smell their wonderful fragrance again.

I don’t know what was going on with this dandelion but it takes first prize for the strangest dandelion blossom I’ve ever seen. All the parts are there but they’re all discombobulated. Maybe it is a sport, which is a genetic mutation. Sports are very important to the nursery trade and we unknowingly grow a lot of them in our gardens. This dandelion appears to be trying to become a double flower. I applaud its nonconformity but I’m sure many will see it as an ugly thing. As a gardener I met many people who thought they hated dandelions, but there was a time in years past when grasses were dug up so that dandelions would have more room to grow, so it’s all in how you look at it. Personally I like to see them for what they are, which is just a pretty yellow wildflower. It’s the only flower I’ve found blooming in all twelve months of the year.

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom.  They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful.  ~Jim Carrey

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

One of the things I love most about spring is seeing all the various buds break open so new leaves can emerge. As this maple bud shows, it can be very beautiful. Each year, usually around mid to late April I start watching various buds, but it all depends on the weather. This year they began to swell and it looked as if they’d break early but then we had a cold snap so they just sat and thought about it. Now, they are all coming alive.

New maple leaves are often tomato red and it is thought that the color wards off sunburn. Since so many plants start out with red or purple leaves it makes sense, but I’ve noticed this year that many of the new leaves are starting out green rather than the other colors, so I think the color must be weather dependent. If we have a cloudy spring there is no reason for them to have to protect themselves from sunburn. But how they know what the sun is doing while still encased in the bud scales is a mystery.

The strict definition of bud break is when the tip of a leaf is seen emerging from the bud, but spring isn’t just about new leaves any more than it is just about new flowers, so I’ve taken some liberties and have strayed a bit from that strict definition. After all spring is really about the beauty of it all in my opinion, and what could be more beautiful than this Norway maple flower bud opening?

In fact I think the bud in that previous shot is far more beautiful than the flowers that came out of it.

Striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum), often in velvety shades of pink and orange as these were, grow up out of the bud scales, which are the darker parts seen here. Bud scales offer protection to the bud over winter but as the temperature warms they are no longer needed, so as the bud grows they open to allow it to expand and lengthen. In the case of a striped maple bud, if you watch closely a line will appear on the bud. You can see the whitish lines running up the center of these three buds in the photo.

When the lines appear this is the time to watch the buds closely. I usually visit them each day because the lines signal that the bud is ready to open. When it does it will split open on that line, as can be seen in this photo. It could be that the line is always there but I never notice it until the buds are ready to open so I use it as a signal.

This might surprise people who know striped maples. The big, light gathering, mature leaves on the tree have a flat, matte finish that reflects little light. The only time the leaves shine that I know of is when they have just come out of the bud as these had done. Whether or not that is another strategy to prevent sunburn, I don’t know.

Some native cherry trees will grow flower buds very soon after the leaves appear, and it seems that they put more energy into the flowers than they do their leaves. If you’re all about continuation of the species it makes perfect sense. They’re also among the earliest flowering trees, which also makes sense. Grab the attention of the insects before all the other flowers come out and you have a better chance of being pollinated.

Invasive Japanese honeysuckles are usually the first shrub in the forest to show new leaves. In that way they get a jump on natives and can begin photosynthesizing earlier, and growing faster. This one had a raindrop nestled in its leaves. We have 3 invasive honeysuckles here in New Hampshire and to identify them you can just break a stem. Stems of all three shrubs are hollow while native honeysuckle stems are solid. It is illegal to sell, propagate or plant any of these shrubs in New Hampshire.

I like the way the new spring shoots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) flow and move. After a shoot comes straight up out of the ground the leaves appear and the shoot nods toward the ground. The height the plant has reached when the leaves begin to appear is the height it will stay at throughout the present year’s growth. Native Americans and early colonists ate these shoots the way we would eat asparagus and they used the plant’s starchy roots in soups and stews. They also dried them to make flour for bread.

I love to see the new spring shoots of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) but I dread trying to get a photo of them because in my experience they’re one of the most difficult of all the spring shoots to get an accurate photo of. I quickly forgot about that though, when I found two plants growing where there had been just one. Even better was how both had plenty of flower buds. I was happy to see that this relatively rare plant was multiplying. This is the only spot I know of to find it.

The wind is caught in blue cohosh, so maybe that’s what makes it so hard to photograph. You might think there was a gale blowing on this day but no, there wasn’t even a breeze. It just wants to fly. Cohosh means “rough” when translated from Native American Algonquin language, and refers to the knobby root. A tincture of the root was said to start childbirth but science has shown the entire plant to be toxic.

Regular readers of this blog will have seen hobblebush flower buds (Viburnum lantanoides) evolve over the past few months from a hard lump with two “rabbit ears” to what looked like a wormy mass, to what it is now; recognizable flower buds with leaves on either side. Soon the shrubs will blossom, with large sterile, pure white flowers surrounding a mass of smaller fertile, white flowers in the center. It’s one of our most beautiful native shrubs and I hope to be able to bring it to you in another post in the very near future.  

Another beautiful flower is that of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea). The buds have broken and the leaves have pulled back to reveal the big, thumb size flower buds. They will become beautiful red, yellow and pink flowers before long. I think the tips of the leaves were frost bitten this year, by the looks.

We had lots of field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) where I worked in Hancock but I had to hunt for this one here in Keene, and one was all I found. I hope to find more before they pass on.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores, the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores.

This horsetail was fully open, revealing its tiny spore producing sporangia. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brownish sporangiophore are the sporangia. They look like tiny white bags. Once it has released its spores it will die and be replaced by an infertile stem.

The rhubarb in a friend’s garden was also breaking bud. When I was a boy I could pull a stalk right off the plants in my grandmother’s garden and eat it right there, but I think I’ve lost my taste for it. They tell me when I was just a pup I’d have a dill pickle in one hand and a baby bottle in the other, so I must have been a bit of sourpuss when I was young. Now just writing about it is enough to make my mouth pucker.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be beautiful when it first comes up in the spring, but of course it’s also terribly invasive. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots are tart and juicy and taste much like a cross between asparagus and rhubarb, but I watched a television show about foraging recently and when the two people there tasted the knotweed, they said it didn’t taste like much. Judging by the looks on their faces I’d guess they probably spit it out once the camera looked at something else. The shoots they tasted were quite large though, like the one shown here. I think if you picked the new shoots just as they broke ground, they’d be tender and might be fairly tasty. Developing a taste for them would be a good way to overcome the problem of their being so invasive.

I don’t know if fern fiddleheads fit the description of bud break but I always enjoy seeing them in spring. This is a sensitive fern fiddlehead (Onoclea sensibilis). This fern gets its name from the early settlers, who noticed its sensitivity to frost. Since our last safe frost date is Memorial Day, it was rolling the dice. It’s a beautiful thing with its fur coat and tiny new leaves showing.

Christmas fern fiddleheads (Polystichum acrostichoides) wear hairy, silvery fur coats to protect themselves in spring. This is an evergreen fern so you can often find last year’s green fronds splayed out on the ground with this year’s fiddleheads coming up in the center of the plant. As fiddleheads go these are some of the biggest. This fern gets its name from early settlers, who saw that it was still green on Christmas.

The only fern in this area with fiddleheads that are safe to eat is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are considered an early spring delicacy but they need to be prepared and cooked correctly. I’ve read that eating too many can make you sick. The easiest way to identify ostrich fern fiddleheads is by the brown papery husk that covers the fiddlehead, and the deep groove in the stem. The groove has been compared to that you find on a stalk of celery and as far as I know, this fern is the only one in this region to have it. The plant itself has the shape of the shuttlecock used in badminton, so another name for it is the shuttlecock fern.

I watched beech buds closely over the last weeks and I saw them arch or curl, however you choose to see it, but then stop and do nothing. They simply waited along with all the other buds for the cold snap to end. The buds curl like this because the cells on the top become excited by the light and warmth generated by the stronger spring sunshine, and grow faster than the cells that grow in the shade on the bottom of the bud.

The difference in cell growth rate creates a tension in the bud, which increases until the bud simply can’t take any more and tears itself open. This releases the new leaves, which are beautifully covered in silver hairs. Sometimes they look more animal than plant.

Once the sunlight reaches the new leaves, they expand like an accordian and quickly lose their silver hairs. Bud break is one of the most beautiful things to happen in a New England Forest in the spring and I do hope that you are able to see it. Once you’ve seen something like this you never forget it.

Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain, surround us on every hand: life itself is the miracle of miracles. ~George Bernard Shaw

Thanks for stopping in. I hope all the moms out there will have a grand and happy Mother’s Day tomorrow!

Read Full Post »

Last week a storm spun just off the coast and brought us wave after wave of clouds, rain, wind and cold almost every day. In spite of below freezing nighttime lows there were a few plants brave enough to bloom. Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) bloomed just in time for May and that’s perfect. It is called Mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.

To smell its flowers you have to literally get your chin on the ground because these flowers are ground huggers. It’s worth it though, because they have a scent all their own that it is impossible for me to describe. Kind of spicy, but there’s more to it than that. It’s a very unusual scent and that’s why they were so over collected for use in nosegays in years past. My grandmother always told of this being her favorite flower but we never did find any of them, so I found myself wishing she were there on this day. Until I thought about it, that is. She had awful trouble standing from a kneeling position, so she would have told me to pick some and give them to her and I would have had to refuse. That wouldn’t have gone over well. In her day the thought of a flower becoming extinct from over picking would have seemed ridiculous, and she would have told me so. They just didn’t know any better in her day.

A flower I’ve never heard of being picked is that of wild ginger (Asarum canadense), but the plants are still hard to find. I’ve found them in only in this one spot.

The plant’s fuzzy, heart shaped leaves were just unfolding but the brownish flowers were already blooming. I can’t think of another wildflower with leaves quite like these so the plant is very easy to identify. The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage, so it should not be used.

You could fit a pea inside a wild ginger flower but nothing much bigger. Though flies often crawl into the meat colored flowers it is now thought that they do so simply to get warm. Several scientific studies have shown that these flowers are self-pollinated. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because I saw many insects including bees already out before these flowers bloomed. Maybe insects just aren’t interested for some reason.

I’m not happy with the way the river water in the background came out in this shot of leatherleaf blossoms (Chamaedaphne calyculata) but I got a difficult shot so maybe I should just keep quiet and be happy with it. The plant normally grows out of the water a few feet but it can stand being flooded and this year because the river was high, I couldn’t get near it. I stood on a slope just at the water’s edge getting as close as I could by leaning, which wasn’t a good idea. It grew a foot or two off shore and I almost leaned myself right into the river.

But I stayed dry and it was worth a slightly raised heart rate to get photos of such pretty little blossoms. I was able to get a hold of a branch on another shrub and pull it toward me for this shot. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. At a glance it might be mistaken for a blueberry, but these flowers are smaller and not quite so round as a blueberry blossom.

If you see these shiny pointed bud scales littering the ground that means the poplars are blooming. When they bloom their catkins are often blown off or taken off by rain, and you can see one of them on the upper right.

If you pick up one of the fallen poplar catkins this is what you’ll see. These are the reddish-brown male anthers, which are extremely small. But they do the job and when the female flowers have been pollinated, they’ll release their cottony seeds into the air and they will settle on everything. It’s not a good time to leave your car windows open.

The feathery white female flowers of the European white elm (Ulmus laevis Pall), which we call Russian elm, were just forming seeds when I saw them. The tree is large and spreading and quite beautiful, but it lacks the height and vase shape of the American elm.

The female flowers of the American elm (Ulmus americana) were a step ahead of those of the Russian elm, and had already become seeds (samaras), each with a white fringe. They will quickly lose this fringe as they ripen.

One of my favorite native tree flowers are the female flowers of the box elder. The male flowers come out early before the leaves, but the female flowers don’t show themselves until the leaves unfurl. I love their color and shape. They have a sticky velvety coating so they can catch as much pollen as possible. They must be very good at it because you find these “weed trees” coming up in waste areas and vacant lots all over town. Box elder was the first tree I ever planted. My grandmother used to pay me to pull up all the trees growing around her foundation and one of those I pulled up was a box elder. I carried it home bare root, dug a hole and stuck it in, gave it some water and pretty much forgot about it, and that tree grew for years and years. For all I know it could still be there, some 55 years later.  

For the first time I saw the flower stems (petioles) of female box elder flowers. I never knew this was such a hairy tree but I’ve always known how pretty it was, weed tree or not.

A rare thing has happened. Rare in this area anyhow; a downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) has bloomed. This single plant is the only one I’ve ever seen. I thought it might be a round leaved yellow violet but the leaves are definitely heart shaped and not round.

It’s a very pretty thing and I was happy to see it. I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’ve seen a yellow violet.

Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) have just come into bloom. These berries are small but you haven’t really tasted a strawberry until you’ve tasted them.  The full moon in the month of June was known to many Native American tribes as the “Strawberry Moon” because that was when most strawberries began to ripen. The berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to pemmican, soups, and breads. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) has just come into bloom and only three or four out of thousands had opened when I went to see them. It was a windy day and you can tell that by the way this flower isn’t hanging vertically. I doubted I’d be able to get a shot but the camera stopped the motion and this is the result. The black flies are out in force now but the wind keeps them away, so I should have been grateful for it instead of grousing about it while there on my knees waiting for it to stop so I could get a photo. You never have to search too hard to find something to be thankful for, but sometimes I miss the opportunity.

I went to see what American hazelnut buds looked like when they broke but instead found this one still flowering. I was surprised because the male catkins have turned brown and dried up. These were the longest female filaments I’ve ever seen and I wondered if maybe they grew longer by stretching for pollen that will never come. I see a lot of hazelnut shrubs with no nuts on them in the fall and now I wonder if it is because many female flowers don’t appear until after all the pollen has been shed. In the end it doesn’t matter. Nature will straighten it out.

After a very slow start henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is having a great year. This plant was loaded with cartoon faced blossoms that resemble those of some of our small flowered orchids.

You might see a resemblance to henbit in the much larger flowers of dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) and well you should, because they are both in the same family.

Bradford pear blossoms (Pyrus calleryana) are pretty enough but they’re about all this tree has going for it. They have weak wood and lose branches regularly and birds love the tiny pears it produces, which means that it is quite invasive. In the wild it forms nearly impenetrable thickets and out competes native trees. And though the flowers are pretty enough their scent has been compared to everything from rotting fish to an open trash bin. I smelled fish when I was walking among them taking photos and I can say that I was very happy that I didn’t have one in my yard.

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis) has just started blossoming, but I’ve never seen one like this. It had two colored flowers on the same plant, pink and blue / purple. I’m guessing that they come out pink and then change but I’ve never noticed this before so I wonder if it’s a newer hybrid. Another name for the plant is lungwort. During the Middle Ages in Europe, lungwort was considered dangerous because the grey spots on its leaves were associated with an infected lung. Later, it was used to treat lung disorders. The scientific name Pulmonaria comes from the Latin pulmo, meaning lung.

Tulips of all colors and shapes have appeared.

I was looking for the very early red and yellow tulips I saw last year but I never did find them, so these will have to do. There was less yellow on the ones I saw last year. It just peeked out between the red petals.

It’s time to say goodbye to red maple flowers because they have grown wings, and now they will fly. The trees have blossomed longer this year than I’ve ever seen, most likely due to a cool spring.

I tried to draw my soul but all I could think of was flowers. ~Natalya Lobanova

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is seeing lots of flowers!

Read Full Post »

I’ve wanted to visit the cranberry meadow pond trail in Peterborough since it was built a few years ago but somehow, I never made it. It isn’t far, just a half hour away to the east of Keene, so last week I decided to finally go and see it. Since this is in a county other than Cheshire County where I live, this trip was part of my new branching out plan. The trail begins with a raised boardwalk through a wetland.

On this day the wetland the boardwalk crosses was very wet but I could tell by red maples standing in a foot of water that it isn’t always this wet. It looked like the stream that runs through here flooded from heavy rains we had a few days before. What a beautiful day it was.

The boardwalk is sturdily built and wide enough for two people to pass. Building it was obviously a lot of work, so hat’s off to the builders. I think it was built three or four years ago, and it has stood up well.

At the end of the boardwalk were planks to help get you through the muddy spot. There are many muddy spots along the trail so you should wear sturdy, waterproof hiking boots if you come here. You can also see in this shot a blue diamond blaze on the tree ahead. The trail is well blazed with these markers.

But really, on this section of trail you don’t need blazes because you’re simply following a steam to its source. Since I’ve been following rivers and streams for all of my life it seemed obvious, but for someone who hasn’t done that maybe the blazes are a good idea.

I saw what I can only describe as tenderness being displayed by a family of cinnamon ferns, but that’s just my interpretation. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are usually the first to show their fiddleheads in spring.

There were lots of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) here that had reached a good age. I don’t see many large striped maples like these. The bark gives their name away.

There were lots of beech trees, too. I looked for the arching of buds that signals bud break, but saw just a few getting ready.

In case you don’t know what bud it is you’re seeing someone has marked the tree for you. They didn’t bother with the Fagus grandifolia part of the name though, which is probably a good thing for the tree.

At this point you have to cross the stream. It’s always nice to have the laughter of a stream to keep you company on a walk through the woods. This one is very easy to get close to over most of its length and that made an enjoyable walk even more so.

Stone walls hint that this was once pasture land, and the young age of most of the trees found here confirms it. This was a common “thrown” or “tossed” wall, built only to get the stones out of the way as quickly as possible. Though they often followed boundary lines they weren’t built for pretty. It was hard, back breaking work but if you wanted to grow crops it had to be done, and with our short growing season, the sooner the better.

There are some huge boulders here and there, some with polypody ferns and others with rock tripe lichens growing on them. This one was covered with mostly moss and a few trees. If you pay attention to the plants and trees that choose to grow on boulders like this one you realize how shallow their root systems must be. There can’t be more than an inch of soil on some of the big stones, but it is enough. Mosses usually colonize first and soak up rain water like a sponge, and then the larger plants growing near or with them benefit from their slow release of water. I’ve even seen dandelions growing on stone, even though they have a root like a carrot.

There were some nice reflecting pools in this little stream. It’s amazing how moving water can appear so still sometimes. Several times I thought of my father on this hike because he loved to fish for brook trout in places like this. Actually I’ve always thought his love of fishing was secondary to his love of simply being in places like this.

Here was another muddy spot. No trouble at all if your boots are waterproof.

I saw a tiny yellowish smudge on a birch log. The camera’s zoom brought it closer and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

It was a pretzel slime mold (Hemitrichia serpula) producing spores. The furryness or fuzziness of it is what shows that it was in the fruiting stage, actively producing spores. If I had found it a day or two earlier it would have been in its plasmodial stage, shiny and smooth like plastic. I had been hoping to see one for years, so it was an exciting find. They are usually small; all of what you see here fit in what was maybe a square inch of space. If you’re interested there is a good short video explaining what this slime mold is all about here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2RguYFuiM8

The trail started to climb uphill, but not steeply. This is the part of the trail where you leave the stream you’ve been following.

Once the trail leveled off again it was easy to picture it as pasture land. All the trees were very young.

There were some old grape vines growing up into the treetops. River grapes most likely, but they might have been Concord grapes, which also grow wild here. Before we started cultivating them and training them, this is how grapes grew naturally. They seek as much energy giving sunshine as possible and this leads them into the treetops. If you are mindful of how valuable sunlight is to plants when you walk through the woods, you’ll see all the various ways they maneuver themselves into position to recieve the most light. They all have different strategies that they have developed over who knows how many years of evolution, and some might surprise you. Plants that don’t climb, like native hobblebushes for instance, have developed other ways of finding light. They grow large, light gathering leaves. Other plants grow taller and lean into the light to get their share, just like that bean plant you probably grew on the window sill in first grade did. By the way, you were supposed to be learning about phototropism in that experiment, so I hope you were paying attention.

And here was the source of the stream; Cranberry meadow pond. Though I met quite a few people on the trail, which was a surprise on a weekday, for the most part you have the place to yourself. The pond is large and does have at least one house on it that I saw, and there is more building going on nearby. Since I had to see everything there was to see I dawdled and was here for about two and a half hours, but I think you could easily get to the pond and back to your car in an hour. But you’d miss a lot if you did, so dawdle a little. The trail map says it is one mile to the pond from the parking area but my phone said 1.3. Either way it isn’t much. You can go on from here all the way to the top of Pack Monadnock Mountain, another 1.2 miles, but I stopped here at the pond. When mushrooms start appearing I’ll be back because I have a feeling that this will be a great place to find them.

I saw one of the oldest, gnarliest blueberry bushes that I’ve ever seen here. It had a girth on its lower trunk as big as my leg. This scene showed how you can often pick the most blueberries from a boat. Ponds and lakes in this region have wild blueberry bushes growing all along their shorelines.

And the old blueberry was loaded with buds. When young, blueberry buds are bright red but as they grow in spring they swell up and lose their red color.

I saw beaver damage on trees all the way up here and here was the source of it; a large beaver lodge. It’s hard to find a pond or river in New Hampshire that doesn’t have beavers in it. What surprised me most here was the lack of damming of the stream.

There’s the beaver lodge again, just to the left of center out on the shoreline. This view also shows a small very flat island, which could be a bog mat made of peat mosses. I was surprised that I didn’t see any cranberry plants here but since most of the trail was wooded, I shouldn’t have been. They like full sun.

If you’re a lover of solitude this is the place for you, but if on the other hand you want to have a family picnic this would be a great place for that, too. The land the trail is on is privately owned and the land owners graciously allow public use, so the best way to keep it open is to always leave it as you find it. You can find out more about the trail and download a trail map by Googling “Cranberry Meadow Pond Trail, Perterborough, NH” or by clicking on the underlined text.

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Purple (or red) trillium (Trillium erectum,) one of our biggest and most beautiful wildflowers, has just opened. Trilliums are all about threes and multiples of threes, which ia easily seen here. Though beautiful it has a a few secrets; flies are drawn to the plants because of the carrion scented flowers, and for that reason it is also called “stinking Benjamin.” Benjamin, according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word “benjoin,” which was an ingredient in perfume that came from a plant in Sumatra. According to the U.S. Forest service the root of this trillium was traditionally used as an aid in childbirth by Native Americans, and for that reason it is also called “bethroot,” which is a corruption of “birth root.”

I’m happy to say that the frosts we had didn’t wipe out the bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis,) though their numbers are down this year in this spot.

The flower petals, typically eight of them, drop off within a day or two of pollination, so their time with us is brief. It’s hard to believe that it’s already time to say goodbye to them for another year. I’ll look forward to seeing their simple beauty again next spring.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule,) which is usually one of the earliest flowers, has finally come around. I’m not sure what held it up but it seems very late. I usually see them by the end of March. Henbit is a “weed” in the mint family and gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked, so maybe that’s one way of getting it out of your garden.

I haven’t seen a lot of common chickweed (Stellaria media) this year either. This is another edible “weed” that is grown for human consumption in some countries, and is said to be far more nutritious than cultivated lettuce. Chickens can also eat it. The five petals are cut so deeply they look like ten on flowers that are smaller than a pencil eraser.

Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) is a native shrub that often blooms in late March to mid April, but it too seems to have been held back this year. The pale-yellow color of the flowers and the unusual way that they form in pairs that branch off from a single stem make this shrub very easy to identify. I can’t think of another like it. The unusual twinned flowers will become twinned, orange red, oval fruit. I’ve read that many songbirds love the berries. I can’t say fly honeysuckle is rare but I know of only four or five places to find it. It seems slow growing and isn’t a real robust grower. I know one shrub that hasn’t seemed to change at all in ten years. You can find it on the edge of woods, usually in shade or partial sun.

Myrtle (Vinca minor) is an invasive plant that forms large mats that choke out natives but it’s also a plant that’s been shared from neighbor to neighbor for almost as long as this country has been a country, so nobody really cares. Many of the people I once gardened for thought it was a native plant that they inherited when they bought their house. They were always surprised when I told them it was from Europe, but they always wanted to keep it. I’ve found it growing and blooming along with lilacs and peonies near old cellar holes out in the woods, all of it so old nobody could remember who had even lived there. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s exactly what the wiry stems do.

Blue violets (Viola sororia) are actually purple and they’re just coming into bloom. I’m sure many gardeners won’t be happy to hear that because if left unchecked these plants can take over a garden in no time at all. But really, you’re living in a dream world if you think you can beat them, because even when we don’t think they’re blooming their unseen petal-less flowers, called cleistogamous flowers, are flinging seeds out of their 3-part seed capsules. I used to dig and pull them from many gardens by the hundreds. Now I just enjoy them.

I was surprised to see common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) blooming already. It’s a common plant that some think is a clover, but clovers have oval leaves and this plant’s leaves are heart shaped. Unlike clover leaves they fold up at night and in bright sunlight, as they have done here.

Spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) are about at their peak of bloom now, and this shot shows how the tiny things can carpet a forest floor. It also shows the variations in color they have, from nearly all white to very pink. They’re beautiful little things and I hope everyone gets a chance to see them. They won’t be with us much longer.

I’ve read that it is the amount of sunlight that determines color in a spring beauty blossom. The deeper the shade, the more intense the color, so I look for them in more shaded areas. These grew in full sun.

Apparently, the petal shape can vary by quite a lot as well. I’ve never noticed it before but the petals on these flowers are far wider and rounder than the long, narrow petals on the flowers in the previous shot. Each flower lasts just three days.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are the same way with color variations. Some are deep blue and others are white and then you see everything in between, but the amount of sunshine doesn’t make a difference because they always grow in full sun.

All the magnolia blossoms that had come out before the frosts were browned on the petal edges but those that came out after were fine, as this one shows. They seem extra fragrant this year.

Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophyllas) has just started blooming and each plant has just a few flowers on it so far. The small flowers have great color.

Ornamental cherries have started blooming and are beautiful, as always. I like the star in the center of these particular flowers.

I found this blossom on a Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula Tibetica.)  It looked like it had slept in its clothes. I wonder if they de-wrinkle themselves as they grow. Tibetan cherry is also called the paper bark cherry because of the way its bark peels as it ages, much like a birch, and it is used as an ornamental tree as much for its bark as for its flowers. The mahogany bark has very long, closely spaced lenticels that give it an unusual appearance.

This was a challenge. This hellebore grows in the garden of a friend and the sun was very bright when I was there. I used three different cameras trying to get a shot where the color wasn’t bleached out and this was the only useable one. It was too bad because this flower has deep, rich color. I plan on planting a few more flowers around here in the near future and hellebore will be one of them.

Tulips have come out and many were wide open, but I saw few insects.

Grape hyacinths are having a good year.

The flowers of Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) look like they’re blown from milk glass and mounted on the stem with tiny, leaf shaped golden ormolu mounts. I don’t think that they really resemble lily of the valley blossoms but some do, so they call it the lily of the valley shrub. To me they look more like the blueberry family of flowers.

PJM rhododendrons have just started blooming. The PJM in the name is for Peter J. Mezitt who developed the plant and also founded Weston Nurseries in Weston, Massachusetts. They are also called little leaf rhododendron. They are very pretty, and well liked here and have become almost as common as Forsythia.

Forsythias are a good indicator of how cold and snowy it was last winter. Quite often you’ll see the shrubs with blossoms only on the lower branches, and that’s because the cold killed all the buds above the snow line and the only ones that survived were those protected by snow. These bushes are telling me that it was a mild winter. If the temperature had fallen below -20 F., they wouldn’t be blooming like this. There were many years I saw them with just a few blossoms down close to the ground, but not very often in the last decade or so.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »